Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meaningful Conflations

Charles Davis deconstructs pro-Democratic intellectual Juan Cole and his center-left condemnation of anarchism.

First, on the material. Cole says:

Likewise, the anarcho-syndicalist tradition makes workers unions more saintly and disinterested than they typically actually are, though since they are looking out for the interests of the majority (workers), they typically have more equitable positions than the narrower business elites idolized by Libertarians.

Thanks for telling me about those anarcho-syndicalists, Professor Cole. Which ones are they again?

The difference is that for anarcho-syndicalists like Chomsky, the good guys of history are the workers and ordinary folk, whereas for Libertarians, it is entrepreneurs. Both theories depend on a naive reading of social interest.

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States:

Racism was practical for the AFL. The exclusion of women and foreigners was also practical. These were mostly unskilled workers, and the AFL, confined mostly to skilled workers, was based on the philosophy of "business unionism" (in fact, the chief official of each AFL union was called the "business agent"), trying to match the monopoly of production by the employer with a monopoly of workers by the union. In this way it won better conditions for some workers, and left most workers out....

In this early part of the twentieth century, labeled by generations of white scholars as "the Progressive period," lynchings were reported every week; it was the low point for Negroes, North and South, "the nadir," as Rayford Logan, a black historian, put it. In 1910 there were 10 million Negroes in the United States, and 9 million of them were in the South....
There were Negroes in the Socialist party, but the Socialist party did not go much out of its way to act on the race question. As Ray Ginger writes of Debs: "When race prejudice was thrust at Debs, he always publicly repudiated it. He always insisted on absolute equality. But he failed to accept the view that special measures were sometimes needed to achieve this equality."...
A race riot in Springfield, Illinois, prompted the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910. Whites dominated the leadership of the new organization; Du Bois was the only black officer....

Fundamental conditions did not change, however, for the vast majority of tenant farmers, factory workers, slum dwellers, miners, farm laborers, working men and women, black and white. Robert Wiebe sees in the Progressive movement an attempt by the system to adjust to changing conditions in order to achieve more stability. "Through rules with impersonal sanctions, it sought continuity and predictability in a world of endless change. It assigned far greater power to government . .. and it encouraged the centralization of authority." Harold Faulkner concluded that this new emphasis on strong government was for the benefit of "the most powerful economic groups."

So an intellectual who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq calls that "naive." Look, whatever you can say about Zinn, you can't say that the above displays that much idiot faith in ostensibly left-wing organizations of the United States. It certainly displays less faith in the system than say, supporting the invasion and occupation of a foreign country during a period of nationalist zeal and imperial rage.

What catches me is Cole's acknowledgment of anarcho-syndicalism's greater equitability while ruling them out as basically naive--a position he never stakes out as well as he manages his attack on right-libertarians. He declares it and then casts an easy generalization--"oh, ah, Chomsky worships labor!"

Also, and when Ron Paul upstages you on your own website, you need to hang it up. Cole never so much as acknowledges that what Paul is speaking is basically sane observation of foreign policy function. The most he says? Paul's ideas will not be imposed. Let's do the math!

Ron Paul’s “peace through trade” approach to geopolitics and skepticism of overbearing imperialism does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming the foreign policy of the United States. He represents small-town entrepreneurs who see the wars and their expense as a burden and a block to trade opportunities. They are a significant segment of the Republican Party, but I’d put them at 15% at most.

Which is to say nothing but back it up all the same.


  1. Juan Cole's a PowerNoggin dipshit. Totally unimpressive to me... but very impressive to his reflection in the mirror.

  2. And so what is the statist response to man's inherent selfishness? Select a small number of usually white, usually male, usually upper-middle to upper class individuals to positions of power. These inherently selfish and now empowered people will (through reasons not entirely unclear, but something about checks and balances with other white upper class males) act selflessly in the interests of the dis-empowered. Christ, and they call anarchism naive.

  3. If I may go so far as to paint every single liberal with a broad brush, I have noticed that they are chiefly interested in defending the indefensible and reforming the unreformable. I heard fellow students contort themselves in order to comprehend welfare capitalism and here as well, Cole doesn't even have the balls (or the time, maybe?) to engage in a Niebuhrian exercise in which it is admitted that coercion is the basic lever of the state. Instead he says, that, um, right-liberts are pro-business (which is to say nothing new) and, um, left-liberts are, like, something simplistic even when they're totally not.

    If you believe that right-libertarians are going to unleash forces already present in society, then you must be willing to explain how your system arrests, mitigates, or does fucking something to those same forces. Here, at least, the left-libertarians seem willing to talk about challenges to corporate rule, whereas Cole's boy promotes them to leadership, same as the Repubs.

    Also, Paul needs to be distinguished from the Republicans, in general, but that's another thing. Again--meaningful conflations. To draw distinctions or associations freely--that's how you start playing the public intellectual semantic shell game.