The New Left’s War on Imaginary Structures of Oppression in Order to Hide the Real Ones

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue [has been toppled] and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” —Nineteen Eighty-Four

Unfettered “engagement” with China is not preparing China for democracy and liberty. It is appeasement of the Chinese Communist Party (leveraging here the phraseology of Bill Gertz, author of the 2019 Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy) for the purposes of accelerating the convergence of the bureaucratic collectivism that marks socialism with Chinese characteristics with the globalist-corporatist statism of the West, manifest in the transnationalization of the social logic inhering in the overdevelopment of bureaucratic monopoly capitalism, the corporate governance model that the Democratic Party shepherds under the cover of progressivism (see Richard Grossman’s “Defining the Corporation, Defining Ourselves” and “Challenging Corporate Law and Lore”).

With totalitarian control over politics and culture and the Belt and Road Initiative, enabled by the Democratic Party’s Pivot-to-Asia doctrine (see Obama, Clinton, and Biden), the agenda of the People’s Republic of China dovetails with the designs of the capitalist globalizers. This convergence means the transformation—effectively, the cancellation—of Western civilization, erasing its accomplishments and overthrowing democratic-republicanism in spirit and in practice. Both liberal capitalism and democratic socialism, each depending on the dynamics of the national state principles of modernity and Westphalian-style international arrangements, each carrying the antagonisms that produce workable policy options among competing class interests, are becoming impossible.

Americans and Europeans (and peoples outside the West) must grasp these developments as the issue of the epoch. The full realization of Orwell’s nightmare is nearing. Acquiescence to the situation is tacit obedience to authoritarian desire. Happenings on the streets of America and Europe, and in their education systems, have in back of them corporate globalization and anti-Western ideology. Globalization is the process by which the political and material world is transformed into a single borderless economy, with unfettered flows of capital, goods, money, people, and services, under the control of a handful of transnational corporations (TNCs). (See David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World and Bill Robinson’s Promoting Polyarchy.)

Today’s essay connects developments in transnational political economy to the intellectual and cultural apparatuses that have installed the bureaucratic collectivist program on the wetware of Western youth. Corporate power is well aware of organic opposition to globalization, so it requires an ideology deceiving the popular forces into supporting corporatist-globalist ambition. It also requires the ineffectual selves that I write about in A Fact-Proof Screen: Black Lives Matter and Hoffer’s True Believer. The alienating conditions of late capitalism generate an oversupply of such persons. The ideological program and the identity of those who manufacture and disseminate it are vital to grasp.

The rebellion against modernity reflects the maturation of an intergenerational and multinational project, the culmination of work of cultural managers in the administrative state, and the culture industry that emerged from mature progressivism in the post-WWII period (see Adorno, Horkheimer), ramping up in the 1960s with the Democratic Party’s opening up the country to global investment and mass immigration, soon followed by counterculture politics, ideologically organized by the New Left, with elements of Frankfurt school style Critical Theory (Marcuse), Mao Zedong thought, and French postmodernism/poststructuralism (Lyotard; Derrida; Foucault), all to the advantage of the globalist wing of the capitalist class in enabling its denationalization projects. As none of it really represents a radical critique of anything, it has proven useful for its class disorganizing power.

“Radicals” insinuated themselves into the university system as professors and administrators, creating an array of culture studies, ethnic studies, women and gender studies departments, and a myriad of other programs in the humanities and social sciences, establishing a vast arsenal of specialty journals with eager gate-keeper to legitimize propaganda, a gospel of cultural and moral relativism, identity politics, and standpoint epistemology, with intellectual roots tracing back to the progressivism and technocratic professionalism organized by urban cosmopolitan elites in the suites of the trans-Atlantic bourgeois network, bankrolled by transnational wing of industrial capitalism, in the late 19th and early 20th century, manufacturing the deceits of cultural pluralism and moral relativism. This has been a long march through our institutions.

It is via this apparatus that our cultural managers have trained up an army of foot soldiers recruited from the ambitious offspring of the managerial-professional middle class, groomed for functional roles in the bureaucratic-corporate structure of governance. It is this development that lies behind the shift in the language of justice from the equality of individuals before the law and the equality of opportunity, ideals that have produced the fairest and most prosperous societies in history (the common law model leading the way) to social justice, with demands for equity, a construct that in these hands defines any disparity or inequality as prima facia evidence of unfairness and injustice, assertions from which follow the claim that injustice can be remedied by achieving proportional representation of ethnic, racial, and gender groups in business firms and public institutions. As such, it does not advocate a redistribution of economic power, but rather a redistribution of the symbolic power that it imagines exists and explains demographic facts.

This is the basis of identity politics, where the principle of tokenism (diversity) replaces the ethics of individual achievement (autonomy and self-actualization), producing bureaucratic actors functionalized to corporate arrangements, arrangements antithetical to democracy and liberty. As Max Weber long ago argued (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), in the midst of the emergence of progressivism, such arrangements suppress individually differentiated conduct (freedom), charisma (personality), animality, and spirituality, transforming humans into steel-encased machine cogs. (Antonio Gramsci made a similar point from his prison cell in Fascist Italy.)

Identity politics is the popular cultural adjunct to neoliberalism. The shift from justice to social justice is achieved through compelled speech and practice in bureaucratic rules, professional aspirations, and peer pressure hailing as virtuous the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. President Trump captured this development in his July 3 speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore: “In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.” The logic of left-authoritarianism (I prefer not to use the term “fascism,” but it is not inaccurate in spirit) supplants the defenders of individual liberty and rights with social justice warriors who advocate collective rights and the retribalization of society.

Resistance to left-authoritarian thought and practice is depicted in academic journals as both an expression of privilege and a psychiatric condition. It is no longer a question as to whether any of this is good news for working people. The corporatist order has decided that for us. Just fall in line or risk being identified as a racist, sexist, and xenophobe, or be pathologized. There is quite a literature on this in the academic journals and HR department handbooks and memos and it’s terrifying. Do a Google search of resistance to diversity training, what the Red Guard called “struggle sessions” during the Cultural Revolution. For those of you unfamiliar with this history, the Red Guard was a mass-based youth-led militant social movement mobilized in the second half of the 1960s to attack the traditional institutions in China. Google that, too, and the parallels between then and now will strike you immediately. The programs administered in academic institutions are connected to the actions being carried out in the streets. Together they strive to finally do away with the American Revolution, fallaciously condemning great documents because they were written by white men. The character of the prevailing cultural hegemonic reflects the entrenchment and scope of bureaucratic-corporate power. Never forget that corporate bureaucracy is the opposite of democratic republicanism.

The ideology animating so-called radical progressive politics (they would only truly be radical if they got to the root of things) is sociological realism, useful as a methodology for developing understandings, but theological in character when its epistemology is ontologized, producing a quasi religious system where people are struggling not against real structures, as the Abolitionists and the Civil Rights activists did, but against things that don’t really exist, for example, the apparitions of the post-Civil Rights mythology of systemic racism (Stokley Carmichael’s institutional racism). I am a sociologist, so it pains me to report this out to you. Inside the bubble, it has not always been so easy to see the role I played in legitimizing and perpetuating this ideology. The events of the last several years have been revealing, to say the least. For me, it’s been a change in paradigm.

This faux-theology had to, of course, like any religious cult, grow over time, while working itself into the dominant institutions of Western civilization in order to become the prevailing narrative. That’s why we see the street protests—toppling statues, revising historical, spitting on cops, and all the rest of it—over alleged racial injustice emerging now, at a moment where racism has largely disappeared. It took a couple of generations for this idea to become mainstreamed enough to become ordinary social logic, a logic conducive to the expansion and entrenchment of corporate governance. We see so much investment in New Left ideology by corporations (the rebellion enjoys big money financing), the Democratic Party, and establishment media, extolling the virtues of destruction and violence—we see a Republican Party nearly completely cowed by it—because it is useful to the ruling class. This explains how the progressive and liberal Christian churches, even the Vicar of Christ, can be about sanctifying chaos. Liberation theology has come of age.

* * *

Believe Anything by Barbara Kruger at Hirshhorn, Washington, DC.

The big hegemonic project today is obviously transforming race relations, i.e. #BlackLivesMatter (#MeToo briefly intervened, but it didn’t have the class disrupting power of racial divisioning, so the old hashtag is back). If there’s one thing capitalists have learned, it’s that race is a potent weapon. Democrats are notable fans. The retribalizing of the West is a wedge used to divide the proletariat into imagined communities in order to disrupt class consciousness. For this reason, I propose that we avoid presupposing that Civil Rights and The New Civil Rights Movement (NCRM) are analogous. Indeed, the ambitions of Civil Rights and the NCRM are the opposite of one another. One of them is racist, disguising it politics with the label “antiracist.” (I recognize that the NCRM refers to other things, but I will use this tag for the time being.)

Adolph Reed, Jr. puts this well in a 2018 issue of Dialectical Anthropology, “I have since come to understand that those who make such claims experience no sense of contradiction because the contention that nothing has changed is intended actually as an assertion that racism persists as the most consequential force impeding black Americans’ aspirations, that no matter how successful or financially secure individual black people become, they remain similarly subject to victimization by racism. That assertion is not to be taken literally as an empirical claim, even though many advancing it seem earnestly convinced that it is; it is rhetorical.” As the title of his essay makes clear, Reed grasps the implications: “Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left.” Indeed, what we are seeing today is not a movement for racial justice. It’s a cultural revolution that exploits what Karen Fields and Barbara Fields call “racecraft” to change the structure of power in favor of corporate governance. That means not only delegitimizing the American Republic, but undermining the institutions of Western civilization.

The present cultural revolution does not challenge power, but embraces the rule of its logic. This cannot therefore be an actual Marxist projects the political right is claiming, for no self-respecting Marxist would embrace the social logic of corporate power. BLM is a neo-Marxist perversion. Of course antiracism has no real power in itself. Those under its spell believe they are winning because they are losing. At least they are losing it for the people. Striving for social justice can only strengthen the hegemony of those who pull the strings of power by giving it popular legitimacy. (see Race-Based Discrimination as a Model for Social Justice.) If BLM was actually a revolutionary proletarian movement, corporations would not bankroll it. (See Corporations Own the Left. Black Lives Matter Proves it; What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter; Dividing Americans by Race to Keep America From Democracy).

The NCRM is part of the secret power of corporate domination because it operates according to theological trick of self-deception. Like the Abolitionists, Civil Rights activists struggled against concrete institutional arrangements, legal authority and formal enforcement mechanisms, that reproduced racialized social relations. Jim Crow (or de jure) segregation was an actual set of institutions that oppressed black people while privileging white people regardless of their class position. Jim Crow constituted a formal caste system. Like chattel slavery, Jim Crow was a real structure. It did not depend on subjective perception or an elaborate theoretical and theological apparatus, however much pseudoscience and religion were used to justify it. 

The reality of the structure justified tactics used to dismantle it. Civil disobedience against such institutional structures is rational when those in positions of authority, with popular support behind them, resist abolishing unjust institutional arrangements. Challenging this authority was about bringing into question its legitimacy to expose the culture-ideology of racial power and changing popular opinion. It could even come from the church (Martin Luther King, Jr.) because, whatever the rhetoric from the activists, it was aimed at real structures of oppression.

I would have been on the front lines of this struggle. Indeed, although I was just a little kid in the 1960s, I am proud to have suffered along with my parents the consequences of taking that stand. I don’t remember the first time white supremacists drove my family from my father’s first ministry in Roger Springs, Tennessee (my father is a theologian and Church of Christ minister). I was a baby. But I remember the second time, during my father’s ministry in Sharpsville very well. I was old enough to never forget. My family was not alone. A lot of white people paid a heavy price for standing up to racist bullies. (Read more of my biography and experience with Christianity here: Zoroastrianism in Second Temple Judaism and the Christian Satan.)

The NCRM is not struggling against concrete institutional arrangements but instead against imaginary “structures” constructed by self-professed critical sociological theory, its definitions conceptualizing institutions not as concrete legal relations and formal enforcement mechanisms but as abstract social relations defining individuals in demographic terms and conceptualized systems of informal social control. It is not opposed to racist ideology, but in fact hypostatizes race in an ideological system that exists in the absence of institutional mechanisms requiring or justifying it, as well as in law and policy taking the form of affirmative action, etc. It commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness and is thus an illegitimate thing, not just conceptually, but empirically. The ideology is even justifying formal racial segregation on our college campuses.

The institutions oppressing blacks under Jim Crow were not theoretical. They were concrete and actual. In contrast, the forces supposed to be oppressing blacks under conditions of de facto segregation, or what folks are calling systemic racism or institutional racism, are imaginary. These are not an actual things. Alleged race relations and oppression are not concrete; they’re abstract. Therefore, there is no concrete or actual thing to struggle against. There is nothing to overcome, no barriers to remove, no common enemy—at least not the realm of racial oppression. This makes the “struggle” feel eternal. There is no final goal to achieve since whites will always been racist. This is “permanent revolution.” Of course, there is an objective to all this: the entrenchment of corporate power. And what is resulting from this agenda is the institution of actual racist systems.

The NCRM becomes a method for producing an infinite myriad of grievances, some of which can be put to empirical tests, such as the claim that demographic disparities in lethal officer-civilian encounters and, more broadly, the criminal justice system as a whole, indicate racial bias. As I have shown (see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters), empirical study finds no support for the claim of systemic racism in lethal police-civilian encounters. Moreover, scientific studies find no empirical support for the claim of systemic racism in the criminal justice system as a whole. The claims that bring protesters to the streets—and I am not talking about rioters (riotous action absent genuine class struggle are always illegitimate)—are not legitimate. Yet academia, the media, and politicians are obsessed with pushing these claims as sound. When I present the facts to social justice warriors either that do not hear them or they work around them. It’s like trying to reason with a religious zealot. No, not like. That is what it is.

For a paradigm of the logic of the argument in political science, see University of Chicago’s Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference, published in 1990, by Princeton University Press, where an appeal is made for group representation in democratic publics and for group-differentiated policies. This follows the logic of deep multiculturalism. Young writes, “Critical theoretical accounts of instrumental reason, postmodernist critiques of humanism and of the Cartesian subject, and feminist critiques of the disembodied coldness of modern reason all converge on a similar project of puncturing the authority of modern scientific reasoning.”

The general principle in operation—this is the logic of social justice—is profoundly irrational and regressive. By assuming the Western structure of justice is but a projection of white European male power, inequalities are inequities, expressions of a particular constellation of oppressions. Science and justice are white male norms of reason and respectability, not universal ideas (there goes human rights). Their objectivity is not demonstrable in pragmatic success, but merely provide intellectual and moral cover for exploitation. “The modernist canon itself is revealed as patriarchal and racist, dominated by white heterosexual men. As a result, one of the most common themes addressed within postmodernism relates to cultural identity” (The Conversation). Affluence, equality, and freedom can only deepen the structure of oppressive power. All this despite the obvious reality that one could not and would not be allowed to even suppose but for the Enlightenment.

Extraordinary claims are licensed by such recklessness in reasoning and the overgrowth of grand theoretical construction. For example, critical race theory, to quote Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the architects of this ideology aims to “understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America.” Despite having dismantled systemic racism in the form of de jure segregation more than half a century ago, despite having made discrimination based on race illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite having embarked on an extensive program of reparations, the United States is under the control of “a regime of white supremacy.” Crenshaw and her comrades are claiming that people of color are subordinated to whites in contemporary America. (see The Origin and Character of Antiracist Politics.)

Having established the “truth” of the claim, Crenshaw argues that the problem is “treating the exercise of racial power as rare and aberrational rather than as systemic and ingrained.” The way the matter is put suggests that there is the evidence of systemic and ingrained racism is abundant. But police interact with civilians hundreds of millions of times each year. There are 42 million black people in the United States, approximately half of them male. The number of unarmed black men killed by the police in all of 2019? At most around a dozen. In other words, instances of police officers killing unarmed black men is rare and aberrational.

In detailing the treatment of the exercise of racial power, CRT theorists call out what they call the “perpetrators perspective.” This rhetoric is used to frame standard legal reasoning and procedure as a doctrine of oppression. Crenshaw insists, as if this were a bad thing, that the burden of proof rests on those who make accusations of discrimination. You may recognize this method as the method by which normal science operates. It is the standard in the courtroom—innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, if I subscribe to reason, then I am a “perpetrator.”

The second treatment of “the exercise of racial power,” what is supposed to be the “critical” view, is the “victims perspective.” This perspective presumes the accusation is true until disproven. Racial disparity is itself evidence of racial bias. You will recognize this method as the method by which religious faith is sustained. This method accepts as true that which requires demonstration. No offense to my religious family members and friends, but we can pursue no policy on the basis of religious-like faith. This is a secular society.

This strange alchemy is ideology. By shirking its burden, the victim’s perspective, besides making people victims against their will, eschews consideration of explanations for disparity since the question has already been satisfactorily answered. The fact of persistent racial disparity becomes proof of systemic racism. The method is thus circular and fallacious. (For more on CRT, see Committing the Crime it Condemns; Race and Democracy.) Moreover, it is insulting to a person’s intelligence to assume that he should accept as rational the claim that people who have never committed a racist action in their lives should be considered automatically racist because of the color of their skin. To insist that people believe this nonsense is a deeply authoritarian impulse. It is the mark of zealotry. We might ignore it but for its grip on our institutions.

* * *

If you ask me whether I think there is race prejudice I will of course admit that there is. If you ask me whether there are still people who believe that there are different races, I will agree with that, too. Race identiarianism is alive and well. And it is thriving among progressives and in the Democratic Party. But racism as a system is no longer with us. At least the old system of racism. We abolished that system more than half a century ago. Discrimination against nonwhites has literally been illegal for decades. Redefining the faux pas as a “microaggression” doesn’t make racism any more real. This is all about is leveraging “social facts” (see Durkheim) sustained by the Critical Theoretical maneuver of ontologizing an elaborate epistemological structure that treats abstract concepts as actual constituents of the world in order to reify an imagined hierarchy and then invert it in actual practice.

Corporations would not support any of this if it were genuinely revolutionary. They would not pressure social media to crack down on hate speech if the ruling class was actually racially oppressive toward black people. The protests persists because the ineffectual, the narcissist, and the self-loathing are useful idiots for the globalist-corporatists who are dismantling the American republic. Like all anti-democratic countermovements, the mob is the street-level manifestation of managed decline. The elite are striving to return the globalism to power and continue with the project preparing the nation for full integration with the transnational capitalist order (see Joel Kotkin’s The Coming Age of Neo-Feudalism). Trump’s critique of China is heresy in the New World Order. The New Civil Rights Movement is a neoliberal trick to sheepdog those whose psychology is disrupted by the alienation bureaucratic corporatism systematically generates. The ruling class is using the dysfunction it creates to its own advantage. There’s nothing new about that.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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