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That Infuriating Uncritical Criticism

Nothing is more infuriating than liberals who imagine they are anti-capitalists but refuse to question their liberal assumptions.  And though it might seem like a broad general statement to claim that nothing is more infuriating than this, I am hard-pressed to think of anything more infuriating.  Honest reactionaries do not infuriate me; I know that they are my enemies and they know that they are mine.  Imperialism and capitalism are not infuriating; they just are social facts, limits that need to be overthrown––these realities, and the clear ideologies connected to them, are something that I despise and it is not infuriating to despise them.  After all, I don't feel the need to waste time debating with the imperialist because a part of me is stupidly convinced they might be an ally––again, I know they're my enemy.

But the liberal who arrogantly imagines s/he is an anti-capitalist and then wastes my time reproducing liberal ideology and calling it anti-capitalism is utterly infuriating.  Look, I know that most of us are negatively affected by liberalism and have to work hard to reject this ideology which masquerades as common sense; I also know that many people who unconsciously cling to liberal ideas might be the same people who, honestly interested in anti-capitalism, will reject these ideas when faced with arguments that cause them to question their ideological assumptions.  What infuriates me, however, are those liberals who refuse to admit that they're liberals, that their ideas are dubious rearticulations of the ruling ideas of the ruling class, and continuously refuse to question beliefs they hold to be sacrosanct.

These are the people who wander into leftist spaces, say the same crap about the Russian and Chinese Revolutions that US/Canadian capitalist textbooks presume, and then dismiss anyone who presents a critical leftwing interpretation of these world historical moments––even if it's as banal as saying "you can't just repeat cold-war ideology about the people supposedly murdered by Stalin and/or Mao"––as some sort of "brainwashed" authoritarian.  Oddly enough, the fact that their supposedly "critical" ideas of these revolutions is little more than a regurgitation of said cold-war propaganda is not treated as a moment of indoctrination.  In their minds, anyone who deviates from capitalist common sense is deceived; they are generally unaware of how bourgeois-pedestrian their ideas about world history are.

Although it is true that we must critique the great historical revolutions (they did fail, after all, and we must understand why they failed just as we must understand the moments where they were successful), there is a massive gulf between critiquing from the left and critiquing from the right.  To critique from the left is to try to provide an honest assessment, to cut through the common sense ideology beloved by bourgeois historians and politicians, rather than veer into repeating the very uncritical and ahistorical explanations that, though we might imagine otherwise, are far from unique.

You think Stalin and Mao were terrible monsters no different from Hitler?  Congratulations: you think the same as every reactionary and bourgeois historian.  You think communism is "good in theory and bad in practice"?  Wonderful: you're excellent at repeating supposedly profound insights that are woefully banal.  You are not original, you are not some exciting anarchist shaking up the left with your subversion, you are just repeating what mainstream pro-capitalist ideology was claiming from the moment revolution became a threat.  And if you cling to these beliefs as a point of pride, as if this is some sort of anti-capitalist badge of honour, then you really need to admit that you're a liberal like every other liberal and not the anti-authoritarian leftist you imagine you are.

Perhaps, to be honest, I am greatly infuriated by this pseudo-leftist liberalism because I was once guilty of this behaviour/thinking.  Back in the days when I was a proud anarchist, and thought that all communists were anti-authoritarians, I unconsciously reproduced liberal arguments about communism without realizing how unremarkable and ideological these arguments actually were.  Of course I tried to contextualize my anti-communism with an equally sincere anti-capitalism: both communism and capitalism were authoritarian, I would claim, both were soaked in the blood of the people, and only us clever and pure anarchists knew the truth about reality.  The fact that my claims about communism were heavily based on the capitalist ideology I thought I was also rejecting, and indeed came from dubious capitalist sources, was something I didn't even realize I needed to question.  It was just a fact of nature, like the water-cycle, and it was the communists, not those of us who sourced anti-communist historiographies, that were bloody dogmatists.

I have been told by some comrades that this was me in my anarchist past.

I clearly remember one conversation––some time in the first or second year of my undergraduate––where a friend told me that, my complaints about authoritarianism aside, at least those societies that emerged from socialist revolutions represented an ideology that was far more palatable than capitalism––so they weren't the same, he argued, and I couldn't just compare them uncritically.  (He wasn't even a communist, I should point out, but just an anarchist activist who approached history with more of a critical mindset.)  Rather than admit I was wrong, however, my response was to argue that the ideas a movement represents, no matter how palatable they might seem, are less important than how these ideas are implemented in the concrete world.  Of course, I was quite correct to make this point but I was incorrect in assuming that I had a proper understanding of the concrete world.  For while it is true that a theory is only proved as revolutionary in the crucible of historical praxis, my understanding of the historical praxis of communism was critically uncritical.

The anti-capitalist who refuses to recognize that they might be affected by liberal ideology is defined by this attitude of being critically uncritical.  They like to make the grandest critical statements about reality: "not only will I attack capitalism, but I will attack all the 'dogmas' of the historical left––that is just how much of a rebel I am!"  But the criticism is primarily focused on revolutionaries rather than on ideas uncritically gleaned from counter-revolutionary sources.  One imagines they are questioning everything when they are presupposing, without any critical investigation, an interpretation of history promoted by cold warriors and reactionaries.

As infuriating as these liberal pseudo-leftists might be, however, maybe it is necessary to become infuriated by engaging with them.  After all, I used to belong to this critically uncritical population and was lucky enough to stumble out of that bourgeois echo chamber (thanks, of course, to the patience of a lot of different comrades at different times in my life).  Or maybe I only find it infuriating because it is some sort of poetic justice… will I be doomed to engage with this population to which I used to belong for the rest of my life as some sort of karmic penance?  Most probably, yes.


  1. I was reading this the other day and this piece reminded me of it. Good stuff.

  2. I love this article. I went through a similar process myself(although as a Tony Cliff-style adherent of the 'state-capitalist' theory, which is an even more confused ideology then anarchism- at least anarchism has the virtue of consistently disowning ALL state socialism, instead of claiming to uphold the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 while using anarchist rhetoric to attack every revolution that came afterwards as 'state capitalist'). It took me years to overcome by liberal fears and go beyond what I 'knew' or what I thought I knew. My avid interest in history certainly helped.

    I am not a Maoist but I consider myself a critical defender of the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions, as well as the peoples war in India and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. We cannot hope to win the struggle against capitalist cultural hegemony if we do not reclaim OUR history from the lies, demonization and distortions of people's revolutions of the past.

    1. Hey: this comment somehow ended up in my spam filter, so I apologize for the 24 hour lag. Tony Cliff's "state capitalist" theory is interesting in that it shares something with the Communist Party China's criticism of the Soviet Union [indeed, the CPC coined this term long before Cliff used it] that was emerging under Khruschev––as well as what Maoists now say about China itself––but he just applied it to all actually existing socialisms, without nuance. I think Cliff's theory of deflected permanent revolution [can't remember if this is the precise terminology] also does the same thing––it moves towards something similar to Mao's theorization of things but not entirely––and instead of being a thorough synthesis ends up being somewhat eclectic.


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