Lenin’s “Who/Whom” in the Politics of Left and Right.
For Lenin, the fundamental question in politics was, “Who, Whom?” as in, “Who does what to whom?” Will Grigg, in a recent interview with Tom Woods, insightfully connected this doctrine with identity politics, which so preoccupies public discourse. After all, “identity” is all about “who” and “whom.”
The slogan “check your privilege,” Grigg pointed out as an example, is an injunction to check your identity status. But of course, you are not supposed to check your individual identity; you are called on to check which class or collective identity you have been assigned. Are you a member of an “official victim” class or an “official oppressor” class? Is your voice to be heard or muted? Are you to be sympathized with or vilified? Empowered or fettered? Are you to be a Who or a Whom?
It should not be surprising that Leninism should have such an affinity with leftist identity politics in its overall world-view, since both largely grew out of the Marxist tradition. Lenin, of course, was an explicit Marxist, and the chief theoretical fonts for modern identity politics are the Marxoid humanities departments in western universities.
Economic Marxism too, after all, was all about collective identities and Who/Whom. For Marx, the all-important collective identities were economic classes, especially capital and labor. And again, the fundamental question was, “who does what to whom?” In the past, the capitalists oppressed the workers. In the future the workers would rise up to expropriate and exterminate the capitalists.
Warfare Sociology of the Left
This whole Marxist and neo-Marxist way of looking at human affairs is the predominant left-wing variant of what Ludwig von Mises called warfare sociology. According to warfare sociology, human affairs are inherently and unavoidably characterized by irreconcilable conflict, like, for Marx, the conflict between capital and labor. Mises wrote that:
[Marx] denies that a solidarity of interest exists or has ever existed in society. A solidarity of interest, according to Marx, can exist only within each class. But a conflict of interest exists between the classes, which explains why the history of all societies has been a history of class wars.
The modern Marxoid identity politics crusader sees every societal state of affairs as chiefly the outcome of some identity class war: a victory of a Who class and a vanquishment of a Whom class. Capital over labor, the affluent over the poor, whites over blacks, men over women, heterosexuals over homosexuals, the abled over the disabled. Everywhere they look they see classism, racism, sexism, and even ablism. And the main objective in their crusade is to reverse that war outcome, even if the socio-economically “privileged victors” committed no crime, and even if it means trampling on their rights. The goal is to swap the roles of victor and vanquished, of Who and Whom, by effecting, through the State, “compensatory” measures or “affirmative actions.”
Leftism is almost entirely based on warfare sociology and identity politics. The political term “left” has been assigned any number of criteria. But the most frequently occurring characteristic among causes labeled left is partisanship for certain identity classes or collectives: namely, the socio-economic “underdog” classes, especially the ones itemized above. The leftist sees the underdogs as in inherent conflict with the “top dogs” in society. They want to lift the underdogs up, and according to their warfare sociology, the only way to effect that is to pull the top dogs down. This is why leftists clamor for the Nanny State, which is one-half Welfare State to lift the underdogs up, and one-half Regulatory-and-Tax State to pull the top dogs down. Thus, a defining attribute of the left is egalitarianism, since, at least in the near term, it involves the underdogs on their way up, and the top dogs on their way down, converging toward equality. However, this egalitarianism may be dropped in the long term, especially for those Marxists and Marxoids whose ultimate warfare sociology objective is to expropriate and exterminate the top dogs.
Warfare Sociology of the Right
Rightism too is based on warfare sociology and identity politics. The right’s partisanship is simply the reverse of the left’s. The right favors the very socio-economic top dog identity classes that the left opposes. This is a big reason why the adjective “conservative” can be so readily ascribed to the right. Someone who favors the top dogs will want them to remain on top, and thus will want to conserve the status quo. Of course a partisan of top dogs will often go even beyond conservatism and onto using the State to heap graft and privilege upon the top dogs to raise their status even further. According to the warfare sociology of the right, the only way to conserve or advance the position of the top dog is to hold the underdog down.
A defining attribute of the right is elitism, since elitist and paternalistic claims about inherent superiority are useful as apologia for their cause. For example, in his excellent new book, Against the State, Lew Rockwell writes that Mises, in Omnipotent Government:
…shows that the modern doctrine of racism originated with the Frenchman Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau as a way to justify aristocratic privilege. In the hands of the Nazis, the doctrine was extended to the alleged superiority of Aryans over everyone else.
Immediately following the passage about the warfare sociology of Marx quoted above, Mises analyzed its mirror image, which is the warfare sociology of what we would call the right:
Conflict is the moving force of social development to yet another group of social doctrines. For those doctrines the war of races and nations constitute the basic law of society.
Mises, of course, is here referring to racist and nationalist movements like Nazism and Fascism. Mises would pick up this analysis in another work, much later in his life.
In the philosophy of the antiharmonists, the various schools of nationalism and racism, two different lines of reasoning must be distinguished. One is the doctrine of the irreconcilable antagonism prevailing among various groups, such as nations or races. As the antiharmonists see it, community of interests exists only within the group among its members. The interests of each group and of each of its members are implacably opposed to those of all other groups and of each of their members. So it is “natural” there should be perpetual war among various groups.
For the right-wing racial supremacist, just as for the left-wing race-baiter, the all-important identity classes or collectives are the races. Only in this case, the Who is the dominant top dog race (or übermenschen) and the Whom are the underdog races (or untermenschen), to be subjugated, if not annihilated. For the nationalist, the all-important identity classes are the nations, and his own top dog nation is to always be the Who, forever subjugating, if not annihilating, the Underdog nations, which are the Whom. Mises continued:
This natural state of war of each group against every other group may sometimes be interrupted by periods of armistice, falsely labeled periods of peace. It may also happen that sometimes in warfare a group cooperates in alliances with other groups. Such alliances are temporary makeshifts of politics. They do not in the long run affect the inexorable natural conflict of interests. Having, in cooperation with some allied groups, defeated several of the hostile groups, the leading group in the coalition turns against its previous allies in order to annihilate them too and to establish its own world supremacy.
According Mises’s brilliant analysis, the fate of a people beset by the warfare sociology of the right is akin to that of the “tributes” in the Hunger Games books and movies. The adolescents drafted into the Hunger Games were forced to fight each other to the death until there was only a single “last child standing.” Until that point, the tributes too made alliances that were only “temporary makeshifts” in the war of all against all. Every ally was an enemy-to-be, to be turned on and slaughtered as soon as it was strategic to.
The situation is also akin to the “Sparti” in Greek myth, an army of brothers who, after the hero Cadmus sowed a great dragon’s teeth, sprang up fully armed out of the ground, only to fall immediately to mutual fratricide until only a handful were left. This is why Plato wrote that, “The victories which men win in war often have been, and will be, ‘Kadmeian,’” which is a word derived from Cadmus, and which, like the later term “Pyrrhic,” refers to a victory that is so costly that it is tantamount to a defeat. The logical end of the warfare sociology of the right is a hungry, lonely man weeping on a mountain of corpses.
Mises then continues his analysis, showing us why the Right so often tends toward domestic authoritarianism and regimentation:
The second dogma of the nationalist and racist philosophies is considered by its supporters a logical conclusion derived from their first dogma. As they see it, human conditions involve forever irreconcilable conflicts, first among the various groups fighting one another, later, after the final victory of the master group, between the latter and the enslaved rest of mankind. Hence this supreme elite group must always be ready to fight, first to crush the rival groups, then to quell rebellions of the slaves. The state of perpetual preparedness for war enjoins upon it the necessity of organizing society after the pattern of an army. The army is not an instrument destined to serve a body politic; it is rather the very essence of social cooperation, to which all other social institutions are subservient. The individuals are not citizens of a commonwealth; they are soldiers of a fighting force and as such bound to obey unconditionally the orders issued by the supreme commander. They have no civil rights, merely military duties.
This is precisely what has happened to warfare states in history since ancient Sparta and even prior. The Spartans faced a crisis when their enserfed untermenschen the Helots kept trying to emancipate themselves. They decided the only way to keep the Helots under their thumb was to be on a permanent war footing, and so they transformed their society into a barracks under total, grueling regimentation. Childhood for every Spartan was one long boot camp, and adulthood one long war. The only way they could keep their slaves was to become slaves themselves.
Thus do both the left and the right tend toward the Total State. The ultimate logical end of the left’s Nanny State is to turn society into one great hellish nursery on behalf of the underdogs. The ultimate logical end of the right’s Warfare State is to turn society into one great hellish military camp on behalf of the top dogs.
Socialism, Left and Right
Again, both left and right tend toward the total state. The economic facet of that is that they both tend toward socialism, just of different varieties.
The mirror image to the left’s partisanship of labor and the poor is crony capitalism on the right, which is partisanship for economic top dogs, in the form of government contracts, subsidies, monopoly privileges, regulatory burdens that weigh more heavily on upstarts, etc. It is obvious how leftist policies like confiscatory taxation and the welfare state tends toward socialism. What is less recognized is how crony capitalism tends toward socialism just as much
For example, as Mises demonstrated, the economic policies of Nazi Germany were just as socialistic as those of Lenin’s Russia. Through economic interventions the Nazi government almost completely took over the economy. The only “market” left was a sham. Private individuals owned the means of production in name only. Real disposal of the means of production was in the hands of the state. This is what Mises called “socialism of the German or Hindenburg pattern.” This variety of socialism is also known as Zwangswirtschaft, which is basically German for “compulsory economy.” Those who were once entrepreneurs devolve in such an order into mere shop managers (Betriebsfuhrer in Nazi legalese), following the orders of a central command. For our purposes, we simply refer to this “socialism of the right” as full economic fascism.
This is what the crony capitalism of the right tends toward. State regulations that privilege and maintain the position of top dogs in business, if continued perpetually, eventually turn the economy into a wholly state-directed affair, in which “money” profits are not an index of service to consumers, but merely the distribution of ration tickets to the State’s most-favored functionaries. This is socialism in market-clothing.
Mises gave the more familiar variety of socialism the term “socialism of the Russian or Lenin pattern.” For our purposes, we may simply refer to this “socialism of the left” as full economic communism. Economic communism is distinct from economic fascism only in the fact that it has no faux-market veneer. Its socialism is simply more overt. If anything, communist socialism is preferable to the fascist variety, because, without a sham market, its failings are harder to blame on real markets.
The left reaches communist socialism through bureaucratization, largely to provide welfare services to underdogs, by forthrightly gobbling up the market bite by bite. The right reaches fascist socialism through interventionism, by subtly crippling the market and replacing it incrementally with a network of government diktats, largely on behalf of top dogs.
Revolutionary socialist governments, like the Nazi and the Bolshevik states, will generally adopt one path or the other. But it is by no means necessarily an either/or choice. More gradual approaches toward socialism, like the one the United States is currently taking, generally involve the left and the right working together in a bipartisan relay race toward socialism: overtly socializing an industry via nationalization here, and covertly socializing an industry via market interventions there. Thus through this gradual, dual approach, one can imagine a “socialism of the American pattern” arising, distinguished as a hodgepodge of vast bureaus and front companies for the State.
The Alternative: Liberty and Harmony
Warfare sociology, and its corollaries, identity politics and collectivism, whether of the left or of the right, lead to socialism and the total state. What are the root causes of these ailments, and what are the cures? Part of the issue may be methodological. What Mises called “the method of universalism or collectivism” can lead toward political collectivism. The flip side of that is that Mises’s own “methodological individualism” can lead toward political individualism.
But the most fundamental root cause is the fallacy that, as Mises put it:
…the gain of one man is the damage of another; no man profits but by the loss of others.
Mises called this proposition the “Montaigne dogma,” after the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who did not originate the dogma but gave it a resounding endorsement. Mises said the Montaigne dogma was the “quintessence” of mercantilism, a rightist school of proto-crony-capitalist thought which advocated protectionist and monopolistic economic policies that favored state-connected merchants.
But the mercantilists were bravely opposed by the early liberals, who, based on the teachings of the newly developed science of economics, rejected the Montaigne dogma, and understood that society was not a “zero-sum game” of irreconcilable conflict. Exchanges were mutually beneficial, and the voluntary division of labor benefited all of its participants. Therefore they rejected warfare sociology, and preached instead that under laissez-faire, human affairs were characterized by a fundamental harmony of interests. Mises termed this belief the “classical harmony doctrine,” and its propagators the “harmonists.” Their opposites, who clung to warfare sociology, Mises termed “antiharmonists.”
For example, David Hume, who Mises called “the founder of British Political Economy,” concluded one of his hugely popular essays, “On the Jealousy of Trades” by proclaiming that:
not only as a man, but as a BRITISH subject, I pray for the flourishing commerce of GERMANY, SPAIN, ITALY, and even FRANCE itself. I am at least certain, that GREAT BRITAIN, and all those nations, would flourish more, did their sovereigns and ministers adopt such enlarged and benevolent sentiments towards each other.
Later liberals, from J.B. Say to Mises, and their heirs, the libertarians, from Murray Rothbard to Walter Block, generalized the harmonist insight. As economists and philosophers, they theoretically demonstrated how strict adherence to liberty and property in a division of labor makes for a completely ecumenical harmony of interests. In such a world-wide society, the capitalist’s advancement benefits the worker and vice versa. Rising prosperity in a foreign country furthers your own. Free association and free disassociation alleviates intergroup resentments. Commerce and the profit motive encourage individuals to reconsider and even let go of their petty prejudices. And even seeming “conflicts” like business competition end up benefiting everyone as consumers more than it ever costs them as producers by speeding resources into the most efficient hands and toward the most urgent ends.
Libertarian Caste Analysis
Of course libertarians are not pollyannas, blissfully ignorant of the reality of conflict. In fact, we have our own class conflict theory, which is actually older than Marxian variety, going all the way back to the French liberals of the early 19th century: especially to the French “Industrialist” thinkers Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer. In fact, Marx and his socialist forebears cribbed their analysis from the French liberals, and perverted it into a warfare sociology. As Ralph Raico summarized the original theory:
In any given society, a sharp distinction may be drawn between those who live by plunder and those who live by production. The first are characterized in several ways by Comte and Dunoyer; they are “the idle,” “the devouring,” and “the hornets.” The second, are termed, among other things, “the industrious” and “the bees.” The attempt to live without producing is to live “as savages.” The producers are “the civilized men.”
Cultural evolution has been such that whole societies may be designated as primarily plundering and idle, or as productive and industrious. Industrialism is thus not only an analysis of social dynamics, but also a theory of historical development. Indeed, much of Industrialist theory is embedded in its account of historical evolution.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of struggles between the plundering and the producing classes.
Plunderers consist of common criminals, the State, and the State’s cronies and clients. Producers consist of everyone the plunderers parasitically feed off of. The interests of the two must forever be at odds.
According to this class conflict theory, regarding “who does what to whom,” what matters is not the Who/Whom” (who you are), but the What (what you do to other people). Villainous is as villainous does. Do you produce and voluntarily exchange? Or do you plunder? Do you operate according to the basic moral restrictions that almost all civilizations have more or less recognized: thou shalt not kill; and thou shalt not steal? And therefore are you confined to what Franz Oppenheimer would later characterize as the “economic means” of acquiring wealth? Or are you a member of a privileged caste that is granted “extra” rights, and so may murder, enslave, and plunder (the “political means” of acquiring wealth) members of the unprivileged caste with impunity? It should be clear why Murray Rothbard claimed that this analysis is more aptly called a theory of caste conflict, rather than a theory of class conflict.
Why is this kind of class/caste conflict theory not a warfare sociology, while the theories of the statist left and right are? There is a crucial difference. For the statist left and right, murder, enslavement, and plunder are fixed givens in Lenin’s algebraic equation. It is a What that is assumed at the outset, leaving only the Who and the Whom as variables to be filled in. For the libertarian, the What is a variable, and murder, enslavement, and plunder are not given. Leave them completely out of the equation, as the anarchist libertarians do, and you no longer have irreconcilable conflict or a warfare sociology.
Neither do you have to concern yourself which collectivist “side” you’re on. Thanks to this approach, the libertarian leans neither to the left or the right, but is balanced and true. Partisanship for either the underdogs or the top dogs is replaced by liberty and justice for all. Concern for Who/Whom is replaced by concern for the What. If the What is murder, enslavement, or plunder, then the Who is a villain and the Whom is a victim, no matter what their respective identity statuses are. Libertarianism judges individuals according to the justice of their actions, not according to their collective identity status. In matters of justice, it entirely abjures tribalism of any sort.
Divide and Conquer
This philosophy is fatal to the institution of the State. The State thrives on warfare sociology and identity politics, because it is the ultimate middleman for warfare between identity classes. It divides its victims into warring factions, only allows each faction to war on one another through itself, and always takes a cut of the loot for this intermediating “service.” And when the victimized factions get their chance to turn the tables on its enemy class, the State stands ready to facilitate that “exchange” as well (for a reasonable fee of course). This is how the State divides and conquers.
Two prime example of how the State uses warfare sociology and identity politics to its advantage concern both racism and anti-racism.
When racism is weaponized by the State as identity politics, it is a huge problem. For example, the American drug war is incredibly racist in effect, and even in intent. It was launched by Richard Nixon as a cynical rightist move to squash his politico-cultural enemies and to pander to his politico-cultural constituents in the “Silent Majority.” And police and judicial prosecution of the drug war has been tremendously racist. As a result, as was recently pointed out, more American black men are incarcerated now than were enslaved in 1850. And since incarceration is a form of slavery, that means there are more black male slaves now than then. And the vast majority of these incarcerated blacks are serving sentences for drug offenses that are victimless crimes, which is an oxymoron.
Faced with such a racism-fueled atrocity as that, you might think that anti-racism, even in the form of identity politics, would be salutary, or at least harmless. But the State weaponizes everything it touches, and identity politics is almost uniquely easy to weaponize. Through public schools, the university identity politics factories, political pandering, and other forms of propaganda, the American state has fostered an anti-racist mass hysteria. But this anti-racist flood has been diverted away from anything useful, and into the most pointless, distracting, and even harmful channels. The general public has never risen up in an anti-racist assault on the drug war; the current backlash against drug prohibition has almost nothing to do with anti-racism. But mention anything that threatens the State and its projects, and which could conceivably be twisted into being smeared as racist, and the chorus of indignant howls will be deafening. The State’s defenders in the media wield the PC smear brush so effectively that it is difficult to be any kind of political decentralist without being called a bigot. Support secession or nullification? Why, you must a racist, slavery-loving neo-Confederate. Against the U.S. empire and its unconditional support for Israel in its regional aggressions? Why, you must be an anti-Semite.
The racism and brutality of cops and judges in the drug war get a free pass. So does the mass murder of tens of thousands of dehumanized “Hajjis” overseas. But as soon as Donald Sterling, or some other elderly, white male gets caught expressing a not-nice thought about black people, the state’s crony media goes into overdrive, easily whipping up the public into a frenzy of ritual denunciation: an Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate,” as Will Grigg perceptively characterizes it. To paraphrase Grigg, according to modern identity politics, nightsticks and drones may break a non-white person’s bones, but only unkind words can really hurt him.
In the case of one particular elderly, white, male, this modus operandi has been particularly pernicious. Cliven Bundy, the cattle rancher standing up to the Bureau of Land Management, was something of a cause célèbre among libertarians and conservatives all over the country. That was quite an inconvenience for the Feds, who would have liked to kill or cage him and his armed defenders, but didn’t want the attendant bad press. So the government followed a well-worn playbook formula for dealing with dissidents, developed by the Soviets, which Grigg has encapsulated as: “vilify, isolate, liquidate.”
It was a simple matter, really. Train a camera on a sincere, loquacious, but ineloquent old man long enough, and you will catch him saying a very politically incorrect thing or two. Bundy made a clumsy but earnest attempt to highlight the devastation wrought by the welfare state on the black family by comparing it to the devastation wrought by slavery. And the remark was embedded in an encomium of interracial cooperation against tyrannical bureaucracy. Yet, it was twisted by the media machine into being viewed across the nation as an eruption of racial “hatred.”
What is particularly galling about it, is that Bundy’s remarks were not only blown out of proportion, but actually were not racist in the slightest. Yes, his musing that the welfare state might have been worse than slavery was wrong, and even offensive to those who fully appreciate the evils of slavery. But it was not racially offensive. Bundy never said that blacks, compared to other races, were singularly suited for slavery, or that the incubus of being targeted by a welfare state would weigh heavier than slavery only for blacks. His gross error was in his comparative institutional analysis, not in a comparative racial analysis. Indeed, why would Bundy, in the middle of a call for interracial solidarity against tyrannical bureaucracy, randomly break into a racist excursus to denounce the very black people he is trying to convince as singularly and inherently worthless? It doesn’t make a lick of sense.
But the truth didn’t matter, because the media had what it needed to bring the full weight of identity politics hysteria down on its chosen victim. Conservatives, led by Sean Hannity, ran from him like the plague. Even many libertarians rolled over like good little poodles as soon as the PC whistle sounded and the media proclaimed that the obligatory Two Minutes Hate had begun. And in doing so they played right into the power elite’s hands. Bundy has been adequately vilified and isolated. Whether liquidation is to come next is still to be seen. But if it does, the Feds will have far less of a fuss on their hands thanks to identity politics.
Once again, this is all a matter of dwelling on Who/Whom at the expense of What. In the case of the racist drug war, the fact that the What is brutality and wrongful imprisonment doesn’t matter. All that matters, especially to the right, is that the Who is their exalted cops, and the Whom is their not-so-beloved blacks. In the case of Bundy’s remarks, the fact that the What was, at the very worst, merely unwelcome speech, which breaks nobody’s leg and picks nobody’s pocket, doesn’t matter. All that matters, especially to the left, is that the Who is a member of an “official oppressor” class, and a “mundane” to boot, while the alleged Whom is an “official victim” class. And for that, the left would be all the more happy to see him turned into a Whom, killed or caged by their exalted bureaucrats.
Liberty and individualism are the only antidote for identity politics, offering the prospect of a harmonious civilization and an all-encompassing, lasting detente to a world beset by warfare sociology.