Monday, February 27, 2017

Employment threats against Rania Khalek are violence. If you're okay with this, admit it (UPDATED)

Capitalism forces people to work if they want to survive - an arrangement that the global left has always regarded as violent and oppressive. Chomsky, voicing the standard critique:
...people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings who were being forced into what they called wage slavery, which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery.
I don't think this perspective is particularly radical or difficult to square with basic ideas most people have about fairness and morality; in fact, it's probably one of the most basic leftist positions you can take. Labor is important, and a functional society will probably have to find ways to encourage it - forcing people into labor against their will, however, is a form of violence. Similarly, just as forcing people to work is a form of violence, so is forcing people to do particular kinds of work.

Again, this is pretty remedial leftism - which is why I'm surprised that there isn't much more outrage about this:

Katerji could not be clearer about this: he is engaged in a deliberate, continuing campaign of attacks on Rania Khalek's economic livelihood in order to force her to abandon a political position. His hope is to leverage capitalism towards inflicting as much violence on her as he possibly can. He wants to threaten her with food insecurity. He wants to threaten her with unsafe living conditions. He wants to threaten her with cut off access to health care. He wants to use all of the things that come with poverty in order to make Khalek say and do what he wants.

There are all kinds of reasons why people of conscience should find this behavior absolutely revolting, but here the point I want to make is simple. If Katerji has the courage of his convictions, and wants to posture as some brave and principled critic, he should come out and admit what he believes: that violence against Rania Khalek is good and justified.

This is an extremely easy challenge, and one that Katerji should be able to meet if he actually means what he says and stands behind his actions.

There are plenty of leftists who disagree with Khalek on Syria, but who have at least been consistent and honest about their position and motives. Katerji, meanwhile, is making threats like "change your rhetoric or we will continue to campaign against you" - but it seems pretty clear that he is neither honest nor brave enough to spell out what he actually means. Because if he did, he knows that even people who generally agree with him on the issue would find his behavior creepy and abhorrent. Katerji will continue to try to bankrupt Khalek into submission, leveraging violent capitalism against her where his powers of persuasion have failed - and then, if he is called on it, he will retreat into patently right-wing arguments about how no one has a right to income.

If the left stands for anything, it has to stand behind this basic point: capitalism is violence. This was true in McCarthy's era when blacklists and political firings were the main tools of discipline the right used against American communists. This is true all over the world, where American empire still relies heavily on sanctions, debt-collection, trade leverage, and other instruments of economic coercion to impose its will upon other nations. This has been true during the endless parade of employment threats that liberals have rolled out against the media left over the past year, most notoriously during their rabid campaign to silence Matt Bruenig. And it's true here and now, as Khalek suffers continuing, relentless attacks on her basic livelihood. If you're on the left and you're okay with this kind of violence, step up and admit it. And if you aren't okay with it, then it's time to speak out on Khalek's behalf.

UPDATE: One need look no further than the responses to this article to see that I've read Rania's critics right. They're all in a double-bind. On one hand, they want to maintain their leftist credibility, and this means accepting the very basic point that within capitalism, blacklisting is a tactic of violence. But even as they admit this, they don't want to own up to a point that follows directly: if you are working to blacklist Rania Khalek, and blacklisting is violent, then you are committing violence against her.

As comrade Eleanor has noted, this should not be such a hard thing for them to admit. Except for a very small group of principled hardline pacifists, everyone believes that violence is moral and justified in certain situations. And given the seriousness of the charges that Khalek's critics throw at her on a regular basis, it seems like they ought to be able to argue that this is one of those circumstances where violence is indeed necessary.

The reason that they can't do this is obvious. It's an utterly implausible and embarrassing position to insist that Rania Khalek should be subject to violent retaliation for her views on Syria. Even if she is in the wrong, aggressively working to cut off her entire livelihood is a patently draconian and disproportionate response. And the creepy overtones of a clique of largely male critics obsessively using their personal and professional connections to bankrupt a young woman of color are impossible to miss, particularly as they largely ignore far more influential white male voices who say the exact same things.

The challenge remains: if Rania's critics believe that violence against a young woman of color is justified, they should say so explicitly. If they believe that socialism is incorrect and that capitalist blacklisting is not a form of violence, they should admit it. The refusal to take one position or the other reveals, generously, a failure to think through what they're doing - and more likely, bad conscience, and a dishonest fear to own it.