Brexit, Trump: Setbacks for the ruling class, nothing good for the proletariat

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Brexit, Trump: Setbacks for the ruling class, nothing good for the proletariat
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Brexit, Trump: Setbacks for the ruling class, nothing good for the proletariat. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

the mysterious and incomprehensible economy

This article by Jens,  despite the  gloomy nature of its subject matter which is the stink of decomposition, and all the slimy politicos currently involved in it -  like braggart Trump of the wagging finger;  Boris Johnson, the sexy deceitful blond  with mouth;  the connivingly  sly but undentably popular Putin (at least in Russia) the flirtatious giggling Hilary - always good for a laugh these days, not like when she was last in the White House - is a far from miserable read despite its  subject matter and the  scum its dealing with, but somehow exudes an impressive  confidence in the future and even - dare one say it - even a belief  in the currently brow beaten working class itself, confused, down and out, and  lost at sea like so many  migrants, but still a smouldering time bomb ticking  away in the ears of  a bewildered bourgeoisie struggling for  a way out of the mess  though only the proletariat knows the way. 

Here's a paragraph. 

Jens wrote:
It is undoubtedly true that the Brexit vote has created a new and ugly mood in Britain, one where the outright racists feel freer to crawl out from behind the woodwork. But many – probably the great majority – of those who voted Brexit or Trump to stop immigration are not racists as such, rather they are suffering from xenophobia: fear of the foreign, fear of the unknown. And this unknown is basically the capitalist economy itself, which is inherently mysterious and incomprehensible because it presents the real social relationships in the process of production as if they were natural forces, as elemental and uncontrollable as the weather, but whose effects on workers’ livelihoods can be even more devastating. It is a terrible irony, in this age of scientific discovery, that people no longer believe that bad weather is caused by witches, but are quite prepared to believe that their economic woes are caused by their immigrant fellows in misfortune.


This is a good text going

This is a good text going over the details and tendencies at work in the Brexit vote and poses a number of questions. The most important probably is did the ICC and the rest of us underestimate the development of popularism? I think that yes in some of its elements but not in its overall development as the text on decomposition shows and dozens of other related texts since. As the text on “Growing difficulties...” also shows (as well as others) the question of nuance is important rather than taking “tendencies” to be the final word, fixed in stone. One of the lessons that the ICC does seem to have learnt on the economy and other issues is that sancrosanct pronouncements are not the way forward and the situation of capitalism, particuarly decomposing capitalism, has to be nuanced and that tendencies, which can be more or less dominant, always contain counter-tendencies. One can see this idea developing in some of the more recent articles of the ICC and it’s a development away from a certain rigidity (while not sacrificing basis principles) which is to be welcome. It’s hard to say that there has been an underestimation of popularism when such a rich vein of analyses, articles and discussion has been aroused.

The article is good on the historical problems of the Tory party particularly in relation to Europe and, from this, on all the developments post-Brexist.  While the Cameron government laid the basis for the Brexit vote (it didn’t have to ) the “unexpected” election of that government in May, 2015, was vital for the bourgeoisie and was effected extremely efficiently. That it had disastrous consequences down the road does point to the bourgeoisie’s loss of control over the political arena but at the time a Labour government would have been a disaster in its own way. But the general overall tendency is certainly a loss of control by the bourgeoisie while there are certain counter-tendencies that point to a greater control; the theses on decomposition do not contradict the development of state capitalism and these two tendencies can well march hand-in-hand.

Devolution in Britain (and elsewhere) was also an earlier example of a certain loss of control by the bourgeoisie but it nevertheless generally beefed up the democratic process and definitely added to the divisions in the working class where, for example, the “others” were not distinguished by colour, religion, nationality or language but by simply not living in that part of the same country. The “outsider” has always been an element of capitalist propaganda but, without exaggerating it, it sinks to new levels here and, as with Scotland, piling up greater problems for the future.

The Brexit vote (and the Trump parallels) undoubtedly represent a very important loss of control by the bourgoeisie that has had international ramifications. But the speed and organisation of the response by the British bourgeoisie is something to behold. The Cameron/Etonian clique has not only be defeated but eradicated and humiliated by the same Tory party that it once led just a few months ago. In a masterstoke, the completely unprepared “Brexiteers”, the dubious “Dr” Liam Fox (cohort of the US right and a promoter of the return to “Buccaneering” English values), the witless Andrea Leadsom, David Davies and Boris Johnson – all political chancers – have been encased in various ministries surrounded by advisers, civil servants and so on and put to work under strict supervision. Johnson as Foreign Secretary is a particularly cruel appointment where he will have little room for his own ambitions and buffonery but will be forced to toe the line and kow-tow to everyone he’s criticised in the past – not least Hillary Clinton. The task for the British bourgeoisie now, and a lot of this depends on Germany, is to get the least bad deal possible for Britain and if Canada is anything to go by this could take a decade.

Major problems for the bourgeoisie but swift, decisive action that shows that a loss of control has to be nuanced. PM May is a tough cookie shown by her long-term survival at the Home Office. She’s “tough” on immigration or rather immigrants and has largely escaped criticism from the rise in immigration under her watch and against all Tory promises. This rubs the Brexiteers face in it even more. The  ruthlessness with which the new regime dealt with the Cameron one shows just how much division and hatred there can be in bourgeois politics and this from elements in the same political party (echoed by the Labour Party). And while there’s been a certain loss (and a certain regaining) of control by the bourgeoisie the ideological, militaristic and repressive arms are being strengthened and new PM May, right down to her Thatcher-like speech, looks to be shaping up for further specific attacks on the working class.

Left Populism?

baboon wrote:

The task for the British bourgeoisie now, and a lot of this depends on Germany, is to get the least bad deal possible for Britain and if Canada is anything to go by this could take a decade.

What is this refering to? The Canada/EU free trade negotiations?

I agree with Baboon that the UK bourgeoisie can not risk putting Labour in power right now (which doesn't mean it can't hapen), but this is an interesting contrast with the US where the right party (Republicans) can no longer serve as a credible party of national government (which again, doesn't mean Trump can't win).

The one weakness of the article is that it ignores the phenomenon of left-wing populism. There is nothing on Podemos for example, whose self-described populism is currently hailed by the academic left as the way forward for left politics--as an advance over old school Marxist/socialist politics which relies on trying to convince people with something like the truth. For left populism, its about how to tell people what they want to hear with innovative messaging strategies that harness all that anger into something politically productive. But this new phenomenon--which sees itself as the successor to Marxism, but self-consciously calls itself "populist"--is not addressed here. Why? Is it because whatever its purported similarities to the Brexiteers and Trump it is really a different thing altogether? In any event, left populism raises a more concrete question for us. Why should we reject populism as a political tactic--over and above the political content represented by right-wing populism? Is it even possible to divorce tactic and content in such a way? If so, why can't revolutionaries use populism too?

Yes jk the EU/Canadian

Yes jk the EU/Canadian Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), It's been about seven years in the making. The British not only have to make new agreements around the world and with the EU, they have to extricate themselves from existing agreements with the latter. They are woefully unprepared for this and commentators were very quick to ask what "Brexit means Brexit" (PM May) actually means? There's a shortage of experienced trade negotiators (five grand a day) though some financial institutions may offer their "services" to ministers gratis, with a longer-term view. It seems like the government's preferred option is continued access to the single market with some direct controls over immigration. On "outside" trade deals, May didn't get much joy at the G20 from the US and Japan and even the Australian proposed deal, which will take several years, has already run into some trouble from the British point of view. There are persisiting tensions between government and industry (including finance) and the "Brexiteers".

This is the passage in the

This is the passage in the text on populism which argues that the 'new left' (Syriza, Podemos, etc) is significantly different from the populist parties and that the term 'left populism' is not really accurate:  



"it is necessary to recognise here the fundamental difference between present day populism and the left of capital. The left, even when they are not former organisations of the workers’ movement (the Greens for instance), although they can be the best representatives of nationalism and the best mobilisers of the proletariat for war, base their attractiveness on the propagation of former or distorted ideals of the workers’ movement, or at least of the bourgeois revolution. In other words, as chauvinist and even anti-Semitic as they can be, they do not deny in principle the “brotherhood of humanity” and the possibility of improving the state of the world as a whole. In fact, even the most openly reactionary neo-liberal radicals claim to pursue this goal. This is necessarily the case. From the onset, the claim of the bourgeoisie to be the worthy representative of society as a whole was always based on this perspective.

None of this means that the left of capital, as part of the rotten society, does not also put forward racist, anti-Semitic poison of a similar kind to the right wing populists!

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. All of its arrogance revolves around this “realism” it is so proud of. As such, it is the product of the bourgeois world and its world view – but above all of its decomposition.

Secondly, the left of capital proposes a more or less coherent and realistic economic, political and social programme for the national capital. As opposed to this, the problem with political populism is not that it makes no concrete proposals, but that it proposes one thing and its opposite, one policy today and another tomorrow. Instead of being a political alternative, it represents the decomposition of bourgeois politics.

This is why, at least in the sense the term is being used here, it makes little sense to speak of the existence of a left populism as a kind of pendant to that of the right".

I am not sure about the part

I am not sure about the part regarding populism as being totally incoherent. Its true that it offers up many, often conflicting, policy proposals--but the one thing that seems remarkably consistent about all its various iterations around the world is that it is rooted in the anti-immigrant sentiment that has been fermenting across the developed world over the last decade and a half or so. This was the real basis of the Tea Party phenomenon in the US, according to Theda Skocpol's analsysis. Yes, the Tea Party put out all kinds of strange, contradictory stuff--appearing on one day to be a reflection of the "movement Right's" anti-tax, minimalist state politics and the other to be about defending the last vestiges of the welfare state--the one thing that Skocpol found to tie all these different strains together was an intense "grassroots" antipathy to immigration. It is really something we need to try to understand.

left wing populism

Im interested in what you say here Alf.  I had missed this bit in the article but like jk i think i see the rise of left wing populism too so i am not clear why the article rejects such a concept.

Firstly i would have said that certainly in britain its the centre left and centre right (approximately anyway) that represents the more coherent and realistic policies for the B not just the left.  In fact are not more extreme left labour activitists that are rallying round Corbyn as well as the likes of those left groups denouncing austerity in Greece and Spain etc, precisely representing left left populism in that their policies of just as irrational and unrealistic as the right wings populists?

I would agree with the article that populism is  sign of decompositon of bourgeois ideologies; it seems to me to be a product of the failure of supposedly 'more rational' policies in the recent period which leaves the B with the only option of coming up with more extreme and irrational policies and that these are appealing to both left and right wings.  For me this seems to suggest we are entering a new period where this policies dominate or at least are more to the fore.

Anyway thats how i was looking at how things are changing at present so i wanted to ask again why it is thought that populism is only a right wing condition?

interesting discussion...

Off on a trip for a few days, but I will try to get back to this discussion soon. 

Another thing I am not sure

Another thing I am not sure about is the idea of the bourgeois left being more competent/reliable a force of governance (from the point of view of the bourgeoisie), because of their--at least symbolic-- defense of Enlightment values/tolerance, etc. Isn't one of the right wing/populist criticisms of the left precisely that its soft position on immigration and attitude towards immigrants (embrace of multiculturalism. etc.) is really a forefeiture of the Enlightenment's empahsis on universalism leading to a balkanization of society? Many of the populist right's protests on this issue may be overstated--the idea that Sharia law will become accepted in the West for instance--but isn't there a certian need for the capitalist state to promote some kind of shared national identity and culture as part of the ideology of the nation state (Some state's do this better than others). Doesn't the left's stance on multiculturalism and weaker approach to immigration tend to undermine this? It is true that a weaker approach to immigration is desirable to certain factions of the bourgeoisie, because of the access to cheap and often more compliant labour, but shouldn't it be the job of the state to stand up to these factions when this process starts to get out of control and puts the underlying ideology of the nation state in doubt and leads to the rise of unpredicatable populist politics?

I remember back in the early 00's when there were several assasinations of Dutch politicans and cultural figures (Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh) who were against (Muslim) immigration--the US press universally described them as "right-wing," or "far right," yet these were hardly blood and soil traditionalist nationalists--Fortuyn was openly gay and said he was against unchecked Muslim immigration to Europe, because it undermined progressive Enlgihtenment values. I remember asking back then (some fifteen years ago)--to what extent is it correct to call such politics "right wing?" There didn't appear to be enough conceptual depth to capture this phenomenon. Is "populist" the right concept? Interestingly, the Trump campaign has picked up on these themes in the US and is actually trying to court gay voters with its opposition to Muslim immigration to the US. However, today's Dutch manifestation of "populism" Geert Wilders does seem to have more in common with the broader populist right than his predecessors.

Another point on the bourgeois left--the extent to which the bourgeoisie has to rely on the traditional "working class party" to serve as the party of responsible government seems a bit of a problem for it right now--perhaps not so much in that a "left in opposition" is needed to fend off rising class struggle, but that a credible left in opposition is necesary to head off right-wing populism? In that sense, the British bourgeoisie would seem to be in a better position right now then the US or French ruling classes, except that the Labour Party as an effective political institution seems to be practically defunct already. How can the UK bourgeoisie revive it and which is better, a left party that can assume the reigns of neo-liberal governance (which, I guess would mean someone other than Corbyn lead it) or one that can recuperate discontent and block the growth of right populism (a robust Corbynite in opposition)? The US bourgeoisie faced the same dilemna with Clinton vs. Sanders in the Democratic Party and resoundly chose the neo-liberal (precisely because the Republican Party cannot be trusted to govern at the level of the executive right now).This would also bring us back to the question of the role of the "New Left" in those places where one has formed such as Spain--which seems to have a weaker "populist" movement right now--does the existience of a "New Left" formation like Podemos have something to do with that?