Myths of the Modern Utopian Left

The ‘Red Fascist’ Tankie, Praxis & Theory, and Praxis as Ableism

Photo by Steve Harvey

In the modern arena of the USAmerican left, the most often used (yet least understood) insult hurled by those on the ultra or fringe left is the term ‘tankie.’ The term originated as a derogatory term meant to describe members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) who followed the party line of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). This included agreeing with the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and later the Prague Spring of 1968 by Soviet tanks, thus the phrase ‘tankie.’

Since its historical origin, however, the meaning of the term has transitioned in its entirety. The ultra leftists of the modern era tend to cling to either the utopian views of socialism that predate scientific socialism or the concept of a ‘world revolution’ put forward by theorists such as Leon Trotsky. In both cases, they overwhelmingly deny the concepts of ‘socialism in one nation,’ ‘Democratic Centralism,’ and ‘critical support for nations fighting against imperialism’ that form the foundational elements of scientific socialism and Marxist-Leninist theory. As this segment of the USAmerican left has grown, they have adopted and reinterpreted insults of the prior utopian left to specifically target those with whom they hold ideological splits.

I have come to realize that in modern context, when insultingly using the word ‘tankie’ what those within the utopian left truly mean is that they are against anti-imperialism as all of their complaints are rooted in those of the Marxist-Leninist persuasion having critical support for nations fighting against imperialist aggression. This is rooted in a belief among the ultra left that true socialism can only be achieved via an international proletarian revolt. Their beliefs in an international proletarian revolution and the spontaneous achievement of communism exclude the transitionary period of a socialist state. For this reason, they attribute the concept of a one-party democratically centralized dictatorship of the proletariat as being equivalent to a fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Within this viewpoint, those nations victimized by modern imperialism are in their mind no better than the aggressors themselves. This ideological structure is what spawns the left-wing concept of ‘authoritarianism.’

This ‘authoritarianism,’ contrary to what they profess, is not inherently a bad thing. I feel as though that flawed perception is one of the USAmerican left’s biggest hurdles to move past.

Until a classless system is achieved, the core dynamic of society will always be the exertion of one class’s authority over another. The only variable is whether the class in power will be the elite minority or the working majority.

Photo by Sushil Nash

There are two highly problematic factions of the USAmerican utopian left: Those who promote theory without praxis and those who promote praxis without theory.

First, I will address those on the theory side of the divide, often referred to as ‘armchair socialists.’ These ‘radicals,’ which I must put in quotes as they are neither radical nor revolutionary, put an extreme emphasis on the reading, re-reading, and memorization of socialist theory. However, they put no stock in the concept of praxis. They instead remain in the realm of academia. Their voice is limited to the online and academic spaces through which they can best build their personal brand and following while converting well-meaning and potentially revolutionary cadre to their brand of faux radical counter-revolution.

Theory is important, and that can not be overstated. But it is only useful in tandem with action. Someone who is green in regard to theory but willing to learn while going out and organizing in their community is far more effective than someone who has memorized the collective works of Lenin but refuses to meet their community and organize.

No matter how thorough your knowledge of revolutionary theory, if you are not meeting your community where they are at it’s useless. Likewise, if you’re trying to take the streets and ‘do praxis’ without a theoretical basis or goal, you’re accomplishing nothing. You need both. This leads us to the next faction of the USAmerican utopian left: those who promote praxis and praxis alone.

Those on the praxis side of the divide eschew theory in its entirety, choosing to focus solely on lived experience and direct action. This approach is equally as ineffective as that of the faction that abandons praxis for theory.

These individuals take to the streets impulsively to build spontaneous actions and temporary movements that hold no theoretical basis. This leads to protests without defined goals, demonstrations without solid demands, and movements that inevitably fizzle out as their impulsive and unstructured nature creates a situation in which even their most successful attempts lack the structure and planning needed to go forward. A movement without an ideological basis can not succeed.

Praxis without theory is as utterly useless as theory without praxis.

For a movement to succeed, it must consist of a dedicated cadre acting in accordance with a thorough ideological and theoretical basis. A revolutionary must plan, organize, and take action in a careful and well-thought manner that puts forward set demands and builds upon them with the core philosophical tenets of scientific socialism.

Photo by Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

When discussing the importance of praxis alongside theory, one will often hear jabs from the ultra left that accuse those who encourage revolutionary organizing of ableism. Those in the utopian fringe view the promotion of community organizing as ableist gatekeeping, which in an ironic twist reeks of ableism itself.

To say that organizing is ableist is to say that you have very low views of what the disabled and neurodivergent communities are capable of doing. It is in practice saying the disabled and neurodivergent are not capable of organizing, and that is both incredibly ableist and insulting in itself.

These individuals write off our disabled and neurodivergent comrades as incapable of praxis, taking people with valuable skills and experiences to bring to the table and infantilizing them, while we on the scientific left work to create an environment where everyone’s skills and abilities can be put to use for the movement in whatever ways they are comfortable contributing.

they/he | I’m a materialist and Luciferian who studied design and philosophy! I also organize with the Party for Socialism and Liberation & ANSWER Coalition