The article Jacobins Yesterday, Jacobins Today: A Brief Summation, by Bob Avakian, is really—really—good! In particular, this opening is a remarkable—and scientifically correct—concentration of the basic outlook, position and program of those calling themselves Jacobins today, in contrast to the original Jacobins of the French Revolution:
The Jacobins at the end of the 18th century in France were bourgeois-democratic revolutionaries who were fundamentally an expression of the rising system of capitalism. Despite any “socialist” pretensions, people calling themselves Jacobins today are bourgeois-democratic reformists and anti-revolutionaries whose effect is to contribute to preserving the outmoded system of capitalism-imperialism, with all the horrors bound up with and enforced by this system. [bolded emphasis ours]
For these “Jacobins Today,” this is especially concentrated in the publication and website Jacobin, its associated theoretical journal Catalyst, and the work of its founding editor and publisher Bhaskar Sunkara. Here, I want to briefly follow up on and highlight one consequence of what Bob Avakian describes above: a profound and ugly imperialist-chauvinism that pervades and governs their program. They take as a given, and reinforce the parasitism of U.S. society—sitting as it does atop the capitalist-imperialist food-chain and system. Here are some examples that briefly illustrate this:
* In their entire corpus of work, the problem is repeatedly described as capitalism. Sounds radical—but there is virtually no mention or description of the system as capitalism-imperialism, with its supply chains of sweatshop and child labor, historical and ongoing plunder of resources of the global South, and wars of conquest and domination.
This is no small omission or minor blind-spot. It erases the decisive fact that capitalism has evolved into a global system of horrendous exploitation. And a marked and defining feature of capitalism-imperialism is the lopsidedness and deep divide between the imperialist countries (the U.S., Western Europe, Japan, and increasingly today, China1), on the one hand; and the oppressed nations of the Third World, on the other, with U.S. imperialism the dominant power.
By obscuring this reality, Jacobin reinforces imperialist chauvinism, a view that proceeds from what benefits America and Americans2—when the question that must be addressed is how America, the greatest oppressor in the world, can be put in the dustbin of history.
* A second example. In a major article on Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and movement, Sunkara writes:
Rather than talking about an entire nation struggling together to restore the U.S. economy and shared prosperity, and rather than seeking to negotiate a better settlement with business leaders, Sanders’s movement is about creating a “political revolution” to get what is rightfully ours from “millionaires and billionaires.” 3
“What is rightfully ours"? Really! In Sunkara’s view, the problem is how to “rightfully” share the U.S.’s parasitic yield from its conquests, dominations, and grinding exploitation, rather than letting it be restricted to the “millionaires and billionaires,” NOT how to end this parasitic oppression as part of emancipating humanity. This brings to mind Bob Dylan’s lyrics from “The Narrow Way”:
We looted and we plundered on distant shores
Why is my share not equal to yours?
Sunkara in outlining his vision of the ideal society states: “…that's [Swedish social democracy in the '70s-'80s] the best model.” 4 Really? Sweden has sat at the imperialist “banquet table” as junior partner, benefiting from its spoils. Sunkara wants to scale up Swedish social democracy5 to U.S. proportions... to U.S. levels of parasitism.
Avakian concludes his article "Jacobins Yesterday, Jacobins Today: A Brief Summation" with the following insight, that “regardless of any 'socialist' pretensions, the Jacobins of today”
… do not represent a fundamental break with what is represented by and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, with all the horrendous exploitation, oppression, and destruction this has institutionalized and enabled, right down to today, in this country and throughout the world. [bolded emphasis ours]
The imperial-chauvinist outlook and program of Jacobin is a clear manifestation and consequence of this.