Making Tarantino flicks after Weinstein: “Once upon a time…”

Spoilers throughout…

I had read on some film site that before Quentin Tarantino made his latest movie dealing with the Manson murders, he showed the script to his friend Roman Polanski so as to not be insensitive. It portrays Polanski’s likeness, the Manson family brutally murdered his pregnant wife, this became perceived as a defining moment in the “end of the 60s” in the public imagination, and so on. But Polanski was fine with the script, and it’s easy to see why.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is possibly the first true “post-#MeToo movie.” Ostensibly about the Manson murders, it twists it up in true Tarantino fashion, with the historical setting playing no more than a flexible, contingent context for his real, eternal subject: the meta-reflexive enjoyment of movies.

And so, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood postulates, “What if the Manson murders didn’t happen?”

The answer it gives it that we’d have a universe in which we wouldn’t have to worry about Roman Polanski drugging and raping a 13 year old girl. We could still have the innocence of the 60s, we could still “make them like they used to.” We could still have Steve McQueen pointing out to us starstruck fans the mythic heroes partying at the Playboy Mansion—see these gods that walk among us! Look how they dance so naively to “Son of a Lovin’ Man” by the Buchanan Brothers. (Polanski and Tate dance apart, in tune with the swinging spirit of the times, and no one is touching each other, nothing so subversive as the joint McQueen smokes.) We could enjoy the great works of art, the great works that give life all meaning, without having to deal with their unfortunate byproducts—that the free-love counterculture would actualize itself in the Manson Family, that all the cherished icons at the Playboy Mansion really are just as sleazy and evil, that the whole world is ruled by a cabal of billionaire pedophiles and showbiz is as complicit as the rest. We can enjoy Chinatown like we always wanted to, without worrying about what went down at Jack Nicholson’s house. We can enjoy the rest of Tarantino’s Weinstein-produced body of work.

nick mullen you could even...
Cum Town‘s Nick Mullen, who will be called up to the big leagues of the entertainment industry soon enough…

This is the grand arc of Tarantino’s career: trying to reclaim this enjoyment. There’s a nobility to it, I think, inasmuch as there could be said to be any “American patriots” left that aren’t Nazis. For the hyper-postmodern cyberpunk dystopian imaginary we now live in, the late 60s is a classical age, a renaissance that produced the best art and the best heroes, California mid-century modernism might as well be the Parthenon and spaghetti westerns might as well be Sophocles. But to call Tarantino’s nostalgia outright “fascist” and so on betrays sloppy imprecision. (And, superficially, the fascists now look to the 1980s, whereas the liberals look to the 1960s—what about the leftists?) Tarantino doesn’t, say, zealously cosign the genocide of the Native Americans, but you would never catch him agreeing to do away with “cowboys and indians” as a cultural signifier in the virtual world of cinema. He rightfully opposes the widespread murder of blacks by the police but embraces racism as cultural signifier from which we as “disinterested” observers derive aesthetic enjoyment (pervasive in his other movies, probably most notoriously in Django Unchained—but this latest entry is an exception in that it has no mention of the n-word at all…).

Anyway, there’s certainly something uncanny about Tarantino’s notoriously suspect politics—the foundational American settler violence is disavowed in a literal sense but embraced and deified in a virtual sense, we can accept the violence so long as we get our movies in the end… Perhaps what unsettles the woke critics the most about Tarantino is that his art project is actually intuitively understood by most Americans, despite however “avant-garde” the formal structure is—the studios give him rare final cut privilege only because his particular style resonates with audiences, they know he won’t really fuck it up, and even his worse entries, like The Hateful Eight, aren’t as embarrassing for the studio as, say, David Lynch’s Dune.

Tarantino’s movie is pure ideology in the sense that Mullen’s tweet is. They postulate the value of art as something that retroactively justifies all the fucked-up, oppressive relations that produced it. Political action is worthless, you won’t get the classless society, you won’t get the Hollywood without the structural sexist coercion—but at least you can get art, just make them like they used to make them. Give us the only possible “pure” thing, the thing that sets itself beyond the grime of the material world and in the ecstasy and innocence of the ideal. This is not an “innocent” position, but rather the complete opposite.

Behind the happy ending—the cultists break into actor Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) house on Cielo Drive where they are brutally/hilariously killed by stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his pitbull Brandy, and Dalton’s flamethrower after the bros get wasted on their “last night out;” neighbor Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) survives and invites Dalton into her house, the film ends as he walks up the driveway optimistic he’ll get some great parts in future Polanski movie, “Once upon a time…” comes up on the screen, credits roll—is a cynicism that is almost sublime in how egregious it is. Yes, Tarantino knows this is not what really happened, he leaves out all the nasty parts, not just the murders, but the shady underbelly of Hollywood itself, the rampant sexual abuse in an industry where beautiful women are as desirable as they are disposable, and so on. The movie deals with these in a purely virtual sense: it deals with them precisely in how it doesn’t deal with them—after all, it’s “Once upon a time…”

This winking dialectical switcheroo is the essence of what could be considered either infuriatingly stupid or genius about the film. There is so much to be said about the Manson case and what it means in the context of the 60s zeitgeist that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is necessarily a missed opportunity. But on the other hand, who is Tarantino to probe the psychedelic depths of man’s depravity? Tarantino is an artful director but never a “deep” one, and the truth of the Manson cult requires depth, a depth that has not been reached by anyone on the subject, other than perhaps Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica (which preceded the murders by a couple months). Tarantino can deal with it on his level, the level of endless surfaces, on which Manson is repressed, a traumatic Real that can’t be approached directly but has to be circled, even and especially if history has to be rewritten.

The moral vindication of Hollywood occurs in a scene in which Cliff Booth, the stud stuntman and receptacle of all the macho mojo that Rick Dalton has lost, gives one of the Manson Family girls a ride back to Spahn Ranch. In the car ride, she offers him a blow job; he asks her how old she is, and when she can’t prove that she’s of the legal age, he refuses as a matter of principle. Who is fooled here? This I found to be particularly obscene, so obscene that it can’t be read as anything other than as an allusion to “all that other stuff” that got left out, the grotesque seediness of Hollywood that remains entirely virtual in Tarantino’s world, but is all too real… Tarantino wants us to imagine the “good,” “nostalgic” Hollywood (the Los Angeles of soapy pop Paul Revere & the Raiders rather than the Doors and whatnot) even though we are all aware that it is necessarily a lie. Roman Polanski did all that bad stuff, Harvey Weinstein did all that bad stuff, and Quentin Tarantino would be kidding us all were he to moralize about it. In other words, Cliff Booth actually accepts the blowjob from the girl, we all know this, but we don’t know that we know it, we cannot see this, it is too unbearable, the scene depicts the necessary fiction to protect our enjoyment, the enjoyment that Tarantino considers sacred.

In the car before the murders are to happen, we see the Manson Family members preparing themselves for the event. They tell themselves that they have been raised on violence in movies, and now it is time for them to kill the people who taught them to kill (the people who make movies). They are then dispatched in the most slapstick manner—they cannot escape the “cunning of reason” of the cinematic gaze, the cultists were the instruments of historical/artistic Necessity, mere tools employed in the realization of something they themselves despised, no matter how well-planned things are, somehow they will find a way to go wrong, and so on. How else can we read this other than as an endearingly cynical defense of Tarantino’s own work? (Recall an old interview with Tarantino with someone scolding him for making violent movies, asking something along the lines of “why do you make such violent movies?” to which he answers with childish indignation, “Because it’s so much fun, Jan!”).

The tension that builds throughout the film with the expectation of the Manson murders is suddenly dissolved with the cultists ill-fated last minute change of plans. In a footnote in Less than Nothing Zizek describes the passage from Lacan’s “dark” seminar X on anxiety to the “playful” seminar XI on the four concepts of psychoanalysis: “comparable to that of Shakespeare’s late plays, Mozart’s Magic Flute, and Wagner’s Parsifal, after the lowest point of despair (Shakespeare’s mature tragedies, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods), the mood changes, we enter a fairy-tale space where problems are magically resolved, where the tragic deadlock dissolves into bliss…” Is this not what happens when we see Booth’s pitbull ripping Manson Family member Tex Watson’s (Austin Butler) dick off and the subsequent reconciliation of all the problems in the movie that were never really problems in the first place?

That Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has the acclaimed critical reception it does in the wake of #MeToo shows what difference the movement made: Not much at all. The show must go on, “you can even fuck the kids in private… just… make movies that aren’t just marvel bullshit.” Even Jean-Luc Godard at his most politically woke gets recuperated into Tarantino’s endlessly self-reflecting images. But no matter, maybe we aren’t Brechtian revolutionaries after all, since even Brecht himself would’ve been #MeToo’d.

At its core, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is just a buddy comedy of the friendship Dalton and Booth have; Dalton goes to Europe to find his mojo and get his career back on track starring in spaghetti westerns, naturally bringing Booth along as his stuntman. Successful, Dalton comes back with a hot European wife, signalling the end of their close male friendship. But when they get back to LA, Dalton puts his wife to bed so he and Booth can spend one more night on the town, one more night for the boys, in spite of everything, the same promise of something like “Cum Town,” (the podcaster scene partying at the Playboy Mansion, Steve McQueen pointing out Chapo Trap House and others…) un-woke and post-woke like Tarantino, we see Dalton sitting in his pool drinking a margarita, headphones on, oblivious to the Manson Family intruders … what could he be listening to?

Talking Badiou, Borders, and Bernie

I’ve been getting more interested in Badiou lately—I bought and have been reading “Theory of the Subject,” casually, or at least as casually as one can read such a book. What is good about Badiou is that he offers a real revolutionary lucidity; he doesn’t get led astray in the sense that the so-called “crypto-fascist” leftists do, the leftists who always happen to find themselves on the Right whenever it counts (there is, of course, often still something of value in those “crypto-fascists” like Zizek). Badiou always tries to stay faithful to the Event, the instance of collective liberation that establishes the Truth of radical egalitarian politics. If Badiou is “bad” it is because he is too committed to this, the “unrepentant Maoist.” Whatever my thoughts on the Cultural Revolution, I think this is refreshing.

Badiou’s history of work with migrant workers and marginalized populations is particularly relevant today. In the Verso Blog (as always):

Faced with the refugee problem, the left is deeply divided between NPA-style internationalism and the protectionism defended by Chantal Mouffe or La France Insoumise. What is your position?

Today, it is impossible to consider any major political problem except on the world scale. The consequences to be drawn from an organizational point of view are another matter… If you do not focus on this level, you cannot understand the situation. It is not completely wrong to say that there are no more manual workers in France. At the world level, on the other hand, there have never been so many workers as there are now. Simply that they are all in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Brazil or Romania. We seriously misinterpret the political and social situation, in the broadest sense, by seeing it only through the French keyhole. Forty years ago, in this country, there was a complete social fabric, with peasants and workers in large factories. The changes of globalized capitalism force us to change our thinking accordingly. If you don’t have the same measure as your opponent, you’re bound to fail! Today’s proletariat is a vast nomadic proletariat seen as immigration or migrants. In reality, this is a question of class relations at the planetary level. This implies, at a minimum, prioritizing international relations and having a position on this nomadic proletariat that arrives in our country or wants to settle there. I like these divisive questions! Those on which there’s a consensus are rarely the right ones. This is the major political issue that divides, in a confusing way. Positions on the left are unclear. After all, what would an organization of the nomadic proletariat mean? We are far from having solved this problem. But you have to raise it. The strategic political stage is global. On this point, capitalism is a good step ahead because it is comfortably established on this stage.

I’ve written before about how socialist electoral politics faces an impasse with the issue of this nomadic proletariat. For the democratic socialists taking power in a country such as the United States requires, at the very least, winning over the existing “settler” working classes—the working classes that were long satisfied with the post-WW2 semblance of endless plenty, the classes who were invited into a way of life that resembled the rich and bourgeois classes but forced back out once their labor was no longer the most cost-effective option, the classes on the internal periphery of the core of capital, the dispossessed white blue-collar Trump voters archetype we have heard so much about. Carrying the torch of American social democratic politics, Bernie Sanders must speak for these people if he wishes to be elected president; he must, per Zizek, consider the jouissance that obstructs the “coming-together” of the dispossessed Rust Belt worker with the Other of the undocumented nomadic proletarian of Central America, the outsider from the external periphery, beyond the polis. The insistence that there is no impasse or tension whatsoever between these different groups is false.  This is not to say that Sanders must be racist, in the crass or vulgar sense, but it almost certainly means that he must leave some racist institutional structures unquestioned.

Let me put this another way: the total abolition of borders, the unconditional affirmation of the principle of absolute freedom of movement, and so on, is not a promising electoral strategy because it offers little to the people who will vote. (I will not specify the abolition of ICE in particular because that refers to the inhumane practices of the agency and not necessarily the theoretical stance of “no borders” overall.) Even if the nomadic proletarians do not steal the jobs and enjoyment of the dispossessed citizen-settlers as much as the nativist reactionaries claim, the impression, the popular mood, is what counts. The people Sanders must win over will not vote for him if the electoral socialist left’s messaging is that they (the citizen-settlers) are seen simply as white devil petit bourgeois class enemies—even if they really are.

(I am speaking of collectives, of myths, essentially. The “Trump voter” identity is the silliest myth of all. But we must use these broad strokes because we don’t have a discrete subject we can talk to, as in psychoanalysis. Instead, we have a sort of necessarily-inadequate aggregate nebula of moods.)

The woke-PC democratic socialists are right to say that these dispossessed Trump voters aren’t really the “proletariat” in the grand scheme of things. And to turn back to Badiou, “it is impossible to consider any major political problem except on the world scale.” But the very next sentence: “The consequences to be drawn from an organizational point of view are another matter…”

The abolition of borders is impossible in the context of a democratic electoral program that maintains continuity with the existing order. If we want to organize the nomadic proletariat we need to think outside of electoral politics, outside the nation-state—we must think in terms of international relations.

This impasse is something that polite democratic socialists do not want to accept exists. Either they must identify with democracy, the nation-state, the parliamentary status quo, and work with the settler classes or they must reject electoral politics entirely and side with the nomadic proletariat, taking the path of revolutionary politics and effectively ceasing to be American (“Amerikkkan”). The latter option is the real rejection of identity politics since its goal is the end of identity, full stop.

What this ultimately comes back to is a question of what the Left should be trying to achieve, the organizational question. A Sanders presidency—a best-case scenario for the DSA faction—would by definition maintain continuity with the status quo, sanctioned by authority of the Constitution written by all those slave owners, and whatever. It would not be Communist. But that isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be better than what things are now. I will leave this question hanging here. The DSA faction will only trip over itself if it thinks it can legislate its way to revolutionary politics and abolishing the nation-state. If we just want some of the “nice things” that social democratic Europeans get to have, then we can skip the revolution—but we have to beat the imperialist bourgeoisie at their own electoral game. Is it worth it?

How can multiculturalism contradict working-class solidarity?

This is part 1 in what will be a series of blog posts.

In response to my last blog post, I was asked a good question: “what exactly is multiculturalism and what is its contradictory relationship with international solidarity?”

Multiculturalism is something that can have many different definitions, so I’ll try to stick by the understanding that has to do with the context of “why Zizek was right” and antagonisms with international working-class solidarity.

To start, in the most general, theoretical sense, there is no antagonism between multiculturalism and international solidarity. In short: immigrants can and should be considered part of the broader workers’ struggle. This is not, in principle, something that needs to be fundamentally revised. In a globalized world, we need to think about these issues in a “global” sense. So I think I made a mistake when I said:

“There is, however, still an unavoidable antagonism between a left-theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a left-theoretical commitment to working class solidarity under global neoliberalism: the left needs to come to terms with the practical-left commitment to a working class displaced and alienated by widespread de-industrialization.”

The issue shouldn’t be framed as an antagonism between the theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a theoretical commitment to working class solidarity, but between a theoretical commitment (multiculturalism) and practical commitment (working class solidarity). I think I was incorrect to imply that the issue necessarily occurs at the theoretical level.

So what is the practical contradictory relationship between multiculturalism and working class solidarity?

To get an idea of what is at stake in this, consider the line that the Clinton campaign used against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Party primaries—that Bernie Sanders is a “single-issue candidate” for running on a platform of economic justice, opposition to Wall Street, and so on. Part of what was implied in this is that Sanders’ program is “just for white people,” that the struggles of women, minorities, and others are not fundamentally tied to a critique of capitalism—and that, if anything, the capitalists, the well-educated and well-mannered elites, are precisely those who are on the side of the marginalized, as opposed to the racist, provincial, backwards white working class.

Of course, the Clinton campaign alone does not demonstrate that there is a theoretical contradiction between multiculturalism and working class solidarity at all. In fact, from this, we can affirm the theoretical compatibility of those things. The opposition between “intersectionality” and “socialism” that the Clinton campaign set up is best countered by demonstrating that there is no opposition—that many of the most structurally oppressive issues that marginalized people face are fundamentally economic, and that it is the “Woke Capital” ideology that is more concerned with empty gestures and tokenism. But does this calculating Clintonite sleight of hand reveal something deeper?

This brings us to where the practical contradictory relationship between “multiculturalism” and working class solidarity occurs. The Clinton campaign’s “Woke-Capital” ideological opposition of multiculturalism with working class solidarity is nonsense on the theoretical socialist terrain—but it mirrors the concrete functioning of global capital, and poses and urgent practical obstacle for organizing in developed countries. I will summarize crudely. Capital expands outwards to avoid the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The rate of profit is sustained by creating global value chains of production, extracting resources and labor from the global periphery—“developing countries”. As this expansion toward the periphery occurs, the industrial base in the economic core is no longer needed, because the cost of labor is higher and the potential returns are lower. These former industrial regions in the global economic core themselves begin to resemble the “underdeveloped” periphery, facing widespread unemployment, poor social services, and other issues (the “Rust Belt,” the Ruhrgebiet, and so on). By contrast, the new cores of the developing countries, benefiting most from the windfall profits of global value chains, begin to look much more like the core—embodying the logic and the appearance of “cities of the future” than the core itself (Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg…). The consequence of this is that there is a form of “multiculturalism” that is taken up and assimilated into the logic of global capital. This logic does validate the rainbow-colored masses of “the developing world,” but it only understands their value through the exploitation of their labor (“Immigrants: they get the job done!”). But what this logic has no use for is the post-industrial “leftovers,” who are themselves backwards and forgotten, as if excluded from the progression of history (“Why do people support a racist like Trump? Don’t they know it’s [the current year]?”).

The Left’s confusion over the apparent impasse between multiculturalism and the interests of the “leftover” working class has done little to stop right-populists and fascists across the developed world from achieving previously-unimaginable electoral success. The now-popular identification of developed-world post-industrial working class interests with the Right is inexcusable for leftists. Accepting the left’s position on the conservative side of a radically-flipped political spectrum of late capitalism is the fast track to obsolescence.

How can we get around this impasse? To start, the Left’s theoretical understanding must take into account the nuanced, shifting, and increasingly-muddied distinctions between global economic cores and peripheries. It must to take into account the leftover working classes in the “peripheries of the cores” that have been left behind by history.

But this is only a tiny part of the beginning of the solution. We must go much deeper to truly work through the problem of contemporary racism posed by the issues facing multicultural western societies. For this, we should turn to psychoanalysis, and in particular, the concept of jouissance. Zizek is correct to identify this as the kernel of the problem in his fascinating 2015 feud with Sam Kriss:

“Which is the factor that renders different cultures (or, rather, ways of life in the rich texture of their daily practices) incompatible? What is the obstacle that prevents their fusion or, at least, their harmoniously indifferent co-existence? The psychoanalytic answer is: jouissance. It is not only that different modes of jouissance are incongruous with each other without a common measure; the Other’s jouissance is insupportable for us because (and insofar as) we cannot find a proper way to relate to our own jouissance.”

I intend to go into more detail on the meaning and significance of jouissance as an obstacle to solidarity across cultures (and discuss how the Zizek-Kriss debate is the microcosm of the Left’s theoretical difficulty grasping this issue) in another blog post.

Zizek was right in 2016

Now that awful Democratic Party stooges like Neera Tanden show up in my twitter timeline again, it’s a sign that its truly the start of the 2020 presidential election season. There’s no better time than the present to talk about general left political strategy. One thing I’ve been thinking of a lot lately is Zizek’s position in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election—I wrote about this already and, like Zizek himself, have no issue with completely plagiarizing what I’ve written before (at least for exposition):

…Leftists recoil at his name. Academics think he’s made himself into a factory of lazy, watered-down philosophy for bite-sized consumption. Activists think he’s betrayed the left on political correctness and made overtures to fascism. Though still well-known enough to pen frequent op-eds, he no longer commands the influence on the left he once did. His appearances in The Guardian and In These Times seem to have stopped since last year, and now Zizek contributes more regularly to RT. He has, reluctantly, found a new audience — one that shares his taste for shocking provocation and esoteric philosophical arguments against the scolding mantras of political correctness. Zizek has become a neoreactionary philosopher.

Ironically, many worldwide political developments since the Occupy movement have actually vindicated Zizek. Europe’s refugee crisis laid bare the raw tensions between the liberal ideas of open borders, anti-xenophobia, and tolerance on one hand and the Western European assumption of a secular social-democratic welfare state on the other. Zizek caused a stir by arguing that the dream of many refugees — of being permitted free access to a utopian life anywhere they choose — was unrealistic, and that it could be the task of national militaries to organize a humane solution for the refugee issue in general.  With the heretical opposition to unconditional openness, and his tendency to test the limits of political correctness, Zizek’s heterodox takes on Freudo-Marxism ceased to impress many on the left.

After the shock victory of the Brexit referendum, the crisis in neoliberalism and its implications for nationalism and identity politics became impossible to ignore. As the 2016 U.S. presidential election neared, Zizek made a much-publicized “anti-endorsement” of Trump on Russia Today, claiming that Clinton would be a worse president whose victory would perpetuate a wretched status quo and the paralysis of the left. Following his understanding of dialectical materialism, a Trump administration, though horrible, would amount to a negation of the hegemonic liberal ideology and present an opportunity for radical change — a line of thinking that brings him closer to the reactionary accelerationists drawn to the creative potential of crisis and danger than to the relative conservatism of a Clinton supporter like Noam Chomsky. With Trump’s subsequent electoral upset and the apparent collapse of center-left parties across the western world, it seemed that Zizek could stake a claim to picking up the pieces…

I don’t necessarily stand by the rest of the article (especially not the connection to accelerationism), and the contention that he’s neoreactionary is obviously polemical and attention-grabbing—but it said what was on people’s minds, at least from reading headlines. The “Reactionary Zizek” was, indeed, a meme. And at the time, I was more interested in talking about the meme, without actually working through the full meaning of his position.

One thing that’s missed is the idea that Zizek’s points, in the end, were correct, from the Left perspective. This is to say, the essential points are valuable—necessary!—even if the old man presented them clumsily at times. This is not to say that every policy prescription of his is correct, but rather that the issues he identified as issues need to be worked through. And whether the polite, proper leftists like it or not for their THEORETICAL politics, there is no way around dealing with them for a PRACTICAL politics.

Zizek always was speaking to the Left. The Left was able to tolerate his objections to their general consensus positions, particularly regarding nationalism and political correctness, by considering him a sort of jester. He was a quirky celebrity with a funny accent and lots of things to say about classic movies. But once these objections to left-liberal consensus positions came to pass and were affirmed in a way that they could no longer ignore whatsoever (by nationwide popular democratic votes for candidates and positions that absolutely rejected this, across the western world), Zizek had to be jettisoned—CANCELLED. There is, of course, a certain Hegelian significance to this cancellation. Is Zizek himself not the “vanishing mediator” here in the conflict between the theoretical abstraction of the neoliberal late capitalist world order and its empirical negation in the political upheaval that has thrown everything into question? If anything, shouldn’t this cancellation be nothing other than a sign of the TRUTH of the position?

So what are the essential points Zizek was right about? I suggest a few:

  1. The need for a Left Populism. A populism necessarily sets some kind of positioning of “US” versus “THEM”, but a Left Populism, instead of identifying the “Them” as the immigrants/foreigners/minorities/Muslims, should identify the “Them” as the capitalist class. In other words, this is a populism that, rather than just attacking symptoms of social problems (i.e. the Latin American immigrants that come and steal American jobs) attacks the underlying causes of those problems (the way that the capitalist class has set up a system that necessitates these global flows of capital). The centrist, liberal position holds (against the populists), that there is no need to declare a fundamental antagonism against the capitalist class, that they are in fact the allies against the intolerant bumpkin Trump voters, and they adjust their messaging accordingly. Unlike a “Trump,” the centrist holds, we must “all come together.” This position holds that there is no fundamental class tension in society—in fact, the tension comes from some kind of alien outside, such as Russian intervention. This position is conservative, uncompelling, uninspiring, and obviously false.
  2. Antagonisms in the issue of borders and migration. There exists an antagonism between the free flows of labor/capital and the coherence of national borders and the well-being of the working classes of the nation. The scale of the issues makes it very difficult for individual people to adequately conceptualize one way or another, especially in a country with a spatial orientation inherited from a settler-frontier ideological disposition like the United States (in other words, the country is so big that such flows of labor and capital are so difficult to conceptualize—and people believe whichever simplifications they want to believe). There is, however, still an unavoidable antagonism between a left-theoretical commitment to multiculturalism and a left-theoretical commitment to working class solidarity under global neoliberalism: the left needs to come to terms with the practical-left commitment to a working class displaced and alienated by widespread de-industrialization. The Western Left needs the Western working class to take political power. It cannot afford to write off their concerns as “Eurocentric” even as it maintains a firm theoretical and practical opposition to racism.
  3. Political correctness, particularly in sexual politics and multiculturalism, is a fundamental site of tension. This is a huge issue because PC-culture operates at the level of the ENJOYMENT of the individual. The consequence of PC-culture is that the enjoyment of the signs that people relate to just in using language becomes regulated by political imperatives that, while often (but not always) well-intentioned, take the form of petty, cruel, vengeful moral injunctions. For example, in sexual politics, this takes the form of a paradoxical injunction to ENJOY the free wonderful sex that all us liberated, liberal, cosmopolitan westerners are supposed to enjoy, coupled with a darker injunction to ENJOY that manifests itself in the paranoia about sex relating to offense, consent, trauma, call-out culture and so on. Of course, this is not limited to sexual politics by any means, and also includes a regulation of the enjoyment of nationalism/multiculturalism: “Enjoy your nation as yourself!”
  4. Fascism will fill the conceptual void left by neoliberal late capitalism. Inasmuch as the Left is unable to come to terms with these antagonisms, the conceptual void left over will be filled by fascism, which will attempt to fill it in a perverted, inadequate, unscientific (in the broadest conception of science) way. Fascism does not solve the underlying issues and is, rather, the fullest extent of the symptom—it does not try to work through these contradictions, but rather react against them as a consequence of their repression.

Are these issues not the defining issues of our time? Shouldn’t this be the takeaway of the Left from 2016?

There are no easy answers to these issues. But we must work through them in a way that many leftists refuse to admit. And it certainly does not require a complete capitulation to the racism, misogyny, homophobia (and so on) of the fascists and their sympathizers on the right. And in doing this we must stay faithful to a revolutionary communist orientation, rather than complacency with a now-conservative, neoliberal status quo.