A Few Words on Jacobin and Purity Cults

I usually restrict my irritation with other small-time radicals to random jabs on Twitter and various asides in blog posts about bigger fish. However, there is a really annoying conversation developing in blog and Twitterland about ‘left purity cults’ and as it’s a conversation in which I am already publicly involved and as it’s a conversation that has so far been dominated by bad faith and general stupidity, I feel compelled to address it in long form, I hope,  for the last time.

It started with Freddie DeBoer, a lefty blogger who I briefly found interesting not least because of how he manages to be both really sharp and really clueless at the same time.  A big part of DeBoer’s meticulously cultivated personal brand is fierce intellectual independence. So it is never enough for DeBoer to simply provide supporting evidence for whatever axe he happens to be grinding. He must also demonstrate how grinding this axe sets him apart from less courageous, less principled people.

Recently, in the midst of endorsing another Jacobin call for More and Better Democrats, DeBoer conjured an army of unprincipled, petty Jacobin detractors apart from whom he bravely set himself.

That opinion, I’m afraid, is not very cool. Jacobin has been catching some of the expected flak lately, given their recent success. They are guilty of several of the Lefty Seven Deadly Sins, including Being Popular, Getting Positive Attention, and Convincing Others. This cannot be countenanced, and so they are being punished. Mostly by anarchist, by my lights, but by the general mass of the “however extreme you are, +1” crowd.

Who these people are, DeBoer didn’t say. Nor did he link to anyone, no doubt because it’s hard to find people who say ‘I really don’t like Jacobin. They’re too popular and convincing.’  Proving the envious, purist essence of more common complaints that the Jacobin crowd is, say, too soft on liberals and too hard on anarchists is yeoman’s work. It gets in the way of a nice, concise advertisement for oneself. So no facts intruded. Instead, DeBoer went on a weird, irrelevant tangent about how much anarchists suck — rich white smashers of car windows, of course — perhaps in an attempt at brand synergy with anarcho-punchy Jacobin. Who the fuck knows?

This was too much, so I took him to task in comments, and what happened was, in retrospect, quite funny, with DeBoer taking comedic flights from self-awareness via the crudest demonizing and pathologizing. My personal favorite:

I’m going to tell you this because I genuinely like you and wish you the best: I’ve known people who act the way you do. They either killed themselves or became Republicans.

I would have been happy to let that be that, resolving to never be trolled  by Freddie again, were so many others not so bent on taking this substance-free, fallacious shit seriously. Shawn Gude, of Jacobin, called DeBoer’s mish-mash of straw men and smears an “intervention in the purity debate.” Then a day or so later comes Matt Bruenig, linking to DeBoer’s post with this,  ‘The Death Spiral of Futile Leftism’ :

The left-left side of the blogosphere is chattering about lefter-than-thou sniping that is apparently aimed at people associated with the Jacobin. For readers who don’t pay attention to that stuff, Jacobin magazine is a socialist magazine that is popular. The lefter-than-thou crowd is comprised of people who do everything they can to throw bombs at left-wing projects that are successful. The goal of the bomb-throwing, it appears, is not to actually achieve anything substantive; rather, it is to make damn sure everyone knows they are different from them, those leftists who aren’t the real leftists like they are.

On and on like that it goes for not one but two posts. Which puts us at three-too-many posts about anti-Jacobin purity cults without a single example of an anti-Jacobin purity cultist, or the intrusion of a single left idea that purists might haggle over.

Lets just cut this stupid crap right now, ok? First of all, if you’re going to write multiple posts about this thing on the left causing ‘death spirals’, no one is obliged to take you for anything but a lazy dumbass if you are unable or unwilling to provide even one fucking example of this thing you’re talking about. Linking to some other dumbass who wrote about this thing also without providing an example really doesn’t count. It makes you look even more ridiculous. Collectively you just look like a clique closing ranks against criticism.

As to the complaint itself:  Yes, of course, there are purists. There are leftier than thous. Americans are religious people and it bleeds into everything. But very few differences among leftists are of this kind and there is zero evidence that people’s problems with Jacobin are all in some uniquely substance-free class. For me it’s a mix of the personal and political. I disagree with a lot of what members of the Jacobin crowd say and I especially don’t like the smears that go with it. There are too many certified creeps over there.

In any event, I am at pains to understand how taking radicals to task for being too radical is any more useful than taking people like Jacobin to task for not being radical enough. After all, what is the functional difference between a leftier-than-thou shithead and their more-pragmatic-than-thou analog. Certainly some of the by now greatly inflated animus toward Jacobin owes to their emphasis on how flawed everything and everyone else on the left is, particularly radicals who don’t share their religious faith in state power.  How does this differ functionally from people talking shit about them? If there’s too much friction, how are diatribes about purity cults relieving it?

If  leftists really do hate other leftists for ‘Being Popular, Getting Positive Attention, and Convincing Others’ aren’t there more worthy targets for purity cults than Jacobin? I mean, what about investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill? It’s only May and the guy has already won a literary prize of $150k, just released a hit book and has a movie coming out. He’s also very cute. If Jacobin’s 3000 subscribers and shout-outs from Chris Hayes make purity cultists foam at the mouth, shouldn’t Scahill’s far greater accolades, access and rewards make us apoplectic? But near as I can tell, almost everyone who cares about America’s criminal wars likes the guy.

Perhaps there are other variables.  Like that Scahill’s not a dick.



The latest from Matt Bruenig: “If nothing else, inadvertently setting off the unhinged is great for pageviews.”

What a dumb man. Trading entirely in straw men and smears on behalf of moving us past sectarianism to solidarity. SMH.

For laughs, here’s Matt’s guide to knowing whether or not you’re dealing with a purity cult. Includes helpful 10-point checklist.


Matt Bruenig has facetiously asked me on Twitter when I am going to write something about what he actually wrote. He’s insisting that his piece has nothing to do with Jacobin per se, that DeBoer’s piece was just his ‘hook.’ Not sure that matters since it’s a substance free caricature of unnamed people regardless.

In any case, Jacobin chief Bhaskar Sunkara dropped by Bruenig’s blog to comment as if it were about Jacobin, so clearly I’m not the only one missing Bruenig’s point. A lot of his readers have missed the point too, and it’s quite funny to watch Matt — who, as we know, hates purism — trolling through the comments belittling and insulting people who express only the mildest misgivings about Jacobin.

Bruenig obviously thinks all the Twitter-love for his post denotes merits beyond its naked and simplistic appeal to tribalism and conformity. Haughtiness has ensued, as it so often does when the self-unaware get too much attention. With Corey Robin-like wit and self-effacement, he urged me to ‘Read  harder.’

I invited him to comment here but he has declined.


Freddie DeBoer has replied to my post and again I marvel at his ability to either miss a point or pretend to.

 Look, the most accurate criticism you can make about me is that I can’t disentangle my personal from my political. Many people find that solipsistic and annoying. But I know of no other way to keep the fire. If liking Jacobin makes me unacceptable to Tarzie or anybody, that’s how it goes. I have now had five years of people not liking me. I am used to it.

As an object study in tactical cluelessness, Freddie is clearly a very poor judge of what criticisms I can make about him. Surely it’s obvious to everyone but him that this post is not all about Freddie and that I truly don’t give a fuck how he feels about Jacobin.  I’ve introduced him here as an example of a certain shitty disciplinary smeariness and because his shitty, disciplinary smeariness is becoming contagious. My primary interest, perhaps foolish, is in killing this stupid, fake, self-serving ‘purity cult’ nonsense before it grows and to show the cringe-making hypocrisy of anti-sectarian sectarians. If Freddie’s only conclusion is that I dislike him, that’s fine, I do, though perhaps less than he thinks. But it’s really not my aim.

Recommended reading:

Keepers of the Gatekeepers


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50 Responses to A Few Words on Jacobin and Purity Cults

  1. alhambralahomo says:

    As I’m working without facts but only suppositions, I may twist an ankle. But isn’t it possible that these blogging socialists are in fact projecting their resentment of the success they don’t have and they’re seeking to pound down on a scapegoat. Isn’t it possible that this is the bowels of cliquish desperation to prove one has a master plan, when none is even remotely likely to show up on any horizon? And that, if only it weren’t for the scapegoat, God would favor our non-existent master plan and we’d live happy ever after.
    I think I just made myself feel sorry for them. And mad at you for being such a meanie.

  2. I dunno about this fixation on “evidence.” I mean, these people are pursuing careers. In media. Evidence is such a bother, indeed a positive hindrance. Your approach strikes me as dangerously retrograde and old-fashioned. Some anarchist you are!

    Nicely done. And a deucedly clever conclusion, with a lovely last, short paragraph. By the way, Jeremy Scahill is my husband. Hands off! (In my head, he’s my husband. What’s in my head is real. Be quiet.)

    Prepare for the onslaught! We’re with you, brother. (The smartest strategy, from their point of view, would probably be to simply ignore you. Based on their record to date, I wouldn’t expect them to do that. But perhaps they’ll decide to strike out on a new path…)

    P.S. I am purer than all of you! Except in my personal life, which is a sewer overflowing with filth — and which must never be spoken of in public. Except for my husband, that is. :>))

    • ohtarzie says:

      You’re hilarious, Arthur. I’m not too worried about fallout. I deliberately avoided going into specifics about Jacobin because whether or not I like them is not important. I am caring less and less about all of these people. Only wrote this because I saw people who should know better finding merit in the whole purity cult thing and decided to intervene.

    • Dictum says:

      But we’re all friends here, so, go on….

  3. Henry says:

    I don’t see what’s so reformist about Jacobin’s stuff. I can’t think of any articles that praise Democrats, or advocate reformism as a platform. There may be essays here and there that I don’t know about, but I read the thing fairly regularly and find a lot of fairly radical theses there.

    What about the essay “Red and the Black” which is about expropriating the entire goddamn financial system? I think calling that insufficiently radical is a bit ridiculous. I can’t think of many essays I’ve read in any other venues with equally ambitious ideas.

    • ohtarzie says:

      My beef with Jacobin has never been that they’re insufficiently radical, though I think their eagerness to hold hands with liberals and work through the Democratic Party is kind of at odds with your assessment. Nevertheless, this post isn’t about whether or not they’re radical enough. The question doesn’t interest me. It’s they, DeBoer and Matt Breunig who are trying to cast this imagined ‘purity cult’ in those terms. My concern is these bad faith attempts to discipline people who don’t agree with/don’t like them with smears and conjecture. I think any attempt at belittling criticism instead of confronting it head on is to be resisted and shunned.

      Though I have taken a few shots at them on Twitter, I have deliberately tried to keep my misgivings in check in this post. I don’t see any point in raking them over the coals, first off, and second, I don’t feel I need to prove that I’m not a purist on DeBoer’s or Breunig’s say-so. My last paragraph sort of alludes to the problem. I just plain don’t like a lot of them. I don’t like a lot of what they say and I don’t like the way they say it.

  4. walterglass4 says:

    Love how De Boer doesn’t even go near the straw man issue, which seems like it would be the most immediately demanding of attention for an honest writer. Just more hand-wringing about how you’ll never like him, even though he’s trying so very hard.

    Also, I could be missing the joke, but he misuses the word “enervating” in an unintentionally correct way. I’m just piling on here.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Yeah, I know. He didn’t acknowledge that when we first argued, either. He seemed to think the only thing he did wrong in his post was tell his little anarchist story. He really is an oddball. He’s smart but there’s something missing. He doesn’t seem able to break things down into pieces. I don’t know if it’s defensiveness or what. I’m deliberately avoiding engaging on his blog. He’s frustrating and I don’t want to be slimed on again by him or one of his buddies.

      It’s almost hard for me to dislike him too much. He trotted out all these horrible things that people do when they argue in bad faith but he does it with what looks like so much less deliberate malice than, say, Corey Robin or Connor Kilpatrick do. It’s almost like there are two people in there.

      • Paul Behrer says:

        “Almost like there are two people there.”

        Well that would be deBoer, and his Heroic Imagined Jacobin Reformist Ideal. Which would be embodied in some “leader” he thinks will show him favor for “support.” Or who already gives him $0.50 per post against “purity” for DNC retention. Et cetera.

      • ohtarzie says:

        I dunno if I’m that cynical about him. It’s almost like he comes by being a statist shill organically. They’re the best ones. A British television interviewer once asked Chomsky something like (paraphrasing from memory here), “So are you claiming that I don’t believe a word I say” and Chomsky said, “No. I think you believe everything you say and if you didn’t you wouldn’t be sitting there.” I think it’s a good thing that Freddie, by his own account, wants nothing more than a university gig.

  5. “After all, what is the functional difference between a leftier-than-thou shithead and his more-pragmatic-than-thou analog.”

    Nail on head. “Nothing’s worse than a leftist sniping at other leftists” says the leftist sniping at other leftists. It’s absurd.

    Bhaskar’s notion, that the working class can be re-engaged via nominally socialist lifestyle radicals and their prissy academic journaling, is absolutely infuriating. It’s very easy to publish a little boutique journal, it’s very hard to spend four decades toiling in the remnants of the manufacturing class, to work actively as a labor organizer, to whistleblow on vital national security issues. This is not revolutionary and it’s not yeoman’s work, it’s blogging. It is an academic circle jerk and it is profoundly un-sexy.
    There’s plenty of blame to go around in the collapse of the radical left as a political power but the one key facet that often goes un-mentioned among the conference-holding, cocooned professional academic finger pointers is the role of the conference-holding cocooned professional academic finger pointers.

    to put it more succintly, Jacobin is the Smorgasburg of “radical” political thought, a faddy distraction for fuckheads too deluded to understand they’re consuming fast food.

    Lastly, fuck Breunig. He lays himself out clearly. Jealous of Jacobin’s “success”? How does he define success? Apparently it’s not a measurable shift in the status quo or greater equity for the working class, it’s a further spiral of incestuous linkage and winking coverage in the NYT about the magazine itself. It’s Chris fucking Hayes. And we all know how that turns out.

    • ohtarzie says:


      Wow. Yes. Yes. Yes. Want to be my ghost writer?

      I love your whole comment but this especially:

      “There’s plenty of blame to go around in the collapse of the radical left as a political power but the one key facet that often goes un-mentioned among the conference-holding, cocooned professional academic finger pointers is the role of the conference-holding cocooned professional academic finger pointers.”

      I can’t really talk too much, though, being an unprofessional, non-academic finger pointer.

      Also, really love your remarks on Breunig and success. That’s a great observation. How these people measure success that the rest of us are so vexed by. Went by me.

  6. alhambralahomo says:

    Survival instinct can’t grapple with its moral worth, only with its efficiency. His only way to respond or engage with you is to double down on what he started with, all the while pretending he isn’t doing it and shifting the blame for your unhappiness on your inexplicable but inevitable ‘attacks’, which he will continue to weather by repeating the cycle. Until one of you dies or finds a different garden to snake around. It would be funny if I wasn’t such a misanthrope and…it is funny to me.

  7. Furthermore, just a couple of weeks earlier (these triflers were effectively pwned avant la lettre; good job doing so in “actual time”), Graeber published an exemplarily accessible new book on the historical essence and vitality of democracy as small-a anarchism, using a range of styles, arguments, and sources (look, there’s Freddie in a footnote!) that invite alliance and respect from the widest possible spectrum, explicitly including, while also articulating the coercion and confidence-tricks that have “had,” liberals.

    If it’s another bestseller for that s.o.b. I’m going to have a fucking aneurysm.

  8. Daniel says:

    Nothing screams “tactically savvy” like writing an essay about the actual radical allies you’re dying to throw under the bus for just the shot at all those hypothetical liberals to tenderly clasp and kiss that extended hand of a Jacobin socialist once we shoo off all the poor, dirty, rich, privileged anarchists mucking around. I can tell you when I see someone calling a person they claim to genuinely like “suicidal” and “a future Republican” or constantly questioning the motives of their dissent, I think, “Yeah, that’s the type of integrity I want to hitch my solidarity to.” Bang up fucking job building that mass party you’re so keen on, gang.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Ha ha. Nice. Yes, Freddie and co are quite the bundle of contradictions. Should have told Freddie that when I say he’s shitty and smeary I mean it in a nice way.

  9. Rob says:

    A genuinely healthy radical left in this country would clearly include a substantial amount of both state socialists and anarcho-socialists. I honestly have no idea how to argue with someone who disagrees with this point; it just seems self-evident to me.

    • ohtarzie says:

      My first impulse was to agree entirely but I’m not sure. Clearly there is an element that thinks they can get what they want working only with statists and most Americans are statists. If liberals really can be won over, perhaps that’s enough. I just don’t think statists have good enough anti-authoritarian instincts to produce anything worth having. I also think that, at the moment at least, anarchists have better instincts for shit-disturbing. Certainly there is no good reason at this particular stage in time for anyone to be writing anyone else off. Taking people to task for doing shit you really really don’t agree with though is fair game.

      • Rob says:

        I agree with you on both counts. All utopians (Marx included, the state withering away and such) are ultimately anarchists; it’s a question of how you get there.

        Overall, I like the anarchist focus on changing culture and dialogue more than I like the state socialist focus on changing the laws. But I think we may need a bit of both to move in the correct direction, and I don’t see why, for the time being, they need to be in direct conflict.

    • Henry says:

      As someone with both anarchist and socialist leanings (I’ve called myself one, I’ve called myself the other at different times in my life), I completely agree. Unfortunately, things seem to get pretty heated between anarchists and socialists in pretty short order whenever they interact. I wish there was a more explicit, articulate dialogue between the two that people could latch on to.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Well I think it would help if people stopped rehearsing the conflict all the time when we’re not all in the same room. To that end we might remind ourselves that there is lots of common ground and for that reason to try to work at not being shitheads. It seems to me that anti-anarchist animus is akin to bigotry and leads to really disgusting behavior in statists. I think anti-statist bias is more rooted in real analysis, and while anarchists might dislike statists and not trust them, I think it rarely takes the form of treating people like they are subhuman or crazy. That shit about ‘crazy or Republican’ is Statist Assholery 101.

        I think coalitions between fractious parties probably function best coming together for very specific common goals on a short term basis. Anarchists and statists are so at odds on how to do organizations and meetings and the like that prolonged contact does not seem conducive to solidarity.

  10. Anonymous says:

    A significant problem with the Jacobin crowd (and the institutional liberal space) is they don’t actually know or do anything, so their work is actually useless to anyone who is exerting power and might share leftist sympathies. One of them might write a piece about how to remake financial capitalism, but without any understanding of how an actual payments system works or the politics of banks or the underlying legal mechanics of a foreclosure. The work is so sloppily done and irrelevant to anything serious that, in the words of physicist Wolfgang Pauli, it’s not even wrong.

    Jeremy Scahill’s work is great because he’s actually observing stuff about the world and the people in power and then writing it down. Powerful people have robots and missiles and shoot and kill innocent other people with those robots and missiles. Here’s evidence. It’s powerful good stuff.

    Jacobin doesn’t emulate this model, the magazine seems to have an ignorant and/or derivative story to tell and then finds someone who can put a few sentences together to tell it. To pick a piece at random – this one on deskilling of labor (http://jacobinmag.com/2013/04/the-rise-of-the-machines/) – it’s about a person who didn’t like working at McDonald’s and then wrote a few thousand words on modern work and machinery. Ok. This is fine. But there’s a huge body of work on labor economics to draw from, there are massive fights over this right now because trillions of dollars are at stake. Writing about that would be actually interesting, and useful. But the article was just silly. It’s sad, too, because the author and readers are being trained to think that this is quality work, useful to the world, and in that sense, it’s highly counterproductive. McDonald’s doesn’t care if someone talks about how they don’t like being deskilled in some hipster magazine, the execs there would think it’s cute. McDonald’s might care if some hipster magazine actually did a freedom of information act request to the Department of Labor about the relationship of Nixon, Carter, and/or Reagan to fast food restaurants and labor standards. Then you could tell the deskilling story using a powerful evidence-based model. But Jacobin writers don’t even know that they don’t know, and throw phrases like “purity cult” at anyone who recognizes this shallowness.

    This is by the way true of most establishment liberals – look at the ridiculous carping about how lobbyists are gutting Dodd-Frank. Waaaah, they argue, as if that wasn’t the point all of along of passing a series of bailout bills, reconfirming the bailout-friendly head of the Fed, not prosecuting anyone, allowing a massive foreclosure epidemic and then finally passing Dodd-Frank. The problem isn’t any of the major policy choices, it’s that the mean lobbyists are preventing D-F from being implemented properly. Oh come on. This is propaganda, it’s obvious, but many of them don’t even realize it as they write this crap because they literally don’t know anything about anything and are stubborn in their ignorance.

    I’m not sure whether I’d call myself a liberal, a leftist, a radical, an independent, or anything else. I see merit in incremental change, and also in phase-shifts that allow for the possibility of radical discontinuity. I don’t have an overriding philosophical preference for institutional formats, that stuff seems mostly out of my control. I have no ability to control whether there are massive pools of recoverable oil discovered in North Dakota, and what will happen institutionally as a result of that. What I do find galling though is the weird unwillingness of the liberal institutional space to engage with the world, to be humble in the face of what you don’t know, and to try to learn first and then explain.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Hi anon:

      Much food for thought there. I appreciate your providing another living example of people who come by their misgivings about Jacobin thoughtfully. You’re hiding your envy and purism well.

      It’s funny. I feel I am much softer at heart on Jacobin than some of the critics stopping by here. For instance, I don’t discount the value of what a friend calls ‘matte print socialism’. I think movements do need a theoretical wing and the old books just aren’t enough. I also don’t think we can assume that the theory wing isn’t also engaging at street level. I know for a fact that some of the Jacobin people are.

      I also think there is merit in this kind of work even if they get some of the analysis wrong, if it engages people like you to help them or others get it right. That’s why I think belittling detractors as a mass of envious, purist malcontents is so very wrong. Really, what possible use is an outfit like Jacobin if all it and its fans want is a monologue? That shit might play with their robotic liberal partisan pals, but it’s not going to work with radicals.

      • “Really, what possible use is an outfit like Jacobin if all it and its fans want is a monologue?” I think this question is answered when you consider the types of people we’re talking about: generally affluent forever-students who don’t REALLY know what it’s like to have to work. They’re content with being smart and displaying it for a token subscription fee they don’t need because someone’s daddy is backing their print costs. On very nice paper.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Sassy, I love you, but that’s in the neighborhood of ‘trust-fund anarchist’, even if you are probably right. Like I said elsewhere, I don’t fault socialists who want to do magazines out of hand. And so long as there are rich kids — assuming that’s what we’re dealing with here — there are a gazillion worse things they can do with the family money than run socialist magazines. But the impulse to run a radical magazine and then whine about and slime detractors just strikes me as profoundly odd to say the least and completely useless from a movement standpoint.

      • I’m not attacking them for being rich kids. I’m saying that is the explanation for just making a magazine and then making it about the magazine, not the magazine’s SUBJECT.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Yeah, gotcha. Been wondering a lot lately about the extent to which people’s politics and practice are constrained/shaped by their backgrounds and class interests. Is it really not possible for people like this to be more genuinely open and useful? You see the same combo of insularity, defensiveness and self-certainty at The New Inquiry although it’s not as politically sectarian.

      • I think it may be hard for them to take criticism, having grown up in the age of “everything you do is just fabulous and important, honey” parenting and schooling for the middle-class and up, but not necessarily. I mean, I hope. We shouldn’t go off examples from exactly two magazines that are pretty similar, one being simply better financed than the other (apparently). I like to think Antiwar.com doesn’t suffer from the same issues. It’s pretty open to criticism (which it gets from all camps, being as politically ecumenical as it is). But then, it’s reader-funded and we’re all of middle-class or lower backgrounds. So maybe that’s it. The wealthy are terrible.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Antiwar.com makes an interesting comparison. It has a unique quality that does actually strike as more middle and working class. Less academic. More heterodox. Funny when you consider stereotypes about libertarians and anarchists.

        “The Wealthy are Terrible”

        Maybe that’s really it. I had a rich boyfriend for a couple years and that was definitely my conclusion.

  11. person says:

    So, I’m legitimately confused about what’s happening in this argument. Here’s what I understand:

    1. L’hote dude laments radical left criticizing Jacobin for not being radical enough
    2. You claim L’hote dude is setting up a strawman to show he is very Serious

    OK, So now I’m totally lost, because you link to an article where you levy a really strong critique against Jacobin. Not that I disagree with it, but it just seems to refute your point about L’hote guy arguing against strawmen. Or do you think that your critiques of Jacobin are legitimate and L’hote dude is delegitimizing your arguments? I seriously don’t really know what the argument here is, other than L’hote’s cringeworthy “people end up dead or republican something something” prose.

    So, my best guess is that your argument is that criticism against Jacobin is not widespread. But I don’t know about that, some leftist blogger criticized Sunkara for palling up to Matt Yglesias, and another I remember criticized their Thatcher obit.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Hi person.

      No I am not saying that people aren’t critical of Jacobin. I am saying that they are critical for the usual reasons leftists are critical rather than for committing DeBoer’s deadly sins. I attempt to make the distinction with this:

      “Proving the envious, purist essence of more common complaints that the Jacobin crowd is, say, too soft on liberals and too hard on anarchists is yeoman’s work.”

      The straw man isn’t people criticizing Jacobin. The straw man is people carping at them because they’re ‘Popular, Getting Positive Attention, and Convincing Others.’ In DeBoer’s nakedly self-serving formulation, this is all their detractors. It’s a baseless caricature which Bruenig then links to as if it’s describing a thing – a left purity cult – and then goes off in the same vein himself.

      I went into some detail about DeBoer because I have a secondary interest in demonstrating the anarchist-smearing and demonizing that is so very much a part of this. A subtext here is that the sectarian disciplinarians in this story aren’t the unspecified members of the ‘purity cult’. The sectarian disciplinarians are the ones setting themselves above sectarianism: DeBoer, Bruenig and Jacobin. I find that’s often the case.

      As for the piece I linked to, I don’t think my remarks in that piece are particularly scathing and they’re a small part of the overall point of that post. In any case, it doesn’t contradict my point, because I never said that nobody criticizes Jacobin. I appreciate your bringing that post up though, because I do think that it’s the kind of remarks I made in that piece that make people think that the resentment is tied up with their access to MSNBC and the like. But I think that’s a non-starter. It would be quite stupid not to look critically and skeptically at which radicals get on television and which ones don’t and at the extent to which they are willing to be disciplined by that access. I have criticized them for this because it does seem like they go about it quite uncritically and eagerly in a way that I think is potentially at odds with left interests and suggestive of careerism. But again, there is more going on in my critique than that they’re simply ‘selling out’ or that I think because they’re on TV then it follows ineluctably that they suck.

  12. Kat says:

    Glad to see you posting again.
    I’m sure I’m missing the point, but who has any right to harp on purity cults when they dismiss any efforts to find common cause with libertarians or conservatives of the non-neo persuasion when they do share views on important matters (i.e. empire)? Instead, they just dismiss these groups as unrepentant confederates.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Yeah. The hypocrisy here underlies my post but i probably could have made it more explicit. The worst sectarian disciplinarians in this tale are the people complaining about sectarians. That’s almost always the way in my experience.

  13. Stellar job on this post as usual. Embrace the long form! I just had a couple thoughts about some specific points, responses more to the pieces you’re discussing than your points (figure this is much more of a safe space than their individual comment sections, as their heinous responses to you make clear). But certainly I don’t think, a total tangent from your main points, either. Let me start off with something that hit me kind of personally, due to my geographic location.

    Bruenig wraps up his piece with an admonishment to look to the South and Midwest for “competent leftist organizing” plainly with the assumption that it is done much differently here than in NYC, or Oakland even. Nope. Ya’ll just get 50 people at your panel instead of 10 like we do. A couple thousand at your protest encampment instead of a couple hundred. We get dumped on, abandoned by, and betrayed by the “left-liberals” and Democrats in exactly the same manner as radicals on the coasts, the ones Bruenig and Bhaskar seem to think we need oh-so-very much. We deal with careerists too, although they don’t get cushy MSNBC analyst spots, maybe just a program coordinator slot at a non-profit or at a union lobbying outfit. I suppose we here in the middle of the country should be flattered Mr. Bruenig is envious of our competence, but I must disappoint. If I wished to be uncouth, I might tell Bruenig not to talk shit about shit he don’t know shit about. All it takes for a liberal to stab you in the back is to talk a little too much about systemic causes, without regards to parties, or be from the wrong part of town, or be queer or black or Latino and not wish to take crap from “well-meaning” we’ll-get-to-your-issues-later types. There is a deeper, wider problem in left organizing than Bruenig, DeBoer or the Jacobins seem to want to talk about, and it is definitely something we should be talking more about.

    But that discussion should take place in an atmosphere in which all are clearly acting in good faith. That space is not created when some are too willing make vile comments or foolish leaps of logic about people who are merely disagreeing. The problem lies in those like FDB or Sarah Jaffe who want to ascribe real ideological differences and divergent styles of organizing to mental health problems or “behavioral tendencies” as Bruenig paraphrases Jaffe’s words (which sounded like a euphemism to me, one used to avoid any charges of ableism). To them and their like, I say: I’m not crazy, I’m not suffering from an “infantile disorder,” I’m not a troll trying to get a rise out of you; I see something in your politics and in your interactions with people who can be your (actual, stalwart) allies that makes me cringe.

    I know a lot of this takes place on Twitter, and I can grant that the medium itself might contribute to this overall problem of asshole-interactions. But Twitter is not responsible for all of it, most of it, or even a great part of it. There is too large of a pattern on display from too many people in this “universe” of left-ish media personalities. Sunkara for one has a kneejerk dismissal of any kind of criticism, at least from people that seem beneath his notice. To me, this either betrays an elitist streak a mile wide, or an inability to defend arguments and assertions. I’ll link this piece by @sabokitty as an example: http://sabokitty.tumblr.com/post/49178343295/take-a-hard-left
    It’s a piece that marks Jacobin out as a necessary part of a broad left coalition, while still being critical in very specific terms. It is, dare I say, nice! When he writes near the end that he hopes it is taken in the comradely spirit intended, it seems genuine to me. This was Bhaskar’s response: https://twitter.com/el_bhask/status/328930240770482176 and https://twitter.com/el_bhask/status/328934935828234241 and the coup-de-grace, https://twitter.com/el_bhask/status/328935175889244160

    All of that seemed to start a feeding frenzy there down the threads, and it just strikes me all as unfair and stupid. Someone deliberately trying to avoid any “purity” debates gets immediately accused of it! Ugh. I don’t know. I’ll wrap this up here I suppose with this. Late last night, Tarzie told me he didn’t trust these guys, as should be evident from this very blog post, but let me reiterate it, and endorse that view. Watch your backs. Their antics can have real consequences.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Great comments, Nick. It’s always good to see you around here.

      I must admit in dumber moments I have a tendency to write off New York as worse, mostly due to careerism, but then I remind myself of my days in other places, and, as you say all the same archetypes and problems are there, including the flakes of Bruenig’s obsession. That kind of idealizing Bruenig is doing is really just a sunny sort of Straw Man. What half-baked slop.

      The pathologizing you’re talking about is really a serious problem. That’s really nasty stuff. The thing that makes this so problematic for us is that ideas of being stable and normal are so bundled with deference to authority, respect for status and hierarchies, conformity etc. Things that most of us are just congenitally and ideologically at odds with. So we do look weirder to conformists, authoritarians and status seekers than we look to each other. Hence, they feel justified in using smears and pathologizing maneuvers, confident that a lot of observers will sympathize with them rather than the person they’re attacking. I’m sure FDB is still convinced he was being sympathetic with all his passive-aggressive thera-crunch and that most of the other parties in that comment thread would concur.

      Really glad for those links to Sunkara’s reaction to Sabokitty’s post. I didn’t want to get too specific about how much of that shit they do all the time because they’re not the the main focus of the post. But it’s good to have it for people who wonder what I meant when I said they’re creeps. Sunkara’s elitism is particularly unbecoming. What’s so particularly annoying about that is all this theory and showy erudition and where does it all lead? More and Better Fucking Democrats. So glad they’re here to show us the way. Hug a liberal!

    • Kat says:

      I was going to make a similar comment, but as usual laziness kicked in. Anyway, your’s is much better than mine would have been. As a midwesterner, don’t you love it when we get some recognition? Our salt of the earth character is invoked when needed to shore up an argument; at most other times we’re written of as a less than sophisticated bunch.
      Perhaps if they visited they would be more approving– they could see that we have our very own creative class communities– you know those hotbeds of diversity where everyone kind of looks alike, reads the same books, watches the same movies and tv shows, and has the same hobbies. I guess one difference is that they don’t read Jacobin.

      • Kat says:

        Although being from the Midwest may explain why I have never encountered the rich white variety of anarchist. White yes, but then again for me “white” is not a synonym for “privileged”. Nor is “male” for that matter. (This is not the same as denying that a thing such as white and/or male privilege does exist.)

      • ohtarzie says:

        Much as I like seeing Bruenig beaten up for any reason, he’s a salt-of-the-earther himself. Oklahoma.

      • ohtarzie says:

        ‘Creative class’. Heh.

      • That’s an interesting bit of info that Bruenig is actually from Oklahoma. I have friends there doing radical organizing, and I hear the same complaints as I articulated in my comment above. Just really makes me question again how much time he’s spent doing organizing versus blogging, etc. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s his strength, diversity of tactics and all that). Still the phrasing to me indicates he didn’t actually do what he is counseling and actually contacted organizers here in the middle parts. Maybe he should have either way. Does he still live there?

        And thanks Kat for the compliment, I had the same kind of sentiments on a few comments already posted here. And like your experience, nary a richie-rich class traitor to be seen here, working class or at best, lower middle class people doing this work.

      • ohtarzie says:

        Don’t know where he is now but this HuffPost bio has him as a senior at University of Oklahoma in 2011. You raise an interesting point. He’s written a few times about this — seems to be a bit of an obsession — but doesn’t seem to be based on anything but other writers and other peoples anecdotes. Here’s one he wrote a while back on the same topic.


        Also, you should check out his guide to identifying a purity cult. It includes a description of an actual purity cult doing an action, but like so much else, seems solely an artifact of Bruenig’s rich inner life.


      • Hah yes, that checklist is pretty amusing. Love this tweet summing it up: https://twitter.com/HenriTroppmann/status/330165666789343232

        But okay, he claims the kiss-in thing is totally his own lived experience, and that’s fine. What is the alternative presented by Bruenig here to (perhaps) silly things like that? If it’s the same as Bhask’s, well, I’ll be at the kiss-in.

      • ohtarzie says:

        “If it’s the same as Bhask’s, well, I’ll be at the kiss-in.”

        Likewise. At least it will be fun. Also, Bruenig should read up on ACT-UP before he discounts kiss-ins altogether.

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