Elections in Italy: populism is a problem for the bourgeoisie, an obstacle for the proletariat

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jk1921
Elections in Italy: populism is a problem for the bourgeoisie, an obstacle for the proletariat
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Elections in Italy: populism is a problem for the bourgeoisie, an obstacle for the proletariat. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
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jk1921
Important piece, which helps

Important piece, which helps understand the concrete situation in Italy. However, I am troubled by a few things:

First, is the idea that "populism" itself constitutes some kind of problem for the bourgeoisie over and above other kinds of bourgeois politics. This suggests that there is some "right" or rational way for the bourgeoisie to do politics that it is for some reason not doing and that right and rational way is identified with the neo-liberal, pro-Europe (or pro globalization) consensus:

"But, contrary to the 'historic' parties of the bourgeoisie (the right as well as the left) who, despite everything, still retain some sense of state, the vision of the populist forces is shown through the concrete policies which frequently come up against the global interests of the national bourgeoisie, as much on the economic as the political and ideological levels. For this reason, they constitute a threat to the coherence and political interests of the same ruling class."

Is it really populism that constitutes a thread to the coherence of the political interests of the ruling class? This seems to echo the mainstream analysis of the neo-liberal bourgeoisie itself, which sees populism as some kind of first order cause, rather than an effect of the very neo-liberal consensus it seemingly challenges. Is it really populism itself that is the problem today, or is it the overall failure of bourgeois democratic political ideology in the context of decomposition, which is giving rise to populism (when it is not going even further and [re]legitimating various form of authoritarianism)?

But flowing from this is a second problem, which revolves around the question of bourgeois rational-national interest. Do we even know what that is anymore? What criteria are we using to judge which parties or actors represent "rational" or "responsible" bourgeois politics and which ones are threatening the national interest? More and more, I think it is possible to read the rise of populism differently from how we have been doing it and see it more as a kind of attempt at national renewal rather than a totally irresponsible product of decomposition. In fact, populism may even be a kind of defense mechanism against the decomposition of the (nation)state itself. Could we see it as the state attempting to reassert itself against the most basic tendencies of capital as an economic relationship in the interests of capitalism as a system? Its as if the state (remember Marx had planned a volume of Capital on the state, but he died before he got to it) however feebly, however imperfectly, and perhaps even in a way that is destined to fail, is trying to rediscipline the globalizing logic of capital that Marx and Engels described so vividly in the Manifesto from destroying capitalism itself, by eviscerating its political legitimacy, which resides in nation states.

In order to understand this, I think we need to look at a broader historical view and remember that the rise of capitalism as a mode of production and an historical form of human society cannot be understood merely on the economic level as the triumph of unbridled trans-national flows of capital accumulation. The logic of capitalist accumulation has always played out within the political spaces provided by nation states and the competition between them. We have always said that the highest level of social unity possible under capitalism is the nation-state--the last forty odd years of neo-liberal globalization notwithstanding.

Over and above whatever functions the nation-state has provided to capital on the economic level, it has also been the primary locus of political legitimation for the system for centuries. However, now after forty years of globalization (marked by increasing levels of migration, the shedding of sovereignty to trans-national institutions, etc.), while the states themselves have not gone away, their character as "nations" (with all that that means) have been greatly diluted to the point where they are increasingly losing their legitimacy for vast swathes of the population who had previously been ideologically conditioned to see the nation as a locus of identity, solidarity, security and protection. Or at the every least the parties of the ruling neo-liberal consensus, who voters know have no interest in reversing the decline of "nationhood," are increasingly rejected in favor of riskier options. In the words of the Canadian-American political commentator David Frum, (paraphrased) :"When liberals tell voters only fascists will protect the borders, voters will hire fascists to the job that liberals won't do. It is simply not acceptable to them that that job not get done." Has the neo-liberal consensus only dug its own grave?

Even the left-wing forms of populism could be understood in this way, even if they do not resort to the most base nationalist lingo. There is nevetheless a strain of national-protectionism undergirding them as well. If their main ideological function is not to rehabilitate the nation-state per se, they nevertheless serve to re-legitimize a form of national democratic ideology, of the sovereignty of the people, etc. It is true that there is also a kind of politics that cuts against this (which has both radical left movement and neo-liberal forms) that increasingly calls the nation-state into question, advocates "open borders," etc. but this seems like just the kind of irrational self-vitiating politics populism actually mitigates against.

Obviously, there is a problem here of competing first order principles: what is most essential to the general bourgeois interest: protecting democratic ideology or perserving the ideologically unifying force of the nation-state? Are they more and more mutually exclusive? And is populism an (failed) attempt to reconcile them?

So what is really "irresponsible politics" in this context then? Is there any point in making a distinction anymore? I suppose that depends on whether or not you think there really isn't any alternative to the neo-liberal consensus anymore under capitalism, which the article above seems to think there isn't. But if that is the case, populism is destined to fail. It will morph into neo-liberalism shortly after coming to power, so what threat then does it really pose and to whom? And a threat to what? Doesn't it provide a service to the national capital in relegitimizing a kind of bourgeois politics--something that the existing neo-liberal parties just can't really pull off consistently anymore? Its just not clear anymore what work this concept is doing, how dangerous populism really is or how different it really is from the rest of the bourgeois apparatus.