What Is to Be Done?
An Exchange with John Schneider, Part 1
Introduction: John Schneider and I have opposed the existing regime for nearly forty years, though our original opposition was framed in the ideological and organizational terms of the revolutionary Marxist Left. Neither of us any longer sympathizes with this Left, but we nevertheless accept that it has something still to teach the Right. And though we differ on many things, I think his thoughts on the tasks facing the present anti-system opposition deserve a hearing. –M. O.
Dear Mike: As always, it was a pleasure chatting with you today. Here is the email I mentioned I would send. Please forgive the first part, in which I unfairly accuse you of a Trotskyite deviation. After our talk I realize that this is not correct but I would rather send this than attempt to re-write it. The end is a bit hurried and overwrought but, again, I’d rather send it as it is than worry about revising it. –John
“Auf tausend Kriege kommen nicht zehn Revolutionen,
so schwer ist der aufrechte Gang.” – Ernst Bloch
“If you don’t hit it, it won’t fall.” – Chairman Mao
Argument of John Schneider: I’ve been reflecting on your recent email, as well as on your general view regarding what you perceive to be the possible coming collapse of the West. I think that in general I agree with your assessment of the issues facing the system (although you’ve left out the most salient feature – demography). There remains, however, a disparity in tone and emphasis between us, which I think reflects more than just a difference in mood or style.
While I hate to say it, your focus on the possibility of collapse seems to reflect the fact that politically (as opposed to ideologically) your methodology remains a little too Trotskyite.
In your last email, for example, you said:
But I’m looking for the long shot and judging the possibilities. . . . That said, I still believe that not just the American System, but all of ‘Western Civilization’ is today in serious trouble.
The difficulties facing the state are unprecedented and potentially system-destroying . . .
A few more catastrophes that add to the growing stresses already afflicting it and the system becomes completely dysfunctional. When this occurs, people will start looking around for alternatives.
All this sounds to me like a white nationalist version of the Trotskyite view, which holds that as the crises of capitalism inevitably worsen, the light bulb will suddenly come on over the collective head of the working class, as it says almost as one: “Oh, the Revolutionary Workers League has had the correct program all along! Let’s join them and make a revolution.”
In fact, and as a historian you know this, things have never worked out that way. Instead, time after time, the workers have turned to the Social Democrats and the Stalinists because these were the movements which already had deep roots in the class when the crises came. The Trotskyite Cassandras just never got the call, no matter how prescient they may have been.
I also think that while there is no question but that the coming decades will be extremely problematic ones for the system, the notion that it will become “completely dysfunctional” or even collapse has no historical precedent, other than in countries which are quite primitive – think of the Congo – and/or have suffered catastrophic military defeats. As serious as the issues you mention are, I just don’t believe that any of them rise to this level on their own or even together.
The problem with relying on the system to collapse under its own weight is not just that it is unlikely to occur.
The bigger issue is that such a view breeds a passive, abstentionist political approach, relying on the production of fierce-sounding tracts and the elaboration of ideologically-precise programs to the practical exclusion of any real involvement in the struggles of the day (which are seen as generally irrelevant and futile – or, at best, as simply a means of contacting potential recruits).
The system has survived crisis after crisis, as Bloch recognized, and will likely continue to do so until an agent arises to intervene in these crises to create a different outcome.
Response of Michael O’Meara: John, You have long chastised me for the implicit passivity inherent in the “politics of catastrophism,” just you have repeatedly criticized white nationalists for having no sense of the political.
On both counts, I must concede.
Lenin knew that workers, in struggling against capital, might organize trade unions and other such formations to advance their particular interest within the economic system, but this alone was something very different from a revolutionary class-consciousness seeking the system’s overthrow.
The breakdowns and crises afflicting every system may therefore provoke “spontaneous” reactions in defense of various social actors, but these reactions “in themselves” are rarely the stuff of revolution.
More generally, I think you’re again correct to claim, on Leninist principle, that the advent of a “pre-revolutionary” situation, fostered by crisis and breakdown, almost never culminates in an actual revolution — if there does not exist a revolutionary vanguard to concentrate the anti-system forces and lead a concerted assault on the dominant “order” before it manages to recover.
I have one minor and one major difference with you.
The minor difference is perhaps not a difference at all. The age of the revolutionary party — in the classical Bolshevik sense or even in the sense of Mussolini’s Blackshirts — seems strangely remote to our postmodern world, where the state is no longer the central actor and where political mobilization is as much about communications and the affirmation of identity as it is about direct action in the public sphere.
What Sam Francis called “Middle American” radicalism — in its half-century long resistance to various elite social-engineering campaigns — took, relatedly, a largely grassroots, localist, and single-issue form.
While we agree that white nationalists and other anti-system actors ought to intervene in these populist movements, the formation of a vanguard party (in the professional, militarist, centralized — i.e., Jesuit — way Lenin advocated) to capture the leadership of these diverse oppositions seems somehow inappropriate to our age.
I suspect the next American revolution will be precipitated more in the way it occurred in pre-1789 France than in early 20th-century Russia or in postwar Italy and Germany. The revolutionary agent, as a result, will probably not be a “party” per se, but a new consciousness promoted through the metapolitical activities of salons, societies of thought, blogs, and other traditional and digital media promoting an anti-liberal critique of the dominant system. Once these activities inform the consciousness of a critical mass of like-minded oppositionalists, it will perhaps then be possible to organize a party to capture the dominant institutions.
This is not to say that we ought to sit back and await the impending collapse.
Rather, we must, as you stress, do everything to make ourselves worthy of the destiny we claim.
The point I make is Maistre’s: Providence has a way of leading men who may think they are leading themselves.
Oppositional “interventions,” in any case, will be less centralized and less coordinated (“a leaderless resistance”?) and oppositionists will probably have to go through a period, like that of 1789–92, before they acquire the means and the consensus to create a party that will serve as the vanguard of a new system.
That’s the minor point. My major difference is about the nature of the coming crisis, which I believe is not only inevitable but likely to be system destroying — like those Hollywood disaster films about 13.5 earthquakes.
The single relevant model of rapid system collapse is that of the Soviet Union. The American case, I see, is more likely to follow its course than the historically more common forms of gradual civilizational decline and fall.
Why? The Soviet Union was no civilization in any traditional sense — that is, it wasn’t something that had organically grown out of Russia’s historical distillation of Greek Orthodox High Culture.
Instead, it was an artificial system constructed on certain unworkable ideological tenets. Even before the 1980s, Soviet elites had stopped believing these tenets, realizing the system itself needed a radical overhaul if it were to keep running.
The United States, by contrast, began as an extension of European culture, and however vulgar or superficial its New World civilization may have been, it was something more than an artificially contrived system.
This would change, though, especially after the Gilded Age culminated in the Great Depression of the 1930s — when the country had to be rescued by Roosevelt’s “managerial revolution.” Since then, the United States has embarked on a permanent project of renewal — of liberal-design — that fundamentally and continually transforms the country’s nature.
Buttressed by the national mobilization that supported America’s intervention in the Second World War, and then more forthrightly with the Cold War and the onset of globalization in the 1990s, America has been progressively turned into a “system” — a counter-civilization — whose political-economic cornerstone is “the military-industrial complex” and whose chief aim is satisfying its Mammon-worshiping corporate sector.
The result: The America of today does not look or sound or act anything like the America of my childhood.
Given its totalitarian disposition, America’s postwar system eliminated all system-impairing legacies — i.e., all those things that might hinder the universalization and rationalization of its world-conquering enterprise.
This meant that the former nation-defining racial hierarchy, the historical basis of American identity, had to be destroyed; that the remnants of its Christian, European culture had to give way to the universal dictates of the empire’s multicult; that local and state governments had to bow to the imperatives of Washington’s Leviathan; that indigenous and non-indigenous colored people should henceforth achieve “parity” with whites, even if it entailed the massive redistribution of white wealth and opportunity; that the new media-diffused values and behaviors, oriented to hedonist forms of consumption and indifferent to former moral or religious standards, had to replace traditional ones . . .
Everything distinct to America’s nativist strain of European culture has, indeed, been hunted down, repressed, extinguished — for the sake of the one-world, market-driven, militarily-aggressive assertion of its elites’ global order, arguably as artificial and anti-natural in principle as the Soviet system.
For reasons I can’t deal with within the limits of this exchange, the system, especially after 9/11, has assumed a logic of its own, a (logic-free) logic that is increasingly dysfunctional — given the unreal and unnatural, rather than organic principles, steering it.
The best example of this is the military-industrial complex. It was the technological might of America’s industrial economy that made the country a world-conquering force. Even though the ensuing desanguination of its population meant that America could no longer produce soldiers capable of fighting on the ground, its vast, high-tech arsenal made it a force no conventional army could possibly defeat.
At this point, though, when American might seemed virtually invincible, the unexpected occurred: Fourth Generation War (4GW). With the advent of this new form of struggle, America’s military opponents ceased challenging it on the conventional fields of battle and instead adopted the judo-inspired principle of turning the enemy’s strength into a weakness. The folly of Iraq and Afghanistan is the result.
This 4GW dynamic, in which the system is turned against itself, to defeat itself, has not been limited to the field of battle, but is now everywhere infecting the system’s “logic.”
Thus it is that the more money and power the Pentagon accumulates, the more irrelevant and impotent it becomes in addressing its perceived military threats. In this spirit, Donald Rumsfeld said shortly before 9/11 that the greatest threat to US national security was the Pentagon bureaucracy and its “uncontrollable activism.”
Ditto the federal bureaucracy: The more it centralizes power and micro-manages the system, getting into everybody’s business, the more unmanageable its ensuing problems.
Even our empire’s so-called constitutional system of law, as in the case of Arizona, has become a force for lawlessness, (as Obama, in the name of the system’s mandated racial egalitarianism, openly aids and abets law-breakers — those illegal immigrants who are bringing not only their unwelcome selves, but Mexico’s bloody civil war into our backyards).
Above all, such is the case with the US National Security Complex, which vastly expanded after 9/11. A look at the Washington Post‘s recent “Top Secret America” series reveals that this expansion, involving seventeen major agencies, scores of new intelligence systems, more than 800,000 employees, and 50,000 top secret annual reports, most of which no one reads, is so Byzantine that terrorists could publish their intentions on the front page of the New York Times and this “security” complex would fail to detect it.
In our Maistrian age, not “intelligence,” but an institutionalized system of “unintelligence” — increasingly perverse and dysfunctional — reigns.
Putting its radical systemic/systematizing principles above all else, the system has become so unbalanced that its negative tendencies now outweigh its positive ones, sowing, as is more and more evident, the seeds of its own destruction.
The system, as a result, is quite literally out of control. For nobody actually governs it, nobody understands it. And it is totally blind; it can’t see the world in front of it — the great metal ship heading, full speed, toward the iceberg. It can’t see because the system lives in that bubble of virtual reality, where only its own narrative is told, irrespective of reality.
The coming system crisis will not resemble the one Roosevelt faced in the ’30s, but the one Gorbachev confronted in the ’80s.
Collapse, I believe, has become an inescapable part of the system — and the system is on auto-pilot, set to self-destruct. It quite simply cannot do anything without screwing up. Conclusion: “the clusterfuck nation” is unreformable. The only question is: when it will fall and what it will entail.
Given the present converging breakdowns and the consciousness they’re creating, I believe we have entered an interregnum, whose demands will be as terrifying as they are heroic.
You’re certainly right that this is no excuse to sit back or abstain from the many arenas of struggles opened by the impending collapse.
Again: Things may fall apart, but this doesn’t mean it will be to our advantage.
Our most important task in this period hovering between two ages is, therefore, to see that things fall in ways favoring our people.
To this end, we’ll have to become part of the general movement that is already stirring. No white nationalist or revolutionary formation will “spontaneously” develop out of the Tea Party or the Militias. We have to intervene as individuals, who bring our distinct racial-secessionist consciousness to this movement, which, however unconscious and cretinized, embodies an implicitly white identity . . . and implies your type of grassroots’ politicking.
Such a political project, moreover, will take uncharted paths, for the bloodless, liberal system endeavoring to supplant what goes for civilization has today embarked on a course whose culmination can only be the impending destruction of white life in North America.
We must thus, as our overriding aim, encourage the system’s collapse and position ourselves to gain from it.
Reply of John Schneider: I completely agree that the time is not right — and may never be right — for the formation of a democratic centralist “vanguard” party, especially as this was understood in the post-1960 era. A look at the history of the New Left is particularly instructive in this regard. During the 1970s, many of the more serious activists radicalized during the antiwar movement became convinced that the creation of an authentically revolutionary Left required the construction of what they perceived to be a Leninist party. In fact, as you and I both experienced during that “party-building” mania, the proliferation of these “vanguard” organizations did nothing to strengthen the Left. Instead, it led to endless in-fighting and the squandering of massive amounts of energy in ultimately meaningless debates over theoretical and historical questions.
Further, once the construction of the party became THE key prerequisite for any meaningful politics, the participation of these would-be vanguard parties in the mass movement almost always took on a predatory and divisive character, as the activism of their militants was subordinated to each groupuscule’s sectarian maneuvering.
By the 1980s many mass movement activists came to view the members of the various Left parties with deep suspicion. The most successful movements of that period — the Freeze, the Central America anti-intervention/solidarity movement, and the anti-nuclear power movement — were run by non-party activists who, while all committed radicals of one sort or another, functioned through informal leadership networks of like-minded people within their respective movements, while the parties of the Left remained largely on the margins.
At present, the anti-system Right is obviously qualitatively weaker than the Left was in the 1970s. Rather than wasting time and energy in grand organizational projects, the need now is simply to coalesce local groupings, to connect them together in informal networks, and to encourage a combined commitment to study, propaganda, and activism. Whatever structures created beyond this can only evolve organically out of the struggles themselves.
Now, regarding your prediction of imminent collapse: I think that the analysis you present here of the system as synonymous with the Military-Industrial Complex is too narrow and owes too much to a paleo perspective.
I would argue instead that our current system can be more properly understood within the context of the global progression of the capitalist economy, which has transcended the limits of nation and human ownership — moving to a stage characterized by transnational corporations run by professional managers without roots in or commitment to any community or nation.
While the transition from national elites to an international one is not complete, it is far advanced, with significant sectors of the elites and the professional-managerial classes having adopted a post-national, and even an anti-national, perspective.
I don’t, of course, deny that there is a significantly megalomanical element to US foreign policy which has been particularly pronounced since World War II and which often leads to imperial over-reach, with the consequent national humiliation which almost inevitably results — however, I would argue that the imperial element in US politics is NOT essential to the system.
In fact, the US government has shown itself often willing to cut its losses and disengage when the costs become too high. Following the disaster of Indo-China, the US essentially abstained from significant on-going military adventures for the next twenty-five years and the interventions it did undertake — Grenada, Gulf War One, Serbia, Panama, etc — were limited in time and/or troop involvement and were often successful. In the first Gulf War, the military and the administration even showed what in hindsight was the remarkable restraint and good sense not to pursue Saddam’s troops back into Iraq. In the case of Somalia, where things were clearly going the wrong way early on, Clinton just packed up and went home, subsequently blowing up the aspirin factory to leave them something to remember us by. Similarly Reagan, when the Marine barracks in Lebanon were truck-bombed at the cost of hundreds of American lives, brought the troops home and then had the USS New Jersey salve the wound by shelling Syrian and Shiite positions from a safe distance at sea.
I have no doubt that as the world system expands — uprooting traditional ways of life around the globe, depleting resources, and destroying the environment, unleashing a massive population boom in the Third World, reducing the living standards of working people in the First World and creating an increasingly complex and fragile international financial system to sustain itself — it will continue to generate deep crisis and conflict. Overall, however, I think that the elites are far more flexible and much more likely to be able to weather those crises which do arise than your view allows. As I have argued before, only when a movement arises that takes advantage of the opportunities such crises offer will we be able to contemplate the end of the current globalist order.
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