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.

Dave60
I really liked the article

I really liked the article and would only question whether Corbyn's rise as party leader has in fact changed anything. I know many on the left see Corbyn as being a sign of a leftward shift in society. In fact where has this leftward shift within the working class taken place? the right still controls the bureaucracy as well as the local councils. The mass base of Corbyn does not at least to me align themselves with any idea of socialism at best they align themselves with state capitalism.

I do think that populism is a developing phenomena but Corbyn is not part of this in fact I guess that Corbyn is the expression of an increasingly stressed middle class especially within the state sector. I also think that the more defeats that Corbyn takes over anti semitism, Ken Livingston and I now suspect over his recent statements on the desirability of a united Ireland the more that he will demobilise even more his supporters.

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.

Dave60
While I agree with a lot that

While I agree with a lot that JK1921 says about the importance of a left party to the bourgeosie I also do think that the development of the recent left formations such as Syriza in Greece, Podemas in Spain and individuals such as Corbin and Sanders is the weakness of the revolutionary left compared to the reformist left. Also the weakness of organisations such as in the UK the SWP, SPEW, CPGB etc again is a testament of the ideological strength that capitalism has within the working class. It is this strength that needs to weaken to stop the descent into the fires of barbarism.

zimmerwald1915
Do you mean to suggest

Dave60 wrote:
While I agree with a lot that JK1921 says about the importance of a left party to the bourgeosie I also do think that the development of the recent left formations such as Syriza in Greece, Podemas in Spain and individuals such as Corbin and Sanders is the weakness of the revolutionary left compared to the reformist left. Also the weakness of organisations such as in the UK the SWP, SPEW, CPGB etc again is a testament of the ideological strength that capitalism has within the working class. It is this strength that needs to weaken to stop the descent into the fires of barbarism.

Do you mean to suggest that if the Trotskyist and Stalinist organizations were strong, it would indicate the weakening of capitalist ideology within the working class?

Dave60
Hi Zimmerwald What I am

Hi Zimmerwald What I am arguing is that over the past thirty years and even longer the working class has had a significant defeat in the sense that any idea of socialism/communism has been marginalised especially by the younth. In the place of the narrative of socialism has come the narrative of Neo liberalism which has been accepted however reluctantly by the working class as a class. Of course this isn't to say that there are individuals who believe in socialism as an alternative to capitalism there are but not enough in relation to the working class.

I know that the previous narrative of socialism was a variation of state capitalism but for the majority of workers state capitalism equated to socialism. I know that it does not matter what workers subjectively believe is true but for many optimism was kept alive along with class solidarity this has been weakened.

On the question of Trotskyist and Stalinist organisations being stronger would capitalism be weakened. Of course not but what would happen is that workers would be a sign of a growing rebelliousness which could mean that we as left communists would have a larger audience for our ideas and hopefully win over small groups of workers. For the class to be won over from capitalism conditions will have to become much worse with the failure of both reformists and the Trotskyist organisation not being able to offer a realistic solution to inequalities and imperialist wars.

Finally the workers who do join or become involved with the Trotskyist/Stalinist organisations they do so because they do wish to see an alternative to capitalism the tragedy is that these organisations can not offer any alternative. In fact they keep the politicised minority in a state of confusion and ends up weakening the move to Communism.

jk1921
Measure

Dave60 wrote:
What I am arguing is that over the past thirty years and even longer the working class has had a significant defeat in the sense that any idea of socialism/communism has been marginalized especially by the younth. In the place of the narrative of socialism has come the narrative of Neo liberalism which has been accepted however reluctantly by the working class as a class.

If the narrative of neo-liberalism has been accepted by the working class "as a class," how do you account for the rise of populism? Whatever it is, populism is not the narrative of neo-liberalism. Populist figures like Trump may have no real intention of actually challenging the neo-liberal structural features of contemporary capitalism, but the ideology is not neo-liberal. In fact, it is possible to read populism as a kind of distorted class response to neo-liberalism. Moreover, its not clear why you think that a narrative of socialism has been rejected by the youth. Most polls I see show socialist ideas soaring in populartiy among millenials and both Sanders and Corbyn receive much of their support from the younger generations.

But its also not clear why support for the bourgeois left (or lack thereof) means anything in particular in relation to the broader class struggle or the "subterranean maturation of consciousness." It might, but it might not, you have to make the case why this is an important measure today as opposed to other historical periods.

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."

Dave60
I believe that the current

I believe that the current rise of populism is the outcome of the inability of neo liberalism to tackle social inequalities, poverty, wealth distribution alongside poverty, nationalism, economic nationalism, racism, fear and anger against minority outsiders etc. In fact, in recent years neo liberalism has been seen to be responsible for the increasing wealth acquisition of the capitalist class at the expense of both the middle class as well as the working class. This fractioning of capitalist society ideology has given space for the rise of populism as seen by the success of Trump in the USA and by the success of sections of the Tory party under May. It’s no use trying to hide from the fact that sections of the working class do support reactionary policies such as anti-immigrant feeling and while instances of opposition to policies such as the Windrush scandal there is still a significant section of the working class that does support the hostile environment for “illegal migrants”

The reality is that populism is partly a right-wing manifestation of a passive and atomised working class that has lost its sense of being an active class that has the power to change society. Corbyn support should not be seen as a left-wing manifestation of populism as what he seeks and represents is a return to the belief that capitalism can be made to work for the benefit of both workers as well as capitalists as long as the state intervenes to ensure their interests are protected.

The youth as far as working-class youth is concerned follows the belief that capitalism can be made to work for them as well as the wealthy this is not socialism as far as the communist left regards it. It is at best the 1945 vision of Ken Loach and Left Unity. Of course, we know that this can never work given the deep structural crisis of contemporary capitalism, but mystification does play a potent role in capitalist society to make it increasingly difficult for workers of all ages, gender, ethnicity to not only see but to internalise.

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.

Dave60
jk1921 questions whether one

jk1921 questions whether one reason why the capitalist class does not wish for a Corbyn led Labour Party come to power is because they fear that they have not fully "domesticated" him. If only that was true then I may be a tad more hopeful that Corbyn would prove to be at least capable of furthering working class interests. The reason why Corbyn isn't trusted is because he is seen not to be determined enough to keep driving austerity through and carry on dismantling the inadequate "welfare state"

While Corbynism as a social movement is a reflection of left populism as seen through his slogan of for the many not the few this ideology offers nothing to workers but unfortunately is a process that has to be gone through. Yet again workers will have to experience growing inequality with if not poverty then hardship at our end of the spectrum with obscene wealth at the opposite end. The reality of capitalist process of accumulation for accumulations sake will show that however dressed up left reformism will be just as bankrupt today as it was during the 1970's.

The role of Marxists today is, I believe, to patiently explain the importance of a communist perspective and why Corbynism will fail. Hopefully this will assist in the growth of the subjective factor of the working class experience.

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".