On the question of populism

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jk1921
On the question of populism
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: On the question of populism. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
I think a big part of the

I think a big part of the issue with populism is not just an attempt to use political violence to solve the problems the market won't solve (or in fact makes worse--like immigration), but it is also an attempt to make the state do its purported job and protect the national labour market, in fact the national community itself, from the abstract forces of "neo-liberal globalization"--a main feature of which so far has been something like the decline of the nation state (at the same time the repressive and surveillance forces of the state are strengthened).

One place where the comparrison of the social and political landscape of today with the interwar period fails is the linking of the rise of violent anti-Semtism then with today's anti-immigrant sentiment. Blaming the Jews was pure scapegoating for the incomprehensible social dislocation of the multiple crises that occurred following Wolrd War One. Today, there really is a wave of immigration from the third world to the old core countries of captialism, which really does threaten to break down the old structures of the post-WWII order (what someone once called Keynsiano-Fordism), which at the very least offered the proletariat a temporally limited chance of social reforms. Obviously, those structures have failed today under the weight of the captalist crisis, but one of the ways in which the new neo-liberal order is constructed has been through the massive inflow of immigrants (legal or not) to the captialist core. The two things go hand and hand. It is one of the ways through which a redisciplining of labour is taking place: "If we can't get the proletariat to accept low wages and tenuous labour conditions, we'll just bring in those who will."

To the "native" or "white" working class--this looks like a betrayal of proletarian solidarity. Yes, while there are of course many expressions of true racism and xenophobia in the development of anti-immigrant sentiment today--there is also the phenomenon of the populist voter who insists he is not racist or xenophobic--he or she does not hate Muslims or Hispanics or whoever, he/she just doesn't recognize the social landscape around him/her anymore and one of the most visible factors in that is the transformation of his/her neighborhood into a place that does not feel like home anymore. Rapid social and demographic change is bound to be traumatic and populist politics represents a attempt to maintain what was once taken for granted. It may be Utopian--in that there is no practical chance of reconstituing the post-WWII order, but it may not be entirely irrational either within the bounds of the political options open under the democratic state. This of course does not mean that it is the long term interests of the proletariat. In fact, it clearly isn't--but like the article argues--in a world that is increasingly defined by the interconnectedness of everything and abstract relationships that transcend nation and state and which nobody fully understands, there is likely going to be a limit to the ability of individuals to find their long term interests. The question for us is what changes this? Is it still the crisis of captialism? If crises are increasingly likely to be financial (take place in the sphere of circulation rather than production) how is class consciousness even possible anymore? What about the struggles of 2011 (Indignadoes/Occupy)? Will we need a new model of consciousness for this period?

 

Finally, what is "ordo-liberal"?

Alf
Immigration then and now

Many points raised here and I will only deal with one or two issues at a time. To begin with,  I disagree with your argument that the comparison in the text with the anti-semtism of the 30s doesn't work. Of course there are many differences (the scale of the migrant/refugee crisis, the defeat of the working class, etc) but the similarities remain instructive. There was indeed a wave of Jewish immigration into western Europe the USA in the decades prior to the 30s and this was certainly a key element in the growth of political antisemitism. Then as now the inability of the system to provide jobs and housing for all, the use of immigrant labour to cheapen production costs, and so on, exacerbated frictions within the working class, so that there was always a 'material' basis for the unease of 'native' workers and the willingness of some of them to listen to the arguments of organised racist parties. 

And at the same time, far beyond the 'material' element in this unease rises the shadow of a monstrous projection - the ideological, mythical element which sees the immigrant as the key source of disease, violence and disorder. The threat of the 'Islamification' of western Europe is no less pure a form of projection and scapegoating than the international Bolshevik/Jewish conspiracy was in the 1920s and 1930s. These things can't be measured in precise units of course, but the discrepancy between the scale of immigration and the scale of the perceived threat is perhaps proportionatley just as great, 

Alf
"Ordo-liberal"

'ordo-liberal' is a common German term for neo-liberalism, but I think perhaps it has the additional element of 'order', in short, a state policy. Which despite its unfamiliarity and awkwardness in some ways makes it more historically accurate than the term 'neo liberal'. The latter is often used to mean a real attempt to go back to the laisser faire economics of ascendant capitalism, and thus a real 'roll back' of state capitalism, when in reality the policy of privatisatisations, 'freeing' the international mobility of capital and labour  - in sum the whole 'globalisation' package represents above all a new phase in state capitalism rather than its abandonment. 

jk1921
A House Divided Against Itself....

Alf wrote:

Many points raised here and I will only deal with one or two issues at a time. To begin with,  I disagree with your argument that the comparison in the text with the anti-semtism of the 30s doesn't work. Of course there are many differences (the scale of the migrant/refugee crisis, the defeat of the working class, etc) but the similarities remain instructive. There was indeed a wave of Jewish immigration into western Europe the USA in the decades prior to the 30s and this was certainly a key element in the growth of political antisemitism. Then as now the inability of the system to provide jobs and housing for all, the use of immigrant labour to cheapen production costs, and so on, exacerbated frictions within the working class, so that there was always a 'material' basis for the unease of 'native' workers and the willingness of some of them to listen to the arguments of organised racist parties. 

And at the same time, far beyond the 'material' element in this unease rises the shadow of a monstrous projection - the ideological, mythical element which sees the immigrant as the key source of disease, violence and disorder. The threat of the 'Islamification' of western Europe is no less pure a form of projection and scapegoating than the international Bolshevik/Jewish conspiracy was in the 1920s and 1930s. These things can't be measured in precise units of course, but the discrepancy between the scale of immigration and the scale of the perceived threat is perhaps proportionatley just as great, 

You raise many good points, I had not considered. Although I am not convinced the imagery of the "pogrom" is the most useful comparison for today. Yes, there are quite a few openly racist elements that have been empowered, but there are also strong "anti-racist" ideologies present today that also appear to have a material basis in the socio-economic structures of neo-liberalism (Although perhaps you could say that about the 1930s also?). It appears to me that both of these tendencies have the effect of dividing the working class against itself. The uneducated native working class blames the immigrants, while the educated, "progressive" younger generations blame the racist native working class for the malaise of society. This seems a vicious ciricle and leaves me wondering what is the Marxist way to understand these phenomena--without getting subsumed by the bourgeois conceptual categories of racist vs. liberal?

jk1921
http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/23

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/23/opinions/shell-shocked-white-working-class-opinion-coontz/index.html

Here is a good piece that makes a strong case that it is necessary to understand the support for populism among broad sectors of the white working class in relation to the end of Fordism and their resulting crumbling certainties about the world. The part about white workers having a more pessimistic view of the world compared to minorities is important and a little surprising given continuing "white privilege," but the point is that people tend to apprehend the world in relative terms--in this case relative to the social structures of the Fordist period.

Janus Troelsen
Donald Trump on the TTIP

@OP: What is your source for claiming that the Trump has ditched the TTIP? I can only find one misspelt sentence in the image caption from the Telegraph here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/22/difference-ttip-tpp-does-donald-drump-want-scrapped/

I recognize the ditching of the TPP, but the TTIP is something else.

Janus Troelsen
The OP claims that Trump

The OP claims that Trump ditched the TTIP. What is the source for that claim? The TPP and the TTIP are not the same.

I can find only this source, but it is just one misspelt image caption: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/22/difference-ttip-tpp-does-donald-drump-want-scrapped/

jk1921
http://www.vox.com/world/2017

http://www.vox.com/world/2017/3/13/14698812/bernie-trump-corbyn-left-wing-populism

Here is recent piece from Vox--an organ generally seen as a mouthpiece of the neo-liberal establishment of the Democratic Party--that neverthless provides some insights into the dilemmas of bourgeois politics today. The article suggests that social democratic policies in Europe have actually served to make the working class even more racist and that there really is no political space for a "left populism" today. It uses the example of Labour's dismal condition under Corbyn to make its point--the working class just doesn't care anymore about economic populist messaging because it is so imbued by racism that these policies (when they are not set in a chauvinistic guise) are interpreted as an unfair redistribution from the native working class to undeserving immigrants and minorities.

Obviously, there is a political axe to grind here as the Democratic establishment has been using such an analysis (which boils down to claiming the left is ultimately racist) in its battle to maintain control of the Democratic Party from the Sanders insurgency--something which it is having some success in doing, as witnessed by the vanquishing of Sanders' surrogate Keith Ellison in the race for DNC Chair. Nevertheless, whatever the agenda here, it raises the real question as the extent to which a "left populism" is politically feasible today--something which we have already discussed to some extent on this forum. If a left populism is possible, it would then raise the question as to why the main factions of the bourgeoisie are fighting so hard to prevent it from rising even when faced with a real threat to the neo-liberal status quo, and perhaps the stability of neo-liberal global order itself, in the form of right wing populism? Why are Sanders and Corbyn facing such difficulties in establishing themselves as viable bourgeois political projects? Is it a failure of their politics in the face of right wing populism, i.e. they can't give the white working class anything that the right wing populists aren't already giving them while also indulging their racism and xenophobia or is more a shortsightedness of the bourgeoisie, which still thinks it can vanquish right wing populism with a version of neo-liberal politics (i.e. just wait for Trump to implode and we can go back to the way things were)?

jk1921
Can someone shed some light

Can someone shed some light on the political situation of the SNP in the context of Brexit and the rise of populism? I have heard the SNP described as "left populist," but how does that fit in with its expressed affintiy for the EU, which is generally seen as a project of fiscal discipline and austerity? Obviously, the SNP has been a political benificiary of the decline of Labour, but what are the dynamics in Scotland that Brexit did not gain the same traction as in England and what is the SNP's long term strategic goal here?

baboon
A couple of brief points on

A couple of brief points on the above first of all, and then on the general question of popularism:

The rise of devolution in Britain effected, in part, a strengthening of democracy following the collapse of Stalinism and thus a strengthening of the bourgeois state faced with the working class. The latter was divided and greatly mobilised behind the nationalism of its local factions. Very important areas for class struggle, struggle which had historically spread to England, Wales and Scotland, were given a measure of "independence" when the bourgeoisie were still very much concerned with the class struggle and the unprecedented political situaion of the post-89 world. Today the class struggle is not the major concern of the bourgeoisie but even from its outset Devolution expressed the pressure of decomposition and the strengthening of centrifugal tendencies. Northern Ireland is another example with tentative calls for a "United Ireland" emerging today with the "Union" weakened. The overall living and working conditions of workers in these three areas are generally, if slightly, inferior to those of England and they rely heavily on grants and subsidies from the EU.

 

On popularism generally, in the intro to the International Review no. 157, there's a bit which says that is against the idea that the Brexit referendum is "a success for democracy" or that populism "strengthens democracy". I think that the fundamental point here, that this rather represents a loss of control and economic disaster, is correct. But there are elements of this which have strengthened democracy and voting in the short-term with a persistent long-term danger. The article "On the question of populism" says that through it the question of populism "widens the scope" of democracy, strengthens the state and adds power to a bourgeois mechanism that was becoming less effective.  It can "reinforce the image of traditional parties" who can then contrast themselves to the "reactionaries" - and we've already seen this danger expressed in the anti-Trump, anti-Brexit mobilisations. Voting against the voting system could be enticing but it is a major weakness for the working class and is more broadly an expression of decomposition.

jk1921
So Geert Wilders looks to be

So Geert Wilders looks to be going down to a surprisingly strong defeat, despite the media predicting that he would make a very strong showing, because the Dutch are supposedly very racist. Of course, the pro-EU establishment centrists ran to the right on "cultural" issues in order to try to head off the Freedom Party. It seems to have worked this time, but its not clear if this is the case of the establishment pols looking sane compared to Wilders (whose statements on Islam outdo Trump) or a populistization of the establishment? Interesting in that it looks like the establishment left party (Partij van de Arbeid) was basically decimated in this election and there was a bit of a surge for various niche left parties.