Haz Al-Din on Marxist-Leninist theory
Communism restores the organic sociality ruptured by modernity
Haz Al-Din is a twenty-five-year-old American of Arab descent and identity with limited academic credentials; a Marxist-Leninist political analyst and philosopher, who sometimes uses poetic language. He displays a thorough knowledge: of Western liberal and Marxist philosophy; of the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao; and of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. He is the leading figure in the Infrared Collective, a name that reflects its orientation to look for the dimensions of social reality that are not visible on the surface. The Collective has posted a number of educational videos on its platform.
The Infrared Collective puts forth an understanding of communism and socialism that is fundamentally different from the prevailing concepts of Western Marxists. They reject the concepts of most Western socialists as in actuality a form of liberalism. They have disdain for institutionalized academic Marxists, who have developed their ideas in a context divorced from real political struggles, and who therefore contribute nothing to understanding. They also are opposed to Marxist activists, who reacting to the useless theoretical formulations of the academics, advocate unthinking atheoretical action that can accomplish none of their proclaimed goals. The Infrared Collective affirms and demonstrates the importance of theory, but they insist that it must be theory that is well grounded in the study of the writings of the masters and the experiences of socialist revolutions in Russia, China, and elsewhere.
The Infrared Collective is convinced that it is on the right road. Inasmuch as they are responding to objective economic and ideological conditions in the USA, they are sure that there are others who share their ideas and sentiments, but perhaps have not found the words or the structures for their expression. They call upon the people to join in their efforts.
The Infrared Collective has recently been active in the MAGA Communism initiative, which calls upon communists to go down to the MAGA Movement and to base its positions on their reality and sentiments; and to use scientific Marxism-Leninism to clarify their reality. The Collective maintains that the Make America Great Again Movement is the only working-class movement in the current American political reality. I have commented on MAGA Communism in my last two commentaries: “The insights of MAGA Communism: On leftists, partisans, and the sacred,” October 11, 2022; “A critique of MAGA Communism: On partisans, cultural wars, and the vanguard of the people,” October 14, 2022.
In today’s commentary, I draw upon three videos posted on Infrared: “What Infrared is all about,” September 23, 2020; “What is Communism?”, October 8, 2022; and “The Meaning of Socialism in 2021.” I focus particularly on the ideas of Haz Al-Din with respect to the meaning of socialism, communism, and Marxism-Leninism.
The essence of communism
Haz Al-Din maintains that communism is in essence a movement to restore the sociality that was disrupted by modernity and by capitalist transformations of production. In the capitalist transformation of agriculture in England, peasants were displaced from the land, which reduced them to selling their labor for wages. This process severed the peasants from their communities, and it destroyed the norms and the fabric of the social whole. Dislocated peasants were eventually transformed into workers in factories, where they had formal contractual relations with owners, severed from society. Modern capitalism, therefore, destroyed human societies, and it gave rise to communist movements that placed at the fore the social question, or the need to reestablish society. As Al-Din expresses it, communism is a social movement that does not want to forget the founding crime of modernity.
Al-Din quotes the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, the section on “Private Property and Communism,” in defense of his interpretation of Marxism as seeking to reestablish human sociality. In capitalism, human beings are separated from nature and from other human beings. And in capitalism, human beings exist by responding to practical necessities, and thus in a form that contradicts their human essence and their possibilities for self-affirmation. But communism is the resolution of these contradictions; it is the return of the human being to a social being. Marx wrote:
“Communism is the positive annulment of private property, of human self-alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is, therefore, the return of man himself as a social, i.e., really human, being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development. Communism as a fully developed naturalism is humanism and as a fully developed humanism is naturalism. It is the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man. It is the true solution of the conflict between existence and essence, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be this solution.”
In “Private Property and Communism,” Marx debunked a crude form of communism being proposed by Proudhon, Fourier, and Saint Simon, involving the universalization of private property, that is, the replacement of private property with public property. This is a simplistic approach that would not reestablish human society. It also is the simplistic communism of Twitter today, and the simplistic communism that MAGA followers imagine when they express their opposition to communism. But real communism is overcoming the negation of human essence by modern capitalism and its destruction of human communities.
Marxism, Al-Din notes, seeks to become a science of modernity that is able to guide humanity toward overcoming modernity and toward developing an alternative to modernity and its disruption of the social fabric.
Al-Din notes that this Marxist orientation toward the reestablishment of human sociality is what distinguishes Marxism from other Western ideologies. Liberalism, social democracy, and Western Marxism all presuppose the conditions of modernity; they are not oriented to developing alternative modernities and to reestablishing social bonds.
An authentic Marxist orientation, Al-Din maintains, can be seen in the communism of the Soviet Union and China, where the revolutions triumphed in conditions of a majority peasant population and with vibrant rural social fabrics. In both cases, the revolutions transformed the forces of production, but preserved the social fabric of rural society. Translating the phenomenon in American terms, he described communism in the Soviet Union and China as revolutions of, by, and for rednecks.
I have observed a similar dynamic with respect to Cuba. Following the triumph of the revolution, the revolutionary government enacted a land-reform program that took land from large foreign and Cuban agricultural enterprises and distrusted it to peasants. Peasants with individual holdings were encouraged to voluntarily form cooperatives; and in other cases, depending on conditions, state farms were formed, jointly managed by representatives of the state and representative of the workers. At the same time, the state invested in local structures of health and education, to reduce the general tendency toward migration to the big city in search of opportunity. In these transformations, productivity and the standard of living were greatly elevated, but the rural social fabric remained intact, although with adjustments to the higher standard of living and revolutionary consciousness. To this day, the Cuban countryside is considered the most economically and socially advanced expression of the gains of the revolution; and rural residents have enormous pride in their local communities. Some observers, nothing this, have described the Cuban Revolution as a pro-peasant revolution. There is truth in this description, but it should not be thought that the Cuban Revolution has been indifferent to urban, industrial development.
Communism, therefore, for Al-Din, is not a type of society or economy or system of government. It is not a way of organizing the economy or society; it is not a policy-based program. Communism is a real movement unfolding in the society, seeking the overcoming of the present state of things. It is an objective movement that involves some kind of transformation that is happening in reality. To be a communist is merely to acknowledge that you see that noble movement. It does not mean that you are saying that you want society to be a certain way.
People think, for example, that communism is the abolition of private property, such that everything becomes public property. But this has not been the historical experience. Public property is a bourgeois notion, involving ownership of property by the state. State or public ownership exists in all modern states as a practical necessity. Public ownership occurs where the economic enterprise is strategic for the state. The state must own a particular enterprise because it cannot trust people with owning it. Privatization is always better in bourgeois society, and maybe even in general, because it works by itself and removes the burden from the state. When the state legitimately privatizes an enterprise, it is because it no longer is strategic to the economy, or because privatization benefits the welfare of the people. Public ownership is not the essence of communism, and it would be absurdly impractical to establish 100% public ownership.
However, even though communism is in essence a movement that seeks restoration of sociality and not a program, communist movements come to power through the formulation of a concrete program that responds to the dissatisfactions of the people. Al-Din, for example, notes that Marxist-Leninists criticized the Bernie Sanders campaign for not being truly socialist, but they themselves had not put forth a concrete analysis of specific positions. If they had put forth a concrete program, and if they had been proven right through the support by the people for the program, then they would have become the leaders of the left, leaving Sanders far behind. History has shown that communist movements come to power through historically and scientifically accurate analysis of the situation of the nation, and a concrete program for empowering and elevating the standard of living of the people, promising decisive steps in defense of concrete needs.
The limitations of Western Marxism
Thus, there is for Marx a sense of life that constitutes the reality of the people, lived by the people even though not formally visible in law. This sense of life was destroyed by modern capitalist dislocations, but not completely so. In many regions of the world, it lives on in rural areas. In China and Russia, Marxist-Leninists were in tune with the sense of the people, which included their sense of China and Russia as nations. Marxism-Leninism does not destroy this experiential reality, but clarifies it. If you look only at the formal theory of Marxism-Leninism in China and Russia, as is the tendency in Western Marxism, you do not see what is essentially unfolding, and thus you misunderstand it.
But Western Marxists are also out of touch with the experiential sense of reality in their own nations. Western Marxists formulate dogmas and abstractions, disconnected from the material lives of the people and disconnected from the nation as an objective reality. Their abstractions are not the stuff from which societies can be made. They have no way of relating to the world. They have nothing to contribute to our understanding.
For Western Marxists, Marxism-Leninism is a form of rebellion against their own reality. It is a “fuck the world” and “fuck everyone” attitude. It is based in a negation of the West rather than a positive resolution of the contradiction of the modern West.
In addition, Marxism-Leninism today in the USA is an extension of the petty and narrow political divisions that exist in America, which do not reflect real politics. In this context, Marxist-Leninists are nothing more than angry liberals.
What Western Marxists need is an international perspective, that would enable them to see real politics beyond the superficial chitchat. It would enable them to see the false divisions, division over nothing. The first thing an aspiring Marxist-Leninist in the West must do is rise above the petty, superficial divisions that consume hours of meaningless talk. One should seek to discern the essence of things, getting beyond being a liberal or conservative, and avoiding one-sided debates. Those most prepared for this often come from conservative and religious traditions initially.
Al-Din observes that an academic seeking to understand the class struggle will study theory and will arrive to an understanding not connected to the experiences of the people, who therefore will be dismissive of the academic understanding. But the established order legitimates the greater understanding of academics through the granting of academic credentials. So they will think that the people are stupid, because the people do not understand the “superior” academic understanding. Academics thus end up siding with the establishment against the people. If academics, in addition to focusing on the primary class contradiction, also were aware of what Mao called the secondary contradiction between the people and the establishment, they would be more in a position to discern that an anti-establishment sentiment is expressing itself right before their eyes, even though it does not have the characteristics anticipated by academic Marxist class theory.
Al-Din maintains that in challenging the Bernie Sanders campaign, Marxist-Leninists formulated abstract truths, including such ideas as the nation being founded on the conquest of the Native American peoples and on slavery and white supremacy. But this is meaningless pseudo-radical language that, in the absence of a concrete program, sounds unpatriotic, and therefore it is offensive to the majority of the people. The only hard truths that need to be put forth are those that must be grasped in order to understand the reasons for the concrete program. Without a program, all you are doing is alienating most of the people. The Sanders campaign, seeking to maintain the support of these pseudo-radicals, adopted some woke language, thus preventing its triumph in the Democratic Party primaries.
I would go further than Al-Din in criticizing the pseudo-radicals. Not only was their discourse politically unintelligent; but it also was not entirely true historically and empirically, resulting in a distorted image of the American racial reality. In fact, the teaching of white supremacy and the practice of racial discrimination were abolished in 1964 and 1965, and they were replaced by government mandated preferential treatment in employment and university admissions. If statistics were not manipulated by pseudo radical intellectuals, it would be seen that a great part of racial inequality today is caused by historical, class, and cultural factors, not racism or white supremacy. At the same time, the U.S. government has undertaken since the 1970s the renegotiation of treaties with the First Nations of North America, resulting in significant gains in the socioeconomic develop and political autonomy of the indigenous nations. If you believe that these efforts should be expanded and intensified, then make specific proposals; but do not offend the American people by acting as though nothing has occurred for the last half century. A key problem with this kind of pseudo-radical discourse is that a good portion of the people know better, on the basis of their own experience; thus, you are undermining your credibility.
As Al-Din notes, the demand that everyone acknowledge that America was founded in sin is a negative, and no one likes dwelling in negativity. What is your proposal? Or do you simply want to tell people to drop dead?
Al-Din maintains that there is a deeper reality to America than the negative things that leftism is saying about America. He maintains that it is superficial to focus on the bad elements and ignore the good, and to not see the manner in which the bad actually makes the good possible in the long run.
I would like to elaborate on this point. The great human civilizations were for the most part constructed on a foundation of conquest and exploitation. Consistent with this historic pattern, the modern European conquest and domination of the world for four centuries was the foundation for enormous economic and technological advances. Once we acknowledge this as a fundamental historical fact, what should come next? The necessary next step is neither moral indignation against the colonizers, nor the legitimation and consolidation of the colonial structures that they left behind. The appropriate next step is to utilize advanced productive capacity and scientific and technological knowledge to transform neocolonial economic structures into a just and democratic structures, with all the nations of the world cooperating in the endeavor. This is precisely what Third World revolutionary leaders are today demanding. They do not make indignant moral accusations against historic or contemporary persons for doing what humans have been consistently doing since the agricultural revolution five to ten thousand years ago.
The Infrared Collective maintains that a political program today must be based in the promise of American democracy proclaimed at the founding of the nation, going beyond what the nation was able to practice in that period. It believes that the goodness of America at the time of the American Revolution was not merely something superficial or ideologically driven. It was a profound goodness, the putting forth of the promise of a nation founded on the moral principles of liberty and justice for all, and establishing the constitutional and legal foundation for its progressive attainment. It is idealist and politically immature to expect that the founding fathers could proclaim a republic that has the characteristics that you think today it should have.
Al-Din notes that today’s dominant political motif is that the historic claim of the goodness of America at its founding was a lie. But this view fails to understand that the proclamation of the good never pretended to perfection. To see the goodness of the nation and the people is to avoid reducing the reality to what is formally intelligible and visible on the surface, like racism and patriarchy. To see the goodness of the nation and people is not to excuse crime and hideous things; it is to acknowledge that there is a complex multidimensional reality, and seen as a whole, it pertains to the good.
American Communism has to be further developed on a patriotic foundation, if we are serious about attaining political power.
By way of critique
Al-Din’s explanation of the need to reestablish sociality sheds light on his orientation to focus on the revolutionary potential of the working class and his implicitly dismissive attitude toward the middle class, which I commented upon in by last commentary (“A critique of MAGA Communism,” October 14, 2022). He sees the working class, especially in those regions of the country where rural America is most fully expressed, as the sector that lives with organic sociality still in force. And he sees the urban middle class as the best expression of modern alienation and atomization, so that even its Marxism takes an abstract from that is alienated from political struggles and from community.
Although I am in agreement with this as a current description of American reality, I think that there are other aspects of the reality that can be uncovered. First, there is the phenomenon of the creation of healthy social ties in the context of a society-wide alienation. I have observed this phenomenon in the social world of my eighteen years old grandson, who lives in the suburbs of a southern state-capitol city. These youth are by and large products of healthy families. They have only a marginal interest in politics, which may be attractive more to persons who are suffering from the effects of modern alienation. Reflecting the racial norms of post-1965 America, the group is mixed white, Asian, Hispanic, and black. So there is a phenomenon of middle class individuals creating social networks as a cultural remedy to modern alienation.
Secondly, for urban middle class persons who are unable to reconstruct a social fabric in an alienated environment, do they not possibly possess an inner yearning for human sociality, even though they pertain to a social reality that has not socialized them into its enjoyment? Ought they not be called to a movement that seeks the reestablishment of human sociality and that seeks to restore the dignity of the nation? Can any successful political movement afford to dismiss as unredeemable an entire sector of the people? As I indicated in my last commentary, I am not speaking here of persons of the urban middle class who are well connected to the economic benefits of the new professional/managerial class. I am speaking of middle-class persons who do not enjoy such benefits, who endure underemployment and employment insecurity.
I reiterate what I wrote in my last the last commentary, that in the context of the current conditions of our nation, we ought to call the people to revolution, and not the working class. I believe that it is more scientifically accurate in today’s conditions, and more palatable to our people.
On the basis of my own experience in academia, I can confirm what Al-Din describes as a general pattern of theories not well connected to reality. At the same time, my own theoretical development was different from the prevailing pattern, so I would caution against over generalization. My radicalization occurred through listening to and being present in the student anti-war movement, the black power and black nationalist movements, the Honduran popular movement, and the Cuban Revolution. This experiential base was supplemented by independent reading of Catholic philosophy, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and European neo-Marxists. I thus internalized none of the theoretical perspectives that the academy had to offer. Making a living as an academic (I did not know how else to make a living), I tried to present my approach to knowledge as consistent with the mission of higher education and with emerging trends in the discipline of sociology. I had partial success in this: I was dismissed from two colleges/universities for violating the epistemological assumptions disciplinary boundaries of sociology; but I did manage to survive for thirty-six years until my retirement at age sixty-five.
My unconventional experience was not unique. Even though what Al-Din describes is true as a general pattern, there were many cases of academics trying to develop their understandings on basis of the lived experiences of some sector or other of the national or global society, seeking to justify this unconventional approach to knowledge to their superiors on the basis of the rules of academia. Our central experience was that of marginality, rejected by the mainstream academy; by Marxists in prestigious institutions in the academy; and by activists. Thus, for some academics who historically identified with the left and the cause of social justice, Al-Din’s critique of academic leftism is accurate, and delightful in its irreverence; but we would want to insist that it does not apply to all.
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