By Doctor Comrade
The following conversation took place February 16 and 17. Matt Hall is a Harvard-educated historian. I.F. Dzherzhinsky is a founding member of the People’s Empowerment Union, a socialist Antifa group. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and hyperlinks were added where appropriate. The unedited and unabridged form of the conversation can be accessed here.
DC: Democrats imprisoned Chelsea Manning and exiled Edward Snowden under the Obama Administration's crackdown on whistleblowers. Now Democrats proudly cheer at FBI/CIA/NSA leaks about Trump. Come on.
Matt Hall: Different kinds of leaks. Different scale. Different targets. Not all leaks are made alike. As the New Yorker stated, there's a difference between a leak and a flood: the difference in scale changes the nature of the act. Even Snowden and Manning feel like entirely different cases from each other. Certainly, none of the current leaks have revealed details of national security programs.
Further, Politifact argues that the Administration strengthened certain types of whistleblower protection.
Also, the attacks on Democrats as a monolithic group ignores that some of them are on Team Snowden and Manning regardless. There were enough of them that Obama reversed course at the end of his administration and allowed Manning to walk free. Some of the same sources excited about leaks then are excited about leaks now.
Additionally, articles on Motherboard argue that leaks are becoming more frequent, perhaps due to technology changes and the amount of information available, as well as communication avenues available and ease of monitoring. The uptick in Obama-era prosecutions may be a reaction to this increase in both leaks and the ability to detect leaks.
I agree with the idea, "The majority of the Democratic Party turned a blind eye to most of the wrong things Obama did and worshiped the ground he walked on. Even questioning aspects of it became a line of attack against 2016 candidates." However, the leaks then and now are different in scope, scale, and source.
I.F. Dzherzhinsky: And we should care why? The capitalist state contradicts itself all the time, especially when something is released which would challenge the hegemony of it or, especially, capital. Those protections don't mean shit when whistleblowers were chased after harder by the previous administration than any in recent memory. Stop defending the bankruptcy of both wings of the capitalist party with this. Those of the dismal Democrats who supported Snowden and Manning did not do so using their public platform, nor did they publicly excoriate their party and break with them, meaning they're complicit, and their "opposition" is merely a charade. They are elated at these developments because they have nothing in their arsenal to undermine the administration, nor do they have a program other than what gave us this bumbling fool in the first place.
MH: Does a government, any government, often feature contradictions and inadequacies? Yes. Students of Marx, like Mao Zedong, would argue that even a new Communist state would feature these internal contradictions, and the dialectic would continue. Perhaps if one believes that the Communist state would be pure and perfect, flawless in its execution, and would manage to somehow fight human nature to remain in this state of perfection for eternity, then a non-capitalist state would be free of contradictions. I regard that as an illusion. Governments will always have contradictions, the dialectic of governance will continue, and the balance between opposing poles will persist, even if their form shifts. Not all leaks are made the same. Passing them all off as the same under a moral equivalency ignores the richness of the situation and the devils in the details, which in turn promotes a lack of critical thought and, frequently, a morally bankrupt perspective that advocates only pure options in a world where those options do not exist.
Also, is defending national security always morally bankrupt? Is a police state suddenly something that Communists get upset about? Last time I checked, Communist movements only seem to oppose police states that monitor every action and punish those who threaten society when that state isn't Communist itself. The real moral downfall isn't about the treatment of people like Snowden or Manning, but instead about basically any action except resistance in a capitalist society, because even inaction results in the perpetration of the capitalist system. "It's only okay when we do it," is the same logic that damned Democrats in the first place when they chose to overlook Obama's failures.
Further, breaking with the Democratic Party because one disagrees with a single position is an absurdly high level of required purity. This type of asceticism is a sort of socialist decadence, a religiosity that contributes to schisms of the party between, at least, the theoretical ideologically pure wings detached from a gray reality, and the pragmatic wings which are painted as sellouts and failures, laughing stocks of the movement. It is self-destructive and ridiculous.
Although, I do wonder why I've never seen Communists as the type to pick up a gun. Does not actively training to snipe or assassinate Donald Trump indicate complicity in his policies? If so, we are all guilty. That's very much like the ISIS ideology of Islam: if you are not actively, violently supporting Islam, you are not a real supporter. Perhaps that is a natural extreme, to descend to "with us or against us," the Manichean ending of good and evil.
I don't understand the value of homogenizing Democrats as a group, which is a way of objectifying and dehumanizing them, especially for a morally grey situation like this. Further, even if we do treat Democrats as a homogeneous group that cheered on the persecution of leakers before and now support leaks, and if we do treat all leaks as if they're exactly the same in content, scope, and purpose, then the leaks are still targeted to destroy and weaken a terrible person and sow discord in a corrupt system as a whole, so I'm not clear on the gain for condemning people for holding that view now, just because they didn't hold it before. That's a natural and rational reaction to the changing conditions: condemnation for hypocrisy only makes sense if there is moral equivalency between Obama and Trump, which I don't believe at all.
IFD: You show your ignorance of Marxism, especially with this "Communist state" nonsense. The dictatorship of the proletariat or the embryonic lower stage of socialism would have contradictions due to being born from the previous order and containing vestiges of it while shedding itself of them in the process. The contradiction in this situation is between two sections of the capitalists and their respective parties. Mao was such a revisionist to the degree that he negated the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, so his theory does support that position, but not the ones before him. Furthermore, "human nature" is shaped by the forces and relations of production, so this is bunk. Continuing on, the state would cease to exist in communism. Governance would mean administration of the allocation of resources most efficiently, not for one or another's profit, but for the necessity of all and the preservation of the species in harmony with the earth. Government would mainly be a recorder of statistics and a sort of network hub. There may be a reason to allow leaks [now] in order to catch them and their coterie. However, to this, we don't want them to stop the leaking since it reveals the bankruptcy of the capitalist state. Let them leak like a sieve.
More about "communist states": spare us the usual moralizing and drivel about us wanting police states. The "police states" of "communist states" are nothing compared to today's apparatus in capitalist countries. Further, they faced very real risks of infiltration and subversion to restore capitalism along with the usual destabilizing practices, since that is what actually happened, leading to lost lives, ruined economies, all in the name of capital. Finally, every state creates repressive apparatuses to keep their class dictatorship and hegemony dominant where the ideological state apparatuses fail.
Breaking with the Democratic Party in opposition to fundamental views it holds is a principled stance, especially if one cannot find recourse in the normal functioning.
If you also haven't noticed, socialists don't join the Democratic Party, and these "socialists" who are in the party aren't [socialists], as they're not interested in destroying capital and its relations, but the preservation of capitalism and the hegemony by buying off a section of the workers with reforms. They're social democrats. The "proper response" for a communist is to work to create an autonomous party of the working-class, its organic intellectuals and sympathetic inorganic intellectuals to subvert and ultimately, get rid of capitalist hegemony by any and all means necessary.
Democrats are humans, yes, but their cheering of leaks now belies interests relevant to the section of the capitalist class that identifies with them as well as those who Democrats pander to, but I'm mainly talking about the Democrats in office and the upper echelons of the party. One can change their mind about a particular issue, but this must also be connected to which class it serves.
Trump is American empire unmasked, in its most naked form, this time instead of a puppet of the capitalist class doing the directing, you instead have one of the puppeteers. While the puppeteer may be a bumbling fool, he's continuing most of his predecessors policy, tinkering around the edges in aspects.
MH: Ultimately, the ideas of a post-capitalist society where governance only "the necessity of all and the preservation of the species in harmony with the earth" is the utopianism I referred to. Dismissing the idea of human nature entirely assumes that there is no biological component. It also assumes that man's relationship with the forces of production can so radically change that archetypes that have existed for thousands of years, like greed and a desire for power, can be overcome. Perhaps such elements could be changed with biological engineering, but there is an in-built element of humans that comes from nature and evolution. Those elements don't go away just because they're labeled as bunk and shoved aside.
I'm glad that we agree, at least, that the leaks are a good thing.
My comments on police state were not "police state is bad," but rather that from a Communist standpoint, police states are justified in certain situations. They are not inherently immoral. Instead, they are immoral insofar as what the security powers are used for. I think there is room for a discussion on the morality of security, but that wasn't an implication here. The implication instead is that it doesn't seem Marxists have a theoretical reason to care about Snowden or Manning, but rather a practical one, in that they exposed the system and potentially weakened the system and thus they are good in that regard.
The use of socialist and "socialist" is absolutely an example of the no true Scotsman problem. Maybe Bernie Sanders isn't really a socialist, he's just what most young Americans now think of as a socialist. Those democratic socialists [in the Democratic Party] do wish to reduce the amount of power that capital has, weaken the stranglehold of the ruling classes, and make life better for everyone, especially the poor and the downtrodden. They are a different type of socialist, but they have just as much right to exist and wear the title even if that destroys ideological purity.
My point is that there are groups which humans participate in without full support of everything they do. That participation is, in a sense, tacit acceptance of the system. If I understand your counterargument, it's okay to use the system so long as it's directed towards the proper ends of resistance, [but] how much can one use the system for subversive means before they become part of the system? How much can I embrace the capitalist hegemony to fight the capitalist hegemony? That seems to be the critique of the not-legit "socialists" -- that they're not revolutionary enough, that their incrementalism only serves to conserve the system and make it more resilient. Modern US Communists, within the last 20 years, don't seem to have [used] violence as a tactic. Perhaps there are private resistance groups using violent tactics, in which case, they appear to be highly ineffective.
I agree that Trump is an unmasking, but of what, I'm not sure. Of the government as a whole? Of the Republican wing of capitalists? Of businessmen? Some members of the proletariat seem oddly enamored with him, especially in those states that flipped in the Rust Belt. I'm not sure Trump is the American Empire unmasked -- I only resist because of my kneejerk dislike of broad generalizations like that.
IFD: Please spare us the tired arguments of human nature. Please read those alongside [Vladimir Lenin's] State and Revolution as well as [Peter Kropotkin's] Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. "Human nature" is mutable to such a degree that it shouldn't be called such. Again, communism is such a radical change in relations that impetus for deleterious aspects would diminish, as these were not present in primitive communism.
"Police states" or repressive state apparatuses are needed to the extent that the class dictatorship whether capitalist or proletarian needs it to be.
Sanders is a social democrat who doesn't challenge capital nor the class dictatorship of capitalists. Does that mean proposals he makes in support of the working-class are inherently bad? Yes and no. Yes in that they merely reform the system for its preservation and later attacks on the working-class, since most of the time, the concession made by the working-class is dropping the class struggle. No in that they alleviate suffering. Lenin destroyed Bernsteinian and Kautskyite revisionism in the same vein as Engels, so while these "democratic socialists" may be a vacillating ally, they don't go far enough.
One should not commit themselves wholly to using the system, but use it to undermine it, then go outside to attack from without with the hegemony and party of the proletariat.
I mentioned the Democrats in office and in the higher echelons of the party. They have a hegemony which is enforced throughout the party. Some may be progressive, some may be blue dogs, but they agree with the majority or all the basic planks of the platform. The Democratic Party may pass laws beneficial to our cause, but in order to co-opt the movement and defang it. They may be useful in very limited situations, but agitation within or actively working with them is less than useless.
Trump is an unmasking of Empire, of the true logic of capital, of the state, and of the class interests the capitalist state ultimately serves. Members of the proletariat or more accurately, the labor aristocracy and descendants of the settler-colonialists, are enamored with him because they feel their privileges are eroding; that equality, no matter how incremental is actually an attack on them. They are also enraged at being cast down either from the labor aristocracy and petty bourgeois to the proletariat due to the logic of neoliberal capitalism.