Trump Elected CEO of the US, Part 2

I got very tired of writing and rewriting this piece with an eye to explaining the differences and similarities between Trump and Clinton, more or less addressing an audience of US citizens I know. There is no point to this. This is a Marxist-Leninist blog. There is a picture of Stalin at the top of my page. More or less anyone who can tolerate reading what I write here already assumes that the Democratic Party at large and Hillary Clinton in particular are strong proponents of US imperialism, and therefore the enemy. They understand that Trump being a fascist and head of a rapidly strengthening fascist movement does not make the US a fascist state yet (and if it did, the Democratic Party clearly “accepts” this fascism, as did the social democrats of Germany in their day, hence why Clinton was never a “popular front against fascism” candidate). Clinton is dead, Clinton-style politics is dead, and none of the Yankee worker aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie who are mourning it are reading this here.

On the other hand, however, we must be clear that the exposure of Hillary Clinton-style politics does not mean the end of the Democratic Party. Indeed, it is likely enough that the Democrats will embrace something akin to the social democrat Bernie Sanders to redeem themselves and be embraced as saviours. This is expected, as Bernie Sanders-style politics is the logical next step for the US at large. We must not, like the Trotskyites, simply “jump ahead” to a level of struggle for which the masses are not prepared. But neither can we patronisingly fall back on the assumption that the masses are not progressing. While there is much to criticise in Bernie Sanders, the fact that he is the point of reference for so many protesters shows that they are open to rather rapid development of their ideas about resistance: Sanders is popular while blaming the Democratic Party for its failure to mobilise the appropriate class politics against Trumpite fascism, and while encouraging the ongoing protests against it, just as he emphasised that even if he had won the presidency himself, progressive policies depended on mass mobilisation, for which he himself could only act as a cypher of sorts. This is extremely good and not to be looked down upon, even if his explicit desire is to institute a very normative social democratic order, his method involves (particularly by US standards) quite radical rethinking of the relationship of the masses to the state.

The shortcoming of all this, of course, is that Trump, and not Sanders, found himself as the cypher for opposition to the US’s imperialist foreign policy. Of course, Trump’s rhetoric on this point, like all other points, is empty. It is not tanks, but capital, which he worships, which creates imperialism. But it remains an important critique of Sanders that his foreign policy is effectively pro-imperialist. For this point, I am afraid all that can be said is to continually reemphaise to Sanders supporters that it is Sanders and Clinton and Obama who destroyed Libya, and who assist Saudi Arabia in destroying Yemen, and who have allowed Israel to continue to occupy Palestine. Given that, as I said, it is not the tanks which make imperialism but the capital which Trump stands for, the US’s foreign policy under Trump cannot be benevolent. Perhaps the (rightful) animosity towards Trump and all he represents will allow for a rearticulation of an anti-imperialist stance in the United States.

But the more general point, about class politics “internal” to the US being the answer to Trumpite fascism, while a decent “universal”, must be understood through various local particularities. Of course, “right deviationist” that I am [accused of being by EMEP and TÖPG comrades in Turkey], I refer to the national question.

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The national question and Trump

One of the most repeated truisms about Trump’s victory is that “white supremacy” is responsible. Many respond to this by claiming that, since many non-whites voted for Trump (more than voted for non-fascist Republican candidates like Mitt Romney), this cannot be the case. Both are making a category error entirely expected in the US context of assuming the central issue to be “race”.

What is “race”? It is a pseudo-scientific concept which posits the division of humanity into discrete biological types, usually determined by phenotype and “confirmed” by “ancestry”, and frequently posited as an explanation for sociological phenomena.

Race is not real. Now, “real” social divisions (that is, divisions based on socialisation) are certainly reified and interpreted through physiological traits. But this is akin to saying that “race” and “racism” are what lies beneath the treatment of the Catholic Irish in the British Isles, simply because many English thought and continue to think that there are important physical and genetic differences between themselves and the Irish, although it is perfectly obvious to everyone that the British Isles is a mad genetic mixture in all corners.

When Marxist-Leninists in the United States refer to Afro-Americans, they refer to a cultural group (the nation, in fact) who have their own history and culture going back centuries which must be accounted for, just as is the case with, say, the Québécois in Canada. This group is mostly “black”, and “black” people in the United States are so stigmatised in “white” society that they mostly end up identifying with and becoming socialised in this culture (just as recent European immigrants are quickly socialised into mainstream “Yankee” national culture). This is why we must emphasise that the division is simply one of skin colour and “stereotypes”. There is a cultural division which is as real as that between the English and the Irish, which happens to have been reified most saliently through “racial” identification. However, the implications for class politics are similar: The Yankee bourgeoisie wishes to hold down the Afro-American bourgeoisie and directly exploit Afro-American labour, thus maximising profits for the dominant nation bourgeoisie.

Thus, when we find Afro-Americans voting for Trump, we can understand that they identify not with “white supremacy” but with the “Great American” ideology, and thus resemble members of any oppressed national group who identify with the oppressor nation because they (falsely) believe their subservience will be rewarded. The same may be said for “Asians” (a very diverse “group”), who “shocked” post-modernist race-theorists at my school by not running in fear of Trump’s “white supremacy”: Trump’s ideology is Yankee supremacy, which has white undertones, but is, at the end of the day, a nationalist ideology which has to remake its “genetic” composition constantly, and can therefore appeal to many assimilated bourgeois “Asians”… or even non-assimilated bourgeois “Asians” if their own nationalism corresponds with elements of the Trumpite worldview. All of this was ignored by post-modernists around me, who assumed the eternal radical-ness of simply looking “non-white” in the United States, and assured me that all non-whites who voted for Trump have sold out their “real” culture (which is voting for Clinton?), have internalised racism (or perhaps they benefit from anti-“black” racism themselves?), or some other hand-waving gesture to avoid the reality of bourgeois “non-whites” who have right wing views based on their class and national interests.

In any event, it is necessary to break down all “minority” politics (including those of Afro-Americans) in terms of their class interests when doing analysis: Are there sharp contradictions between the bourgeoisie of the minority group in question and the Yankee bourgeoisie? Is the trend towards more or less contradiction as the crisis deepens? What is the strength of the proletariat of the minority in question? Do their numbers and territory make them a nation, or a mere national minority within the United States?

This is all very well and good, but what of the white majority vote? After all, a spike in minority votes for Republicans or not, it matters that many white workers did turn out for Trump, and we cannot mobilise purely on oppressed nations and minority nationalities (although in the US, it must be said that this is not done nearly enough on the radical left). While it is not the case (and has never truly been the case and will, as history moves forward, likely become less the case) that the oppressor “Yankee” nation is “pure white”, the majority of “white” English-speakers in North America do belong to this national formation. Do they too support Trump “naturally” for being white?

Yes and no. Like bourgeois “Asians”, bourgeois whites everywhere ought to be expected, as a general rule, to support reactionary and imperialist nationalism as an ideology against a revolutionary internationalism and national liberation movements. They would have done this covertly through Clinton and many will do it overtly through Trump. However, bourgeois whites (including landowners and urban bourgeois) in areas with a large presence of an oppressed nation will be more quick to fall in line behind fascism as demographic trends dictate that suppression of minorities be scaled back if the niceties of bourgeois democracy are to be preserved. That is to say, one should not be surprised that the Apartheid South Africa-like environment of urban Atlanta pushes the urban bourgeoisie towards Trump (who overtly antagonises Black Lives Matter) while their Manhattan equivalent, not immediately “threatened” by a local oppressed nation, was comfortable voting for Clinton (who simply ignores Black Lives Matter). This trend of course applies in Texas and portions of the southwest where Chicanos and Native American nations and nationalities make the local white bourgeoisie “uneasy”, and indeed it is not surprising that landowning whites living in all areas near the various Native American nationalities consistently vote as right-wing as possible, fearing that any move towards a conciliatory tone will open a space for the articulation of grievances by these groups, who are the victims of a Yankee genocide and who rightly demand the restoration of their rights, including their land.

A very different picture emerges in Appalachia and the so-called “Rust Belt”. In Appalachia, it is the local and culturally distinct white population which is consistently left behind, finding itself almost as impoverished as Black America is. Accordingly, the US ICOR affiliate ROL has theorised the existence of an oppressed Appalachian nation. This national formation behaves very much like the multi-nationality region of the Eastern Black Sea in Turkey, or the North of England (which may be a separate nation from the South of England), where their apparent “closeness” to the oppressor nation allowed them to be easily swayed to the right after progressive movements which were once particularly successful in these regions collapsed. Like the Black Sea, it is our hope that in the North of England or Appalachia a new progressive movement can work to expose and replace the fascist trends which run rampant in these areas, held up as they are only by empty demagoguery and obfuscationism, and not by the concrete interests of the majority.

As for the “Rust Belt”, it has now been said almost too many times that there are many urban workers in the region that voted for Obama before turning to Trump in 2016. Living in the heartland of Yankeedom, where national contradictions are much less than in the southern regions of the country, or even slightly west in the Dakotas, this is perhaps the “purest” white proletariat. Since the 2008 crisis, the benefits they were meant to reap from the exploitation of these other groups are being pulled back, and they desperately crave change. This is why they were inspired by Obama, and indeed why many of them were inspired by Sanders. Having been robbed of inspiration “from the left”, they have nowhere to turn but Trump.

So, what is to be done?

Everywhere, Trump and the fascist ideology which seeps into the mainstream through him must be vigorously opposed in the streets. If this flashy but premature turn to fascism is not stamped out quickly, the US as a whole runs the risk of rapidly descending into the mire into which US imperialism has plunged so many other countries over the course of the Cold War and beyond.

Everywhere, workers and students must draw closer together and learn from each other. Every form of extra-parliamentary resistance put forth by the masses should be embraced and supported.

Everywhere, it must be emphasised that whatever our criticisms of Sanders, it was his unique (for the US context) “left” populism which was the correct response for the current conditions in which fascists are thriving, not an appeal to the status quo which is what angers the people and delivers them into fascism’s waiting embrace.

Progressives from areas where Trumpite fascism is already very unpopular should seriously consider relocating to the colonised heartlands of oppressed nations and nationalities to concretely aid those oppressed nations and nationalities in their struggle against colonialism. We must support the national resistance of the Sioux people exemplified at Standing Rock, we must push forward the struggle of the Navajo, we must work together with Chicanos against the ICE Raids.

We absolutely must defend the resistance of Black America against police violence and work towards the strengthening of communal institutions for Afro-Americans, in the Black Belt South in particular. This means first and foremost working to reengage the disenfranchised Afro-American population with day to day politics. If Afro-Americans were not so weak and demoralised in their own homeland, thanks to years of neo-Jim Crow politics (which could very well get worse under Trump), there could be many more Chokwe Lumumbas preaching and actually leading in community control for this oppressed national minority in the US.

When dealing with “white” proletarians in such regions, we must emphasise their common interests with the minority “poor”, and how they are robbed by the Trumps of the world, who are the real ones taking their jobs away, when the resources exist to feed, clothe, house, educate, and employ everyone. If a new progressive movement in Appalachia can be forged, now is the time, especially when Trump fails to deliver to this impoverished region the change they so desperately need.

Among proletarians in general, the falsehood of Trump’s promises may soon be exposed: The renewal for ordinary people cannot be accomplished through the methods Trump and the Republicans are prepared to employ, so they will be reduced to empty demagoguery and scapegoating. However, these are the methods which have been tacitly accept for years under Obama, who himself has deported more people from the United States than Bush. The system may not be 100% behind Trump, but it has nothing against continuing the slide that led to him and will one day lead far past him. The broadest possible front against this slide is necessary: We must find a way to draw together the proletariat and the oppressed together with political trends which have been weakly struggling in parliamentary politics (inside or outside of the Democratic Party, in either case suppressed by the capital forces which stand behind it). This is no time for sectarianism: We must work with anyone who understands that the people, and not the system, is the means by which the fascist slide will be stopped.

Trump Elected CEO of the US, Part 1: What went wrong?

I am extremely busy at present, but politics always comes first. The entire world was taken aback by the Trump victory, and we must therefore discuss it.

In this first part, I will respond to those who seek to place the blame for the election of Donald Trump as CEO of the United States on the people and their stupidity. People’s War, as expected, has sought to blame Jill Stein for the victory. This is a tremendous exercise in missing the point: Firstly, in the states identified, votes “to the right” robbed Trump of more votes than Stein supposedly stole from Clinton. In other words, the trend of rebelling against the system’s binary choice of two unpopular candidates was far more pronounced in camps who appear to have helped Clinton than the camp which likely hurt her. If these people who rejected the choice between the status quo and a fascist answer could be convinced to embrace the binary option, Trump would likely still have won.

Now, it might be protested that we don’t need to single out Stein: Many people voted for Johnson who likely would have preferred a Clinton status quo to the more rapid acceleration of fascistic trends in the US represented by Trump. But even if this is true, how does it help? Either Trump was able to mobilise more than Clinton in spite of losing more votes to ALL “third parties”, in which case he plainly was the most inspiring candidate; or else Clinton was so uninspiring that she lost votes to various third parties of various ideological commitments who may or may not prefer her to Trump. Either way, it seems clear: Clinton was such a garbage status quo candidate that she threw away an election in which all the forces of Wall Street had conspired to hand her victory. She is a tremendous loser who deserved to lose. She is worse than Stein, who at least can protest that the system is rigged against her!

And why was Trump so inspiring? Few (and certainly not People’s War) would deny that Sanders could have won back those Stein votes, and many Johnson and Trump votes too. These votes reflect a lack of confidence in the system, the only thing which distinguishes Stein from the others such that People’s War blames her (and not Clinton!) for Clinton’s loss is that Stein’s dissatisfied voters came attached to some actual progressive policies, albeit clumsily cobbled together in a hippie fashion. People’s War assumes then that all of those Stein votes and none of those Johnson, Trump, or Castle (!) votes belonged to Clinton because… Clinton is a progressive? Far from it. Trump being a more dangerous reaction does not make Clinton a progressive!

What Clinton is is a candidate of the status quo. The people, lacking a progressive vanguard, will turn to dangerous voices of reaction and regression if it challenges a status quo that they find unacceptable. Ever since the 2008 crisis, the masses, “the 99%” in US parlance, are feeling the pressure of capitalism in a visceral way. Yes, even the oppressor nation in the US now feels that the status quo is unacceptable, and so Trump’s empty promises seem appealing, in a very similar way to how Sander’s more meaningful rhetoric seemed appealing months before, and to a very similar audience against the exact same enemy. How did Marx put it? “First as tragedy, then as farce”.

The farce applies to Trump as well as to Stein: If Stein was the farcical reflection of Sanders’s failure to defeat Clinton, then Trump was the farcical return of the mass rejection of Clinton in the Democratic primary. In this sense, if you blame Stein for costing Clinton the election, you can also blame Sanders for doing so, since he implicitly exposed her and the Democratic Party as frauds and elitists before the peoples of the United States, which Trump followed through on by explicitly finishing Clinton off!

The reason why we don’t blame Sanders for this is because of course, Trump and Sanders are right. Whether Stein, Trump, Sanders, or I say it, no one can deny that the Democrats are allow millions to go unemployed even among their own citizenry (because they believe it’s “impossible” to employ their people), the Democrats are waging the same wars as Bush did (and lying and deceiving the people about their foreign dealings), the Democrats do make deals with and protect the Trumps of the world (just as Trump pointed out when his corruption was brought up in the debate), the Democrats are willing to go to war with Russia for imperialist dominance (whether in Syria or Ukraine, can not the US be satisfied with its level of imperialist dominance, which extends over most of the globe? why must Russia be fought?).

Pointing this out is considered “unhelpful” and “nitpicking”, but it is not nitpicking for my Afghanistani comrades, who every day have to live with the consequences of the Bush-Obama-Clinton/Trump order. Trump’s answer is a false answer, but the question is not a false question: How can these Wall Street warmongering imperialists be gotten rid of?

Any way you slice it, this election reflected popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, even among the oppressor nation, and the left’s inability to seize control of that narrative (in the end even opposing it and cheering for Clinton and the status quo) left it wide open for the right. A classic victory for fascism: The left wastes it’s time intellectually explaining how much smarter it is to do whatever it is we want, and the masses follow whoever promises them answers.

Missing Istanbul

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about if I will be able to go back to Turkey. Knowing a great deal of people who are still there, I understand that it’s possible to exist there for someone like me, but looking at the day by day dynamics, I wonder how much longer until everyone I know there has to make a major lifestyle change, so to speak.

In diaspora intellectual circles, it is extremely fashionable to boast of not missing the “memleket”. One constantly meets people who speak about how glad they are to be away from that “mess”, from the backwardness, the fascism, etc.

It’s not that their complaints are baseless, or that there aren’t nice parts about being somewhere else. But one can’t help but miss one’s own people. One misses Istanbul, one misses the ferry… One misses the dawn call to prayer, not for religious reasons, but simply because it is the first real sign of morning.

One misses the bars and cafes and restaurants, and picking out which organisation is using which one as a front. One misses the real solidarity between the left groups that evaporates when those same groups go abroad, because the struggle begins to feel more abstract and the sense of isolation and alienation feels greater. One misses pouring over newspapers with friends and dissecting the positions of rival groups, knowing they are almost certainly within earshot.

One misses the old Anatolian women with their nasal accents who sell alcohol, although they themselves don’t drink. One misses the drunken Black Sea uncles one meets on late night walks, who could speak any one of a dozen languages but who are all most comfortable in their particular dialect of Turkish. One misses being a “boy” to countless slightly older people, who in the US would never be so unegalitarian, or so familiar.

One misses the young boys who work in various establishments, immigrants from Kurdistan, who are so polite to everyone who comes in that it makes one feel guilty. The real Kurdistani youth, whether in Kurdistan or Istanbul, are painfully kind to outsiders. All the talk of violent Kurdish youth one heard on television growing up is easy to disprove in only a few minutes among them. If such young men are stirred to violence, one is sure it can only be in self-defence.

One misses one’s cousins, who would spare a cigarette in a back room so the uncles and aunts can’t see, who flash a sly victory sign as you bid them good night, behind the door so their neighbours can’t see. One misses the neighbour children, whose parents you can hear whispering bad things about you, but who are too young to understand the ideologies that make their parents fear you. You miss the CHP aunties who still cling to the republic which every day fails them, but who became allies with our rebel youth for a brief and beautiful moment during Gezi.

You miss the countless cats which take over all corners of the city, you miss the people’s love for their feline neighbours. You miss the birds, and you miss how when one of them shits on you, some friend invariably informs you of the good luck which this signifies. You miss looking up at night at the stars, trying in vain to see them, and hearing the older people talk about how in the village, they would count the stars, in their own language, in a different time, before the war reached them.

You miss hearing the stories of why they left their villages, although hearing them fills your eyes with tears. You even miss looking at them through teary eyes, and trying to communicate without using words that we will bring everyone back home, where they belong. We will make it all better. We can’t promise when, but we can promise we won’t give up.

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I miss closing my eyes when an Alevi song plays and imagining the new life in the new homeland, where we will enrich our own lives with unity and cooperation, instead of cheapening them with division and exploitation.

I miss walking alongside the water with that comrade, weighing the pros and cons of the statements made by various socialist leaders on dialectics, before the conversation turned to the gift economy of the Māori people, because that’s the sort of comrades I have.

But then I realise the train has arrived at my stop, and it’s back to reality, and a country that feels so alien, but which circumstance has dictated is my home for now.

Then I realise that although many others like me are here in this country with me, it’s less the individuals I miss than the society. When we see one another, we smile coldly and exchange pleasantries that sound more artificial than the worst forced conversation in an English class. They can miss Istanbul too, but they can’t understand how I feel.

I realise that the only people who can understand how I feel when I’m screaming at a protest for that country that is far away are my comrades, many of whom have never been there, but who every day, like me, are trying to grasp the dynamics around them and unite to struggle for a better world.

It’s very hard to miss home. But slowly, one learns to find home in different places in different ways, even from foreign people, just so long as they are the right kind of people.

Money Monster

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Like many who have been subjected to a long Turkish Airlines flight recently, I noticed the film “Money Monster” prominently offered among the film choices. The film was apparently not beloved by critics, which astounds me, because I have now watched it several times and continue to find it compelling. If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend doing so.

The film is directed by Jodie Foster and stars George Clooney. Both are Hollywood celebrities who have recently decided they wish to be “socially conscious” in their artistic output. I will return to the contradiction here momentarily, but for now let me just say that compared to some past attempts by Clooney, such as the politically meaningful but practically unwatchable mess that was Syriana, I think this is a massive improvement. Beyond that I enjoy watching it as a film, however, the film raises questions Marxists should be asking, although it naturally cannot provide the necessary answers. It would make a fine viewing for a Marxist group’s film night. Copious spoilers follow:

The Global Financial Crisis and Hollywood

Žižek proclaimed at one point that, particularly in an artistic and rhetorical sense, it was the easiest thing to do to be “anti-capitalist” after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. As a big film fan, I have noticed this in Hollywood films in particular: Many films are now coming out, including films not explicitly about the crisis, where the villain is a capitalist. Žižek’s point, as I understood it (and I’m not entirely certain Žižek always understands his own points), was that we are allowed to cynically hate an individual capitalist portrayed onscreen, but not to concretely organise against capitalism. In some sense, however, the contradiction is also reflected onscreen: Many films portray evil capitalists and corporations, but without a conception that these capitalists are the normative reflection of the system, or, even if they are, that justice is somewhat “automatically” delivered (by a brave journalist exposing them to the benevolent legal system, although the very need for such films is based on the widespread knowledge that the state has protected Wall Street’s pirate-like practices).

It may be that the lack of a connection between cinematic rage against a capitalist archetype and real-world struggle is predicated upon films which were cynically made to act as a pressure release valve for anger against the system. But it may just as well be that due to the class background of the majority of those involved in the production of Hollywood films, they are capable of little more than abstract moralising against a general sensation of wrongdoing “within” a system that by and large treats them well.

Having re-watched “Money Monster” several times, this question of how to portray the contradictions of capitalism and resistance to it onscreen stuck out in my mind. At the beginning of the film, we have the gun-wielding Kyle declaring openly that the CEOs who defraud ordinary people (“the people” in Marxist-Leninist terminology) are the same group that controls the media. This itself is a sort of tacit admission of the limitations of the film as an act of protest, as by the end of the film, we have CEO Walt Camby exposed in the bourgeois media, leading to criminal charges against him and a return to “business as usual” for our pro-market media heroes.

There is wish-fulfillment and reality at play here: It is reality that some CEOs are “punished” (and their punishment may result in less actual suffering than the reality of “normal” life under capitalism for many of us) for the laws they break (not the exploitation that results in constant suffering for millions even when it does not violate bourgeois law)… It is wish-fulfillment that this is a happy ending. Not only because so much “criminality” goes unpunished that these “victories” may ring hollow, but because “business as usual” is not a happy ending for most of us. “Business as usual” under capitalism does not erase the contradictions that result in massive suffering and death for millions, and constant alienation, stress, and depression for even many of the relatively “well-off” among us. The problem is not the individual villain, as much as Hollywood may want to portray it that way: The problem is exploitation, imperialism, alienation, oppression; the problem is the system itself, which the individual capitalist may also “suffer” from (as the “invisible hand” of the profit motive drives them through life without time to cultivate meaningful community or sense of self).

On the other hand, what’s interesting about Money Monster relative to some other films in which Wall Street or a corporation is depicted as the villain is how it does on some level manage to portray struggle of everyday people alongside a few “extraordinary” individuals at the centre of the plot… Of course, there is no “Occupy Wall Street” in the film, but there are the South African miners…

Imperialism and superprofits

Prior to seeing the film, if I were to summarise Hollywood’s “problem” with depicting “anti-capitalism” in cinema is that it portrays it entirely as a moralistic question of exposing capitalism, rather than a material question of mobilising against capitalism.

This film falls into this genre of “anti-capitalism” in general. However, there is a very important counter-posing of two proletariats in the film: It does not show the proletariat in New York as having any sense of organisation (on the contrary, “civilians” on the street are portrayed asininely cheering on either Kyle, the “suicide bomber”, or Lee Gates’s clownish television persona), but it does show quite direct proletarian struggle in another context: The South African miners’ strike, portrayed without an ounce of cynicism or question if the miners are anything but heroes, is a welcome political high point near the film’s cinematic climax.

The moment of cynicism comes from the villainous CEO Walt Camby, who declares that he is unfairly maligned, as if it were not him turning a profit by exploiting the weak, someone else would. This is in fact true and should not be ignored as an empty excuse by an antagonistic character. This is the nature of capitalism and it cannot be avoided. What’s interesting is how it is tied into international politics (per the Leninist understanding of imperialism): Camby does not protest that in his place just another CEO would have exploited South African miners, but that the US’s imperialist competition (“the Chinese” and “the Russians”) would. In effect, this is the inversion of Kyle’s call early in the film to blame the wealthy at the top of our local society (in Kyle’s case, the US) rather than the spectre of foreigners represented by “the Muslims” and “the Chinese”. “The main enemy is at home”. The conflict between different imperialist bourgeoisies is a false conflict, to be navigated between. The jingoistic rhetoric of one’s “own” bourgeoisie is to be opposed despite the accusations of “treason” (or “tankyism”, as is the fashionable cover for patriotism in English-speaking imperialist countries).

It is also noteworthy that the subject of Kyle was chosen in spite of the lack of portrayal of struggle on the part of US citizens in the film: He is not only the citizen of an imperialist country, but a member of the oppressor nation (the “Yankee” nation). As such, he represents a proletariat which has been disproportionately “bought off” by US imperialism. He is not our expected revolutionary subject given a relative amount of privilege compared to many of the victims of US imperialism, and the film even alludes to this matter through the aforementioned speech by Camby in which he accuses this “labour aristocratic” subject of, in effect, getting out of line by objecting to imperialist practices now that he is suffering.

But they do begin to object now, although the film does not show this so much as tell this (through Kyle’s angry rants). They do begin to object now, and that is why we had a Sanders, though he was weak and though he lost. They do begin to object now, and that is why there is increasingly a Hollywood genre of “anti-Wall Street” films. Though the cynical Camby may not like it, and though we must not exaggerate it, there is hope in the oppressor nations as well, unfortunately because the reality of capitalism is beginning to hit them directly: Where FDR’s “new deal” promised a “labour aristocratic” life complete with home ownership, the younger the oppressor nation proletariat gets in the US, the more their struggle begins to mirror that of the Afro-American proletariat, who in turn are closer to the “foreign” victims of US imperialism and its superexploitation.

It was the superprofits generated by the actions of characters like Camby which created the apathy depicted in an exaggerated fashion among the US proletariats at large, and the oppressor nation proletariat in particular. It was the extraction of those superprofits which makes the buying off of oppressed nation proletariats in places like South Africa so much more difficult, and keeps their explicit labour struggles so much more in the centre of politics in that country than in countries like the US, which are home to powerful labour aristocracy.

There is a dawning realisation in the scene where Camby tries to defend himself to Kyle. Kyle is shocked when he can’t name what is specifically illegal about Camby’s practices, but he quickly realises it doesn’t matter what the law is: “Doesn’t make it right”. The problem is not that capitalism can infringe upon bourgeois law, but that it is simply not fair. It is a new realisation, perhaps, for much of the oppressor nation proletariat in the United States and the United Kingdom just how unfair capitalism is, but it is not a case of “too little, too late”. Were this not a Hollywood film, it ought to have ended on Kyle’s sacrifice for this truth, the closest to a deep philosophical breakthrough for its target audience, rather than emotional recovery for the prophets of finance portrayed by Clooney and Roberts, absolved of their sins by helping expose one specific legal infringement in an overall unethical system.

Violence and death

On the other hand, there is something instructive in Kyle’s death being swept aside so easily: When Kyle dies, the television viewers who had been on the edge of their seats resume their normal activities. They walk away. The flashy display of guns and bombs may have grabbed momentary attention, but without a foundation of broad struggle beneath it, it was just so much spectacle. The centre of the spectacle dies, and the television production team plots its next spectacle, unmoved by the hard questions about capitalism that were raised. The viewership at large have to return to their own lives, their own struggles, their own sacrifices.

Midway through the film, Lee Gates attempts to question the rationality of Kyle’s use of violence. Waving a gun around, threatening him with a bomb, these are supposedly out of touch with Kyle’s concerns about getting by. But merely getting by is an act of tremendous resilience in the face of huge psychological violence by a completely unfeeling system. The urge to respond with violence, to use any means to make oneself heard, is quite relateable to those of us who have really considered the monumental cruelty of the system we inhabit. For Kyle, years of alienation and exhaustion have culminated in the realisation that he won’t be able to take care of the child he created, and he wants to scream in the face of the society that won’t even let him have his such victories, to fire on it like the enemy it treats him as. Kyle is attacked for being “irrational”, but what he is is the face of victimhood without an apparent outlet. Without unity in struggle, and struggle in unity, we will all of us commit a kind of irrational suicide, even if not with a gun, but just by quietly going into the night as life grinds us down more and more.

Conversely, physical death does not have to truly “kill” us. When revolutionaries in Turkey say that a martyr “lives in our struggle”, we are suggesting that this immortality is the sublation of their life into the collective consciousness, even though they have of course literally passed on. Exemplary comrades live on in the ways they touched those around them, even if they die a violent death at a very young age. This is all the more reason not to fetishise death and violence, of course. Dying like DHKP-C cadres do, in senseless attacks, is a shame on those who give the orders. Kyle’s character dies for something that could have been exposed a thousand other ways and changed thousands of people. There are many who don’t die who help the world and those around them far more than Kyle did simply by yelling the truth for a brief moment with a gun in the air.

But if the film had gone on to show what I expect was to be Gates’s future, how meaningful a life would it have been? Would he have returned to making uncritical predictions about market fluctuations? Would he have died old and wealthy, but having not pushed humanity one inch closer to a truly liberated common future? Did Gates’s actions matter any more than Kyle’s did, in the grand scheme of things?

Whether we die old and in bed, or young and in a hail of bullets, we must make sure that the time up to and including that moment is spent fighting against the death beyond the physical death, bringing people together to fight for the life beyond the physical life. Meaning in life is not to be found in the spectacle Gates or Kyle found, but in building a meaningful place in society, and in helping that society fight for its very future.