An Appreciation of Jacobins Yesterday, Jacobins Today: A Brief Summation by Bob Avakian

The Imperial Chauvinism of the Jacobins Today

by Nayi Duniya

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.

_______________

FOOTNOTES:

1. Genuine socialism was reversed in China, and capitalism restored, in 1976 with the death of Mao. Since the eighties, with Western imperialist investment, China’s sweatshops have been the site of super-exploited labor, manufacturing goods from sneakers to iPhones. With increasing capital accumulation in the world imperialist framework, China is a new and rising global imperialist power, increasingly in contention with the U.S. [back]

2. While Jacobin features a wide variety of guest contributors, what is published is consistent with and promotes the Editors’ overall viewpoint and program. Even while there is some exposure of the effects of global warming and the excesses of U.S. imperialist wars on the people of the world, when it comes to solutions, or what is to be done, the viewpoint proceeds from the people of the U.S. and what benefits them and their interests, not the interests of humanity and its emancipation. For example:

On global warming, after and despite having done exposure on its effects globally, Kate Aronoff states:  

...the Green New Deal... bakes in a virtuous cycle in which climate policy has to win… democratic majorities, and the way to do that is to make it clear that climate policy will make your life better. [emphasis ours; from Capitalism Can’t Fix the Climate Crisis, An Interview With Kate Aronoff, 08.25.2021, Jacobinmag.com; Retrieved Sept. 19, 2021]

This is a naked appeal to imperialist economic-social privilege in the homeland... never mind the existential horror confronting billions, especially in the Third World.

On U.S. wars, Jason Brownlee, after and despite detailing the horrors of these wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, concludes:  

the ultimate question for Biden and his personnel is: Which side are you on? The president has pledged a “foreign policy for the middle class.” If he and his chief advisers do not end the proxy wars and drone strikes around West Asia, they will be perpetuating a foreign policy that serves the superrich while pummeling some of the world’s most impoverished countries. [emphasis ours; from "Shadow Wars and Corporate Welfare," Catalyst, Vol. 4 No. 4, Winter 2021, by Jason Brownlee, Jacobinmag.com; Retrieved Sept. 19, 2021]

Biden’s Democratic Party is a machine of massive war crimes, presiding over some 750 military bases in some 80 countries, with the genocidal U.S. military called forth by the strategic need to keep the U.S. atop and in contention with other imperialist powers, not just misbegotten foreign policy. In chauvinistically inverting this reality, the question posed of “which side are you on?” is not between U.S. “middle-class” and “superrich” but between U.S. imperialism and the billions it oppresses around the planet, including within the U.S. [back]

3. "The Exercise of Power," by Bhaskar Sunkara, 02.25.2019, Jacobinmag.com; Retrieved Sept. 19, 2021 [back]

4. "The Social Democratic Road to Socialism, An Interview with Bhaskar Sunkara", June 3, 2019, Europenow Daily, europenowjournal.org; Retrieved Sept. 19, 2021; While there is lauding of Swedish social democracy and its “massive welfare state,” and “its coherent industrial policy [that turned] Sweden into a wealthy, high-wage country,” there is no mention of the overall Western imperialist workings which facilitated this, and within which this was achieved. [back]

5. Social democracy is a program of advocating “changes within the capitalist system, to be achieved by working through the established political process.... when it is made somewhat more concrete it focuses on things like increased taxation of the super-rich and corporations to finance government programs to pay for universal health care, college tuition, and the creation of renewable energy.” For more on this, on why social democracy in an imperialist country is ultimately and fundamentally “pro-imperialism” and the limitations of Bernie Sanders, see DAVID BROOKS—THE NOT SO GREAT PRETENDER—AND THE PROFOUND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TRUMP, SANDERS AND ACTUAL SOCIALISM, by Bob Avakian, March 2, 2020. [back]

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