Difficulties in the bourgeoisie’s political apparatus

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jk1921
Difficulties in the bourgeoisie’s political apparatus
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Difficulties in the bourgeoisie’s political apparatus. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
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jk1921
Interesting piece, but it

Interesting piece, but it raises once again the issue of populism and the meaning of Corbyn's rise (and by extension the rise of Sanders in the US). This piece makes it appear much less likely that Corbyn's rise is part of some kind of strategy to rehabilitate a credible left wing opposition within the standard two-party structure, Instead, his surprise victory (well, not exactly, but the leftists act like he won!) represents another form of populism, although of a different variety than the the right-wing kind we have been used to for the last decade or so. Nevertheless, it appears for the main factions of the UK bourgeoisie (and one could say the same for the US bourgeoisie vis Sanders) that the thought of this faction taking state power is still highly undesired and it will engage in whatever machinations it thinks is necessary to keep it from power--at least until it credibly shows it can responsibly manage the state apparatus, something it appears Corbyn is still failing to accomplish.

Thomas Frank has written today in the Guardian a strong critique of a certain neo-liberal tendency to see all populism as a version of an anti-democratic right-wing variant. He does this to rehabilitate a left-wing populism as an alternative to both right-wing populism and neo-liberalism, but the point is that for the main factions of the bourgeoisie all populism is bad and there is little distinction to be made between Trump-Sanders or UKIP-Corbyn. In fact, it is donning on people today that if given the choice between Trump or Sanders, Trump might be the preferred choice of the main factions of the US bourgeoisie today.

This is all indicative I think of a certain failure of the traditional political categories to capture the current reality. Missing in this article is an analysis of the rise of New Labour (or in the US the New Democrats) and how the progressive abandonment by the formerly left-wing parties of capital's political apparatus of their traditional role as policeman of the working-class and their embrace of new social constituencies: white collar professionals, the educated elite, immigrants and minorities etc. is likely the most proximate cause for the rise of populism today of all kinds. These parties cannot play their traditional role of keeping the working-class line, if they have no credibility among wide swathes of the working class and instead appear to represent other categories that are are not defined as working-class (or by any class at all). We need a better theorization of all this in the context of structural changes in capitalism following the break-up of the blocs. Right now this is missing and it is only partly filled in by the likes of Frank, who offers up a fairly accurate description of what has happened on the political, social and cultural level without being able to tie it to deeper changes/problems in capitalist accumulation, seeing it mostly as the result of unfortunate political choices. While our theory of decomposition certainly captures many features of this period, it does not seem to offer up an obvious theory of why the left parties have abandoned their traditional role.

On the question of anti-Semitism: This is an interesting development but this also needs to be flushed out more. Anti-Semitism has been a long standing feature of the Labour Party? Since when? In what sense? Anti-Israel or hardcore hatred of Jews? Is this a particular phenomenon of British Labour or is it happening to other left parties elsewhere? What does this have to do with Muslim immigration to Europe if anything at all? Is it just an affliction of the leftists in the party and their Corbynite enablers or did it affect New Labour also? I have read reports that in France and the Netherlands, Jews (along with the LGBTQ community) are increasingly deserting the traditional left parties over fears that they pander to much to Muslims? Is this true or is it just propaganda? What is the situation in the UK? 

Moreover, what does it mean to say that anti-Semitism is deeply embedded in capitalism? In what sense? Is it rooted in the economics of global capitalism or is it more a problem of particular states due to particular historical circumstances? Does the article just mean British capitalism or all states? Is anti-Semitism deeply embedded in American capitalism? Israeli capitalism? Or is this truly a global phenomenon? I think we are going to have to confront questions like this more deeply as we encounter a coming surge of new (revived) leftist  theories that see the central problem of today's world as racism, white supremacy, etc. or specifically racialized forms of capitalism. We need to think about how much these kinds of theories capture a degree of reality (and in what sense--ideological or structural) versus how much they are driven by other political motives.

Finally:

"So while Kennedy’s affairs were always hushed up, Clinton’s with Monica Lewinsky was publicised and led to impeachment proceedings which we analysed at the time as due to divisions over imperialist policy in the Far East, and whether to play the China or the Japan card."

Its true that is what we said at the time, but I think we were probably wrong. Clinton's impeachment had more to do with the already emerging instability of the political apparatus in the US, first expressed in the Republican Party, in the aftermath of precisely what we are talking about as a feature of the populist era, the abandonment by the traditionally left party of their task of appearing to represent the working-class within the state. We were trying to read too much rationality into it and missed the early signs that a new political reality was emerging--characterized by increased political and partisan instability/confusion.

jk1921
Here is a right-wing populist

Here is a right-wing populist using charges of anti-Semitism against the "left" in the Ontario provincial election campaign. Doug Ford, brother of the mercurial former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (now deceased), has run something about as close to a Trump like campaign as you can get, including a kind of hostile take-over of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. He has been widely expected to win after several successive, same old-same old, Liberal party governments has caused Premier Kathleen Wynne to wear out her welcome among the public. Despite a biting and caustic media campaign against him, Ford has led all the polls, untill just today when new polling released now shows the NDP with enough support to form a majority government ahead of the June 7th election.

Several things stand out about this campaign: Despite the hair on fire rhetoric from the media and all the responsible establishment types of the dangers of a Ford victory, he has consistently led polls for most of the campaign. Nevertheless, one gaffe after another finally seems to have  weakened his support, yet the center has not been the benificiary, it has been the officially "left" party in the Canadian political apparatus, which last formed a provincial governement in Ontario some 20 years ago. This is not a national level election (atlhough it is in Canada's most populous province) and Andrea Horvath is no Corbyn or Sanders; what this seems to ilustrate is the value to the bourgeoisie (as the ICC article states above) of a left party that can nevertheless serve as a credible party of government when necessary. It seems the US and the UK don't quite have that at this moment. Although, obviously there is a risk for the Canadian ruling class of putting the NDP into government, as it will inevitably dampen its image as a voice of the people and set up the kind of populist appeal Ford makes as the only real alternative to the status quo next time around.The last time the NDP formed a government in Ontario in the early 1990s, it was in the midst of an economic downturn that saw it attack public sector workers, etc.

Those may not be the conditions today exactly, but the political problem for the bourgeoisie appears to be a weakening (one is tempted to say collapse) of the center-left parties amid the decline in public confidence for the neo-liberal consensus. Meanwhile, the right of center parties show themselves to be vulnerable to populist takeover, leaving the establishment factions of the bourgeoisie with few good options. While the Canadian political apparatus has the luxury of being able to call on a "left" party that it has tolerated for some time in these circumstances, other bourgeoisies are suffering from having lost the capacity for their main parties to express a credible voice of the working class.

Anything could still happen in the election as the campaign has turned volatile, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Demogorgon
Isn't the question here about

Isn't the question here about the "journey" the working class is likely to make towards a new class consciousness? A class struggling to throw off bourgeois ideology will, at first, confront the ideology it most directly associates with the ruling class and that is, at present, "neo-liberalism". It searches for alternatives but, given the weakness of the class' self-confidence and the loss of its historic political culture, the alternatives it finds will be the ones provided by other factions of the bourgeoisie, i.e. the trotskyist and social democratic left.

The next test of the class will be whether it is able to critique and overcome these alternatives. In the period of the blocs, the class failed this test. The workers in the Stalinist regimes learned hatred for Stalinism but were never able to critique democracy, leaving them disarmed when the bloc collapsed. In the democracies, the vast majority of workers found it hard to break with liberal democracy and those that did got stuck in leftism.

I think the appeal of Corbyn / Sanders to youth is a sign of the first steps being taken - if nothing else it represents a feeling that something, anything is better than the current situation, which is in itself a prerequisite for the development of class consciousness.

Right-wing populism also springs from the same roots, but seems to represent a nihilistic embrace of the worst of this social system. It's the political equivalent of sacrificing the weaker members of society to Moloch, hoping that he won't eat you.

jk1921
Agree

Demogorgon wrote:

Right-wing populism also springs from the same roots, but seems to represent a nihilistic embrace of the worst of this social system. It's the political equivalent of sacrificing the weaker members of society to Moloch, hoping that he won't eat you.

I agree with Demo's post, but I wonder if he can flesh this part out a little more?

Demogorgon
Sadly unprofound

I'm not sure I meant anything more profound than this: "As opposed to this, populism embodies the renunciation of such an “ideal”. What it propagates is the survival of some at the expense of others."

The abandonment of the working class by the left which you mentioned in your earlier post springs, I think, from several factors:

  • the decline of class struggle - last year saw the lowest level of strikes in the UK ever - means there is no pressing need to provide political firebreaks for potential radicalisation.
  • the discrediting of Keynesian policies in the 70s has deprived much of the left of much of its economic programme.
  • the attacks that the left in government carried out on the working class, and the sabotage of the unions, even though not fully exposed led to a certain decline in working class support for these parties.
  • the growth of decomposition which has, first and foremost, affected the right-wing of the bourgeoisie's political apparatus forced the left to take over some of the responsibilities of the right. The Blair government was, perhaps, the clearest expression of this.
jk1921
OK, I think though that we

OK, I think though that we may have a tendency to overstate the "each for his own" logic behind populism. That is obviously present at some levels, but I think a good deal of its appeal stems from a kind of instinct for "social protection" and solidarity as well. And I don't think this is true of just the left-wing versions of populism--which in any case the ICC doesn't seem to think really exists anyway (wrongly I think).

Much of the appeal of right-wing populism stems from a nostalgia for the good old days of Keynsiano-Fordism: jobs for life, various social protections if for some reason you didn't have one, a sense of well-being and progress (each generation does a little better than the last), the possibility of owning one's own home with a yard, a couple of weeks of vacation a year, etc. Part of this was the illusion of economic prosperity of the Golden Years after WWII (which were nevertheless a reality for at least a generation or two), but there is also a strong strain to defend ideals of "social protection" for the programmes that were put in place during the Great Depression or later: Witness the spectacle of Tea Party protestors chanting, "Keep your damn government hands off of my Medicare," or the fact that Brexit was won in part with a campaign about more funding for the NHS.

Of course, part of this "looking backwards" is the development of a great deal of anxiety about the decline of the nation-state, which was the vessel through which these things were achieved and defended. Globalized capitalism, along with the phenomenon of mass migration that has accompanied it, has been what has put all these things into question. And while it is obviously true that there are very real racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant elements in the electoral coalitions that made Trump and Brexit real, I think that the bigger factor is a kind of backward looking nostalgia for a memory of a perceived social-protective form of capitalism (call it Polyani's "socially embedded capitalism," if you like) that has been progressively deconstructed under neo-liberalism for the last three plus decades.

Much of the anti-immigrant sentiment comes more from a sense that while immigrants may be taking certain jobs or driving down wages, they are nevertheless "winners" in the neo-liberal arrangement--along with the liberal elite that showers them with praise and makes them the object of political and cultural virtue campaigns, while the old working-class is derided as "deplorables." There is, in the minds of the populist voter, something that violates fundamental fairness about the entire arrangement--a feeling that is particularly pronounced in the US, where some significant percentage of the immigrant population has violated the law to enter the country, a fact that the elites who run things seemingly want to ignore. It is quite tempting for the worker who has seen his standard of living erode to ask, not only "Where is my bailout?", but also "Where is my amnesty?", if I get caught on the wrong side of the law, nobody is likely to show me any mercy.

This state of mind has been derisively labeled (with some reason) "welfare chauvinism" by many liberal commentators, but underneath it there is in fact a certain ethic of solidarity and social protection at work, even if it does not escape the reassuring confines of the now flailing (failing?) nation-state. But it is often the case that people look backward, before they look forward.

Left-wing populism has different motivations in some respects, much less emotionally invested in the past and more forward looking, but there is still nevertheless much nostalgia for the New Deal, Fordism, Keynesianism, etc. at play. The problem for the left-wing populist mentality is that it does not seem to have occurred that these things may actually be incompatible on a structural and economic level with the "progressive" social and cultural attitudes based on a globalized, cosmopolitanism, openness to the the world and otherness, etc. As Carl Schmidt said (a political theorist who was all the rage a few years ago) every stable political community must draw boundaries and borders. It must decide who belongs to it and who doesn't. In a sense, the "pogrom mentality" is written into the very foundation of the nation state itself (even if it doesn't always lead to actual pogroms). But the flipside of this obviously is that there is a certain "duty of care" built into the nation-state to provide for "our own," an ethic of care--that while it may have always been ideological--is increasingly repudiated in a more and more open way by neo-liberalism and an elite that only seems to care about particular identities (identity politics) over the common good.

Hence, some of the strange and perhaps shockingly counter-intuitive political contradictions of our age as it is constructed in the ideological field today: Socialism (or social protection) might be racist; anti-racism might serve as one of the legitimating ideologies of neo-liberal captialism. But also, we have the curious spectacle of workers who care about the "decline of the rule of law," because in some ways the law had peviously been seen to protect them in important ways, while now the elite largely ignore it when it suits their interests, whether it is through massive coruption or by promoting willfull disregard for the immigration laws that were ostensibly written, in part, to protect a certain standard of living or to put it differently a "way of life."

jk1921
Left-Right?

Demogorgon wrote:

The abandonment of the working class by the left which you mentioned in your earlier post springs, I think, from several factors:

  • the decline of class struggle - last year saw the lowest level of strikes in the UK ever - means there is no pressing need to provide political firebreaks for potential radicalisation.
  • the discrediting of Keynesian policies in the 70s has deprived much of the left of much of its economic programme.
  • the attacks that the left in government carried out on the working class, and the sabotage of the unions, even though not fully exposed led to a certain decline in working class support for these parties.
  • the growth of decomposition which has, first and foremost, affected the right-wing of the bourgeoisie's political apparatus forced the left to take over some of the responsibilities of the right. The Blair government was, perhaps, the clearest expression of this.

Good points. I do think that even if there has been a decline of traditional forms of class struggle there is nevertheless a need in the bourgeois political apparatus for a party that embodies some kind of oppositional stance to power. If the traditional left party can't do it credibly anymore because it has been compromised by governing responsibilities, then it was only a matter of time before the right would assume this political space.

But it might also be the case that the old left-right division of ideological labor is being replaced today, or is at least forced to coexist with a division between insider and outsider, with a resulting destabilization of the entire political field and a resulting confusion both in terms of  bourgeois political life, but also in our own attempts to make sense of the situation. The old sign posts just aren't entirely reliable anymore. One keeps waiting for the old left-right paradigm to assert itself, but its not clear how this is going to play out in the historical period that ICC calls the "era of populism" (as opposed to the ICT who don't think anything really important is happening). Hence, we get the confusion about whether there is such a thing as a left populism. But does it make any sense to think of the left as the "responsible party"--the adults in the room? But then what is the ideological division of labor today?

Does populism have a political substance or is it more about a style of politics? Is Corbyn not a populist, as Dave60 suggests, because the content of his politics is classic leftist reformism or is he as much a product of the populist era as someone like Trump because the main factions of the bourgeoisie despise him, have failed to yet fully domesticate him and hence want him nowhere near governing power?

 

zimmerwald1915
Products of the same era

jk1921 wrote:
or is he as much a product of the populist era as someone like Trump

Corbyn has been in Parliament since 1983, and has been an orthodox postwar Leftist from then until today, when orthodox postwar Leftism has been to some degree rehabilitated.

Trump's first serious foray into politics came in 2000, with his campaign for the Reform Party's Presidential nomination. This was well into the epoch of decomposition, and Trump himself was aware of that to some degree - he saw it at work in the Reform Party's political eclecticism. Between then and 2016 he flirted with politics, contributing little apart from Birtherism.

"Products of the same era" indeed.

jk1921
Missed the point?

zimmerwald1915 wrote:
jk1921 wrote:
or is he as much a product of the populist era as someone like Trump
Corbyn has been in Parliament since 1983, and has been an orthodox postwar Leftist from then until today, when orthodox postwar Leftism has been to some degree rehabilitated. Trump's first serious foray into politics came in 2000, with his campaign for the Reform Party's Presidential nomination. This was well into the epoch of decomposition, and Trump himself was aware of that to some degree - he saw it at work in the Reform Party's political eclecticism. Between then and 2016 he flirted with politics, contributing little apart from Birtherism. "Products of the same era" indeed.

 

I think you missed the point. Corbyn may have been in Parliament for a long time--similarly Sanders has been in the US Congress since 1990--but they were nothing but irrelevant back benchers for decades, until recently. Why?

Demogorgon
In response to Zimmerwald, I

In response to Zimmerwald, I don't think the question of the similarities between Trump and Corby is about the origins of their specific ideologies. It's more why and how their ideologies have suddenly become mainstream.

Corbyn has an almost cult-like loyalty although many of his supporters seem astoundingly ignorant of what his orthodox leftism actually is and its implications. I remember talking to some at a rally once and not one of them could tell me a particularly policy he had presented that they supported - it was more about what he represents to them: something different, "socialism" (none of these people could define that for me either), etc.

Interestingly, there is a massive disconnect between Corbyn and his supporters on the question of Brexit - the defining issue of UK politics today. Corbyn has followed a traditional Britist "Lexit" position for decades and while he claimed to support Remain during the referendum, this is regarded by most of the bourgeois commentariat as a cynical lie, given weight by the fact that he refused to get involved in the Remain campaign and, once the result was announced, called for Article 50 to invoked immediately, echoing the Tory Brexshitter wing who are batshit crazy to put it kindly. His supporters, though, especially among the young but also the unions are firmly in the Remain camp.

Whether this will ultimately damage Corbyn remains to be seen and there is a quiet war going on in Labour over Brexit (as opposed to the open fratricide in the Tories).

The other question is how integrated Corbyn is with the dominant factions of the bourgeoisie. Leaving aside his ambivalence on Brexit, which puts him at odds with the majority of parliament, his party and the bourgeoisie, his associations with RT at a time when Russia is rapidly becoming the imperialist bogeyman of choice are undoubtedly worrying to some in the ruling class (another peculiar echo of Trump).

But most significant is the way Corbyn defied the parliamentary party when they attempted to decapitate him. Most politicians would have seen the writing on the wall and resigned. Instead, Corbyn was able to mobilise the base in the membership to utterly crush their revolt. Surviving that kind of coup is unusual to say the least, but Corbyn came out of it stronger.

Having said that, the concerns that Corbyn is articulating about inequality, etc., albeit with a leftist phraseology, are similar to those of some in the bourgeoisie, too. Some openly worry that capitalism may be "broken". Even the Davos lot are worried. And there's also the quiet contacts that Labour have been making in the City.

There seem to be several elements that define populism:

  • Hostility to the main factions of the bourgeoisie, "the elites", etc. (although it goes without saying that the populists are bourgeois in nature themselves) and an unwillingness to submit to the normal rules of the bourgeois game
  • Drawing main support from the grassroots, as against the aforementioned elites, mobilising inchoate anger and dissatisfaction
  • Incoherent policies promising all things to all people, reinforcing the inchoate nature of discontent rather than clarifying and articulating it
  • Scapegoating the other, with reactionary narratives around race, immigration, gender, etc.

Corbyn certainly fulfills the first two criteria and possibly the third. And while the narratives of the Left aren't openly reactionary in the manner of the populist right, the invective unleashed by the debates around "identity politics" certainly appear as its mirror image.

EDIT: Or what JK said.

jk1921
Was I wrong?

Demogorgon wrote:

Interestingly, there is a massive disconnect between Corbyn and his supporters on the question of Brexit - the defining issue of UK politics today. Corbyn has followed a traditional Britist "Lexit" position for decades and while he claimed to support Remain during the referendum, this is regarded by most of the bourgeois commentariat as a cynical lie, given weight by the fact that he refused to get involved in the Remain campaign and, once the result was announced, called for Article 50 to invoked immediately, echoing the Tory Brexshitter wing who are batshit crazy to put it kindly. His supporters, though, especially among the young but also the unions are firmly in the Remain camp.

Interesting. There is a bit of a parallel in the post-2016 Sanders movement. Although, Sanders has at times openly denounced "identity politics" and its pretty clear that this simply is not the kind of politics he wants to do, he has been forced to tolerate it to a certain extent as his millennial base--whatever their love for Bernie the person and his "socialism"--are often the most fervent devotees of various versions of identity politics. Nevertheless, there is a clear tension in the Bernie movement between a younger millennial wing whose commitment to broad, sweeping ideas around identity, immigrant rights, etc. clashes with a more old school labor union based, social democratic, contingent more oriented to the concerns of the endangered blue collar worker. 

This came to a bit of a head recently, when Nina Turner (former Ohio state Senator, African-American woman, and outspoken supporter of Bernie in 2016) now chairperson of the post-Sanders campaign organization "Our Revolution" faced something like an internal revolt and mild media campaign over her effort to install a chief of staff (also an African-American woman), who has been accused by Latino members of Our Revolution of engaging in anti-immigrant "hate speech" on Fox News. Several Latino members of OR had already resigned over accusations that it has given short shrift to Latino concerns.

The thought of an African-American woman uttering xenophobic rhetoric may seem counter-intuitive and it would be easy to dismiss this case as a one-off function of this person's idiosyncratic personality (although accusations that immigrants "displace" AA workers is not a new phenomenon and has had various manifestations locally for years) ; however, there is clearly a broader tension in these left populist movements between a more social-democratic, protectionist vision that would likely entail limiting immigration and a (I don't really know what to call it), post-socialist, post-materialist, identity wing for whom the most extreme slogans about open borders and "nobody is illegal" are just taken for granted as self-evidently true and right.

I was a conference this weekend, where I listened to speaker after speaker go on about how Trump has "racialized economic grievances," (which is obviously true), but using the tariffs he announced against China, Mexico and other non-white countries as evidence of how he makes the white working class fear the foreign other. Ironically, just as this conference was going on Bernie Facebooked out his own condemnation of the tariffs, but only those that applied to Canada and the EU! He was fully on board with strong anti-dumping measures against China and all the rest! Is Bernie also "racializing economic grievances"?

if Bernie ever does get elected President (which is possible) there are going to be a lot of sore people on the left, which shows that even these left populist movements are unlikely in and of themselves to be able to control the, what Demo calls, inchoate grievances floating to the surface from civil society, often in contradictory and mutually suspect ways that it is not clear the existing political structures can fully contain.

Demogorgon wrote:

The other question is how integrated Corbyn is with the dominant factions of the bourgeoisie. Leaving aside his ambivalence on Brexit, which puts him at odds with the majority of parliament, his party and the bourgeoisie, his associations with RT at a time when Russia is rapidly becoming the imperialist bogeyman of choice are undoubtedly worrying to some in the ruling class (another peculiar echo of Trump).

Here is a difference between Corbyn and Sanders. Although Bernie hasn't really pushed the Russiagate narrative, he hasn't denounced it either, even though it is pretty clearly aimed at him and his followers as much as it aimed at Trump. He is still playing ball with the establishment on this and appears to have no special love for Putin or Russia. Sanders is thus probably not as much a threat to the consensus goals of US imperialism as Corbyn appears to be to the UK's at this point in time. Something that again will not endear him to many of his current followers if he is ever called to office. Bernie won't abolish the military, he won't destroy the CIA. Hell, he won't even get rid of ICE. People would still get deported under President Sanders, if maybe not so many, but still this would put the leftists and many of his more casual followers in a difficult spot. At what level do they drop their sloganeering on immigration for strategic reasons (the "necessity of governing") and accept that maybe some people might have to get deported after all? Or do they really believe what they say now--setting up left populism for a split the moment it takes office (if it ever does).

Demogorgon wrote:

Having said that, the concerns that Corbyn is articulating about inequality, etc., albeit with a leftist phraseology, are similar to those of some in the bourgeoisie, too. Some openly worry that capitalism may be "broken". Even the Davos lot are worried. And there's also the quiet contacts that Labour have been making in the City.

The question here is if there really is any alternative to neo-liberalism under capitalism or if it is at this point in history "locked in." Wolfgang Streeck argues that we really are in a neo-liberal TINA situation today and Chomsky himself, Chris Hedges and others have all but concluded it is probably too fucking late for humanity already. Contrary to this pessimism though, there are a number of municipal and other local level initiatives going on to seemingly reinstate some kind of social protective mechanism in capitalism, such as burgeoning movements for rent control, student loan forgiveness, free tuition and even more broadly what looks like a serious movement for universal health care in the US. Will these things ever come to fruition or will the veto power of the bond markets render these supposedly grassroots democratic movements null and void the moment they approach implementation?  But still, even the tech-utopian-libertarians in Silicon Valley are floating the idea of a universal basic income, something that sounds like a real reform to many people and is gaining some traction with the "high bourgeoisie", but which has many ominous and dystopian overtones at the same time.

Demogorgon wrote:

There seem to be several elements that define populism:

  • Scapegoating the other, with reactionary narratives around race, immigration, gender, etc.

Corbyn certainly fulfills the first two criteria and possibly the third. And while the narratives of the Left aren't openly reactionary in the manner of the populist right, the invective unleashed by the debates around "identity politics" certainly appear as its mirror image.

EDIT: Or what JK said.

The question is can there be a "populism" without the scapegoating and race baiting? If there can't be, then maybe I am wrong about there being distinct left and right populisms. Maybe it is just the same thing expressed in different ways, with different degrees of coherence in different institutional contexts and formed by slightly differing constituencies, forced to coexsit in variously stable electoral coalitions.

The idea of the more extreme versions of identity politics forming something of a mirror image to populist racism (a kind of "racist baiting" as opposed to race baiting) is interesting and has some merit as evidenced by things like what we see on LibCom (but also in the denunciation of white workers as "deplorables"), but this is going to be super-way controversial.

jk1921
Italian Situation

jk1921 wrote:

Does populism have a political substance or is it more about a style of politics? Is Corbyn not a populist, as Dave60 suggests, because the content of his politics is classic leftist reformism or is he as much a product of the populist era as someone like Trump because the main factions of the bourgeoisie despise him, have failed to yet fully domesticate him and hence want him nowhere near governing power?

Quoting myself here. But I watched this interview with an Italian journalist yesterday discussing the political situation in Italy, where a somewhat bizarre coalition of the old Northern League and the Five Star Movement have recently gotten the go ahead to form a government. The interviewer describes the Five Star Movement as "Center-Left Populist." Well, that's a mouthful. So not only is there a left populism, there is also a centrist populism? I suppose it might be possible to describe Macron's campaign in the last French election as something to that effect. Even though in office his policies have been fairly straightforward neo-liberal consensus, his camapign created an entirely new party and vowed to clear out all the old establishment dinosaurs. Macron's campaign was populist in style to save France from the substance of populism? Does that make any sense?

In Italy though (and perhaps to some extent in France too), as the journalist points out the meaning of right and left has been severely called into question, even though the new coalition government is made up mostly of old rightists, the political style is that of outsider over insider in a way she thinks that appeals to new social constituencies (the result of "class fragmentation"). Thus, there is a kind of "new politics" developing based on the increasing casualization of work, the gig economy, etc. that thrives on young people's false sense of "freedom" from the old bureaucratic structures of Keynsiano-Fordism--the unions and the old left/right parties. I don't know how accurate such an analysis really is, but if it has some validity it would really call into question the idea that populism today is simply a right-wing phenomenon based around xenophobia, racism and hate.

The interviewer concludes by suggesting that the US equivalent of the new Italian coalition would be something on the order of a coalition government between Trump and Sanders. A thought that seems entirely implausible until you think about it a little. Maybe the neo-liberal establishment was on to something when they warned us that Sanders wasn't much different than Trump after all? It seems though that in the US and the UK the old categories of right-left remain somewhat more resilient and there are the effects of other institutional arrangements to consider--like the two party duopoly in the US, but also the EU boogeyman for Europe--in how political life is structured. But it would be good to get a more detailed analysis of the Italian situation from the ICC.

 

 

jk1921
Well damn it if Doug Ford

Well damn it if Doug Ford won't be the next premier of Ontario. Couple this with the Italian election and the media narrative that populism had been stopped in its tracks after the French and Dutch elections last year is serioulsy called into question.

Ford appears to have won due to two factors: 1.) A late "red scare" camapign to defeat the NDP surge and 2.) A depressed voter turnout among younger voters. It appears the polls were overestimating NDP support by overestimating millenial turnout. The demographic wave that liberals have been banking on to save humanity from the revanchist right continues to dissapoint. In any event, the result shows a continuing trend of what looks like a real global collapse of the center-left parties (although there are still predictions of a "blue wave" in the US later this year). The governing Liberal party was absolutely hammered. Moreover, this result takes some of the sheen off the Trudeau phenomenon as it appears Canada is not quite exceptional in its adhesion to liberal democratic values and rational centrism as it was thought.

Interesting times!

Demogorgon
Even the "Blue Wave" may turn

Even the "Blue Wave" may turn out to be more of a ripple:

"Either way, at least where the electorate is concerned, America seems to have reached a new normal. Polls show that 38% of Americans think the country is moving in the right direction – that’s significantly higher than at this stage in both of Barack Obama’s terms. Trump’s approval ratings have climbed into the low 40s. That’s still low, but heading in the right direction. Republicans are intensely loyal to him – indeed, with the exception of George W Bush after 9/11, no other president has commanded this level of support from their party since the second world war.

He is, it is true, loathed intensely too. Four of the five biggest marches in American history have taken place since his inauguration – none of them supported his agenda. But the certainty that this resistance would lead to a Democratic victory in November’s mid-terms is evaporating. Six months ago Democrats consistently held a double-digit advantage over Republicans in generic polling – over recent weeks their lead has been as low as one point."

jk1921
Obviously, we will have to

Obviously, we will have to wait and see on the "blue wave." But Republicans are not as loyal to Trump as that article claims. Many are intensely worried about the mid-terms, with a moderate faction attempting to push an immigration reform package through Congress over the objections of their own GOP leadership, realizing that the DACA narrative and the images of migrant familes being seperated at the border are not in their political favor. Moreover, many Republicans are flabbergasted by the tariffs. The current predictions are for the Democrats to take the House, with the GOP maintaining control of the Senate, a scenario which sets up a possible impeachment followed by intense pressure on Seante Republicans to pull the trigger on a Presidency that remains outside the boundaries of "proper politics." Just today, he is loudly clamoring for Russia to be readmitted to the G7(8), while he picks senseless public fights with "allies" and suggests he may bring in Kim Jong Eun for a state visit, if all goes well at their big summit. EGADS! Of course, at this point predictions are pretty speculative.

Demogorgon
Only Trump could go to North Korea ...

I think the party approval statistic refers to the general membership, rather than the apparat. The latter are certainly divided.

On the tariffs, I wonder whether there is a method behind Trump's madness. Leaving aside the fact that he's keeping a promise to his base, there is an underlying economic question: how long can the US continue to absorb much of the world's production?

The US locomotive has been a principle stabiliser of the world economy ever since the 80s, enabled by growing debt and its position as controller of the world reserve currency. This privileged position has allowed it to continue in circumstances that would bring "normal" economies to their knees.

However, the bourgeoisie is aware that this cannot continue forever. The US had no hesitation in blowing up Bretton Woods when the costs began to outweigh the benefits. Is this what Trump is doing now? The ruling class narrative is that Trump is a sort of blip, an irrational adventurer wrecking the world order out of pique. This is certainly true to some extent, but it is also possible that he is still the President that the US ruling class needs, even if only by accident.

jk1921
New World Order?

Demogorgon wrote:

I think the party approval statistic refers to the general membership, rather than the apparat. The latter are certainly divided.

On the tariffs, I wonder whether there is a method behind Trump's madness. Leaving aside the fact that he's keeping a promise to his base, there is an underlying economic question: how long can the US continue to absorb much of the world's production?

The US locomotive has been a principle stabiliser of the world economy ever since the 80s, enabled by growing debt and its position as controller of the world reserve currency. This privileged position has allowed it to continue in circumstances that would bring "normal" economies to their knees.

However, the bourgeoisie is aware that this cannot continue forever. The US had no hesitation in blowing up Bretton Woods when the costs began to outweigh the benefits. Is this what Trump is doing now? The ruling class narrative is that Trump is a sort of blip, an irrational adventurer wrecking the world order out of pique. This is certainly true to some extent, but it is also possible that he is still the President that the US ruling class needs, even if only by accident.

I saw Varoufakis' piece in the Guardian today, which makes this point. The US cannot go on serving as the world's market of last resort forever. Even if this function was critical to shoring up the post-WWII Western liberal order, the strains on the US economy and state are at a point where the kind of restructuring the Trump administration is doing take on a new rational sense. The goal is to blow-up the multilateral insitutions of global governance and create more of a hub-and-spoke system of bilateral agreements with the US at its center. However, this arrangement is not just in the US national interest, but in the interest of the global capitalism, if it is going to find its way through the current impasse. This is part of the reason why I remain skeptical of the "rise of China" narrative and think something is missing in our analysis of the current global moment.

Nevertheless, even if this analysis is correct, it doesn't change the fact that there are strong factions in the US state that are completely opposed to it and the tensions within the bourgeoisie remain high. Varoufakis sees this as another expression of the complete obtuseness of the neo-liberal establishment who cannot see the forest for the trees at the moment. But one wonders if from their perspective the Trumpian New World Order, which may be an attempt to save global capitalism from the neo-liberal impasse, would create a world the heretofore ruling elites just can't recognize as their own. In response to Trump's browbeating of neo-liberal good guy Trudeau after the G7 summit, John McCain tweeted out an apology reminding allies that the vast majority of Americans support "free trade." Really John? I can't remember the last free trade rally I saw. He needs to get his mind right.

All of this I think underscores the need for an orientation text from the ICC on the global situation. Its been awhile since I have seen one of those.

 

EDIT: I really shouldn't have been so sarcastic re McCain. The guy is in his last days. But seriously the idea that there is massive public support for free trade is rather laughable given the 2016 camapign in which even Hillary had to hide her support for free trade and her husband's work for NAFTA was a clear liability. There may be some sectors of the economy that the tarifs and other protectionist measures will negatively impact, but one wonders if the Trump-Sessions immigration policy, whatever its racist and xenophobic overtones, is along with the tarifs really partly an attempt to tighten up the labour market to the benefit of other sectors and the Trump voting base?

Demogorgon
That's a very interesting

That's a very interesting article, I hadn't really thought about the US domestic economic policy as having any rationality. Although, again, the enormous deficits have their limits even if these limits are difficult to empirically determine in advance. Japan has an even more monumental debt mountain - again, sustainable only because of very specific circumstances, yet not able to continue eternally.

I quite agree that there are profound tensions within the bourgeoisie, both at national and international level, including those you've described. I think that those tensions are the product of the deepening systemic impasse of the current system. With regard to free trade, for example, free trade is in US interests (preserving a global order which it dominates) while also counter to its interests (resulting in massive trade deficits, etc.). The Brexit catastrophe engulfing the UK ruling class is a product of the historic impasse that has faced it ever since 1989 - Europe, the US, or independence, none of which are pallatable choices.

We saw it in the economic crisis, too. Do you let the crisis perform its role in re-establishing the bases for accumulation - but risk a catastrophic social upheaval? Or contain it at the price of increasing stagnation, debt, etc.

Confronted with increasingly intractable problems, the bourgeoisie is increasingly starting to crack under the pressure.

On orientation texts, we've published a Resolution on Class Struggle and, more recently, a Report on Imperialism.

jk1921
Ten Years Later.

Demogorgon wrote:

On orientation texts, we've published a Resolution on Class Struggle and, more recently, a Report on Imperialism.

 

Yes I have read those. Is there one specifically on the economic situation? In the midst of all this turmoil, the US economy has "rebounded," unemployment is at something like a post-war low and, gulp, wages have actually started to tick upwards for the first time in like forever. Obviously, the official line on all of this hides underlying problems, but it would be good to see a broader analsyis of where the economic crisis sits ten years after the outbreak of the "Great Recession." Is this all a "sugar high" resulting from the massive tax cuts or is there really something like a fundamental reordering taking place?

Demogorgon
Unfortunately, there's no

Unfortunately, there's no orientation text of that sort on the economic situation at present, although I agree it's a vital question.

baboon
Salient point from Demo and

Salient point from Demo and the discussion about the increasing inability of the US economy to act as a motor force for the world. It seems to be reaching a point that's giving rise to wider political ramifications globally. Trump is certainly fulfilling a particular role here for US capital.

On the twists and turns: Bernie Sanders and a couple of others have written to US Secretary of State James Mattis asking what the Pentagon's role is in the Saudi-UAE invasion of the Yemeni port of Hudaydah and calling for the Pentagon to take up the position of the administration, which is Trump's position of "non-involvement". 

Demogorgon
Interesting article from the

Interesting article from the serial controversialist Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.

He points out that populist governments are more becoming normalised in Europe: "Europe now faces two populist (and ostensibly popular) autocrats, Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, across its eastern frontier. They are matched by similar “strong-man” leaders in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Serbia. These regimes are no longer aberrations. Populism is becoming the norm across a swath of states in eastern Europe, characterised by personal rule, xenophobia and the suppression of parliamentary and media opposition."

He also points out that this is reflected in attitude surveys: "Two years ago, the world values survey was clear as a bell. While older respondents (over the age of 60) were resolute that democracy was “essential” to their lives, this was true of less than half of those under 30. Almost a quarter of American “millennials” now think democracy “a bad way” to run a country. A sixth – 17% – of young Europeans think likewise, double the figure for 1995. In Germany, Spain, Japan and America, a full 40% of people overall would prefer “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliaments or elections”. Faith in democracy among the west’s young people is plummeting."

What's interesting here is that it seems to undermine the narrative around populism that often poses an older, reactionary generation that votes for Trump and Brexit against a younger, more liberal one that is aghast at the turn things are taken.

Of course, commitment to liberalism is not necessarily a commitment to democracy. Indeed, it may even be the opposite. Following the Brexit vote, many liberals unleashed a torrent of bile on the "chavs" who were too stupid to realise how much a Leave vote would hurt their own interests. At least one person I know took to social media to voice how the vote proved that the "general public" were too stupid to be allowed votes like this and that parliamentary democracy had been created  precisely to prevent stupid voters being stupid.

As has been pointed out before, some currents of millennial liberalism seems to be characterised by a desire to prevent opposing points of view being expressed at all (no platforming, etc.) which reaches its ultimate extreme in examples like this.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that young people are rapidly losing faith in the current political settlement. Clearly, this has revolutionary potential but it also has the potential to accelerate the dangerous tendencies to decomposition.

jk1921
Ironic

Demogorgon wrote:

Interesting article from the serial controversialist Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.

He points out that populist governments are more becoming normalised in Europe: "Europe now faces two populist (and ostensibly popular) autocrats, Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, across its eastern frontier. They are matched by similar “strong-man” leaders in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Serbia. These regimes are no longer aberrations. Populism is becoming the norm across a swath of states in eastern Europe, characterised by personal rule, xenophobia and the suppression of parliamentary and media opposition."

Ironic that the most racist and politically questionable events so far at this Russian edition of the World Cup involve the Swedes and the Swiss. I imagine that Putin is putting a tight lid on all of that xenophobia in Russia right now, but give it time--the tournament is still young.

jk1921
Democracy

Demogorgon wrote:

He also points out that this is reflected in attitude surveys: "Two years ago, the world values survey was clear as a bell. While older respondents (over the age of 60) were resolute that democracy was “essential” to their lives, this was true of less than half of those under 30. Almost a quarter of American “millennials” now think democracy “a bad way” to run a country. A sixth – 17% – of young Europeans think likewise, double the figure for 1995. In Germany, Spain, Japan and America, a full 40% of people overall would prefer “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliaments or elections”. Faith in democracy among the west’s young people is plummeting."

What's interesting here is that it seems to undermine the narrative around populism that often poses an older, reactionary generation that votes for Trump and Brexit against a younger, more liberal one that is aghast at the turn things are taken.

Of course, commitment to liberalism is not necessarily a commitment to democracy. Indeed, it may even be the opposite. Following the Brexit vote, many liberals unleashed a torrent of bile on the "chavs" who were too stupid to realise how much a Leave vote would hurt their own interests. At least one person I know took to social media to voice how the vote proved that the "general public" were too stupid to be allowed votes like this and that parliamentary democracy had been created  precisely to prevent stupid voters being stupid.

As has been pointed out before, some currents of millennial liberalism seems to be characterised by a desire to prevent opposing points of view being expressed at all (no platforming, etc.) which reaches its ultimate extreme in examples like this.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that young people are rapidly losing faith in the current political settlement. Clearly, this has revolutionary potential but it also has the potential to accelerate the dangerous tendencies to decomposition.

Its hard to know what to make about those values surveys that show a declining faith in democracy among the millenials in the West. How exactly are they interpreting the concept of democracy? As the neoliberal corporate capture of the state that produces a Sophie's Choice between two captialist parties whose basic policies hardly differ in any way that would make an appreciable difference in the ordinary person's life? If that is what democracy means, its not hard to see why increasing percentages of the population are against it.

Of course, other surveys show millenials' interest in socialism soaring. But these surveys suffer from the same problem. What do they mean by socialism? If it is some kind of social democratic management of captialism at the level of the nation-state then many of them will be sorely disappointed if it ever comes to pass, as this would seem to contradict other libertarian values that are supposedly stoked by the digitial transformations of the twenty-first century, which are said to promote a new self-constructed form of subjectivity that comports well with the transformation of the labor market from jobs for life to the current gig economy and the coming jobless/UBI world of the near future. Maybe for them "socialism" means something more like a world where you work when you want to fulfill techno-consumerist libidinal impulses, while petitioning the state for periodic debt jubilees and other amnesties? Maybe that's not really fair, but in any event I doubt these millenial "socialists" share the same level of nostlgia for Keynsiano-Fordism that in many ways drives the populism of the right.

In any event, the language of "democracy" continues to permeate the ideological space today--precisely iin the political causes and social movements most often associated with millenials. Of course, there seems to be an enitrely different ideologically defintiion of democracy at work there. Democracy is seen less as a set of rules, norms and institutions whose purpose it is to mediate between different interest groups and competing visions of what the "good life" means and more as a substantive version of the good life itself that involves all kinds of rights claims that if taken to their logical conclusions would likely result in a kind of "crisis of governability" for the state (For example, there is now said to be a "right to immigrate").

This is how you get the development of a supposedly "illiberal left," who "no platform" those who question their righteousness and which increasingly sees speech, discussion and debate not as means to elucidate the truth, but as potentially dangerous forms of injury and harm themselves--a concepton of the social space in which feelings trump reason and injury and trauma are fetishized as that which brings forth the truth rather than reasoned argument. It has been suggested that if this is the vision of democracy offered up by the millenials (the first digital natives), Generation Z is increasingly turing to the "Alt-right" as an antidote to the kind of illiberal intolerance they see being offered up in the name of democracy.

Still, even if this narrative is true (and I don't now if it is) there are numerous other cross-crutting tendencies today, which can be seen in the media campaigns to draw clear partisan contrasts between populists like Trump and liberal centrists who supposedly continue to defend, if not precisely democratic values, at least humanistic ones. Even if liberals now have their own contempt for electoral democracy, they nevertheless don't take kids from their parents. Actually, as anyone who has dealt with child welfare agencies will tell you, they do, but that is not something the media will highlight right now.

Demogorgon
Not sure what this win for a

Not sure what this win for a "socialist" in the Democratic primaries means, but it does seem to tie in with JK's comments about the Democrat party.

zimmerwald1915
Not sure what

Demogorgon wrote:

Not sure what this win for a "socialist" in the Democratic primaries means, but it does seem to tie in with JK's comments about the Democrat party.


What with this and Janus, it might be that the American bourgeoisie is trying to set up a militant-sounding left in opposition, unburdened by obvious ties to the state or the past.
Demogorgon
Quote:What with this and

Quote:
What with this and Janus, it might be that the American bourgeoisie is trying to set up a militant-sounding left in opposition, unburdened by obvious ties to the state or the past.

Possibly, although that would imply a bourgeoisie capable of uniting several factions across different parts of the state and political apparatus. Does that really describe the current state of the US bourgeoisie? Somehow that doesn't seem to quite ring true given the difficulties Trump seems to be causing them and the profound divisions in the Republican party apparat.

jk1921
Some commentators are now

Some commentators are now acknowledging a developing tension between old-school social democracy and what is being pejoratively, but perhaps accurately, descried as "open borders socialism." Other ways to describe this latter tendency might be "millenial socialism," "post-material socialism" or "post-socialist radical democracy." This author, although a self-described conservative, predicts that Bernie Sanders' days as the titulative head of a progressive populist movement within the Democratic Party may already be over. Sanders is already being out maneouvered by younger, more demographically representative, movement insurgents who want nothing to do with his erstwhile "nation-state socialism." Sooner or later, Bernie is going to be publicly pressured to state a position on the new en vogue slogan of movement politics "Abolish ICE!" Either he tampers the enthusiasm for this provacative kind of extremist sloganeering and alienates much of his millenial base or he embraces it and destroys any chance of forming a winning electoral coalition, which would require some support from Rust Belt workers.

In other words, its utter chaos. The left insurgency within the Democratic Party is threatening to turn in on itself, even before it has vanquished the Democratic establishment! (While Ocasio-Cortez's victory in New York was stunning, in another Democratic primary the same day the billonaire wine merchant David Trone basically bought his way into Congress with the milquetoastiest of campaigns simply by saturating the airwaves and social media!) Still, there is a sense developing that like Obama before him, Trump has so radicalized elements in the other party that he is probably starting to look like the sane one to many voters. In fact, it has been suggested that the entire family separation crisis was manufactured in part to draw out the extremists in the Democratic Party, to make it look like they care more about foreigners than American citizens. Whether or not this succeded is difficult to say. Most people hate Trump, but most people still don't vote. But what is clear is that deepening polaraization is occurring on many levels, sometimes cross-cutting ways, in what looks like a vindication of Lilla's description of the centrifugal pull of social movements.

Of course, the leftists (Jacobin, etc.) are all over the Ocasio-Cortez victory, trumpeting it as a tremendous illustration of "grassroots democracy," despite the fact that she won with 15,000 votes in a district that normally turns out about 200,000 in a a general election--hardly a tremendous democratic surge (right-wing insurgent David Bratt got more than double that when he upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 Virginia 7 primary at the height of the Anti-Obama Tea Party insurgency) . Like the Tea Party insurgents in the Republican Party before her, Ocasio-Cortez's victory appears to have been driven more by an activist coup, and what The Intercept called a process of generational and ethnic succession in a district that is now only 14 percent white, against a hapless and clueless white establshment insider, rather than some upsurge of popular electoral fury.

Still, the question remains regarding how we should react to such events. Do we see in them a kind of prefigurative popular acceptance of communistic ideas (The increasing popularity of the idea that national borders are immoral)? I think that would be a misinterpretation of what is happening. At best, it is only part of the story and it seems to be happening primarily in constituencies who are either economically, demographically or ideologically self-interested within capitalist relations in the weakening of the border. Rather, this looks to me like more evidence of an increasingly problematic polarization, with each side driven to more and more radical (and completely untenable in the context of the nation-state) positions that reflect a kind of identitarian death-spiral. I think this is true even if on the surface some of the positions put forward appear to reflect a questioning of certain features of capitalist society (the nation-state). But let's not forget that capitalism itself, in the form of neo-liberalism, has increasingly put the nation-state into question. After all, the slogan of "Open Borders," as one Bernie advisor somewhat embarrasingly suggested in the early days of his campaign, was orignally a project of the libertarian fringe.

The fact that more and more central political figures are now voicing support for such ideas reflects either their total disingenousness (they are using it to get votes and have zero intention of actually implementing it) or the increasingly suicidal nature of bourgeois ideology that is now infecting parts of the left in a way that is approaching the sheer insanity of the Tea Party driven debt ceiling fiasco of 7 years hence. If these people really want to abolish the border, then it would be disastarous for the bourgeoisie to put them in charge, because even if neo-liberalism has weakned the nation-state, it is still the indispensible political form of capitalist modernity and no nation-state can function without some level of control over its frontiers. This seems like fact. What victories like Ocasio-Cortez's do is further discredit the Democratic Party in the eyes of those demographics most likely to vote, while complicating the possibility of building a credible oppostion that could govern if needed. So no, this isn't some attempt to create a far left in oppsition; it is an example of decomposition continuing apace.

Still, the chaotic nature of it all does give some ideological cover to those who trumpet the benefits of "radical democracy," because--they argue--the chaos is precisely what suggests a healthy democratic urge bublling up from civil society. It may be tempting to see it this way, but another interpetation would suggest that the state will not tolerate such a "governability crisis" much longer--something which may make the authoritarian tendencies we hear so much about these days potentially useful to the bourgeoisie after all?

 

jk1921
Here is a Trumpist, in the

Here is a Trumpist, in the Washington Post no less, railing against immigration in the name of tightening labor markets and raising wages. The Democrats are portrayed here as the party of big capital and big tech and establishment Republicans as the hapless dupes of the Chamber of Commerce who it is said hate tight labor markets:

"After at least two decades of wage stagnation and even decline, now that we’ve finally reached the nirvana of full employment (and who knows how long it will last), why not take advantage of this tight labor market to raise wages across the board? Especially for the working and middle classes that got nowhere or even lost ground during the housing, finance and tech booms of recent years? Just about everyone knows the answer: because the business community does not like tight labor markets and the concomitant necessity to raise wages. That’s bad for the bottom line. The solution? More workers! And so the Chamber of Commerce annex — a.k.a. Capitol Hill Republicans — dutifully attempt to do their donors’ bidding at the expense of their voters’ interests. (...) No matter, because the Democrats are no longer the party of labor. Back when they were — in the prelapsarian Clinton years — they sought tight labor markets precisely for their efficacy in boosting lower-end wages. But today’s Democrats are the party of high class, high tech and high capital. This glamour coalition is not big enough by itself to win elections. So the left has hoodwinked some (but, as the 2016 election shows, by no means all) low-income voters into thinking that their interests align with those of Wall Street and Silicon Valley oligarchs."

Someone is going to have to tell me what right and left mean today, because it just isn't entirely clear anymore. There are populists like Trump and Sanders, there is movement politics like the Tea Party and the new socialism represented by Ocasio-Cortez, the DSA and others, and there is a neo-liberal centrist establishment increasingly boxed in (but still the establishment), but what do right and left mean anymore? Obviously, these distinctions haven't collapsed completely. There are major differences between Trump and Sanders and there are vastly different conceptions of the good life represented by these opposite poles of movement politics, but when you have an anti-immigrant populist movement making the kinds of arguments above in the name of the standard of living of the working-class, it is clear some kind of realignment is taking place, both in terms of the party structure, but also in the very meaning of the left-right distinction.

Populism involves drawing a line, a frontier, between us and them. Trump does it in one way Sanders in another. For Trump, it is the foreign other and the perfidious liberal class that enables their taking advantage of Americans (but also entrenched business interests). For Sanders, it is the one percent who horde the nation's resources and impoverish the vast majority of Americans. But is this just a difference in emphasis driven more by the political necessities of electoral coalition building in a two-party system than some fundamentally different policy vision? Both seem to support some kind of nation-state protectionism and although he has dropped any criticism of immigration entirely from his political stump speech, Sanders has been denounced by liberals in the past for his own restrictionist tendencies. In fact, it is hard to see the fundamental differences between the Trumpist screeed linked above and this statement penned by a Sanders advisor only three years ago. Both suggest that immigration has to be restricted in order to protect domestic workers and that unfettered immigration constitutes a "race to the bottom."

But whatever populism is, it is clear that it is not the same as the movement politics that are pulling on either end of the political spectrum today. Populism may involve an act of foundational divisivness (constituting an us vs. them), but after that it tries to bring together "the people" (however defined) in a common struggle against some perceived enemy. Its main political force is centripetal, attemting to define a people against an other. Movement politics on the other hand appears to be mostly centrifugal, splintering further and further in the search of political and doctrinal purity, basing itself on ever smaller communities of interest. Whereas populism speaks in the name of "the people," movement politics attempts to find groups and identities that represent the purist nodal point(s) from which to forumlate particular rights claims (or even the monadic individual itself in its right-wing form).

But what both of these forms of politics do is attempt to repoliticize the public sphere in reaction to two and a half decades of neo-liberal centrism that sought to reduce politics to technics, promoting a singular vision of the good life driven by rationality and science, which could only be effectively interpreted and administered by a properly educated elite. To the extent that this latter conception is in crisis and the choice for the bourgeoisie becomes one between the unifying project of populism (in whatever form) and the splintering dynamic of movement politics, populism starts to look more and more like a rational and attractive alternative for regaining some legitimacy for the political project of the capitalist nation-state. Although, it is also clear that the neo-liberal establishment elites who have presided over the institutional framework of the global economy for the last two and a half decades appear to have no desire to surrender their entrenched power easily.

Of course, this rough sketch of the political dynamics today is just that: a rough sketch. Actually implementing a substantive political programme is complicated by a number of factors today, including the sructure of particular states. In the US for example, the two-party system makes it difficult for a populist politician to govern as an outright populist (although populism may have built-in governance problems rooted in its nature), having to make numerous policy compromises and concessions in order to hold together electoral and legislative coalitions. But while the movement politics of the right is far from dead, it is not for nothing that the media have decided that the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. Meanwhile, Sanders is having a more difficult time of it in the Democratic Party, where he is caught between a still entrenched establishment and the centrifugal pull of the rapidly radicalizing movement politics around immigration.

From a political persepctive, however, the problem with Trumpism (and other "right-wing" populist formations) is that they may draw the "us-them" distinction in a way that poses electoral problems. The "us" may soon, or already, be too demographically small to sustain itself effectively (Trump is President mainly because of the effects of the antiquated Electoral College), while the "them" may represent the ascendent sociological categories of the neo-liberal formation (Of course, in the short-term there may be ways around this: "voter suppresion," etc.) Conversely, the populist vision represented by Sanders (Corbyn, et. al.) may have the opposite problem of being too inclusive in the "us" category and not having a tangible enough "them." The one percent is not very popular, but not very visible either. The threat it represents to "the people" is more absract and cannot be so easily identified in daily life (as opposed to the more visible immigrant). It is harder to mobilize the "pogrom mentality" against it.

As such, the Sanders version of populism risks insufficiently differentiating itself from the neo-liberal status quo and the pull of movement politics on its flank. Moreover, being against the one-percent may be a catchy slogan (first popularized by Occupy Wall Street) but as a matter of policy, it doesn't even begin to grasp the actual structures of neo-liberalism, which is buttressed by a sociological and political configuartion that unites the top ten percent with subaltern groups (immigrants, minorities, fragmented-marginalized youth, etc.) against the vestiges of the white Fordist working class (which may be a version of the "us-them" frontier itself: "Metro vs. Retro"). See for example this substantial piece, which analyzes the role of the top ten percent (who tend to be Democratic voters these days) in the perpetuation of neo-liberal structures of exploitation, social marginalization and resegregration, all under the ideological cover of social progressivism.

Interesting times, but i think depressing ones also. Where does all this end? It is becomming increasingly difficult to find the revolutionary potential here, other than in the general delegitimation of neo-liberal politics. But there are other ways of legitimation. Can populism relegitimate the national-state? Does the increasing centrifugal pull of movement politics pose a threat to this order or does it only empower the authoritarian tenencies of the day to quell the "governability crisis"? Or will the neo-liberal configuation survive the current threat to its hegemony as a "radical center" is relegitimated against populism, while quelling the disintegrating tendencies of social movements, through an embrace of the identity politics of ascending demographic categories?

jk1921
A couple of interesting

A couple of interesting articles on "millennial socialism" recently. Here is a sympathetic treatment in the New York Times. Its rather unremarkable, save for this passage:

"Democratic socialist chapters have constant streams of meetings and social events, creating an antidote to the isolation that’s epidemic in American life. 'Everything is highly individualized, and it is isolating,' Svart said. 'People are very, very lonely. Suicide rates have gone up astronomically. And we do create a community for folks.' This fusion of politics and communal life isn’t so different from what the Christian right has offered its adherents. Such social capital is something no amount of campaign spending can buy."

Its not clear exactly how the concept of social capital is being employed here. Is it used in a general sense of providing a place of belonging, constructing an in-group expressive community where alienated and isolated individuals can find a place of meaning and solidarity or does it mean something more substantial in the sense of social capital as "career networking," where one builds a list of contacts and leads for future employment opportunities?

In any event, the idea that this kind of movement politics provides a place of belonging, a kind of haven in a heartless world belies its nature as a product of this society, one might even be tempted to say a kind of institution, within capitalism rather than some prefigurative movement pointing past it. The comparrison to the Christian right seems apt, as both ends of the spectrum create expressive communities, held together by an ethico-moral commitment to substantive principles that provide a sense of moral self-worth and even superiority over others who are not saved/sufficiently woke. Whatever this phenomenon represents, it does not appear to be in the same vein as the fraught life of the revolutionary for whom intellectual honesty should trump the conformist pressures of the need for community, i.e. the historic isolation of the communist left.

Here is Cas Mudde, the scholar of populism, writing about recent polling showing an actual decline in millennials' support for the Democratic Party. But what is remarkable here is the fact that there now appear to be demographic distinctions emerging among millennials, mostly around race:

"The trend is not universal among millennials, however. Reflecting developments within the broader population, there are strong gender and racial differences. The drop in Democratic support among white millennials is roughly the same (8%), but most of the defectors in that group seem to have moved to the Republicans (6%).

Today, as many white millennials support the Democrats as the Republicans (each 39%). Just two years ago, Democrats still had a 14% lead over Republicans among white millennials. The trends are even more pronounced among white male millennials. Today, this group favors the Republicans over the Democrats by a staggering 11%. In 2016, Democrats led white male millennials by 12%."

If this polling is accurate, its stunning. While much of the defection away from Democrats appears to be driven by the movement politics of the (pseudo) left, the Democrats are actually losing ground among white millennials and especially white male millennials to Republicans. This seems another example of the increasing polarization of society around issues of identity, with the Democrats' increasingly far-out rhetoric on immigration and identity politics, as much as Trumpist demagoguery, fueling the tribalism. If these trends hold, the much touted "demographic strategy" Democrats have been implementing since the early oughts appears to be in trouble, as younger voters split along racial lines as they age and in repsonse to the centrifugal pull of movement politics.

 

jk1921
Sooner or Later

jk1921 wrote:

Sooner or later, Bernie is going to be publicly pressured to state a position on the new en vogue slogan of movement politics "Abolish ICE!" Either he tampers the enthusiasm for this provacative kind of extremist sloganeering and alienates much of his millenial base or he embraces it and destroys any chance of forming a winning electoral coalition, which would require some support from Rust Belt workers.

And here is Bernie's attempt to address the "Abolish ICE!" slogan (From a July 3rd Facebook post):

"In 2002, I voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the establishment of ICE. That was the right vote. Now, in 2018, it is time to do what the American people overwhelmingly want us to do: abolish the cruel and dysfunctional immigration system that we have today and pass comprehensive immigration reform. That will mean restructuring the agencies that enforce our immigration laws, including ICE. In America, we must not be about tearing small children from the arms of their mothers and separating them from their families. We must not be about deporting DREAMers, young people who have lived in this country virtually their entire lives. We must not be about forcing over 10 million undocumented people, many of whom have been here for decades, to continue living in fear and anxiety – worrying about deportation. Congress must do what the American people want. Let us create a humane and rational immigration system."

Somehow, he found a way to use the concept of abolishing something, while suggesting ICE just needs to be "restructured." In other words, he resorted to classic Clintonian triangulation, which was immediately denounced in the comments from both directions. Some saw this as cowardly, others said that the 2015 Bernie who denounced open borders as a Koch brothers gimmick was right. The emergence of "millenial socialism" in the 18 months or so that have passed since Trump's accidental victory is now severely complicating the emergence of a kind of left populist alternative to Trumpism. Bernie is being pulled too far into the identity politics around immigration that he is probably becomming increasingly indistinguishable from the "neo-liberal progressivism" of the Democrats to many Rust Belt voters, while his practical reluctance to embrace the more extreme slogans of movement polticis are compromising his authenticity with millenial socialists. Its a tough pickle for him, stuck in a contradiction between two poles, which are hampering his ability to construct a political project of national reconcilation around opposition to neo-liberal economics.

Similarly, Our Revolution President Nina Turner appearing on CNN last week, while taking the opportunity to denounce Trump's immigration policies as racist, would not take the bait and endorse the "Abolish ICE!" slogan, even as more establishment Democrats like Kirsten Gilibrand and Kamala Harris have expressed no such reluctance, and the OR endorsed candidate for NY Governor, former Sex in the City actor Cynthia Nixon, is on record as calling ICE a "terrorist organization."

The problem here is that Gilibrand and Harris, both talked about as possible Presidential candidates in 2020, are likely aiming for a base electoral strategy, banking on turning out the Democratic demographic coalition in a way that Clinton's tired trinagulations couldn't, by embracing movement politics slogans as much as they can, believing that turnout alone will decide the election and the more radical the slogans the more they will excite the base. Bernie, on the other hand, believing that the populist moment we are in will prove more durable, is trying to assemble a broader coaltion around populist economic themes that will appeal across demographic groups in order to blunt Trump's appeals to ethno-nationalist demgoguery, but also the centrifugal pull of "neo-liberal progressive" identity politics. This puts him in a tough spot however, as he is now in the position, as Clinton was in 2016, of triangulating his message (see above) putting his movement authenticity at risk, but also making him suspect as just another Democrat with all of their identity pathologies who pander to particularistic interest groups, as he struggles to build a broader coalition of support.

Note also that while Gilibrand, Harris, Booker etc. have ostensibly signed on to social-democratic policy proposals like Medicare for all, etc. they nevertheless face their own credibility problems on such economic questions as they were already perceived as too close to establishment-corporate interests on these matters by many "progressives" who doubt their seriousness. Their endorsement of the more extreme identity positions may further signal their intentions to sell-out on these economic policy concerns to the so-called "white left," something which however may not be their top concern at the moment as they try to build a fear camapign based on Trumpism's existential-terroristic threat to sub-altern communities.

Meanwhile, Trumpism's contradictions of having to simultaneously appease nation-state populist, movement conservative and neo-liberal swamp creature factions in the GOP actually appear to be waning as he increasingly turns towards a national-protectionist project. Of course, to say all of these contradictions have been vanquished would be a gross overstatement, as the electoral threat of a blue wave remains very real and Republicans squirm at the possibility of losing one or both houses of Congress in a backlash to Trump's agressive immigration and trade policies. However, it does appear that within the GOP Trump is consolidating his base and consolidating power around nation-state populism, while throwing a bone to movement conservatives with his Supreme Court picks, even if it is to the consternation of the Chamber of Commerce and to moderates who think he is drawing the electoral circle too small.

Where this all ends up is anyone's guess at this point, but watch for an attempt to rehabilitate a centrist-compromise candidate (Joe Biden?) who will position themselves as a practical alternative to this steaming mess and who will campaign as a firefighter promising to put out the flaming inferno of incivility and generalized nastiness that the nation finds itself embroiled in. (Although given his past behaviors, I don't think it would exactly shock anyone if Biden were to have his own #METOO problems should he run.)

jk1921
So, the UK Labour Party seems

So, the UK Labour Party seems to be be readily denounced in the media now as the "racist" party in the UK political system. This is at least a little weird right? The loudest attacks against the party are made in the name of anti-racism, rather than classic red baiting (although that exists too). What does this say about the bourgeoisie's problems managing the ideological division of labour between a classic left and right dichotomy?

jk1921
Major doings in Canadian

Major doings in Canadian politics again, this time at the federal level: Conservative MP Maxime Bernier has split the Conservative Party. Bernier almost won the leadership contest some months ago, losing out to Andrew Scheer only on the 13th ballot, after leading the first dozen. In any event, Bernier never quite accepted his defeat and in the last several weeks has waged a kind of guerilla Twitter war against political consensus on immigration and multiculturalism-challenging not only Trudeau, but the leadership of his own party over "the cult of diversity" and "extreme multiculturalism." He now hopes to found a new party (the united Conservative Party is itself only a decade and a half old, a fusion of two previous right of center parties representing on the one hand prairie populism and on the other older Eastern business interests.) But it is not quite clear what to call the tendency Bernier represents. He is not strictly speaking a "populist." He is an economic libertarian, rejects protectionism and tariffs and does not want to retaliate against Trump's tariffs. On the other hand, he is leading the charge against the "diversity consensus," and has been promptly denounced in the most predicatable fashion in the media as a "white nationalist," "bigot," "racist," you name it for having the audacity to raise issues of Canadian identity in the public square. Members of his own Conservative party have denoucned him for playing "identity politics." There have been a few editorials suggesting his questions around national identity deserve a civil response rather than ad hominen dismissals, but the overwhelming consensus of the chattering classes has been against his unwelcome introduction of "divisiviness" into the political space.

Still, Bernier is no back bencher. He was almost Conservative Party leader. He is also a Quebecker, which cuts against narratives of racism, as less than a generation ago there was something like a general consensus in the liberal imaginary that Quebeckers were themselves an "oppressed people." In that regard, the "eats its own tail" nature of identity politics was on full display in another incident in Canada last week, when Trudeau was himself heckled at a campaign rally by an anti-immigrant activist who wanted to know when the federal government planned on reimbursing Quebec for the costs of housing the streams of Illegal immigrants/refugees flowing over the border from Trump's America. Trudeau's reaction was to publicly scold the person for her "racism" and "intolerance," to which she replied that Trudeau (himself a Quebecker!) had no respect for "Quebecois de souche" (Quebeckers who can trace their ancestry to New France), which to the contemprary liberal/progressive sounds like "white supremacy," until you remember that not forty years ago a Quebec "freedom fighter" Pierre Vallieres wrote a book describing the Quebecois as the "White Niggers of America"! From an oppressed people, to among the worst racists in North America in the liberal/progressive imaginary in less than a generation. What a turn around! Conservative leader Andrew Scheer used this incident to attack Trudeau for dismissing legitmate concerns about his irresponsible immigration policies with unfair namecalling at the same time other Conservative pols were denouncing Bernier for his divisive rhetoric!

All of this seems to confirm an emerging trend in bourgeois politics in the ostensibly "democratic" states for politics to congeal around a conflict between a party(ies) that increasingly represents "incumbent claims" and those that represent "newcomer interests." How this intersects with what we have called "populism" is not entirely clear. Bernier is not Doug Ford and it is not clear that either of them are Trump. Bernier looks more like UKIP perhaps, but he says his model is Macron. Canada still has nothing even remotely close to Sanders or Corbyn (The NDP can't make its mind up if it wants to be a Social Democratic alternative to the Lib/Con binary or if it wants to play the "extreme identity" card and more and more Quebec's historic claims against Canada are subsumbed beneath the weight of neo-liberal globalization's accelerating demographic transformations).Trudeau more and more reveals himself as nothing but a formerly good looking shell beneath which he stands for practically nothing other than a reflexive and increasingly politically tone deaf defense of the status quo. The fact that he has been publicly browbeat by Trump multiple times hasn't helped his image. Still, the rise of Ford and what now looks like a possible Conservative Party split can't but seem to rebound to his benefit. Still, it is hard to say what will become of Bernier's new party, given he would have to field candidates in over 300 ridings in order to have a chance of becomming PM (as opposed to Macron who just had to make into a second round run off with the FN) and his erstwhile Conservative colleagues are trying hard to paint his rebellion as personal sour grapes.

Now, if someone could explain the turmoil in Australian politics to me, I would be most appreciative.