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We’re closing soon at the Institute for Social Solidarity. It looked like a project with great potential. A left-wing think-tank. Like so many other projects it ended sadly and with great resentment from some of those who wanted to be board members. 

Demos (a Romanian political party) ended after a long string of odious scandals with hundreds of online comments, hundreds of messages, dozens of hours of hacking. Now Claudiu Crăciun is well represented by Laurentiu Ridichie with a machine gun to his neck. He has entered the zodiac of defending security structures and sending every critic of NATO to Russia and North Korea. There is no turning back, no analysis, no discussion. Like any adept of the false dilemma, he reduces complex situations to a simple choice: if you want peace in Ukraine you are automatically pro-Putin. If I had known he was going to end up here about four years ago when he called me to Demos, I would have sent him packing without regret.

There was also the attempt to destroy the Barricade. No doubt enough useful idiots can be found to argue that talking to a pro-Putin American and an anti-Putin Russian isn’t to show that the world is diverse and let the public decide. No, you do it because you’re fundamentally evil and thus destroy your status as a feminist and your honor as an intellectual. But until these useful and terribly misogynistic idiots, there were important people who wished the Baricada no longer existed. They must have been scared off. They must have been on a mission. Probably both.

We had the guts and saved this journalistic project. After all, if journalist X is friends with journalist Y it’s their business. As long as the journalists accused of pro-Russianism were present at anti-Putin marches when it wasn’t so fashionable to be anti-Putin, these lame accusations should be treated as such. But it was shocking to see how they work and destroy reputations on stories.

Unfortunately, Romanian progressivism is, like that of Western democracies, very dependent on grants, projects and foundations. It is a privatised, competitive and very theatrical progressivism. It is an elitist progressivism based on highly educated people at home and abroad, a progressivism centred on university professors and activists, of which I have been a part. I don’t dismiss it as ridiculous. But at least I realize there’s a problem here. 

At one of the Demos meetings a colleague was saying that we must bring in some more poor people because it’s very elitist what we’re doing. We all laughed, but I knew it was pure reality. Unfortunately, the causes of the inevitable failure are structural.

Progressivism nowadays means rights for minorities, sophisticated talk of language changes. I like them a lot. I’m passionate about them, even. But I’m under no illusion that they have anything to do with wage earners. This kind of progressivism will always fail in scandals because:

– It fights hard for grants and funding – it’s a constant competition. I’ve had the Roma Actors Association remove me from a project. It’s natural, I have no illusions: fierce competition breeds situations of this kind.

– They fight hard to maintain the image of the authentic leftist. You wonder why there is so much fuss about who is the most feminist/anti-racist/leftist person? Simple. There are things to be gained by managing to position yourself that way. Besides, it’s useful to sling mud and accuse someone of sexism/pro-racist/racism that you’re dismissing potential contenders for grants and projects.

– That’s what the leftist scene is: a scene where whoever knows best how to manage their personal leftist brand wins. And the scene is narrow. Not many people fit on it so mud-slinging is profitable. 

– This kind of progressivism resembles a sandpit where those with a free-schimbist bent are sent to play. There they compete for money and fame. It in no way scares the financial elites. 

– This kind of theatrical progressivism is based on false radicalism designed to provide the most outlandish causes that seem fantastically revolutionary, but which make billionaires at best laugh in amusement at the oddities proposed as great revolutions. Revolutions that, what can you see, don’t move a penny in the billionaires’ accounts.

– This progressivism is dependent on money from the West and will not bite the hand that feeds it, even if Audre Lorde warns that you cannot tear down the master’s house with the master’s weapons. As long as you take money from the elites, you will report and stand up to them, not to those you supposedly want to help. They serve only as a means to gain money and fame.

– This progressivism does a lot for a free-spirited, free-scheming, disciplined stipendiary class whose energies are consumed by precarization and the constant chase after the project/grant carrot. At the same time, as the billions invested in ngo projects have shown, it leaves things exactly where they were for the vast majority of the poor/discriminated. 

– This progressivism is fundamentally corrupt as a result of structural problems. Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia for Realists” shows how stupid it is not to give money directly to those affected by poverty and then come in and tell them how it is.

– This privatized progressivism produces little sects and splinters the left movement – you have three big, strong people winning projects on feminism, others on anti-racism, others on LGBTQ and so on. What results is an odious tribalism and monopolisation of discourse/resources/channels of expression. 

What are the people who are employed to hunt and fish for grants and funding to do? Simple. Understand these issues. The problem is not them personally and no one should expect anyone to be the absolute hero and starve to death. But don’t confuse this kind of small-minded project with what should be a leftist movement based on solidarity and cooperation. 

So far on the left we’re going to see conflict and scandal because it’s terribly profitable to consider yourself part of the sect of the elected who share wisdom. There was one person on my page who threatened to denounce me as a racist. It was funny: she was shocked to see that I don’t give a shit about the church where she was high priestess and I don’t care if she imparts anti-racism. For the purpose of these progressive-rite cultists is not to spread knowledge in any way, but to humiliate and dominate. They are big needy netizens and are maximally insulted when you tell them that you don’t need them to give you their blessing to know that racism is one of the biggest crap possible. How can you be anti-racist/sexist on your own? That’s impossible. You have to join their church and minister to them. The words of friend Youri Smouter – sorry, it’s non-academic – not enough middle fingers for that!

The idea would be to abandon our Western friends and their top-down ngo-progressivist ways and start modestly getting to know our fellow citizens and asking them for money. We at Baricada rely mostly on what our readers give us and our salaries earned elsewhere. When we started running for projects things didn’t go well. On top of the mess involved in writing projects, you also end up with competitions in your own backyard which makes things very complicated. We don’t pretend to be role models. But I think the reason this left-wing project is still running after seven (!!!) years is precisely because we didn’t apply and chase projects and grants too much. 

After my failed project with the Association of Roma Actors and the Hecate publishing house, after my failed general project with Demos, after my failed project with the Institute for Social Solidarity the conclusion is simple: competition, competition, individualism, mimicry of radicalism, false revolutionary projects, dependence on Western funds, considering leftism as a ‘civilised’ Western project separate from the barbaric East, breaking ties with the workers, breaking ties and even repudiating ties with countries where socialism exists, ignoring the way the security structures operate to destructure the left are the sources that make it impossible to coagulate a movement based on solidarity and cooperation. 

These structural ills are serious and only awareness and discussion of them can lead to real progress. 

This article was originally published in Romanian here.

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