Reading Russell Jacoby’s The End of Utopia last year crystallized a lot of things for me, and since then, it’s been a bit of a recurring theme here: what does it even mean to be leftist anymore? Does anyone still believe in a radical break between the old world of exploitative oppression and the new world of classless cooperation, bridged by violent revolution? Is a gradual transition to democratic socialism, accomplished through the existing political system, the best anyone dares to dream of? Or is leftism more of a moral stance, at best a comprehensive cataloging of neoliberalism’s many flaws accompanied by impotent fist-shaking, at worst the sort of cliquish posturing that pervades the web? Does anyone honestly believe a bullshitting buffoon like Slavoj Žižek has anything of value to offer, or is leftism more green instead of red these days? Perhaps it’s a cyclical thing, and leftism is currently in a mystical, inward state, where the focus shifts away from changing the world toward purifying one’s soul of impure thoughts.
Radical leftism and organized religion have had an often-antagonistic relationship since the French Revolution, of course, but being that both traditions have seen better days, perhaps they could consider trying to form an alliance based on the goals they ostensibly hold in common. If you’re trying to re-create a political framework to accommodate idealistic goals, why not save yourself some trouble? Christianity has the mission and the infrastructure in place already; why not set theological disputes aside and see if you can’t find common ground in tending to the world’s poor and downtrodden, especially seeing as how the current Pope seems a lot more open to such cooperation? Having been mulling over thoughts like these for a while now, my attention was caught by this essay from Federico Campagna:
The natural question arising at this point is: why should the secular, radical Left seek Franciscus as its ally? Why should the Left trust the leader of an institution with a long history of connivance with the bleakest reactionary forces and a track record of repressive violence? Once again, I invite the reader to consider this in purely strategic terms. The Left, like the Catholic Church, has been forced to reconsider its strategy by analysis of the current political situation. There is increased support among Western populations for xenophobic, repressive governmental policies against those who can least defend themselves, and the Western Left is no longer capable of reversing this turn to the Right. Mainstream ‘left-wing’ politicians seem keener to chase their right-wing counterparts than to produce their own new brand of emancipatory politics, and the electorate is growing ever more tired with the homogeneity of mainstream policy. Communist parties are no more, trade unions are in crisis, and bottom-up radical movements such as Occupy seem like awkward re-enactments of twentieth-century scripts. The Left needs new allies if it is to check our descent into abyssal inequality, global civil war, environmental catastrophe and the further expansion of the prison-industrial system.
Franciscus’ absolutist Vatican monarchy can be a precious ally to the struggling Western Left. Indeed, that the Catholic Church has kept many of the most reactionary regimes in history in power is proof of the great value of its political support. As an Italian, and as an atheist and left-wing anarch, I can hardly neglect the role played by the Catholic Church in maintaining the corrupt regime of the Democrazia Cristiana for over fifty years – yet, this only makes me wonder what we could do now, with the Church on our side.
Exactly. Politics is the art of the possible and all that. Well, I’d be all for it. I mean, I assume we’ve all learned our lessons from the horrible, bloody histories of both supernatural and political religions, so as long as we proceed from there, I don’t see any reason wh—
Reconstructed in these terms, xenophobic, repressive, financial and neoliberal forces cease even to be the targets of a concerted attack, transformed instead into unhygienic elements to be cleaned away. How could it be otherwise, if ‘we’ – the unemployed, the working poor, the prisoners, the illegal aliens, the single mothers – are the forces of Love? Necessarily our enemies must be the agents of Hatred and Destruction. No longer will leftists be forced into the awkward position of answering whether sinking migrant boats and privatising public healthcare is ‘good for the economy’ or ‘bad for the economy’: finally, they will be able to simply rail against the ‘abomination’, the ‘bestiality’, and ultimately the ‘Satanism’ of their opponents.
There is no doubt that this conceptual construction of the enemy as a sub- human monster has a long and appalling history. It is the rhetoric of the Crusades, of totalitarian regimes and, indeed, of recent right-wing politics such as those demonising ‘terrorists’, paedophiles and the ‘feral’ underclasses. To embrace it is dangerous. Yet we must acknowledge that this brand of populist discourse is extremely effective in the construction of a united front. Allying with Franciscus’ new Church, embracing its crusading rhetoric of Love and even accepting the likely hegemonic position of the Church in the network of left-wing forces, will enable just that: a strong, well- organised and financially powerful global network of radical-left forces capable of effectively unleashing the pent-up, reterritorialising violence of the masses and to redirect it against the barbaric, late-capitalist, nationalist ‘host of Satan’.
Franciscus’ war rhetoric sounds terrifying, and rightly so. If it is embraced by a transnational, united Left-wing front, it might be capable of destroying its enemies, placing the poor and dispossessed as close to a position of power as they have ever been. But it would be a mistake to assume a safe and consistent path that will lead from this revolutionary explosion to the creation of a stable and effective system of emancipatory politics in the following peacetime. It might be the case that, having harnessed the power of the Church to their own ends, the victorious Left will decide to overthrow their old, Catholic allies and to enforce a further, post-theological turn to the new political and administrative framework. That will be the hard path of reform and, as Alex Williams once remarked, ‘revolution is easy, reform is hard’. Yet, without a victorious revolution, the chance for reform might never arise.
…Did he just say that we need to frame this new leftism as the forces of Love against the forces of…Satan? Because hey, Manichean rhetoric gets results?
…Unleash the pent-up violence of the masses?
…Unhygenic elements to be cleaned away?
…Let’s just start destroying and killing and if this all goes wrong somehow, ahh, whatever, we’ll fix it in post?
Neoliberalism it is, then!