Hurried Thoughts on the DNC, Academics, and the Left w/ Benjamin and Adorno

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that accords with this insight. Then we will clearly see that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism…The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” (Selections from Thesis VIII)

“The subject of historical knowledge is the struggling, oppressed class itself. Marx presents it as the last enslaved class – the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden. This conviction, which has a brief resurgence in the Spartacus League, has always been objectionable to Social Democrats…The Social Democrats preferred to cast the working class in the role of a redeemer of *future* generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This indoctrination made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than by the ideal of liberated grandchildren” – (Selections from Thesis XII)[1]

Social media has been consumed the last two weeks in the RNC and DNC. I include myself in this being-consumed. One of the more interesting phenomenon that is occurring are people whom I often assume (which I really should stop doing) are committed to a basically “leftist” view of history and politics succumbing to a rather banal form of liberal worship (see Sean’s previous post about the distinction between leftism and liberalism). Often this seems to appear in the guise of ‘strategy’ – i.e. Well, if you don’t vote for Hillary you are allowing Fascism to occur with Trump. I have seen this followed by comparisons of our current state of affairs with the Weimar Republic years preceding the rise of the Nazi party. The main thrust of these arguments is to neutralise the seemingly relentless critique that is coming from leftists whom aligned themselves with the Democratic party via Bernie Sanders (and we can all agree that Bernie is still a far cry from what we really want). Justifications are seen from all directions at this point, justifications for the status quo foreign and domestic policies that attempt to distance the Democratic party and HRC from any “outlying” issues of racist violence, conflict with certain Islamic groups, the violence done to the environment, etc.

I cannot help but think that these attempts by so many brilliant people I look up to in academia are nothing more than a desperately wilful attempt to not acknowledge the complicity of the Democrats and HRC in creating all of these problems, attempts that seek to neutralise relentless determinate critique (to blur my Benjamin references with some Adorno) in the name of utility.

The frame upon which the argument from utility rests is the frame that created Trump and HRC, in addition to so many of the aforementioned problems. Yet, so many seem to be doubling down within that frame, playing the internal dynamics of an already oppressive system – i.e. the dynamics between the ‘progressive liberal capitalist’ and the Fascist capitalist – on cue, rather than nourishing these real moments of critique that clearly expose the inherent lie at the core of a liberal politics of progress and redemption, the lie that we and the status quo just-are-good, that we happen upon moments of crisis rather than seeing that the crisis is our politics of liberal progress, that this politics is simply the other side of the same coin of what Trump is talking about. This desperate need to turn away from determinate critique is evidenced in both the resurgence of a language of American exceptionalism in the DNC speeches, and in the small expressions of nostalgia for Obama by ‘progressive’ academics on social media.

I know that politics is not voting and that organising is not equivalent with FB posting and canvasing for the main political parties in our country. But I am troubled by the acquiescence of so many scholars to the frame of liberal progressivism vs. Fascism, an acquiescence that only can serve to perpetuate oppressive violence, rather than enact violence against the frame itself.

[1] Both taken from: Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Vol. 4. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. (Cambridge: MA, Harvard University Press, 2006). p. 392, 394.

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