Left “Anti-Authoritarianism” Has Been Counterrevolution’s Greatest Weapon

Rainer Shea
Since workers states began to form in the early twentieth century, and bourgeois propaganda therefore first had highly tangible enemies to latch onto, capitalism’s defenders have claimed that revolution will lead to dictatorship. The image of a grim, despotic dystopia that was projected onto the Soviet Union—and then onto the next socialist states which emerged—formed the basis for this narrative. And the caricature felt consistent with the experiences of those outside the socialist world at the moment, which made it all the more effective as propaganda. As society dealt with the aftermath of the upheavals that had occurred throughout the rise of fascism and the second world war, it was easy to paint communism as the opposite side of the coin to fascism, because it appeared to many that history was headed down an entirely bleak path. A path where no side was noble.

Such was the interpretation put forth by the mid-twentieth century thinkers who warned against “totalitarianism.” With this label, liberals of both the reactionary and “left” categories could equate the Nazis with the communists by implying that the latter shares the former’s totalizing war against freedom. However far this perception was (and continues to be) from the maternal differences of life under communist and fascist states, the postwar era’s fatalistic cultural trend made such a narrative appealing. To liberals like Orwell, the literary driver of modern bourgeois ideology, it felt agreeable that Orwell’s statement of “Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships” was true. How could it not be when the first great attempt to liberate the workers had ended in tyranny, according to the anti-communist mythology that Orwell’s Animal Farm solidified?

The CIA directly worked to promote Animal Farm (a parable about the Soviet Union’s supposed descent into dictatorship under Stalin) as part of its global Cold War propaganda campaign. And the imperial center leftists who believed Orwell’s narratives ironically helped bring his imagined nightmare future far closer to fruition—with the perpetrators of the dictatorial takeovers being not the communists, but the CIA.

As assessed by George Jackson’s Blood in my Eye, with every economic crisis that capitalism produced throughout the 20th century, revolution within the core imperialist countries was brought further and further away. Jackson believed that this was because the left within these countries had failed to grasp material reality. This reality being, as Jackson wrote, that the essence of fascism is reform. That any concessions the capitalist state makes are covers for a strengthening of the dictatorship of capital, to be revoked on a whim and to come with even more destructive new policies. Which was exactly what happened throughout the 20th century following social democracy’s implementation within the imperialist countries.

Within fifty years, the worker gains under social democracy had been undone amid the coming of the new neoliberal paradigm. And in the exploited world most of all, the imperialists had partnered with the global bourgeoisie to construct an extremely anti-democratic paradigm. In the imperialist countries, bourgeois “democracy” became even less genuinely democratic, allowing an unprecedented corporate takeover of government. Throughout the Global South, the CIA installed a plethora of dictatorships, whose grips have still only just barely begun to be truly loosened.

Chile is making incremental steps away from neoliberalism following the 2020 referendum against the Pinochet constitution. Latin American countries like Brazil threaten to swing back towards dictatorship. The bourgeois “democracies” of these countries largely retain the key characteristics of the military regimes they emerged from. All of them, save for the ones that have attained anti-imperialist governments, remain oligarchies. In “democratic” Indonesia, communist affiliations are still illegal. In the liberal “democracy” of modern Colombia, state and paramilitary violence regularly take the lives of hundreds of dissidents.

The ongoing subjugation of the lower classes in these countries, and the millions of lives that have been lost to the Global South’s CIA-installed regimes, might have come to be if the left within the imperial center hadn’t held back global revolution. The failure in dialectics that helped make these events possible was precipitated by the ahistorical, nihilistic analysis that Orwell put forth. The apprehension towards “authoritarianism” within the imperial center left, created by the vision of a socialist bloc that had wholly betrayed Marx, cultivated the reformist attitudes Jackson decried. If overthrowing the capitalist state and replacing it with a workers state will inevitably lead to an even worse system, these leftists figured, improvement can only be achieved through working within the system.

This is the conclusion that even the most radical facets of left anti-communism come towards in practice. Even if you want to overthrow the capitalist state, forsaking the only practical model for building socialism in the imperialist era (which is to build a workers state) will leave you in a never-ending cycle of fruitless struggles. The effect either way is the neutralizing of the labor movement, and therefore the further demobilization and atomization of the masses.

In Left anti-communism: the Unkindest Cut, Michael Parenti points out the dishonesty of the narratives that these left Red-bashers put forth. He takes the example of Noam Chomsky, the foremost carrier of Orwell’s legacy of corrupting leftist thought towards anti-communism:

Many on the U.S. Left have exhibited a Soviet bashing and Red baiting that matches anything on the Right in its enmity and crudity. Listen to Noam Chomsky holding forth about “left intellectuals” who try to “rise to power on the backs of mass popular movements” and “then beat the people into submission. . . . You start off as basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy. You see later that power doesn’t lie that way, and you very quickly become an ideologist of the right. . . . We’re seeing it right now in the [former] Soviet Union. The same guys who were communist thugs two years back, are now running banks and [are] enthusiastic free marketeers and praising Americans” (Z Magazine, 10/95). 

Chomsky’s imagery is heavily indebted to the same U.S. corporate political culture he so frequently criticizes on other issues. In his mind, the revolution was betrayed by a coterie of “communist thugs” who merely hunger for power rather than wanting the power to end hunger. In fact, the communists did not “very quickly” switch to the Right but struggled in the face of a momentous onslaught to keep Soviet socialism alive for more than seventy years. To be sure, in the Soviet Union’s waning days some, like Boris Yeltsin, crossed over to capitalist ranks, but others continued to resist free-market incursions at great cost to themselves, many meeting their deaths during Yeltsin’s violent repression of the Russian parliament in 1993.

Chomsky’s argument about the USSR’s collapse supposedly proving Marxism-Leninism’s inevitable corruptibility reflects the left anti-communist rhetorical tactic that’s usually employed: exploiting genuine contradictions within socialist countries. The fact that China has managed to surpass the USSR’s anti-imperialist achievements by irrevocably shifting the geopolitical balance away from Washington’s favor isn’t seen as impressive by left anti-communists, because in their narrative, China can’t be socialist if it has billionaires. The severe measures that China has been taking to crack down on its wealthy, including wiping out $1 trillion in the assets of the country’s tech giants, aren’t seen as evidence that China is a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Even though such robin hood measures are inconceivable under any of today’s capitalist states, which remain increasingly under the control of Big Tech, there are always real or invented problems within China that the left anti-communists can latch onto. The CIA is currently leaving them with no shortage of these “contradictions,” constantly putting out propaganda about concentration camps, forced sterilization, forced labor, “aggression” against Taiwan, “neo-colonialism” in Africa, and “dystopian” social credit scores.

As long as the left falls for these psyops—and more fundamentally, as long as it dismisses the socialist countries as “not truly socialist”—it will continue to be paralyzed by reformism and apathy. Jackson offered a solution to the failures he observed within the imperial center’s left: Marxism-Leninism. He recognized that for as long as imperialism exists, and for as long as the reactionaries remain strong enough to gain back any power, a state will be necessary for defending proletarian power. The “democratic socialist” and “libertarian socialist” strains that have pervaded left anti-communism, especially since the CIA promoted Orwell as their great intellectual bludgeon, lead us away from this path.

As imperialism collapses in on itself, to the consequence that capitalist reaction intensifies in the violence of its tactics, this mindset could lead to the bourgeoisie’s Global South political extermination campaigns being successfully imported. When the Jakarta Method is fully implemented where we are, we’ll be vulnerable without having built a vanguard which can protect us from the counterrevolutionary terror. Within Blood in My Eye, Jackson even alluded to this life-or-death decision point being on the horizon for us, with the imperial center leftists he ridiculed being the ones he believed will put us all in peril:

Waiting for power to move to its inevitable collapse is suicidal for all concerned. Blacks and other Third World peoples have the very imminent prospect of genocidal tactics to contend with, and we can now all see that the modern industrial state, motivated by exclusive groups of capitalist masters, cannot regulate itself to make possible an inclusive production and distribution of goods, or production without a massive waste of resources and destruction of all that stands about. The debate ends, the action begins. It is not a question of the necessity of violence, but of how to organize it.

Such an irresponsible approach is the logical conclusion of the “anti-authoritarian” position. Now that the U.S. empire’s collapse is imminent, we must not retreat into apathy and wait for everything to fall into place, but mobilize towards building that vanguard.