The Communist Manifesto’s Greatest Hits

The winter of 1847-1848, just like this last one, was a winter of acceleration. The US took a huge step in fulfilling its Manifest Destiny by annexing half of Mexico and effectively doubling in size. James W. Marshall found gold in a river in Coloma, triggering the California Gold Rush which transformed the 1000-resident settlement of San Francisco into a city of 25,000 inhabitants coming from the five continents. In Europe, meanwhile, the streets were ripe for revolution, and Louis Philippe I, le Roi Citoyen, was spending his last days as King of the French.

In London, the League of Communists had commissioned two bourgeois Germans, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to devise a long-term strategy for their clandestine organization. The result, published on February 21st, 1848, was a 23 pages long essay with dark green covers, written in German. Its title was Manifesto of the Communist Party, also known as The Communist Manifesto. The only surviving page of the manuscript is stored in the Memory of the World Register, a UNESCO archive dedicated to preserving documents symbolic of the historical heritage of the peoples of the world. In this collection, the Germans are currently represented by twenty-one documents, including said page. This reflects the importance given by Humanity to the short pamphlet, as it puts the Manifesto at the level of the first Bible printed by Gutenberg, in 1452, and the motor car patent of Carl Benz, from 1886.

Today’s post will focus on two of the Manifesto’s predictions, which stand out for their accuracy: Capitalism is global, and Communists are its ruling class. A particularly shining example of this is the People’s Republic of China leadership as the world’s first economic power: a Capitalist State governed by the Communist Party for more than 70 years. It should not be a surprise to anyone, then, that to celebrate the bicentennial of Karl Marx’s birth in 2018, the Chinese government delivered to the citizens of Trier, his birthplace in Germany, a statue of the philosopher. The monument, sculpted in North Korean proportions, was inaugurated in a previous act by Jean-Claude Juncker, who was at the moment President of the European Commission.

The combined praise of Marx from both capitalists and communists is the heartwarming echo of the lifetime friendship that united two men: Karl Marx himself, and textile industrialist Friedrich Engels. It is convenient to remember that, despite being a professional revolutionary, Marx was the brother-in-law of Ferdinand von Westphalen (1799-1876), Minister of Interior of the Prussian government, with whom he always stayed in friendly terms. Marx was also the cousin of Frederik Philips, who founded the multinational electronics corporation Philips with his two sons Anton and Gerard. These family relations, of course, do not explain anything by themselves. I’m just pointing them out as a metaphor of the strong historical synergies between capitalists and communists, and because they paint an interesting picture of the family, social and intellectual environment of the founders of Communism.

Perhaps Engels words in the Preface of the Manifesto’s 1893 Italian edition will be better to make our case clear: “The men who suppressed the Revolution of 1848 were, nevertheless, its testamentary executors in spite of themselves. (…) The Revolution of 1848 (…) paved the way, prepared the ground for the latter [workers’ revolution]. (…) The Manifesto does full justice to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past”. This statement is not ironic. The communists’ intent was to succeed the capitalists in their war against the bourgeois regime. The bourgeois had served their purpose as creators of a proletarian class, and now they were to let the communists take the lead. For Marx and Engels, there’s little doubt that few forces are more corrosive for bourgeois rule than Capitalism’s acceleration tendencies. In reaching the telos of the Revolution, capitalists and communists have been rowing together, serving the same dialectic (accelerative) process. The authors of the Manifesto assert that Communists like themselves are the most qualified group to assume the role of leaders in the international revolutionary movement. They are the only ones who know how to lead on the proletarians, the social class destined to fight directly against the bourgeoisie and ensure its destruction so that something new can be built in its place.

Those suspicious of ideological motives as the sole articulators of conflict might see a generational element intertwined with the communist revolution. The Bourgeois State which the young communists wanted to destroy was the society which had reaped the benefits of the French Revolution and the overthrowing of Absolutism. They are the memetic equivalent of the people born in the pastel-toned prosperity of the 50s, the sons of the Greatest Generation who fought World War Two. Those born after the Napoleonic Wars had their own revolutions from 1830 to 1848. Boomers fought in Vietnam and ended totalitarian regimes, too. But those struggles are long gone and, even if the young can appreciate their motives, it doesn’t make sense to dwell on them any more. They have received their reward in full (Mt 6: 2). The fight is somewhere else now. To the Spring of Nations revolutionary’s ramblings about liberal civic nationalism, the young communist answers curtly: “Ok, boomer”.

This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The following installment is available here.


Vox, the alt right and the American Empire: a case report on evolutionary memetics

On November 2019, the Spanish rightist party Vox achieved its best electoral results so far, becoming the 3rd largest political force in the country. Not bad for a political entity almost non-existent 11 months prior in terms of numbers. Founded in 2013 as an offshoot of the most extreme faction of the People’s Party (PP), Vox has experienced a strong surge in recent years, thanks both to a smart communication strategy and to the voters’ disappointment with establishment parties. Taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis, which is wreaking havoc in Spanish political and social life, Vox has become the current socialist-populist coalition government’s number one enemy in both social networks and mass media. By now, it should be fair to ask ourselves who exactly are these people and where do they come from ideologically.

The key feature of Vox’s discourse is the explicit defense of a sovereign Spanish Nation-State. Among its favorite bêtes noires are regional separatist movements, gender ideology, and unregulated inmigration. These elements make it in some ways similar to other European parties of the populist sphere. As could be expected, anti-Vox propaganda claims the party intends to set back the country half a century and revive the Francoist dictatorship. The common accusations are those of fascism, racism, sexism, classism, militarism, and religious fanaticism. In spite of its roughly 3.7 million voters, the party still has an aura of contrarianism, political incorrectness, which it actively cultivates.

Some of the Vox’s success in overcoming this public anathema and plugging into the contemporary zeitgeist has been partly attributed to inspiration from former ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Certainly, there are have been personal and institutional contacts, which can be discussed on another occasion. This post, however, explores the influence of alt-right culture on the Vox phenomenon from a purely memetic point of view. Cultural and political trends happening in the US tend to manifest themselves in Spain with a lag of about 2-4 years, giving enough time for political tropes to evolve and appear in forms adapted to different political environments. Comparing American political memes with their Spanish descendants may spark some thought-provoking insight on cultural and geopolitical relations between the two countries. The following paragraphs dissect a sample of memes propagated by Vox and to some extent traceable to the American far-right scene of roughly 2016-2018.

Los chiringuitos de la izquierda (something like “the Left’s kiosks”) refers to all media and political organizations and positions with governmental backing, created by leftists to keep cash flowing towards their allies and to enable successful lobbying campaigns. They are one of the primary targets of Vox. Commonly used when describing LGBT or feminist observatories, the phrase can be applied in general to any institution funded or supported by the State and considered to be an unjustified expense, a mechanism for paying back favors, or a platform for woke ideology. Its function is to portray the progressive system as inherently vain, fatuous, immoral and corrupt, and also to create a relation between social justice causes and establishment politics. When Donald Trump referred to Washington DC as “the swamp”, he suggested something in a similar vein: the draining of swamps helps to cull mosquito populations responsible for malaria. Interestingly, this is a very old meme, its first iterations being used by American socialists like Victor L. Berger (1860-1929) to conjure images of blood-sucking capitalists. The metaphor, however, left the door open for other interpretations. If the desert is a place of spirituality, temptation and introspection, the swamp is the home of decaying matter, of will-o’-wisps, and of witchcraft. The elemental qualities of swamps –humidity, darkness, tepidity, festering organicity– contrast with the desert’s dry wind, extreme hot and cold, and clear, open horizons. The Pizzagate story was the quintessential portrayal of Washington DC as an archetypal Swamp of conspiracies, intrigue and satanism.

La derechita cobarde (lit. “the cowardly little right-wing”) is the other target of
Vox’s political action. The moniker is a
pplied to the two other, more firmly-established right wing parties: Ciudadanos (Citizens – C’s), and the PP. It frames establishment conservatives as a bunch of suck-ups desperate for Leftist approval, and thus it’s related to the admittedly coarser American term “cuckservative”. Losing the sexual connotation is an interesting adaptation, which allows it to be used in a parliamentary, formal setting. It also strikes a different emotional key: while references to cuckoldry fetishism are intended to provoke feelings of disgust and of visceral rejection, the accusation of cowardice is meant to elicit contempt, which is a more elevated, virtuous response. It makes the Right complicit in the Left’s immorality, accusing them of timidity, of lack of spine, and of being willing to trade their souls for positions of power and personal wealth.

If the last two memes defined the villains, La España que madruga (lit. “the Spain that wakes-up early”) provides the audience with the heroes. The meme is made as a reference to people who wake up early to go to work, which of course comprises the majority of the working population. It implies the existence of a parasitical, disconnected ruling class which supposedly does not have to wake up early. While fitting nicely into a narrative of proles vs. elites, the meme is vague enough to include almost any kind of professional, making it extremely relatable. Trump’s backers never had such a positive tag to define themselves, except for the dull and overused “hardworking Americans”. In fact, they were not a truly memetically-defined block until Hilary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” remarks. Trump answered by calling his followers “hardworking American patriots who love [their] country”. However, the real response of the campaign was turning the insult into a badge of honor and immediately starting the production of merchandising with the word “deplorable”. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Vox did the same thing with the “extreme right” descriptor, denying the fact and using it to re-brand itself as a party of “extreme necessity” instead. Trump’s campaign was successful, but it relied very heavily on the specific demographic of working and middle class whites. Vox, on the other hand, may be attractive to low-education, low-rent, backgrounds, but can also appeal to wealthier groups.

This leads us to a very interesting mutation of La España que madruga, that being La España vaciada (lit. “the emptied Spain”). The phrase predates Vox, and alludes to the vast, rural, depopulated areas in most of central Spain, thus excluding economic hubs such as Madrid and the coastal regions. An aging population, lack of investment and declining political influence contribute to a feeling of being left behind, and reinforces the idea of a globalist political establishment hostile to “the real Spain” and its way of life. Significantly, this economical periphery roughly corresponds to most of what used to be the Kingdom of Castile, home of the dominant language in the country and starting point of all the expeditions to conquer the New World. It is the soul and epicenter of Imperial Spain, in the same way that Kiev is Russia’s. When Vox makes rhetorical defenses of hunting, bullfights and religious traditions, he feeds from this abandonment and nostalgia for a bygone era, the same way Trump’s campaign fed on the discontent of flyover “heritage Americans” or “Amerikaners”, which would be close relatives of this meme.

Morality, Work, Tradition; there is a remarkably telluric theme to all these memes, in the duginist senseThe 2020 American election is closing in and the specter of an enormous political crisis looms large in Spain. Support for both Vox and Trump still survives, significantly stronger in interior, land-locked areas: a Sign of the Times, perhaps. Seeing how American memes adapt to Spain hints at a change of the elements present in the cultural substrate. A new voice incorporated by the American Empire, inspired by a different ghost, and felt on both sides of the ocean. The soul of America may have been slowly moving away from the Atlantic for a while now. As it returns to the continent, Western European countries will start looking inward as well.

Coronavirus of the mind

A few days ago Meta-Nomad posted an excellent article, accompanied by interesting predictions regarding the cultural changes which will be brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The halt in normal economic activity will make people question the conditions of our existence. There will be a common realization of the nature of our political establishment, and of the existential space occupied by various appetites in our lives. Of the profound decadence of the commodified capitalist existence.

Liberal, democratic, secular governments never expected they would be enforcing Lent on their populations. Because forced isolation is Lent, and Lent means a trip to the Desert. Desert, elemental earth in its purest form, dry and land-locked, away from the sound of the sea or the song of birds. A trip to the Desert is always a voyage inwards: anabasis in Greek. It means confrontation with one’s own nature, the discovery of a person’s substance. The only shadow to be found in the Desert is the one produced by those who wander in it. As C. G. Jung’s Red Book notes:

Everything to come was already in images: to find their soul, the ancients went into the desert. (…) the place of the soul is a lonely desert. There they found the abundance of visions, the fruits of the desert, the wondrous flowers of the soul. Think diligently about the images that the ancients have left behind. They show the way of what is to come. Look back at the collapse of empires, of growth and death, of the desert and monasteries, they are the images of what is to come.”

The Desert is also the backdrop for Temptation, and the place where demons gather. Hic sunt dracones. In the cold, silent desert nights, one becomes the sound. The voices within become distinguishable, and not all of them whisper placid thoughts. To hear them for a prolonged period of time is unbearable. Astronauts undergoing anechoic training can attest the unsettling effect of hearing one’s own heart, lungs and guts.

As the days go by, the unchanging quarantined room becomes a featureless landscape. The contraction of the self imposed by external pressure ceases and, liberated from all outside quotidian influence, we begin to recognize in ourselves a certain shapelessness. A lack of spine: the mark of the invertebrate life of the consumerist bugman.

The mental viruses infected the host years ago. They are memes of clarity and despair. Images of collapse. Of governments being dysfunctional corporations led by madmen CEOs and soulless bureaucrats. Of a perpetually accelerating economy running on unfulfillable and cannibalistic appetites. Of Death being real and irreversible. They had been laying dormant in the batcaves of the mind, waiting for a temporary vulnerability in the host’s passive mental immune system. Now they strike in full force.

It is unclear when the syndrome will become apparent, and which will be its clinical manifestations. It could be days, weeks, or years. It could be lethal, or it could be just like the flu.

On the memetic nature of conflicts: narrative, political identity, and discipline

The framework of a conflict, the narrative in which it fits, is a memetic object: there are differences between a war of independence and a religious war. We can find many examples of both in History, each type having a set of identifiable features. This is only because they are successful memes. Memetic nature is mutable, and may not necessarily correspond to other, even more relevant dimensions of the conflict: psychological, biological, economic, etc. The Second World War is a good example of this. German participation in it is popularly understood as ideologically and racially motivated. More cultivated opinions might also mention geopolitical struggles concerning resources and heartland domination, or post-war economic humiliation. The focus, however, may be shifted: was the war rooted in a generation’s collective psychological coping mechanism against having missed the Greatest Masculinity Rite of Passage Ever (WWI)? Was it all a matter of aesthetics? Was it a dark, subconscious, animal necessity of expansion, produced by demographic growth, and then later rationalized into a search for Lebensraum?

The selection of a single, simple, official narrative for conflicts is justified by the fact that the chaos of conflict requires to be ordered and explained for humans to meaningfully partake in it. Political distinctions (in the schmittian sense), such as faithful vs. heretic, oppressor vs. liberator, or reactionary vs. revolutionary, have repeatedly proved to be able to organize conflict in a comprehensive way. In this sense, participants in any kind of conflict, armed or not, may be acting out of their own impulses, such as personal ambition, thirst for adventure, revenge, desperation… Nonetheless, they will assume political identities such as those above, like scattered iron filing adopting a specific disposition when under a magnetic field.

To put it another way: for an individual to position himself within a conflict, sides have to be politically defined first. The guerrilla fighter in a colonial war portrays himself as a freedom fighter, while his opponents identify as a counter-terrorism force. For this to be possible, a specific memetic nature has to be developed for the conflict, which will determine what camps are there to choose from. Conflict does not arise because of two existing masses of people with a feud. Individual drive for conflict precedes camp formation. The channeling of the accumulated drives of the mass allow for the establishment of a memetic scaffold around which the conflict and its sides are built. This channeling process is a main component of collective discipline, by which the individual becomes a soldier.

The memetic construct is designed to play on perception, and thus can be modulated and changed by propaganda, itself composed of memes. Etiological study of past conflicts may help in uncovering some hidden causes which escaped the memetic, propagandistic explanation given contemporaneously. On the other hand, the influence of the current cultural environment can impact retrospective interpretations currently formulated. For example, religious wars that made perfect sense in 13th century Europe are nowadays given an economic explanation. This is due to our culture’s inability to understand religion as it did in the Middle Ages, and not necessarily because economic readings correspond more truly to reality. Religious feeling of the kind that produced the Crusades is so foreign to our memetic milieu that we can only say Deus vult semi-ironically. Frankish medieval men, bored, devout, fleeing the law, looking for adventure, desiring riches, or curious about tales of the Orient, all found a reasonable common cause in the Crusades and assumed a new political identity as crusaders.

This leads us to a last point, which is the interpretation of the conflict across its whole spectrum. The course of events, in the real, material sense, is affected by discrepancies in the way a conflict is seen across the divide. When two opponents attribute a different memetic nature to their shared conflict, the consequence of operations becomes more difficult to predict. Another, totally unrelated to the real world, example: a power may see a war it is waging as a small quest within a wider contest for geopolitical control. The opposite side may see it as an existential religious or ideological struggle. When selecting targets or designing propaganda campaigns, both sides’ misconceptions about their enemy’s motives can become misleading.

In our example, the former power may believe the latter actor’s fanatical warriors are radicalized due to frustration with poor socio-economical conditions, neglecting the fact they may actually see their cause under the light of deep religious-philosophical convictions. As a consequence, a lot of resources may be spent in misdirected intelligence operations, or in trying to appease the enemy with Danegeld and misdirected propaganda. Even if the actual, main motive for an individual combatant is indeed poverty and not religious faith, his newly acquired memetico-political identity turns him into a holy warrior and hinders his enemy’s confused efforts. Know thine enemy, indeed, not only as an individual, but as a political figurant.

In summary: the memetic nature of a conflict is a narrative built to channel the drive of individuals who have their own motives for fighting, and who could, left to themselves, fall on any point of a political spectrum. The successful inoculation of such narrative on an individual looking for a fight is what turns him into a combatant for either camp, and can thus be considered integral to discipline. Being aware of the narrative each side is playing along with is essential to a successful management of operations.

Political mitosis

German jurist and philosopher Carl Schmitt, in The concept of the political, established the political as that which creates the unique distinction of Friend vs. Enemy. Thus, the political expresses the intensity of association or dissociation between two entities. Schmitt’s definition gives political differences a particular status, independent from others such as economic, ethnic or religious distinctions. Even if these can be the trigger of something political, they cannot define friendship or enmity per se. In other words, when a cultural community engages in a conflict against another, it is by definition acting as a political unit; the notion of a purely religious or economic war is nonsensical.

By virtue of the previous definition, we can trace the origin of civil conflict to the emergence of a strong political distinction within a political unit, which becomes more intense than those existing between said political unit and others external to it. The supreme degree of intensity in enmity is, according to Schmitt, war. Thus, if an internal political difference becomes strong enough, the result is civil war. The original political unit is dissolved, and a plurality of political entities of identical nature takes its place.

Civil conflict can be expressed in terms of political mitosis: out of a stem political cell, two others arise, identical to the first one, yet distinct. The original is lost and cannot be recovered, while the descendants become subjects with their own destinies. Politics is downstream from culture; civil conflict arises from cultural differences of extreme intensity. If civil conflict is a product of cultural differentiation, political mitosis is the consequence of a memetic process. At risk of taking the metaphor way too far, I propose using the model of cell reproduction to discuss the cycle of civil conflict generation.

The interphase of the cycle is defined by the continuous, natural synthesis of memetic material within a disorganized, indistinct, non-partisan cultural nucleus. This is an ideal, abstract stage outside of internal political conflict. Many kinds of stimulus can break this state and induce political mitosis: scientific or technological advances, economic conditions, and of course mitosis of nearby polities. In any case, when the necessary environmental conditions are present, political mitosis is triggered and the cycle begins.

Mitosis begins with a prophase in political discourse, during which memetic material condensates into a more defined or explicit form: the contentious topic. Culture involves vast amounts of information of almost any kind, so there are infinite possible cultural distinctions to be made: star sign, taste in music, favourite color… Nonetheless, certain cultural distinctions tend to be more significant than others, like religious behavior, spoken language or socioeconomic status. Thus, memes and memeplexes of a culture tend to organize around this contentious topics. At this stage, the contentious topic exists only as an abstraction, a just-now-discovered concept.

Once the contentious topic is defined, however, a whole discursive apparatus begins to organize spontaneously around it in the form of possible arguments for or against it. There is no will directing this organization: claims are just thrown into the pile to bend opinion on the topic one way or the other. The political discourse may appear under the guise of factual claims, but there is no such thing. Political arguments, as per our analysis, are just a set of cultural, discursive forces which can pull apart the political cell. Facts do not matter, only interpretations of facts, and this includes interpretations of imaginary facts. The build-up of political discourse around the packed memetic material corresponds to prometaphase. We can summarize it as the unfolding of everything that can be said in respect to the contentious topic, so that two cultural forces of opposite direction form.

The next stage, metaphase, is the sudden, shared realization that there are two social positions in regard to the contentious topic. Metaphase signals the transformation of the cultural into the political by the formation of two opposite camps: at this stage, opposite cultural forces become a political distinction. Culture war is unleashed, bringing forth anaphase, which is the consolidation of the political difference, marked by a chasm between the two positions on the contentious topic.

There is no way to win the culture war, in the sense that nobody convinces anyone to change sides. Two parallel political units are born and stand in the place of the original one: we are now in the telophase, the end-game of the process. It is perfectly possible that, of the two daughter polities, one of them ends up dying out because it fails to keep synthesizing its memetic material in the original form, or it evolves so much that in the process ends up resembling its former enemy.

Christianity is a good example of this kind of converging evolution. After centuries of ideological and actual warfare against heretics, many modern Catholics share the majority of their cultural values with Protestants. This is not because Protestants have progressively convinced Catholics to accept their views. The reverse is equally false, and neither has there ever been an official decision to end hostilities; animosity simply has died out between the two religious communities, and they are now mostly friendly in political terms. And how could they not be? After all, as political units, they share most environmental pressures, so they tend to evolve in a similar way.

In summary, civil conflict of a cultural nature is born when, out of the indistinct mass of cultural (memetic) material, certain elements become condensed into discursive realities. These realities become political distinctions, which imply the establishment of a relation of enmity. In later posts, specific instances of this dynamic will be discussed.

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