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A Home for Your Bots

I've been planning this issue for a while now, but have found myself rather busy as of late. Either way, it's here.

If you would like to leave comments, you can do so on this Mastodon thread.

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

For a lot of us accustomed to the modern internet, bots are generally considered a bad thing.

Whenever I open up Discord, I have a bunch of bots DMing me with ethereum scams. If I want to play a round of Team Fortress 2, I find that the public servers are flooded with bots which run various scripts designed by trolls to make the game as unplayable as possible. On Twitter and Facebook, various organizations have taken to creating bot accounts in order to astroturf in favor their respective agendas.

And on the Fediverse, small businesses will often hire ad agencies to create countless spam accounts to promote their product, requiring instance moderators to either be hypervigilant or watch as their community is overrun with garbage.

But at the same time, it doesn't have to be that way. Bots can be useful, they can be funny, and they can help deliver information in new ways on platforms like Twitter and Mastodon.

To give an example, the @American__Voter account on Twitter consists of automated posts, each giving a profile of a voter in the United States 2016 presidential election and their views on various policy issues. Scrolling through this data which would otherwise be rather inconvenient to individually search out, it gives us a sense of how the average person's policy stances might be more idiosyncratic and less aligned with their political identity than has been conventionally assumed.

Whether or not you care much for the topic, the important thing here is the presentation of information in a format that's easily discoverable, digestible, and shareable to convey a message in a fashion which encourages the audience to look through the data and verify the conclusion themselves. This says a lot about how bots can shape microblogging as a communication medium, and expand its potential.

What is is a Mastodon instance (to learn what instances are, watch this short video) which allows users to run their own bots in an environment designed around just that. Other instances may often may often take issue with bot users, as they tend to fill up the feed with automated posts, drowning out other users; this could result in an unexpected ban or running up against instance-wide rate limits. And even barring all that, it may be possible that your own bot is drowned out by actual spam-bots, leaving you back at square one. By having an instance dedicated to running bots, not only do you have a better experience on the platform, but so do other instance owners who are given the option to federate with or block an instance which caters to bots.


Some additional things to note:

  • Registration is open-application, and non-bot users are allowed to make accounts, even if they make up a minority of the community. Note that you will have to have your application reviewed by the mod-team.
  • If you decide to make an account, make sure to read the rules in order to ensure your account complies with the guidelines. There are some prohibitions a lot of prospective users most likely would not be anticipating (for example: no accounts related to cryptocurrency or managed by police departments).
  • The site operates on a principle of “bots punching up, not down”, as outlined by this short article. If you're unsure about how your bot will be recieved, probably helpful to read this.


To get you started, here's some bots on the instance I thought were cool:

@proverbs – A bot which dispenses the wisdom of a neural network.

@wikipediahaiku – A bot which makes haikus out of the text of random Wikipedia articles.

@whatthecommit – A bot which posts out of context commit messages.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • Open-application but not registration is necessary here IMO, just due to the nature of the instance. Not at all difficult for a rule-breaking bot to cause problems.
  • I support the ban on cryptocurrency-related accounts, partly for political reasons, partly because there's a great deal of scams which use crypto/blockchain as a cover. Browsing through the profile directory still seems to be a decent amount of crypto accounts going under the radar, so it might be a good idea for administrators to start searching for certain keywords to root them out.
  • Sturgeon's Law still applies, a lot of these bots still seem kind of low effort, but there's some good ones when you dig enough. Maybe the instance admins could host yearly awards/contests to get the community engaged in creating, following, and promoting its best material.

Interview with the Administrator:

Have you ever made any bots, and if so, could you tell me more?

I've made lots of bots! My earliest bots are on Twitter. The main one there that is most popular is probably @wayback_exe but my personal favorites were @botgle, which was a multiplayer version of Boggle that ran for a few years, and @earthroverbot which was a bot that simulated a trip across the US using google street view data.

I've made a couple of fedi bots. My first bot here was which is a recreation of an old program that generated love letters

I ported over from Twitter — this is a bot that portrays a river meandering through your timeline in emoji. I also made a bot that toots out stills from the November Rain video during the month of November — as well as a bot that pretends to be a yule log fireplace at the end of the year — and at some point I had a bot that ran an ELIZA simulation — — but I need to get it running again.

What does the routine for moderation look like? Do you have any advice or tips for other instance owners?

Currently I'm able to handle all the moderation. I try to be as proactive and responsive as possible. Most of my moderation requests are for accounts on the server although some are against other instances. My main recommendation is to make a clear terms of service for your instance and do the best you can to stick to it. I'd also generally recommend that running an invite-only instance is a really good idea — there's a lot of spammers out there.

What are some of your favorite bots on the instance?

It's an incomplete list, but here's some of my current faves:

Given that the instance is majority bots, do you still feel a sense of community?

The server itself might not have a real obvious sense of community, but I definitely feel like there's a strong community of bot makers, and I've made a bunch of friends in that world. Back on Twitter there was a community of botmakers that used the #botALLY hashtag to organize, and many of those folks are now on the fediverse.


from The Winter Lands.

I hate how cynical my generation is.

Like sure, I am depressed, and engage in cynicism myself from time to time, but there is this almost knee-jerk reaction that young people have towards any shred of optimism, and it drives me insane. “If something is bad then it is the end of my life, but if something is good, then I will downplay it till I make myself miserable.” Look, sometimes you have to have faith and let it go; This has been reality for the vast majority of people throughout time.

Also, I am tired of depression being romanticized. We get it. You are a sad e-boy/e-girl looking for a sad e-boy/e-girl to go on suicidal dates or whatever. Except, Sadness is not supposed to be an aesthetic. It's also not supposed to be an intellectual position. Many get disillusioned with rugged individualism, and think by peddling to the other extreme, that they somehow will protect themselves from disappointment. But guess what? Living behind walls damages you just as much as disappointment. You can not live life by hiding away from it. Averting responsibility is meaningless, because responsibility is the only thing worth living for.

Fatalism is, ironically, a coping mechanism just as much as escapism or naive optimism. By constantly telling yourself that your decisions do not matter, you cope with the terrible fact that maybe some of your decisions actually do matter, and that frightens a lot of people. The fact that they missed out on life because of their own sloppiness scares them: because it is easier to wallow in sorrow when you think you are a victim of external sources, instead of yourself; even if external sources were the ones entirely at fault, individuals need to believe in the simple fact that their decisions matter to some extent, in order for that society to function.

Yes, everything sucks. Yes, we all die. You're not the first to notice this nor will you be the last. However, what you can do is live your life and put effort, as if your own merit is the only thing that matters, but stay aware of societal injustice to moderate your expectations, and prepare yourself. Small progress everyday can be everything. Do not count or obsess about how many days, or how much money, or how many friends, or how much sex you have had. Just do things. It's really simple. Work with your hands and leave the ruminations in the back-door.


from The Winter Lands.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of popular cultural movements and upheavals are/were not representative of the average person at the time of their inception. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, only a minority of humans ever truly mattered.

You had many songs during the sixties and seventies' that decried the Vietnam war, and the Nixon administration (especially within the rock genre). But it was all for naught: America stayed in Vietnam for nearly two decades, while Nixon managed to get elected twice. This had to do with what Nixon referred to as the “Silent Majority”, but it extends further than that.

The French revolution was, in reality, not a struggle between the rich monarchs and the poor peasants, as it is often depicted in media. The revolution was primarily catalyzed through frustration against fief-holders who collected high taxes and tolls to the dismay of many shop owners and artisans. It was this elite class of “peasants” ⁠— made up of professionals, clerks, and shop keepers ⁠— that propelled the Revolution into motion, and only then after, did the people at the bottom of the hierarchy actually join in. It was a schism between the elites, not a conflict between those with wealth and those without any. It makes sense, when you think about it: if revolutions could have been initiated by the lower classes at the bottom, then they would have happened far more often.

The Roaring Twenties were only truly roaring for the top five percent. For 95 percent of Americans, everything was the same as always unlike what a bad reading of Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby would tell you (Which was actually criticizing the mentality of that period).

Rosa Parks was, in fact, not the first to try and defy segregation in busses. Nine months before Rosa Parks' incident, 15-year old Claudette Colvin did the very same thing when she refused to leave a segregated bus. Many African American women did the same exact thing that Rosa Park did. So why did only Rosa Parks become famous as an image of the movement? Because she was educated, came from a well-off family, and was decently attractive. This isn't my personal theory either. The official reasons listed by the NAACP as to why that they did not choose Claudette Colvin were that she was not fair-skinned, her hair looked weird, and that she got pregnant. The NAACP needed “good representation” and so they specifically made sure that it was Rosa who got popularized and not the other African American ladies. The sad thing is that it actually worked. Rosa's good looks and background did help the Civil Rights movement gain momentum among moderate whites.

So what is the point of all of this? Why is it that change tends to only occur once people up the hierarchy approve of it? Why is it that only a minority of people end up defining just about everything?

Questioning the status quo, and desiring to change it, always comes from those who have the most tools, both mentally and societally.. In order to even have the capacity to ponder about cultural issues, one must have the free time to do so. Not everyone has the same access to education, and resources to be able to correctly critique society. However, it is also a self-selecting process; Those who desire change will tend to have more creativity, and those with creativity will tend to have lived in households and nations where that creativity was fostered. This is why so many thinkers, poets, writers, and artists tended to come from the same well-off educated families and married each other. Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously by those in power, one must either appease them or have some sort of standing to them. The suffrage movement did not win because enough women were convinced of the idea: It was the opposite. Enough men, especially those in the federal government, had been convinced of the movement that it finally could proceed.


from A Nameless Blog

Last updated: 6/24/2021

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: Just as fascism was borne out of the conditions of modernity, we are witnessing a new form of reaction characteristic of the postmodern era.

Further Reading:

  • The Origins of Nazi Violence by Enzo Traverso
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
  • The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism by Matthew McManus

Reaction isn't limited to any historical movement; over time it constantly undergoes transformations in name, appearance, and manifestation. To some eras it was known as legitimism, in others fascism.

It must be stressed that reaction isn't an ideology or set of values, but rather instead a historical phenomenon. The traditional analysis has been that as society undergoes major changes in its evolution, groups secure in the previous status quo found themselves at risk of displacement. From this fear we get the characteristic symptoms of mass hysteria, totalitarianism, and chauvinism.

Understood in this light, the reactionary is a product of his time, his worldview being entirely contextual. Reaction forms in response to action. Without taking this into account, one will have a difficult time undergoing a proper dissection of the far-right.

Perhaps then it's no surprise that leftists who continue to neglect this fact can only stand perplexed as the far-right appears to them far more adept and organized than they could ever be. It's a rather muddy subject as to how accurate this perception is; what is clear, however, is that the perception itself is very real.

Many have responded to this insecurity with a “left-populism”: a fantasy in which the left too can share in the New Right's success as long as they come down from their ivory towers and speak eye to eye with the common man. After all if the right can see a resurgence by telling lies to Joe Sixpack, imagine what will occur when they hear the truth!

Prisoners of their post-political dogmas, and reluctant to admit their mistakes, they cannot recognize that many of the demands articulated by right-wing populist parties are democratic demands, to which a progressive answer must be given. Many of those demands come from the groups who are the main losers of neoliberal globalization, and they cannot be satisfied within the neoliberal project.

Classifying right-wing populist parties as ‘extreme-right’ or ‘neo-fascist’ and attributing their appeal to lack of education is of course especially convenient for the forces of the centre-left. It is an easy way to disqualify them, without recognizing the centre-left’s own responsibility in such an emergence. By establishing a ‘moral’ frontier so as to exclude the ‘extremists’ from the democratic debate, the ‘good democrats’ believe that they can stop the rise of ‘irrational’ passions. Such a strategy of demonization of the ‘enemies’ of the bipartisan consensus can be morally comforting, but it is politically disempowering.

To stop the rise of right-wing populist parties, it is necessary to design a properly political answer through a left populist movement that will federate all the democratic struggles against post-democracy. Instead of excluding a priori the voters of right-wing populist parties as necessarily moved by atavistic passions, condemning them to remain prisoners of those passions forever, it is necessary to recognize the democratic nucleus at the origin of many of their demands. (Mouffe 2018)

This sort of approach is incredibly naive for reasons I've voiced before, so I'll cut to the chase: the ultimate irony of this narrative is that its holes stem from being out of touch with how reactionaries operate, often falling hook, line, and sinker for the very deception they decry. There's a whole web of details to unravel, and without properly separating the meat from the skin, it's very easy to get misled.

1. Fascism (in progress)

Fascism is a term that gets thrown around a lot, and is in a lot of contexts treated as synonymous with reaction itself. Defining it as such is rather misleading, given that fascism was borne out of specific historical circumstances.

Formally, fascism is a product of the 20th century and it for all intents and purposes can be considered dead in the modern day. Can individuals still espouse fascist views? Sure, but that alone can't make up a movement. Plenty of people self-identify as monarchists but that does not mean that (non-ceremonial) monarchy is a presence in the present day.

(The main exception which should be noted is developing countries, whose historical trajectory does not mirror that of those in the stage of de-industrialization. How fascism manifests in those areas would require an investigation of its own.)

This distinction may seem rather semantic but I assure you, there's a good reason to bring this all up. When we take a specific form of reaction to be something trans-historical, we end up neglecting the dynamic character of the phenomenon. And it's this dynamic character which tends to give reactionaries a lot of leeway when it comes to gaming the public sphere.

1.1. Modernity (section in progress)

The assumption has long been that reactionaries long for or wish to resurrect the past, yet the history of fascism seems to contradict this. What we see is a simultaneous embrace and rejection of modernity; the blending of past, present, and future. All of this converges on the myth of the nation, an entity understood as something timeless.

1.2. The Banality of Evil

1.3. Asymmetry

2. New Right (section in-progress)

The messy thing about the New Right is that while its intellectual roots date multiple decades ago, its only over the past decade that we're really beginning to see the movements take a tangible form.

2.1. Liquid Modernity

2.2. Metapolitics

2.3. Behind the Curve

3. Neo-Reaction

3.1. Pastiche

3.2. Postmodernity


from The Winter Lands.

Assessing Workplace Democracy


Discussions concerning capitalism and socialism often involve comparing state ownership with private ownership, or the nationalization vs the privatization of industries such as USSR vs USA, East Germany vs West Germany, or North Korea vs South Korea. One part of the debate that is often overlooked is direct worker control of industries and economic sectors. This includes things such as cooperatives/labour owned firms, co-determination policies, Employee Stock ownership plans etc…

Libertarian socialists, syndicalists, market socialists, and anarcho-communists often support cooperatives on both a moral and economic principle. They believe that it is more moral if a workplace were to be managed democratically by the workers who operate in it rather than by a few shareholders. They argue that workers would feel more engaged, They also believe that these firms would be far less wasteful, more efficient, and a meaningful countermeasure against inequality.

A relevant example to cooperatives is Mondragon in Spain. Mondragon is a federation of cooperatives, that is owned and managed by its workers. They mostly focus on retail and small scale industry. Mondragon has been able to climb all the way to the top, amassing more than 80 thousand workers, and having a total asset value that is one of the biggest in all of Spain. Such examples show that cooperatives are not entirely alien to our world and can even achieve a lot of success. However, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? Are there any to begin with? Would a partial, or even complete transformation be justified? What other types of employee ownership are there?

In this essay, I will attempt to answer those questions with the available data at hand. I will draw comparisons and parallels over a set of multiple criteria.


Which structural firm is more productive?

This question is extremely difficult to answer. The reason is that finding company “twins” with controlled variables is not easy at all, and even if we were to find a difference in performance, it’s hard to gauge how much the structure of the firm contributes to that difference and not local factors and fluctuations.. Evidence remains rather inconclusive, and there is yet to be a consensus formed around the issue. However, I will use existing empirical evidence in order to formulate some form of general statement.

A 1995 study analyzed cooperative firms, and classical firms in Plywood production. The cooperatives were shown to be, on average, around 6 to 14 percent more productive than capitalist firms. Cooperatives were also shown to adjust the wage ratio between workers rather than laying off employee or cutting their hours, as classical firms usually do (the effect of this will be covered in a later section)

However, interestingly enough, the cooperatives have not been able to drive out classical firms. As a matter of fact, the number has remained consistent within the Pacific Northwest region: seven firms are classical, while eight are cooperatives. According to the study, this is because the difference is not significant enough. To be more specific, it is not significant enough to offset the disadvantages that these cooperatives go through: Primarily the lack of external equity investment and capital markets within cooperatives. As explained within the paper:

“The experiences of the plywood co-ops in the Pacific Northwest testify to the relevance of these capital market problems. The workers have constituted the major source of capital both through the sale of shares at the founding of the company and through subsequent loans (in the form, for example, of the sale of further stock or deferred earnings). Often a co-op was constrained in its attempt to raise capital by two factors: first, it attempted to restrict the number of shares to the number of workers expected to be employed in the mill; and, second, it tried to keep the price of the shares to a level within range of a typical working household's wealth. Given these constraints, it is not surprising that, soon after the founding of a co-op venture, it was common for the mill to return to its worker-owners for more funds.” [1]

These difficulties in acquiring capital also explain why the Plywood cooperatives have been unable to expand into the South like the classical firms have. Another factor that could potentially explain the inability to expand, but the ability to compete and even surpass classical firms in aspects is cultural ties and background:

“The establishment and success of the first coop in the plywood industry in Washington state were the product of the foresight of some shrewd men who, prior to its formation, were already skilled in the work relevant to plywood production and who shared a common Scandinavian heritage. This co-op served as the model for many imitators in the area. These factors seem to be present in other sectors where cooperatives have been important. In many instances, a group of workers with training in a given line of work and who share cultural ties form a collective organization that enjoys remarkable success. It serves as a prototype, and other firms are established along the same lines so that the cooperative form of organization constitutes a substantial component of the industry”

Another interesting feature is that classical firms exhibited higher output elasticity, implying that classical firms are more responsive to changes in input overall and have more constant/increasing returns to scale (i.e increase in input leads to a proportional increase in output)

Looking at other studies, yields different, yet somewhat similar results. For example, a study on Italian cooperatives showed that there were no differences in productivity between cooperatives, and classical firms, but also adds that capital intensity was significantly smaller in cooperatives, which implies that they’re less likely to invest and expand overall [2]. Research on firms in Portugal, found that cooperatives might perform worse, however, the evidence is still inconclusive. [3]

Conclusion: While the results are inconclusive, the evidence we have does show that cooperatives have the potential to compete with capitalist firms and that worker decision making does not have bad effects on the efficiency of a firm, and in some cases, might be even positive. Overall, there is no significant divergence from classical firms, no matter if the performance is slightly better or worse. However, even in a case of productivity gains, cooperatives can run into certain limits such as capital market constraints.

Resilience and Stability

Which form of business is more likely to survive during a recession? Which structure gives more stability to its employees?

According to the empirical evidence we have, cooperatives enjoy a significant advantage. For instance, the average three year rate survival rate for all cooperatives in France is at 80-90 percent, while in classical firms, it remains at 66 percent. [4] Cooperatives have also been shown to have higher survival rates both during the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States. [5] A significant factor is that, as previously mentioned, worker cooperatives tend to distribute the damage between their members, by lowering the wages of some, in order to make sure that no one gets fired. This leads to more employment stability in contrast to capitalist firms which usually rely on either firing employees or cutting hours. This employment stability results in increased engagement in the workplace, and better long term survival.

Another contributing factor could also be self-selection into industries. As explained here:

“the fact that WMFs survive longer may partially reflect self-selection by both WMFs into industries and workers into organizational forms. It may be the case that WMFs are not randomly sorted into industries but, in other words, enter industries where they might have better survival prospects. Moreover, workers may be self-selected into organizational forms according to unobservable characteristics that might also affect firm survival. As Chiappori and Salanié (2003) pointed out, the combination of unobserved heterogeneity and endogenous matching of agents to contracts is bound to create selection biases toward the parameters of interest. For instance, cooperatives may be able to attract highly motivated workers (Elster 1989). This selection problem is a potential identification threat common to all studies on WMFs based on observational data (Kremer 1997: 13).” [6]

A great example of this is that many grocery store chains are cooperatives. This is important because grocery stores tend to be one of the more resistant types of businesses to recessions mainly because demand for basic good remains the same or even increases during recessions due to people avoiding restaurants [7] However, when looking at the technological sector, one notices that it is dominated by venture capitalist firms, which matters a lot given that the technological sector has one of the lowest survival rates of any industry.

Conclusion: Cooperatives are able to give more stability to employees, especially in times of recessions. However, it is not entirely clear to what extent this is caused by internal structural factors, or self-selecting factors or something else completely.


Which firm structure offers better wages?

The answer to this question is rather complex and not clear cut. For starters, due to the already mentioned effect of wage distribution in cooperatives, there are significant variations between studies on this subject. The wage flexibility in cooperatives means that a direct comparison is very difficult and perhaps not very meaningful. However, there are a couple of trends that are extremely important and evident. [8]

Let’s start with the first one: worker cooperatives tend to exhibit less inequality overall. Cooperatives in France were shown to have less inequality by 14 percent compared to classical firms. [9] Another example: In Mondragon, workers usually vote on the ratio of inequality between the lowest and highest paid members, which tends to be around 1:9, a far cry from the high inequality at firms like Amazon or Google. This means that cooperatives have a more compressed structure with less inequality. This, however, leads to a problem….

An analysis of cooperatives and classical firms in Uruguay points out significant differences between cooperatives and classical firms when it comes to wages. According to the analysis, cooperatives offered a small wage premium to workers at the very bottom. This wage premium, however, disappears almost entirely when you go to the middle portions, and is actually negative at the top. This is where the second trend comes in: Brain Drain. Logically speaking, if cooperatives have much less inequality, but cooperative workers at the very bottom earn around the same as ones in classical firms, this can only mean one thing: High skilled workers in cooperatives earn significantly less than their counterparts in conventional firms. This means that highly skilled workers are much more likely to leave than low skilled ones. Indeed, this is the case, according to the analysis. Workers in the top 20th percentile of cooperatives were 4.5 times as likely to voluntarily leave to work at a conventional firm than low skilled workers. This “Brain Drain” effect was not observed to happen in conventional firms (i.e the inverse of this did not happen). As a matter of fact, by merely being a highly skilled worker in a cooperative, your “survival time” (employment duration) is lowered by around 77% . This could be one of the reasons that cooperatives have been unable to dominate in Uruguay, despite having a similar level of productivity [10]

However, There are two things that usually limit the brain drain: 1) If conditions in capitalist firms in terms of growth don’t look too good and 2) When the workers were more ideologically and emotionally attached to their workplace, they were less likely to leave overall. Another interesting trend within these Worker managed firms is that the employees in WMFs were older on average than those in conventional firms, and that WMFs tended to employ less women on average, implying that cooperatives tended to be founded and operated by more experienced members (since women are still new to those industries) with a lot of social cohesion between them. This could lead more credence to the idea that cooperatives are more selective about their employees and industries, and explains why, despite their ability to compete with capitalist companies, they usually do not expand regionally, let alone internationally.

Conclusion: Cooperatives usually exhibit significantly less inequality. Yet, Cooperatives do not offer much if any advantage to workers at the bottom and middle in terms of wages. However, the lower pay for the more talented workers at the top drives a brain drain that could be detrimental to a company’s growth and productivity.


Sadly, we do not have many large scale cases of cooperatives dominating an entire region/country. This is why the example of Yugoslavia is both intriguing and important. The region, while starting out as a state socialist regime, later developed into something resembling (but not quite) market socialism under Titoism. Studying the economic policies of Yugoslavia at the time and their effects can yield valuable insight.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Yugoslavia carried out a process by which it reduced the state’s role and control over the economy. However, private property was very much still banned, so instead they handed over control to worker councils and cooperatives as a part of a mix of policies that fostered worker self-management. This led to more self-determination in the workplace. Despite using market mechanisms, Yugoslavia also enjoyed a much more modest level of inequality (Gini coefficient) compared to other capitalist market economies. The level of GDP growth was also impressive compared to other soviet economies. There was also more trade with Western Europe, which represented a larger share of the Yugsolavian economy compared to other countries in the eastern bloc. However, these reforms were not fully realized. For instance, 40 percent of prices were still fixated by the government. The party still retained a lot of control over the economy and even within the democratic workplaces. [11]

“for large and important enterprises, some workers’ rights were curtailed because Republican governments and through them the Republican Communist Parties appointed its nomenclatura members to top positions. It was thus a “controlled” workplace democracy. Very often these appointees were not well qualified to run companies. They were basically Party hacks who tried to pretend to be businessmen. Slobodan Milošević is the most famous example. He became the head of one of the largest Yugoslav banks and although he always bragged of dealing skillfully with Rockefeller and Chase Manhattan he probably knew very little about banking”

Perhaps most disappointingly, the reforms did not help much with investment or unemployment. As a matter of fact, they exacerbated them:

“The first flaw has to do with the maximand of SME (Self-Management enterprises). Like US cooperatives, they maximize average output per worker because at that point the wage is the highest. This means that SMEs will not go all the way to marginal products of labor=wage and would thus employ fewer workers than an entrepreneur-run company. This is indeed something that was confirmed in practice. Yugoslav SME were loath to expand employment. Unemployment in Yugoslavia, despite massive workers’ emigration mostly to Germany, always stayed around 10% through the 1970s and 1980s As Friedman rightly says in the interview, Yugoslav policy-makers constantly complained that companies were distributing too much in wages, and tried to set, through heavy wage taxation, incentives to move more money into investment. But the results were nugatory.” [12]

This culminated in a severe stagnation with little GDP growth (and even a decline) in the 1980s. Speaking of which, one of the main reasons that Yugoslavia relied heavily on IMF loans in the first place was the fact that the labour managed firms did not commit to investment. While this system had its advantages, it was not sustainable in the long run, and eventually, after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, each country privatized its economy, some at a higher pace than others such as Slovenia, which already had a higher GDP than pre-transition by 1997. Other states were not lucky due to war and political turmoil. While the experience in Yugoslavia could sour some on the idea, it is still worth mentioning that Yugoslavia still used a lot of state efforts, and that political instability and corruption can have bad consequences regardless of the system.

Co-determination and ESOPs

Since finding more empirical evidence specific to cooperatives is limited and exhaustive, I decided to look at other forms of employee ownerships and found two interesting examples: Co-determination, and Employee Stock Ownership Plans.

What is Co-determination? Co-determination within Western Europe refers to a policy by which workers elect a part of the executive board within the company. It is similar to Elizabeth Warren’s plan by which 40 percent of the executive board would be elected by workers in large companies. One of the most famous examples is the Mitbestimmungsgesetz policy within Germany, by which mid sized and large firms have anywhere from one third to 50 percent of their supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) be elected by workers directly. This policy emerged after WWII when worker unions, who were thrown out entirely after Hitler nationalized many industries, demanded from the allies that the industries be privatized again, but on the condition that they get a say in the decision making process. While this is not entirely reflective of cooperatives, it does share the essence of worker self-determination so it is worth observing nevertheless.

According to studies, co-determination has no negative effects on productivity, and as a matter of fact, increases productivity as workers feel more engaged with the decision making process. However, co-determination has shown a negative effect on profitability. As the paper states:

“Summing up, then, productivity appears to be higher and profitability likely lower in corporations that have a co-determined supervisory board. This result is congruent with the idea of Freeman and Lazear (1995), who claim that worker participation raises productivity as the employees put more effort into their work, but lowers profitability as highly productive workers exert more influence on the distribution of a company’s rent” [13]

Overall, this mode of corporate governance has led to more employment stability within Germany [14] However, it has had some shortcomings. For example, an analysis that compared firms with 50 percent representation with those that had one third worker representation showed that:

“We find that companies with equal representation of employees and shareholders on the supervisory board trade at a 31% stock market discount as compared with companies where employee representatives fill only one-third of the supervisory board seats. We show that under equal representation, management board compensation provides incentives that are not conducive to furthering shareholders' interests, possibly because labor maximizes a different objective function than shareholders.” [15]

It was also observed that companies with equal representation often had longer payroll, implying that negotiations took longer to find a consensus and act than in companies with one third representation.

Some feel like the system of co-determination adds more layers of rigidity that often stifle innovation within Germany. A great example of this is the Telekom internet provider, which often opted out for investing in copper instead of fiber optics, due to the tendency of workers wanting to keep their benefits and save up rather than invest in new technologies. This is one of the key reasons that Germany has some of the worst internet in the entirety of the EU, especially compared to countries like Romania or Estonia that opted out for a more free market approach. [16] Such cases have led some in Germany to rethink co-determination, and in some cases, some corporations would even change their public legal entity type as a loophole to avoid having to implement co-determination. [17] Although, overall, co-determination does remain an industry standard within Germany that promotes stability in times of recession, and fosters long term strategies that include the interest of workers.

Most important to point out is that there are difficulties with implementing this system of co-determination elsewhere. For starters, Collective bargaining agreements and unions are an important part of the German economy, with around 80 percent of workers in Germany having some form of collective bargaining, and a unionization rate of around 22 percent. This means that German employers, in general, are familiar with negotiating with unions and thus the policy of co-determination wouldn’t represent a huge barrier. However, compare this to America, where unionization is below ten percent and declining. This means that a policy of coercive co-determination laws could lead to a lot of tensions as a Harvard report on corporate governance finds. Furthermore, Germany has a two tier structure: The Management board that governs day to day tasks, and the supervisory board that governs long term strategies. The Management board has no elected members in Germany, which means that elected workers would probably not translate into the same benefits and disadvantages within the one tier board structure of the US. Finally, Germany has a significant part of its industry dedicated to manufacturing and industry, while the US mainly a service economy. Unionization and worker determination usually diminishes in the transition from industry to service economy, which also explains why unionization rates in Germany have been falling off as the service sector has been growing rapidly. [18]

Moving over to ESOPs now. ESOPs are employee stock ownership plans where the worker’s savings and retirement fundings are invested into a private security in the company that is owned by the worker. A relevant example of this is the 401k plan which is very popular among Americans, as around 14 million workers are covered using ESOPs especially in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Companies that offer ESOPs are often more productive as workers are more attached to their company and are more invested in the welfare of the company. [19, 20, 21]. However, cases like the famous company Enron also show a darker side of employee ownership. Enron infamously faked their data and stock value, and managed to raise their stock price partially through the usage of ESOP plans. This, in return, meant that when the stock price fell from 200 dollars to 0.25 cents, that multiple workers lost their entire retirement funds. Generally speaking, there is a huge risk that often comes with employee ownership, and that’s why it’s usually advised to diversify. However, diversification might not be so simple for the average worker. [22] Some cooperatives like Mondragon have found a way around this by giving out non-voting shares, and hiring workers with no ownership in the company. However, this has led a tendency, in which workers with no ownership have been growing at a much faster pace than worker-owners, and as noted by Vincent Naravvro, there are multiple grocery stores operated by Mondragon where the workers with no ownership far outnumber worker-owners, resulting in a “capitalism-lite” sort of situation. [23].

Business Ethics

Ethical issues within classical firms is by no means uncommon. These issues range from lobbying, environmental damage, forging documents, anti-competitive practices, and worker exploitation. Are cooperative inherently more ethical or do they have the potential to be as unethical as some other corporations?

Sadly, there are multiple cases of cooperatives committing unethical business practices, For instance, as Noam Chomsky points out, Mondragon usually exploits workers in South America. Furthermore, cooperatives have been contributing to environmental damage in forest lands, yet the international cooperative alliance has done little to fix the issue. [24] The Wheatsville retail and food cooperative also runs into many issues where worker demands are not implemented, despite being structured in a democratic way [25]

What this all seems to imply is that cooperatives are susceptible to the dark side of market mechanisms, and are thus in need of regulation just like regular companies.

Concluding Thoughts

Employee ownership is a viable method of organizing economic life. It shares similar characteristics to private ownership of the means of production, but has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is very important to be aware of these differences before implementing any sort of radical policies. Encouraging employee ownership could be a band aid solution to some of the issue pertaining our economic lives, but evidence remains skeptical of a full transition, and whether they can entirely replace the classical firm.



from Copyleft Curator

Open Edutainment

If you would like to leave comments, you can do so on this Mastodon thread.

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

Something I've picked up on during my time in the Fediverse is that PeerTube's design seems to mesh incredibly well with the concept of themed instances. By the term “themed instances”, I'm referring to individual instances which only allow uploads pertaining to a specific genre or niche of video.

Some of the reasons I suspect this is the case are:

  • As someone who moderates an instance, I can say from first-hand experience that PeerTube has a serious spam problem. Whether it be advertisements, people ripping movies, or generally low-quality uploads, if you're not strict with curation, it ends up flooding the feed. For the average viewer, this is a turn-off, as they want to be able to use PeerTube to find creators.
  • The narrower scope means that content creators don't have to compete for attention with the spam, and will usually get more reception on their videos. This is important, because it encourages creators to keep uploading to a site which has a fraction of the users as YouTube.
  • For administrators of more generally-themed instances, these sort of themed instances prove to be more reliable in the quality of their content output. If I were to run a catch-all PeerTube community and began following a bunch of these themed instances via federation, what I would have at the end is a very clean and engaging content feed to serve my audience.

If we want PeerTube to succeed, we need a reliable content stream; this means we need to be able to recruit creators and then make sure those creators' content gets to an audience as efficiently as possible. The spaces in which we allow people to upload play a huge role in this.

Once we have developed a welcoming space, we can scout out smaller creators (usually by looking through Discords/subreddits where people are known to advertise, then DMing them) who show potential in the content they're uploading, and use the instance theme as a wedge issue to convince them to mirror their uploads.

What I have seen from personal experience, and what I hope to make clear throughout the course of this review is that this strategy works. It's just a matter of people willing to take the first step and carry it out.

What is TILvids?

We're going to be focusing on how instance administrators can develop the aforementioned space; in this regard, TILvids seems to be a shining example.

I first discovered TILvids after someone boosted them on my Mastodon feed. I was curious and decided to look further; immediately upon opening the site, I was greeted with an aesthetically pleasing yet distinct theme, handy links on the sidebar, and a diverse content pool. It was then I decided that this was going to be the focus of the next issue.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let's answer the most obvious question. TILvids is a PeerTube instance dedicated to educational-informational content (if you need a YouTube parallel, think Vsauce or Game Theory).

Here are the stats as of writing this:

Some things to note about the instance itself:

  • Registration is open, however uploading is invite-only. My best guess is that this is a quality-control measure.
  • There is support for mobile through an app called NewPipe. A three-minute video tutorial is provided explaining how to set it up.
  • Federation with other instances seems to be outright disabled.
  • The site runs on donations, and encourages content creators to promote their own monetization methods.
  • PeerTube's new live-streaming feature is enabled. Whether or not it's actually used I can't say for sure.
  • Currently the site is being managed by one person, but said person has expressed the desire to make it into a larger community. If you are interested in helping out (reaching out to creators, helping on social media, running channels), send a DM to the Mastodon account linked at the bottom of this article.

Onto the content itself, this is actually an incredibly impressive mix of stuff. I spent some time scrolling around the feed and the most promising channels I've seen so far are FermiLabs, The Science Of, and Illustrate to Educate, all of whom could probably warrant their own issue of Fediverse Spotlight if I had the time. This is an actual community with multiple regular uploaders who provide a solid array of content.

If you want to search for content (this goes for any instance), I recommend browsing both the Trending and Local Videos tab.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • TILvids is probably the best-looking instance I've seen to date. It's clear serious thought was put into the presentation of the site, a factor which seems to be severely underrated in the Fediverse. The colors are restrained, consistent, and visually appealing.
  • On the topic of presentation, the tutorial videos. They're easy to find, well-edited, and cover the basics of the instance without wasting too much time. More instance administrators should make use of the sidebar.
  • The instance has 0 following and 0 followers. I tested to see if following was outright disabled, but it seems like it's set to request-only (which I assume are always declined). I can completely understand why they do not follow other instances, however not accepting followers seems like a major missed opportunity. TILvids has a lot that can be contributed to the larger Fediverse ecosystem, and I fail to see a reason why they wouldn't.
  • Half the videos are tech-related which is a bit disappointing, considering how much tech stuff is already all over PeerTube. However, I should stress this is a relative nitpick, considering how absolutely excellent this content pool is apart from that.
  • Levels of community interaction are good by PeerTube standards. I clicked through about ten videos, the majority of them had at least one like, and about a third have comments, although its by the same two users. Pushing for higher levels of interaction isn't easy, but is probably a good next step.

Interview with the Administrator:

What gave you the idea to start TILvids?

I started TILvids after being a creator on YouTube for a very long time (at least a decade). While initially I loved YouTube as a creator, over time it became less about sharing great videos and more about trying to figure out how to daily use YouTube's algorithm to get views. This has caused a dramatic shift in the type of content that gets created on the site, leading to very stale, derivative content.

At the same time, I've become much more interested in data-privacy. People shouldn't have to give up their private data just to use web services. There are so many great options out there now, including Linux, Firefox, Nextcloud, etc. but there wasn't much in the way of online video. I found the PeerTube project and thought there was huge potential there. Unfortunately, many instances are full of conspiracy-theory garbage, NSFW content, and pirated content.

With that in mind, I decided to take my love of edutainment content, mixed with the potential of PeerTube, and sprinkled with a bit of the Netflix content model (i.e. curated content) and out of that came TILvids. It's definitely an experiment, and one that I've been tweaking for the last 6 months, and will continue to adjust it based on community feedback!

How did you go about finding and convincing creators to bring their stuff to PeerTube?

This has been probably the most time-consuming and challenging aspect of TILvids, convincing creators to give it a shot. People make videos to be seen, and without a large community, that's not going to happen. The first few weeks of TILvids were full of adding my own content, finding public domain/creative commons content, etc.

As time has gone on, it's gotten a bit easier to get people to take a chance on sharing their content with the TILvids community. We have a lot of open-source/open-web supporters making content about that, because there's obviously a natural connection there. I also do a lot of searching around sites like Reddit to find creators that are struggling to build an audience, despite having quality content! I love finding creators like this, because it's a great way to help them build an audience, without having to give-in to the YouTube algorithm!

What's your favorite channel on the site?

Who is your favorite child?! This is a very hard question to answer, because almost every channel on TILvids is a result of me looking for content that I enjoy. I'm a huge Linux fan, so I love watching content from TheLinuxExperiment, PizzaLovingNerd, GeoTechDigital, etc. AthenaProductions has really cool mythology, Vex0r and TheAtticDwellers have great retro I said, I can't really answer this question easily!

TILvids is also the official PeerTube instance for the Pine64 community, which I think is lovely because I'm a huge fan of that project. I would love for TILvids to be the home for other open-source/open-web community projects, so if you are one of those projects looking for an online video home that respects user privacy and open-source, hit us up!

Is there any advice you could give to new instance administrators on how to grow their community?

This is an interesting question, and it really depends on your goals for the community. Some instances just want to be a mirror for the larger PeerTube ecosystem, and if that's your goal, then it's just spinning up an instance and connecting.

On the other hand, if you want to use PeerTube to model something like TILvids, you first need to decide what content you want to focus around. TILvids focuses on edutainment, so any creator that wants to share content has to fit into that lens. By putting a tighter focus on what type of content you want to build the community around, it makes it much easier to seek out creators and rally the community around that focus.

You also have to put in a LOT of work outside of just running the site. Every single day I find a video to feature as a “TILvids video of the day”. I promote that on Reddit, Mastodon, Twitter, Lemmy, etc. At the same time, I'm having to reach out to creators to see if they'll share their content on the site, manage channels for some of them, work to get community donations, deal with issues on the site, etc. I also try to make my own content when I have time! So definitely, you have to be willing to put in probably 20-30 hours a week, which for most people will be in their spare time. You have to really enjoy what you're building, or you'll get burned out quickly!

Thanks for the great questions, and for spreading the word about TILvids! Hopefully folks that enjoy edutainment content will stop by and join us!

In addition to the featured instance, the TILvids community can be found on Lemmy while the instance's administrator have a Mastodon account for updates and communication.


from A Nameless Blog

Last edited: 5/17/2021

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: There exists an overlooked affinity between the work of Jacques Ellul and post-1968 communist thought. Once a synthesis is performed, it provides a stronger theoretical backing for his theories of technique and revolution while providing an answer to holes in ultra-left theory.

Many people (including the man himself) characterize Jacques Ellul as an anti-communist. While there is some element of truth to this, the relationship is more complicated than commonly believed. If anything, it seems as if Ellul was rather prescient with identifying flaws in the Orthodox Marxist paradigm, critiques which would only start to gain ground with the “return to Marx”. On the other hand, the ideas of Marx and his contemporaries prove to give a stronger theoretical foundation to a lot of the social critiques Ellul had to offer.

This is not just synthesis for synthesis' sake, as he often decried, but rather instead an argument I believe has very important implications for the project he wished to undertake. In order to make this case, I will be examining Ellul's works one-by-one and reflecting on their bearing on this synthesis.

1. The Radical Character of Christianity (section in progress)

1.1. The Presence of the Kingdom

1.2. Jesus and Marx

One of the most immediate issues you run into with a discussion regarding the intersection of Christianity and communism is the countless “Christian communisms” that have come before. Clichés such as “Jesus sided with the poor, so should we”, the equivocation on what this communism exactly entails and so on and so forth. Jesus and Marx was a book by Ellul which delivered one of the most hard-hitting takedowns of the Christian socialists of his time. And it's precisely because of that fact, that reviewing this book provides an opportunity to distinguish what I am speaking of from just another attempt to subjugate Christianity to ideology.

Before we dig any deeper, first it's important to place this work within context. The bulk of Ellul's work is written during the late 20th century, with this one being originally written in 1988. The New Left was in vogue, and as a politically-inclined French academic, Ellul was in quite possibly the best possible position to be exposed to this milieu.

In the specific domain of the French intellectual world, moreover, you can be taken seriously only if you take a position within or with respect to Marxism. Obviously you are uninteresting and none of your ideas has any weight or meaning unless you participate in one of the current exercises: new interpretation of Marx; application of Marx's method to new areas; analysis of political phenomena by means of latent Marxism; opposition to Stalinism in the name of Marx; reinterpretation of forgotten texts; discovery of the Marxism contrary to Marx; an ex-Stalinist explains his repentance; conversions from Marxism to Christianity; attempt to synthesize everything in Marxist thought, etc. (Ellul 1988, 24)

This is best represented with anecdote he cites, in which a Maoist sends him a letter:

Long ago I wrote an article trying to show the fundamental contradiction between Christianity and Communism. I received a long letter from a fine, devoted Protestant from southern France who believed I was utterly mistaken. He found an extraordinary harmony between the Communist and Christian ethic. The Communist ethic, including its tactics and strategy, expressed precisely what was being lived out in Christianity. What proof did he offer? He recommended I read the essential book by Liu Ch'ao-Chi, How to Be a Good Communist. Unfortunately, this devoted Protestant was writing early in 1966, a few months before the cultural revolution, in which Liu became public enemy number one, and his book was considered to be nothing but error! (Ellul 1988, 36)

And that shines light on what the real target seems to be throughout the book: the “Christian-communists” of his time. Neo-Marxist intellectuals, Maoist partisans, and those parroting vague and shallow “liberation theologies”. What these groups share in common was that Christ was viewed as an accessory to rather than the foundation of their thought.

1.2.1. Socialism versus Christianity

Ellul's anecdote makes sense when you consider all the things Christians and leftists have in common: the incessant need for any topic to be thoroughly moralized first before they are capable of digesting it, a nagging insecurity about their own place in the world which drives them to blindly throw support to random causes.

At the center of this intersection lies the ever-so-vague yet charged concept of “liberation”. In place of substance remains platitudes and bold proclamations. Pressing on said substance will only lead to a doubling-down on the same emotional appeals.

For many... being socialist means denouncing apartheid, colonialism, and imperialism; siding with oppressed people, feminists, homosexuals, and the young against the old (all the while expressing teary-eyed concern for the elderly); pleading the cause of immigrant workers; struggling against requiring too fast a pace of industrial employees, and struggling for raising the minimum wage; attacking Israel's imperialism, etc. Socialism boils down to these matters, more or less. But we are not given any serious reflection. We can never know the basis of a given stance, or what direction it wants to take us. All we have are rather vague principles: siding with the oppressed and fighting for justice. (Ellul 1988, 53)

And for countless “socialist Christians” this is where the stumbling block arises, allowing what appears to be a mere synthesis to devolve into a supplanting.

In reality, however, the present tendency to identify with the left (particularly with Communism) is strictly a matter of going with the stream, being carried along by the wind. Such adhesion a purely sociological matter, without value or significance. A person who declares himself a Communist today is the same one who would have been a French Nationalist in 1914, a Monarchist in 1830, a follower of Napoleon in 1804, etc.

In view of the gutting of Communism's content, dearly no obstacle remains to a Christian's joining up. By becoming Communists, Christians follow the general trend and need feel no pricks of conscience or theological reservations. They conform culturally and intellectually to the rest of society. They already represented the prevailing ideology of the “ruling classes,” and by joining Communism they simply reinforce this trend. In this movement, however, Christianity is of course also gutted of all content.

This process is facilitated by the pseudoscientific affirmation that everything is cultural. Since the entire content of God's revelation in Jesus Christ is cultural anyway, one need have no compunctions about getting rid of the outmoded past. What is left of the revelation? Obviously, since the Christian has joined up with Communism, the defender of the poor and the voice of the oppressed, Christianity becomes (in its entirety) the defense of the poor. This includes armed defense, political struggle, etc. (Ellul 1988, 21)

But, some will object: did Jesus not sit with the tax collectors? Did he not instruct us to love and side with the downtrodden? To leave it as such would be a gross oversimplification, to completely deny the Christian concept of sin. How are we to speak of forgiveness without sin? Sin in this context is not some perceived offense against society or it's hierarchies, but a very real offense against the Lord himself.

The paralytic needs forgiveness. We must not be dishonest at this point and try to transpose this term onto a sociopolitical plane. Jesus calls the others “sick,” after all (v. 12). These people do not just have the reputation of being ill: they are ill. Tax collectors are thieves and exploiters of the poor. They harm others. The issue is not only social and moral. These people are not judged just by others to be sinners: Jesus also has no doubt they are sinners.

He does not say to the paralytic or to the prostitutes that they have every reason to be what they are, that He accepts their actions, etc. No: to the paralytic He announces forgiveness (which he truly needs, so that we can perfectly well use the term sin!); to the others Jesus declares He is the physician and the one who calls. And in Israel, after all, call and vocation had a definite spiritual meaning. “Sin” is not an ordinary word Jesus uses for convenience' sake. The Bible strictly defines the term, and nothing would authorize us to claim that in this context Jesus deviates from biblical usage, since He takes the position of God, who forgives sins. In no way does Jesus transpose sin onto the sociopolitical realm. He simply declares that He forgives sin in all its dimensions (including the political and social). (Ellul 1988, 67)

Stripped of all pretenses, it's a bandwagon, a subcultural shibboleth for leftists to act out their “commitment”. When Ellul made this point, he oft alluded to the horrors of the gulag, as the Soviets were the object of fascination for the Christians before him.

Such a stance may seem to crazy to us today, but history repeats itself. What we have been granted Ellul's time is another generation's worth of mistakes for us to shine our hindsight upon.

1.2.2. Noam Chomsky and the Khmer Rouge

The same question which brought Father Montuclard to Stalin drove pop-intellectuals like Noam Chomsky to defend the atrocities committed in Cambodia; everyone in his circles supported it so why shouldn't he? He built his audience on speaking out against American foreign policy, and they're more than willing to listen to him fight back against the American narrative on Cambodia.

In a long, illustrious career, Chomsky has amassed a formidable array of books, articles, and speeches. He has been a tireless advocate for the underdog, and has demonstrated admirable commitment to his principles. The underdogs, however, are not always the good guys, a fact clearly illustrated by the Khmer Rouge...

There is something vaguely unsettling in Chomsky's words, even as he acknowledges the horrible toll of the Cambodian communists: There was an atrocity, people were outraged, so on and so forth, blah blah blah. The reaction is Chomsky's primary concern; genocide itself is a lesser point. (Sharp 2007)

But throughout his defense it becomes clear that his doggedness has little to do with the Cambodian people and moreso about his own pride as an activist. It quickly ceases to be about any plight of the oppressed and becomes instead a matter of Chomsky's own reputation.

One possible explanation is that Chomsky did not truly understand the nature of the Khmer Rouge until the massive exodus of refugees in the wake of the Vietnamese invasion made it impossible to ignore. In this view, Chomsky's errors are rooted in naivete, gullibility, and poor scholarship.

Chomsky is not an expert on Cambodia. He does, however, know enough about Cambodia to sound knowledgeable to people who know nothing at all. Still, how could he have so seriously misjudged the nature of the Khmer Rouge? Perhaps it is a natural consequence of being a generalist. Chomsky writes about events all over the world. Can one person really understand all of the intricacies of the politics and history of any one country? Probably. But can one person understand the intricacies of ten countries? One hundred countries? Two hundred? No. There are conflicting accounts of the history of any country and any event. How can anyone without specialized knowledge of a given region evaluate which of those accounts is accurate? In Chomsky's case, he does not evaluate all sources and then determine which stand up to logical inquiry. Rather, he examines a handful of accounts until he finds one which matches his predetermined idea of what the truth must be. He does not derive his theories from the evidence. Instead, he selectively gathers “evidence” which supports his theories and ignores the rest. Furthermore, he does not subject sources he regards sympathetically to the same rigorous critical scrutiny that he applies to conflicting accounts. (Sharp 2007)

And from there the usual leftist playbook emerges: moralize, cherrypick, and slander whenever cornered.

A peculiar irony is at the heart of this controversy: Noam Chomsky, the man who has spent years analyzing propaganda, is himself a propagandist. Whatever one thinks of Chomsky in general, whatever one thinks of his theories of media manipulation and the mechanisms of state power, Chomsky's work with regard to Cambodia has been marred by omissions, dubious statistics, and, in some cases, outright misrepresentations. On top of this, Chomsky continues to deny that he was wrong about Cambodia. He responds to criticisms by misrepresenting his own positions, misrepresenting his critics' positions, and describing his detractors as morally lower than “neo-Nazis and neo-Stalinists.”. (Sharp 2007)

Whatever becomes of this “liberation” or what these activists are intended to contribute beyond rhetorical support is left unclear. Yet it is from this principle that the “liberation theologies” of the mid-century arose.

Liberation theologies unfortunately perpetuate the characteristics of the most despicable traditional theologies! For one thing, they remain amazingly abstract, in spite of their concrete appearance. Their abstraction consists of not asking the decisive concrete question (“liberation for whose benefit?”). In the same way the bourgeois theologies of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were abstract. Yet they appeared concrete, since they all led to such a practical moral code! In exactly the same way our liberation theologies lead to political strategies and tactics for liberation! Today liberation theologies are abstract in that they fail to question socialist or Communist dictatorships where a tiny minority exercises power over a people more enslaved than ever. (Ellul 1988, 59)

Let us be clear. Showing concern for those in precarious situations is not in and of itself a vice. Neither is sympathizing with their plight or taking action to correct the wrongs which exist all across our world. However none of this absolves us of our responsibility to exercise proper judgment and to exercise these tasks in good faith. Chomsky let himself become caught up in a fad, and his failure in this regard left a black mark on not just his personal character but also the movement he championed.

It's easy to look back on Cambodia decades later, but the lesson we must take from this is that even in our world today, these political bandwagons still exist and they still lead Christians astray. Even if they claim noble intentions, it does not change our responsibility to maintain integrity.

Christians must discern the genuine issues of our time. This way we perform a genuine service to politics and to the society in which we live. We can do this by means of the discernment of spirits, but such understanding must be applied by means of a solid, rigorous, independent analysis of the political, economic, and sociological spheres. This sort of analysis is a practical matter, whereas the discernment of spirits makes it possible, safeguards it, and oversees it. Such analysis must be achieved based on a “point of view” different from that of all ideologies. (Ellul 1988, 5)

1.2.3. Karl Marx

Ironically enough, Ellul's position on the above matter mirrors that of others influenced by Marx such as Theodor Adorno:

For otherwise you will find yourself in the position of what Americans call a joiner, that is to say, a man who always has to join in, who has to have a cause for which he can fight. Such a person is driven by his sheer enthusiasm for the idea that something or other must be done and some movement has to be joined about which he is deluded enough to believe that it will bring about significant changes. And ultimately, this enthusiasm drives him into a kind of hostility towards mind that necessarily negates a genuine unity of theory and practice. (Adorno 1963)

It's indicative of the pattern recurring throughout this book — whether Ellul realizes it or not — he seems to be more critical of Marxists as opposed to Marx himself. To him, Marx was one of many influences he drew from, with various ideas he either incorporated or condemned.

Marxism reveals the lie of this stripped-down evangelism, showing that if we have taken refuge in spiritual matters, we did so knowingly. We were not concerned with purity, for example, but with hiding what Christians really practiced. We wanted to be oriented toward heaven, so as not to see the injustice, poverty, and exploitation on earth. Communism has grasped everything Christians should have grasped. This “materialism” contains a basic recall of the very truth of the Bible. Materialism restores some weight to our flimsy spirituality...

We owe to Marx the rediscovery of this central truth (according to the popular understanding; actually Hegel preceded Marx on the issue of history and the Bible as history). Marx brought history back to the light: not the history of historians, but history as we find it in the Bible: history filled with meaning, moving in a revealed direction, and culminating in an “apotheosis'' but with everything “situated” in history. Here again Marx brings Christians back to revealed truth.

Finally, we must add a militant and communal spirit to the other ways in which Communism challenges the Church. Christians used to be, and should be, militant. And they have been called to make up a living, active community based on fraternity. But what do we see? Flabby, lazy, individualistic church members, committed to nothing. They sit beside each other on Sunday and proceed to ignore each other completely. They are capable of no sacrifice, they create nothing new. (Ellul 1988, 8-9)

However, even in his praise for Marxism, it's clear that he seems the most confident dissecting Marxism as an ideological phenomenon rather than as a serious form of sociological critique. Perhaps this explains why his discussion of Marxism's theoretical substance consists primarily of handwaving.

What is left of Marx in our day? Nothing. I say “nothing” even though I take Marxists themselves into account. What do they think of Marx's political economy? It has been quietly swept into a corner; it contains so many errors, ill-conceived explanations, and false predictions that Marxists generally prefer not to mention Marx's political economy in concrete terms... And Marx's strategy? Why, Communism was supposed to come to life in the most economically developed country, where capitalism had reached its greatest potential. In our day we have changed all this, now Communism can come to life in the most poverty-stricken countries. But this is profoundly anti-Marxist; even the most convoluted explanation fails to harmonize the two notions. (Ellul 1988, 15)

Let's address the issue of history, since that's what Ellul bases a good portion of his argument on.

The impact of Leninism on world history, but more importantly the history of Marxism cannot possibly be understated. The same goes for Lenin's contributions to Marxist thought which is extensive enough that it essentially constitutes a body of work unto itself. Both the unfolding of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism find their roots in the dilemma of the Bolshevik model itself: excellent at seizing power, terrible at handling power. The former characteristic allowed it to spread like wildfire across the globe, completely dominating as a form of communist organization, while the latter would give rise to the issues Ellul cites above.

The October revolution produced by far the most formidable organized revolutionary movement in modern history. Its global expansion has no parallel since the conquests of Islam in its first century. A mere thirty to forty years after Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station in Petrograd, one third of humanity found itself living under regimes directly derived from the ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’ (Reed, 1919), and Lenin’s organizational model, the Communist Party. Most of them followed the USSR in a second wave of revolutions which emerged from the second phase of the long world war of 1914–45. (Hobsbawm 2003, 55)

Isn't it a cop-out to blame it on Lenin however? After all, Ellul isn't a stranger to all the novel Marxisms. What makes this different from any of the previous hundred rehabilitation projects:

What remains, then, are scattered pieces of Marx's thought; Marxists clutch at these, as if by themselves they could have some obscure meaning: class struggle, prevailing ideology, relations of production, etc. Certain quotations of Marx are especially useful-profound phrases that get applied to everything, and that can be interpreted however one likes! As a result, some people marvel: how miraculous that after the end of Stalinism, there are dozens of Marxisms to choose from! Althusser's is unlike Daix's; A. Gramsci surfaces, but differs from Mao. You have a whole gamut of Marxisms to choose from, depending on your size, your ideas, and your place in society. Wonderful how our freedom has progressed! Unfortunately, Marx's thought is utterly gutted as a result: it lies lifeless and incoherent. (Ellul 1988, 15)

Let's be clear, Lenin was no idiot: the scale of his contributions prove that. The Bolshevik model wasn't something he invented out of thin air. So where did it come from? The answer is two-fold:

  • If there's anything we've learned so far, it's that ideology tends to be heavily shaped by a person's environment. Lenin and the other Marxists of his time were no exception: the 20th century was an age of revolution. The idea of capitalism's inevitable collapse and replacement was just as much a cultural one as it was a socialist one.

It seemed obvious that the old world was doomed. The old society, the old economy, the old political systems had, as the Chinese phrase put it, ‘lost the mandate of heaven’. Humanity was waiting for an alternative. Such as alternative was familiar in 1914. Socialist parties, resting on the support of the expanding working classes of their countries and inspired by a belief in the historic inevitability of their victory, represented this alternative in most countries of Europe. It looked as though only a signal was needed for the peoples to rise, to replace capitalism by socialism, and thus to transform the meaningless sufferings of world war into something more positive: the bloody birth-pains and convulsions of a new world. (Hobsbawm 2003, 55)

  • The most important of Marx's later works were not widely distributed and translated until Ellul's time. These works completely turned Marx scholarship on its head and would end up anticipating a lot of the issues in his early work which the rest of the world would have to find out the hard way. One of these is actually referenced by Ellul, the matter of historical materialism. Fittingly enough, it was this assumption by early Marx which the Bolshevik model heavily relied on.

To answer the question posed above, what makes a “return to Marx” any different is that it is a true return. The substance is being re-appraised rather than simply tacked on. The contribution of Marx to this analysis goes beyond just a name and some trite phrases.

The crisis of traditional Marxism, however, in no way obviates the need for a social critique that is adequate to contemporary capitalism. On the contrary, it draws attention to the need for such a critique. Our historical situation can be understood in terms of a transformation of modern, capitalist society that is as far-reaching — socially, politically, economically, and culturally — as the earlier transformation of liberal to state-interventionist capitalism. We seem to be entering yet another historical phase of developed capitalism. (Postone 1993, 12)

Does the above render Ellul's critique moot? No, just misdirected. Once we understand it as being targeted towards Marxists rather than Marx, it makes sense why the following rebuke ends up being the most damning in the book:

Such Christians in our day have failed to realize that they conform to the unfortunately traditional Christian habit of always looking for a way to adapt Christianity to the dominant intellectual and sociological trend. The current commitment of Christians to “socialism-Marxism-Communism” testifies to what a degree this tendency has become the dominant ideology in our society.

Christians have always functioned in the same way: in a given society, a dissenting ideology comes on the scene. Christians fail to observe it. If the ideology grows, they begin to find it interesting, but they refrain from getting involved. If it becomes the dominant ideology (in which case it continues to dissent from the established reality!), the traditional ideology begins to decline seriously. At this point, when the dissenting ideology is certain to win out, Christians rush to get on the bandwagon, thus becoming “extremists.” These neophytes, full of courage and radicalism, try to demonstrate their extremism. But in reality, such “extremism” is nothing but a slavish following of the current sociological trend, often just when this ideology, having become dominant, enters its own crisis of decline. A certain number of Christians, of course, remain faithfully wedded to yesterday's ideology, or even to the one that preceded it. In this case, the Church becomes a battleground where conservatives struggle against progressives. (Ellul 1988, 13-14)

As a missionary religion, Christians lack closed cultural communities which would otherwise prevent assimilation. This leads to Christians being very quick to jump on political bandwagons and use their faith to retroactively justify it.

Those who are quicker to adapt become “progressive Christians”, while those who show restraint are considered “conservative Christians”. It is through this dichotomy that Christians unwittingly continue to forsake their calling in favor of culture wars. The factions may reach different conclusions, but their rejection of the primacy of Christianity remains the same, whether they realize it or not.

What Ellul neglects, however, is that the element of vogue cuts both ways. These people aren't just fad-Christians, they're fad-communists too. The nature of partisanship is deceptive because it follows this general law: the outward appearance is the inverse of the internal substance. In this context, the underlying lack of seriousness is compensated with vocal affirmations of their dedication. After all, as Ellul himself remarks, ideology is inherently a degeneration:

Let us begin with my definition, a kind of common denominator often used in specialized studies. This one has the advantage of relating concretely to the facts: an ideology is the popularized sentimental degeneration of a political doctrine or worldview; it involves a mixture of passions and rather incoherent intellectual elements, always related to present realities. (Ellul 1988, 1)

There is undeniably an ideology by the name of “communism”; to say otherwise would be to deny history. But behind the marches of the Eastern Bloc still remains a non-ideological core to the contributions of Marx: a critique of alienation under the value-form, crisis theory, and a Hegelian deconstruction of the logic of capital. It no longer is the 60s, the New Left has been long dead. What's left of Marx in our day? Nothing — except for its actual substance. The spotlight has moved onto other ideologies, leaving us with an opportunity to actually cut to the meat of the matter.

If we wish to speak of a communism that goes beyond a mere “-ism”, then we must assert it by counterposing it against the ideology that once bore its name.

2. Ellul's Concept of Revolution

2.1. The Autopsy of Revolution

2.2. Anarchy and Christianity

3. Ellul's Analysis of Society

3.1. The Technological Society

3.2. Propaganda

4. Hope in Time of Abandonment


Adorno, Theodor W. “Theory, Practice, and Moral Philosophy”, 1963.

Ellul, Jacques. Jesus and Marx: from gospel to ideology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1988.

Hobsbawm, Eric John. Age of extremes: the short twentieth century : 1914-1991. London: Abacus. 2003.

Postone, Moishe. Time, labor, and social domination a reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (1993) 2009.

Sharp, Bruce. “Averaging Wrong Answers: Noam Chomsky and the Cambodia Controversy.” Last modified January 8, 2007.


from The Winter Lands.

Right off the bat, I want to clarify that I support making immigration easier, and that the way most countries deal with immigrants is inhumane; I should know that myself since I was an immigrant in my own country and now I am an immigrant in Europe. Furthermore, I would like to concede that the neoliberals have the academic literature on their side, as there is good evidence suggesting that ALL types of immigration are economically beneficial, and that even open borders is not an economically unsound idea.

My concern here is not economics. It never was. It has always been about the culture.

And I don’t mean the culture in the way that the right wing populists always push it. I do not care for pretty looking churches, bizarre customs, or the color of someone’s skin. As a matter of fact, the culture I am speaking of is a common enemy of both the populist right and many of the immigrants I will be discussing here: Namely liberalism and other variants of social progressivism. What inspired me to write this was the massive amount of backlash that Macron got for his comments on Islam. Mind you, I do think there are issues with his approach, but outside observers often look at the issue with the wrong lens. Especially Americans.

The aim of this essay is to criticize the approach of many American or “American-ized” liberals AND leftists when it comes to the rhetorical battle around this subject. Furthermore, I will be pointing out concerning trends and some of the internal contradictions that liberals and leftists often run into. I will also point out the differences between liberals and leftists in how exactly they botch up.

Are we clear?

Let’s start:

Being able to contemplate the idea of Open Borders to begin with is essentially an American privilege.

Despite Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, and the rise of right wing populism, America remains one of the best countries when it comes to treatment of its immigrants. Yes, even when compared to Europe.

There are currently 3 million gypsies in America. These Roma in America have integrated so well that nobody even notices them or talks about them. Meanwhile, France in 2009, decided to deport the entire gypsy population indiscriminately. And while this decision was met with some level of outrage, most Europeans felt apathetic about it. Some even encouraged it. Not only are gypsies treated as a separate entity, but they’re not even tolerated.

This extends to Muslims as well. Sure, you occasionally do get the cringe-worthy article from the Huffington Post, but overall Muslims in America view themselves as Americans, take pride in their own country, tend to be more educated and richer than the average American, and are even more secular than Evangelicals as many more Muslims believe in evolution than evangelicals. Muslim Americans are not a society within a society, they are a part of that society. Muslims in Europe, however, are much poorer on average, commit more crime, and feel more detached.

This is more of a personal observation than anything I can empirically prove but even among those who support immigration, the difference is clear as day between Americans and Europeans. Americans ACCEPT different groups. Europeans only TOLERATE at best. Americans think that diversity is good in and of itself, while Europeans only accept diversity under conditions. This even extends to linguistic expression. Many Turks are still called Gastarbeiter (guest-workers) that live in their Gastland (guest-country) despite being born in the country. Minorities in Europe are seen as guests that should be treated kindly, but if they “overstep their boundaries” or “overstay their welcome” then they are to be disposed of. This sort of perspective isn’t unique to Europe either. This is very much the norm worldwide.

These comparisons have all been with other liberal Western democracies. When you compare America to developing nations, It paints an even grimmer picture. Libya enslaved many of its immigrants under Gaddafi’s police state, Asian-looking people in India faced heavy discrimination after the COVID outbreak, Filipino maids are regularly abused and raped in the gulf states, China has essentially erased the Mandschu culture, while running sterilization camps on Uighurs, and Lebanon is simply Lebanon.

Macron was on the mark when he spoke about “Islamic separatism”. What he said was of no controversy in my opinion. Macron also acknowledged that France had failed its immigrant communities, creating “our own separatism” with ghettos of “misery and hardship” where people were lumped together according to their origins and social background. “We have thus created districts where the promise of the Republic has no longer been kept, and therefore districts where the attraction of these messages, where these most radical forms were sources of hope,” he added.

If the advocates of immigration fail to recognize this problem then they will lose the spiritual and rhetorical battle with the illberal right.

So how is this related to my overall thesis? Doesn’t this prove that integration CAN be done and that it’s mostly Europe’s fault for how it treats its immigrants?

Yes, it is partially Europe’s fault, but this doesn’t mean we should blindly support mass immigration or expect the issue to resolve itself.

Pointing fingers at Europe isn’t going to solve the fact that, simply put, Europe does not have the institutions or the cultural Zeitgeist to integrate these immigrants fully or even properly. And that blindly increasing immigration will only cause further tears in social cohesion and empower the populist right, and that is especially the case if the advocates of immigrants fail to reform and rephrase their positions and rhetoric. Europe simply lacks what America has and it’s important to realize that these deficiencies in the European system ought to be solved first.

What are the results of those deficiencies?

The result is that 63 percent of German Turks voted for Erdogan. In Austria, that percentage was 71 percent. As a reminder, Erdogan is an Islamist authoritarian Leader who has repeatedly denied or justified genocide, and imprisoned many journalists, including German ones. And mind you, Turks in Germany have been a significant minority for over 60 years now, ever since they came as Gastarbeiter (guest-workers). The claim that the Muslim immigrants from the Refugee crisis in 2015 will eventually integrate does not sound as reassuring when you take that fact into consideration.

One interesting fact is that Turks in Turkey vote for Erdogan by a lower percentage at 53 percent. It seems that Erdogan exploited how ostracized many of these groups feel by signaling Turkish identity and nationalism which is why even more Turks supported him in Germany than in Turkey. This theory seems to be consistent as well since Austria had even more people voting for Erdogan, and Austria is overall more xenophobic than Germany. This is a theory according to a professor in the University of Duisburg-Essen and goes to show how failed institutions can lead to radicalization, not just of the native populace, but also the immigrants.

It’s very obvious that these communities are neither liberal nor socially progressive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in some cases, they are more violent than the populist right. While most antisemitic incidents in Germany happened due to the far right, most of those done by the far right included things like verbal harassment but not a lot of physical violence. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the Jews that did experienced physical violence have said that they have been attacked by someone with a Muslim or Turkish background. Furthermore, what these reports define as “far right” often includes Islamist organizations and demonstrations such as Hizbollah and Hamas.

In the UK and France, the birth rates between the Native population and Muslim population are laughably disparate. The non-Muslim French and British population hover around 1.9, while the Muslim population hovers around 2.9.

What’s concerning here is not the “White Genocide” as many right wing populists and racists are quick to point out. Rather, what’s concerning, is that higher birthrates are correlated with having lower or no education/employment for women on average, and a more “traditionalist” (I prefer calling it a misogynistic) culture. Women are clearly seen as “breeders'' for the lack of a better term in much of these communities.

For comparison sake, the highest difference in the US birthrates is between whites and Hispanics, whites having a 1.65 birthrate and Hispanics having a 1.95 birth rate — a mere 0.3 difference — and yet Republicans have exploited the differences in birth rates over and over to fear monger about the extinction of white people...can you imagine how much more ammo the right wing has in Europe?

Oh and remember the statistics about Erdogan? Turns out that only 16 percent of American Turks have voted for Erdogan. This has been overwhelmingly due to the fact that American turks are much more educated on average than European-Turks.

In Birmingham, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of the anti-LGBT movement that seeks to remove LGBT and sex ed from schools. Even more concerning is that these trends don’t just apply to Muslim minorities, but to many Easteren Europeans as well. A recent survey of school children in Germany found out that homophobic views were almost just as widespread among children from ex-Soviet countries as those from Muslim countries, and that both groups had a far higher rate of homophobic views than German children. In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Yugoslavian women and Serbian women had a higher birth rate than Turkish women.

So what’s happening here? Clearly, America has better institutions, but how are those institutions exactly better?

In America, cultural integration is made possible due to several factors:

  1. Economic activity has been shown to be the best way to integrate immigrants. Labor union and market regulations have been shown to be much more flexible in the US, which has given many immigrants the economic opportunities that they need to blend in within society. Protectionism also runs rampant in Europe, especially when it comes to qualification of degrees. For example, many of the refugees that came to Germany had education and a degree, but due to very protectionist policies that only recognized German or European degrees, these immigrants faced great discrimination in the labor market. Another example is that many high skilled Muslims in Sweden are deported due to strict union contracts and regulations.
  2. America has much higher standards and vetting for those who it lets in. This means that the sample of immigrants that arrives in America will not be representative of what views average Muslim holds, as they will be more educated and richer on average. However, this factor might not be as effective as previously thought since even low income American Muslims showed signs of being more integrated than low income European Muslims.
  3. America has less “cultural and historical” baggage. The colonial past between the Middle East and France/UK is a heavy one. 1.5 million deaths in the Algerian struggle against France, plus burning down entire forests on their retreat. Things like that will always push these groups of people towards anti-West and anti-liberal views. The American psyche is not defined by such historical scars...except for a certain group that we will cover later in this text.

Many are quick to point out that America had a period of time where open borders was the norm, and that “everything was fine” back then, however, they forget two important factors

  1. For a significant period of time, these “open borders” only allowed white, able bodied men to enter the country. Furthermore, most people did not have any level of higher education back then, so the disparity in education that we see in Europe nowadays is much more concerning.
  2. Cultural Liberalism was not as big of a thing as it is right now. What is meant with this is that back then, most people were homophobic, sexist, bigoted, and so on. Women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and many other liberal values only developed much later on, and every since then, there has been a huge divergence between developed countries and developing countries on these issues. The political framework was not at all the same and pretending that the cultural impact would have been the same.

Returning to a previous point, there is one ethnicity in America that can be compared to the plight of European minorities in terms of discrimination and integration. You probably guessed it by now, but’s African Americans.

Remember the study that compared European Muslims with American Muslims? One interesting finding is that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims who felt like they were detached from American society, and felt unsatisfied with their conditions, were African Americans. African Americans also face similar issues to the Roma, Arabs, and Turks when it comes to finding proper housing and job applications.

I do think it’s intriguing, however, that it took 400 years of historical scars in the form of slavery for an ethnicity to be treated the same way that many Europeans treat their minorities on a regular basis, whether their arrival was new or not. If anything, this only demonstrates even further how much better America is at this.

Now we come to where I think liberals and leftists have failed, and why they have failed in the rhetorical battle against the right.

Many people who support immigration are wary of the term “merit-based immigration”. They say that the term is usually just a dog whistle because how exactly do we define “merit”?

They are correct that the “merit-based” has been used to justify racist views. However, I still think it is important to think of “merit” in terms of liberalism. I find it funny that the same leftists that will go on and on about the “paradox of tolerance”, fail to apply it when it comes to immigration.

Of course, the paradox of tolerance is entirely correct. A tolerant society needs to crush intolerant elements in order to survive in the long run. However, it is bizarre that this always only applies to the Republican party or the conservative opposition in general, and not the illiberal trends among immigrants.

It should also be noted that voting patterns do not necessarily mean that a group of people has embraced the values of that party. Many minorities only vote Democrat due to the rampant racism in the Republican party. African Americans have a homophobia problem, and have more conservative views on criminal justice, as 80 percent of African Americans support more or the same level of policing. Many Hispanic immigrants tend to be very religious and conservative.

It was only a matter of time before Democrats got a taste of what it means to have an illiberal minority. I fondly remember the meltdown that happened when the results from Cuban Americans in Miami Dade county came about. Despite Biden’s attempt to distance himself from socialism, he couldn’t beat how right wing many of these minorities skewed. Another example was in Texas. One of the major factors as to why Democrats underperformed with Hispanics in Texas, was that many of these groups were no longer immigrants. Many were already third or fourth generation, had a green card or even citizenship, and so Democrats’ support towards illegal immigrants did not strike them as sympathetic. Some even viewed border patrol as protectors and not enemies.

This returns to my main thesis. We simply can not blindly support open borders in regions that are less than ideal when it comes to integration, and constantly chastise anyone with right wing beliefs at the same time. If you fear the rise of illiberalism in Western countries, you can not simply shrug your hands at existing illiberalism within many immigrant communities. That is a privilege that you can afford as an American due to the fact that your country is capable of integrating immigrants (albeit not perfectly)..

Our political situation has reached a crisis, as one side has the right values yet does not call for the assimilation to these values, and the other side does call for assimilation but not assimilation to the right values. That is the issue that haunts the liberal/populist divide when it comes to the immigration debate.

On the rhetorical side of things, I would like to note an incident that made me realize how bad liberals are at marketing their ideas. I fondly remember an Anti-AfD demonstration (AfD being the far right party in Germany) where many activists held a sign that said “Rassisten essen heimlich Döner” which translates to “Racists eat Döner in secret!” (Doener being a type of Turkish street food). The next day, I saw the caretaker of our dormitory, who has repeatedly said racist and xenophobic things to me and other students, eat a Doener in front of the Turkish shop owner.

The idea that immigrants are somehow good because of “food” reflects the white suburban nature of many liberals. Immigrants like me are merely commodities that make exotic foods for them. It screams of patronization and commodification. I am an Arab who has never worked in the food industry. My value to a community extends far beyond food, yet liberals are keen on mentioning Gyros, Tacos, and Doener whenever they express their support. As an immigrant, I want to be a part of society and climb new heights. I am not here to make you your favorite dishes.

Even worse, it highlights how detached liberals and leftists are from the working class. The working class does not care for delicious food. The working class does not desire revolution or utopia. What most working class natives want is security and stability. This is exactly how the right managed to tap into their fear: Fear mongering. What liberals needed to do was give assurance. Rambling about human rights or how “arbitrary” borders are is not a discussion that the average person cares about. However, the average person does care about crime and economic opportunities within their own community. Instead of endlessly romanticizing immigrants or screeching about racism, activists could have pointed out, for instance, that crime in Germany has been the lowest it’s been since 1992 , despite the influx of refugees. Utilizing statistics like that is what gets people to take your side. Not vague calls for humanity.

Among leftists, there is a popular theory that capitalism and neoliberalism are the cause of the rise in the far-right. However, this idea is simply incorrect. For starters, it is ironic how the biggest surges in far right populism were actually in ex-communist states such as East Germany, Poland, and Hungary.

Secondly, many of the labor regulations and union contracts that made integration hard for immigrants, were passed by leftists. People are too quick to forget that it was the socialists and social democrats who pushed the heaviest for protectionism in the past. Thirdly, the last major economic recession happened in 2008 (excluding COVID). However, most of the far right in Europe saw its surge immediately only after the refugee crisis in 2015, so it’s obvious that the recession only played a minor role in enabling the right compared to the refugee crisis, as there were already many Muslim communities in Europe way before 2015 and 2008. Lastly, many of these immigrants are moving out to begin with precisely because capitalism in the West offers them better opportunities.

Even phrasing such as “Open Borders'' is problematic. When a xenophobe, or even an average person, hears the phase “Open Borders'' they think it implies being vulnerable or weak to foreign attacks. It’s similar to “Defund the Police'' in terms of bad marketing. Changing to something like “Flow of Labor'' might prove to be better.

In conclusion, those who advocate for immigration must change their approaches and must seek the correct institutional change in order to help out immigrants and avoid damaging social cohesion. Immigration is indeed beautiful, but we have to be careful about how we conduct things, and avoid viewing minority groups as helpless victims, and instead understand that they have just as much agency as the populist right.


from A Nameless Blog

If you would like to leave comments, you can do so on this Mastodon thread.

Thesis: There is an underlying relationship between one's political goals and one's political methods. Applying this maxim we can dissect the essential components of social liberalism (i.e. SocDem) and gradualist socialism (i.e. DemSoc), and better understand why despite the similarities on paper, there remains so much tension between the two groups.

A consistent logic dictates that one's approach to electoral politics is dependent on exactly what their aims are. Understanding the connection between your aims and your tools is absolutely vital to effectively mobilizing. Depending on this factor, participation in electoral politics could prove essential, a net positive, inconsequential, or outright counter-intuitive.

However, the purpose of this piece will not be questioning whether or not electoralism is “useful”, as that's a rather moot question with no one single answer. There are plenty of anti-electoralist arguments that I could make which would be completely meaningless to a non-communist, that's just the nature of the topic. The purpose of this piece is to look at movements which have something to gain from electoral politics, and conduct an investigation into the implications for said movements.

For the purpose of making a coherent argument, I will be arguing from a possibilist lens, suspending my usual stances to make observations from a more relevant position. This thought experiment should hopefully dissect the logic underpinning reformist left-wing movements, and also explain why certain ones are more successful than others. This will also help explain the reasons underpinning conflicts within progressive/center-left circles, and help those on each side of the rift understand the other.

1. Social Democracy

Social democracy (in this context, what I am referring to is more accurately labeled social liberalism) is the left-wing movement most commonly associated with electoral politics. To define it succinctly, social democracy promotes the utilization of political institutions to keep market forces in check.

Neither hoping for capitalism's demise nor worshipping the market uncritically, [social democrats] argued that the market's anarchic and destructive powers could and should be fettered at the same time that its ability to produce unprecedented material bounty was exploited. They thus came to champion a real “third way” between laissez-faire liberalism and Soviet communism based on a belief that political forces must be able to triumph over economic ones. (Berman 2005, 12)

The definition alone should give you an idea of the central role parliaments play for social democrats, but let us elaborate further on exactly what this looks like.

To do this, we're going to defer to Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who has written extensively on the dynamic between market power and political power.

The first question is: what problems do market forces pose?

If there are only a handful of firms in the typical industry, and if they recognize their interdependence, as they must both for profit and for survival, then privately exercised economic power is less the exception than the rule in the economy. It is also of a piece with the power anciently associated with monopoly. This was the clear conclusion of the new ideas. And the fact of such power, once identified by the theory, could readily be verified by observation.

The executives of the United States Steel Corporation, the longtime price leaders in the steel industry, do have authority to raise and lower the prices they charge for their own steel. When they exercise that power the rest of the industry normally follows. The same executives make decisions on where to build new plants and how much plant to build, what to pay in dividends and, subject to a periodic trial of strength with the union, what wages to pay. They have latitude on all of these matters; they are not the automatons of market forces. These decisions also affect the wealth and income of hundreds of thousands of people. As with steel so with the great core of American industry. The new theory suggested the existence of such power; the eye confirmed it. (Galbraith 2002, 50-51)

1.1. Countervailing Power

The second question: what can be done to counter said market forces? Galbraith points to the democratic state as a venue for those without economic power to stand their ground, using what he calls “countervailing power”:

In fact, the support of countervailing power has become in modem times perhaps the major domestic peacetime function of the federal government. Labor sought and received it in the protection and assistance which the Wagner Act provided to union organization. Farmers sought and received It in the form of federal price supports to their markets — a direct subsidy of market power. Unorganized workers have sought and received it in the form of minimum wage legislation. The bituminous-coal mines sought and received it in the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935 and the National Bituminous Coal Act of 1937.' These measures, all designed to give a group a market power it did not have before, comprised the most important legislative acts of the New Deal. (Galbraith 2002, 136)

All of these examples were acts of concrete acts of legislation which could have only been realized due to civic participation. Union leaders had to lobby, citizens had to vote, and politicians had to draft up bills their peers would be willing to vote in favor of.

Galbraith's market is one based on agonism, not antagonism. Yes, there is competition between groups over control of policy, but the competition is underlined by a mutual understanding of the necessity of coexistence. Each group seeks to make “make capitalism work for them”, but still presumes capitalism as a given.

To the SocDem, every action taken within the parliamentary sphere provides an opportunity to get the upper hand in negotiations. And to an extent, this is objectively true. As seen with the above examples cited by Galbraith, collective bargaining is a centerpiece of modern liberalism. Cutting deals and compromising is the name of the game, and it's all underlined by a conciliatory approach to politics. They mesh well with parliaments because they're willing to participate in good faith and trust other actors to do the same.

But it should be noted that collective bargaining is still bargaining; one can only get anything out of it if their demands are by definition negotiable. The process undeniably exists, but one has to have a use for it to take advantage of it. For the SocDems, this is no problem; the principle of countervailance holds that each legislative milestone marks a victory in and of itself. But, as we're going to see, this isn't always the case.

2. Democratic Socialism

On the other side of the coin we have democratic socialism. “Democratic socialism” has become a buzzword of sorts, but for the purpose of this, we're going to use this term (and DemSoc by extent) as a colloquial shorthand referring to what is more accurately labeled gradualist socialism.

One of the earliest and most influential examples of a gradualist movement was the Fabian Society, who defined their task as such:

In every field the characteristic Fabian policy has been that of permeation. In accordance with their doctrine of continuity the Fabians set out to develop existing institutions by permeating with this or that element of their doctrine those who had power to influence policy, e.g. the civil service, the political parties, the professions, the administration of business, and local govern-ment. It was part of their creed that no sharp line could be drawn between socialists and non-socialists and that many who would not call themselves socialists could be persuaded to help with particular reforms making for socialism. (Cole 1932)

The purpose of parliamentary action within this context would be to establish the preconditions of socialism. DemSocs view parliamentary action as a vehicle for accomplishing this by exploiting the democratic nature of said parliaments.

In Germany at present, Social Democracy's most effective means of asserting its demands, apart from propaganda by voice and pen, is the Reichstag (legislative) franchise. The influence of this franchise is so great that it has extended even to those bodies from which the working class is excluded by a property qualification or a system of class franchise; for even here the parties must pay attention to the Reichstag electors. If the Reichstag franchise were immune from attack, there might be some justification for treating the question of the franchise for the other bodies as relatively unimportant, though even then it would be a mistake to make light of it. But the Reichstag franchise is not secure at all Governments and government parties will certainly not take the decision to change it lightly, for they will be aware that such a step would inevitably cause hatred and bitterness amongst the mass of German workers, which they would show in a very uncomfortable way on suitable occasions. The socialist movement is too strong, and the political self-consciousness of the German workers is too highly developed, to be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. (Bernstein 1899, 184)

Expanding on this logic, Bernstein drafts three short-term goals for the socialist movement (176):

  1. Expanding democracy and providing resistance to reactionary institutions/movements
  2. Establishing immediate protections for workers
  3. Building up workers' cooperatives and other public institutions

What does this look like in practice? That's a question with a more complex answer than one might presume. “All democratic socialists agree on the need for a democratic alternative to capitalism. There is no consensus as yet as to what that alternative should look like.” (Schweickart 2007) This lack of a consensus can be attributed to many factors:

  • The social democratic project has for the most part been completed, the democratic socialist one has not.
  • There isn't the same type of unifying theory that Marxism has, leading to a lot of different opinions regarding the specifics.
  • The term itself is rather vaguely defined, with a lot of differing movements claiming the mantle.

However, history does provide some precedent which may allow us to piece things together; we've already touched on the work of the Fabians, but that's mostly theoretical. I'd say there's two other places to look, Leninism (dealing with the question of obtaining political power) and market socialism (dealing with the question of utilizing political power).

2.1. Obtaining Political Power

Leninism might seem like an odd (and a rather objectionable) parallel to draw, but there is a connection to be made regarding how both view parliaments as an instrument for obtaining political power:

Criticism, the most keen, ruthless and uncompromising criticism, should be directed, not against parliamentarianism or parliamentary activities, but against those leaders who are unable, and still more against those who are unwilling to utilise parliamentary elections and the parliamentary rostrum in a revolutionary and communist manner. Only such criticism combined, of course, with the dismissal of incapable leaders and their replacement by capable ones will constitute useful and fruitful revolutionary work that will simultaneously train the leaders to be worthy of the working class and of all working people, and train the masses to be able properly to understand the political situation and the often very complicated and intricate tasks that spring from that situation. (Lenin 1920)

The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old minimal demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial, minimal demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism and this occurs at each step — the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old minimal program is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution. (Trotsky 1938)

Leninists held that while electoralism was far from sufficient, it still had its uses in laying the foundation for a revolutionary movement. Each electoral victory marked not a victory for the movement, but rather instead a tactical opportunity.

This is to be expected considering how incredibly influential Lenin was on the theory of left-wing political organization. However, one should not go too far in drawing comparisons. The Leninist programme of old was much more radical in its aims, because it originated in an era where labor unions and parliaments were not as thoroughly integrated into capitalism.

Whereas the Leninists were ultimately interested in the outright abolition of the capitalist mode of production, democratic socialists seem to be more focused on workplace democracy as their demand. This is only natural, considering that the tools available to modern electoral movements are moreso suited to that end, and will attract people interested in such ends. One need only look at the state of remaining Marxist-Leninist parties in western countries to see this.

What connects these two strategies is the attitude, not the content. Democratic socialists may not be interested in communist ends, but they maintain the same militant outlook towards parliamentary institutions. There's still an underlying narrative of class-war (albeit a non-Marxist one) and an essentially combative approach to politics. To the democratic socialist, there is an upper class which has interests diametrically and fundamentally opposed to that of the working class; for SocDems this is either not the case or less central to their outlook.

All this gives the class struggle another form. It works today more as a potential than as an active force, more by the knowledge of what it might be than by actual manifestation. Politically as well as economically it is fought by sections or divisions, and often in forms which are the reverse of what they ought to be according to the letter, so that it might appear as if it were not the social classes that contest with one another the control of legislation, but rather the legislators that fight for the satisfaction of the classes. But the class struggle is no less a reality because it has taken the shape of continuous barter and compromise. (Bernstein 1897)

Participation is conditional; cynicism regarding the existing institutions means democratic socialists don't have the same loyalty to the process that SocDems do. If the electoral route appears to be at a standstill, the democratic socialist has a lot less hesitation to give it up and seek other avenues.

Accompanying this attitude is an element of expectation. By definition, a gradualist puts serious stock into the idea of a socialist society that substantially differs from our own. This is an expectation, so there's a degree of confidence underlying it. Such an expectation isn't as central to social democracy. There might be an optimistic outlook regarding the mixed economy and the expansion of social spending and perhaps some entertaining of a distant vision of socialism, but this is a far cry from an expectation. Political decisions are made around this expectation (or lack thereof). If one takes the idea of a future co-operative society seriously, immediate victories are interpreted within the context of a larger process. On the other hand, taking said victories at face value means that each one holds more weight, and that there's a larger investment in the present as opposed to the future.

2.2. Utilizing Political Power

Rejecting Marxist theory and its more explicitly revolutionary implications, democratic socialists have to develop an alternative framework to work off of. Market socialism (and adjacent theories) have often provided DemSocs with a more concrete portrait of what their expectations are and how political power can be utilized to realize said expectations.

The marriage between these schools of thought is present across all sorts of thinkers both old and new. Cole and the Fabians often toyed with the idea of consumer and producer co-operatives, while modern market socialists such as Schweickart and Cockshott have often shown an affinity towards democratic socialism. Even the other main current among democratic socialists — participatory economics — still holds to those principles of decentralization and economic democracy.

What market socialism has to offer to democratic socialists is the extension of and application of this “principle of democracy” towards the economy itself. This central promise satisfies the democratic, populist, socialist, utopian, and most importantly transitional sentiments found among these ideologues.

Market socialism is democratic because it attempts to promote the population having a larger stake in decisions. It appeals to socialists because its focus is primarily economic, offering solutions that are intended to help consumers and workers. It's populist in that the model rests on the assumption that the current organization of society is insufficiently democratic. It's utopian in that it provides a clear blueprint on how society should be organized, providing a rebuttal to arguments of unfeasibility. And its transitional in the sense that the development of it is predicated on the parallel building up of institutions, which legislation is capable of aiding.

At the center of this is the worker's cooperative, simultaneously the starting point and the goal of market socialism. For over a century now, democratic socialists of all stripes — from the early Fabians to modern YouTube sects — have developed a fascination with this concept. When discussing workplace democracy in practice, DemSocs often fall back on one of two examples: Spain's Mondragon Corporation and the planned decentralization of Yugoslavia's economy:

Quote #1 (Richard D. Wolff):

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits). As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker's salary (a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.) (Wolff 2012)

Quote #2 (Jacobin):

Yugoslav theorists developed a socialism that called for the withering away of the state' and the creation of society as a free association of producers. The first step was decentralization. In May 1949, the party-state ceded greater autonomy to local communal governments, whose power had been eroded since 1945. Slovene leader Edvard Kardelj explained that these reforms promoted the sense of the masses greater inclusion in the work of the state machinery from the lowest organs to the highest. Greater worker participation in the economic sphere soon accompanied this political decentralization. In June 1950, the National Assembly passed legislation introducing the self-management system. All enterprises would now have workers' councils consisting of 15 to 120 democratically elected representatives, restricted to two one-year terms. (Robertson 2017)

Quote #3 (Jacobin):

Despite sometimes brutal methods, Yugoslavia's de-Stalinization was productive, in the sense that it drove the party to rethink how society was organized. It led to the introduction of workers' self-management, social ownership, and workers' councils as the fundamental units of production and workers' democracy. Of course, very different kinds of self-management emerged in practice. (Balhorn 2020)

There's a lot to be said on exactly how excessively romanticized these ventures are, but that's a topic that's outside the scope of this piece. The important thing here to take note of is how democratic socialists view these efforts as relevant to their own project. In the first quote, we see how they conclude Mondragon (acting as a model for workplace democracy) is able to realize their goals. In the second and third ones, we see them draw a connection between government policy and this goal, providing an opening for them to rework it into a strategy more in line with the tactics they already use to influence a parliamentary government (as opposed to the SFR's primarily autocratic approach).

3. The Rift

In practice, what we see is that often times DemSocs and SocDems pursue the same policies: increased access to social services, higher taxes and nationalization of industries, a commitment to social justice, and so on.

So, what gives with the rift between the two factions? The rift has its true origins not in policy or ideology, but attitudes. This is why the divisions are most pronounced not during the process of legislation but rather instead in moments of messaging, where the direction political movements should take are being decided. The most obvious of these moments are elections, where coalitions are being built and platforms are being drafted.

SocDems typically advance a conciliatory approach towards politics, where they attempt to further their goals by working with and cutting deals with more mainstream political blocs. To the SocDem, their loss condition involves being locked out of participation in the negotiating table. DemSocs on the other hand focus on a combative approach, using their political toolbox with the purpose of increasing their leverage. For the democratic socialist, their loss condition involves losing the upper hand in negotiations, as the populist outlook views politics as a zero-sum battleground between the interests of the people and the interests of the elite.

Is this always the case? Not necessarily, one can be a combative SocDem and vice versa, but I do believe there is a reason each side gravitates towards their respective approaches. Namely, a historic one. In the early 20th century, most industrialized economies were rather laissez-faire and labour politics was still in a relative infancy. For the burgeoning social democratic movement, it was necessary to take power before the topic of negotiations could even come into question. However, the left would eventually get their parliamentary wins and would have to come to terms with the question of how to exercise their new-found influence.

3.1. Abstentionism and its Implications

Nowhere is this more clear than in the debate over the tactic of abstentionism, in which elected candidates would refuse to participate in the parliaments they served, as a matter of undermining their influence and asserting the power of the labour movement. This remained popular while social democrats were making rapid gains in parliaments, but was quickly met with hesitation when the wave began to subside.

Revolutionaries’ belief that trends would continue to move in their favour was enshrined in the policy of abstentionism. Social Democratic parties became the largest factions in parliaments, even if they remained in the minority; but those parties abstained from participating in government. They refused to rule alongside their enemies, choosing instead to wait patiently for their majority to arrive: “This policy of abstention implied enormous confidence in the future, a steadfast belief in the inevitable working-class majority and the ever-expanding power of socialism’s working-class support.” But that inevitability never came to pass...

On the right of the workers’ movement, the social democrats were compelled to face the facts. They were waiting for their time to come, but everywhere they hit ceilings in terms of voting percentages, often significantly below 51 percent. They decided that they needed to prepare for the long road ahead. That meant, in particular, holding their membership in check when the latter tried to jump the gun by risking the organisation’s gains too soon in a “test of strength”. Social democrats (and later, communist parties) were always motivated by this fear of the too soon. Instead of jumping the gun, they would bide their time and moderate their demands in alliance with other classes. In the past, social democratic parties had been strong enough to have a share in power but did not take it based on the policy of abstention. Now, they would begin to use the power they had: it was time to make compromises, to cut deals.

It was this compromising tendency that split the workers’ movement. To many workers, giving up on abstentionism and making alliances was a “betrayal”, signaling in particular the corroding influences of other classes (petit-bourgeois intellectuals), or of certain privileged, pro-imperialist sectors of the working class (the labour aristocracy). In fact, this turn within social democracy had more prosaic roots. In the first instance, it was the only way to give the voters something to celebrate, once voting percentages stopped rising so quickly. Second, and more importantly, once the social democrats could see that they couldn’t reach the crucial numerical majority on the basis of workers alone, it made sense that they would begin to look for voters elsewhere: socialists had to “choose between a party homogeneous in its class appeal, but sentenced to perpetual electoral defeats, and a party that struggles for electoral success at the cost of diluting its class character.” Increasingly, all social democratic parties chose the latter. (Endnotes Collective 2015)

And from here, the reason behind the hostility becomes clear. Both factions are electorally co-dependent but at the same time pose existential threats to each other. Since they can't separate, but also cannot cooperate, the only way for one faction to pursue its goals is the absolute subordination of the other. Let's go through the various scenarios:

  1. They remain completely independent from each other. Divided, both factions quickly find themselves unable to maintain a parliamentary coalition which even remotely resembles a plurality. They both remain entirely locked out of the political arena, triggering a loss condition for both.
  2. They cooperate on equal footing. This remains an option until a sufficient amount of power is actually taken, and the DemSocs wish to leverage said power in riskier ways. From there, this scenario spills into one of the other ones.
  3. The SocDems subordinate the DemSocs. This is a win for the former as they are able to manage a sufficient coalition to have a voice in legislation and maintain their influence over an extended period of time. However, this process of negotiation is perpetual, triggering a loss for DemSocs, whose fundamental goals necessitate an advancement of political power.
  4. The DemSocs subordinate the SocDems. The focus of the movement becomes advancing political power, which the DemSocs require. However, simultaneously, the zero-sum focus of such a task makes the negotiation pursued by SocDems near impossible.

Ultimately, the only possible outcomes are either mutual destruction or subordination. In that sense, this specific arena of politics is zero-sum (even if we assume politics as a whole isn't), which explains why emotions run higher between the two groups than between each group and much more ideologically different groups. It also explains why the tensions are so strong during elections, where said zero-sum game is being played.


Balhorn, Lauren. “How Yugoslavia's Partisans Built a New Socialist Society” Jacobin Magazine, June 13, 2020.

Berman, Sheri, and Dieter Dettke. 2005. Understanding social democracy. Washington: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Washington Office.

Bernstein, Eduard. “Karl Marx and Social Reform.” In Progressive Review no. 7. Edited by Paul Fiewers. Marxist Internet Archive, 1897.

Bernstein, Eduard, and Henry Tudor. (1899) 2004. The preconditions of socialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cole, G.D.H., “Fabianism.” In Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Edited by Edwin Seligman and Alvin Saunders Johnson. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. 2002. American capitalism: the concept of countervailing power. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Lenin, Vladmir Ilyich. “Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?” In Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Marxists Internet Archive, 1920.

Robertson, James. “The Life and Death of Yugoslav Socialism” Jacobin Magazine, July 17, 2017.

Schweickart, David. “Democratic Socialism.” In Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, edited by Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr, 446-448. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2007. doi: 10.4135/9781412956215.n250.

Trotsky, Leon. “The Transitional Program”. In The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. Marxists Internet Archive, 1938.

Wolff, Richard. “Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism: Mondragon shows the way” The Guardian, June 24, 2012.


from Copyleft Curator

Using Videos to Showcase FOSS Gaming

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

What is Gaming With Werewolves?

Gaming With Werewolves is a video-game channel on PeerTube (which are still rather uncommon, surprisingly) with a focus on Linux and FOSS games.

Here's what you need to know about FediLab:

  • The channel is one of many run by a user known as chriswere, who is actually rather active on the PeerTube scene. As of writing this article:
    • He has continued a steady stream of contributions for almost two years. (since August 1, 2018)
    • The last video uploaded to this channel was one day ago. (July 14, 2020)
    • The last video he has ever uploaded to PeerTube was today. (July 15, 2020)
  • The focus of the channel seems to be left rather broad. While he has mentioned an interest in being able to show off FOSS games, he also covers general Linux titles and also other games.
  • The channel isn't entirely solo, occasionally, his friend HexDSL will join him to play a game.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • I find the most interesting content on this channel to be the FOSS game reviews.

    • A lot of people are unaware of the amount and variety of FOSS games available, and as someone who is making this newsletter to help give exposure to another overlooked archive of content, I absolutely support this initiative to help promote FOSS gaming. It's a topic that's not very commonly covered, even outside of the Fediverse, and as a result it feels like a breath of fresh air.

    • Video is a great medium to convey this; let's plays are already a subculture on the internet, and being able to showcase gameplay footage gives us a preview in a way neither screenshots nor articles could. And since its all unified under one channel, if someone wants to keep up with the FOSS gaming scene, all they would have to do is follow this account.

    • When Chris is talking about the game, he often yield really interesting information, such as how Xonotic has changed since he last played it or how game jams give birth to a lot of smaller FOSS games. What he does discuss is often relevant to the game, such as level design, history, or general feel.

    However, he does have a habit of getting sucked into the game and going quiet, which makes the free-form style feel disjointed. The videos could probably be improved by mixing shorter “first impressions” footage and more scripted informational portions. Trimming down the videos' length to somewhere around five minutes might help with this too.

    • Chris makes sure to assist the creators by discussing where each game can be found, linking it, and sometimes even mentioning what it is licensed under.
  • The other content on his channel is rather varied. Everything gaming-related from video-essays to straight-up Let's Plays can be found.


  • I don't see an issue with this by itself , but I think a bit more can be done to distinguish each type of video.

    For one, PeerTube now has a playlists functionality which could be used to organize these videos. Also, corresponding the border color in each video's thumbnail to the series they belong to would help anyone quickly skimming the channel feed with being able to identify videos in the series they're looking for.

Interview with Developer

1. What keeps you coming back and uploading content to this channel?

For me, PeerTube has an underground quality which I'm very attracted to. Somewhere on the internet which is a little off the beaten track and outside the mainstream, but a wonderful place for those willing to seek it out. It's nice to find a platform that is still small enough to have a sense of genuine community, where you can build friendships, recognise people and get lost in its quirks.

2. What are some of your favorite FOSS games?

Minetest is definitely the one I spend the most time on. I enjoy building in creative mode and building all kinds of interesting buildings. The RTS game, Widelands is another gem I regularly enjoy. I really enjoyed strategy games from the late nineties and Widelands is great at scratching that particular itch. OpenTTD is another classic I can spend days of my life on. Other honourable mentions include OpenArena, Red Eclipse, Hedgewars and SuperTuxKart.

3. As a creator, what advantages do you get from PeerTube as a platform?

There are countless better coders and developers that me in the FOSS world. For me, making content for PeerTube is my way of contributing to a software ecosystem which fits my strengths.

4. Do you use your own app to browse the Fediverse? If so, how does it feel when you're using it?

I find that viewers and commenters have deeper and more thoughtful insights than on other platforms. That's not to say those people don't exist on other networks, but they often get drowned out by the general noise.

5. What is Bootleg Penguin? (Bonus Question)

An avant-garde, one-off, never-to-return podcast which explores the deeper, more thoughtful side to gaming on Linux.

ChrisWere can also be found on Mastodon and has a homepage which acts as a hub for all of his accounts. Donations are handled through cryptocurrency addresses which are listed on his homepage.


from A Nameless Blog

Last updated: 4/3/2021

If you would like to leave comments, you can do so on this Mastodon thread.

Thesis: Communists have repeatedly either ignored or attempted to circumvent the issue of struggles of a non-exclusively proletarian nature. These approaches in their various forms are insufficient. The question can only be answered once it extends beyond one of class composition into the content of the critique itself.

Following the decline of the USSR and the rise of the neoliberal “end of history”, the historical left began to find itself in an identity crisis of sorts. This is the type of crisis Derrida finds himself contending with when writing Specters of Marx:

Today, almost a century and a half later, there are many who, throughout the world, seem just as worried by the specter of communism, just as convinced that what one is dealing with there is only a specter without body, without present reality,without actuality or effectivity, but this time it is supposed to be a past specter. It was only a specter, an illusion, a phantasm, or a ghost: that is what one hears everywhere today. (Derrida 1984, 47-48)

As for what “defines the left”, I've written on that before (although it hasn't aged well); the focus of this piece is to provide a response to the questions raised by one of Marxism's alleged “gravediggers”, the New Left.

On the other hand, there has emerged a growing body of leftist intellectual work which is highly critical of Marxism and often explicitly anti-Marxist., Two characteristics of these new critiques of Marxism are particularly important.

First, they are critiques on the Left, not from the antisocialist Right. The criticisms are not from apostate Marxists who have become defenders of capitalism; they are from anti-capitalist intellectuals with commitments to progressive social change. In some cases, in fact, these theorists' vision of the alternative to capitalism is not radically different from the image of socialism and communism contained in Marxist theory; what is different is the view of the theory of society needed to help create such a society.

Second, the critiques are not simply critiques of the insufficiencies or gaps in Marxist theory; they are critiques of Marxism. In one way or another all of these theorists argue that Marxist theory is a hindrance, that its theoretical assumptions necessarily create blind spots, that its foundations are fundamentally flawed and thus it cannot be reconstructed — it must be abandoned. (Wright 1983, 452)

One of the major points of contention for these social movements was the question of whether Marxism fundamentally has a “tendency toward class or economic reductionism in Marxist typologies of historical forms of society” (Wright 1983).

Is a primarily material conception of society able to testify to the experiences and promise liberation for groups of a racial, sexual, or gender-based identity? Is it even the duty of socialists to pursue such ends?

This essay will deal with evaluating common responses to this question, and providing an answer that does not jeopardize the content of a revolutionary critique.

1. Class Romanticism

To a lot of the early socialists, the obvious answer seemed to be to focus on uniting proletarians across the world under a common class identity. This seemed like the simplest solution, after all two central tenets of orthodox Marxism were the uniquely revolutionary potential of the proletariat and the notion that productive relations constituted the “base” of society.

Those are all well and good from the outset, but we should be careful about how far and why we draw said conclusions. Often times, these conclusions are drawn out of political expedience at the cost of both our understanding of and the development of class-struggle itself.

1.1. Forming a “Proletarian Identity”

Marx's famous call was for workers of the world to unite. What made such a task seem feasible was a connection drawn between the development of productive forces under capitalism and the homogenizing of proletarians. Peasant revolts never broke out into revolution due to their interests residing with religious, ethnic, and other identities.

Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance – combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist...

Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle. (Marx and Engels 1900, 195)

In practice, such a phenomenon was not nearly as cut-and-dry as Marxists presumed:

In reality, the homogenisation that seemed to be taking place in the factory was always partial. Workers became interchangeable parts in a giant machine; however, that machine turned out to be vastly complex. That in itself opened up many opportunities for pitting different groups against each other. In US auto plants, black workers were concentrated in the foundry, the dirtiest work. Southern Italians equally found themselves segregated from Northerners in the plants of Turin and Milan. Such segregation may appear inefficient, for employers, since it restricts the pool of potential workers for any given post. But as long as the relevant populations are large enough, employers are able to segment the labour market and drive down wages. If differential sets of interests among workers could be created by the internal divisions within the plant (as in Toyota-isation), so much the better. Capitalists were content for the labouring population to remain diverse and incommensurable in all sorts of ways, especially when it undermined workers’ organising efforts. (Endnotes Collective 2015, 129)

Faced with this reality, socialist parties had no choice but to artificially construct a class identity, centered around the ideal image of what a proletarian “should look like”:

How all this might be fashioned into a single working-class identity was the operative question for socialists. The rise of the urban working-class neighborhood was crucial to this project. Initially, lower-class loyalties were held within superordinate structures of deference and paternalism, often ordered by religion, and increasingly dominated by liberals. Across Europe, government policies and party actions regulated popular culture by interacting with the social histories of urbanization in ever more ramified ways. From the 1890s, states intervened with gathering intensity in the everyday lives of working people, assisted by new knowledges and professions and targeting social stability and the national health via powerful ideas of family. In the process, powerfully gendered images of the ideal working father and the responsible mother permeated the politics of class. Then socialist parties, too, began organizing working people into collective political agency beyond the neighborhood and workplace, with an impact on government, locally and municipally, in regions, and eventually the nation. All these processes helped shape class identities institutionally. (Eley 2002, 58)

While this picture may prove useful for propaganda, it ultimately is no substitute for a real class consciousness. Revolution can only be accomplished by the “self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority”, not just by pandering to a specific subset of artisans.

Given that the expected homogeneity of the semi-skilled workforce failed to fully realise itself, it became part of the task of the workers’ movement to realise that homogeneity by other means. As we saw above, organisation requires an affirmable identity, an image of working class respectability and dignity. When workers failed to fit this mold, the champions of the workers’ movement became champions of self-transformation. The workers’ movement was a sect — with DIY, straight-edge sensibilities, a particular style of dress, etc. Yet the predicates of the dignified worker (male, disciplined, atheist, expressing a thirst for scientific knowledge and political education, etc.) were often drawn by analogy to the values of bourgeois society. “The party activists wanted to live worthy, upstanding, moral, moderate, and disciplined lives: on the one hand, to show the workers who were not yet organised a good example; on the other hand, to show bourgeois society that one was up to all tasks, that one deserved good standing and respect.” In other words, party activists were quite often killjoys.

The proletarian has been reduced from a class with an actual role in production to a primarily cultural and moral identity. This ideal worker would eventually find himself championed by electoral and populist movements more willing to indulge this fantasy.

Sections of workers—organized, skilled or semi-skilled, male—won unprecedented security, with not only full employment and rising real wages but a new shop floor self-respect...

Postwar industrial relations required a corporatist triangulation: labor won tangible economic benefits and political influence; capital won the space for a new accumulation strategy based on Fordism, meaning workplace deals combining high wages, productivity, and a modernized labor process, linked to consumer-driven growth; and the state won a new role overseeing this large-scale societal compromise. This corporatism was held together partly by national systems of consultation between government, employers, and unions and partly by Keynesianism’s ending of mass unemployment. It produced a system of “reformer managed capitalism.” This held a central place for organized labor, while bypassing socialism as such. (Eley 2002, 316)

Why is this an issue with regards to the workers' movement? Because class identification goes hand-in-hand with class consciousness. When socialists promote a “class” that the majority of proletarians are unable to identify with, they find themselves unable to reach the immense majority.

In this double sense—in social structure and social understandings, as the social aggregation of wage-earning positions in industrial economies and as an organized political identity—the working class declined. This was a complex story. Perceptions of decline reflected the demise of one kind of working-class aggregate—the skilled or semiskilled male proletarians of the “old” industries and the electrochemical complex of the “second industrial revolution.” By stricter definitions of wage-labor, after all, working-class positions still increased. The declining peasantry, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and other self-employed more than replenished the wage-dependent labor force, likewise women’s entry into employment. Assumptions about working-class identity lagged behind actual changes in work and the continuing creation of new types of worker, as growth of the service sector and public employment made clear. (Eley 2002, 397)

1.2. Blurred Lines

Some might handwave this as a white lie in order to attract people to the cause —something that can attract the “common man”, but then be explained in more detail later — but often it ends up spiraling out of control. Propaganda of any form has lasting psychological effects that are severely underestimated. We cannot expect a man to suspend his capacity to think critically and then wean him off of convenient falsehoods.

The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under any conditions. What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed.

What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed. In fact, we are dealing here with one of propaganda’s most durable effects: years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another; this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis-à-vis some event without a ready-made opinion, and obliged to judge it for himself. (Ellul 1965, 170)

The more you appeal to the irrational side of a man, the more prone he will be to irrational messaging in the future, or to put it in simpler terms: what you say now will come back to haunt you later down the road.

This is especially the case when talking about questions of class composition, because whatever message you put forth regarding class ends up shaping the body of the resulting movement. Nowhere is this more clear than with the syndicalists. Early syndicalists were some of the strongest proponents of class-romanticism. However, their neutered class-theory would end up paving the way for a movement more willing to submerge itself in the fantasy: Italian Fascism.

The war, he felt, had restored Italy's self-confidence by proving the country capable of serious things; now, at last, after centuries of indiscipline and disorganization, she would be able to get down to work, creating “the new miracle, that Italy of the labor aristocracy that can be the model of every other people that intends to endure” The new Italy would have an important new role in the world, not as a military-imperial power, but as the bearer of new productivist values: “The world needs the Italian; Italian is synonymous with worker; he is an organism of extraordinary energy, is resistant, adaptable, sober, thrifty; he is the poet of toil, the hero of excavations, the vanguard of the harvesters of the land, the essential raw material for the effort of continuing human progress.”' Orano clearly wanted to believe that the war itself had been the Italian revolution, but all his exaggeration and forced optimism indicate his sense that it would not be so easy to reap the harvest of the Italian war experience.

And despite Orano's inspiring images, of course, the end of the war soon led to the “biennio rosso” and the threat of socialist revolution. In response, the syndicalists finally began cutting themselves off from the old orthodoxy for good, condemning the working class, declaring the class struggle to be counterproductive, and calling for collaboration between the workers and productive sectors of the bourgeoisie. (Roberts 1979, 154-155)

Class struggle is not merely an issue of getting enough people to identify with socialism. Making your message more palatable for the sake of “the front” may work for electoral movements, but as Marxists such a choice only serves to foster false consciousness. How can one expect a proletarian to be aware of his situation while he is constantly misled on what a proletarian even is?

2. Populism

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades. Yet despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall Street movement will gain traction, but the most dynamic recent populist movement to date has been the right-wing Tea Party, whose main target is the regulatory state that seeks to protect ordinary people from financial speculators. Something similar is true in Europe as well, where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move. (Fukuyama 2012)

This quote is part of a piece by Francis Fukuyama, in which he identifies that “in the aftermath of the [Great Recession]... populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one”. He attempts to provide an explanation of why this is, but he (unsurprisingly) misses the mark in the process. The purpose of this section will be to provide an alternative answer to this problem, tying it back to our central theme of class-composition.

2.1. OWS and Populism

As the left rallied behind the call of “the personal is the political”, the question of class only became all more daunting. By the 2010s, one possible solution was starting to gain traction: if one class theory ends up excluding others, then why not make everybody the revolutionary class?

This theme was at the center of Occupy Wall Street, quite possibly the most prominent example of a left-wing movement in the 21st century. Signs, posters, chants, all repeating the same slogan: “we are the 99 percent”.

For the uninitiated, the term “99 percent” refers to a statistic of income inequality in the US (one percent of the country controls approximately two-fifths of the nation's wealth). From this one statistic springs out a rudimentary class-narrative littered throughout Occupy rhetoric:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late. (Stiglitz 2011)

If this passage screams “populism” to you, you're absolutely justified in your suspicions. Yes, there is an economic element to the whole dichotomy, but it still is predominantly populist. Of course, defining populism is tricky, but there are common patterns we can observe:

The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people. While many studies of populism define the essential social conflict as between the people and the elite, this report uses the more general term “outsiders”, because populists as often stoke divisions between marginalised communities as between marginalised communities and elite.

From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people. This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 12)

The very same report denotes a subtype of populism that should prove more relevant to early Occupy:

Socio-economic populism does not constitute a specific package of economic policies, but rather paints the central ‘us vs. them’ conflict as between economic classes. Among socio-economic populists, there is a reverence for the common worker. The pure people belong to a specific social class, which is not necessarily constrained by national borders. For example, socio-economic populists may see working classes in neighbouring countries as natural allies.

The corrupt elites can include big businesses, capital owners, state elites, and foreign forces and international institutions that prop up an international capitalist system. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 23-24)

For some, socio-economic populism may sound all well and good, since it still deals in vaguely economic terms. However, that alone is not enough; the foundations still remain far too equivocal to constitute a proper class theory.

2.2. Class-Narratives

In Marxism, classes are distinguished according to their specific role in the process of production:

(i) The class of big capitalists, who, in all civilized countries, are already in almost exclusive possession of all the means of subsistance and of the instruments (machines, factories) and materials necessary for the production of the means of subsistence. This is the bourgeois class, or the bourgeoisie.

(ii) The class of the wholly propertyless, who are obliged to sell their labor to the bourgeoisie in order to get, in exchange, the means of subsistence for their support. This is called the class of proletarians, or the proletariat. (Engels 1847)

This proves important for two reasons:

  1. There are clear lines being drawn; both the proletarian and the bourgeois can be objectively identified according to their productive relations. These aren't just adjectives, but actual historical categories.
  2. The proletariat is presented not just in its negative characteristics (its oppression), but as the producer of value. It is this positive characteristic that is able to give weight to Marx's claim that “the proletariat alone is [the] really revolutionary class”.

Contrast this with the class-narrative of socio-economic populism:

  1. The “people” and the “elite” are incredibly equivocal categories. We can attribute a character to these classes, but not any concrete characteristics. Even if we spoke of them in terms of say, income or wealth, that'd only serve to raise more questions. Where is the cutoff that decides if a person is elite or common? What really unites the 99 percent? Why do some of the so-called elite sympathize with Occupy?
  2. The categories serve a primarily moral function, decrying the actions of the “elite”. But it ultimately fails to go further than that. For people like Stiglitz saying that the one percent will learn their lesson once its too late; this may be a nice thought, but it's ultimately hollow. What would the 99 percent do once its “too late”? Are they willing? Are they capable?

What Marxist class theory takes into account which populists neglect is that the revolutionary subject must have both composition and content. As Dauvé puts it:

Until the two or three last decades of the twentieth century, most radical critique considered the working class as the social pivot and revolutionary lever (metaphors highly revealing of a mechanical age mindset). Nowadays, in contrast with the apparent simplicity of yesteryears, capitalism and contemporary struggles are said to be devoid of centrality. When most radicals speak of labour, they tend to overstretch the notion, with no significant difference between a housewife, a student and an assembly-line worker. The definition has moved from entirely positive to entirely negative: the prole is no longer the pan-creator of wealth, he or she is a less-person: jobless, landless, powerless, propertyless, moneyless, homeless, and undocumented. As result, what is meant by class is a boundless shapeless whole, disjointed not only from the work place (which would stick to the Marxian definition: proles are at work and/or jobless), but from the world of work altogether. (Dauvé 2015, 140)

A movement that fails to advance beyond protesting, that fails to take seriously the questions of what leverage is available, the fundamental interests of those in question, and its goals is doomed from the outset.

And that second part ties back into the earlier question of what really unites the 99 percent? And no, I don't mean a character sketch of the “common man”. What is a meaningful characteristic shared by the members of this group? Populism proved great for spreading awareness and promoting the slogans of the campaign: after all, the 99 percent appeals to everyone. But broad appeal comes at a cost: the content is diluted.

2.3. Democracy and Demands

And it's specifically for this reason that we saw Occupy devolve in the way it did. Once people were on board with the idea of fighting back against the one-percent, what was to happen next? What issues should be prioritized? What about conflicting interests among the 99 percent? Is it even possible to represent everyone? Sure, you can say it can be accomplished with consensus democracy, but how does consensus democracy reconcile these divergences better than our current system?

Talking in practical terms, we've seen experimentation with the speaking stack (a consensus-based approach to group discussion) to address concerns raised by minority groups, but even that has run into conflict:

Another check on structurelessness comes in the form of the “progressive stack,” in which the “stack-keeper,” who is in charge of taking questions and concerns from the audiences at general assemblies, is given the ability to privilege voices from “traditionally marginalized groups.”

...Innovations like progressive stack can at times act as a Band-Aid solution covering over pervasive power dynamics that are hard to pinpoint and resolve, she adds. Without serious and sustained work towards women’s equality within the movement, she says, “progressive stack is [just] a way for us to feel slightly better.” (Seltzer 2011)

Confronted with this crisis of identity, the movement which has nothing but an ideal of democracy to its name, does what all democratic movements eventually do: begin negotiations on a list of demands. Demands (and public policy by extent) are essential to democracy:

Democracy and public policy are intertwined because the organization of authority in a nation affects the design and implementation of government activity. Fundamental to democracy is the notion that citizens possess the ability and means to shape decisions made by public officials...

Democracy’s desirability derives from its institutional design which allows the majority of citizens to influence public policy in ways relevant to their interests and needs. (Krane and Marshall 2007)

It should be noted that the move to list demands was not met with unanimous approval; there was some controversy surrounding it, yet I bring it up because these demands still remain Occupy's legacy regardless.

“Everyone is entitled to make their own blog or website to post their opinions about how OWS should operate or what they think the OWS demands should be, this 99% group is no different,” Stepanian said in an email. “However, all of OWS’s official statements are agreed upon by way of consensus-based general assemblies. This matter was not submitted or agreed upon by the NYC general assembly, and therefore by-passed the process all OWS plans have been made through.”...

“Demands have come up before,” wrote Ryan Hoffman in another email to HuffPost. “They were shot down vociferously under the argument that demands are for terrorists and that is not who we are. From that debate however, another proposal was passed: that we table all talk of demands until future notice! Therefore, any talk about demands, posts of demands, etc. are null and void. We already tabled those discussions using consensus.” (Kingkade 2011)

This quote, in addition to introducing the “demand debate”, does give us insight into how Occupy deliberates and also why these demands ended up taking center-stage.

  • The question of Occupy's organization seemed not to have been properly settled. On one hand, there technically is a General Assembly, yet the GA's “authority” seems to be little more than nominal. Groups independent are able to speak on behalf of OWS and receive such recognition by the public no matter how much the GA protests.
  • The consensus-model of the GA brings deliberation to a snail's crawl, showing it to be impotent and bureaucratic in response to a rapidly-unfolding situation. If the GA struggles to discuss an issue (much less offer a solution), their input will remain less significant than that from those who have taken demonstrable action.

Though “On Conflict and Consensus” assured organizers that “Formal Consensus is not inherently time-consuming,” experience suggested otherwise. The process favored those with the most time, as meetings tended to drag out for hours; in theory, consensus might include everyone in all deliberations, but in practice, the process greatly favored those who could devote limitless time to the movement — and made full participation difficult for those with ordinary life commitments outside of their activism. Movement after movement found, moreover, that the process tended to give great attention and weight to the concerns of a few dissenters. In the purest form of consensus, a block by one or two individuals could bring the whole group to a screeching halt. (Kauffman 2015)

Since the GA proved itself incapable for the task, countless other groups stepped up to the plate and put forth their demands.

  • One of the most well-known of these is the 99 Percent Declaration: a list of twenty demands, some of which include congressional term limits, an overturning of Citizens United, and various reforms to the tax code.
  • The Demands Working Group backed a “New Deal-style work program funded largely by ending America’s wars and taxing the rich”. (Harkinson 2011)
  • The Liberty Square Blueprint was a bit more extreme, calling to end all wars, open-source government technology, and abolish the Federal Reserve.

What's shared in common by all of these declarations (even the rather unreasonable Liberty Square Blueprint) is that they all take upon a distinctly reformist character. Despite the fanfare in its rhetoric and the wishes of the more anarchist members, there is nothing revolutionary about what Occupy left behind.

2.4. Occupy's Limited Legacy

With the hindsight of all these years behind us, it is rather easy to reflect upon Occupy's legacy. The general consensus seems to be that while the protests may have gone on to promote certain policy platforms, it's impact was far from revolutionary:

Occupy Wall Street takes some of the credit for introducing income inequality into the broader political discourse, for inspiring the fight for a $15 minimum wage and, most recently, for creating a receptive audience for the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Everyone knows we were right,” said Caleb Maupin, who was working in the insurance industry when he first joined the movement five years ago. “We had a major campaign for president with Bernie Sanders. The campaign was like a giant Occupy Wall Street rally, talking about the 99 percent and the one percent because millions of people know we were right.” (Hajela and Balsamo 2016)

This was always a concern amongst the protestors (especially the anarchist ones), so it's fair to say that this result was far from unanticipated.

The protesters are just reminding those in power to look down. This is the easy part. The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture...

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, as it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly new. (Zizek 2011)

What Zizek, along with many other protestors neglected is the form this “dilution” takes:

  • Recuperation need not come from the “elite” or “false friends”, it can arise as a consequence of how we communicate and propagate ideas using modern mediums. Zizek gives an example of Bill Clinton “suggest[ing] the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan”, but what the existence of such a statement demonstrates is not a danger to be heeded, but rather instead, evidence of a compatibility between the rhetoric of Occupy and the goals of Bill Clinton. Occupy makes its motto “let the 99 percent be heard”, Bill Clinton believes he can accommodate this with a jobs plan. The issue isn't with Bill Clinton, the issue is with Occupy's messaging.
  • Zizek is correct to oppose demands. But just because a revolutionary movement is absent of demands doesn't mean it shouldn't be absent of content. He seems to identify this when he speaks of a vacuum, but he underestimated how quickly that vacuum can be filled with other things. In the case of Occupy, the vacuum would end up being filled with a overreliance slogans and imagery, both of which are ripe for recuperation.

However, it is one thing to make an observation, and another to transform said observations into useful information. So, returning to this question of why Occupy left behind what it did, let us reiterate our earlier findings.

  • Confronted with the failure of historically labor-centric movements, Occupy centers itself around a populist class-narrative, pitting the 99 percent against the 1 percent. This allows Occupy to be more inclusive of non-labor struggles, as they can be easily slotted into this 'great majority”.
  • Occupy's class-narrative has the numbers on its side, but ultimately lacks substance. Because the movement is primarily populist, the only common theme that could be pursued is “true democracy”. As a result, the movement's main focus shifted towards promoting consensus-democracy, giving rise to the General Assembly.
  • The General Assembly found itself burdened by the inefficiency of its process, and struggled anything, much less an actionable programme.
  • The lack of demands from both the anarchist occupiers and the General Assembly led other groups to make demands on behalf of the movement. While this was neither agreed upon or official, it was de-facto recognized due to the lack of action on part of either of the opposing parties.

Tying this together, we begin to get a picture of how class-content can determine the nature of a movement. Occupy's populist nature could only lead to a democratic focus which in turn could only be resolved by democratic means, i.e., reform. The question of class had not been solved, but instead, merely ignored:

This points more to a crisis within class relations than to a crisis of class relations—a crisis that might initiate the destruction of class structure. Present unrest acts as if it could absorb class without doing away with what maintains it: the capital-labour opposition. Togetherness is a necessary dimension of revolution, providing it breaks with class division, not when it fuses class groups into an aggregate mass. On Tahrir, Puerta del Sol, Taksim … the fact that those without any means of livelihood have to sell their labour power to those who organise work and profit from it, in simpler words the basic fact of exploitation, was interpreted in terms of poor v. rich, powerless v. powerful, bottom v. top. Therefore the solution could only be a fair resharing of wealth and power.

We are not suggesting everything will be fine the day the Cairote jobless refuse to demonstrate alongside doctors because proletarians don’t associate with middle class. The question is what they do and cannot do together. The shift from factory to street occupation, from private to public places, is immensely positive if occupiers transform what they take over: one has to get hold of something before transforming it. But takeover is not ipso facto changeover. The reclaiming of public space signifies a will to reappropriate our lives, an intuition that production and work should not be central in our lives: that could be a starting point for a critique of the economy and work, if production and work were confronted and not bypassed. Otherwise, just as the occupied factory occupies its occupiers and keeps them within the confines of labour issues, those who occupy the square immerse themselves in the occupation tasks. Solidarity is an indispensable dimension of revolutionary breakthrough, a part, not the whole, and when the part replaces the whole, community becomes an end in itself. A Madrid participant was saying in May 2012: “People are fighting to take decisions themselves.” What self is meant and, what’s more, which decisions? (Dauve 2015, 98)

Class without content is little more than an amorphous grouping, impotent and atomized. It's easy, it's attractive, but it's ultimately toothless.

2A. Rebuttal to Fukuyama

Returning back to Fukuyama, let us see what he concluded regarding Occupy Wall Street:

In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. They include a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.

But the deeper reason a broad-based populist left has failed to materialize is an intellectual one. It has been several decades since anyone on the left has been able to articulate, first, a coherent analysis of what happens to the structure of advanced societies as they undergo economic change and, second, a realistic agenda that has any hope of protecting a middle-class society.

The main trends in left-wing thought in the last two generations have been, frankly, disastrous as either conceptual frameworks or tools for mobilization. Marxism died many years ago, and the few old believers still around are ready for nursing homes. The academic left replaced it with postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, critical theory, and a host of other fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural than economic in focus. Postmodernism begins with a denial of the possibility of any master narrative of history or society, undercutting its own authority as a voice for the majority of citizens who feel betrayed by their elites. Multiculturalism validates the victimhood of virtually every out-group. It is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition: most of the working- and lower-middle-class citizens victimized by the system are culturally conservative and would be embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies like this. (Fukuyama 2012)

Fukuyama is correct in two areas: there is an absence of a coherent conceptual framework and an increasing inability to link struggles/experiences. However, he quickly loses sight of the issue:

  • This first part should come as no surprise, considering the book he's notorious for, but Fukuyama contributes to the issue at hand by prematurely burying Marx. Marxism isn't perfect, there's a lot of things that Orthodox Marxists were mistaken on, but it was a coherent framework. It did provide tools for mobilization. Recent developments and the publication of Marx's newly-discovered writings show, if anything, what we need is a return to Marx.
  • He irons over the differences between revolutionary and reactionary movements, which leads him to come to the wrong conclusion on why the Tea Party succeeded. First, it should be noted that “most Tea Party supporters are among the middle class”, not the working class as Fukuyama implies (Boushey 2010). Secondly, the fact is that the ends of reactionary movements are just more suited to populism: the creation of a unified identity, manipulation, a focus on “other-ing” weaker groups, us-versus-them narratives. Combine all of these combined with the middle-class' influence on social institutions and its clear what make right-wing soft-coups so effective.

Occupy had a clear focus against the elites, there was undeniably an economic undertone to it (hence the focus on income and Wall-Street), and the “99 percent” included the middle class. The issue was that they hit a wall precisely because their populist approach had little to offer to those who they wished to mobilize. Taking more pages out of the Tea Party's playbook would only exacerbate the problem, not solve it.

3. Class Vacuum

Of course, all of this begs the question. Why even bother with a class theory? This is a question that has repeatedly been raised, whether consciously or unconsciously, by various movements from individualist anarchists to right-wing nationalists. Often times, however, what we are going to see is that this sort of rejection of a social element in revolutionary change often lends itself to individual terrorism as a means of praxis.

First, let us set the terms, because terrorism in and of itself is a broad phenomenon. We're mostly going to be focusing on terrorism perpetrated by individuals and non-state actors and the ideological factors which motivate them. Terrorism studies is a rabbit-hole unto itself, so there's no point digging into what is irrelevant to the topic of this essay. The following quote should make clear the angle we're approaching this from:

By its very essence terrorist work demands such concentrated energy for “the great moment,” such an overestimation of the significance of individual heroism, and finally, such a “hermetic” conspiracy, that – if not logically, then psychologically – it totally excludes agitational and organisational work among the masses.

...Everything that is outside the framework of terror is only the setting for the struggle; at best, an auxiliary means. In the blinding flash of exploding bombs, the contours of political parties and the dividing lines of the class struggle disappear without a trace.

...The revolvers of individual heroes instead of the people’s cudgels and pitchforks; bombs instead of barricades – that is the real formula of terrorism. (Trotsky 1909)

3.1. Propaganda of the Deed

Historically, a core component of anarchist theory is “propaganda of the deed”, best summarized as the idea that an individual's actions can inspire others to take up arms. However, those who postulated about it soon had to come to terms with the reality once people began to follow through on it.

A proper understanding of the origins of anarchist terrorism at the end of the nineteenth century must take into account not only a variety of causes, some of them contradictory, but also a baffling gap between rhetoric and reality. Malatesta and Kropotkin had called for propaganda by the deed, meaning actions aimed at insurrection and revolution, but soon got random acts of murder about which they harbored deep misgivings. Loath to abandon the lowly instigators of these deeds, the anarchist leaders apolo-gized for them, and thus enabled, or at least assisted, the popular press and numerous politicians in finding someone to blame, or to scapegoat, for mis-cellaneous anti-social acts...

...The assassination of Tsar Alexander, attempts on the German kaiser and Italian king in 1878, the abortive bombing of the Greenwich Observatory (at the instigation of the tsarist police?), scores of mysterious bombings in Barcelona between 1904 and 1909, attacks on British civilians and officials in India, the Italian soldier Masetti’s assault on his commanding officer in 1911, and other acts of violence were all co-opted into the terrorist “black wave,” not only by the prejudices (and sometimes the instigation) of the media, police, and politicians, but also by the fervent desires of many anarchists, who saw in them dazzling images of proletarian power. (Jensen 2014, 22-23)

This encouraged a reformulation on part of thinkers such as Kropotkin and Bakunin, who would develop a theory of anarchist praxis drawing heavily from the then-emerging syndicalist movement. This would end up defining a split between anarchists who were willing to embrace a class-theory and anarchists who weren't.

Coinciding with the birth of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism, three tendencies emerged within anarchist-communism. First, there was the tendency represented by Kropotkin himself and Les Temps Nouveaux (Jean Grave). Second, there were a number of groups which were influenced by Kropotkin but which were less reserved than him towards the trade unions (for example, Khleb i Volia in Russia). Finally, there was the anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists, who in France were grouped around Sebastien Faure’s Le Libertaire. From 1905 onwards, the Russian counterparts of these anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists become partisans of economic terrorism and illegal ‘expropriations’.

...As an alternative to the strategy of the Russian ‘illegalist’ anarchist-communists, Kropotkin envisaged the formation of independent anarchist trade unions whose aim would be to counteract the influence of the Social Democrats. He defined his strategy in one sentence in the 1904 introduction to the Italian edition of Paroles d’un Révolté: ‘Expropriation as the aim, and the general strike as the means to paralyse the bourgeois world in all countries at the same time.’

At the end of his life Kropotkin seems to have abandoned his previous reservations and to have gone so far as to see in syndicalism the only ‘groundwork for the reconstruction of Russian economy’. In May 1920, he declared that: ‘the syndicalist movement... will emerge as the great force in the course of the next fifty years, leading to the creation of the communist stateless society’. (Pengam 2002)

For the purposes of the point I'm driving, I am going to direct my attention towards individualist strains of anarchism, as they offer the most coherent expression of a classless perspective. A separate section can be found below (“Addressing Potential Objections”) if social anarchists have any issues with exactly how representative this is of anarchism with respect to the context of this piece.

The 1911–1912 rampages of the Bonnot gang, the “Tragic Bandits,” were even more spectacular and bloody. Most of the bandits were French, but a few were Belgian. Many of the gang’s members, although not Jules Bonnot himself, had originally been associated with L’Anarchie, founded in 1905 as the premier anarchist journal advocating individualist anarchism and “individual restitution,” i.e., robbery. In December 1911 the Tragic Bandits began to steal cars, rob banks, and kill people. They were the first individuals to use automobiles for terrorist or criminal purposes. (Jensen 2014, 351)

3.2. Terrorism and Failure

The aforementioned Anarchist F.A.Q. makes another point regarding terrorism:

Terrorism has been used by many other political, social and religious groups and parties. For example, Christians, Marxists, Hindus, Nationalists, Republicans, Muslims, Sikhs, Fascists, Jews and Patriots have all committed acts of terrorism. Few of these movements or ideas have been labelled as “terrorist by nature” or continually associated with violence—which shows anarchism's threat to the status quo. (McKay et al. 2010)

Which brings me to the other half of the terrorism coin: movements which have decayed beyond the point of being able to view themselves as the lever of history.

And it's here we begin to see the inherently defeatist character of terrorism: it “can maintain itself only by exploiting the weakness and disorganization of the masses, minimizing their conquests, and exaggerating their defeats” (Trotsky 1909). It appeals to those who are politically isolated, those who are facing the inevitability of their defeat.

What basically characterizes the members of these strata is their individualism, impatience, scepticism and demoralization. Their actions are more aimed at spectacular suicide than at any particular goal. Having lost their past position in society, having no future, they live in a present of misery and exasperated revolt against this misery; in an immediacy which is felt as an immediacy. Even if through contact with the working class and its historical future they can get inspired by its ideas in a distorted way, this rarely goes beyond the level of fantasy and dreams. Their real view of reality is a purely contingent one. (International Review 1978)

The hopeless mentality that underlies it often makes it attractive to reactionaries, whose ideology can only lead one to adopt the mentality of the perpetual loser. Littered throughout the manifesto of the El Paso shooter is this sense of complete desperation and self-victimization on part of the author. No person who feels remotely secure in their political position would write something like this:

In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seem to be nearly impossible. The inconvenient truth is that our leaders, both Democrat AND Republican, have been failing us for decades. They are either complacent or involved in one of the biggest betrayals of the American public in our history. The takeover of the United States government by unchecked corporations. I could write a ten page essay on all the damage these corporations have caused, but here is what is important. Due to the death of the baby boomers, the increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right and the ever increasing Hispanic population, America will soon become a one party-state. The Democrat party will own America and they know it. They have already begun the transition by pandering heavily to the Hispanic voting bloc in the 1st Democratic Debate. They intend to use open borders, free healthcare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters. With policies like these, the Hispanic support for Democrats will likely become nearly unanimous in the future. The heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold. Losing Texas and a few other states with heavy Hispanic population to the Democrats is all it would take for them to win nearly every presidential election. (Crusius 2019)

The Unabomber, a luddite, also finds himself in despair when faced with the seemingly unstoppable march of industrialization.

That being accomplished, it does not appear that there would be any further obstacle to the development of technology, and it would presumably advance toward its logical conclusion, which is complete control over everything on Earth, including human beings and all other important organisms. The system may become a unitary, monolithic organization, or it may be more or less fragmented and consist of a number of organizations coexisting in a relationship that includes elements of both cooperation and competition,just as today the government, the corporations and other large organizations both cooperate and compete with one another. Human freedom mostly will have vanished, because individuals and small groups will be impotent vis-à-vis large organizations armed with super technology and an arsenal of advanced psychological and biological tools for manipulating human beings, besides instruments of surveillance and physical coercion. Only a small number of people will have any real power, and even these probably will have only very limited freedom, because their behavior too will be regulated; just as today our politicians and corporation executives can retain their positions of power only as long as their behavior remains within certain fairly narrow limits.

Don’t imagine that the system will stop developing further techniques for controlling human beings and nature once the crisis of the next few decades is over and increasing control is no longer necessary for the system’s survival. On the contrary, once the hard times are over the system will increase its control over people and nature more rapidly, because it will no longer be hampered by difficulties of the kind that it is currently experiencing. Survival is not the principal motive for extending control. As we explained in paragraphs 87-90, technicians and scientists carry on their work largely as a surrogate activity; that is, they satisfy their need for power by solving technical problems. They will continue to do this with unabated enthusiasm, and among the most interesting and challenging problems for them to solve will be those of understanding the human body and mind and intervening in their development. For the ”good of humanity,” of course. (Kaczynski 1995, 39-40)

The previous examples were us demonstrating the hopelessness of known terrorists, but what about the terrorism of a known failure? Working backwards, we end up at the same result. Take a look at Peru's Shining Path, one of many international Maoist movements formed in response to China's liberalization.

Viewed from one historical angle – the emergence of neo-liberalism under Reagan, and China’s own shunning of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s – Shining Path’s project was bizarrely out of its time. It was also ill-suited to Peru. Few of the preconditions for Mao’s own revolution in the ‘semi-colonial, semi-feudal’ China of the 1940s seemed to be present: Peru in 1980 was a democracy; it was largely urban and literate; and there was no colonial invader to fight, no militant social rebellion to capitalise upon, no massive inequality of land ownership. (Lovell 2019, 308)

The aim – to provoke the state into indiscriminate retaliation and for the people in turn to rebel against government brutality – was crude but, as it turned out, cruelly effective. The more excessive the state response, the more discredited Peru’s democracy, and the more disillusioned the populace, would become. Guzmán was prepared to sustain horrendous losses. He told his cadres frankly that they would have to ‘cross the river of blood’: that ‘many party militants would die…and they would die in the worst possible ways. Their families would be destroyed…there was very little in Peru’s history that prepared it to confront the level of violence that would eventually be unleashed. Dozens, hundreds of thousands of dead.’ The revolution envisioned by Shining Path resembled ever more closely a compact of death. Shining Path melded Mao’s optimistic ‘a single spark can light a prairie fire’ with a much darker, quasi-religious concept of purification in rivers of blood. It fostered a spirit of reckless confrontation. (Lovell 2019, 327-328)

The reversal of their outlook would not bring victory for the guerillas; “with the capture of [their leader], Shining Path collapsed like a paper tiger” (p. 342). What it did bring instead was numerous atrocities inflicted upon the very peasantry Maoism was intended to champion.

Children were forced to become guerrillas: ‘against their will, whether they wanted to or not, they showed them arms, knives, spears; if you don’t accept it, you’ll die’. They understood little of Mao: a few pre-breakfast readings from philosophy essays, nothing more. The party at first tried to ban fiestas, but then realised that the booze made villagers indiscreet in identifying informers: ‘drink made them reveal what they had told the military. Right there we would take them away, and kill them later that night. No one witnessed this, only the dark canyons.’ Girls aged twelve or thirteen were turned, effectively, into comfort-women or child-bearing slaves – they were conscripted to bases, from where they returned pregnant. Shining Path ‘have deceived us’, cried anguished mothers. In some base areas, voluntary recruits coexisted with conscripts whose families had been annihilated in senderista attacks. Deserters and dissenters suffered cruel public execution; in a massacre of Amazonian tribal captives in November 1989, one of the prisoners was crucified. (Lovell 2019, 332-333)

Even beyond Peru, a common pattern emerges among the Maoist movements surveyed in Lovell's book. In the cases of India (p. 349) and Nepal (p. 393-394), and others, we also see movements which when faced with the threat of irrelevancy resort to terroristic means.

3.3. The Atomization of the Terrorist

Unlike the other approaches that have been covered, you're going to see very few people consciously advocate for individual terrorism as a means of praxis. Because of this, it's going to be necessary to first draw a connection between terrorism and a “class vacuum”.

In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission. The anarchist prophets of the ‘propaganda of the deed’ can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses. Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise. The more ‘effective’ the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy. (Trotsky 1909)

3.1A: Addressing Potential Objections

The Anarchist F.A.Q. (reflecting the views of a lot of modern social anarchists) considers the “propaganda-by-the-deed phase of anarchism [to be] a failure” and attempts to quash the notion of “anarchist terrorism”. Peppered throughout the section, however, we're given a whole array of mealy-mouthed defenses regarding the link between anarchism and terrorism.

We can get a feel of the hypocrisy surrounding condemnation of anarchist violence by non-anarchists by considering their response to state violence. For example, many capitalist papers and individuals in the 1920s and 1930s celebrated Fascism as well as Mussolini and Hitler. Anarchists, in contrast, fought Fascism to the death and tried to assassinate both Mussolini and Hitler. Obviously supporting murderous dictatorships is not “violence” and “terrorism” but resisting such regimes is! Similarly, non-anarchists can support repressive and authoritarian states, war and the suppression of strikes and unrest by violence (“restoring law and order”) and not be considered “violent.” Anarchists, in contrast, are condemned as “violent” and “terrorist” because a few of them tried to revenge such acts of oppression and state/capitalist violence! Similarly, it seems the height of hypocrisy for someone to denounce the anarchist “violence” which produces a few broken windows in, say, Seattle while supporting the actual violence of the police in imposing the state's rule or, even worse, supporting the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. If anyone should be considered violent it is the supporter of state and its actions yet people do not see the obvious and “deplore the type of violence that the state deplores, and applaud the violence that the state practices.” (McKay et al. 2017)

Is anarchism “terrorist by nature”? No, there are anarchist currents (especially anarcho-pacifism) which are fundamentally incompatible with such methods. However, the attitude social anarchists have shown towards terrorism is fundamentally incoherent. On one hand, you have people like Murray Bookchin condemning these terrorists on account of acting of their own individual accord, rather than listening to the “anarchist groups”.

It must be noted that the majority of anarchists did not support this tactic. Of those who committed “propaganda by the deed” (sometimes called “attentats”), as Murray Bookchin points out, only a “few . . . were members of Anarchist groups. The majority . . . were soloists.” [The Spanish Anarchists, p. 102] Needless to say, the state and media painted all anarchists with the same brush. They still do, usually inaccurately (such as blaming Bakunin for such acts even though he had been dead years before the tactic was even discussed in anarchist circles or by labelling non-anarchist groups anarchists!). (McKay et al. 2017)

On the other hand, you have acts of terror being committed by these same “anarchist groups”, quite a few of which do follow social anarchism.

The Spanish anarchists whom [Bookchin] esteems above all others (1977, 1994) had perhaps the longest terrorist tradition of all. The index reference to “Terrorism, anarchist” in his history of Spanish anarchism covers dozens of pages (1977: 342). There were sporadic bombings in the 1880s which became chronic, at least in the anarchist stronghold of Barcelona, in the 1890s (Bookchin 1977: ch. 6). 1918–1923, period of violent class struggle in Spain, was the time of the pistoleros — gunmen — a term which applies to both employer-hired goons and anarcho-leftist militants. Among hundreds of others, “a premier, two former civil governors, an Arch-bishop, nearly 300 employers, factory directors, foremen, and police, and many workers and their leaders in the sindicato libre [a company union], fell before the bullets and bombs of Anarchist action groups” (Black 1992)

So, what exactly are we supposed to make of all this?

It is true that anarchist violence has often backfired and never won any lasting victory. But this is but to say that anarchism is a failure to date. Anarchist propaganda is a failure. Anarchist organizing is a failure (vide the IWW). Anarchist schooling is a failure. If anything, anarchists have accomplished more by violence than in any other way, in the Ukraine and in Spain, for instance. The fact is anarchists have not accomplished anything by any means to compare with their leftist and fascist and liberal rivals. Their propaganda, for instance, has not come close to the efficiency of propaganda by Nazis, televangelists, and Fabian Socialists. Their institution-building (touted by the Australian consortium) amounts to nothing but anarchists bagging granola in food coops or supplying warm bodies for demonstrations claimed by Stalinists or Green yuppies or whomever. Anything they can do, others do better. Could it be that anarchism itself scares most people away, stirs up their fear of freedom such that they seize upon media spoon-fed slanders like ‘terrorism’ as excuses for looking the other way? (Black 1992)

Social anarchism remains stuck at an impasse attempting to balance the class-narrative of its “social” half and the assumption of absolute individual agency afforded by the final condition of anarchy. Class-theories and anarchism mix like oil and water: Faced with this reality, “libertarian municipalists” and anarcho-syndicalists were forced to abandon the anarchist project in favor of simple left-wing libertarianism. Direct democracy, localism, and decentralization: equivocate all you want on the definition of “hierarchy”, but none of these constitute anarchy.

By some quirk of fate, Bookchin’s minimal, believe-it-or-else anarchist creed just happens to be his creed. It also happens to be deliriously incoherent. A “confederation of decentralized municipalities” contradicts “direct democracy,” as a confederation is at best a representative, not a direct, democracy. It also contradicts “an unwavering opposition to statism” because a city-state or a federal state is still a state.

...While the word “anarchism” appears on almost every page of the Dean’s diatribe, the word “anarchy” rarely if ever does. The ideology, the ism, is what preoccupies him, not the social condition, the way of life, it’s presumably supposed to guide us toward. It may not be an inadvertent choice of words that what Bookchin lays down, as one of his Four Commandments of orthodox anarchism, is “an unwavering opposition to statism” (60: emphasis added), not an unwavering opposition to the state. As a democrat, the Dean is at best capable of only a wavering opposition to the state, whereas an abstract rejection of an abstraction, “statism,” is easy enough to issue. And I’m sure it’s no accident that his shot at the mainstream marketing of Bookchinism (Bookchin 1987a) nowhere identifies the Dean as an anarchist or his teachings as any kind of anarchism. (Black 1997)

4. Striking A Balance

So far, we have criticized numerous approaches which have sought to replace the Orthodox Marxist class-theory. However, the question posed at the beginning of this piece still remains. How should communists respond to non-class struggles? We've already answered how they shouldn't, so now the time has come for a proposed alternative to the above approaches.

4.1. Class From Another Angle

But before we get to that, I think it's first important to establish exactly why communists should even care about the issue. There's a tendency among Marxists to adopt an outlook of vulgar-materialism, partially due to the aesthetic factor I discussed in Section 1, but also due to misconceptions peddled by countless secondary sources. “Materialism” is constantly used as a crutch to justify lazy analyses of social phenomena. To quote Engels:

And if [a] man has not yet discovered that while the material mode of existence is the primary agent this does not preclude the ideological spheres from reacting upon it in their turn, though with a secondary effect, he cannot possibly have understood the subject he is writing about. The materialist conception of history has a lot of them nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying history...

In general, the word “materialistic” serves many of the younger writers in Germany as a mere phrase with which anything and everything is labeled without further study, that is, they stick on this label and then consider the question disposed of. But our conception of history is above all a guide to study, not a lever for construction after the manner of the Hegelian. All history must be studied afresh, the conditions of existence of the different formations of society must be examined individually before the attempt is made to deduce them from the political, civil law, aesthetic, philosophic, religious, etc., views corresponding to them. (Engels 1890)

What we have seen throughout history is that these “id-pol” movements and struggles have given way to critiques which shine further light on the nature of capitalism and how these secondary effects can influence how it manifests itself. For example, the insights of the black liberation movement gave way to not just one of the few truly revolutionary socialist organizations in United States history (the Black Panthers), but also an understanding into how racial division can countervail the assumed tendency of workers to homogenize with the development of industrialization (as mentioned in Section 1.1.)

Or even take the case of the women's liberation movement, which has continually found itself confronting the question of social reproduction through the concept of the commons and the distinction between directly and indirectly market-mediated labor.

We struggle to break capital's plan for women, which is an essential moment of that planned division of labour and social power within the working class, through which capital has been able to maintain its power. Wages for housework, then, is a revolutionary demand not because by itself it destroys capital, but because it attacks capital and forces it to restructure social relations in terms more favourable to us and consequently more favourable to the unity of the class. In fact, to demand wages for housework does not mean to say that if we are paid we will continue to do it. It means precisely the' opposite. To say that we want money for housework is the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demand for a wage makes our work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it, both in its immediate aspect as housework and its more insidious character as femininity. (Federici 1975, 5)

In the case of both of these examples, however, it required said movements to begin with a purely identity-based analysis, and only after theoretical maturity was it ready to be incorporated into a broader critique of capital. It's naive to expect every movement to begin dealing in these abstract terms, because politics starts from the concrete, our everyday experiences. However, as we become more conscious of our situation, building upon the knowledge of our predecessors, we can begin to articulate these observations as a critical theory.

Communists should not be antagonistic towards these movements, but rather instead give them room to develop in parallel. And as it develops into a coherent theory and history of struggle, the intersection of the causes will allow us to view class from another angle.

4.2. The Politics of Everyday Life

Why would we want to view class from another angle? Because it ties into the concept of “the politics of everyday life”. While capitalism retains certain core characteristics such as generalized commodity production and wage-labor, it's far from a static system. How capital is manifested, how it subsumes labor, and how people are stratified under it are questions which can only be answered relative to the time-period in question. As seen in the wake of 1968, these transformations can occur faster than theory can formalize. A revolutionary moment can be completely missed because communists remain wedded to yesterday's analysis. This isn't to completely disown the need for formal theory, but understand that unless we can pair it with a more responsive base of understanding, we're doomed to forever play catch-up.

Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds close at hand. The tradition of all past generations weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living. At the very time when men appear engaged in revolutionizing things and themselves, in bringing about what never was before, at such very epochs of revolutionary crises do they anxiously conjure up into their service the spirits of the past, assume their names, their battle cries, their costumes to enact anew historic scene in such time-honored disguise and with such borrowed language.

Thus does the beginner, who has acquired a new language, keep on translating it back into hi sown mother tongue; only then has he grasped the spirit of the new language and is able freely to express himself therewith when he moves in it without recollections of old, and has forgotten in its use his own hereditary tongue. (Marx 1852, 12)

This is where the temporal advantage of the everyday comes into play, it allows us to understand and respond to revolutionary moments as they occur. It refuses to allow us to fall back onto a purely historical identification, but rather instead forces us to take seriously our responsibility as present beings to define the content of the struggle.

The line of objective time knows nothing and wishes to know nothing of the present as immediate subjective presence. And, in its turn, subjective life concentrated in the space of a point – my joy, my pleasure, my daydreams – isn't interested in time that flows away, in linear time, the time of things. On the contrary, it wants to learn everything about its present – for, after all, it is only a present. (Vaneigem 1967, 105)

There's another side to the coin however, and that's the everyday as relevant to the individual, bringing us back to the original topic. One of the most persistent anchors within communist circles has been the cult of the proletarian, and its this tendency which would go on to inspire all the various mistakes I've gone over in the previous sections.

Parties constantly invoke the wellbeing of the “working-man” to justify their actions. Populists, desperate to be validated, define class-boundaries as broadly as possible to fit themselves into the narrative. Councilists continue to paralyze themselves out of fear that they're somehow interfering with the proletarian destiny.

This remains as true now as it was back in 1968, when Camatte wrote the following:

The classist analysis which we adopted originally could never do more than interpret real events. The same shortcoming affected the participants of May '68 and made it possible for them to perceive themselves according to the old schemas. It is becoming increasingly obvious that these active participants were men and women who were personally and very intimately involved in the life and functioning of capital, and more especially were having to justify and maintain its representation, who then went into revolt against it. But their revolt is completely recuperable as long as it moves on the worn out road of class struggle which aspires to awaken the proletariat and make it accomplish its mission...

The mythology of the proletariat accounts for how the “populism” of May '68, as we called it, became “proletarianism”. People started to say: “We must go to the proletariat, revive its fighting spirit, summon up its capacities for self-sacrifice and then it can kick out the evil bosses and follow the other 'proletarians' down the road to revolution.”

May '68 ushered in a period of great scorn and confusion. People were scornful of themselves because they weren't “proletarian”, and they scorned each other for the same reason, whereas they were all confused about the proletariat, the class that had always been considered potentially revolutionary. There is no other way to explain the impasse encountered by the movement which formed itself in opposition to the established society. (Camatte 1973)

Camatte's position is rather extreme, but perhaps rhetorically necessary as a wake-up call.

I still hold to the assertion that as the producers of value, the proletariat is in a unique position to give force to a critique of capitalism. However, this does not mean that they are the only ones capable of taking action, that action cannot precede their movement, or that somehow it is impossible for them to organize with non-proletarians.

There's an oft-quoted passage from Marx's letters regarding how non-proletarian elements are to be tolerated, one which seems to preclude the stance I have taken:

“Second, when such people from other classes join the proletarian movement, the first demand upon them must be that they do not bring with them any remnants of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., prejudices, but that they irreversibly assimilate the proletarian viewpoint. But those gentlemen, as has been shown, adhere overwhelmingly to petty-bourgeois conceptions. In so petty-bourgeois a country as Germany, such conceptions certainly have their justification, but only outside the Social-Democratic Labor party. If the gentlemen want to build a social-democratic petty-bourgeois party, they have a full right to do so; one could then negotiate with them, conclude agreements, etc., according to circumstances. But in a labor party, they are a falsifying element. If there are grounds which necessitates tolerating them, it is a duty only to tolerate them, to allow them no influence in party leadership, and to keep in mind that a break with them is only a matter of time.” (Marx 1879)

However, it should be noted that this is within a purely programmatic context, both the proletarian and petty bourgeois elements of the time working within an explicit political party. The backdrop here is the war between the reformist and utopian currents of the SPD versus the revolutionary ones. The former often denied the existence of class conflict, believing that socialism was a matter which could be negotiated. The direction with which the SPD approaches its task would have implications for all of its members.

Within the passage, I'd like to highlight this sentence here:

If the gentlemen want to build a social-democratic petty-bourgeois party, they have a full right to do so; one could then negotiate with them, conclude agreements, etc., according to circumstances.

Within the context of spontaneous organization, the proletariat is free to associate, dissociate, adopt, and reject elements according to the situation.

In these cases, the movement is not gradually subverted away from the proletarian perspective, it either interests the proletariat or it does not. Irrespective of that, we continue to struggle according to our personal conflicts with capital and the perspective and tools offered to us by our socially-determined role. Once we put aside the act of white-knighting the little guy and actually become honest with our relationship to capital, does the movement actually begin to mean anything to non-ideologues.

The ones who were successful in piquing the interest of the proletariat in 1968 weren't the electoralist PCF or the invariant ICC, it was the artists and students whose agitation was based on how they found capitalism boring. It sounds rather petty in discourse dominated by proletarian virtue-signaling, but it was the self-awareness which ended up being the most in touch with the situation. Capitalism is boring, and that's the truth people run up against in their everyday life. It's the truth which resonates with them.

Leaving the question of praxis so incredibly relative and open-ended would've been impossible previously, but it's the reality we find ourselves now in a society increasingly characterized by unity-in-separation. Collective struggles, whether proletarian or not, have the potential to develop a public space in which our day-to-day experiences serve as a common ground in an atomized world. The question of class was not what needed fixing, but rather instead the question of how we relate to it.


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from A Nameless Blog

Last updated: 9/22/2021

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: A proper Christian work-ethic requires a critique of not just individual attitudes but also the structural factors which contribute to labor alienation.

Further Reading:

  • The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
  • Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken

From the very beginning, the question of work versus leisure has generally been considered a stumbling block for Protestant discourse, with preachers often opting to either fall back on old moralisms or ignore the question altogether. Are people getting lazier? Is leisure inherently bad? These are questions Leland Ryken attempts to answer in his book titled “Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective”. Against his contemporaries, he attempts to directly address the question by arguing in favor of a healthy work-life balance.

I doubt that attitudes toward work are very different in our churches than in our culture at large. We find the normal quota of workaholics in the pew on Sunday morning. And what percentage of Christians view their work with the sense of calling that the Reformers proclaimed with such clarity?

The lack of a Christian work ethic is particularly acute among young people. A recent book-length study surveyed attitudes among young people enrolled at Christian colleges and seminaries. One of the conclusions drawn by the researcher who wrote the book was this:

“What has been seen thus far merely confirms what is already well known about the place and value of work for Evangelicalism—that work has lost any spiritual and eternal significance and that it is important only insofar as it fosters certain qualities of the personality.” (Ryken 1987, 13)

Forty years later – well after the generation of the yuppies he derides – Ryken's position has become the mainstream one. The broader public sees value in the notion of a healthy balance, yet work holds this same drudgery for us. So what gives?

Making sense of this requires us to confront what is quite possibly one of the biggest failures of the modern church: its complete and utter inability to conceive social behaviors outside the context of the individual and some mythical vacuum they're assumed to exist in. Any time there's an issue, these preachers always give the same vague responses about “changing one's attitude, but also not too much, lest you end up going too far in the opposite direction.” Ryken, unfortunately, also falls into the same trap at various points in the book.

The main conclusion this book pushes us toward is a deep appreciation for the provision God has made for human life in the rhythm of work and leisure. That rhythm sounds so simple when we encounter it in the creation account of Genesis and in the fourth commandment that it is easy to miss its significance. Yet all the analysis of the problems of work and leisure in society comes back to the keystone of the goodness of both work and leisure in human life.

Not only are work and leisure goad in themselves, they also balance each other and help to prevent the problems that either one alone tends to produce. If we value work and leisure properly, we will avoid overvaluing or undervaluing either one. (Ryken 1987, 243)

If this is the only thing the church has to contribute regarding the issues that continue to plague people's everyday lives, no wonder they continue to turn to self-help books and “life coaches” for their problems. After all, they're offering the same banal and inoffensive advice without needing to confine themselves to any sort of religious affiliation.

This isn't to say that individual responsibility/agency doesn't exist, of course it does. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. But at the same time, society is a complex net of relationships between individuals, something which is constantly molding its members yet is capable of developing in a quasi-autonomous fashion. It is based on abstraction upon abstraction, to the point that it can often cause individuals to act against their own nature. This is called “alienation”, and it poses a distinct threat which can't be explained by simple character traits such as “greed, laziness, selfishness, etc.”

Personal, inner change without a change in circumstances and structures is an idealist illusion, as though man were only a soul and not a body as well. But a change in external circumstances without inner renewal is a materialist illusion, as though man were only a product of his social circumstances and nothing else...

Consequently the ‘coincidence’ of the change in circumstances and of human activity as a change in man himself applies to Christian practice to an eminent degree. The alternative between arousing faith in the heart and the changing of the godless circumstances of dehumanized man is a false one, as is the other alternative, which hinders by paralysing. The true front on which the liberation of Christ takes place does not run between soul and body or between persons and structures, but between the powers of the world as it decays and collapses into ruin, and the powers of the Spirit and of the future. (Moltmann 2015, 34)

The church cannot continue to act as if our religious duty is something that exists on an entirely separate plane from our social environment. To do otherwise is to entirely betray the essential spirit of a missionary religion.

Understanding this requires that we ask ourselves two questions:

  • How has church orthodoxy been molded by these external factors, and how can we go about weeding out this revisionism and maintaining the integrity of our doctrine?
  • What can the church do towards actively challenging and seeking to alter society? How can we give individuals the necessary autonomy and encouragement to be able to serve God unimpeded?

Returning back to the topic of work, we begin answering that first by question by taking upon a historical-material analysis of work. This may seem irrelevant to a theological argument, but a proper analysis is only possible once we understand its specifically social implications. Failing to do this would only cause us to repeat the mistakes made by countless Christians of the past:

All of this demonstrates that Christians are utterly unable to express revelation in a way that is both specific and adequate for the social reality in which they live. They either repeat timeless formulas (which they take to be eternal), or else they initiate a pseudo-rereading of the Bible: in reality a method of harmonizing biblical content with the dominant ideology. In this way Christians constitute an important contributing socio-political force on the side of the tendency which is about to dominate. As a result, they obtain a small place in the new social order. (Ellul 1988, 14)

Once we have deconstructed and filtered out the secular influences on our interpretation of work, we will be able to turn to the Word to understand what a proper Christian work-ethic should look like.

1. Defining Work

The worst arguments tend to be over semantics, and unfortunately for us, there is a lot of semantic disagreement on how the word “work” is to be interpreted. It's very easy to walk into a topic like this leaning on preconceptions, so our first task should be properly defining work, and distinguishing it from labour.

The line drawn between work and labour is generally ambiguous, so before we proceed we will have to reconcile this matter. For the purposes of this essay, labour is defined as any mental or physical activity conducted by a person onto an object as to either transform it into one of value (either use-value or exchange-value could apply here, depending on the context) or add to its value. As for the definition of work, we will have to take a more thorough investigation:

(For the purposes of this essay, I will be considering work as a historically-specific activity peculiar to industrial-capitalist society. Obviously, toil has long existed outside of this context, but what is going to be apparent throughout the course of my argument is that it takes upon a unique character within the currently existing economic framework. Considering work as an unchanging activity across all time periods without distinction would end up neglecting how it has fundamentally evolved alongside human civilization.)

1.1. Work as Compulsory

The traditional understanding of work stresses that it is compulsory, not just in an internal sense (such as an animal being compulsed to forage for food by the logic of its biology), but also in an external sense. This distinction means that an activity can be considered “labour” or “productive” without it necessarily being “work” per se.

My minimum definition of work is forced labour, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or communist, work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness. (Black 1986, 6)

What exactly this external pressure looks like varies not just based on one's interpretation but also the environment in which work is being employed. Some may interpret their work as part of a religious obligation. Certain readings of the Vedas have long been used to justify the Indian caste system. Even in Christianity, the concept of a “vocational calling” has been echoed by writers such as John Calvin.

The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed highly important in the sight of God. (Calvin 1536, 870)

Divine commands aside, there also exist more objective forms of coercion. A country which employs slavery or work-camps, the work is being compelled by the state and the threat of physical retaliation to those who refuse. It could even be argued that the market in and of itself could compel people to perform activities which may not be directly linked to their survival.

First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature;that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. (Marx 1844, 30)

Whether or not the compulsion in any of the above scenarios are justified or not is irrelevant to the point made, which is that work is a compulsory affair, the compulsion is external in nature, and that this compulsion dictates not just the existence of the worker but also the character of “work” itself.

On that note, although this characteristic may seem the most apparent, it fails to really shed much light on the matter. If this conception of work is something to be holistically “abolished” as Black proposes, then where is the line to be drawn?

If we define work as “external activity”, then social production entirely ceases to function with its abolition. I fail to see how “the commune needs me to produce this” is any less external than “the market needs me to produce this”. Your individual wants and needs are inevitably going to be tied to and shaped by social wants and needs. Severing that connection would be to turn every man into his own Robinson Crusoe, to put an end to civilization itself. Perhaps that's an attractive outcome for some, but the implications of that aren't something I see as worth entertaining in this essay.

If we wish to only abolish “coerced activity”, then we run the risk of reiterating the fundamental axioms of capitalist society. Freedom of contract already exists, meaning wage-slaves aren't slaves in the conventional sense. Some socialists may object to this, arguing that this freedom is a farce because of the existence of private property, but that is completely besides the point. My work does not suddenly cease to become work now that I'm performing it at a co-operatively owned factory. So, there must be a deeper explanation.

It certainly doesn't help that the space between “external activity” and “coerced activity” is nebulously defined. A debate over whether or not the invisible hand really forces people to work will inevitably devolve into one of semantics, obfuscating the true nature of the topic. Barking up another tree will prove more fruitful to our investigation.

1.1. Work as a Division of Labor

What I'd rather focus on instead is the essential characteristics of work as being comprised of a set of divisions.

Firstly, there's the division of labor, a concept that has been known to us for centuries now. Even writers as old as Calvin and Smith provide extensive insight into this division. Calvin was interested in understanding what such division could mean to a Christian, whereas for Smith it was a question of the economic origins and implications of its existence.

“Division of labor” can interpreted in two ways, one is in the vocational sense which Calvin refers to. The second form is best described as the specialization of labor.

One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small factory of this kind, where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day...

But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth, part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations. (Smith 1776, 8-9)

Using the example of a pin factory, Smith demonstrates the division of labour by associating each man with a task. Within the context of this larger factory, we see each man's work as defined by a specialized task. Each of these tasks only play one part in the production of the pin. No matter how skilled a worker becomes at drawing out the wire, he alone cannot produce the pin. Just like a machine, his training refines his skills towards being able to only perform one specialized task incredibly well: this renders him dependent on the factory as a whole to render his labour useful. This only intensifies as the firm grows and each worker's role in the production process becomes more and more narrow.

Unlike the vocational form, the effects industrialization had on this are much more pronounced. In medieval and early-modern societies, artisans would develop goods and tools by hand from start to finish, with a full understanding of the production process, control over the supply-chain, and distribution to market.

Yet beneath the similarities with the Old Regime there lurked a difference, for the seeming independence of artisans was built increasingly on a foundation of dependency. No longer did masters,or shopkeepers for that matter, have much control over access to their materials, now provided by merchant industrialists, factors, and wholesalers. Moreover, masters came to rely on a steady flow of orders,often from only a few middlemen or owners of factories. The same can be said of access to credit and to markets, which was increasingly controlled by merchant operations (Farr 2004).

Today, we have the assembly line. Rather than making it one person's job to create a hammer, we have one person to cut the wood, one person to shape the handle, one person to dye the handle, and so on and so forth. This is of course a hypothetical, but point still stands, which is that man has become not just alienated from the product of his own labor, but also the process itself.

The artisans had an easier time finding a positive identity in their work because they still held a degree of autonomy over the production process, they still felt as if their labor was their own. This most likely explains the prevalence of artisan culture and the appeal of early “worker-ist” movements to predominantly this class.

Another key aspect of artisan identity, which existed alongside these status divisions, was the close relationship between production and retailing. Buying raw materials and selling one’s products were integral to artisan identity, and most Florentine guilds both manufactured and retailed their wares. Artisan identity always involved the sale of products in the local marketplace, though some artisans eventually moved into the ranks of the mercantile class. Artisans are often defined in opposition to merchants because of their ties to local rather than foreign markets and the cultural perception of their rootedness (often more imagined than real) in contrast to the merchants’ mobility. Yet precisely because the master craftsman’s identity was localized, dependent upon recognition by peers and neighbors, premodern artisans often imaginatively constructed their relations to the nation. In the fourteenth century, the brothers of the London Bowercraft censured the bowstrings of non-guild members, maintaining that “the greatest damage might easily ensue unto our Lord the King and his realm” through faulty products. The work of craftsmen, like that of knights, was cast as protecting the entire nation; through their collective identity, the bowers articulated a sense of national belonging. (Pappano 2013)

The same cannot be said for the proletarian, who in his work, is reduced to a mere machine, something subhuman.

Utter, unnatural deprivation, putrefied nature, comes to be his life-element. None of his senses exist any longer, and not only in its human fashion, but in an inhuman fashion, and therefore not even in an animal fashion...

The savage and the animal have at least the need to hunt, to roam, etc. – the need of companionship. The simplification of the machine, of labor is used to make a worker out of the human being still in the making, the completely immature human being, the child – whilst the worker has become a neglected child. The machine accommodates itself to the weakness of the human being in order to make the weak human being into a machine...

By reducing the worker’s need to the barest and most miserable level of physical subsistence,and by reducing his activity to the most abstract mechanical movement; thus he says: Man has no other need either of activity or of enjoyment. For he call this life, too, human life and existence.

By counting the most meager form of life (existence) as the standard, indeed, as the general standard – general because it is applicable to the mass of men. He changes the worker into an insensible being lacking all needs, just as he changes his activity into a pure abstraction from all activity. To him, therefore, every luxury of the worker seems to be reprehensible, and everything that goes beyond the most abstract need – be it in the realm of passive enjoyment, or a manifestation of activity – seems to him a luxury. (Marx 1844, 50-51)

While Smith focuses on the effects this has on total productive efficiency and the factory system as a whole, Marx analyses the same phenomena from the perspective of the individual worker:

The accumulation of capital increases the division of labor, and the division of labor increases the number of workers. Conversely, the number of workers increases the division of labor, just as the division of labor increases the accumulation of capital. With this division of labor on the one hand and the accumulation of capital on the other, the worker becomes ever more exclusively dependent on labor, and on a particular, very one-sided, machine-like labor at that. Just as he is thus depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine and from being a man becomes an abstract activity and a belly, so he also becomes ever more dependent on every fluctuation in market price, on the application of capital, and on the whim of the rich. Equally, the increase in the class of people wholly dependent on work intensifies competition among the workers, thus lowering their price. In the factory system this situation of the worker reaches its climax. (Marx 1844, 4)

The division of labour we see in this factory model is specific to the capitalist mode of production, and is magnitudes more intense than the vocational divisions to be found in pre-capitalist societies which still retained a concept of “work”. The stratification in our society is not just one of judges, doctors, and priests, but rather instead divided up by each step in the production process of a commodity. In addition, the increased efficiency and circular logic of capitalism ensures this fate remains a perpetual one.

1.2. Work as a Division of Activity

This not just only alienates the worker from his product as the socialist talking point goes, but also from the production-process itself. Man's relationship to his labour is not merely a pragmatic one, but also an essentially existential one too, it is through labour that one is given the opportunity to assert their humanity:

For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species-character. Life itself appears only as a means to life.

The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship, so that it is just because man is a conscious being that he makes his life activity, his essential being, a mere means to his existence...

It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that man really proves himself to be a species-being. This production is his active species-life. Through this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species-life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him. (Marx 1844, 32)

This activity represents something more than just mere toil, it is the means by which one's will can shape the world, the bridge between a person's innermost passions and their immediate environment.

And the Lord God took the man Moses now adds, that the earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation. Whence it follows that men were created to employ themselves in some work, and not to lie down in inactivity and idleness. This labor, truly, was pleasant, and full of delight, entirely exempt from all trouble and weariness; since however God ordained that man should be exercised in the culture of the ground, he condemned in his person, all indolent repose. Wherefore, nothing is more contrary to the order of nature, than to consume life in eating, drinking, and sleeping, while in the meantime we propose nothing to ourselves to do. (Calvin 1578, 77)

As made clear in the Genesis narrative, we were made in the likeness of the Creator, so it is only natural, that even despite our fallen state, we find purpose in the act of creation. But what separates this creation, this activity, from the daily routine of animals is the unity of mental and physical faculties. Our minds allow us to formulate an idea while our hands allow us to bring that idea to fruition. Marx's conception of labor in its essential form attests to this.

(Secular readers may object that many animals have demonstrated intelligence, but this neglects that the Christian conception of humanity is an inherently dualist one: the body may be composed of carbon, but the soul is incorporeal. This can only imply an inherent distinction between man and the other creatures of the earth, one which cannot be understood in biological terms.)

Marx sees in Hegel’s account the bourgeois division of labour into physical and mental activities. In Marx’s view human beings are born not only with nutritive capabilities, but with mental ones that are inseparable from them. Human beings engage in their own process of reproduction with both material and mental capabilities united as a whole. (Uchida 1988, 9-10)

However, we do not live in Eden. The world we live in — its institutions, its social relations — has always been a corruption of God's ideal, realized not just on the individual but also the structural level. We see this apply to work too: capitalism completely fractures its unity, so thoroughly separating the physical and mental components that any element of passion or will is to be drained. Unable to realize this unity individually, both the workers and the capitalists must interface through the value-form, which demands all labor, whether physical or mental, be entirely devoted towards its own reproduction. How can we argue that we are working to God's glory when Caesar demands control over the spirit?

This claim can be challenged in one of two ways: either God does not care for the specifics of our work or that industrial society has not actually alienated labor.

In considering production in general Marx takes the human mind and body to be naturally united. This unity is broken by the capitalist division of labour in which the capitalist appears as mental labourer and the wage-worker as physical labourer. The capitalist orders the worker to labour in material production. Capital itself necessitates and posits a specific person, the capitalist, who mediates it. The capitalist has a mission to measure capital-value, which has to be maintained and increased in prospect during production. The capitalist’s mental activity continues in the process of circulation which actualises this possibility. Capital is personified in the capitalist, who internalises its value in capitalist consciousness. (Uchida 1988, 13)

Activity is also divided along lines of production and consumption, each commanding its own distinct sphere. Intuition tells us that this relationship is one-way: that consumption is like a pit which we fill up with the goods we produce. Production creates, consumption destroys, so the logic goes. Socialists often internalized this mentality, valorizing the proletariat as a class of production as opposed to petite-bourgeois consumerism. This perspective is the perspective of capital, which is unable to see activity the way the individual does.

Because Adam Smith studies capital from the viewpoint of the circuit of productive capital, he believes that the movement of capital starts from production. Therefore, with respect to the relation of production to consumption, he considers individual consumption as an act apart from production, and he does not take it up in relation to production. He thinks that individual consumption is unproductive and should be restrained in order to increase capital-stock, which is to be invested as capital in production. He merely affirms consumption when it is productive, and he emphasises parsimony as a subjective fact in capitalist accumulation. Though he asserts that the purpose of production is individual consumption, in fact he theorises production for the sake of production.

However, is individual consumption always unproductive? The individual returns to the process of production afterwards, not only with physical abilities reproduced, but with some knowledge of production and a revitalised morale. The political economist omits the subjective aspect of reproduction, which is typically shown to move from consumption back to production. But why does the political economist abstract from the subjective factor? This is because production is considered from the capitalist standpoint, so in this way any funds to reproduce the lives of workers appear as costs to be reduced. The subjective factor belongs to and is monopolised by the capitalist. (Uchida 1988, 14-15)

Just as the artist draws on previous influences, consumption is to be understood as a source of inspiration for future creation. This process is reciprocal and essential for the individual to be able to find meaning in their own activity through a process of continuous inspiration and re-appraisal against their own needs, aesthetic sensibilities, and virtues.

If we can speak of art as an industry, a job, and a commodity, whose to say we cannot reverse the logic? Is engineering not in and of itself creative? Whenever we look at an emerging industry, whether it be aviation or mobile phone technology, we see an incredibly wide array of designs and concepts. These periods are often referred to as the “wild west” in that there is no clear direction or standard, forcing engineers to exercise a large amount of creativity in their creations and where they draw inspiration from.

Given his close observance and use of nature as a foundation for many of his ideas, emulating natural flight was an obvious place to begin. Most of Leonardo’s aeronautical designs were ornithopters, machines that employed flapping wings to generate both lift and propulsion. He sketched such flying machines with the pilot prone, standing vertically, using arms, using legs. He drew detailed sketches of flapping wing mechanisms and means for actuating them. Imaginative as these designs were, the fundamental barrier to an ornithopter is the demonstrably limited muscle power and endurance of humans compared to birds. Leonardo could never have overcome this basic fact of human physiology...

In less than 20 pages of notes and drawings, the Codex on the Flight of Birds outlines a number of observations and beginning concepts that would find a place in the development of a successful airplane in the early twentieth century. Leonardo never abandoned his preoccupation with flapping wing designs, and did not develop the insights he recorded in the Codex on the Flight of Birds in any practical way. Nonetheless, centuries before any real progress toward a practical flying machine was achieved, the seeds of the ideas that would lead to humans spreading their wings germinated in the mind of da Vinci. In aeronautics, as with so many of the subjects he studied, he strode where no one had before. Leonardo lived a fifteenth century life, but a vision of the modern world spread before his mind’s eye. (Jakab 2013)

The artisan and the factory worker may produce the same thing, yet one finds much more meaning in his activity than the other. Why is that? To answer that question we have to ask ourselves: why do we work? If you were to bring the factory worker something he produced, would he be able to identify it? Or have those hours become a blur, just like the rest of his life? Would he be able to remember what he was thinking when he made it or how it affected him? Does the commodity in and of itself tell us anything about its production or the person who made it?

When we perform the same basic activity for multiple hours a day, every day, engulfed within the larger mass of the assembly line, how does it affect our development and psyche? What challenge does it provide, what opportunity does it provide for us to grow? Maintaining a routine, learning to become numb to drudgery and fatigue, and performing tasks without question or emotional hesitance are all things we expect out of our machines. What makes a man then, if he can never measure up to the machine he's competing with?

If we can't come up with a satisfactory explanation to any of these questions, if we remain entirely ignorant as to what we're really doing or why our lives are structured in such a way, how can we confidently say that we're doing a good job, that what we're doing is to the glory of God?

Perhaps that's why we can only conceive external justifications, it's easier to just assume work can only ever be this way. Perhaps we can say that there's more to life than work, but this ignores the importance of activity to the life-process. God gave us hands for a reason, after all.

When faced with this question of why, we often avoid the subject by resorting to cliches: we do what we do because “that's how society functions”, or because “we have do do something”. These may be catchy and broadly acceptable, but they do not actually provide a meaningful answer to the matter at hand.

As a society, we betray our impoverished work ethic by our slogans. On a recent car trip I was passed by a truck with the following jingle painted on the back: “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” Here, in rather crude form, is a dominant work ethic today. It views work in mercenary terms – the thing that makes our acquisitive lifestyle possible. (Ryken 1987, 12)

These cliches mask the larger truth, which is that under a system of wage-labor, what we're inherently working towards is going to be the wage. What else is there to look towards? The result, the reward, is what takes logical precedence and this is not a matter of personal interpretation. No amount of “social obligation” will change the fact that if you stop paying an employee, they'll stop working whether by choice or by starvation.

Nowhere is this more clear than in Soviet society, which put a great deal of effort into manufacturing a cultural work-ethic without necessarily changing the nature of work itself.

Soviet “cavalier attitudes toward work” entered the political discourse as a never-ending problem and the popular culture as a constant joke.2 Some of those jokes about the notorious Soviet work ethic are still told today, most famously: “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”...

Late Soviet society was famous for its presumably nonexistent work attitude across all occupations. Blue-collar workers got drunk during their shifts, collective farmers seldom showed up, students amused themselves instead of studying, and white-collar workers were rarely present in their offices. Employees working in the Soviet administration were everywhere but at their desks. (Oberländer 2017)

Is this because of some sort of immorally lazy tendency in people or a lack of emphasis on hard work in cultural values? Not likely:

Soviet scholars and party members did not always see the situation in this light. Instead they usually detected a low work morale that troubled them—especially considering that the generation now working had been entirely raised under Soviet socialism yet seemed to lack essential features of the new Soviet person. If people did not work, it indicated a lack of a proper socialist attitude toward work. The dubious Soviet work ethic was regarded, first and foremost, as a moral problem: accordingly, complaints and measures were aimed at working people themselves. Instruments to improve work discipline were introduced on an almost yearly basis across the country or at individual enterprises. If the moral education (vospitanie) provided by trade union members or factory sociologists did not help, compulsion exercised by comrades’ courts were used to try to discipline the workers...

While the Soviet literature was mostly preoccupied with immorality, the Western perspective usually stressed the lack of incentives as a reason why people did not work. (Oberländer 2017)

When we consider the work itself rather than the workers, the pieces begin to fall into place. We see that Soviet and Western society actually held very similar attitudes to the nature of work:

The Soviet Union built its existence on more than one paradox. One of its numerous contradictions is that the workers’ state cherished work as the means that made men into men and thus endorsed the biblical notion that those who do not work shall not eat. At the same time, the USSR claimed communism as its goal and therefore strove to extend nonworking time, based on the Marxist notion that the wealth of nations consisted in free time. As opposed to the biblical notion, work in the Marxist sense was less a moral condition of people who through work realized themselves than a price to be paid to gain as much free time as possible. Self-realization was supposed to happen in one’s free time, by and through the activities conducted in that portion of the day...

Although the two positions seem to be different at first glance, they share some commonalities. Both take for granted the lack of a positive attitude toward work. Both put forward a moral explanation, even though the Western perspective is only implicitly a statement about morality. Soviet observers detected a lack of socialist morality proper, while Western economists detected a general humanitarian problem: If people are not rewarded, they will not work. (Oberländer 2017)

The Soviet economic institutions, being far less robust and prone to abuse than the Western ones, did actually provide us with the opportunity to observe something revealing. The people did work, but they did so outside of the official firms:

The peculiarities of the Soviet planned economy need to be taken into consideration if we are to understand what “work” meant in the Soviet Union. Work in the sense of the eight-hour workday as gainful employment was not necessarily the primary means to provide for oneself or one’s family. Instead, in a society where many things could not be bought with money but had to be obtained through unofficial channels, the sphere of leisure gained importance for material production. Consequently, leisure was not necessarily a sphere for recreation and rest but rather a busy time governed by tight schedules. Gainful employment, in contrast, seemed to provide better possibilities for recreation and relaxation than so-called free time. This article hopes to expand notions of work by highlighting the many spheres in which Soviet people did work—be it in the official or the shadow economy, during official work time or beyond. In this sense, the spheres of work and leisure overlapped, and to a certain degree even changed places...

Last but not least, some workers in the Soviet Union used a considerable amount of their working time to work for themselves. They crafted material provided by their enterprises into something useful for their homes or garden plots. One female worker used to clean her pans and pots at her factory—during official work time, of course. Chaffeurs used the time spent waiting for their bosses to deliver certain items from A to B. Dacha owners, for example, hired a state-employed driver to transport stolen wood in a state-owned car to their dachas during the chauffeur’s official work time. In the first case, workers produced a useful thing for their own direct consumption; in the second, they sometimes earned money and more often engaged in useful networks known as blat. Whatever the reason for engaging in such forms of informal economic practices, it cannot be argued that those people did not work. (Oberländer 2017)

From all this we can conclude that people do have a natural inclination towards activity: one that blurs the lines between work and leisure, defying the rigid structure of the eight-hour day. It may not be work-proper, but it is undeniably productive.

1.3. Work as a Division of Time

However, the characteristic of work that has yielded the most discussion is its constitution of a division of time. When we talk about work in relation to time, we counterpose it against leisure, forming a dialectical relationship between the two. While this overlaps with the previous division, the uniquely temporal element here makes it warrant further discussion.

The quickest way to illustrate such a division is to allude to the very first division as a metaphor of sorts:

It was proper that the light, by means of which the world was to be adorned with such excellent beauty, should be first created; and this also was the commencement of the distinction...

Further, it is certain from the context, that the light was so created as to be interchanged with darkness. But it may be asked, whether light and darkness succeeded each other in turn through the whole circuit of the world; or whether the darkness occupied one half of the circle, while light shone in the other. There is, however, no doubt that the order of their succession was alternate, but whether it was everywhere day at the same time, and everywhere night also, I would rather leave undecided; nor is it very necessary to be known. (Calvin 1578, 39-40)

Day and night were both created and defined simultaneously. Day is the not-night, night is the not-day. When there was no day, there was no night either, because there can be no night without a day. Their unity and opposition are simultaneous. It is the same with work and leisure; there cannot be one without the other, because the boundaries of one are defined in opposition to the boundaries of another.

The relation between leisure and the everyday is not a simple one: the two words are at one and the same time united and contradictory (therefore their relation is dialectical). It cannot be reduced to the simple relation in time between ‘Sunday’ and ‘weekdays’, represented as external and merely different. Leisure – to accept the concept uncritically for the moment – cannot be separated from work. After his work is over, when resting or relaxing or occupying himself in his own particular way, a man is still the same man. Every day, at the same time, the worker leaves the factory, the office worker leaves the office. Every week Saturdays and Sundays are given over to leisure as regularly as day-to-day work. We must therefore imagine a ‘work–leisure’ unity, for this unity exists, and everyone tries to programme the amount of time at his disposal according to what his work is – and what it is not. Sociology should therefore study the way the life of workers as such, their place in the division of labour and in the social system, is ‘reflected’ in leisure activities, or at least in what they demand of leisure.

Historically, in real individuality and its development, the ‘work–leisure’ relation has always presented itself in a contradictory way. (Lefebvre 1947.)

We already conceive work only as one half of this division, but it should also be understood as the catalyst of the division too, the light that divided itself from the darkness, so to speak. Taking this into account, it is not to just be understood as one half of the division but the division itself.

From a historical perspective, conflicts between labour and capital resulted in the adoption of an eight-hour work schedule:

“The movement to reduce the work-hours is intended by its projectors to give a peaceful solution to the difficulties between the capitalists and laborers. I have always held that there were two ways to settle this trouble, either by peaceable means or violent methods. Reduced hours, or eight-hours, is the peace-offering.” (Parsons 1912)

The unrest that preceded this negotiation should serve as evidence of one thing, and it was that the previous division of time was unsustainable. Work is perpetual by nature, and it was necessary to adjust the division of time to maintain labour's cooperation.

Why must the spheres of time be exclusive? Because another essential characteristic of work is that it itself is exclusive. Those eight hours spent at work belong wholly to work and none else, the existence of the worker reduced to a machine.

With this division of labour on the one hand and the accumulation of capitals on the other, the worker becomes ever more exclusively dependent on labour, and on a particular, very one-sided, machine-like labour. (Marx 35)

Yet, it is incorrect to conclude that the exclusive nature of work restricts its dominion. Leisure is still defined in relation to work, and is thus governed by it. What the 8-8-8 schedule inadvertently highlights is the exclusivity of each of these spheres of life.

One response to this is an attitude of complete laziness, but what becomes clear is that embracing leisure is no better. Just as night is the not-day, leisure is little more than the not-work.

Due to the success of separate production as production of the separate, the fundamental experience which in primitive societies is attached to a central task is in the process of being displaced, at the crest of the system’s development. by non-work, by inactivity. But this inactivity is in no way liberated from productive activity: it depends on productive activity and is an uneasy and admiring submission to the necessities and results of production; it is itself a product of its rationality. There can be no freedom outside of activity, and in the context of the spectacle all activity is negated. just as real activity has been captured in its entirety for the global construction of this result. Thus the present “liberation from labor,” the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation within labor, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labor. None of the activity lost in labor can be regained in the submission to its result. (Society of the Spectacle, Section 27)

1A. Comparing with Ryken's Theory

2. Historical Origins of the Ethic

The main goal of this essay is to be able to distinguish Christianity from Christendom, Gospel from superstructure. Or, in simpler terms, we must be able to identify what parts of our religion are actually rooted in Scripture. To do this, it is necessary to take a materialist analysis of Protestant theology, framing it within its historical and economic contexts.

When dealing with the intersection of Protestant Christianity and the capitalist mode of production, one book stands out as a rather in-depth investigation of this very topic: Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The book mostly deals in historical and sociological terms, focusing moreso on analyzing relationships than making any normative claims. There are some things I heavily disagree with Weber on (which we will get to later), but overall, the book is a suitable source for our purposes.

Weber's aim is to connect the virtues of early Protestant theology with what he terms the “capitalist spirit”. He composes the definition of this phrase “from its individual elements, taken from historical reality.” (Weber 1905, 94)

We shall nevertheless provisionally use the expression “spirit of capitalism” for that attitude which, in the pursuit of a calling [berufsmäβig], strives systematically for profit for its own sake in the manner exemplified by Benjamin Franklin. We do this for the historical reason that this attitude has found its most adequate expression in the capitalist enterprise, and conversely the capitalist enterprise has found in this attitude its most adequate spiritual motivation. (Weber 1905, 107)

To put it succinctly, the “spirit of capitalism” is the process of production interpreted as “ethical activity”.

2.1. The Spirit of Capitalism

To better illustrate what this ethic entails, Weber cites Benjamin Franklin, more specifically, his “Advice to a Young Tradesman”.

Some of the “individual elements” to be found in this are:

  • The Prolific Element: “Money can beget Money, and its Offspring can beget more, and so on. Five Shillings turn’d, is Six: Turn’d again, ’tis Seven and Three Pence; and so on ’til it becomes an Hundred Pound. The more there is of it, the more it produces every Turning, so that the Profits rise quicker and quicker.” (Franklin 1748)
  • The Temporal Element: “Remember that time is money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon That the only Expence; he has really spent or rather thrown away Five Shillings besides.” (Franklin 1748)
  • The Social Element: “The most trifling Actions that affect a Man’s Credit, are to be regarded. The Sound of your Hammer at Five in the Morning or Nine at Night, heard by a Creditor, makes him easy Six Months longer. But if he sees you at a Billiard Table, or hears your Voice in a Tavern, when you should be at Work, he sends for his Money the next Day. Finer Cloaths than he or his Wife wears, or greater Expence in any particular than he affords himself, shocks his Pride, and he duns you to humble you.” (Franklin 1748)

From this, Weber makes a rather insightful point:

All Franklin’s moral precepts, however, have a utilitarian slant. Honesty is useful because it brings credit. So are punctuality, hard work, moderation, etc., and they are only virtues for this reason—from which it would follow that where, for example, the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose, then this would suffice, and any unnecessary surplus of this virtue would inevitably seem, in Franklin’s eyes, like unproductive and reprehensible profligacy. And indeed: anyone reading his autobiography must inevitably come to the same conclusion. It contains an account of his “conversion” to those virtues [22] and, in particular, describes how, by strictly preserving the appearance of modesty, or officiously belittling one’s own merits, it is possible to enhance one’s standing in the community. [23] According to Franklin, these virtues, like all others, are only virtues at all to the extent that they are “useful” to the individual in concrete situations; the mere appearance of virtue is an adequate substitute wherever it serves the same purpose. (Weber 1905, 97)

These “virtues” are primarily concerned towards the ends of capital. They only hold merit insofar as they continue the reproduction of profit. Calvin attributes this to human greed:

We have a frenzied desire, an infinite eagerness, to pursue wealth and honour, intrigue for power, accumulate riches, and collect all those frivolities which seem conducive to luxury and splendour. On the other hand, we have a remarkable dread, a remarkable hatred of poverty, mean birth, and a humble condition, and feel the strongest desire to guard against them. Hence, in regard to those who frame their life after their own counsel, we see how restless they are in mind, how many plans they try, to what fatigues they submit, in order that they may gain what avarice or ambition desires, or, on the other hand, escape poverty and meanness. (Calvin 1810)

Calvin's “spirit of greed” would fail to explain the attitude taken upon by the Pietist labourer; why would the greedy man put in additional work for the same reward? Our modern mindsets may see it as part of climbing up the ladder, the journey of the soon-to-be-success, but for the Pietists it was truly something they expected to spend their whole lives doing, not as a stepping-stone but as a genuine duty to society.

If we had to make a provisional assessment of the practical effect of these differences, we might say that the virtues cultivated by Pietism tend to be those which might be developed by, on the one hand, the “faithful” [berufstreu] employee, laborer, and home worker, and, on the other hand, in the manner of Zinzendorf, rather patriarchally minded employers displaying pious condescension. (Weber 1905, 194)

As capitalism is predicated on the existence of wage-labour, workers are just as (if not more) essential to its reproduction as capitalists. What we are dealing with is the tendency for all things to be subordinated to the self-perpetuating logic of capital. This is how these different various strains of Christianity can coexist, each assuaging Christians of their respective classes of their role in the larger process:

Compared to this, Calvinism seems to have a closer affinity with the tough, upstanding, and active mind of the middle-class [bürgerlich] capitalist entrepreneur. Finally, pure emotional Pietism—as Ritschl [186] has stressed—is a religious pastime for “leisure classes.” Inadequate though this description is—as will be shown—it does tally with certain differences in the economic character of the peoples who have been under the influence of one or other of the two ascetic traditions. (Weber 1905, 194)

It is impossible to chalk this up to simple “greed”, for it is not individualistic ends that capitalism perpetuates. There is no inherent opposition between the labor and the leisure classes in this system. Both are essential for the reproduction of something larger than their own self-interests.

In truth, though, matters are not as simple as that. We are here dealing with something quite other than a case of purely egocentric maxims being dressed up as moral precepts. This is clear both from the character of Benjamin Franklin himself, as revealed in the rare honesty of his autobiography, and the fact that he saw his discovery of the “usefulness” of virtue as a revelation from God, who wished to direct him toward virtue by this means. Instead, the “summum bonum” of this “ethic” is the making of money and yet more money, coupled with a strict avoidance of all uninhibited enjoyment. Indeed, it is so completely devoid of all eudaemonistic, let alone hedonist, motives, so much purely thought of as an end in itself that it appears as something wholly transcendent and irrational, beyond the “happiness” or the “benefit” of the individual. (Weber 1905, 98)

Calvinists could testify to the existence of such an ethic, but because they failed to grasp the larger picture, they assumed this was towards a greater social end:

But what had been for him a tentative suggestion became for the Calvinists a characteristic part of their ethical system. “Christian charity” [Nächstenliebe]—since, after all, it was to serve only the glory of God, not that of the creature[86]—expressed itself principally in the fulfillment of the duties of the calling given through the lex naturae, and in this it took on a peculiarly neutral and impersonal character—one which served the rational structuring of the surrounding social cosmos. The wonderfully purposeful structuring and organization of this cosmos, which, according to the biblical revelation and equally according to natural insight, is evidently designed to be of “use” to the human race, shows that labor in the service of this social usefulness furthers the divine glory and is willed by God. Later, we shall be analyzing the significance of these points for the light they shed on the political and economic rationalism of Calvinism: the source of the utilitarian character of Calvinistic ethics lies here; important peculiarities of the Calvinist concept of the calling also originate from it. (Weber 1905)

The ends of capital and the ends of society are conflated; capitalism is not just a tool, it is a set of social relations which have become an end in and of itself. It has remade society in its own image. It requires the coordination of countless actors all working towards the same goal in mind: in this case, economic growth. It's here we begin to see the Social Element.

Think back to the example of the Pietist laborer, who works for “the greater good of society”. His commitment to neither wealth or higher ambitions, but the carrying out of his duties in a responsible manner is what ends up making him an ideal employee. Similarly we could speak of ideal management, ideal consumers, ideal entrepreneurs, and so on. This ended up forming the foundation for Taylorism, the primary management philosophy for the vast majority of businesses throughout the 20th century. Continuously throughout Taylor's own writings do we begin to see the inherently social character of work:

The writer wishes to again state that: “The time is fast going by for the great personal or individual achievement of any one man standing alone and without the help of those around him. And the time is coming when all great things will be done by that type of cooperation in which each man performs the function for which he is best suited, each man preserves his own individuality and is supreme in his particular function, and each man at the same time loses none of his originality and proper personal initiative, and yet is controlled by and must work harmoniously with many other men.” (Taylor 1913, 140)

In industrial society, what links all of these people is not the dominance of one group over the other but the firm itself. The firm acts as a mediator of something essentially social. Without that link, these tasks would seem absurd and one-sided. This is all well and fine, social production is the foundation of civilization. The issue is that as social production is near-monopolized by firms, the ends of the firm have become the ends of social production and by extent, society.

But what are the ends of the firm? To maximize the amount of value generated.

Why? Because in a competitive environment, the firm's continued survival depends not just on not just output as weighed against social needs but relative to the efficiency of other producers.

But how does this diverge from social need? Because value of any given commodity can be understood in two ways: either as use-value or exchange-value. If you're not sure what that means, I'd recommend taking a minute or so to read this brief definition of the value-form.

The divergence becomes clear when we consider that while there is a convergence, a theoretical limit on what people need, the same cannot be said for objects of exchange. As each firms and economies judge themselves in relative terms, there's an infinite tendency towards the generation and accumulation of capital with no end in sight, just continuous expansion into all facets of life. The means become their own end, with productive output either being discarded or re-invested into new gains. The “frenzied desire” and “infinite eagerness” Calvin speaks of is systemic rather than individual in nature.

As we have seen, capital is M-C-M’, self-valorising value, value that gives birth to value...

Capital, in contrast, does not come out of the process as it entered it. It is in the process that it is first converted into actual capital, into self-valorising value. The total product is now the form in which capital exists as realised capital, and as such it again confronts labour as the property of the capitalist, as a power which is independent and has been created by labour itself. Hence the production process was not only its reproduction process, but its process of production as capital. Previously the conditions of production confronted the worker as capital in so far as he found them to be present over against him in independence. Now it is the product of his own labour that he finds confronting him as conditions of production that have been converted into capital. What started as a presupposition is now the result of the production process...

Capitalist production is not only the reproduction of the relation, it is its reproduction on an ever growing scale; and in the same proportion as the social productive power of labour develops, along with the capitalist mode of production, the pile of wealth confronting the worker grows, as wealth ruling over him, as capital, and the world of wealth expands vis-à-vis the worker as an alien and dominating world. At the opposite pole, and in the same proportion, the worker’s subjective poverty, neediness and dependency develop. The deprivation of the worker and the abundance of capital correspond with each other, they keep in step. At the same time the numbers of the working proletarian these living means for the production of capital, increase. (Marx 1864)

Echoes of the “prolific element” Franklin speaks of can be found here: this is why I refer to the logic of capitalism as self-perpetuating; all that enters the market and its accompanying relations enters a cycle which results in the reproduction of this exchange-value. The exponential growth is inherent to the mode of production, not some immutable fact of the universe.

Returning to the value-form, a question lingers: what is the basis of this exchange-value? Is it some sort of arbitrary social fiction? No. As discussed in the above article, exchange-value exists as an abstract representation of a common property which links otherwise unrelated goods which happen to be in exchange. When looking at an entire economy and all of the countless goods circulating, they hold one thing in common, being the products of human-labor.

Labor is a rather abstract concept; how do we measure its value? In hours. Irrespective of the variations between occupations, technology, economies, and work-ethics is the fact that sixty minutes is still sixty minutes and that it takes time to produce things.

3. Distilling the Ethic (section incomplete)

The previous sections functioned as an examination of labor through

3.1. Towards a New Work-Ethic (section incomplete)

Work in the Bible begins with God's work of creation. God's work of creation is obviously not toil. It is mote like play or the exuberance of the creative artist. It is joyous and energetic, unencumbered by the need to overcome obstacles or wrestle the physical elements into a finished product. Yet the activity of God in creating the world must be considered work. We know, for example, that after six days of creation “God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done” (Genesis 2:2). In the actual account of creation, moreover, God rests from his creative work after each day, setting up a rhythm of work and rest. (Ryken 1987, 120)

Within Ryken's own book, we are given a glimpse into what the answer may just be.

3.2. Reject Fatalism


Black, Bob. The Abolition of Work. The Anarchist Library, 1985.

Calvin, John. Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, (1578) 2009.

Calvin, John. Edited and translated by John Allen. Institutes of the Christian religion. Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, (1536) 1812.

Debord, Guy. (1967) 2014. The society of the spectacle. Translated by Ken Knabb.

Ellul, Jacques. Jesus and Marx: from gospel to ideology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Farr, James R. “Artisans.” In Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, edited by Jonathan Dewald, 127-134. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. Gale eBooks (accessed May 16, 2021).

Franklin, Benjamin. 1748. “Advice to a young tradesman”. Founders Online, National Archives.

Jakab, Peter. “Leonardo da Vinci and Flight.” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. August 22, 2013.

Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of everyday life. Verso Books, 2014 (1947).

Marx, Karl. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Translated by Martin Milligan. Moscow: Progress Publishers, (1844) 1959.

Marx, Karl. 1864. “Results of the Direct Production Process”. Marxists Internet Archive.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The crucified God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

Oberländer, Alexandra. “Cushy Work, Backbreaking Leisure: Late Soviet Work Ethics Reconsidered.” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 18, no. 3 (2017): 569-590. doi:10.1353/kri.2017.0036.

Pappano, Margaret A. “Medieval and Early Modern Artisan Culture.” The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43, no. 3 (2013): 473-485.

Parson, Lucy. 1912. “The Eight-Hour Strike of 1886,” In Freedom, Equality and Solidarity, edited by Gale Ahrens, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr. 2003.

Ryken, Leland. Work and Leisure in Christian Perspective. Portland: Multnomah Press, 1987.

Smith, Adam. Edited by Salvio Marcelo Soares. An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. Indianapolis: ΜεταLibri, 2007 (1776) .

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The principles of scientific management. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 1913.

Uchida, Hiroshi. Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic. London: Routledge, 1988.

Weber, Max. The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism: and other writings. Translated by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin Books, 2002 (1905).


from Copyleft Curator

Federation on The Go

Note: Once again, I apologize for the (this time much longer) hiatus. Quite a few months ago, I partnered with WeDistribute, a news-site that was acting as the official mouthpiece for Feneas. The original plan I had in mind was to continue on Fediverse Spotlight after I got both of the already-written articles ported to there. However, the chief editor has been less and less active as of late.

I hold no ill will or resentment, but I must begin resuming this project under the assumption that the site is abandoned; the fediverse is at a crucial stage in its development and I do not want to waste this opportunity to help it grow by indefinitely waiting.

What is FediLab?

This is the first time I'm reviewing an actual work of free-software rather than just free-culture, but as it is directly related to the fediverse, I think it makes a good place to start. There's a lot of mobile clients out there, but FediLab remains the only one I've seen which handles multiple services rather than being dedicated to just one.

Here's what you need to know about FediLab:

  • Fedilab currently supports six different federated services: PeerTube, Mastodon, PixelFed, Friendica, Pleroma, and GNU Social.
  • It is licensed under GPLv3, making it a true copyleft work rather than just simply permissive.
  • It is currently being maintained by a solo developer (Thomas) rather than a team; to Thomas' credit, he is incredibly active and responsive to community feedback.
    • As of writing this article:
      • The last update was one week ago. (Jan. 19, 2020)
      • The last bug report Thomas responded to was 9 hours ago. (Jan. 30, 2020)
      • The last issue Thomas has resolved was two weeks ago. (Jan. 14, 2020)
  • All in-app links to Twitter/YouTube are automatically replaced with Nitter and Invidious, open-source front-ends that strip out all telemetry from the aforementioned services.
  • The app's color scheme can be easily customized, exported, shared, and imported thanks to a simple and portable theming system.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • The most polarizing, yet unique choice is designing Fedilab to be one app for multiple services. Most mobile apps focus on one service, so this approach is definitely unique.
    • The execution is astonishingly good. This is a solo-effort by a developer who only asks for donations to cover server-costs. Then consider that this is fusing different types of services, each of which with self-hosted instances, and based on a platform that's very much in its infancy. The consistency, determination, and humility shown by Thomas is something I deeply respect, especially in the face of such a colossal challenge.
    • One of the strengths of this is that it helps play into the interconnectivity of the fediverse. Being able to quickly switch between PeerTube, Mastodon, and PixelFed is admittedly rather neat and is better for a quick daily catch-up.
    • On the flipside, having all of this in one app feels rather... distracting. As an end-user, I feel like its easier to focus when the environment I'm working in is dedicated to that specific task. As much as I appreciate Thomas' effort, I feel this undertaking conceptually would be a lot better as a suite of apps.
    • The app is huge, around 38MB. However, there is a Lite version which clocks around a much more reasonable 11MB.
  • Due to the sheer amount of moving parts, there's a noticeable amount of bugs here and there. To Thomas' credit, this project is an incredibly delicate balancing act and he's continued to patch them in an incredibly timely fashion.
  • Despite the wide variety of offered services, they all have a consistent UI that is clean, functional, and easy to pick up. Just today, I installed the update that integrated PixelFed support and I understood how to navigate it within less than a minute.
  • I very much appreciate the implementation of Nitter/Invidious; it highlights the open nature of the free-software community and how this sort of collaboration can manifest to give us creative solutions to simple problems like this.
  • I use a Blackberry 10 device as a daily driver, and the main reason I continue to use Fedilab is that it's maintained fantastic compatibility with older Android versions. This is incredibly important because BB10's Android emulator runs KitKat.

Screenshots from F-Droid

Interview with Developer

1. Why did you create an all-in-one app as opposed to a dedicated one?

I published the first release of Fedilab on May 2017 (previously Mastalab) because I discovered the Fediverse through Mastodon few weeks ago. Then I discovered Peertube, and I wanted to keep the same logic of an app for the Fediverse. That's also why the app uses many portion of code for working with different social networks. Other supports came later with user suggestions. Also, managing several apps will be resourceful (different projects, publications with a lot of common code).

2. As a solo developer, do you ever see yourself burning out? Would you bring other people to work on the project?

Yes, sometimes it's hard to keep this motivation. That's why encouraging messages are really useful. I mostly do know every weaknesses of the app. I do care of messages that criticize the app because they help to point out most important issues. But I have the help of several people for translations and also someone helping me in background.

3. How has the community been at suggesting things and reporting issues? Have you noticed your communication with them having an effect on how you handle the project?

Fedilab is simply built with feedback. I added a lot of features that could have been suggested or things I wanted. I really do care about people suggestions. That's how the app grows up since its beginning.

4. Do you use your own app to browse the Fediverse? If so, how does it feel when you're using it?

Yes, I mainly only use it. My critics would be the same than others. It's slower and less smoothly than other apps. But, I can't switch because I do need extra in-app features. I planned to fix all that bugs to let new ones come.

FediLab also has an official Mastodon; if you would like to donate to help cover server costs, Thomas has set up a The source code for FediLab, alongside all of the other apps he has developed can be found on his GitLab.


from Copyleft Curator

Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape or form officially affiliated with any of the projects/instances. I write/cover on this topic because I genuinely care for it.

As people become increasingly disillusioned with “conventional social media”, there's a lot of confusion among creators regarding alternatives for publishing their work.

There's been multiple attempts by vultures, usually involving crypto-currency in one way or another: these are often structured similar to Ponzi schemes and should be avoided at all costs.

However, past all of that, there is one initiative that holds promise for creators who are scared of copyright/censorship: the Fediverse.

What Is the Fediverse?

The Fediverse is a term used to refer to the ecosystem created by various interconnected instances to make one unified yet decentralized social media community.

All of these “instances” are individually hosted websites with their own rules and administration: however, they all run a common, open source application under the hood that links them all to each other.

This allows for the giant content pool of centralized social media without any of the centralized control. Don't like the rules of one instance? That's fine, just go to another one which you like more.

Due to the checks provided by federation/FOSS, the freedom often claimed by many isn't just a hollow promise. It's in place regardless of what the original creators decide to do years down the line.

Where do I publish/register?

The instance recommendations are subject to change at any time, for obvious reasons.

Registration seems to throw people off, but it's easy once you have a lead on where to look. Here's a quick guide.


  • Best Service: FunkWhale
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: SoundCloud
  • Mobile App: Otter


  • Best Service: PeerTube
  • Recommended Instance: LinuxRocks
  • Replaces: Instagram
  • Mobile App: Thorium


  • Best Service: PixelFed
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: YouTube
  • Mobile App: PixelDroid


  • Best Service: Plume
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: Medium/WordPress


Why should I care? A lot of the popular platforms have become quasi-monopolistic, and as a result it is no longer out of the ordinary for a creator to get screwed over. False copyright claims, sporadic removals/demonetization are incredibly common and difficult to appeal usually.

I'm not sure if I want to fully commit yet.

That's fine, you can still mirror your content over to these services. This will give you a backup incase something happens to your original account and also give you a chance to try out these services.

How will I get paid without ads/crypto?

Ad-revenue and crypto both have their issues to the point that anyone who expects to seriously get paid should not expect this to be a stable source of money.

At this point, independent creators are best off relying on donation platforms; here are a few options:

  • LiberaPay is a popular option with Fediverse creators, functioning similarly to Patreon but with a few key differences.
  • The traditional option is Patreon, a donation platform that works similarly to a subscription model for the people who wish to donate to you.
  • If you don't want a subscription or for some reason want additional privacy, setting up a Monero wallet is probably your best bet. The process is a bit more involved, so I wouldn't recommend it if you just want an easy way to get paid.