The right-wing reaction is part of the legacy of the fall of the Soviet Union

In Neoliberalism’s Demons, available wherever fine books are sold, I argue that the right-wing reaction is not a necessary outcome of neoliberalism — in particular, that it does not represent either a reactivation of “leftover” social elements (such as the nation or race, both of which are integral to neoliberalism) or a response to “legitimate grievances” (the long-discredited “economic anxiety” argument for explaining why people support Trump). It is a legible outgrowth of neoliberalism, indeed a parody of it, but not some kind of inner necessity or destiny. Trump in particular was a terrible fluke that was only possible due to our baroque constitutional apparatus, not an expression of the Deep Truth of America or, especially, the will of the people (who voted overwhelmingly against him).

In Q&A sessions, though, people have asked me why, even if we concede that Trump was in some sense a fluke, there nonetheless seems to be a global trend of right-wing reaction. I regret not coming up with this on the spot, but further reflection indicates that the reason the right-wing has been able to seize the moment of neoliberal decline is that there is no longer a live left option. They are winning more or less by default. And the reason there is no live left option is that the Soviet Union collapsed, thereby discrediting the extreme left for a generation. Whether this is fair or not — and whether the Soviet Union was even representative of a plausible range of outcomes for an extreme left agenda — it is indeed the case. There are still Communist countries out there, but they appear to be either impoverished outliers (like Cuba or North Korea), or else appear to all the world as having embraced capitalism (China mainly, but also Vietnam). There is no self-assertive, international leftist movement with the power base of an actual country and military behind it.

The giveaway is that the homeland of the right-wing reaction is first of all Russia itself (Putin) and that the worst offenders in Europe were most often in the Warsaw Pact (Hungary, Poland). Huh, I wonder why these countries, after being failed by the neoliberal order, would embrace the extreme right and not the extreme left? If you remember that the Soviet Union once existed, the answer is obvious. But no one remembers the Soviet Union existed.

(I think you can even fit India and Turkey into this narrative, though I admit I don’t know as much about the details of their internal politics. I won’t embarrass myself by opining beyond the limits of my expertise.)

If this is the case, then I would suggest that the only hope for actually beating back the right-wing reaction is either for the extreme left to take over a major country (best of all, of course, would be the AOC Revolutionary Junta here in America, while we’re dreaming) — or else we can cross our fingers that China is still pursuing the goal of socialism but playing the “long game” of developing the means of production and that it eventually starts asserting itself more directly internationally. (The Belt and Road project could point in that direction, but again, I just don’t know enough to be sure.) I am pretty certain, though, that David Harvey is wrong and China is not helpfully characterized as “neoliberal,” meaning that there is at least one major economy in the world where a noticeably different economic model is an actuality — though China is doing all they can to obscure that, perhaps in part because they saw what happens when an assertive Communist power bloc antagonizes the West. (And of course Western coverage of China wants to claim they’re straightforwardly capitalist, because that fits in the “there is no alternative” narrative.)

Either way, though, the collapse of the Soviet project was a world-historical catastrophe that may have literally doomed human civilization. So yeah. As they say, “it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”

I blame the Marvel universe: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. Since we fell behind yet again, this post covers both parts of “Such Sweet Sorrows.” A full archive can be found here.]

AK: Long time, no see. Unless we always already will have seen each other FROM THE FUTURE.

SJ: I just want to talk about things that aren’t time travel but these episodes, IDK
the time travel makes no sense let’s just stipulate that from the jump

AK: WHAT WERE THE SEVEN INITIAL SIGNALS?!?!?!

SJ: I have no idea

AK: Sorry, had to get that out of my system.
Continue reading “I blame the Marvel universe: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

“This is why fanservice sucks”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. Since we fell behind again, this post covers “Perpetual Infinity” and “Through the Valley of Shadows.” A full archive can be found here.]

SJ: I was afraid they were gonna kill Tyler and then I was going to have to go on strike from the show
I guess. I have watched the last one and I have thoughts.
(largely that the solution makes no sense, wtf)

Continue reading ““This is why fanservice sucks”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

“The only emotionally competent man in three galaxies”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. Since we fell behind again, this post covers “Project Daedalus” and “The Red Angel.” A full archive can be found here.]

AK:
Hello!

SJ:
HELLO
where should we even begin

AK:
We know where you want to start

SJ:
haha yes but we have two episodes to cover

AK:
All those times I referred to “Robot Head Person” now feel so disrespectful.

Continue reading ““The only emotionally competent man in three galaxies”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

Guilty Pleasures

Last summer, I decided to treat myself on my birthday and get an NES Classic Edition. This miniature gaming system returns us to the world of the original Nintendo, complete with a couple dozen classic games and — crucially — authentic controllers. I went through a phase of downloading videogame emulators in college, which enabled me to play every single system that ever existed (including the Sega Master System, TurboGrafx-16, and Coleco Vision), but the Nintendo experience never felt right without the original controllers. I was, as they say, between projects, and so I spent a couple afternoons working through old favorites — especially games that I had loved but never finished when I was a kid.

Chief among my targets was Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. I played that game so long and so hard that the save-game battery actually ran out. It was the first game I had experienced that felt open-ended, as though the next person you talked to or the next square you walked across could hold untold secrets. It was also incredibly demanding for a young child, with enemies that depleted your experience points if they hit you, caves full of monsters you couldn’t even see until you gained a special power-up, bonuses hidden on arbitrary spots on the world map, and complex mazes that often required you to backtrack (at risk to life and limb). I got Zelda 2 prior to the original Zelda, and to me, the latter never fully lived up to its successor — though I realize that I am in the minority here. In fact, when I have mentioned Zelda 2 in social media threads, people have often expressed bafflement that I could even tolerate the game.

Continue reading “Guilty Pleasures”

“Nihilistic Squids are my new punk band”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. Since we fell behind for a few weeks, this post covers “The Sound of Thunder,” “Light and Shadows,” and “If Memory Serves.” A full archive can be found here.]

AK: We have been remiss!

SJ: Too long! My fault, too much travel.
Anyway! I am full of feelings, unsurprisingly.
Revolutionary Saru!

Continue reading ““Nihilistic Squids are my new punk band”: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

With demons like these…: A Response from Adam Kotsko

I would like to begin by thanking all five contributors for their engagement with my work and Sean Capener for his labor in coordinating the event (and selection of great post-header images!). Not everyone has the privilege of getting such varied and interesting responses to their book from five brilliant friends. And in contrast to many other book discussions I have seen (both of my own work and those of others), I never got the sense that anyone was misreading or mischaracterizing my work, responding to “the kind of thing” they think it is rather than to its specific goals and approach. While internal critique is not the only viable method, I think that academics as a whole tend to read with too much impatience and too little sympathy, mistaking harshness and negativity for intellectual rigor. The most productive discussions, in my mind, are never “debates” between opposed sides, but open-ended discussions between friends.

Continue reading “With demons like these…: A Response from Adam Kotsko”