I’ve been on a roll writing about political practice lately (you can read my previous entries here and here) and I want to continue the streak by addressing another line of thinking regarding electoralism. So, dear reader, let’s talk about post-politics.
Post-politics is the result of some sort of combination of bad logic, laziness, or reactionary tendencies. Post-politics is not an ideology so much as an anti-praxis, more akin to nihilism than anything else. The collection of sentiments which constitute post-politics begins with Marxist analysis as its foundation, and piled on top is psychoanalysis mixed with cultural critique with reactionary romanticism sprinkled on top as palate pleaser.
It takes as its organizing threat the dreaded Professional Managerial Class/Social Justice Warrior, who present two problems to the group. The first problem is that PMC/SJW are boring scolds who ruin the vibes, and their association with any project taints the process and product. Second is that the PMC/SJW are the dominant cultural force in American society, which makes them part of the ruling class. The PMC/SJW’s chief sin seems to be hypocrisy, they preach about equality and acceptance while actually perpetuating exploitation and prejudice. And any attempt at socialism which relies upon the PMC/SJW as a core constituency is doomed to fail because they contain essentially counter-revolutionary tendencies.
Populist-leftists do not counterpose their own theory for change, nor does their post-politics provide an alternative for action at all. Rather, their theory is a critique of political engagement, specifically that the Democratic Party serves as the “left-wing” of capital and seeks to assimilate or disburse radical energy, so engaging with the Democratic Party in any fashion leads to subjugation of the Left by capital. Further, proponents of electoral engagement within the Democratic Party through the primary system are “sheep-dogs” who keep naïve leftists corralled and firmly entrenched within the Democratic Party, stymieing a radical break from the party. So-called sheep-dogs tend to be media figures–writers, podcasters, producers etc–who use their cultural cache to gently prod consumers of their product toward the Democratic Party. The PMC/SJW are Democratic staffers who maintain the capitalist party machinery, while sheep-dogs serve an auxiliary function. Both serve the interests of capital by maintaining the current structure of the political system.
The closest to a counter-proposal the populist-left gets to making is a flirtation with the notion of working within the Republican party. The queen of the populist-left, Aimee Terese, has on a number of occasions suggested that voting for Trump is the real socialist option. Other popular media figures of the populist-left such as Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey often appear on Tucker Carlson’s show to lambast the excesses of liberalism, working in simpatico against a common enemy. Neither Capitalists nor Republicans nor rabid conservatives are the focus of the post left’s ire, rather it is the awful PMC/SJW who are the real enemy, the true threat to radical change.
However, the public flirtations with figures in right-wing media do not translate into real world political action because post-politics is fundamentally against real world interaction. It’s a practice which recognizes our transition from biopolitics to psychopolitics, and doubles-down on using the internet as a tool for liberation. Byung-Chul Han stipulated that neoliberalism uses social media as a tool of self-subjugation, “instead of making people compliant, it seeks to make them dependent.” How else can Aimee Terese or Michael Tracey or Glenn Greenwald’s use of social media be described than “dependent”?
They are dependent on social media because the real world is hostile to their ideology, such as it is, due to its essentially anti-social character. Put downs like the ableist r-word or “libtard” are a regular feature of their vocab. Aimee Terese and her ilk will often refer to people as “leftoids”, which strips their opponents of their humanity as well as agency, because they’re no different than androids or robots.
There would not be a need to use social media if the populist-left could fulfill their politics in a different fashion. But they have no place of their own. There is not a political organization which represents their hodge-podge interests, and they have not created a space of their own. If they organize at all, it’s not under their own banner but ironically under the rose of DSA. Instead, there is a media clique that provides an outlet for their views. And absent an organizational network for information distribution, this media clique relies upon social media to distribute its message.
Populist-left post-politics is a media phenomenon obsessed with the self. It is inherently anti-solidaristic and its propagandists are unwilling or unable to engage in collective struggle. Instead, their primary concern seems to be reaching the Truth Of The Matter; they appropriate socialist theory for their personal journey to enlightenment. And in the process they’ve forgotten Marx’s 11th Thesis: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Why I dismiss this group out of hand is for the simple fact they cannot answer the question “what is to be done”. What’s the alternative? Even if the answer is wrong, misguided, viscous, evil, boring, stupid, there would still be an answer. But undergirding every venomous insult, or outrageous observation, and piddly excuse for intellectual output is an empty nihilism. A belief in nothing, because nothing can be done to address the political problems of our age. The left who purportedly believe in proletarian revolution and the overthrow of the bourgeois state are actually impotent, ridiculous, self-serving, effete, and are unable or unwilling to further a proletarian revolution. On the right, most of them are corporatist pigs or mutated prosperity gospel hogs, and the select few cool right-wingers have little power. For the post-politics populist Left, they are forced into their practice of post-politics for they simply do not have a political home.
And what alternative plan Aimee does communicate ends up supporting reactionary politics. For example:
Carl Beijer wrote a short piece providing a definition to what he calls the “post-left” and in that piece he says “Too reactionary for left media and too mediocre for the right, the Post Left is camped out in the uncompetitive niche market of Republican Marxism” which is the best way to understand the essence of this form of politics. It’s a full-throated rejection of the current state of the American socialist movement coupled with a too-clever-by-half idea for breaking apart the bourgeois state, which actually amounts to perpetuating the status quo; don’t join DSA’s struggle against the political establishment because it is doomed to fail, and the only way to defeat the political establishment is to vote for Trump.
By trying to logic her way toward realizing the perfect class formation for a modern socialist revolution, Aimee ends up lost in the clouds, and mistakes her political grievance for political practice. When I asked Carl Beijer for a comment he said “when you are making this ‘socialists for Biden are party hacks’ argument while also taking this ‘socialists for Trump are just doing clever strategy’, you’re de facto just campaigning for the GOP.” Further, at the heart of post-politics is nihilism and antisocial behavior, an obsession with transgression and a fear that the collective may trample on the individual. There is no belief in a common struggle because they logicked away the possibility for common struggle. Instead, there is online debate and the smug satisfaction of being right.