Sunday Hot Takes, April 25th, 2021

Destiny vs. Richard Wolff and the Carnation Revolution.

Destined to Lose — Elias Khoury, University of Michigan

A few days ago, economist Richard Wolff debated streamer Destiny on the overly broad topic of “socialism vs capitalism.” On paper, this sounded like a bigger mismatch than the forthcoming boxing match between undefeated champion Floyd Mayweather and YouTuber Logan Paul. Professor Wolff studied economics at Stanford and Yale. He has also taught the subject at the university level for more than half a century. This “debate” was only ever going to go one way — and it did.

Destiny was thoroughly outclassed in what became more of a teaching session than anything else. In that sense, it was reminiscent of another debate Destiny had with the late socialist commentator Michael Brooks. That’s a fun watch, though you may have to hold back tears knowing Brooks is no longer with us.

As I scrolled through the comments on Destiny’s upload, it wasn’t clear that his fans thought he had beaten Professor Wolff. That was surprising. They did, however, attack Wolff for his supposed unwillingness to answer questions. The best defense is a good offense, I guess.

But I watched the debate. I watched it for two painful hours so you don’t have to. Wolff answered questions. In fact, he answered many and did so in a thoughtful and thorough manner.

I soon realized that that was precisely the problem. This is the world of YouTube debate. Academic and intellectual rigor have very little purchase. What gets clicks is confidence disguised as expertise and the occasional pithy roast. In fairness, these are areas where Destiny undoubtedly excels.

That’s the reason he has a large YouTube following and an even larger following on Twitch. It’s also the reason you shouldn’t take him seriously as an intellectual. Destiny is a streamer — and that’s about it.

Professor Wolff, on the other hand, is a seasoned educator who lives and breathes all things economics. What I can’t wrap my head around is why anyone thought this debate was a good idea in the first place. Unless Wolff was paid a handsome fee to participate, he deserves some criticism too.

Social Democracy, Soldier Democracy — Griffin Mahon, University of Virginia

Today is 25 de Abril, the anniversary of a military coup that became a popular revolution for democracy in Portugal in 1974, the most recent revolution in the North Atlantic (watch news documentaries here and here). Low-ranking radical officers began the Carnation Revolution as a way to end the dictatorship’s multi-country war against anti-colonial independence movements in Africa, for which the regime conscripted and insufficiently supplied soldiers. So grievances within the armed forces led to a political movement among them that successfully spread outward to the rest of society.

In the past, soldiers have sometimes played progressive roles in struggles for social change (in addition to the obvious counter-examples). This might surprise some leftists.

One reason is that war is hell and the people who fight it usually feel entitled to some compensation by the state. This was the motivation behind Shays’ Rebellion: farmers called up to join the Continental Army without much pay were then ridiculously required to pay heavy taxes to cover debts from the war. This basic societal obligation to soldiers has led to some of the U.S.’s welfare policy.

A second reason is that enlisted soldiers, unlike officers, tend to come from the working class. When more countries had conscription, this was especially true. But wherever they’re stationed, those ties to family and friends back home still keep them connected to politics. Consider scenes from protests where soldiers are crying. They intuitively know they’re attacking the people. The goal is to get them to flip sides.

A third reason is that political struggles and revolutions sometimes take on a military character (like Gramsci’s “war of maneuver”). The far-right may be armed (e.g., Austria 1920s and ‘30s), or the conservative order may have a base in the police or armed forces (Chile 1973 and Bolivia 2019), or foreign countries may invade (Russia 1918). The way that socialists in these situations fought back wasn’t by taking advantage of the 2nd Amendment and stopping by the local Gander Mountain. Instead, they built mass movements for socialism and democracy that were so deeply rooted in daily life that their support reached into the armed forces.

That’s why socialists have advocated for democratizing standing armies. And propagandizing among troops was a condition of joining the Communist International. Soldier is one of a few positions in capitalist society characterized predominately by domination: you must obey or else.

The generals and arms manufacturers have their representatives in politics, and they constantly lobby for military spending. If soldiers had more of a political voice in society, they might use it to oppose our endless wars.

Some might think that, by appealing to soldiers, socialists are inviting civil war, even though we claim we are for peace. On the contrary, I think reaching out to service members is an extension of our simple democratic socialist convictions: we aim to convince everyone throughout society of the desirability of socialism as opposed to capitalism and imperialism.

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