If each of us is born with a motto inscribed in our genes, I suspect that mine must be "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." As a cartoonist as well as a writer, I guess I qualify as some kind of a professional Fool, and my penchant for blithely striding into the middle of ideological battlefields just as the excrement hits the ventilation system never fails to amaze even me. The following exercise in hot potato juggling is more of the same. It first appeared in 1988 in a special "Beyond Left/Right" issue of Critique: A Journal of Conspiracies and Metaphysics, #27, (no longer in print). It was subsequently reprinted in the Whole Earth Review. I have left it basically unmodified for its appearance here, although a few references may seem a little dated. Rather surprisingly, it still holds up well. —Jay Kinney
If one were to pay serious attention to the pundits of the mass media - always a risky proposition - a curious fact would soon make itself evident. In the wake of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, the recent stock market crash, the defeat of Bork's high court nomination, and, lo, the infighting among the TV evangelists, the liberal commentators are busy trumpeting the end of the Reagan era and the imminent demise of conservatism.
Meanwhile, the deep thinkers of the right, bolstered by the lackluster performance so far of the nonentities competing for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the general lack of ideas among the left-of-center politicians are clucking their tongues over the bankruptcy of liberalism.
In a sense, both views are accurate: the conservatives and liberals alike are irrelevant to tackling the problems confronting us. This realization among increasing numbers of people has led to the search for a new political analysis and a workable economics that transcend the limitations of the old Left/Right debate.
Yet, because the mass media and the political and business institutions of our society have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo - even as it crumbles - it is nearly impossible to engage in a public discussion of alternatives. Any alternate approach to government or economics inevitably involves rejuggling the power relations of society, and that is the last thing that those who monopolize the public arena wish to see happen (or even discussed).
Neo-conservativism and neo-liberalism have been presented in recent years as steps toward formulating a new pragmatic politics, but neither camp in fact represents much of anything other than the shifting of warm bodies from the vaguely left to the vaguely right. The only real critiques of the status quo with any bite have been those of groups so far outside of the mainstream that they never get favorable mention in the mass media, i.e. the far left and far right.
As mortal enemies, the individuals and small groups that make up these camps generally want nothing to do with each other, preferring to characterize each other as "fascists" or "commies." Yet, ironically, the worldviews of the far left and far right have more in common than either usually care to admit. At their worst, many proponents of both camps share a mutual fondness for sweeping solutions that all too easily slide into totalitarianism. At their best, however, they each hit political nails on the head more often than those in the center. If a new political perspective is to emerge, it will likely incorporate the strengths and insights of both of these camps rather than hover around the center. The following observations are offered as a small step towards understanding what those insights may be.
Conventional wisdom has it that the pluralist nature of America (and of Western democracies in general) serves as a safeguard against one group gaining too much power over the whole of society. Thus the private sector balances the public sector, labor balances management, and the South balances the North, etc. In the governmental realm, sometimes the Republicans win and sometimes the Democrats, but neither wins all the time, while the influence of Congress itself is offset by the Executive and Judicial branches. This is a comforting and admirable enough formulation; whether it actually matches reality or prevents the formation of powerful elites is another matter.
Both the far left and far right dispute that America's pluralism has, in fact, prevented small elites from acquiring and manipulating economic and political power. These elites - labeled the ruling class in the case of left analyses and international bankers and one worlders in the case of right analyses - are identified as individuals and corporate entities that largely operate outside of the arena of public decision-making. In focusing on these elites both worldviews challenge the reigning myths of Western democracies and risk being labelled as "conspiracy theories."
In their most extreme formulations, the analyses of the far left and right may indeed become conspiracy theories and exhibit the defects of paranoia, scapegoating, and guilt by association commonly associated with that label. However, the most sophisticated analyses of both sides are worth serious consideration and should not be ignored. The following are some of their points in common as well as their areas of greatest disagreement.
Both left and right analyses describe the present economic order as "monopoly capitalism" though some other terms are also used (on the left: late capitalism, imperialism; on the right: supercapitalism, finance capitalism). Both analyses contrast monopoly capitalism with an earlier system of free enterprise capitalism, and see monopoly capitalism as having overtaken free enterprise.
The left's analysis views this situation as the result of the evolving logic of capitalism itself wherein large companies consume smaller ones, national corporations become multinational in the search for both new markets and cheaper labor, and capitalism becomes integrated on an international scale. In other words, for the left, the monopolization of capital is not necessarily the result of a sneaky plot by some backroom elite; rather, the system of capitalism produces monopolies and elites as natural byproducts of its own evolution.
By contrast, the right's analysis sees monopoly capitalism as having usurped free enterprise through a combination of government controls (manipulated by "insiders"), the conniving of international financiers and internationalists, and the drowning of real capital in a sea of debt and paper-based money. The right usually presumes that if the elite conspirators behind this usurpation were identified on a mass scale and their influence and control destroyed, the U.S. economy could then be returned to a system of free enterprise.
Significantly, both analyses are primarily talking about the same phenomenon: the means by which the leadership of the American ruling elite have attempted to "make the system work." Crucial institutions for arriving at an informal consensus among this leadership such as the Council on Foreign Relations have come under fire from both the left and right for largely identical reasons: they are the apparatus for maintaining the status quo regardless of what party is in power or who is elected President. Because the largest (and most influential) American corporations are now multinationals with both markets and workers all over the world, they have a vested interest in expediting international economic cooperation and coordination. Since this coordination is characterized by the intertwining of U.S. Corporate and Government policy with their counterparts in dozens of countries (the much vaunted "interdependence" of the modern era) it can best (by the left) and one-world internationalist (by the right).
Still, despite their shared perception of this phenomenon, each camp has its blind spots. In its emphasis on capitalism as a system, (and on capitalists as a class), the left tends to skip over how the realms of international banking and world monetary policy provide constant opportunities for the amassing of fortunes and powers independent of any actual productive enterprises. Since international banker is a catch phrase of the right, no self-respecting leftist is going to be caught dead investigating what reality may lurk behind the phrase.(1) Also often overlooked by some leftists is the actual integration of "communist" economies into the existing world economic order. Those who don't overlook this tend to write such countries off as "state capitalist."
On the other hand, because the right's analysis maintains an idealized system of free enterprise as its touchstone, it tends to deny the possible existeof opposing class interests in conflict. It also ignores the negative effects of turning all human necessities and desires into commodities hawked in what the Situationists have called "the Spectacle," and the complicity of capitalism in the destruction of earlier forms of community. It is in the search for solutions that both camps are most polarized by their own idealism. For instance, the classic left analysis sees no hope of salvaging capitalism, especially not a free enterprise version, viewing it as being in chronic crisis due to internal contradictions that can only be resolved through instituting socialism/communism.
In mirror-like fashion, the classic right analysis sees no hope for socialism/communism, viewing it as tyrannical and stagnant due to bureaucratic waste, power-monopolizing elites, lack of freedom and incentive, and assuming that the only way out for countries under its yoke is through a return to market-driven free enterprise. Because the left is driven by a vision of a utopian future that has never materialized, and the right is driven by a romanticized concept of a past that never was, both analyses cancel each other out. According to each, the "solution" of the other is impossible and/or illusory. Since each side is defending an ideal system that doesn't exist in a pure state in the "real world," but could supposedly exist if only the other system weren't screwing things up, both sides end up talking past each other as a matter of course.
However, there are parts of both the left and the right that begin to depart from this stalemate. This departure has been most pronounced in Europe where the political polarities have always been more defined to begin with.
For instance, the most innovative segments of the far left (usually identified with anarchism or "anti-authoritarianism" or autonomia) tend to identify the State as the root of most social repression, and disown any political or economic system that posits a strong role for government. These segments often call for the free association of workers' councils or the autonomous organization of cooperatives or similar utopian formulations as alternatives to a centralized political economy. Then again they often decline to call for any specific goal or reorganization ahead of the fact, leaving open the question of what might be ahead. In any event, they invariably denounce the governments of both the Western and the Eastern blocs as enemies of their respective citizens.
This last tendency is paralleled in some respects by the critique offered by the so-called French New Right, identified most often with GRECE - Groupement de recherche et d'étude pour une civilisation européenne (Research and study group for a European civilization). GRECE's leading thinkers, such as Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye, call for a Europe united in its independence from both "the West" (i.e. the American way of life, including consumerism, chronic mobility, and a passive depoliticized populace held in thrall to the mass media) and "the East" (i.e. the Soviet system with its party bureaucracy, police surveillance, and political repression). The Europe they champion in opposition to the Superpowers is a Europe of specific peoples whose individual cultures and heritages are fast disappearing beneath the tidal wave of Atlanticist universalism. The appeal of this position must be obvious even to Americans, many of whom feel the same repugnance in discovering that London is now overrun with Pizza Huts and that a giant Disneyworld is under construction outside Paris.(2)
In defending European nations and peoples against cultural penetration, GRECE's position resembles that of defenders of indigenous peoples in the "Fourth World." Indeed, strange about-faces can occur when former colonizers find themselves becoming the new colonies. When this is combined with an expanding concern for the environment and an interest in alternative spiritualities, one finds the French New Right common ground with those other European renegades, the Greens. Of course, despite their disavowals of being beyond the polarized politics of the past, (both GRECE and the Greens announce themselves as "Neither Left nor Right,") they still have the reflexes of their ancestors. Thus, any interest shown by the New Right in establishing dialog with the Greens is usually written off as an attempt at infiltration and entryism.
Recently, scattered reports from Europe have noted the development of a "Third Position" of former leftists and rightists which has, apparently, been evolving for nearly ten years or longer. Information on this movement has been extremely scanty: an article by Martin Lee in the May, 1987 Mother Jones directly linked it with neo-fascist terrorists such as the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei (NAR), and reported slogans such as "Hitler and Mao united in struggle," which suggest a "worst of both worlds" approach. While this spectre of totalitarian berserkers is dramatically horrific, it is far more likely that any real new political movement, either there or here, will primarily draw upon people with neither skeletons to hide in their closet nor the desire to create new ones.
The prospects for political convergence in the U.S. are considerably different from those in Europe. For one thing, the domestic far right tends to identify itself heavily with the same American Founding Fathers that the European far right cites as the original source of much of America's leveling aggressiveness. While GRECE and those within its orbit (including the European political journal, The Scorpion)(3) criticize the American "faith in limitless material progress" and assembly-line individualism, the ultra-right in the U.S. is practically synonymous with an "America First" ideology. This makes for some curious contradictions.
For instance, despite the fact that their analysis says that a group of insiders has cooked up the East-West conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as a phony rivalry to distract us while the conspirators actually pull the strings, lend money to both, and make big bucks behind the scenes, the far right's reflexive demeanor is to take the conflict at face value and opt for an ultra-patriotic response. It is only with a few far right organizations such as the Liberty Lobby that exhibit an isolationist distaste for foreign entanglements and foreign wars that one can begin to see a stance that may give them common cause with the non-interventionist left.
The question of patriotism and nationalism enters here and may be the area where the political extremes are farthest apart. Building on the communist principle of proletarian internationalism, (i.e. that the working people of various countries have more in common with each other as a class than they do with the capitalists and governments of their own countries) the far left has usually considered nationalistic patriotism to be a reactionary delusion. The far right, on the other hand, has generally considered the U.S. to be the greatest country in the world, one uniquely blessed with freedoms and opportunities not found elsewhere, and has consequently feared any kind of internationalism that could compromise national sovereignty or usher in a coercive world government from which there would be no escape.
Nevertheless there are numerous exceptions that the extremes entertain within these stances. It turns out that many on the far left do support nationalistic patriotism, in other countries at least (in the form of so-called national liberation movements and/or the struggles of indigenous peoples), while many on the far right practice a kind of internationalism in forging links with anti-communists in other countries and, ironically, don't have much fondness for the actual U.S. government in Washington, D.C. This is not to say that the far right and left are actually closer than they realize on this question-such is hardly the case: the respeal camps that the U.S. extremes champion in places such as Central America are locked in life and death struggles with each other and the piles of bodies keep growing daily. My point is simply that terms such as patriotism and internationalism are not the monolithic catchphrases that they often are cast as.
Speaking of such catchphrases, mention should be made of the troubles that arise with the use of certain words. A common complaint about the far right's use of the terms "international bankers" or "internationalists" or "insiders" is that they are code words for Jews and indicates an anti-semitic bias. While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, it is simply not true in many others. Gary Allen and Larry Abraham's enduring best-seller, None Dare Call it Conspiracy, (recently revised by Abraham and republished as Call it Conspiracy), has much to say about bankers and the super-rich, but is careful to disengage itself and its analysis from anti-semitism. Allen and Abraham note: "Anti-Semites have played into the hands of the conspiracy by trying to portray the entire conspiracy as Jewish. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The traditionally Anglo-Saxon J.P. Morgan and Rockefeller international banking institutions have played a key role in the conspiracy."(4) Other far-right classics such as Dan Smoot's The Invisible Government, and W. Cleon Skousen's The Naked Capitalist also present the far right's analysis without resorting to anti-semitism. Skousen emphasizes: "No student of the global conspiracy should fall for the Hitlerian doctrine that the root of all evil is a super 'Jewish conspiracy.' . . . In studying the global conspiracy it is important to keep in mind that it was not any particular race or religion but the 'passion for money and power' which has drawn the tycoons of world finance into a tightly-knit, mutual-aid society."(5)
While some writers do indulge in a reductionism that says: Bankers = Jews = Zionists = Communists, the simple truth is that the bulk of the far right's assertions about manipulative elites are independent of anti-semitic intent. Moreover, the unfortunate fact that some far right theorists are anti-semitic does not necessarily negate all of their research. To be sure, one must exercise extreme caution when choosing what to take seriously from an extreme source, but this is a wise policy to follow in confronting either end of the political spectrum.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to getting a handle on the ideas of the political extremes is the taboos surrounding their literature, especially if one is approaching the publications of the opposite camp. "Commies," as a matter of course, are not going to read the Liberty Lobby's newspaper, The Spotlight, or the revisionists' The Journal of Historical Review. Similarly, few rightists are going to regularly peruse the anarchist tabloid Open Road, or the Situationist International Anthology. If they were to check them out they'd likely discover that both sides do have some valid points in their critiques and that - at their best - there may be more intelligence at work in the opposition than previously suspected.
Consider the following quote: ". . . Production has, for the past fifty years or so, been outstripping the ability of our society to absorb it, and this trend grows at an accelerating rate. The reasons are basically two: the continuing advancement in production techniques of everything in the material world, and the constricting effect of a money system based on usury, compound interest and inflation-a money system which is designed not for the distribution of goods but for the profit of those who manipulate it. Thus, the balance between production and consumption must be redressed every generation or so by war, which not only consumes vast amounts of production but also removes men from the labor market and leaves a void of destruction as its aftermath which requires more production to repair. This describes the horror ituation . . . The big picture is this. We are all ensnared by the tentacles of a system of social control, operating at all levels of society, which demands the blood sacrifice of millions of the cream of our youth every generation in bloody aggression to maintain prosperity."(6)
A quote from Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg discussing the genesis of Imperialist wars in this century? No, curiously enough, this analysis springs from the pen of Willis Carto, founder of both the far right Liberty Lobby and the revisionist Institute for Historical Review.
Of course, to discover coherent points of intelligence in the literature of the previously despised is to surrender some small part of one's own dogmatic purity which is often the primary solace of the isolated extremist. What this means in practical terms is that though a political convergence may be on the horizon (most likely with the label "populist," I'll wager) it will probably not involve leftists as leftists sitting down to cooperate with rightists as rightists. Rather it will probably be birthed by people fed up with both ideologies who are eager to scavenge for truths wherever they may be found and who are not scared off by obsolete stereotypes and ad hominem attacks.
Looking beyond the developments of the past and present and projecting into the future, what are some areas of concern where those coming from both left and right backgrounds are likely to come together? The follow short list merely skims the surface:
Contemplating the convergence of the far left and right is an intriguing pastime. It can also be a scary one. Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy can, in part, be seen as examples of swiftly growing movements that drew upon elements of both the left and the right and created new amalgams. However, they also involved the glorification of a corporatist State - a form of submission to an authoritarian Big Brother which seems to be the antithesis of the "don't tread on me" stance of the political extremes in the U.S. If we are to fear fascism arising here, given current trends it seems far more likely that the centrist Establishment itself will quietly usher in an era of pragmatic, technocratic "friendly fascism" (as Bertram Gross termed it in his book of the same name)(7) than that doughty populists will opt for a totalitarian solution. Freedom is the mutually stated goal of both the far left and far right; if weary veterans of both camps can just reach an agreement regarding freedom from what and freedom to do what, then a truly "third way" may develop unlike any seen before. That would be a convergence worth celebrating!
1. A rare exception is Michael Moffitt's book, The World's
Money, which does cover global banks and their effects. Penny
Lernoux's In Banks We Trust also treats the topic with some
rare leftist savvy.
2. On the other hand, I must admit to feeling far less horror when confronted with a San Francisco overrun with French bakeries, Thai restaurants and Japanese sushi bars. No doubt it is a double standard to view the cultural invasion here as a relief from homogenization but to view it there as a symptom of homogenization. Yet it is worth noting that the appeal of, say, a Szechuan restaurant derives in no small part from its implicit "message" of culture and customs maintained, usually by an extended family who have immigrated en masse. By contrast, a MacDonald's in Frankfurt communicates only the reproduction of a corporate franchise and the attendant images and decor concocted by commercial ad and design agencies.
3. The Scorpion ($40 U.S. for four issues from The Scorpion, BCM 5766, London WC1, England) is the primary English-language journal that has translated texts by Guillaume Faye, Alain de Benoist, Julius Evola, and other thinkers influential among the European "third position" and New Right movements. Under the editorship of Michael Walker, it is a well-put-together approximately annual European journal of discussions about the topics raised by those authors. Issue themes have included Racism, Nihilism, Nationalism, America, the Romantic Vision, and Ecology. If you think that the New Right has no intellectual chops, The Scorpion will set you straight in short order.
4. Gary Allen, None Dare Call it Conspiracy, Rossmoor, California, Concord Press, 1971, p. 39.
5. W. Cleon Skousen, The Naked Capitalist, Salt Lake City, Utah, Skousen, 1970, p. 8.
6. Willis A. Carto, "Toward History," The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring, 1984, p. 13.
7. Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism, Boston, Massachusetts, South End Press, 1982.
Originally published in Critique #27, 1988. Reprinted in Whole Earth Review, 1989.
Reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author. Contact Jay Kinney.