Second Last of the East End Bars (A Found Story)

A night that began in billowing, silver mists in Richmond Hill has led here: an improbable bar toughing it out between Greektown to the west and the Afghani and Pakistani neighbourhood to the east.

He looks like someone I know, but isn’t.

“Hey how are ya man, ya wanna shot?” he asks, before I even have my coat off.

You need people skills to drink in a place like this.

“No thanks man. I’m good with beer, but thanks, eh.”

He does a shot of whiskey.  “All ya got is friends, eh, that’s this place. Friends, ya. I’m Hal.”

Well, I have to shake his hand, no matter where it’s been.  “Hey Hal, I’m Jeff.” I nod and try to disengage so I can watch the hockey game.

He looks at me, glassy-eyed, smiling, head orbiting its drunken axis, wobbly: “We’ve all been there, eh brother?”

“Fer sher,” I reply, and turn to the television.

My shot goes instead to Tommy, the brother of Susie, the Vietnamese bartender and owner, cute in her grey tights and short-for-December skirt.

“Hey Hal,” she kids, “you owe me 200 dollar.”

Laughter.  An ugly man, soon to pull out a harmonica, tells Susie that she owes Hal the 200 dollars.

Laughter.

Susie skiffles off,  leaving Tommy and his iPhone to hold the fort.

There is a freezing rain warning, but I’m on foot.  “Tower of Song” comes on.  It reminds me of when I used to smoke.

“We invented NASA, all those guys who built the Avro Arrow, they went and built it. Hey Tommy, that’s good turkey, and I’ve been eatin’ turkey for thirty fuckin’ years.”

The time for more shots has arrived.  The ugly harmonica player is standing the round this time.  The play is clearly to get a woman (whose lower face seems to have shrunk to half the size of the top) even more drunk than she is.

All ya got is friends, eh?

“I’ll have the gold, the gold, ya know, gold, uh, cinnamon…”

“Goldschlager,”  Tommy helps out.

“Ya, Goldschlager,” she repeats, then downs the shot.

“Pay back, baby, pay back!” she cackles, hugging the ugly man, smiling, hanging off his neck.

All ya got is friends, eh?

At the back, a table of Ethiopians with the drained-of-hope look of seasoned Northern Ontario alcoholics works through another round of Ex and OV.  They chime in with half-hearted “Woy yoy yos!”  during “Buffalo Soldier,” but leave after the third in a row AC/DC song.  I wonder what dreams they packed when they emigrated.  I am betting that being piss drunk in a place like this was not one of them.

All ya got is friends, eh?

“Toronto and Chicago are almost the same size, man.  There were 60 murders in Toronto and 6000 in Chicago, 6000 that’s uh,10, 100, no, fuck, 1000 times more. Holy fuck, eh.”

I notice:  I am the only one here not wearing a baseball cap.

The harmonica has now been pulled from the pocket and brought to the ugly man’s lips.  He is trying to play along, (appropriately), with “Have a Drink on Me.”  He’s the closest thing to a rock star in here tonight so the woman with the shrunken lower face leers at him the best she can.  I don’t imagine them fucking.

“Wait, shit, maybe it was only, like 600.  Still, fuck.”

“We’re playin’ ball in hand, but we’re not playin it,” Hal announces in the general direction of the ugly man and the woman with the ill-sized face.

“There was an 18 year old running for parliament, did ya hear that?  What the fuck does an eighteen year old know?  What fuckin’ life experience he’s got?”

“We’re playin’ ball in hand, but we ain’t playin’ it.”

Laughter.

“Those are our fucking diamonds!!”

All ya got.

The Importance of Being Less Earnest

Of a Humourless Tone Adopted Recently in Politics

Iconic anarchist Emma Goldman is reputed to have said that if she could not dance in the revolution, she wanted no part of it.  In fact, she never uttered that precise phrase.  Here is her explanation:                                 

At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

 

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
[Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. 56]

Goldman’s point, I think, is that exuberance and joy cannot be postponed until after the revolution, but on the contrary are signs, even in the midst of oppression and exploitation, that life is worth living.  If it is worth living, it is worth fighting for:  the real motivation for revolutionary struggle is not some abstract intellectual desire to see programmatic change, but to create the social conditions in which the exuberance and joy of self-conscious presence, friendly and loving interaction and relationship, and creative activity are constant and not fleeting features of life.  Like Democritus, revolutionaries should be laughing philosophers who fight because they love life and not because they hate an enemy.

I think political activists rightly anxious at the growth of right-wing populism in the United States and openly Nazi formations in Europe would do well to remember Goldman’s lesson today.  We are quite possibly present for the end of the liberal-democratic era.  If that is too alarmist, then we are at least in the midst of a serious crisis.   This crisis will not be resolved in favour of protecting the valuable gains of the past, necessary as a social plateau from which to build higher, without revivified and unified social movements and progressive parties.  To build those movements and parties, we have to be the sort of people who not only espouse good ideas, but who live life in ways that prefigure the joyful values that we think should organize a future society.

Building the movements and parties that need to be built means understanding what the real causes of the present crisis are.  Those causes are structural and rooted in private and exclusive control over the resources that we all require in order to live.  Progressive struggle needs to focus on reclaiming those resources:  as the Sioux of Standing Rock have just demonstrated, victory means taking back the land from capital.  And that means:  understanding who it is we should be fighting against:  the ruling class, not each other.

I understand that critical politics requires self-criticism, that many people, especially white men, who want to change the world bear the marks of having grown up privileged in the world as it is, and need to be reminded about the ways in which this privilege can shape their character, their assumptions about what is funny or sexy, in all sorts of problematic ways.  I understand that everyone needs to be reflective about the language they use and the hurtful implications it sometimes has.  Since speakers are sometimes ignorant of these implications, everyone needs to be open to listening to the voice of others when they try to explain why something the speaker thinks is funny is actually offensive.

At the same time, everyone also has to keep in mind that revolutionary change is about collective and individual self-transformation, not more repressive regulation by the authorities, and that individuals also have to be free to laugh and desire and relate to each other based upon their own tastes and interests, to the extent that those tastes and interests do not actively exclude, dominate, or impede others from doing the same.

There is such a thing as white male privilege, there are offensive jokes, and we do need to pay attention to what marginalized others want to be called.  But regulating jokes and relationships and pronouns are not the sole and ultimate ends of progressive political struggle.  While it may be true that all white men are privileged vis-a-vis historically oppressed groups, there are class differences that mean that some white men– a very small minority– rule the world, while most other white men are exploited and alienated.  Punctuating any intervention a white man might make into a political argument with the reminder that he speaks from a position of privilege might be true, but in itself does nothing to help understand this class difference.  It becomes a predictable refrain, and thus leaves everything as it is, including the problematic white male privilege. At the same time such mechanical repetitions can alienate a subset of white men who need to be allies in the struggle.  To overcome the very real problem of white male privilege requires changing the structures of liberal-capitalist patriarchal society.  That requires unified political movements and not lectures-  generally delivered by the highly educated (itself a site of privilege)- about privilege.

We can say the same thing about humour.  Of course jokes can be sexist and racist and homophobic.  But in humour, context and intention counts.  Some jokes are racist and are intended to mock and harm.  Other jokes play on racial stereotypes in order to expose their absurdity.  Laughter can be harmful but it can also be liberating, a means of establishing connection across racial or ethnic divides, and we need to be able to tell the difference (and to laugh at ourselves, whomever we are).  If we are afraid to laugh because, as the character Richard Splett on Veep (a very funny stereotype of the sexually ambiguous male low-level Washington insider, brilliantly played by Sam Richardson) says “It’s not funny unless everyone can laugh” we are in effect abolishing humour from our lives.  Work out his principle as an argument:

It is not funny unless everyone can laugh. The ability to laugh depends upon one’s sense of humour.  But people have different senses of humour. Therefore, not everyone can laugh at the same jokes.  Therefore, no joke is funny.

But the argument, if true, is a reductio ad absurdum of the principle.

The real issue is not whether everyone can laugh, but whether the joke at which some laugh and others groan is spoken with hateful or loving intentions.  When jokes that play on stereotypes are told by people we love and trust they are funny; when structurally similar jokes are told by bigots, they are not.  We need to learn to better distinguish bigotry from humour.  Not only is life without laughter hardly worth living (perhaps not worth living at all), it also makes the left too easy a target for the right, who are happy to protect their bigotry by portraying us as dour prigs allergic to fun and prone to call the police every time we take offense.

The issue here is that if in our struggles against oppression we start to fear the spontaneity of desire and wit as the enemy we run the risk of seeing suffocating bureaucratic-legal regulation of every aspect of individual life and relationships as the solution to social problems.  In fact, the very need for bureaucratic-legal regulation is the sign of, not the solution to, those problems.  For example:  rape is not caused by too few legal regulations on sexual relationships, rather, the need for legal regulation of sexual relationships is a function of patriarchy and male sexual violence.  Hence  the ultimate goal should not be more and more detailed regulation of sexual lives and connections, but (as radical feminists and gay and lesbian activists in the 1960’s argued) a liberation of sexuality from its deformations under patriarchal capitalist relationships so that the very idea of sexual violence becomes oxymoronic.

Of course, this point does not mean that we should not be scrupulous about consent or responsive to the names by which marginalized identities want to be called, but rather that we understand that the deeper political project is to build a world in which we all treat each other as ends-in-ourselves, whatever our identity and in all relationships, so that there is never a question of coercion or violence, physical or emotional.  I know that this goal is a utopian horizon, but it is nevertheless the one towards which we need to be working.

The joyous essence of the emancipatory vision of radical politics that Goldman insists upon has animated the best of socialism, feminism, anarchism, black, and gay liberation movements (we can set aside the differences and difficult relationships between them for the time being).  We are not fighting to be tokens of types but individuals who fully enjoy our brief time on this mortal coil and contribute something of value to others who will take our place.  Let the light of Goldman’s defense of the “right to beautiful, radiant things”  shine in the darkness of the current political moment.

 

Place

From a reductionist standpoint, humans are just organisms that occupy space for a very brief moment of cosmic time;  our life-activity mere survival and reproduction; our sensory relationships with the world focused only threat avoidance, mate finding, and energy consumption.  While there is nothing in this account which is, strictly speaking, untrue, it could apply to any organism in nature, and thus fails to capture that which is distinctively human about our embodied being.

Essential and definitive of human embodied being is an affective-interpretive-aesthetic relationship with the spaces we inhabit.  Human beings do of course depend on nature like all other life, and thus, we, like all living things, live in environments.  But we do not just subsist, we create worlds of meaning through the aesthetic and emotional work of interpreting the places in which we live.  Human beings not only occupy spaces in so far as we are bodies, we form emotional-aesthetic attachments to places of significance.

One might be tempted to posit some sort of “spirit” to places, an excess beyond the material features of environments, to explain their significance, but I think that this move is unnecessary.  Human beings have brains that, in social relationships with each other, develop languages, and languages, over millennia, have developed beyond instrumental signalling devices, through metaphor, symbolization, and allegory, to create a reality of meaning that is fully of this world, although not explicable in terms of the elements and forces of physics.  The meaning-world is still material, in so far as its emergence can be explained in terms of the practices and capacities of embodied beings, but not understandable in reductionist terms.  The “poetics of space”  (Gaston Bachelard) emerge from our felt attachments to places as differentially important to us as individuals because they are the contexts in which we form our identity.  My home does not feel the same to me as your home, one lake is just a body of water, the other where I learned to swim; one streetscape I can walk down with indifference, the other contains a bookshop in which, as a student, I first started to feel a true intellectual calling.  The geographer Edward Casey calls these spaces in which our identity is formed “place-worlds.”  “Places come into us lastingly” he writes, “once having been in a particular place for any considerable time– or even briefly, if our experience there has been intense– we are forever marked by that place, which lingers in us indefinitely.” (“Between Geography and Philosophy:  What Does it Mean to be in the Place-World, p.688.”)

Talk of the relationship between places of significance and identity raises very serious political dangers- the “blood and soil”  atavism that I discussed in my last post and the pernicious, racist doctrine of “ethnic pluralism”  (which says that every culture is valid in itself but that they should all stay in their traditional homelands and not “mix”).  Now, this sort of racist appropriation of place would not be possible if we did not have an affective-interpretive relationship with places.  People can be whipped up into a frenzy to defend “their place”  from others because they do in fact feel powerful attachments to it.  The way to combat this problem is not to appeal to a rootless cosmopolitanism that is indifferent to the differential significance of places for people, but to disconnect what in the racist and ethno-pluralist discourse is essentially connected: meaningful space to nation and nation to exclusive ownership and control over places. 

In order to disrupt the pathological implications of these connections, the first thing we need to  understand is that nations are not places.  Modern (post-French Revolution) nations are ideas, “imagined communities”  in Benedict Anderson’s phrase, identities produced by abstraction from differences, not natural kinds; slogans that can be used to mobilize some subset of the total number of people in a geographic-legal construction against enemy-formations that purportedly threaten the integrity of the in-group by violating borders or occupying space not rightly theirs.

Of course, history does know of the violent displacement of people-  not every threat is constructed or ideological.  At the same time, not every important aspect of human identity is political.  The personal is political, yes, but not every single aspect of the person.  We become concrete individuals through our actions in concrete, discrete, and specific places.  As opposed to an abstraction like “nation,” always constructed in relation to a history that exceeds the individual, places are always bound by the individual’s experiential field and linked to a personal history.  A meaningful place never exceeds what can be comprised by a singular and individual experience: “Joe Lake seen from my uncle’s dock,”  not “Northern Ontario.”

It is true that the people that occupy and relate to these places can be captured under higher level abstractions.  Today, almost every place, as a matter of geo-legal fact, is included in some national political space.  But what makes the place significant is one’s own connection to it, a connection which does not exclude anyone else from having similar or different identity-shaping experiences.  Nationalist discourse works in large part by saying:  “we have something special that no one else has.”  It becomes dangerous when it constructs non-nationals as threats to this special in-group possession.  But the places in which identity-shaping experiences develop are personal, not exclusive.  You can stand beside me and look at Joe Lake from my uncle’s dock, and it does not matter what your national identity is.  Maybe you do not feel about the view as I do:  it does not matter, you are free to interpret it as you like.  Maybe you prefer a different landscape:  all to the good, it is no threat to my feeling deeply at home in this one.

The meaningful texture of identity-forming experience occurs at a different scale than nationalist abstraction:  concrete felt presence, not abstract thought.  Through on-going acts of self-interpretation, multiple, innumerable place-worlds are built up out of the material geography of the planet.  These are not idealizations but concrete doublings of the physical space:  what an embodied, thinking, feeling, language-using bio-social being creates as it builds an identity for itself.  Without these place-worlds human life would revert towards the animal:  habitat distinguished by raw physical differences (climate, food supply, etc), but lacking meaning.  Cities would be like ant colonies without the “storied streets” that draw people to them and make them feel part of some grander creation.

Now, it might seem as though the personal connection between place and meaning turns the public private and in effect establishes a property relation over the meaning of places.  This conclusion would be wrong. Property relations depend upon legal-political constructions; the meaning of places depend upon our creative-interpretive powers and our need to find or create meaning in our natural and social environments.  Meaning is not my property even if I create it since the whole point of creating it is to share it, not to own it.  My identity, constructed through self-interpretations, interactions, and feelings in diverse place-worlds does not exclude anyone else’s identity as illegitimate.  One’s own interpretations of a place are never normative for everyone else.  There are an open and unlimited number of interpretations of place-world’s possible:  their accumulation obeys the law of abundance (more for everyone)  and not scarcity (I take mine and you fend for yourself).

What matters to the production of meaning in place-worlds is attention to the material details of the place and the feelings that they arouse.  The places can be anywhere:  the production of meaning is not parochial and the sense of our individual identity is not nostalgic:  where there is life and attention there is development of identity.  It is not a static and abstract self-consciousness opposed to a chaos of empirical details.  The empirical is not chaotic, it is made sense of by attending to the real contours of places.

Since identities are formed to be shared, we can say that places-  which are the contexts in which identities are created in an on-going fashion- are one crucial material condition of friendship.  In an on-line world we are apt to forget about the importance of shared place-worlds for the formation of friendships.  Here, two points are significant.  Friends share over-lapping place worlds, the place-worlds which they experienced together and on that basis forged the friendship.  But they are also the occasions for sharing the differences that friendship also depends upon:  no one’s experience of a place world is exactly like that of any other.  Friendship is non-instrumental sharing of the self as a materially particular person with another materially particular person.  The physical distinction and difference between the friends is crossed by the stories of shared-place worlds that link their distinct life-histories.

Whereas private property depends upon you not having what I have, (which means, in conditions of unequal distribution, poverty for some as a direct consequence of wealth for others)  the sharing of the experiences that we create through our interpretations of meaningful places enrich us all as meaning-needing beings.  The interpretation of  a place-world is not the same as the domination of space.  The construction of  a concrete, particular identity is no threat to the construction of other concrete identities.  Rather, the differences between our personal identities, forged in the place-worlds we have inhabited, is a condition of there being anything important to share with others, and thus one foundation for the construction of a world of human wealth in which it is worth living.

Re-Thinking Enlightenment Internationalism in the Age of Right-Wing Atavism

The election of Donald Trump has renewed attention to the problem of the conflict between national belonging and international obligation.  Two particular questions have dominated the debate:  whether free trade deals have served the interests of workers and what obligations nation states owe to refugees, political and economic, and immigrants, documented or undocumented.  Something called “globalism” has appeared as a target of criticism but, like its contrary “communitarianism,” it is too generic a term to lead the debate in useful directions.  It demonizes “the global” without distinguishing between different types of global value system.  Just as there can be life-valuable and life-destructive forms of community, so too can there be life-valuable and life-destructive forms of international and global interaction and interconnection.  Critical judgement requires that we always distinguish between the two, always rejecting the life-destructive in favour of the life-valuable.

The life-destructive form of global interaction we can call by the name “imperialism.”      It can take many forms, but always involves the subordination of economically and militarily weaker countries to the economic and political interests of the ruling system of more powerful countries, whether that subordination is exercised through direct colonial domination or via debt and economic dependence.

The life-valuable version we can  call “internationalism.”  It traces its history back to the struggle against European colonialism in the 18th century.  The unfortunately and unjustly maligned universalism of the Enlightenment was the foundation for a philosophical and  practical solidarity between progressives in Europe and black and indigenous victims of colonialism in Africa and the Americas.  We would do well at this point in history to remind ourselves of the origins of the idea of international solidarity as a political litmus test to expose the phony progressivism of Trump and his ilk’s critique of ‘globalism.”

A critique of Enlightenment universalism as an ‘essenialist” imposition of European norms on the kaleidoscope of culturally diverse humanity was a staple of the post-modern philosophy of the 1970’s to the 1990’s.  The legion of criticisms directed against the philosophes rarely engaged in the textual work of close reading that these ‘deconstructive” critics nevertheless claimed to practice.  That is, they never looked beyond the slogans of the era (liberté, egalité, fraternité, the rights of man) to examine in detail exactly what the most politically advanced Enlightenment figures actually had to say about the struggles of colonized people against European rule.  In their practical and philosophical  expressions of solidarity they argued that humanity was on the side of the victims of colonialism, and not so-called European “civilization.”  They cut through the rhetoric of Europe’s “civilizing mission’  in the non-white world and courageously exposed it for what it was:  inhuman subordination and domination rooted in  racism on the one hand and greed on the other.  Let us take just two examples to illustrate the point.

The first is from Condorcet’s Esquisse d’un tableau historique de progrès de l’esprit humaine.  While he does indeed see European philosophy and science as main sources of progress, he is careful to note the contradiction:  while these were internally progressive in so far as they undermined the legitimacy of the  Church and monarchical power, externally they either ignored or helped to legitimate colonial rule. But their ideological use was in fact the very opposite of their truth, which is to free ideas of humanity, equality, freedom, and reason from their identification with one particular culture and instead establish them on a truly universal foundation from which a critical understanding of the value of any particular form of life-  including the European-  can be developed.  Hence, against his own European culture he argues:

Les philosophes des diverse nations embrassent, dans leurs méditations, les interêts de l’humanité entière sans distinction des pays, de race ou de secte, formaient, malgré la différenace de leurs opinions speculatives, une phalange fortement unie contre toutes les erreurs, contre toutes les genres de tyrannie.  Animé par le sentiment d’une philanthropie universelle, ils combattaient l’injustice, lorseque,étrangere à leur patrie, elle ne pouvait les atteindre; ils la combattaient encore lorseque leur patrie meme qui s’en rendait couplable envers d’autres peuples, ils s’élévaient en Europe contre les crimes dont l’avidité souille les rivages de l’Amerique, de l’Afrique, ou de l’Asie.  Les philosophes de l’Angleterre et de la France s’honoraient  de prendre le nom, de remplir les devoirs d’amis, de ces même Noirs que leurs stupide tyrans dedaignaient de compter au nombre des hommes. (pp. 230-231)

(The philosophers of diverse nations embraced, in their reflections, the interests of humanity as whole, without distinction of country, race, or religion. They formed, despite the differences of their speculative positions, a strong, united phalanx against all forms of errors, against all types of tyranny.  Animated by a spirit of universal love for humanity, they fought injustice outside of their own countries when it was lacking, and they combated it even more, when it was their country that was guilty of being its cause.  They rose up, in Europe, against the crimes of greed that soiled the coasts of America, Africa, and Asia.  The philosophers of England and France were proud to take the name of, to fulfill the duties of friendship towards, these same blacks whom their stupid tyrants disdained to count as human beings).

It would be a gross misreading of this argument to think that when Condorcet says that the philosophers of England and France were proud to “take the name” of the blacks of Africa and America that they were usurping the voice of the victims of colonialism and slavery.  On the contrary, he is saying that they have listened to the voices of the oppressed and are responding by attacking the very European powers dominating them.  This is an expansion of the idea of humanity beyond its racist enclosure to white European reality.

Two centuries later, in his classic essay Discours sur la colonialisme, Aimé Césaire would echo Condorcet and expose the contradiction between “civilization”  and colonialism: “Et je dis que de la colonisation à la civilization, la distance est infinie; que, de toutes les expéditions colonial … on ne saurait reussir une seule valuer humaine.”  (p. 10)  (“And I say that between colonization and civilization the distance is infinite; that in all the colonial expeditions one will never find the realization of a single human value.”  From Condorcet to Césaire the consistent foundation of the critique of colonialism has been to expose the way in which it constructs the colonized person as inhuman.  The struggle against it therefore is a struggle through which colonized people prove their humanity to those who would deny it.  Franz Fanon made essentially the same point in Wretched of the Earth.

As powerful a statement of solidarity as Condorcet’s is, he does not examine in any detail the material forces underlying colonial  domination, nor call for its revolutionary overthrow.  That task is taken up by the Abbé Raynal in his Histoire politique et philosophique des établissments et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes.  Whether, as some maintain, the history was actually written by Diderot or by Raynal, the text is a classic of anti-colonialist criticism.  It exposes the nonsense of viewing European expansion as the spread of “civilization.”  It was, on the contrary, a most uncivilized, violent subordination of non-European peoples, their lands and life-resources, to the economic interests of the European ruling classes:

Et vous, vous, pour avoir de l’or vous avez franchi les mers. Pour avoir de l’or , vous avez envahi les contrées. Pour avoir de l’or, vous en avez massàcré la plus grande partie des habitants. Pour avoir de l’or, vous avez précipité dans les entrailles de la terre ceux que vos poignards avoient épargnés. Pour avoir de l’or , vous avez introduit sur la terre le commerce infâme de l’homme & l’esclavage. Pour avoir de l’or, vous renouvelle tous les jours les mêmes crimes.(p.558)

(And you, you, for the sake of gold have crossed the seas. For the sake of gold, you have invaded countries and massacred most of their inhabitants.  For the sake of gold you have buried in the ground those that your daggers have spared.  For the sake of gold, you have introduced onto the earth the infamous trafficking of people and slavery.  For the sake of gold you have repeated these crimes, day after day).

Raynal not only exposed the inhumanity of the colonial project, he called for its overcoming– not by an act of European noblesse oblige, but through anti-colonial revolution.  As C.L.R. James notes in his magisterial The Black Jacobins, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slave who would lead the world’s first successful anti-colonial revolution against France, was inspired to take up arms after reading Raynal’s call for revolt.  Inspired by European philosophy against European practice, L’Ouverture’s armies would, over more than a decade of struggle, defeat, in succession, French, Spanish, and English armies and establish what is today Haiti as the first post-colonial, independent nation.

Through their success, the slave army of San Domingo proved a point made by Kant (perhaps a surprising source of justification of anti-colonial revolution).  Nevertheless, against those who maintained that only some groups of human beings are capable of self-government, Kant affirmed the power of political self-determination as anchored in the universal rational capacities of humanity, thus exposing once again the racist and ideological function of the arguments that denied those capacities to some groups:  “I cannot admit the expression, used by even intelligent men: A certain people …
is not yet ripe for freedom; the bondsmen of a landed proprietor are not yet ripe
for freedom; and thus men in general are not yet ripe for freedom of belief.
According to such a presupposition freedom will never arrive; for we cannot yet
ripen to this freedom unless we are already set free– we must be free to use
our faculties purposively in freedom [and] we never ripen to freedom except
through our own efforts, which we can make only when we are free.” (Quoted in
Arendt, Kant`s Political Philosophy, p. 48).

The political agency that led the revolution was indigenous, but the ideas according to which the slaves under L’Ouverture organized and legitimated their struggle were imported from France.  Which proves:  not that French Revolutionaries were being culturally imperialist in asserting the rights of man, but that the rights of man were powerful tools in the struggle against imperialism, and thus universal in a materially effective way far beyond what could have been the intentions of their French authors.

What is the lesson for today?  It is that there is a difference between trade deals that open borders for capital but keep them lacked for the human victims of capital and genuine international solidarity between workers and the oppressed.  Trump and his fellow travellers like Nigel Farage have effectively played on the fears of some segments of the white working class in the United States and Britain.  They have promised greater economic security by repudiating and repealing trade deals, and that is all well and good, to the extent that those trade deals serve only capital’s interests.  But capital’s interests can be served in nationalistic ways too.  Working class supporters of Trump need to ask him if he will work to repeal the reams of anti-worker and anti-union legislation that has so compromised American workers’ ability to fight back.  I think we know what the answer to that question will be.

At the same time, what has most worried people– and rightly so– is not the critique of NAFTA or the TPP, but the demonization of non-whites and immigrants.  They have buttressed the economic argument through full-throat fulminations against immigrants and foreigners which call to mind, even if they do not exactly repeat, the blood and soil atavism of the worst moments of human history.

Against their racist fear mongering opponents need to affirm the revolutionary anti-colonialism that was first expressed by the most politically advanced thinkers of the Enlightenment.  Working people advance within nations when conditions between nations are most ripe for successful struggles.  We might think that the pre-NAFTA, pre-WTO world was a Golden Age for workers.  It was not.  But there were real increases in working class living standards between 1945 and 1973.  Some of those gains can be explained by the rapid growth of productivity during those years. But productivity gains can just as easily be consumed by capital as profit as paid out in wages.  Hence, the other side of the explanation is that capital was willing to share a higher per centage of profit as wages because there was the ideological need to legitimate capitalism in the face of what looked like a real communist alternative.

In no small part communism appeared as a real alternative because of the many anti-colonial uprisings supported (even if for cynical reasons)  by the Soviet Union and China.  The democratic vitality of these revolutions was not in their funding source but in the agency of the oppressed which sustained them and led them to victory.  Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution (to take only one example, most a propos today) had many internal political limitations, but he was not hated by Western rulers because of the abominable way his party treated gays and lesbians or their refusal to allow the formation of free trade unions.  He was hated because, over fifty years, he defied their arrogance and was an unfailing supporter, ideologically and materially, of people fighting racism and colonialism, from Angola (where 25 000 Cuban troops fought against the apartheid-backed forces of Jonas Savimbi), to Venezuela today.

One could thus say, with some truth, that American, Canadian, and European workers owe a debt to the revolutionaries of the Third World whose heroic struggles sowed the seeds of doubt in Western ruling classes about the stability of the international system.

This history, the history of international solidarity, is the one that needs to be recovered today.  The left will not revive, nor the shared life-interests of workers be served,  by retreating into localized particularisms.  The interests of the colonized, the displaced, and those in search of refuge, are human interests.  That is the lesson the Trumpites need to be taught.