A number of years ago, drawing from the title of a book by Benjamin Barber, I referred to one of the main confrontations taking place in the world as Jihad vs. McWorld/McCrusade. (“Jihad” here refers to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, and “McWorld/McCrusade” to increasingly globalized western imperialism, infused with a poisonous sense of “the superiority of Western Christian Civilization.”) As I wrote then:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.
While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the “historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system,” and in particular the U.S. imperialists.1
Today, these “two outmodeds” still have real importance, but it must be said that there is, in addition, a new kind of “two outmodeds,” which is particularly pronounced in the U.S.: fascist lunacy and “woke folk” insanity.
I have written and spoken extensively about the viciously deranged, anti-scientific mangling of reality and truth that characterizes fascism as a powerful force contending for power—aiming to institute a more blatant and overt capitalist dictatorship, which would gut and pervert the rule of law, brutally suppress the rights of masses of people and carry to even greater extremes the exploitative and oppressive relations of this system of capitalism-imperialism and the threat to human existence through destruction of the environment and the danger of nuclear war.
But there is another kind of insanity that is becoming a major destructive force in politics and society: the increasing move to tear down everything and everyone that does not, and cannot, meet the tortured, anti-historical and anti-scientific “test” of conforming to the often arbitrary standards of “wokeness.” There are numerous and multiplying instances of this—including, for example, situations where someone (say, an artist) who is white does something powerful to expose the oppression of Black people... and instead of this being appreciated for its contribution to the understanding of and struggle against this oppression, the person is attacked for alleged “cultural colonization” (supposedly “appropriating” the exposure of and struggle against this oppression). This is crazy, and worse than crazy. As others have pointed out, carried to its logical extreme, this kind of “identity politics” wokeness—with its insistence that only people who directly experience something can legitimately say anything about it—would, among other crimes, put an end to, or at the least would seriously restrict and vitiate, literature and art. And overall, this does great harm to the struggle against oppression and the kind of society we should want to live in. Yet, like an out-of-control virus, this madness is continually expanding in its scope and mutating in its particular forms, as it becomes more and more extreme, and more and more unhinged from a sane approach to reality.
The Actual Struggle Against Injustice and Oppression, and the Perversion of Poisonous “Cancel Culture”
In A Beautiful Uprising: Right And Wrong, Methods And Principles, in examining different trends that were evident in the mass outpouring against police terror and institutional racism last summer, I emphasized these basic points of method and principle:
It is crucially important to identify what, in any given phenomenon (a system, a movement, a person), is the main thing (the principal aspect), which defines the essence of that phenomenon at any given time, and overall. For example, both Nat Turner and John Brown, who led heroic (if ultimately defeated) rebellions against slavery, were highly religious—and it is not wrong to see each of them as a kind of religious fanatic. But their religious zealotry was in the service of fighting the main (the most egregious) form of exploitation and oppression of that time—slavery. We cannot condemn Nat Turner or John Brown because they did not recognize that, to lead the struggle to do away with all oppression, it is necessary to cast off the mental shackles of religion and take up a consistently scientific method and approach—just as we cannot condemn them for not fighting against what is today the main system of exploitation and oppression subjecting the masses of humanity to horrific suffering, the system of capitalism-imperialism, because in their time the most decisive immediate question was not (yet) the abolition of the capitalist-imperialist system and the ending of all relations of exploitation and oppression, but the abolition of the system of outright slavery. That was the main (principal) contradiction being confronted. And the main (principal) aspect of what they did, in rising up against slavery, was overwhelmingly positive, even with certain definite secondary shortcomings (including the fact that, in the rebellion led by Nat Turner, they killed not only the adults but the children of slave-owning families).2
The cancerous “cancel culture” carried out in the name of “wokeness” tramples on these crucial methods and principles. In “A Beautiful Uprising” I pointed to the fact that, in some cases it is actually clear, right away, what is right and wrong—things that should be upheld, and things (such as Confederate monuments) that should be repudiated and removed—while in many cases the situation is more complex. But “woke folk cancel culture” rejects the distinction between what is more immediately clear and what is more complex—and rejects rational discourse and serious, scientific exploration of and grappling with questions that may in fact be complex, replacing this with knee-jerk reactions, in accordance with whatever have become the momentary imperatives of “identity politics wokeness.” As I emphasized in Hope For Humanity On A Scientific Basis:
where people have committed real crimes and outrages they should be held accountable; but there is also the need to look at the arc of someone’s life and what is the principal and defining aspect of their life. Is it the mistakes they’ve made, or even a really terrible thing they’ve done at some point? Is that the essential aspect of their life and what defines it? Or has their life involved real transformation, where what has come to define what they are about are the positive things that they have done and the positive trajectory to their life overall?
What is involved here is a very wrong and harmful approach of “canceling” people—indicting them (in the realm of public opinion if not legally) and canceling them out—which is different than holding people accountable for serious acts of oppression or other outrages that they’ve committed but then also looking at the whole arc and main content of what their life has been about. (And this is made all the worse by the fact that it is often amplified through “trial in the media and social media,” with neither any prospect nor even any pretense of due process or any real attempt to get at the truth, fueled by the dangerous notion that a mere allegation is enough to condemn someone and make them a permanent pariah, and marked by a refusal to apply any measure of proportionality, to make any distinctions between different kinds and degrees of wrongdoing.)3
It has to be said—and cannot be overstated—that, in the world today, there can be no just society without the rule of law; there can be no rule of law without due process of law; and there can be no due process of law without the presumption of innocence (and that presumption of innocence must be real—and not a farce, as it is in this society). That is why so much emphasis is given to these principles in the new communism, including specifically the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which I have authored.4
It also has to be said that there can be no justice, and great harm will be done, where “trial in the media and social media” is treated as equivalent to, or a substitute for, due process—and this is especially so when what is involved are accusations not against representatives of state power, like the police, but against “ordinary people,” even wealthy and/or prominent ones. Yet “trial in the media and social media”—where mere accusations are treated as proof of guilt and there is a marked lack of proportionality (and at times even a refusal to recognize or accept the outcome of serious investigation and genuine due process)—this is what is clamored for and practiced with the cancerous “woke folk cancel culture.” This is just another version of the extremely harmful notion that “the ends justify the means” (that any means are justified if the goal is, or is proclaimed to be, righteous), something that is firmly rejected by the new communism and should be rejected by anyone who aspires to a truly just society.
But this kind of madness is what happens when petty bourgeois narrowness and cynicism—which is marked by (real, or artificial and fashionable) outrage at instances of social injustice but at the same time by a dismissal or outright rejection of any real attempt at bringing a truly just society into being, and which is often molded and manipulated by ruling bourgeois forces—is carried to fanatical extremes, unmoored from and in opposition to a rational, scientific method and approach. And this is made all the worse by the powerful influence of the extreme individualism that is promoted throughout this society, with its poisonous component of constantly seeking to “tear down” others (which has become a perverse “national sport”).
And, among other things, “cancel culture,” in primarily targeting individuals, is an approach that tends to ignore, downplay and fail to really fight against the institutions and the whole system which constitute the deeper root and source of these outrages. Rarely, if ever, does this approach aim at “canceling” the whole system!
All this is also an expression of “woke entrepreneurialism”: It treats oppression and opposition to oppression as “capital”—and seeks to “own” and “leverage” it—instead of fighting to abolish the oppression.
Now, as with the original “two outmodeds,” it is important to have a definite understanding about which of these new “two outmodeds” represents the greater danger and does, by far, the greater harm. Clearly, it is the fascist lunacy, and not the “woke folk” insanity. But, at the same time, as with the original “two outmodeds,” these new “two outmodeds” also reinforce each other even while opposing each other, and this, too, is a dynamic that must be broken with, in rejecting and opposing both of these new “two outmodeds.” (And those who deny that “woke folk” insanity and “cancel culture” is a real and serious problem—insisting instead that what is involved is merely holding people accountable for wrong-doing—are refusing to look at, or are seriously distorting, reality. They are akin to those pseudo “leftists” who have tried to prettify Islamic fundamentalist terrorism by characterizing it as “political Islam” and even in some cases have tried to portray this as a positive force against western imperialism.)
These New “Two Outmodeds”—Death Throes of This Moribund System—and the Revolution That Is Urgently Needed to Overthrow This System
In my New Year’s Statement (A New Year, The Urgent Need For A Radically New World—For The Emancipation Of All Humanity), I pointed to the fact that, while they invoke very different political objectives, the fascists and the advocates of “identity politics” wokeness have much in common in terms of their epistemology (their approach to knowledge and truth). Both treat “truth” as something that conforms to subjective inclinations and prejudices, rather than to objective reality,5 is available at revcom.us. And it has to be said that, in its social effect, “woke folk” insanity actually serves to reinforce and strengthen the fascist forces, which are quite capable of seizing on especially the most egregious expressions of this “wokeness” not just to mock and ridicule “woke” people but to deny very real oppression and obstruct the struggle against it, while in an overall way this “woke folk” insanity constitutes a diversion and evasion from—and actually does great harm to—the struggle against the oppression and exploitation of masses of people, here and throughout the world, and the need for revolution to abolish and uproot the basis for this oppression and exploitation.
It is this revolution—an actual revolution, to overthrow and completely abolish this system of capitalism-imperialism and bring a radically different and much better society into being, on an entirely different foundation—which must be urgently built for now, through applying the scientific method and scientifically-grounded principles of the new communism, in opposition to everything that serves to enforce and reinforce this system of capitalism-imperialism, which embodies the most horrific oppression and which increasingly poses an existential threat to the very existence of humanity.