A new generation of leftists are fighting the alt-right and influencing the progressive discourse one video essay at a time. We asked anarchist and libertarian socialist Angie Speaks about engaging with the isolation and loneliness produced by a society colonized by corporatism
TAYA GRAHAM: A recent poll revealed that nearly half of all millennials do not believe in capitalism and who can blame them? Record student debt, low paying jobs, and a system incapable of addressing global warming. It’s a litany of ills that more than explains in generation’s disaffection with the system that has produced such dismal results. But for some, the skepticism goes beyond material wellbeing and into the realm of the psyche. That is the impact of all these aforementioned problems has affected the collective mental health of a generation. However, thanks to group of progressive thinkers, the destructiveness of capitalism is not going unaddressed. And one of the most resonant voices on the subject is my next guest.
Her incisive analysis and wit have found form in a lively dialogue about what it means to be progressive and what it also means to be leftist and black. Her name is Angie Speaks. Angie is a leftist video essayist and YouTuber. She’s a socialist and an anarchist. And her provocative take on both progressive ideas and race have made her one of the leading voices of both subjects. Angie, thank you so much for joining me.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Thank you very much for having me.
TAYA GRAHAM: So first, just a general question. Why do you think millennials are in general dissatisfied with capitalism?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Well, I mean, as you said in the beginning, it’s the thing that’s causing most of the problems in our lives. You know, most of us kind of came of age during the 2008 economic crash. Some of us went through things like foreclosure with our parents. There’s been a lot of upheaval in terms of student loan debt and the effect that that’s having on our ability to have the same sort of social mobility that our parents and previous generations had. It’s quite impossible not to look at the problems that we face on a macro scale and not try to have somewhat of a more robust anti-capitalist critique because that’s inevitably where the rabbit hole leads you. Yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now you made a great video titled “Who Are Black Leftists Supposed to Be?” So let’s just watch a little bit of it.
ANGIE SPEAKS: What exactly is it that you’re looking for again?
SPEAKER: A strong woman of color, Angie. We like to call that a strong WOC around here, a yaas queen who will slay all day on our behalf. Preferably, one that carries hot sauce in her bag.
ANGIE SPEAKS: I don’t really know what that means, but okay.
TAYA GRAHAM: Okay. I find this bit hilarious because it really engages with some of the stereotypes of white leftists. Their expectations of what black women should bring to the discourse. It’s hot sauce in a purse, not a copy of Das Kapital. So what would you say are some of the challenges you have had when interacting with leftists? What are their expectations and how have you confounded them?
ANGIE SPEAKS: I would say it’s more of the liberal affect within leftist spaces that I was trying to challenge in the video. You know, the sort of affect that’s obsessed with respectability and optics, this sort of neoliberal attitude of identity as a consumable, marketable kind of commodity. I see that kind of invading leftist, anti-capitalist spaces. Or, people who were once liberals coming into anti-capitalism, don’t really deprogram themselves from that mentality, and that can be incredibly harmful and corrosive towards people of color being able to thrive in these kinds of environments. You’re expected to be a certain thing. You’re expected to kind of capitulate to a certain optics and it can be quite limiting.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, you’ve talked a lot about alienation, how your identity as a black woman can alienate you from class politics. What do you do when someone wants your presence, but not your power?
ANGIE SPEAKS: It’s very difficult. I obviously see the struggle of black empowerment; I see the struggle of black economic mobility to be linked intrinsically to workers’ struggle and workers’ rights. I don’t see the – I didn’t really see a difference between the two. I think that anti-capitalism and anti-racism should walk hand-in-hand and work together, but unfortunately because of our neoliberal paradigm, these things are often divorced and it can make it very difficult for you to engage with anti-capitalist politics as a black person because there are people who see it as inherently completely irrelevant. Then there are people who are sort of reductionists about both identity and class, which can be quite difficult to navigate.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, just talk to me a little bit about the YouTube left. Who are these voices, and are they really having an impact on our political discourse?
ANGIE SPEAKS: It’s quite a large number of different creators from all kinds of different political backgrounds. It sort of started with people debunking the alt-right and taking points that they were making about things like race and IQ or things like The Great Replacement and sort of debunking these really harmful toxic assertions. But then it sort of evolved into a more robust politique, where people were starting to analyze anti-capitalism and analyze socialism and use those ideas as well as a tool to combat some of the ground that the right had been claiming on YouTube during this time. Now it’s quite a robust community. There are quite a lot of people that are doing leftist politics on YouTube, either through the guise of media criticism or just kind of weird funny stuff like I do, or just straight up anti-capitalist analysis. There are people like Peter Coffin. There are people like Non-Compete. There are all kinds of really amazing leftist YouTubers who are doing work at the moment.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, let me ask you a slightly more personal question. I’ve heard you identify as an anarchist, but I’ve also heard you call yourself a socialist. First let me ask you, these ideologies do demand change, but aren’t these very different organizing principles? How do you reconcile them? How would you explain them to someone trying to navigate which social movement’s right for them?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Sure thing. Well, I guess the end goal of anarchism is a stateless, classless society the same way the end goal of socialism is a stateless, classless society. These ideas are tools, but to the tradition that I specifically come from, I’m a libertarian socialist, so an anarcho-socialist.
TAYA GRAHAM: Interesting.
ANGIE SPEAKS: So you have socialists that believe that the state is kind of a mechanism that could be used to achieve this stateless, classless society, whereas I reject statism. I’m not somebody who’s necessarily in favor of the idea of the giant state. I’m more about community autonomy in that sense, which is why I use the term anarchist to describe my socialism. So there are a lot of different forms of socialism. There’s not just one socialism.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, we’ve also discussed in depth that alienation and loneliness that living in a capitalist society produces. Can you expand on this a little bit? Why do you think capitalism produces loneliness and even despair?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Because it’s a system that atomizes us. It’s something that a lot of the people in my generation and Gen Z, as the ones below us are being called, struggle with because the perfect consumer has now become the atomized individual. Capitalism sort of divorces us away from ideas of community. It divorces us from ideas of solidarity with other people [inaudible] the ethos of neoliberalism, being all about the individual and individual striving. It sort of erodes this community ethos that I feel is incredibly important and a lot of people in my generation are suffering because this is the world. The world under neoliberalism is the only world that a lot of us have known. And especially with these new social media platforms and the metrics that they have being centered around the accumulation of the attention, the accumulation of individual social capital, it very much feels like it isolates you from others rather than being a force that brings people together.
It’s a really big problem and it is really affecting people’s psychological well-being. It’s affecting the quality of people’s relationships. You know, when there are all kinds of different forms of capital, hard capital, obviously, which gives you the ability to interact with the world, and if you’re somebody that doesn’t have very much of it, it’s very difficult to have social experiences that aren’t expensive or social experiences that are easily accessible. A lot of the common ground that communities once had have now been colonized by capital, even just down into public space. That’s something that’s very difficult to come by these days. And also in terms of social capital, that’s now something that’s been colonized by social media, so that’s kind of a contributory factor to these issues.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, speaking of things that cause depression, like social media, social media has been weaponized by capitalists. While we’re supposed to be connecting with each other, we’re also engaging with people who are living advertisements, literal embodiments of brands and companies. How do you think we can possibly fight back from being colonized by capitalism everywhere we turn?
ANGIE SPEAKS: It’s very difficult. It’s almost like an occult force, like an Egregore kind of. It’s like the matrix. It sort of permeates every single aspect of human life under neoliberalism. You know, there are plenty of theorists who wrote about this issue, people like Mark Fisher with his book Capitalist Realism or [inaudible]. There are plenty of people who talk about how capitalism has managed to sort of colonize all areas of the human experience, and how it’s sort of further encroaching on our inner terrain in a way that it wasn’t really able to in the past.
I’m still looking for solutions in terms of what to do about that. I think the first step is to be mindful about it and to make noise about it, and to sort of sound the trumpets and to try your best to foster solidarity as much as you can IRL with the people in your life and in your communities, and really getting out there and engaging with the world. Because it seems as if the trajectory that our culture is going down, especially for the younger generations, is to sort of alienate us from the world and atomize us. So the more you’re actually out there engaging with people and engaging with the actual world, engaging in activism, engaging in community organizing, you’re combating that alienation on the inward terrain.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, Americans have a fear of socialism, or at least that’s what conservatives like to say when they label Democrats. From your perspective, how is this fear constructed here? What do you think drives it?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Umm. Well—
TAYA GRAHAM: I know that’s a big question.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Decades and decades and decades of propaganda. You know, McCarthyism, you know these— My mother actually went to university in America. She was there during the 80s when there was this huge red scare kind of thing going on. It’s something that’s sort of ingrained. Anti-communism, anti-socialism is something that’s like very ingrained within American political DNA, especially because America’s very incredibly hyper-capitalist— even down to Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin was actually – he was put before a tribunal when he was in America for being a socialist.
TAYA GRAHAM: That’s right.
ANGIE SPEAKS: This is this someone who came up during the Industrial Revolution. He was actually a child in the workhouse in Britain. So he saw the worst of industrial capital, evils and access. He had an incredibly socialist ethos, but he was actually reprimanded by the United States government for engaging in socialist activities. You know, that the screenwriter Trumbo. There are so many different people throughout American history who have suffered for being socialists.
TAYA GRAHAM: Very true.
ANGIE SPEAKS: You know, even movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers have anticommunist undertones.
TAYA GRAHAM: Good point.
ANGIE SPEAKS: There’s a lot of fear-mongering around socialism as an idea. People tend to point to regimes like Mao’s China or Soviet Russia as examples of the failures of socialism.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
ANGIE SPEAKS: But in my opinion, those were more akin to state capitalists. States where the workers didn’t really control the means of production.
TAYA GRAHAM: True.
ANGIE SPEAKS: The means of production were controlled by the state, and that’s not what most socialists are advocating. You can’t really look at what a system calls itself. You have to look at how it behaves.
TAYA GRAHAM: Excellent point.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Yeah.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know, for better or worse, you have seen the rise of President Donald Trump in our country. And I’ve witnessed the rise of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in yours. Why is this nativist form of populism taking hold? Shouldn’t severe income inequality be the time for the rise of socialism or working-class empowerment? Why do you think we’re experiencing a closing of borders as opposed to global working-class alliances?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Unfortunately, historically during times of economic crisis, during times where the contradictions of capitalism are exposed, fascism is something that has arisen historically. Nativism and really deep, deep-rooted nationalism are usually the thing that capitalism will propose as a solution because if you look at these sort of far-right conservative ideologies at their root, they are concerned with preserving the status quo. And that’s what capitalism is concerned with, preserving the status quo. The issue now that we’re facing is the fact that people in general, workers, working-class people all over the Western world, all over the globe, have become disenfranchised with neoliberal capitalism. And that has been the mode that structures like the Democratic Party have been pushing. That’s been the mode that New Labour here in Britain with the Blairite government, that’s the mode that they’ve been pushing. All of the different bastions of the left sort of abandoned this robust anti-capitalist critique in favor of adopting neoliberal capitalism, which on the surface looks nice and pleasant, but underneath it’s concealing a very brutal, a very hyper-capitalist reality.
And I think that, people intuitively know that. And if the left doesn’t get it’s stuff together and really presents an alternative, then people will unfortunately, fall down the rabbit hole of far-right populism because far-right populism takes advantage of these holes, these gaps in neoliberal capitalism, in order to perpetuate itself as a solution. I mean, you could use Weimar, Germany as an example of that. There are loads of different examples of that.
TAYA GRAHAM: You know, you’ve also been willing to engage with a topic that many on the left don’t engage with, which is spirituality. Now, outside of the atheist faction of the left, why do you think they’re reluctant to engage with spirituality?
ANGIE SPEAKS: I think that people are reluctant to engage with spirituality because of the fact that historically things like Christianity, things like political Islam, things like – all kinds of different religions have been seen as somewhat oppressive. In some cases, especially when they’re married to the state and they’re married to capital, they have acted as somewhat corrosive forces. Whether it be for LGBT rights or the racism within the Catholic Church, there are plenty of different examples where spirituality has acted as something that has really, really not been healthy. I think that it’s right to criticize those aspects of organized religion. However, I do think that there are pieces or shards of truth, shards of divinity within these traditions that are there to be unearthed, and that anybody can take advantage of regardless of faith or lack thereof.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, in one of your videos, you talked about Goddess-centered worship and even witchcraft. Do you think engaging with Earth goddess religious traditions could vitalize the left? Perhaps even producing a new form of respect for our environment and each other? Or do you think it will just marginalize leftist social justice movements?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Well, honestly, I’m not here to push metaphors on anybody. It’s really up to— It’s not everybody’s paradigm, but for me it’s definitely been something that’s incredibly enriching. Being able to sort of pull strength from these powerful archetypes, these powerful sort of ancient archetypes that are representative of the earth and are representative of the divine feminine, which kind of exists within us all. And seeing that through line of how the earth has been marginalized, and how women and non-binary people have been marginalized, and the exploitation and domination of industry kind of disrespecting this force, even though it needs it in order to survive. I definitely think that there’s a lot of truth to be unearthed within spirituality, especially because spiritual traditions have always been linked to the fight against capitalism and the fight against coercive systems.
One example I can give is people’s relationship to the lands that they’re on, their relationship to their communities. During feudalism, the land was enclosed and that further alienated people from their communities, from their land. And it got even worse when these feudal peasants were moved away into urban centers in order to help the growth of industrial capitalism. You see this sort of— You see a lot of the resistance against that was actually centered within pagan traditions. A lot of the resistance against feudalism, a lot of the resistance against capitalism, was centered in pagan traditions.
Even down to the witch burnings. The witch burnings in Europe, they created an entire economy centered around the subjugation of women. When colonialism went to places like Africa and South America, one of the first things they tried to do to get rid of the autonomy of the people was ban their traditional ways of life, ban their spirituality, and enforce a spirituality that was co-signed by the states, co-signed by the government or the Monarch. I definitely think that there’s something incredibly radical and revolutionary about reclaiming these things because it puts us in touch with a historical through line of all of those who fought against these forms of coercion.
TAYA GRAHAM: Now, I’m just going to ask you one last question. In one of your videos, you do a really eloquent analysis and very educational one about the history of paganism and witchcraft, and something you said really intrigued me. You said, “Witchcraft is the tool of the oppressed class.” What did you mean by that?
ANGIE SPEAKS: Well, traditionally, witchcraft and things that fall under the umbrella of natural kind of earth-based religions have always been associated with oppressed groups, people who knew that they couldn’t rely on traditional structures to support their needs. So if you look at per se the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK or the Afro-Cuban community in America, things like Santeria, things like Vodun, or here things like Wicca, which has a very strong through line with women’s movements and feminism, it was sort of a reservoir of strength and a reservoir of all the things needed to keep one’s soul intact in a world that was against you and that didn’t really serve your interests. So if you couldn’t go to the – if you didn’t feel like you could get institutional power, or if you weren’t able to sort of feel like your needs were being met by the systems that were there to meet them, there was always this alternative. There was always this place that was a little bit more mystical, a little bit more wild, that accepted and embraced people who were rejected by the system.
TAYA GRAHAM: Angie, thank you so much for your time and for joining me. I’m really looking forward to seeing your next set of YouTube videos.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Thank you.
TAYA GRAHAM: I know that they’re going to have very interesting analysis and I know I’m going to learn something too. Thank you so much for your time.
ANGIE SPEAKS: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
TAYA GRAHAM: My name is Taya Graham. I’m a reporter for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining me.