In 1099, the city of Jerusalem fell to the knights of the first crusade. What happened following the capture of the city is one of the blackest marks on Western Christendom throughout its entire history. The city’s population was put to the sword with no regard to age, sex, or even religion. One eyewitness who testified to the massacre wrote of knights striding about with blood up to their ankles.
This history of the first crusade up to that point had been fraught with betrayal, failure, and a few fortunate victories which turned out to be just enough so as to reach the walls of Jerusalem. One factor in the crusaders’ unlikely success was the disunity in the Muslim world at the time. By the time the crusaders had reached Palestine, Jerusalem had recently been recaptured from the Seljuk Turks by the Shiite Fatmid caliphate. The success of the first crusade owed less to God than it did to the complex politics and internal struggles of the Middle East, particularly the struggle between the Sunni and Shiite factions.
As the story goes, after the news of the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent massacre spread throughout the Muslim world, the leadership of the Islamic world appeared totally impotent and unsure of what to do. According to Muslim historian Ali ibn al-Athir, a man with a group of followers walked into a Baghdad mosque during Ramadan. The leader’s head was shaved as if in mourning. He and his followers, in full defiance of the fast, sat down and began eating. When the people reacted, he asked them, “How can you feel so angry at the sight of one man violating a fast, yet be completely indifferent to the destruction of the holy places of Islam, and the massacre of thousands of the faithful in Jerusalem?” The sentiment took time to catch on, but eventually it did, and it fueled the call for a holy jihad against the invaders.
When I think about the events of May 2 in Odessa, during which several young Communists were brutally murdered, in fact when I think of all the events in Ukraine recently, and then when I consider what the “left” of the United States and other developed countries is like, I cannot help but feel the kind of rage that Arab dissident felt when he broke the fast to call attention to the massacre of Jerusalem. We live in a world in which fascists are allowed to openly march down the streets memorializing their heroes, where the market reigns supreme and working people all over the world are under a full court press by the capitalist class, and what is the “left” in those countries with the most resources doing?
They’re posting on Tumblr about how someone made them feel bad by saying the wrong words in front of them yesterday. They’re talking about how so-and-so doesn’t deserve to be considered an “ally” of whatever group because something they said offended the author personally. They’re attacking any organization or group that refuses to turn all its resources and attention to their personal pet issue.
They’re having protests and flash mobs with “guerrilla theatre” that is incomprehensible to their audience. They’re having broad, “grass roots” gatherings and “occupying.” Don’t speak to them about theoretical foundations or organization! No, it’s far better to let your movement be inundated with all manner of right-wing populist conspiracy nut scumbags rather than try to construct a plan and a coherent message. Anything which might introduce some coherency and effectiveness to a resistance movement is just so “authoritarian,” it hardly leaves room for street theatre or zombie walks!
And forget Marxism-Leninism, also known as that theory which once shook the bourgeois order to its core and had the ruling class so scared at one point they were willing to toss money and resources at anybody just to make it go away. Oh sure, we’ll appropriate a few things from Marxist theory just to look a bit more radical. We might even go so far as to mention his name and identify ourselves as Marxists. But all that nasty stuff about revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat needs to go. We’ll tell everyone that Marx actually had something else in mind, and turns out that something else looks an awful lot like worker co-ops, in other words the same things which have existed worldwide for decades if not centuries, and yet never led to the downfall of capitalism. Revolution is far too messy for your modern American college student. And how would you set up the myriad of various trigger warnings you would need before such an undertaking?
We have to be careful with Marxism. What if our opponents bring up Stalin? Stalin’s really bad for marketing, or at least we preemptively decided he is. It saves us time having to actually study history and come up with a little more solid theory as to the failure of 20th century socialism than “some bad guy screwed it all up.” We’ll just join in with all our opponents’ accusations and demand a do-over just because we support Trotsky or Durruti as opposed to that monster, Stalin. The tactic has been so successful in the past.
Oh yes, we’ll pay homage to Marxist theory, but only if it is presented in a way that takes into account our fetish for obscure pop culture and helps us imagine that we’re putting our philosophy degrees to work. Yeah, I know it might not be too popular with the working masses, but my favorite rock-star philosopher’s loquacious and meandering lectures are just so deep. Those fast food workers need to catch up.
We’ll tell people to buy local and put their money in credit unions, ignoring the fact that not only does this do nothing to hurt capitalism, but it’s actually theoretically impossible. We’ll internalize the logic and ideology of capitalism and pretend we can solve the world’s problems via our choices as individual consumers – be the change you wish to see in the world!
Didn’t you see the latest TED talk? Science and technology will save us all! All we need is a new type of economy, a sharing economy. By making a buck here or there giving people rides or watching their houses, we’ll finally free ourselves of the yoke of capital and traditional employment!
Or on the other hand, maybe we’ll shake the system to its foundations by taking on “Big Pharma” and their vaccines! Yes, let’s tell everyone about GMOs and “Frankenfoods.” While we’re at it, why not bring up the 9/11 inside job theory again? It’s been over 13 years since the event, but if we just put out enough Youtube videos one day the same government that supposedly did 9/11 will investigate 9/11 and reveal the truth, which will then bring the whole system down!
Or maybe all of that is too radical. Maybe we need to work through the Democratic party. We should stump for their candidates, and upon getting them elected, we can “hold them accountable” by giving them our unqualified support next time around, no matter how many knives they shove into our collective back.
Oh yes, in the West we’re quite angry and oh-so-radical! Far more radical than those 20th century revolutionaries who knew nothing about intersectionality and, you know, actually led revolutions. Those revolutions did fail, after all, which not only totally negates any value they might have had, but also vindicates our nebulous clusterfuck of a movement despite our utter lack of any positive influence of our own. From trying to pay us in de-facto scrip, making us work off the clock, and demanding that we be grateful to the ruling class for the privilege, to literally supporting fascists who murder people by trapping them alive in a building and setting it alight, the capitalist class is on the offensive worldwide. We know and we’re mad as hell!
Just don’t expect us to do anything about it, or at least anything that isn’t entertaining and fully tailored to our interests. It needs to involve a lot of street theater and student debt relief should be at the top of any list of demands. Oh, and are you sure we should be condemning the government in Ukraine? Like, I saw this really brave girl in a video on Upworthy and she didn’t say anything about right-wing extremism. And isn’t there like, Vladimir Putin over there or something? Like, aren’t both sides right, or wrong, but like, we should support Maidan just in case?
There’s the Western left. You’ve got idiots sitting behind computers shouting about the “people’s struggle in the Third World,” and wouldn’t you know, they happen to live in the “first world.” You’ve got people ready to shit all over any promising movement just because that movement’s line doesn’t appeal to their particular identity group, as they understand it. You’ve got people smearing other people because one time, when they were five years younger, and drunk at a party, they once said something really offensive and therefore this is who they permanently are – a shitlord.
I realize that there are many people out there who want to do something and can’t, for a number of real reasons. I am one of those individuals, living just beyond the front line yet connected to the West culturally and electronically. I’m enraged because I watch from an ocean away and see people who do have resources and opportunities, and they seem to be dicking around with bullshit ideologies which have nothing but failure in their long history. I’m not pretending that I have all the answers but I cannot help but wonder when the so-called left in the developed world will pull its head out of its ass and start actually being radical as opposed to posturing thus. I sure hope it happens soon because the other side sure as hell isn’t going to sit around and wait.
Anyone who wants to call themselves a leftist and actually be able to say that with a straight face ought to see what is happening in Ukraine these days as the fall of Jerusalem. We have the leaders of the European Union actively supporting fascist organizations and parties to advance their economic interests, and on the other side we have a capitalist, wannabe-imperialist power Russia pretending to represent the Ukrainian resistance. Is that all the workers deserve? One brand of fascism and austerity or another? I want to know what we are going to do about this. I want to know where the retreat ends and the counter-offensive begins. I’d like to know when we stop settling for defending aging, dying, and half the time capitalist states for the sake of “anti-imperialism” and start being Communists again. Do I ask too much?