It was Lenin who popularized the term partisan, as in someone who is party-minded or exclusively concerned with the interests of his political party. He coined the term to explain why socialists should abandon objective analysis of politics. In a society of antagonistic classes, the owners of property versus the laboring classes, class interests and material conditions of existence determine political outlook. Therefore, all claims to objectivity are delusional or self-serving.
We see this in the dynamics of American politics, but not in the way in which Marxists imagined the concept. The left side of the ruling elite imagines themselves as the vanguard of society. They are the ones leading social change in order to achieve their not always well-define ideals. As a practical matter, this means they are the champions and caretakers of the interests of minority groups or in the language of the moment, “the under-represented and historically excluded groups.”
The opponent is always cast as the face of established interests. After all, the power dynamic would not make a lot of sense if the opponents of the oppressed were powerless or inclusive. In partisan politics, it is always David versus Goliath, even when David is all powerful and Goliath is powerless. For most of the last half century, the American Left has had total control of the high ground in America, but they are sure they are the underdog and the Right controls everything.
What this means is that the power relationship is the keystone of the moral dynamic within partisan politics. The underdog, the oppressed, the excluded, must always be the moral superior. Otherwise, it is possible that the oppressed are being oppressed for good reasons or worse yet, the partisan is in fact the oppressor. We see this today where massive global corporations destroy the lives of ordinary citizens while simultaneously claiming this is being done in self-defense.
In Marxist theory, once the working class conquered the capital class, there would no longer be a need for politics. The workers would usher in a classless society. Without classes, there could be no class conflict and therefore no need for politics. In reality, the partisan needs an opponent to exist. The very definition of the partisan is rooted in the existence of the opponent. If one wanted to identify the inflection point of the Soviet Union, it would be when Brezhnev toasted Nixon.
In America, this problem has been solved by generating an organic opponent, custom made to play the role of oppressor, while never threatening the real power. In the middle of the last century, the American Left was in total control. The New Deal was confirmed by the fact that progressives conquered the economic depression at home and conquered fascism around the world. The best the Republican Party could do is promise to be just like the Democrats, which was pointless.
The birth of conservatism solved a massive problem. Buckley style conservatism began as a revolt against the war socialism that lingered on long after the war, but quickly became a usable opponent when debating the next great crusade, the long twilight struggle against the ancient opponent to the East. Conservatism was quickly packaged as the face of the oppressor, the tool of corporate interests. Soon, every Republican was pictured as the little guy from the Monopoly game.
Back then, the coalition of the oppressed championed by the Left reflected the demographics of the country. It was mostly white urban working class people and rural whites, with blacks as a silent partner. The silent partner grew less silent over time, but the demographics of the country grew darker as well. The original opponent was the white middle-class and has remained so. As the complexion of the coalition has grown darker, the nature of the opponent has grown whiter.
The trouble is the old Buckley conservatism discredited itself after the Cold War and no longer makes for a useful opponent. The system has been desperate to create a new enemy, but so far, they have only come up with cartoon villains. The persecution of the January 6th protestors is as much out of frustration as anything else. The Left is so angry that they cannot find real bad guys, they are taking it out on grandmothers who had the temerity to walk into the people’s house.
The ridiculousness of the new bogeymen does not mean the partisans have thrown in the towel on the project. There are efforts to create a new right-wing, which they have helpfully called the New Right. Members of the Old Right are looking for a reboot, so they are happy to join the project. The heirs of Trotsky are hard at work trying to sort this problem as well. They helped the Old Right avoid putting their ideas into practice for 70 years, so they are hoping to repeat this with the New Right.
Therein lies a critical part of the partisan society. It must always be partisans versus objectivist, with partisans having the power. The partisan puts his ideas into practice, while the objectivist is content to describe the world. The main reason for this is that as soon as the objectivist tries to act on his ideas, he is ruined. We see this in dissident politics, where you can analyze what is happening, but if you hint at any action, the C-suites of global capital are alive with ideas on how to crush you.
The thing is, the partisan state relies upon all parties believing that the struggle is real, not just theater. In America, this has meant that the upper-middle-class radicals must believe the enemy has real power and is willing to use it. On the other side, the perpetual losers must think they can win. Politics in the partisan state is a game of zebras versus lions. The zebras win most skirmishes, but in the end, the lions win the battle, and they only need to win once. The lions control every outcome.
The question is what happens when people stop believing this fantasy. Dissidents see the growing ranks of people who no longer see a point to conservatism or even conventional politics. In a world of rigged elections and grotesque levels of political corruption, voting is an insult. Something similar is happening on the Left, where the disaffected Bernie Bros are questioning the game. They already have a new party that is on the ballot in over twenty states.
The Soviet Union provides a little insight as to what happens when the struggle stops being real for the people. The 1920’s and 1930’s provided the Bolsheviks with enemies they could use to justify themselves. The war provided the ultimate enemy for the system, but then came the peace. The Khrushchev years were about making the dream of socialism real, but when that failed, the partisan state ceased to exist. Instead, it was a generation of oligarchic rule with the tattered trappings of socialism.
It can be argued that the détente with the West is the only thing that kept the Soviet Union from collapsing much earlier. The American empire needed the Soviet Empire, so it was happy to help the Soviets keep their system running. The American empire has no enemy to serve this role. The Chinese are too smart to be trapped into a new Cold War and the Russians are too weak. The instability we see is a partisan state that has run out of enemies and therefore, lost its moral authority.
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