Notes Towards the Re-Rioting of Pride

As Pride month draws to a close, I think about all the “first pride was a riot” t-shirts I have seen this June. The shirts and the slogan have now become an early summer tradition of the US left, alongside rediscovering Juneteenth, the sharing of Frederick Douglass’s speech on July 4th, and commenting on how as hot as this summer is, they will become literally unbearably hot if we do not actually overthrow capitalism and imperialism.

Tradition is not always bad. We have our own traditions. The aforementioned slogan is certainly a good one. The referenced rioting is even better.

But in many locations across the US, including in some of the most densely populated coastal cities with a disproportionate share of the queer-and-out working class, one does not feel the riotous energy. Pride month often has, despite the apparently popular wishes to the contrary, the energy of an officially mandated period of relative tolerance for queer summer fun.

Obviously, no one can be individually blamed for not simply declaring, launching, willing a riot into existence. If we could do this, we would do it constantly and with great enthusiasm, an enthusiasm with a popular basis easily observed at the outbreak of actual spontaneous riots, in which to this day queer youth play a visible and considerable role, often confronting those same cops face to face in spite of the latter’s heavy weaponry, legal sanction to use force, and de facto guarantee of getting away with “excessive” use thereof.

Debates rage over the inclusion of cops in parades, but even where the debate is settled for the anti-cop side, uniformed cops at any rate are frequently seen around and walking through pride events without direct challenge, only with the scornful gaze of participants.

But there is a problem here: queerness is understood (rightly) as an axis of oppression and accordingly a potential focal point of organizing, young queer people are increasingly politically radical and conscious about diverse issues, and yet queer political agitation and organization is surprisingly reserved in the US at present.

Behind this lie several interconnected objective and subjective factors, which I am briefly outlining my thoughts on per request by comrades, a modest set of notes towards further discussion and action.

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Why are the “Patriotic Socialists” Wrong?

Recently, a new ideological tendency has tried to gain inroads among the U.S. left. Calling themselves “Patriotic Socialists” and gathering mainly online around a handful of Twitch streamers and YouTubers, this small but irritating tendency has made themselves the frequent subject of leftist discourse. They are defined by an insistence that one must be an American patriot to be a communist, and argue that to be in any way critical of American patriotism is to be somehow “anti-proletarian.”

Despite their frequent streams and posts, this trend is not especially strong or influential, not in terms of actual organization of masses or attempts to penetrate the existing organized left. Indeed, the “Patsocs” are mainly known through social media where they are regularly mocked and ridiculed by rival leftists of diverse ideological commitments, and themselves mainly repeat the mantra that you need to be patriotic to reach “ordinary people”.

Of course we can say here that many people who are not organizationally or intellectually committed to Marxism or socialism as such, “ordinary people” so to speak, are already very critical of US patriotism. Conversely, even the less advanced sections of the masses are to be organized and indoctrinated by Marxists in order to change, develop, and advance. Our aim is to make them more revolutionary, and for reasons that don’t need repeating to almost everyone reading this, the retrograde politics of the US “Patriotic Socialists” are not the direction we need to go.

When even the arch-opportunist CPUSA can take a firm line against you for being chauvinistic and pro-state, clearly you are beyond the pale of the left.

Why discuss them then? Certainly not to engage them in debate: they are basically an in-group cult that repeats the same vague truisms ad nauseum and are developing a Trump-esque worldview where complex conspiracies allow the reactionary things they support and cheerlead to somehow serve a grand plan that will somehow bring “socialism” to the US. I personally advocate that they be blocked and ignored, unless you happen to have a real social connection to some unfortunate soul who is partially in their orbit.

I had initially not wanted to see them discussed further myself, but I did find some weakness in much of the responses by well-intentioned leftists to the “Patriotic Socialists”, principally focusing on the name as a problem, either in and of itself or due to its similarity to “National Socialists”. The basic issue I take with this critique is that, while it is true that socialism is its own goal over and above nationalism and patriotism which are often impediments to that goal, this focus on the name both buries the real problems for the application of the name in context, on the one hand, and the ways in which similar terminology, in other contexts, is significantly less problematic. I will deal with these separately and in brief.

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Feminism and Nationalism

In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the remaining “socialist states” have been those which came into being through the explicit form of a national liberation struggle: Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Korea, all are united by the fact that a (at the time) Marxist-Leninist party led a popular front to victory against the forces of imperialism and fascism, and continue to stand as the de facto engineers of “socialist statehood”. Because of this, many people, particularly young people without any particular theoretical training, over-identify with national liberation as the defining feature of Marxism-Leninism.

From the other side, there are those, particularly left communists and Trotskyites, who accuse our entire ideology of being nothing more than a series of nationalist commitments. If one defends the national rights of the Kurdish people, one has fallen victim to “Kurdish nationalism”. In the United States, those who continue to uphold Afro-American liberation are accused of being nothing more than “Black nationalists”. The most troubling form of this comes, not from armchair critics of “nationalism” who would never say anything that could be accused of some sort of “nationalism”, but from members of the aforementioned first group, who imagine their perspective to be broadly “anti-imperialist”, but in fact use their own, unacknowledged, uninvestigated, uncriticized nationalism to attack the basic demands for rights by other nations.

In other words, the crux of our problem, as I have stated before, is how to distinguish between being a “nationalist” for oppressed peoples and simply defending oppressed nationalities.

This distinction is important, as the nationalist places at the centre of their world a nation, ignoring its internal contradictions, an error we must be very careful not to fall into. Although I am often accused of ignoring, for example, class contradictions among nations whose bourgeoisies are not hegemonic within a given state, I do consider this quite frequently, it’s simply that, in many contexts, a more powerful nation’s bourgeoisie has forced some sections of certain nation’s bourgeoisies into a progressive historical position, however temporarily.

So, given that I have spoken about this before, and noting the title at the top, the reader may wonder: what does this have to do with feminism?

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Where Does the Revolutionary Party Stand on the State?


In writing this piece, I’m acutely aware of my own identity as a Marxist, which starts with the assumption that to be a Marxist is to be one of the most ruthless theoretical and practical critics of “the state”, and to conceive of “the state” as an enemy which can only be defeated by revolution. In fact, in the United States, which is the focus of the website on which I’m publishing, a great number of purported “Marxists” insist that they desire no such revolutionary overturn at all. Many even mock anarchists for using just such words as the ones I chose above.

This reality, to the sincere Marxist, is evidence of the widespread nature of “revisionism” of the essential claims of Marxism, by which Marxism is distanced from revolution and transformed into a “proper” statist ideology, like social democracy.

But confusing matters when we make this claim, is the fact that since the lifetime of Marx itself, anarchist opponents took issue with Marx’s analysis of the historical emergence and likely future of the state as entity. When Marxism in practice led to the formation of new state entities and these entities could convincingly be accused of repression, ultimately even of the interests they claimed to represent (namely, a revolution which would liberate humanity from exploitation and oppression), the anarchists felt themselves vindicated that our ideology effectively produces the same results as the status quo and is accordingly not worth considering as a revolutionary alternative.

This reality, of the historical and contemporary debate between anarchists and Marxists on “the state” in the abstract and the Soviet Union (at least in its early history) in the concrete, is evidence that Marxists are indeed demarcated from anarchists on theoretical grounds that include our conception of the state.

This piece will take up this contradiction and attempt an explanation of how our sincere difference with the anarchists was transformed into a lack of difference with social democracy. The point of this, of course, is not merely to weep about a past revolution, but to rearm ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to new revolutions which will, we hope, succeed in remaking the world sufficiently to pass beyond the state. I will rearticulate the basic Marxist understanding of revolution and the state (drawing heavily on Lenin’s “the State and Revolution”), and in this context, critique our 20th century history’s approach to both: it is my claim that there are concrete limitations when state and revolution have to continue in parallel, limitations that the party was ill-prepared for, and the inevitable result was the retreat of the Soviet Union’s revolutionary commitments, and the failure even of the “anti-revisionist” trend in Albania and China.

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National Liberation and Nation-States

“The National Question” has been debated among communists for well over 150 years. This is because the nascent socialist movement was born into a capitalist world of nation-states; and the nation-state had itself emerged with capitalism. To Marx and Engels, this new form of state was a reflection of a stage of social development, of the bourgeoisie reshaping society not on the basis of a particular ruling bloodline or theological basis, but primarily on the basis of common social interaction, as a whole society. In the first instance, this is a progressive process: “Modern nationalities are thus the creations of the oppressed classes”, writes Engels in his analysis of the transition from feudal statelets to nascent modern capitalist nation-states.

It is not only from the perspective of economic development or at the stage of capitalist construction that Engels defended national rights, but also as a precondition for socialist revolution:

Without restoring autonomy and unity to each nation, it will be impossible to achieve the international union of the proletariat, or the peaceful and intelligent co-operation of these nations toward common aims.”
–Preface to the 1893 Italian edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1893

Taking a few lines of Engels out of context, it would be easy to reimagine Marxism as nothing but perpetual support for bourgeois nationalism of each and every nation, an ideology which poses no threat to capitalism itself. But it must not be forgotten that Marx and Engels were revolutionaries who actively organized against the bourgeois nationalist states of their day: they did not defend these bourgeois nationalisms beyond their ability to achieve said “autonomy and unity” for a given nation (that is, to overcome oppression by another nationalism), and to carry forward bourgeois domination of the feudal oppressor classes (that is, to overcome oppression by backwards, pre-capitalist and pre-nationalist ideologies).

After these conditions are met, the bourgeois state and its nationalism are to be understood as instruments of oppression and exploitation like any other ideology which conceals the contradictions between oppressor and oppressed classes. The communist perspective is always, at all stages of history, to turn popular social processes into weapons against the oppressor classes and their states. Thus, the struggle for a a modern democracy is progressive until a certain point of solidification. At this point, the limitations of liberal democracy become clear, and the social struggle is increasingly reduced to one between capital and labor, the apparent “final” struggle of class society. Because the new capitalist state is a weapon in the hands of capital, a new collection of “oppressed classes” find themselves in conflict with it. But who are these classes? Are they always and only the proletariat? Can the bourgeoisie be an oppressed class under capitalist rule? Here we come to the essence of why we speak of “the national question”.

The individual capitalist does not “want to” share their control of productive relations, and the capitalist class as a whole likewise jealously guard their privileges. Their desire to dominate as much of the market as possible leads the individual capitalist into competition with other capitalists, and leads the ruling classes of one society into conflict with other societies, leading to national oppression. The national formations which are held down by the power of the bourgeois state take on the same quality of being “oppressed” which the bourgeoisie as a whole did under feudal social relations. The oppressed nations in their entirety seem to play a progressive role, a weapon not only for their own society, but against the oppression of the capitalist state.

Thus was it that Marx and Engels noted the importance of the national struggle in Ireland and the anti-colonial struggle in India, in spite of the advanced development of the English proletariat in productive and social terms relative to other working classes around the world. Thus did it come to be that the Marxist watchword was “no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”.

But what precisely is meant by this, and what is our explicit goal? If national oppression means that any oppressed nationality’s class struggle is held back, that the “stage” of socialist revolution cannot yet be reached, do we simply advocate a struggle for a particular set of national borders which will allow for the “pure” class conflict to emerge afterwards?

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