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Default Opportunism

Although we recognize the limitations and errors of those revolutionary organizations in the 1970s that initiated a Guevarist-style armed struggle in the global metropoles, sometimes I think that this recognition fails to appreciate the often correct reasoning that led to erroneous practice.  Most importantly, I think the knee-jerk reaction to denounce and dismiss these failed revolutionary attempts that is prevalent amongst broad swathes of the left actually speaks to the mindset and ideology that some of these failed organizations (i.e. the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades) correctly noted.  That is, many of these failed focoist groups were led to adopt an erroneous strategy due to a correct, and often very insightful, analysis of the opportunism that is fostered amongst leftists living in the centres of imperialism.

The Red Army Faction, for example, accepted the Frankfurt School analysis of Adorno and Marcuse regarding the culture industry, one-dimensionality, and the fact that commodification produced a "repressive desublimation."  They went further by connecting it to Lenin's theory of the labour aristocracy, arguing that the culture of one-dimensionality was part of world imperialism, and even chastised those academics who spouted this analysis for being guilty of the same commodified thinking.  For if you refuse to participate in anything revolutionary, and to argue that there is no hope because the culture industry has commodified everything (even revolutionary struggle itself), then you are the one-dimensionality you are claiming to critique.  The revolutionary response to this normative state, therefore, is to break with one-dimensionality, become a revolutionary subject, and declare war on the mechanism that produces the culture industry at the centres of capitalism: to begin armed struggle against imperialism.

While we cannot agree that the focoist method of armed struggle (where a small and secretive cabal appears before the people are ready, demonstrate their commitment and discipline by revealing the limits and reality of the capitalist state, and eventually, through some magical mechanism, cause the people to spontaneously rally behind them), to simply dismiss the epistemic foundations of this method is to ignore an important question simply because somebody provided the wrong answer.  Moreover, we should only recognize the answer that groups like the RAF provided to the question of revolution in the global metropoles as wrong because it was proved wrong in practice, not for some insipid petty bourgeois moralism.

Groups like the RAF and the Red Brigades were not wrong because they blew up American army bases, shot police, and waged a failed armed struggle against the state.  They were wrong because their strategy and tactics were flawed.  They were correct, however, in identifying and comprehending the opportunism that is the default consciousness of the left in the imperialist centres.  They were also correct in refusing to accept this opportunism as eternal, in attempting to break out of its boundaries.

Opportunism is the default consciousness of the left at the centres of imperialism, and has remained the default consciousness for a long time.  Any attempt to break from this consciousness, to rupture from an insipid defeatism that often leads to reformist projects dressed up in revolutionary clothing, will be met with hostility even if these attempts possess a strategic understanding that is more advanced than the strategy and tactics of the aforementioned groups.  Even if a group like the RAF had a mature understanding of Protracted Peoples War and, instead of embarking on its tragic Guevarist adventure, initiated a struggle that would actually lead to a revolutionary mass movement, they would still have been denounced by the majority of the left in their country.  The only difference would be that at a certain point (one would hope), the revolutionary results would force the dismissive left to realize that they were wrong.

Decades after these failed attempts at the centres of capitalism, opportunism still lingers as the default consciousness of the left.  This is why those groups who call themselves left are more inclined to engage with reformist activities (sometimes branding them "revolutionary"), get worried when people actually talk about operationalizing revolution and what that would mean, get over-excited about spontaneous uprisings that will supernaturally eradicate capitalism, or think the conjuncture of single issue movementist struggles will mystically result in a swarm effect victory.

Or think that writing an anti-capitalist blog is somehow revolutionary: like I am doing right now!

There are moments when this type of toothless anti-capitalism reaches rebellious heights and when people do succeed in overstepping the default opportunism, but eventually the opportunism returns.  Even worse: now we've been trained into such opportunism that when the privilege upon which the culture industry survives (i.e. the labour aristocracy and welfare capitalism) is threatened, we've been so bloody domesticated that many of us think the best we can do is fight to keep reforms, argue for public funding, and mobilize around supposedly social democratic parties.  Right now, as the current economic crisis becomes even worse, so many of us are still refusing to seriously grapple with the fact that we should have been building the subjective conditions to take advantage of the objective situation.

And instead of saying "hey, maybe we should talk openly about a revolution that will get rid of capitalism and start organizing, you know, a revolutionary party or something of the sort," we tend to continue with the same idiot political practice that never got us anywhere before the crisis happened.  Why weren't we ready years ago for this possibility?  Answer: because of the opportunism that taught us to repeat the lie (and a lie that works very well for capitalism) that, since communism failed before, we won't be ready for a REAL COMMUNIST REVOLUTION for possibly hundreds of years.  The fact that we have promoted this way of thinking is evidence that our imaginations are limited by the "end of history" narrative promoted by capitalism, and I've complained about it before.  The fact that we still argue this position is not only evidence of our opportunistic consciousness but is utterly irresponsible: we are now in a moment of capitalist crisis and, due to our own inactivity, are unprepared and yet, even in this context, we are arguing that the masses should remain unprepared.  Some of us should be given jobs as creative counter-revolutionaries since we've done it so well for decades: if we didn't exist, the ruling class would have had to invent us!

Although it may be important for leftists to support reformist struggles, we need to ask ourselves why reformist struggles have become our prime organizational focus and why has the pursuit of revolution, and the discourse around it,, become nothing more than an abstract theoretical concern without any practical depth?  Self-proclaimed social democrats and left liberals will fight and organize for reforms, and often there are clearly good reasons for the left to support these struggles, but it is clearly a problem when that has become our primary "revolutionary" output for the past several decades.  Rosa Luxemburg, for example, argued that anything that ameliorated the misery of the masses was important––and many leftists involved in reformists movements never tire of making reference to this point––but she also argued that the business of the left was to organize for revolution.

The active left at the centres of capitalism has by-and-large produced a gap between theory and practice where, on one hand they talk to themselves in private about the necessity of revolution, and on the other hand, act like a disorganized and incoherent group of Bernsteinian opportunists.  And today, even large groups of anarchists/movementists who in the past were better in practice at confronting the state are, perhaps because of the limits of their ideology, often endorsing the same reformist ideology.

So the problems raised by the groups that involved themselves in an erroneous strategic practice still remain: the need to break through the opportunist boundaries imposed on the left in the centres of capitalism, the need for a revolutionary rupture.


  1. You talk about capitalism's end of history narrative... funny thing is, the capitalists and their sheeple are right in a sense, because capitalism will destroy all life on this planet if left as it is now; hence the 'end of history,' otherwise known as the the bad-end to humanities journey.

  2. Good point... Although that's not the "end of history" they mean, obviously, just that capitalism is the best we can get and will remain eternal for all of history. Trying to convince a capitalist of the "end of history" that capitalism actually brings, especially trotting out the "socialism or barbarism" argument", usually results in derision or glassy-eyed confusion.


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