Cosplay Socialists and Real Revolution

Cosplay Socialists - Jimmy DoreIn 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech on “West India Emancipation.” In it, he noted something that is widely misunderstood. He said, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

I think people imagine this in the context of the Civil Rights Movement — that one can’t expect social progress by waiting around for the power elite to realize that they ought to grant you the same rights they have. But I don’t think this is right. The word is “demand” not “request.” A demand implies consequence. Although the first consequence may not be violence (as Douglass notes), ignored demands ultimately lead to it.

Violence

In his book Intellectuals, Paul Johnson argues that leftist intellectuals eventually get around to accepting violence. He’s right. He didn’t need to write yet another cherry-picked conservative rant to prove it.

But what Johnson doesn’t admit is that violence is the basis of right-wing belief. It’s just that the right-wing is defending the status quo. So they define their violence as justified because they have enacted laws.

But laws are not correlated with morality. Imagine that you were in a flooded area and all the store owners were gone. If your child would die without some medication, you would be morally right to break into a pharmacy — even if you personally accepted the morality of property rights.

Take it one step further: why should you accept the morality of property rights? They are simply the result of historical theft from the commons. In other words, they are just a facile justification for historical violence.

Cosplay Socialists

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists.

I’ve reached the point where I think that major social advancement will require violence. This is not because leftists are violent. Rather it is because the existing power structure will do anything it can to stop the degradation of its power. What I hope is that there are enough working people behind the cause to make resistance clearly futile. But looking at North Korea, I’m not encouraged.

In the United States, there are lots of what I call Cosplay Socialists. And as much as I like Bernie Sanders, I’d have to say that he is one. Still, a better example is Jimmy Dore. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate a lot of what Dore says. But he clearly sees himself as a revolutionary. And he isn’t.

What I think defines Cosplay Socialists is the belief that they can get revolution at the ballot box. And this isn’t going to happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if the billionaire class said, “You know, you’re right! Private property is theft! We don’t deserve all this money!”

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Let me lay it out. Suppose that leftists got control of Washington. They increased the number of seats on the Supreme Court to 100 and outlawed private property. Does anyone question that the military would side with Trump (or someone similar) and declare martial law? And every policing agency in the nation would side with this? And given that, how would the people fight back?

No. If the revolution comes, it will be in some small scale action. And it will grow from there. Most Cosplay Socialists I know are relatively well off. Would they — Would Jimmy Dore! — risk their comfortable lives to give revolution a chance?

Are they willing to risk death for a 10 percent shot at a better nation? What about a 1 percent shot? To be honest, I don’t think they would do it for a 50 percent chance — and there’s no way we are going to get odds like that.


Cosplay Socialist John Lennon: “Don’t you know that you can count me out (in).”

Marginal Change

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists. Because here’s the thing: Denmark isn’t socialist. And don’t start talking to me about “democratic socialism” because that is simply a pretentious term for “liberal.”

So given that all the Democratic Socialists don’t actually support what would be required for revolution, they should get used to what our current system allows for: marginal improvements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m keen to limit the damage done by our system until we can change it in a categorical way.

Of course, I’m a pessimist. Even if a workers’ revolution succeeded, history shows that all the other capitalist nations would sanction the new government. The BBC would report that the American People were against the revolution. The only advantage we would have is that the United States wouldn’t be trying to destroy our new government — but only because we managed to defeat it first.

The question then comes: do you support revolution in a meaningful way? Or do you just think that after workers have a majority in Congress the power elite will go along? If the latter, you need to stop pretending and start appreciating marginal advances like Obamacare and same-sex marriage, because those are the only things you are actually willing to fight for.

Afterword

Neal Meyer at Jacobin wrote, What Is Democratic Socialism? The article is typical of the happy horseshit of the power of sustained democratic pressure — even as he notes how Scandinavian countries have failed to attain socialism. But even he seems to understand the problems that socialism faces against entrenched capitalism, “At that moment, it will be the job of democratic socialists in movements and in government to do everything necessary to defend the democratic mandate they won” (emphasis mine).

I understand that one can’t call for violent revolution in this country; it is illegal — which is the same as outlawing radical change. (This alone proves that there is absolutely nothing “natural” about capitalism given that it only survives via edict.) The question is not what one’s public position is but rather whether if we are willing to do everything necessary to assure that a state by, for, and of workers will replace the capitalist system.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

20 thoughts on “Cosplay Socialists and Real Revolution

  1. Orwell made a similar point in one of his essays. He observed that while the Indian independence movement was nonviolent, it involved violence — Gandhi and the other protesters were willing to get beaten up/killed. And of course American civil rights protesters had that same amazing courage.

    Simply attending a rally does little. It does something for the attendees, who make contacts, become more energized for a cause, etc. Not much to convince the opposition. You have to be willing to get your skull cracked.

    But the principle of nonviolent resistance (which the water defenders at Standing Rock exemplified) depends on well-meaning cowards like myself being made aware of protester bravery. So we can support them in our own feeble way (voting, contacting representatives, so on). How many people have seen “Five Broken Cameras”? Without widely-seen reports, I’m not sure nonviolence is an effective strategy. Although it is absolutely the most moral strategy.

    And as Chris Hedges repeats constantly, violence against power is almost certainly futile, because they have more guns. While they will use the media they own to show violent resistance as a justification for more violent oppression.

    Here’s a haunting question. Did the Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire help end the Vietnam war? I do not know.

    • The Buddhist suicide protests probably moved some fence-sitting Vietnamese further from the ARVN government, so I suspect it was part of the various factors involved that brought that government down. Was it 0.1%? 0.001%? Hard to say.

      More importantly, though, was the US public’s unwillingness to back further violence in support of the ARVN. That was, in effect, the equivalent of the British Indian government’s unwillingness to use massive force against the “Quit India” protestors that led to independence. Ten years ago Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns, and Money wrote a great essay about the relationship between power and governance using the iconic video of the Tianenmen Square “tank man” as thesis (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2009/06/tank-man-and-tank-commander). His nut graf was:

      “The thing is, Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn’t the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man. Eisenstein used the Odessa Steps to demonstrate the corruption of the Czarist regime, but the regime didn’t die until the soldiers refused to shoot the demonstrators. The successor regime didn’t die until Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in August 1991. While there’s some mystery as to the fate of Tank Man, I don’t doubt that the CCP found Tank Commander and put a bullet in the back of his head at the first opportunity.”

      And that’s pretty much it. Until the people with guns get fed up enough with Capital to side with Labor – or, at least, to stand aside as Labor eviscerates Capital’s governance – there will be no socialism, or even “socialism” in the capitalist West…

      • That is a great quote. I remember even in high school having similar thoughts. Not that I could really identify them at the time. I just remember the image was everywhere as a symbol of Courage Against Evil, and it struck me that the tank driver couldn’t have been entirely evil.

        • It is a good reminder that there were two humans facing off. Usually, people don’t come face-to-face with their “enemies.” Indeed, it is often the case that they are only enemies because they do not come face-to-face. Look at the way that people who live far away from the Mexican border are usually far more anti-immigrant than people living right on the border. Many of the most racist people live in areas that are completely homogenous. It’s crazy.

          • It helps if the enemies are “different”. IIRC the U.S. Army did some research into what happened to the people who fought in the various theaters in WW2. They found that, in general, the guys who went to the ETO (Italy and France, and then Germany) typically came away feeling LESS animosity against individual German and Italian soldiers after they’d seen them, either as prisoners or corpses. The common attitude was “They’re just guys like us, forced to fight for their country.”

            The Pacific Theater guys, though? The opposite. The more they saw of the Japanese, the more vicious and racist the hatred, the more they saw the Japanese soldiers as some sort of two-legged vermin.

            It doesn’t surprise me a bit that Trump’s Fightin’ Whities see immigration from Mexico, Rwanda, or Bangladesh as a nightmare but from Norway as peachy.

            • That’s depressing, but as you say: hardly surprising. But I don’t think physical or cultural differences really don’t matter in the end. Ultimately, people will make fine distinctions. I’ve always found hatred of Jews weird because they just look “white” to me. Yet that was a fine distinction with catastrophic consequences. If there is a leader who wants it, people will pick it up and run with it.

      • That’s an excellent point about the military. That is the way it always works. If you can’t get the military on your side, you are doomed. That’s truer now than ever since the US would have no problem controlling the entire nation with robots.

        I think you are underestimating the importance of the monk protestors. From my extensive research (admittedly, over a decade ago), they really did have a large impact on the Kennedy administration and I question whether the coup would have been successful (or even attempted) without the US’s acquiescence.

        As for Tiananmen Square, I started graduate school the year after. I knew a lot of Chinese students. Only about half of them believed that it had happened. The other half were certain (or said they were certain) that it was just anti-Chinese propaganda. They were a lot like Fox News viewers today.

    • I admit that my position is difficult — and fluid. This article comes out of my determination that the powerful will not give up their power just because democracy says they should. Rights that go beyond democracy are contingent. I think there are a lot of them. But they don’t include property rights. And they certainly don’t include the right of people who stole wealth to hang on to it.

      Of course, the more obvious point of this is that I find certain people who call themselves socialists annoying. Better than Cosplay Socialists is Happy Horseshit Socialists. Because I really don’t think they understand what we are up against. I don’t blame Sanders because he decided to be a politician in the current political environment. He’s good. I like him. I just wish he wouldn’t call himself a socialist. There is this idea, “If I could have any political system I would choose socialism.” Fine! But if I could just be rich I would be. That doesn’t mean that I’m willing to do what it takes (ie, be an awful person) to be rich.

      I think the monks were successful in getting rid of Diem. Certainly, the protests turned the Kennedy administration off and they let a coup happen. My understanding is that they wanted the Catholics out of power because they really were stifling the Buddhists. They got that. But I don’t know how things worked out long-term.

      • You see Happy Horseshit socialists all over the web; they’re an absolute infestation on some sites. They’ve never so much as risked a raise by standing up for coworkers, but nobody is “socialist” enough for them. It’s like “Waiting For Guevara.”

        At least in cosplay you have to put effort into creating an outfit!

        • That’s an excellent point! But many of them do a lot of work without doing a lot of thinking. Jimmy Dore has a rather good show even though he mostly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

          I read something recently about the Che Guevara image. The argument was that it has not become popular because of anything political. (Not a surprise, of course.) It became popular because (1) it looks cool and (2) it was always in the public domain. It’s the latter point that was most important.

  2. It is possible to have large changes without violence – but a putative socialist government would need to:
    – link up with same-minded countries, i.e. there needs to be simultaneous moves in more than one country,
    – moves to appropriate the bulk of the wealth of the 0.1% must be done quickly, without parliamentary debate, and
    – the billionaires would need to be arrested and held for a few years while law enforcement cuts quickly into organized crime (otherwise the politicians will be assassinated).

    Violence is not strictly necessary, but we’d have to arrest the billionaires, leave then with about $1M each and tell them they’ll just have to live with one mansion – once they are released. That is, some radical action, if not violent, is necessary.

    • What is this from? I’m going to assume that it is you.

      1. The biggest problem facing socialism is that all the developed countries do all they can to destroy any country that doesn’t abide by the neoliberal consensus. They even do this in capitalist countries that have socialist governments.

      2. This isn’t socialism, however. There’s much more to say about this, but consider this question: is it acceptable to allow people to keep their personal property if it were acquired by theft?

      3. Clearly the rich would have to be prevented from leaving the country.

      My point isn’t that violence is necessary. My point is that the capitalist system itself will require violence. Just look at the labor struggles of the late 19th and early 20th century. The capitalists wouldn’t provide the most basic worker demands without violence. And if we thought that was bad it is nothing compared to how they will act when the very system is risked.

  3. Darn – can’t edit after posting with an error.

    They also would need to purge the leadership of military and police – before parliamentary debate starts.

    • Something will have to be done with the military, but I don’t know what. The police need to be disbanded and replaced with something integrated with the community. I wouldn’t allow any current member of the police to participate in that. They’ve been soiled by the current system that exists to keep the weak down.

  4. And they would need to arrest all grassroots far-right leaders.

    Basically, preemptive suspension of civil liberties would need to be applied to the 1% and to right-wingers.

    Let’s not shoot them this time, though.

    • There are so few grassroots right-wing leaders. I don’t have a problem with them. Without corporate funding, the right is effectively dead. I don’t want to oppress anyone; I just want a new system. The fact that most people today don’t see that property is theft doesn’t make it any less so.

        • Oh yeah, the neo-Nazis are a grassroots movement. It’s easy to miss that! I used to think we didn’t need to worry about them. Of course, when full fascism comes to this country, it will have a new name and be backed by the Koch brothers.

    • Absolutely. The more I think about it the less attainable it seems. But then, this is why Terry Eagleton refers to it as his religion: his faith in a better society against all evidence.

      What I think I’m trying to do here is push leftists one way or the other. It’s fine if people don’t want a radical change. There is an enormous amount to say about marginal improvements. (But recent history shows how easy it is to go backward.) But if people are for radical change, they need to understand what that entails.

      I like several short comments rather than one long one. It makes conversations easier. Well, easier for me. :-)

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