Strategy and Tactics

27
Feb

Click HERE for a closeup view of the graphic.

By Carl Davidson

Feb. 27, 2022

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

 –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, in particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Sun Tzu’s Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Sun Tzu’s Heaven). It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.

This statement above was part of the opening to a widely circulated article I wrote four times now, about two, four, six, and eight years ago. With the upcoming November 2022 elections, it’s time to take my own advice again and do another update. The electoral strategic terrain is constantly changing, and we don’t want to be stuck with old maps and faulty models.

In the earlier versions, I suggested setting aside the traditional ‘two-party system’ frame, which obscures far more than it reveals, and making use of a ‘six-party’ model instead. I suggested that the new hypothesis had far more explanatory power regarding the events unfolding before us. I still like this hypothesis.

Some critics have objected to my use of the term ‘party’ for factional or interest group clusters. The point is taken, but I would also argue that U.S. major parties, in general, are not ideological parties in the European sense. Instead, they are constantly changing coalitions of these clusters with no firm commitment to program or discipline. So I will continue to use ‘parties,’ but with the objection noted. You can substitute ‘factions’ if you like. Or find us a better term.

For the most part, the strategic picture still holds. The ‘six parties’, under two tents, were first labeled as the Tea Party and the Multinationalists under the GOP tent, and the Blue Dogs, the Third Way New Democrats, the Old New Dealers, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, under the Democratic tent. We had three ‘parties’ under each tent in the second and following versions.

There are still a few minor players outside of either tent—the Green Party campaigns in California, Kshama Sawant’s ongoing battles in the Seattle City Council, the local independent candidates of the Richmond Alliance, and a few more. They might be pretty important in local areas, but still lack the weight to be featured in this analysis.

But let’s move to the central terrain.

First and most essential for us on the left now is Biden’s victory over Trump alongside the persistent clout of Senator Bernie Sanders, who keeps showing far more strength than imagined. Today we would also certainly add the gains made by Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and the growth of ‘the Squad.’ Other progressives wins in Congress and DSA gains in several state legislatures are also noteworthy.

But here’s the danger. Biden’s won by a clear margin, but Trump also gained in total votes over his past numbers. This is dangerous and too close for comfort. Given a 50/50 Senate and a narrow margin in the House, Biden has to govern, as best as he can, alongside the continuing power of Trump and rightwing populism. Moreover, the right includes the full integration of Trump’s forces into the GOP national and state apparatus and Trump’s now overt alliances with growing fascist militias and related groups

Trump’s still refuses to accept his defeat by more than 7 million votes. Acceptance of this ‘Big Steal,’ transformed into a ‘Big Lie,’ is now a loyalty test throughout the Republican party, from top to bottom. Moreover, we all witnessed Trump’s attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, complete with an insurrectionary assault on the Capitol. Hundreds are now sitting in jail and their trials are underway. . The number of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys on trial is a case in point. More importantly, the House Committee on Jan. 6 is starting its public hearings, which promises to be a powerful media exposure.

Therefore, what has moved from the margins to the center of political discourse is the question of a clear and present danger of fascism. Far from an ongoing abstract debate, we are now watching its hidden elements come to light every day in the media. We also see the ongoing machinations in the GOP hierarchy and in state legislatures reshaping election laws in their favor. Now, the question is not whether a fascist danger exists, but how to fight and defeat it.

The outcomes for Biden and Trump, then, challenge, narrow, and weaken the old dominant neoliberal hegemony from different directions. For decades, the ruling bloc had spanned both the GOP transnationals and those transnational globalists in the Third Way Democrats. Now neoliberalism is largely exhausted. This is a major change, opening the terrain for new bids for policy dominance. Team Biden is groping for a yet-to-be-fully -defined LBJ 2.0, largely making major investments in physical and social infrastructure, like universal child care or free community college. Weirdly, the GOP claims to stand for nothing, save fealty, Mafia-style, to Trump. Behind that smokescreen are the politics of fascism and a neo-confederacy.

But the GOP still has three parties. Back in 2016, Politico had characterized them this way: “After the Iowa caucuses” the GOP emerged “with three front-runners who are, respectively, a proto-fascist, [Trump] a Christian theocrat [Cruz] and an Ayn Rand neoliberal [Rubio] who wants to privatize all aspects of public life while simultaneously waging war on the poor and working classes.”

 

So here’s the new snapshot of the range of forces for today (including a graphic map above).

Under the Dem tent, the three main groups remain as the Blue Dogs, the Third Way Centrists and the Rainbow Social Democrats. Although small, the Blue Dogs persist, especially given their partnership with West Virginia’s Joe Manchin in the Senate. With Biden in the White House, the Third Way group keeps and grows its major clout and keeps most of its African American, feminist and labor allies. The Sanders Social Democratic bloc has gained strength, especially with the growing popularity of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the growth of ‘The Squad. ‘Sanders has also formed and kept a progressive-center unity against Trump and has helped define ‘Build Back Better’ and other Biden reform packages.

The changes under the GOP tent have been radical, although keeping its three parties. The ‘Never Trumpers’, despite voting for Biden, have yet to split off entirely. In fact, despite the efforts to purge her, Liz Cheney of Wyoming continues fighting fiercely against Trump and his fascist measures and minions. The Jan. 6 insurrection also brought to the surface the tensions between the Christian nationalists headed by former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s rightwing populists. Apart from tactics, a key difference between the two is Koch money and its institutional power. The Koch brothers never liked or trusted Trump, and never funded him directly, pouring their millions into the Christian Nationalist bloc instead.

Trump still has a tight grip on the entire party, but without his White House power, the number of his GOP critics is on the rise. Daily. Trump has denounced all rivals from these two groupings, and is building his alliances with the Jan. 6 insurrectionist supporters in state legislatures. The goal is new anti-voter laws to control those counting the votes and defining the districts in the years ahead.

Let’s now look closer, starting from the left upper corner of the map:

The Rightwing Populists

This ‘party’, as mentioned, has taken over the GOP and is now tightening its grip. Trump was originally an ‘outlier elite’ with his own bankroll but now supplemented with funds from Russian oligarchs and Arab oil fortunes (See ‘Proof of Conspiracy ‘by Seth Abhramson). He is also still directly connected to the Robert Mercer family fortune, the 4th ranking billionaire funding rightwing causes. For example, the Mercers keep Breitbart News afloat and funded the career of Steve Bannon, former Trump ‘strategist’ that took him to victory in the last stretch. Along with Breitbart, Fox News is the main hourly mouthpiece for Trump’s war against the mainstream ‘fake news’ mass media. There are dozens of smaller outfits, but with millons of followers

Trump is also pulling in some new wealth. One example is Julia Jenkins Fancelli, an heiress to the fortune of the popular Publix supermarket chain. Alternet reports others: “One example is Dan and Farris Wilks, two billionaire siblings who have worked in the fracking industry in Texas and have “given a combined $100,000 toward the president’s reelection.” The Wilkes Brothers supported Sen. Ted Cruz over Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary but are supporting Trump in 2020.”

But major events reveal some fault lines. The House has now impeached Trump twice, once following the Jan. 6 events and earlier in 2019. The Senate followed up by acquitting him in both cases. In Trump’s second impeachment, 10 GOPers in the House and seven in the Senate votes against him. This is as good of an indictor as any of the remaining small but persistent strength of ‘regular’ Republicans in their own party.

The impeachment efforts, worthy in their own right, were also a major result of Trump’s fierce ongoing political warfare against the ‘Deep State.’ The battle is actually a contest for a new ‘America First’ white nationalist hegemony against the old neoliberal globalists under both tents. The ‘Deep State’ is the federal civil service and includes the ‘Intelligence Community,’ with a long list of Trump-targeted CIA and FBI leaders, supposedly corrupt, of which FBI director James Comey was the first to be purged. The real ‘corruption’ was their refusal to pledge loyalty to Trump personally, again like an old-style Mafia boss.

In the first impeachment vote in Feb. 2020, the sole breakaway vote was Mitt Romney on Article One. Romney, with considerable wealth himself, is also a Mormon bishop, and his LDS church recently listed holdings of over $37 billion with the SEC. This is a factor in Romney’s ability to stand alone. At the moment, however, the much-weakened GOP’s old Establishment is left with the choice of surrender, or crossing over to the Third Way bloc under the Dem tent. A good number already did so to vote for Biden in the Dem 2020 primary and general, expanding the Dem electorate to the right.

Trump now needs even more to shore up an alliance with the Blue Dogs. But it remains tactical, stemming from his appeals to ‘Rust Belt’ Democrats and some unions on trade and tariff issues, plus white identity resentment politics. The economic core of rightwing populism remains anti-global ‘producerism’ vs ‘parasitism’. Employed workers, business owners, real estate developers, small bankers are all ‘producers’. They oppose ‘parasite’ groups above and below, but mainly those below them—the unemployed (Get a Job! as an epithet), the immigrants, poor people of color, Muslims, and ‘the Other’ generally. When they attack those above, the target is usually George Soros, a Jew.

Recall that Trump entered politics by declaring Obama to be an illegal alien and an illegitimate officeholder (a parasite above), but quickly shifted to Mexicans and Muslims and anyone associated with ‘Black Lives Matter.’ This aimed to pull out the fascist and white supremacist groups of the ‘Alt Right’–using Breitbart and worse to widen their circles, bringing them closer to Trump’s core. With these fascists as ready reserves, Trump reached farther into Blue Dog territory, and its better-off workers, retirees, and business owners conflicted with white identity issues—immigration, Islamophobia, misogyny, and more. Today they still largely make up the audience at his mass rallies.

Trump’s outlook is not new. It has deep roots in American history, from the anti-Indian ethnic cleansing of President Andrew Jackson to the nativism of the Know-Nothings, to the nullification theories of Joh C. Calhoun, to the lynch terror of the KKK, to the anti-elitism and segregation of George Wallace and the Dixiecrats. Internationally, Trump combines aggressive jingoism, threats of trade wars, and an isolationist ‘economic nationalism’ aimed at getting others abroad to fight your battles for you. At the same time, your team picks up the loot (‘we should have seized and kept the oil!’).

Trump’s GOP still contains his internal weaknesses: the volatile support of distressed white workers and small producers. At present, they are still forming a key social base. But the problem is that Trump did not implement any substantive programs apart from tax cuts. These mainly benefited the top 10% and created an unstable class contradiction in his operation. Moreover, apart from supporting heavy vaccine research, his inability to deal adequately with the coronavirus emergency– over 900,000 dead—is is still undermining the confidence of some of his base. Most of what Trump has paid out is what WEB Dubois called the ‘psychological wage’ of ‘whiteness’, a dubious status position. Thus white supremacist demagogy and misogyny will also continue to unite a wide array of all nationalities of color and many women and youth against him.

Trump’s religious ignorance, sexual assaults and a porn star scandal always pained his alliance with the Christian Nationalist faction: (Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, et. al.), and the DeVos family (Amway fortune). They were willing to go along with it for the sake of judicial appointments, with the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling against Black voters in Alabama only one major achievement. The alliance, nonetheless, has become more frayed since Jan. 6 and the ‘Hang Mike Pence’ spectacle.  But some stalwarts stood fast. The billionaire donor to the GOP right, Devos’s brother Erik Prince is a case in point. He amassed billions from his Blackwater/Xe firms that train thousands of mercenaries, These forces serve as ‘private contractors’ for U.S. armed intervention anywhere. Prinz is now reportedly preparing to spend a few million sending spies and other disruptors into ‘liberal groups’ to do dirty work in Trump’s favor.

The Christian Nationalists

This ‘party’ grew from a subset of the former Tea Party bloc. It’s made up of several Christian rightist trends developed over decades, which gained more coherence under Vice President Mike Pence. It includes conservative evangelicals seeking to recast a patriarchal and racist John Wayne into a new warrior version of Jesus. It was strengthened for a period by the  addition of William Barr as the Attorney General, He brought Opus Dei and the Catholic far-right, a minority with the American Catholic Church, closer to the White house. But seeing that Trump was about to go beyond the law in trying to overturn the 2020 election, Barr jumped ship and resigned just in time

A good number of Christian nationalists, however, are the Protestant theocracy-minded fundamentalists, especially the ‘Dominionist’ sects in which Ted Cruz’s father was active. They present themselves as the only true, ‘values-centered’ (Biblical) conservatives. They argue against any kind of compromise with the globalist ‘liberal-socialist bloc’, which ranges, in their view, from the GOP’s Mitt Romney to Bernie Sanders. They are more akin to classical liberalism than neoliberalism in economic policy. This means abandoning nearly all regulations, much of the safety net, overturning Roe v. Wade, getting rid of marriage equality (in the name of ‘religious liberty’) and abolishing the IRS and any progressive taxation in favor of a single flat tax. Salon in April 2018 reported:

“This rightwing Christian movement is fundamentally anti-democratic. Their ‘prayer warriors’ do not believe that secular laws apply to them, thus making it acceptable, if not honorable, to deceive non-believers in order to do God’s work. Many evangelicals in the Christian nationalist or ‘dominionist’ wing of the movement want the United States to be a theocracy. In some ways, this subset of the evangelical population resembles an American-style Taliban or ISIS, restrained (so far) only by the Constitution.”

The classic liberalism of most Christian Nationalist is also a key reason they attract money from the Koch Brothers networks. While the Koch’s hold Trump and his populists in some contempt, as mentioned above, the Christian Nationalist faction has access to Koch funds and its ALEC legislative projects, along with access to the DeVos fortunes. Effectively, Christian nationalist’ prosperity economics’ amounts to affirmative action for the better off, where the rise of the rich is supposed to pull everyone else upwards. Those below must also pay their tithes and pull upward with their ‘bootstraps.’ They argue for neo-isolationism on some matters of foreign policy. But as ‘Christian Zionists’ they favor an all-out holy war on ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ to the point of ‘making the sand glow’ with the use of nuclear weapons. They pushed for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. All this is aimed at greasing the skids for the ‘End Times,’ the ‘Rapture, ‘and the ‘Second Coming.’ With Cruz, Pence and Devos as leaders, they have become the second most powerful grouping under the GOP tent, and the one with the most reactionary platform and outlook, even more so than Trump himself in some ways.

 The Establishment Neoliberal ‘RINOs’

This is the name now widely used in the media for what we previously labeled the Multinationalists. It’s mainly the upper crust and neoliberal business elites that have owned and run the GOP for years, but are now largely out in the cold. It included the quasi-libertarian House’ Freedom Caucus,’ the smaller group of NeoCons on foreign policy (John Bolton and John McCain), and the shrinking number of RINO (Republican In Name Only) moderates in The Lincoln Project. The Establishment also favors a globalist, U.S. hegemonist and even, at times, unilateralist approach abroad, with some still defending the Bush-Cheney disaster in Iraq. Their prominent voice today is Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

We also need to keep in mind the global backdrop to these shifts. The worldwide process of technology-driven financialization has divided the ruling class of late capitalism in every major country into three—a local sector of the transnational capitalist class, the nation-based multinationals, and an anti-globalist national sector. Thus among traditional U.S. neoliberals, some are U.S. hegemonists, but many have a transnational globalist understanding of the world with vast amounts of their money in foreign stock. China and global value chains integrate them with other global capitalists. This is why Trump’s trade policy is so controversial with Wall Street elites of both Republican and Democratic leanings. U.S. economic hegemony makes no sense at this financial and productive integration level. The global three way division also serves to explain why Trump’s rightwing populism, despite its American characteristics, is connected to the rightwing nationalist-populist rise in all European countries. He is not ‘explainable’ in American terns alone.

This subordination is a big change for the traditional GOP top dogs. They would like to purge a weakened Trump from the party and rebuild, but so far lack the ability. They could try to form a new party with neoliberal Dems. Or, more likely, they could join the Dems and try to push out or smother those to the left of the Third Way grouping.

Now let’s turn to the Dem tent, starting at the top right of the graphic.

The Blue Dogs

The Blue Dogs, according to the online newsletter Sludge, “operates a political action committee, Blue Dog PAC, that raises millions of dollars each election cycle, mainly from corporate PACs, and spends money to help elect more conservative Democrats. Corporate PACs that donated to Blue Dog PAC in the 2018 election cycle include those affiliated with drug company Pfizer, defense contractor Northrop Grumman, oil company ExxonMobil, and Wall Street bank Citigroup.”

This small ‘party’ has persisted and gained some energy. The recent effort of West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin to bloc or gut Biden’s reforms is a case in point. One earlier reason was that the United Steel Workers and a few craft unions had decided ‘to work with Trump’ on tariffs and trade. The USW also got firmly behind Connor Lamb (D-PA) for Congress. Lamb won a narrow victory in a Western PA CD in a rural and conservative area, but with many USW miner’s votes. He was endorsed by the Blue Dog PAC, although he is not yet a formal member of the caucus. Getting into a nearly physical floor fight with the GOP over Jan. 6 ‘radicalized’ Lamb a bit, moving him leftward.

But the small Blue Dog resurgence may not last. On the one hand, the DNC Third Way gang currently loves people like Lamb, and wants to see more candidates leaning to the center and even the right. On the other hand, an unstableTrump out of office has little to offer on major infrastructure plans save for ‘Build The Wall’ chanting at rallies. His potential votes among USW and other union members may shrink.

The Third Way New Democrats

First formed by the Clintons, with international assistance from Tony Blair and others, this dominant ‘party’ was funded by Wall Street finance capitalists. The founding idea was to move toward neoliberalism by ‘creating distance’ between themselves and the traditional Left-Labor-Liberal bloc, i.e., the traditional unions and civil rights groups still connected to the New Deal legacy. Another part of ‘Third Way’ thinking was to shift the key social base away from the core of the working class toward college-educated suburban voters, but keeping alliances with Black and women’s groups still functional.

Thus the Third Way had tried to temper the harsher neoliberalism of the GOP by ‘triangulating’ with neo-Keynesian and left-Keynesian policies. But the overall effect is to move Democrats and their platform generally rightward. With Hillary Clinton’s narrow defeat, the Third Way’s power in the party has diminished somewhat but gained clout with the victory of Biden. As mentioned above, its labor alliances have weakened, with unions now going in three directions. Most of labor has remained with the Third Way. Some moved rightward to the Blue Dogs while others—Communications Workers, National Nurses United, and the U.E.—are part of the Sanders bloc. Regarding the current relation of forces in the party apparatus, the Third Way has about 60% of the positions and still controls the major money. In California in 2018, for example, the Regulars kept control of the state party committee only with extremely narrow margins over Bernie supporters.

The key test was the November battle with Trump: Who inspired and mobilized the much-needed ‘Blue Wave’, gave it focus and put the right numbers in the right places? The measured Third Way moderates? Or the Social Democrat insurgents? This question brings us to the last of the six’ parties.’

The Rainbow Social Democrats

This description is better than simply calling it the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), as this article’s first version did. I’ve kept the ‘Rainbow’ designation because of the dynamic energy of AOC and the Squad. The Third Way, which has kept the older and more pragmatic voters of the rainbow groupings under its centrist influence, can still share it as well.

As explained before, the ‘Social Democrat’ title doesn’t mean each leader or activist here is in a social-democrat or democratic socialist group like DSA. It means the core groups–the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Working Families Party (WFP), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Justice Democrats and Our Revolution and Indivisible—all have platforms are roughly similar to the left social democrat groupings in Europe. This is made even more evident with AOC’s and Bernie’s self-description as ‘democratic socialists’ in the primaries and the general, where it only seemed to help. The platform, however, is not socialist itself, but best described as a common front vs finance capital, war, and the white supremacist and fascist right. This is true of groups like Die Linke (‘The Left’) in Germany as well, which met recently with PDA and CPC members. In that sense, the ‘Third Reconstruction,’ promoted by Rev William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign, might also serves as a good designation and goal.

Finally, there is the ongoing dramatic growth of the DSA due to their wise tactics in the 2016 Bernie campaign. They went all in for Bernie but also lost no opening to make themselves visible. Prominent Justice Democrat and DSAer Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, who has been a firebrand in the House, has made the ‘Green New Deal’ a household term, and joined Sanders in his efforts to shape Biden’s agenda. Now with nearly 100.000 members with chapters in every state, DSA has already won a few local and statehouse races the first time out. They are now an important player in their own right within these local clusters. But their growth may have peaked for a while. Their surfacing weaknesses reside in sorting out their own internal differences with sectarianism and even chauvinism against Black candidates.

This overall growth of this ‘party’ is all to the good. The common front approach of the Social Democratic bloc can unite more than a militant minority of actual socialists. Instead, it has a platform that can also unite a progressive majority around both immediate needs and structural reforms, including both socialists and non-socialists, the ‘Third Reconstruction.’ Apart from winning 46% of the 2016 Dem convention delegates and a good number of statehous seats, this ‘party’ is now noted for two things. First is the huge, elemental outpourings of young people–mainly women, students and the young workers of the distressed ‘precariat’ sector of the class–in the elemental risings of millions after Trump took office. Second was the enormous risings following the murder of George Floyd by the police—over 20 million, the largest in U.S history. With other mass groups like Our Revolution and Indivisible, they all added a higher degree of organization at the base to this dynamic and growing cluster.

What does it all mean?

With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things are falling into place. The formerly subaltern rightist groupings in the GOP have risen in revolt against the Neoliberal Establishment of the Cheneys, Romneys and the Bushes. Now they have rightwing populist and white nationalist hegemony. The GOP, then, can be accurately called the party of the neo-Confederates and the main target of a popular, anti-fascist front. Under the other tent, the Third Way is seeking a new post-neoliberal platform, through President Joe Biden’s reforms. The progressive-center unity of the earlier Obama coalition, with all its constituency alliances, is still in place. At the same time, the Third Way still wants to co-opt and control the Social Democrats as an energetic but critical secondary ally. The Sanders’ forces have few illusions about this pressure on them, and don’t want to be anyone’s subaltern without a fight. So we are continuing to press all our issues, but adapting some policies to the common front vs. the fascist right. If we work well, we will build more base organizations, more alliances, and more clout as we go.

This ‘big picture’ also reveals much about the current budget debates. All three parties under the GOP tent still advocate neoliberal austerity. The Third Way-dominated Senate Democrats and Blue Dogs push for an ‘austerity lite’ budget and some Keynesian infrastructure programs. Team Biden, the Social Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus are working on ‘Build Back Better’ programs and ‘Green New Deal’ projects that might expand advanced manufacturing jobs.

However, we must keep in mind that favorably ‘shifting the balance of forces’ in election campaigns is often an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does ‘open up space’, but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. Strategically, we are in a war of position, with periodic tactical ‘war of movement’ elemental risings. In that framework, we are interested in pushing the popular front vs. finance capital to its limits and developing a 21st-century socialist bloc. If that comes to scale in the context of a defeat of the pro-Trump right bloc, the Democratic tent is also going to be stretched and strained. It could even collapse and implode, given the sharper class contradictions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs split four ways in the 19th Century. This ‘Whig option’ tactic would demand an ability on the part of the left to regroup all the progressive forces, inside and outside, into a new ‘First Party’ alliance or counter-hegemonic bloc. Such a formation also includes a militant minority of socialists, which will then be able to contend for governing power. The tricky part is to do this in a way that keeps the right at bay.

An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front is appropriate here: ‘Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.’ In short, we must have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Moreover, take note of a warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: ‘If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.’ Then finally, as to tactics, ‘wage struggle on just grounds, to our advantage and with restraint.’

To conclude, we still need to start with a realistic view of ourselves as an organized socialist left. Save for DSA, we are mostly quite small as organizations, but now we can see we are swimming in a sea of millions open to socialism. What can we do now? If you can see yourself or your group honestly working to achieve DSA’s stated program, by all means, join them and make them even larger. Or set up Jacobin / In These Times Reading Groups in your living rooms and unite socialists and close friends with them. The same goes with the new Convergence project growing out of Organizing Upgrade. Or join CCDS, CPUSA, Left Roots, or Liberation Road—socialist groups which largely share some or most of the perspective here. Join or start PDA or WFP chapters everywhere, use organizations and broad ‘Third Reconstruction’ and ‘Modern Tecumseh’ alliances and popular rainbow assemblies to build mass mobilizations, register new voters and defeat the GOP in November 2022 and 2024.

With both socialists and rainbow progressives, start at the base, focus on city and state governments, and expand the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We rarely gain victories at the top that have not been won and consolidated earlier at the base. Most of all, in order to form broader and winning coalitions, you need base organizations of your own to form partnerships and alliances WITH! Seize the time and Git ‘er done!

Category : Democracy | Elections | Fascism | Hegemony | Neoliberalism | Rightwing Populism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
5
May

In his final years, Poulantzas seemed to be straining against the seams of his thinking— and perhaps even against the Marxist tradition itself.

Poulantzas tried to envision how the left could simultaneously champion rank-and-file democracy at a distance from the state and push for radical transformation from within it.

As Marxism’s old messianic character faded in the late twentieth century, too many forgot that wandering in the wilderness is often the precondition of a prophet’s appearance. With the collapse of “really existing” socialism came what seemed like a permanent triumph of capitalism and the slow, grinding destruction of whatever resisted the market’s advance. But the far-too-unexpected renaissance of socialism in the twenty-first century reveals not only how much ground has been lost, but how much baggage has been shed. The presence of an authoritarian communist superpower was not only an ideological ball and chain for left politics outside the Eastern bloc, but also a real geopolitical straitjacket: at the electoral peak of European communist parties in the 1970s, the Soviet Union never kept secret that it preferred reactionaries in power in the West.

Now that this old shadow has passed and socialists are making a slow exit from the desert, they have a chance to redefine themselves for a new century. That involves taking bigger and more difficult steps, and it is not surprising that the effort has sent contemporary democratic socialists back to the 1970s, the last historical moment when socialist thinkers enjoyed even the illusion of political possibilities. In the brief window before the neoliberal era, socialists were just beginning to ask what a left politics that could win elections in a democratic system would look like. Who would its base be—what sort of alliance between classes and identity groups would it appeal to? How would it act toward a “bourgeois” political system that communists had always seen as an unredeemable instrument of class domination? Is it even possible to be a democratic revolutionary?

These questions came together in the work of Nicos Poulantzas, a Greek thinker who spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in Paris. There, Poulantzas argued that a sophisticated understanding of the capitalist state was central to a strategy for democratic socialism. Pushing as far as possible toward a Marxist theory of politics while still holding onto the central role of class struggle, Poulantzas tried to combine the insights of revolutionary strategy with a defense of parliamentary democracy against what he called “authoritarian statism.”

Recent signs of a Poulantzas renaissance, including the republication of several of his books in French and English, have a lot to do with the fact that his dual strategy for democratic socialism resonates with the task of today’s socialists: to understand how to use the capitalist state as a strategic weapon without succumbing to a long history of failed electoral projects and realignment strategies. The tensions in Poulantzas’s thinking resemble the current tensions within the left: is winning back power a matter of casting the oligarchs out of government and restoring a lost fairness, or is a more radical transformation of the state required?

It is an open question whether Poulantzas himself was able to articulate a satisfying vision for democratic socialism. His work, nevertheless, goes straight to the heart of the problems that twenty-first-century socialism must face.

Toward a Structural Theory of the Capitalist State

Nicos Poulantzas was born in Athens in 1936. In his twenties, he began a law degree at the University of Athens as a back door into philosophy. Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings became a conduit for Marxism among young Greek intellectuals since, as Poulantzas later explained, it was difficult to get the original canonical Marxist texts in a country that had suffered Nazi occupation, then civil war, then a repressive anticommunist government. After a brief stint in legal studies in Germany, Poulantzas made his way to Paris, where he was soon teaching law at the Sorbonne and mingling with the editors of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s journal Les Temps modernes. Poulantzas was drafted among a crop of new, younger writers for the journal, which published his earliest writings on law and the state and his engagements with British and Italian Marxists, including the Italian Communist Party’s in-house theorist, Antonio Gramsci. His 1964 doctoral thesis on the philosophy of law was broadly influenced by Sartre’s existentialism and the thought of Georg Lukács and Lucien Goldmann, who harmonized with the Hegelian Marxism dominant in France.

Louis Althusser, then a more marginal French philosopher but soon to be famous across Europe, dissented from this Hegelian turn. Althusser’s 1965 seminar, “Reading Capital,” was a curious event in the history of Marxism that marked the intellectual itineraries of well-known theorists like Étienne Balibar and Jacques Rancière. The framework it launched into Marxist theory, usually described as “structuralism,” was inextricable from Althusser’s dual opposition to Stalinist economism and the humanism of thinkers like Sartre. In the classic Marxist schema, the economic “base” gives rise to political and ideological “superstructures”—in other words, most everything about capitalist society, from its political institutions to its culture, are ultimately fated by the laws of economics. The Althusserians argued that, on the contrary, all of the domains of capitalist society operate quasi-independently of one another in order to more flexibly reproduce capitalist domination. Of course, they are tightly interrelated, and the economic decides “in the last instance” whether economics or something else will take priority, but, according to Althusser himself, “the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes.” continue

Category : Capitalism | Fascism | Hegemony | Marxism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
1
Dec


 

October 2018:An exchange prompted by the essay 

The Precariat: Today’s Transformative Class? 


A headshot of Bill Fletcher

Bill Fletcher
Taking a long view of precariousness as an inherent feature of capitalism can shed light on the contemporary debate on “the precariat.”
 Read


A headshot of Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre
The focus on “the precariat” is useful but limited: the fight over distribution isn’t just between labor and capital.
 Read


A headshot of Azfar Khan

Azfar Khan
A universal basic income is key to delivering security and autonomy to people in a precarious world. 
Read


A headshot of Alexandra Köves

Alexandra Köves
Beyond policies like a universal basic income, a transition to a equitable and sustainable society requires the redefinition of well-being, needs, and work itself.
 Read


A headshot of George Liodakis

George Liodakis
There is no “precariat,” per se—the working class as-a-whole remains the necessary agent for transformation.
 Read


A headshot of Ronaldo Munck

Ronaldo Munck
Work in the Global South has always been precarious, but the resurgence of global labor organizing offers a way forward.
 Read


A headshot of William I. Robinson

William I. Robinson
The “precariat,” rather than a new class, is part of the global proletariat, on whose struggle with transnational capital our fate depends.
 Read


A headshot of Pritam Singh

Pritam Singh
A basic income alone is not transformative, but a feature of a broader ecosocialist vision of dismantling capitalism. 
Read


A headshot of Eva-Maria Swidler

Eva-Maria Swidler
Workers in the Global North have a lot to learn from the past struggles of workers in the Global South (as well as in their own countries). 
Read


A headshot of Evelyn AstorA headshot of Alison Tate

Alison Tate and Evelyn Astor
Labor unions must continue to play an important role in the fight for economic justice and against precariousness. 
Read



A headshot of Guy Standing

Author’s Response
Guy Standing addresses points raised by the contributors to this roundtable. Read
 

Category : Capitalism | Globalization | Hegemony | Marxism | Organizing | Strategy and Tactics | Theory | Working Class | Youth | Blog
25
Nov

By Guy Standing

October 2018

Since 1980, the global economy has undergone a dramatic transformation, with the globalization of the labor force, the rise of automation, and—above all—the growth of Big Finance, Big Pharma, and Big Tech. The social democratic consensus of the immediate postwar years has given way to a new phase of capitalism that is leaving workers further behind and reshaping the class structure. The precariat, a mass class defined by unstable labor arrangements, lack of identity, and erosion of rights, is emerging as today’s “dangerous class.” As its demands cannot be met within the current system, the precariat carries transformative potential. To realize that potential, however, the precariat must awaken to its status as a class and fight for a radically changed income distribution that reclaims the commons and guarantees a livable income for all. Without transformative action, a dark political era looms.

Introduction

We are living in a painful time of turbulent economic change. A global market system continues to take shape as the United States petulantly threatens the international order that it helped to create and from which it has gained disproportionately. This era, which began around 1980, has been dominated institutionally by American finance and ideologically by the economic orthodoxy of “neoliberalism.” A hallmark of this transformation has been the increasing redistribution of wealth upwards as rents to those owning property—physical, financial, and “intellectual.” As “rentier capitalism” has risen, working classes have foundered, as those relying on labor have been losing ground in both relative and absolute terms.

In brief, during the past forty years, the global economy has been shaped by neoliberal economics, which, accentuated by the digital revolution, has generated two linked phenomena: global rentier capitalism and a global class structure in which the precariat is the new mass class. Rentier capitalism is making the hardships borne by the precariat much worse.

Industrial capitalism produced a property-owning bourgeoisie and the proletariat; contemporary capitalism is roiling this class structure. Today, the mass class is the precariat, characterized by unstable labor, low and unpredictable incomes, and loss of citizenship rights. It is the new “dangerous class,” partly because its insecurities induce the bitterness, ill-health, and anger that can be the fodder of right-wing populism. But it is also dangerous in the progressive sense that many in it reject old center-left and center-right politics. They are looking for the root-and-branch change of a new “politics of paradise,” rather than a return to a “politics of laborism” that seeks amelioration within dominant institutions and power structures.

The precariat’s needs cannot be met by modest reforms to the existing social and economic system. It is the only transformative class because, intuitively, it wants to become strong enough to abolish the conditions that define its existence and, as such, abolish itself. All others want merely to improve their position in the social hierarchy. This emergent class is thus well-placed to become the agent of radical social transformation—if it can organize and become sufficiently united around a shared identity, alternative vision, and viable political agenda.

The key to understanding the precariat’s transformational position lies in the breakdown of the income distribution system of the mid-twentieth century. To succeed, a new progressive politics must offer a pathway to an ecologically sustainable system that reduces inequalities and insecurities in the context of an open, globalizing economy.

The Rise of Rentier Capitalism

Between 1945 and 1980, the dominant socioeconomic paradigm in industrialized countries outside the Communist Bloc was social democratic, defined by the creation of welfare states and labor-based entitlements. Although there were modest falls in inequality coupled with labor-based economic security, this was no “golden age,” as some historians label it. The period was stultifying and sexist. Putting as many people as possible (mainly men) in full-time jobs under the banner of Full Employment was hardly an emancipatory vision worthy of the Enlightenment values of EgalitéLiberté, and Solidarité.

As the social democratic era collapsed in the 1970s, an economic model emerged now known as “neoliberalism.” Its advocates preached “free markets,” strong private property rights, financial market liberalization, free trade, commodification, privatization, and the dismantling of all institutions and mechanisms of social solidarity, which, in their view, were “rigidities” holding back the market. While the neoliberals were largely successful in implementing their program, what transpired was very different from what they had promised.

The initial outcome was financial domination. The income generated by US finance, which equaled 100% the size of the US economy in 1975, grew to 350% in 2015. Similarly, in the UK, finance went from 100% to 300% of GDP. Both countries experienced rapid deindustrialization as the strength of finance led to an overvalued exchange rate that, by making exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper, destroyed high-productivity manufacturing jobs. Financial institutions, most notably Goldman Sachs, became masters of the universe, their executives slotted into top political positions in the US and around the world.1

Finance linked up with Big Pharma and Big Tech to forge a global architecture of institutions strengthening rentier capitalism, maximizing monopolistic income from intellectual property. The pivotal moment came in 1995 with implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in which US multinational corporations helped secure the globalization of the US intellectual property rights system. This shift gave unprecedented rent-extracting capacity to multinationals and financial institutions.

Patents, copyright, protection of industrial designs, and trademarked brands have multiplied as sources of monopolistic profit. In 1994, fewer than one million patents were filed worldwide; in 2011, over two million were filed; in 2016, over three million. By then, twelve million were in force, and licensing income from patents had multiplied sevenfold. Growth was similar with other forms of intellectual property.

The rent-extracting system was enforced by over 3,000 trade and investment agreements, all entrenching property rights, topped by a mechanism (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) that empowers multinationals to sue governments for any policy changes that, in their view, negatively affect their future profits. This has had a chilling effect on policy reform efforts, notably those seeking to protect health and the environment.

Rentier capitalism has also been bolstered by subsidies, a financial system designed to increase private debt, privatization of public services, and a plunder of the commons. But it contains two possibly fatal flaws. First, the rentiers have been winning too much by rigging the system, raising questions about social and political sustainability. Second, the architects proved mistaken in thinking this framework would bolster the US economy, along with other advanced industrial economies to a lesser extent, at the expense of the rest of the world.

In particular, they underestimated China. When TRIPS was passed, China was inconsequential as a rentier economy. After it joined the WTO in 2001, it started to catch up fast. In 2011, China overtook the US in patent applications; by 2013, it accounted for nearly a third of global filings, well ahead of the US (22%). In 2016, it accounted for 98% of the increase over 2015, filing more than the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the European Patent Office combined.

The main outcome of rentier capitalism, exacerbated by globalization and the digital revolution, is an inexorable erosion of the income distribution system of the twentieth century—the implicit sharing of income between capital and labor that emerged after the Second World War, epitomized by the 1950 pact between the United Auto Workers union and General Motors known as the Treaty of Detroit. Now, all over the world, the share of income going to capital has been rising; the share going to labor, falling. Within both, the share going to forms of rent has been rising.

The social democratic consensus was based on implicit rules. When productivity rose, so did wages. When profits rose, so did wages. When employment rose, so did wages. Today, productivity and employment are rising, but wages remain stagnant or falling.

One factor depressing wages has been the growth of the global labor force, which has expanded by two billion during the past three decades, many of whom have a living standard that is a tiny fraction of what OECD workers were obtaining. Downward pressure on real wages will continue, especially as productivity can rise faster in emerging market economies and the technological revolution makes relocation of production and employment so much easier. Meanwhile, the rentiers will be protected. Antitrust legislation will not be strengthened to cut monopolistic rent-seeking, since governments will continue to protect national corporate champions.

Without transformative changes, those relying on labor will continue to lose; no amount of tinkering will do. Average real wages in OECD countries will stagnate, and social income inequalities will grow. Progressives must stop deluding themselves. Unless globalization goes into reverse, which is unlikely, trying to remedy inequality by forcing up wages, however desirable, will not do much. Raising wages substantially would merely accelerate the displacement of labor by automation.

A Global Class Structure

Just as industrial capitalism ushered in a new class structure, so, too, has rentier capitalism. The emerging structure, superimposed on old structures, is topped by a plutocracy, made up of a small group of billionaires who wield corruptive power. Although mostly in the West, a growing proportion of plutocrats are in Asia and other emerging market economies. Under them is an elite, who serve the plutocracy’s interests while making substantial rental income themselves. Together, these comprise what is colloquially known as the 1%, but, in fact, is much smaller than that.

Below them in the income spectrum is a salariat, a shrinking number of people with labor-based security and robust benefits, from health care to stock ownership. In the post-1945 era, economists predicted that by the end of the twentieth century, the vast majority in rich countries would be in the salariat, with growing numbers in developing countries joining them. Instead, the salariat is shrinking. It will not disappear, but its members are increasingly detached from those below them in the class spectrum, largely because they too gain more in rentier incomes than in wages. Still, their politics may be shaped by what they see happening to their sons and daughters, as well as their grandchildren.

Alongside the salariat is a smaller group of proficians, freelance professionals, such as software engineers, stock traders, lawyers, and medical specialists operating independently. They earn high incomes selling themselves frenetically, but risk early burnout and moral corrosion through excessive opportunism. This group will grow and are influential beyond their number, conveying an image of autonomy. But for the health of this untethered, hard-driving group—and society’s—they need social structures to enforce moral codes.

Below them in income terms is the proletariat, the epitome of the “working class” in the European sense, the “middle class” in the American sense. In the twentieth century, welfare states, labor law, collective bargaining, trade unions, and labor and social democratic parties were built by and for this group. However, it is dwindling everywhere and has lost progressive energy and direction.

Those who pine for the proletariat should reflect on the downside of the proletarian life and what most had to do just to survive. There should be respect for what it achieved in its heyday, but nostalgia is delusional. In reality, many are falling into the emerging mass class, the precariat, which is also being fed by college graduates and dropouts, women, migrants, and others.

Understanding the Precariat

The precariat consists of millions of people in every advanced industrial country and in emerging market economies as well.2 It can be defined in three dimensions: distinctive relations of production (patterns of labor and work), distinctive relations of distribution (sources of social income), and distinctive relations to the state (loss of citizenship rights). It is still a “class-in-the-making” in that it is internally divided by different senses of relative deprivation and consciousness. But in Europe at least, it is becoming conscious of itself as a coherent group opposed to the dominant power structure (a “class-for-itself”).

The distinctive relations of production start with the fact that the precariat is being forced to accept, and is being habituated to, a life of unstable labor, through temporary work assignments (“casualization”), agency labor, “tasking” in Internet-based “platform capitalism,” flexible scheduling, on-call and zero-hour contracts, and so on. Even more important is that those in the precariat have no occupational narrative or identity, no sense of themselves as having a career trajectory. They also learn they must do a lot of work-for-labor, work-for-the-state, and work-for-reproduction of themselves.3 The need to adapt capabilities in a context of uncertainty leads to the precariatized mind, not knowing how best to allocate one’s time and thus being under almost constant stress.

The precariat is also the first mass class in history in which their typical level of education exceeds that required for the kind of labor they can expect to obtain. And it must work and labor outside fixed workplaces and standard labor hours as well as within them.

The precariat exists in most occupations and at most levels within corporations. For example, within the legal professions, there are elites, a squeezed salariat, and a precariat of paralegals. Similar fragmentation exists in the medical and teaching professions, with paramedics and “fractionals” (i.e., those remunerated for only a fraction of full-time). The precariat is even spreading into corporate management with a concept of “interim managers,” some of whom are well-paid proficians (depicted by George Clooney in Up in the Air), others of whom fall in the precariat.

Along with the rise of unstable labor, the second dimension is distinctive relations of distribution, or structures of social income.4 The precariat relies mainly on money wages, which have been stagnant or falling in real terms for three decades, and which are increasingly volatile. The precariat’s income security has fallen correspondingly. Also, as many must do much unpaid work, the wage rate is lower than it appears if only paid labor time is taken into account. This trend will only intensify with the spread of “tasking” through online platforms.

Further, the precariat has been losing non-wage forms of remuneration, while the salariat and elite have been gaining them, making the growth of social income inequality greater than it appears in conventional income statistics. The precariat rarely receives paid holidays, paid medical leave, subsidized transport or accommodation, paid maternity leave, and so on. And it lacks the occupational benefits that came with belonging to a professional or craft guild.

The precariat has also lost entitlement to rights-based state benefits (welfare). The international trend towards means-testing and behavior-testing has hit them hard and engulfed many in regimes of workfare. Means-testing creates poverty traps, since benefits are withdrawn when earned income rises. Going from low state benefits into low-wage jobs on offer thus involves very high marginal “tax” rates, often over 80%. The precariat also faces “precarity traps”: obtaining benefits takes time, so if you succeed in obtaining them, it would be financially irrational to leave for a low-paying short-term job alternative.

The precariat has also been losing access to family and community support, as well as to commons resources and amenities, all of which have been underestimated sources of income security for low-income groups throughout the ages. For the precariat, they are just not there. Instead, many are driven to food banks and charities.

Key to the precariat’s income insecurity is uncertainty. Uncertainty differs from contingency risks, such as unemployment, maternity, and sickness, which were core focuses of welfare states. For those, one can calculate the probability of such events and develop an insurance scheme. Uncertainty cannot be insured against; it is about “unknown unknowns.” The social security part of the distribution system has also broken down, and social democrats should stop pretending it could be restored.

The precariat also suffers from an above-average cost of living. They live on the edge of unsustainable debt, knowing that one illness, accident, or mistake could render them homeless. Needing loans and credit, they pay much higher interest rates than richer folk.

The third defining dimension consists of the precariat’s distinctive relations to the state. The proletariat went from having few rights to having a rising number—cultural, civil, social, political, and economic. By contrast, the precariat is losing such rights, often not realizing so until need for their protection arises. For instance, they usually lack cultural rights because they cannot belong to communities such as occupational guilds that would give them security and identity. They lack civil rights because of the erosion of due process and inability to afford adequate defense in court; they often lose entitlement to state benefits on the whim of unaccountable bureaucrats. They lose economic rights because they cannot work in occupations they are qualified to perform.

The loss of rights goes with the most defining feature of the class: the precariat consists of supplicants. The original Latin meaning of precarious was “to obtain by prayer.” That sums up what it is to be in the precariat: having to ask for favors, for help, for a break, for a discretionary judgment by some bureaucrat, agent, relative, or friend. This intensifies uncertainty. To be in the precariat, it has been said, is like running on sinking sand.

Experience of supplicant status leads to the precariat’s growing consciousness. Chronic insecurity induces anxiety, but as with all emerging classes, there are different forms of relative deprivation. The precariat is split into three factions, which has hindered its becoming a class-for-itself and is challenging for those wishing to develop and organize a progressive response.

The first faction is the Atavists. They have fallen out of the proletariat, or come from old working-class families or communities whose members once depended on full-time jobs. Some are young; many are older, looking back wistfully. Their deprivation is about a lost Past, whether real or imagined. Having relatively little schooling or education in civics, history, or culture, they tend to listen to the sirens of neo-fascist populism.

They have been voting for the likes of Trump, Putin, Orban, Marine Le Pen, Farage and other Brexiteers, and the Lega in Italy. It is not correct to call them the “left behind,” since they are expected to function inside a new labor market. But they are bitter, eager to blame others for their plight. Those they demonize comprise the second faction of the precariat, the Nostalgics. This group is composed of migrants and minorities, who feel deprived of a Present, with nowhere to call home. For the most part, they “keep their heads down,” doing whatever they can to survive and move forward.

The third faction is best described as the Progressives, more educated and mainly young, although not exclusively so. Their defining sense of deprivation is loss of a Future. They went to university or college, promised by their parents and teachers that this would lead to a defining career. They emerge without that, often with debt stretching into that future. Beyond their own future, more and more despair about the planet’s ecological future.

A challenge for aspiring politicians is to build a broad policy strategy for bringing all three factions together in common cause. That is beginning to happen, so it is unnecessarily pessimistic to think a new progressive politics cannot be forged for the precariat as a whole.

The Dangerous Class

The precariat is today’s “dangerous class,” because it is the part of the emerging class system that could carry forward social transformation. For Marxists, the term “dangerous class” is associated with the “lumpen-proletariat,” those cut off from society, reduced to crime and social illness, having no function in production other than to put fear into the proletariat. But the precariat is not a lumpen. It is wanted by global capitalism, encapsulating new norms of labor and work. continue

Category : Capitalism | Globalization | Strategy and Tactics | Theory | Working Class | Youth | Blog
1
Aug

Panagiotis Sotiris and Thomas Goes

Viewpoint Magazine, May 7, 2018

PDF

Thomas Goes: Why should we, today, study the work of Nicos Poulantzas, a theoretician who died almost 40 years ago? Or to put it differently, what can activists, organizers, and cadres within the anti-capitalist left learn from his writings that could be useful, indeed, even necessary to build a strong, promising left?

Panagiotis Sotiris: The work of Nicos Poulantzas is one of the most important contributions to a possible Marxist theory of the state and of class antagonisms within the state. His was a highly original, relational conception of the state — the state as not simply an instrument in the hands of the ruling class but as the “condensation of a class relation.” He offered invaluable insights into the complexity of state apparatuses, articulating multiple relations between the state and the terrain of class struggle including the realm of production, and the myriad ways that the state functions as a crucial node in the (re)production of bourgeois class strategies.1

Poulantzas’s final book, State, Power, Socialism, offers one of the most sophisticated conceptualizations of how the state plays a crucial role in the production and reproduction of repressive measures and ideological interpellations, but also shapes discourses, strategies and technologies of power, to borrow Foucault’s term. This approach is reminiscent of Antonio Gramsci’s integral state, the “entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules.”2 In this sense, Poulantzas’s theory is a tool to help militants understand what they are up against.

At the same time, Poulantzas’s relational conception of the state offers a way to theorize the effectiveness of class struggles. It is true that there has been a tendency to interpret this relational conception as a form of reformism, that it points toward a gradual transformation of the state by means of the struggles that are “interiorized” within it. I disagree with a reading that would turn Poulantzas’s work into something like Eduard Bernstein’s reformism. According to Poulantzas, state apparatuses are the “materialization and condensation of class relations.” So, we are talking about a class state inscribed with the strategic and tactical interests of the bourgeoisie.3 In any case it is neither fortress nor instrument but a terrain of class antagonisms. Subaltern classes can induce ruptures, openings, and gains as part of a strategy for hegemony, which in the end will also need a confrontation with the very materiality of the repressive apparatuses of the state (what in classical Marxist theory was described as the necessity to smash the state). This is yet another useful reminder for militants: radical politics is neither a long march through institutions nor a simple preparation for a final confrontation with the state. We might think of it instead as a complex dialectical process: of changing the class balance of forces in favor of the subaltern classes, creating conditions for working class hegemony and preparing for the confrontation with the class strategies materially inscribed in the state.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the importance of Poulantzas’s theorization of authoritarian statism. Poulantzas was one of the first Marxist theorists in the aftermath of the capitalist crisis of 1973-4 to suggest that the reaction of the capitalist classes and their political representatives in the state was the result of extensive capitalist restructuring (and the first signs of the neoliberal turn) along with an authoritarian transformation of the state. I think that this dual tendency has since been a constant feature of social and political power. On the one hand it is exemplified in developments within capitalist states e.g. the expansion of repressive surveillance, the move of the center of power from the legislative to the executive, insulation of the decision processes against any form of intervention by the popular classes, and reduction of the scope of political debate with important strategic choices presented as simply technical. On the other hand, it is evident in the authoritarian institutional framework of the European Union, in some ways the model par excellence of authoritarian statism in Europe.

TG: Maybe we can move on to Poulantzas’s class analysis. What is its importance for our activism today? Why should we distinguish between a working class and what he called the “new petty bourgeoisie” composed of different layers of wage earners?

PS: Poulantzas offered a theory of class structures grounded in three key points.

First, he suggested that social classes are unthinkable outside of the terrain of class struggle. He wrote that “social classes involve in one and the same process both class contradictions and class struggle; social classes do not firstly exist as such, and only then enter into a class struggle. Social classes coincide with class practices, i.e. the class struggle, and are only defined in their mutual opposition.”4

Second, he argued that relations of production are not simple relations of legal ownership but rather complex relations of power and control of the means and process of production.

Third, he said that when we deal with the relations of production and the formation of class we are not simply talking about “economic” aspects but also political and ideological ones. In this sense, we avoid both the narrow economism of many traditional Marxist approaches and, at the same time, the underestimation of the centrality of relations of production that characterizes neo-Weberian theories of class stratification.

Poulantzas’s insight into the new petty bourgeoisie was essential.5 It was based upon a conception of the primacy of the social division of labor over the technical division of labor (which is the reflection of the primacy of the relations of production over the productive forces). For Poulantzas, “it is the social division of labor, in the form that this is given by the specific presence of political and ideological relations actually within the production process, which dominates the technical division of labor.”6

Consequently, he stressed the fact that the emergence of contradictory class positions that represent at the same time aspects of the collective laborer and of the collective capitalist was not a “neutral” technical evolution, but the expression of a deepening of the capitalist character of the labor process and of the political and ideological relations within the terrain of production. Despite certain shortcomings, such as Poulantzas’s tendency to identify the working class with productive labor (a choice that leaves out important working class segments), I think that this is an important contribution to any Marxist theory of social classes.

Moreover, I think that Poulantzas’s analysis can help us understand why treating these social strata as “working class” would mean taking for granted this form of the capitalist labor process and of the capitalist division between intellectual and manual labor. Moreover, it would also mean the incorporation of important elements of the petty-bourgeois ideology.

This does not mean that these strata could not be a part of the “people” as the alliance of the subaltern classes. Indeed one of the most important challenges today is gaining these strata in such political direction. In our time, contemporary capitalist restructurings tend at the same time to expand such positions but also to worsen their working conditions, thus polarizing them towards the working class. Organizing such strata, incorporating them in trade unions, engaging them in collective practices and demands and breaking the ideology that they are “middle class” or “professionals” is indeed one of the most important stakes of class struggles today.

TG: Poulantzas argued for a class alliance between the working class and the old and new petty bourgeoisie. He named it “the people.” So, first, how did he assume such a “people” develops? And what was, in his understanding, the role of the state and the party within this process? My impression is that his understanding of the party’s role was quite traditional.

PS: Poulantzas attempted a reconstruction of a theory of class alliances based upon his conception of the people as an alliance under the hegemony of the working class. In this sense, he offers a class-theoretical perspective of the people in contrast to current positions such as the ones associated with reading of the work of Ernesto Laclau that tend to treat the people as a form of interpellation and as a discursive construction.

It is true that Poulantzas treated the Communist party as the main terrain for the creation of the political conditions of such an alliance. He had in mind both the experience of the Greek communist movement, how the KKE became the leading force of the people in the Resistance and the Civil War, and the experience of the titanic Communist parties of Italy and France. He therefore also had in mind the idea of an alliance of the forces of the Left.

However, it is important to note that he did not restrict his view to the Party or parties. He also underscored the significance of autonomous social movements. In his last interventions, shortly before his suicide, we can find elements of a deeper apprehension of a certain crisis of the Western mass workers’ parties and an even stronger emphasis on autonomous social movements.7

Unfortunately, because of his untimely death, we cannot say to which direction his work would have gone. Nowadays, we know that we cannot deal with these questions simply within a traditional party-form. Social movements, especially new forms of political intervention also based upon the reclaiming of public space, such as the Movement of the Squares in Greece or Indignados in Spain, have enabled exactly this coming together of the different social classes and groups that the “people” is comprised of. However, I still think that the question of working-class hegemony within the articulation of such an alliance still requires a common political project and the organizational form that can support it, namely a novel form of the radical left front in its encounter with autonomous initiatives from below.

TG: How would you judge Poulantzas’s theoretical and political trajectory? One can easily recognize a Maoist inflection to his work, especially in Fascism and Dictatorship and in Classes in Contemporary Capitalism. What was the precise influence of Maoism on Poulantzas?

PS: Poulantzas’s theoretical and political trajectory began with his experiences as a youth in Athens, within the Greek Left (the illegal organizations of the Communist Party and the legal organizations of the EDA) and then by his close experiences of the French developments surrounding May 1968. It also included a series of theoretical influences beginning with Jean-Paul Sartre and Lucien Goldmann before his turn to Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser. Another important experience for Poulantzas was the particular way he experienced not only May 1968 in France, but also the split in the Greek Communist Party in 1968 and his participation in the Communist Party of the Interior.8

The traditional approach is to describe the rupture in the Greek Communist movement in terms of a split between the pro-USSR hardliners of the KKE and the more “eurocommunist” or “right-wing” approach of the Communist Party of the Interior (KKE-Es). However, many militants that sided with KKE-Es were looking for a radical or even revolutionary renovation of the strategy and tactics of the Communist movement, and did so in opposition to the more traditional and bureaucratic approach of the KKE.

The local organization of KKE-Es in Paris, of which Poulantzas was an active member, was far to the left of the leadership. At the same time, it is obvious that Poulantzas was also influenced by both the radical critique of economism and reformism not only by his experiences with May 1968 but by the Chinese experience, by Mao and also the Cultural Revolution. For example, his insistence on not treating the hierarchies within the labor process as “neutral” and “technical” echoes the Cultural Revolution’s critique against the capitalist social division of labor.

However, later, particularly in the second half of the 1970’s we see a different political approach by Poulantzas. He opts for what he defined as a Left Eurocommunism and he seemed to be sympathetic towards both a strategy of left unity and democratic road to socialism. This is more obvious in the last chapter of his last book where he defended such an approach, where he insists on the possibility of combining a parliamentary majority with strong autonomous movements from below.9 This is indeed a contradictory position. Still, it is an attempt to think thoroughly about an important problem. Since we have the benefit of hindsight, we can say that at that particular moment he was overly optimistic about such possibilities. At the same time he did not discern how the socialist parties of that period (such as PS in France or PASOK in Greece), in the end, would end up implementing capitalist restructuring from the 1980’s onwards.

It is important to stress that this debate with the interventions of Poulantzas, Althusser, Balibar, the replies by Henri Weber or Daniel Bensaïd, the interventions by Christine Buci-Glucksmann, and the parallel Italian debate (see for example the texts by Ingrao) all represent the last major debate on questions of strategy regarding socialist transition as a real, not simply theoretical, question.10

TG: You mentioned Poulantzas’s critique of economism and reformism. What was his criticism exactly about? And how did it influence his own theoretical and strategic thinking? For example, in Fascism and Dictatorship we find a constant argument that the parties of the Third International had an economistic approach. But his only strategic suggestion is that a more mass line politics would have been necessary. For example, how did it influence the politics of the local group of the KKE-Es in Paris?

PS: Poulantzas’s critique of economism is evident in many aspects of his work. First of all, the very idea of attempting to elaborate on a complex theory of the state and its role is in contrast to any instrumental conceptualization of the state. Second, the critique of Third International economism is a crucial aspect of the argument he attempts to present in Fascism and Dictatorship. Third, his theory of social classes, which includes political and ideological determinations and insists on the primacy of social division of labor to the technical division, also represents a rupture with economism.

Regarding his critique of the Third International, it is very interesting how Poulantzas attempted to draw a line of demarcation with both “third-period” sectarianism but also a reformist conception of “popular fronts” and political alliances with “democratic” bourgeois parties. Having said that, I would like to draw attention to his interventions in the debates within the Greek Communist Party of the interior.

I would like to draw attention to a text he wrote under an alias in 1970, in Agonas (“Struggle”) the organ of the Paris local organization of the KKE-Es.11 This is an answer to an article by L. Eleutheriou, a member of the leadership of the Party who suggested a strategy of alliances from above with democratic parties (such as the parties of the center), based on the idea that these parties represented the petty bourgeois strata.

Poulantzas opposed this conception of political representation, rejected the idea of alliances only “from above” and insisted that the United Front tactic required work from below and an attempt from the communist parties to also work within the peasantry and other petty bourgeois strata. Since Eleutheriou evoked the 7th Congress of the Communist International and Dimitrov’s positions, Poulantzas uses his critical approach to these positions that we also find in Fascism and Dictatorship, to suggest that a different approach to political alliances was necessary.

I would like to stress here that the question of political alliances was very crucial in the debates of the Greek Left in the period of the 1967-74 dictatorship and the challenges that the Left faced such as how to create unity in struggle against the dictatorship while avoiding giving the bourgeois forces the hegemonic role in the anti-dictatorship struggle. This was also evident in his interventions after the dictatorship, in the debates around the strategy of KKE-Es where Poulantzas criticized “national anti-dictatorship alliance” that promoted, again, an alliance with bourgeois forces. In this sense, we can say that, in his interventions, Poulantzas was always to the left of the leadership of KKE-Es.

On the other hand, Poulantzas always referred to the communist movement, not to some form of heterodoxy. His positions were, by all accounts, to the left of European communist parties, and we can find, in his work, many positions that were critical of what we might call “communist reformism.” However, he never opted for a form of gauchisme [ultra-leftism] and his focus was on the communist parties. He never seemed to suggest that the solution was to adopt the positions of Maoist or Trotskyist groups of that period, whose positions he treated as one-sided; he stressed the importance of autonomous and radical mass movements.

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Category : Marxism | Strategy and Tactics | Theory | Blog
11
Feb

 

By Rod Such

The prominent Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, author of Orientalism and The Question of Palestine, admired the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci for his views on cultural hegemony. What might have transpired if these two intellectual giants were able to collaborate on strategy and tactics for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005, two years after Said’s death and 68 years after Gramsci’s?

This essay explores Gramsci’s concepts of moral leadership, common sense and good sense, cultural hegemony, superstructure, “taking inventory,” “war of position,” and the philosophy of praxis, their influence on Said’s thinking, and their relevance to the BDS movement. Underpinning this exploration, I seek to answer whether a Marxist or socialist perspective on BDS is even needed, let alone desired. Why is it not enough that socialists simply answer the call of Palestinian civil society and find ways to support the BDS movement in practical activity? Does Marxist theory contribute anything of importance to this movement? The conclusion reached is that both Gramsci and Said left behind a legacy that provides invaluable insights and reasons for why and how BDS can succeed in Western capitalist countries, particularly the United States, and become part of a global Intifada that works in tandem with Palestinian resistance on the ground in Palestine.

Marxism is unique as a philosophy that goes beyond merely interpreting the world by announcing that its intention is to change the world. This essay, therefore, also explores a three-year-long BDS campaign in Portland, Oregon. The goal is to determine if the Gramscian-Said legacy might have helped guide it. A dialectical relationship exists between theory and practice in which neither is complete without the other. Theory guides practice, and practice in turn deepens, corrects, and enriches theory. Theoretical precepts, according to this view, must be tested in the laboratory of human activity.

Moral Leadership, Hegemony, and ‘Good Sense ‘vs. ‘Common Sense’

Gramsci’s concept of “moral leadership” is apt in this context. For Gramsci the working class was “economist” if it spoke only for itself. He urged Italy’s Socialist Party and later its Communist Party to take up the “Southern Question”—that is, the plight of the peasantry, particularly in the less-industrialized southern part of Italy. But Gramsci was not content with just a worker-peasant alliance. He called for the working-class parties to provide “moral leadership” for all “subalterns,” who he defined as anyone in a subordinate position in capitalist society or what today we would call the 99 percent.

Similarly, in his book Orientalism Said stakes out a viewpoint of moral leadership in his underlying theme of challenging the way Western colonialism and its literature dehumanized and denied agency to colonized peoples. Said’s critique of the West’s conception of the Orient is ultimately based on a radical understanding and rejection of the notion of superior cultures, placing the “Orientalist” framework firmly in the context of colonialism and imperialism.

Gramsci’s notions of common sense and good sense are intimately linked to his idea of cultural hegemony and superstructure. For Gramsci the advanced capitalist countries enforced their rule and control not just through the repressive state apparatus—the police, the courts, the prisons, the military—but also through the institutions that emerge in civil society. The state apparatus is primarily based on force and coercion to maintain capitalist rule while institutions of civil society—ranging from trade unions to churches to the media to what we call today nongovernmental organizations—often help manufacture consent with the established order of things rather than challenge that order.

The notion of cultural hegemony derives in part from Marx’s famous dictum in The German Ideology: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

Gramsci pondered why workers succumb to these ruling ideas when their class interests are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalists. He invoked the ideas of common sense and superstructure to explain how ruling class ideas establish hegemony over society at large and make it seem as though the capitalist order is merely the common sense outcome of human affairs.

In a sense Gramsci anticipated by nearly 100 years Thomas Frank’s exploration in his best-selling What’s the Matter with Kansas of why voters in the state of Kansas, once a center of abolitionism and agrarian socialism, voted against their own economic interests by embracing the Republican Party’s social agenda.

To establish this cultural hegemony and to keep it functioning smoothly, the ruling class also helps sustain a superstructure, such as the academy, civil society organizations, and the media, to ensure that its ideas remain supreme. The chief architects of “common sense”are our media and academic pundits who manage to disguise or obscure the systemic nature of capitalist oppression and exploitation. People learn to embrace and accept ideas contrary to their own interests because they are surrounded daily by a virtual gestalt of hegemonic ideas that must be true because seemingly everyone believes them to be true. To be controversial is to be dissident, an outlier from the established order of common sense.

Edward Said and Common Sense

In The Question of Palestine and The Politics of Dispossession, Said deconstructs the “common sense” ideas that have buttressed the Israeli narrative for decades and made the existence of a Jewish state seem reasonable to many people. These include the argument that the crimes of the Holocaust left the Jewish people with no alternative but to establish a Jewish state of their own for their own protection and refuge. Palestinian resistance to Zionist displacement in the “common sense” narrative then became simply a continuation of the persecution of the Jews. Israel became heroic David to the Goliath of surrounding Arab countries, according to this hegemonic narrative.

To counter this narrative, Said applied “good sense,” as opposed to the prevailing “common sense,” unerringly dissecting every hypocrisy, lie, and contradiction within the Israeli narrative by showing how they contravened established ideas of human rights and democracy. In doing so, Said, along with many others, established the Palestinian narrative as a hegemonic alternative to the dominant paradigms.

In Orientalism, Said acknowledges the influence of Gramsci, calling out in particular the distinction Gramsci made between civil society and state institutions and the role played by civil society in establishing cultural hegemony. Said writes:

“Gramsci has made the useful analytic distinction between civil and political society in which the former is made up of voluntary (or at least rational and noncoercive) affiliations like schools, families, and unions, the latter of state institutions (the army, the police, the central bureaucracy) whose role in the polity is direct domination. Culture, of course, is to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but by what Gramsci calls consent. In any society not totalitarian, then, certain cultural forms predominate over others, just as certain ideas are more influential than others; the form of this cultural leadership is what Gramsci has identified as hegemony, an indispensable concept for any understanding of cultural life in the industrial West. It is hegemony, or rather the result of cultural hegemony at work, that gives Orientalism the durability and the strength I have been speaking about so far.”  continue

Category : Hegemony | Middle East | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
1
Nov

Bacon and rebels vs Virginia aristocrats

Theodore W. Allen’s Legacy

By Jeffrey B. Perry
Solidarity

THEODORE W. “TED” Allen (1919-2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working-class intellectual and activist, whose work on the centrality of struggle against white supremacy is growing in importance and influene 98 years after his birth.

With its focus on racial oppression and social control, Allen’s two-volume The Invention of the White Race (1994, 1997: Verso Books, new expanded edition 2012) is one of the 20th-century’s major contributions to historical understanding.

Allen’s study presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as “The Great White Assumption” — the unquestioning acceptance of the “white race” and “white” identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions.

His thesis on the origin, nature and maintenance of the “white race” and his contenion that slavery in the Anglo-American plantation colonies was capitalist and that enslaved Black laborers were proletarians, provide the basis of a revolutionary approach to United States labor history.

On the back cover of the 1994 edition of Volume 1, subtitled Racial Oppression and Social Control, Allen boldly asserted “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.”

That statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia’s colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word “white” as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691.

As he later explained, “Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not ‘white.’ White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades” that the word “would appear as a synonym for European-American.”

In this context Allen offers his major thesis — that the “white race” was invented as a ruling-class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the later (civil war) stages of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676-77).

To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the “white race” and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interest of African Americans, but was also disastrous for European-American workers.

The Story of an Invention

Volume II, The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America, tells the story of the invention of the “white race” and the development of the system of racial oppression in the late 17th and early 18th century Anglo-American plantation colonies.

Allen’s primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony. He pays special attention to how tenants and wage-laborers in the predominantely English labor force were reduced to the status of chattel bond-servants beginning in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law.

He argues that this was not a feudal carryover, rather that it was imposed under capitalism, and an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery.

Allen describes how, throughout much of the 17th century, the status of African Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants.

He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Of great significance is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon’s Rebellion when thousands of laboring people took up arms against the ruling plantation elite, the capital Jamestown was burned to the ground, rebels controlled sixth-sevenths of the Virginia colony, and Afro- and Euro-American bond-servants fought side by side demanding an end to their bondage.

It was in the period after Bacon’s Rebellion that the “white race” was invented. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, conferring “white race” privileges on European Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African Americans.

He emphasizes that when free African Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia, and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order “to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos,” this was no “unthinking decision.”

Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and a conscious decision taken in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.

The “White Race” — A Ruling-Class Social Control Formation

Key to understanding the virulent racial oppression that develops in Virginia, Allen argues, is the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class.

In Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon’s Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class “whites.” In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo ruling elite, “mulattos” were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status.

This difference was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the Anglo-Caribbean there were “too few” poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were “too many” to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.

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Category : Marxism | Racism | Slavery | Strategy and Tactics | US History | Blog
5
Oct


We need a socialism that goes beyond capitalism. And not just for moral reasons


By Joseph M. Schwartz and Bhaskar Sunkara
Jacobin

Oct 3, 2017 – John Judis has all the right intentions. He’s looking at the resurgence of openly democratic socialist currents in the United States with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because he knows how desperately the country’s workers need social reforms. Trepidation, because he worries that the new left might fall into the familiar traps of insularity and sectarianism.

But while Judis wants us to change society for the better, his response to the failures of twentieth-century state socialism would lead us into the dead end of twentieth-century social democracy.

In his New Republic essay “The Socialism America Needs Now,” Judis makes a passionate plea for the rebuilding of a social-democratic movement — or what he calls “liberal socialism.” He contends that the welfare state and democratic regulation of a capitalist economy should be the end goal for socialists, as past efforts at top-down nationalization and planning yielded the repressive societies and stagnant economies of the Soviet bloc. In contrast, Judis argues, the Scandinavian states are dynamic capitalist economies that are still far more equitable and humane than the United States.

For him, socialism — democratic control over workplaces and the economy — consists of “old nostrums” whose days have past.

Of course, we urgently need the reforms that Judis and the movement around Bernie Sanders advocate for. No democratic socialist could oppose efforts to guarantee public provision of basic needs and take key aspects of economic and social life like education, health care, and housing out of the market. It would, as Judis writes, “bring immeasurable benefit to ordinary Americans.”

But we have moral reasons to demand something more. After all, we can’t have real political democracy without economic democracy. Corporations are “private governments” that exercise tyrannical power over workers and society writ large. The corporate hierarchy decides how we produce, what we produce, and what we do with the profits that workers collectively make.

To embrace radical democracy is to believe that any decision that has a binding effect on its members — say, the power to hire or fire or control over one’s work hours — should be made by all those affected by it. What touches all, should be determined by all.

At minimum, we should demand an economy in which various forms of ownership (worker-owned firms, as well as state-owned natural monopolies and financial institutions) are coordinated by a regulated market — an economy that enables society to be governed democratically. In an undemocratic capitalist economy, managers hire and fire workers; in a democratic socialist economy, workers would hire those managers deemed necessary to build a content and productive firm.

They Won’t Let Us Keep Nice Things

This, however, isn’t a debate about the contours of the world we would like to see. While Judis rejects the desire of socialists (and the historic goal of social democracy itself) to create a radical democracy after capitalism, he does so largely on pragmatic grounds. The old vision, for him, is “not remotely viable.”

Yet history shows us that achieving a stable welfare state while leaving capital’s power over the economy largely intact is itself far from viable. Even if we wanted to stop at socialism within capitalism, it’s not clear that we could.

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Category : Democracy | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
13
Dec

David Harvey: ‘The Left Has to Rethink Its Theoretical and Tactical Apparatus.’

FROM ROAR MAGAZINE. David Harvey, one of the leading Marxist thinkers of our times, sits down with the activist collective AK Malabocas to discuss the transformations in the mode of capital accumulation, the centrality of the urban terrain in contemporary class struggles, and the implications of all this for anti-capitalist organizing.

AK Malabocas: In the last forty years, the mode of capital accumulation has changed globally. What do these changes mean for the struggle against capitalism?

David Harvey: From a macro-perspective, any mode of production tends to generate a very distinctive kind of opposition, which is a curious mirrored image of itself. If you look back to the 1960s or 1970s, when capital was organized in big corporatist, hierarchical forms, you had oppositional structures that were corporatist, unionist kinds of political apparatuses. In other words, a Fordist system generated a Fordist kind of opposition.

With the breakdown of this form of industrial organization, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, you ended up with a much more decentralized configuration of capital: more fluid over space and time than previously thought. At the same time we saw the emergence of an opposition that is about networking and decentralization and that doesn’t like hierarchy and the previous Fordist forms of opposition.

So, in a funny sort of way, the leftists reorganize themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganized. If we understand that the left is a mirror image of what we are criticizing, then maybe what we should do is to break the mirror and get out of this symbiotic relationship with what we are criticizing.


In the Fordist era, the factory was the main site of resistance. Where can we find it now that capital has moved away from the factory floor towards the urban terrain?

First of all, the factory-form has not disappeared—you still find factories in Bangladesh or in China. What is interesting is how the mode of production in the core cities changed. For example, the logistics sector has undergone a huge expansion: UPS, DHL and all of these delivery workers are producing enormous values nowadays.

In the last decades, a huge shift has occurred in the service sector as well: the biggest employers of labor in the 1970s in the US were General Motors, Ford and US Steel. The biggest employers of labor today are McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Walmart. Back then, the factory was the center of the working class, but today we find the working class mainly in the service sector. And why would we say that producing cars is more important than producing hamburgers?

Unfortunately the left is not comfortable with the idea of organizing fast-food workers. Its picture of the classical working class doesn’t fit with value production of the service workers, the delivery workers, the restaurant workers, the supermarket workers.

The proletariat did not disappear, but there is a new proletariat which has very different characteristics from the traditional one the left used to identify as the vanguard of the working class. In this sense, the McDonalds workers became the steel workers of the twenty-first century

If this is what the new proletariat is about, where are the places to organize resistance now?

It’s very difficult to organize in the workplaces. For example, delivery drivers are moving all over the place. So this population could maybe be better organized outside the working place, meaning in their neighborhood structures.

There is already an interesting phrase in Gramsci’s work from 1919 saying that organizing in the workplace and having workplace councils is all well, but we should have neighborhood councils, too. And the neighborhood councils, he said, have a better understanding of what the conditions of the whole working class are compared to the sectoral understanding of workplace organizing.

Workplace organizers used to know very well what a steelworker was, but they didn’t understand what the proletariat was about as a whole. The neighborhood organization would then include for example the street cleaners, the house workers, the delivery drivers. Gramsci never really took this up and said: ‘come on, the Communist Party should organize neighborhood assemblies!’

Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions in the European context where Communist Parties did in fact organize neighborhood councils—because they couldn’t organize in the workplace, like in Spain for example. In the 1960s this was a very powerful form of organizing. Therefore—as I have argued for a very long time—we should look at the organization of neighborhoods as a form of class organization. Gramsci only mentioned it once in his writings and he never pursued it further.

In Britain in the 1980s, there were forms of organizing labor in city-wide platforms on the basis of trades councils, which were doing what Gramsci suggested. But within the union movement these trades councils were always regarded as inferior forms of organizing labor. They were never treated as being foundational to how the union movement should operate.

In fact, it turned out that the trades councils were often much more radical than the conventional trade unions and that was because they were rooted in the conditions of the whole working class, not only the often privileged sectors of the working-class. So, to the extent that they had a much broader definition of the working class, the trades councils tended to have much more radical politics. But this was never valorized by the trade union movement in general—it was always regarded as a space where the radicals could play.

The advantages of this form of organizing are obvious: it overcomes the split between sectoral organizing, it includes all kinds of “deterritorialized” labor, and it is very suitable to new forms of community and assembly-based organization, as Murray Bookchin was advocating, for example.

In the recent waves of protest—in Spain and Greece, for instance, or in the Occupy movement—you can find this idea of “localizing resistance.” It seems that these movements tend to organize around issues of everyday life, rather than the big ideological questions that the traditional left used to focus on.

Why would you say that organizing around everyday life is not one of the big questions? I think it is one of the big questions. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and everyday life in cities is what people are exposed to and have their difficulties in. These difficulties reside as much in the sphere of the realization of value as in the sphere of the production of value.

This is one of my very important theoretical arguments: everybody reads Volume I of Capital and nobody reads Volume II. Volume I is about the production of value, Volume II is about the realization of value. Focusing on Volume II, you clearly see that the conditions of realization are just as important as the conditions of production.

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Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Organizing | Solidarity Economy | Strategy and Tactics | Working Class | Blog
4
Jul

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

An occasional message from Peter Dreier 

This message is all about the Bernie Sanders campaign, but since it is a national holiday about patriotism, I wanted to include this piece by Dick Flacks and me, "How Progressives Should Celebrate This July 4th," linking it to the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-President Obama’s oration last week in Charleston.
The Sanders campaign is surging, surprising everyone with the large turnouts in Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin (over 10,000 people at a rally in Madison a few days ago), and elsewhere.  He has raised much more money, mostly in small donations, than anyone expected.  He is attracting lots of people eager to volunteer for his campaign, hiring more staff, and picking up some significant endorsements. He is closing the gap in the polls with Hillary Clinton, including in key states with early primaries and caucuses. His campaign is based on a principled progressive agenda that, unlike any other figure in American politics (with the exception of Elizabeth Warren), he is able to explain in straightforward language that has a broad appeal. 
As a result of all this, Sanders is getting lots of media attention. The right-wing media echo chamber (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Weekly Standard, etc) is demonizing him as a dangerous radical but also hoping that his growing appeal will hurt Clinton and help a Republican win the presidency.  The mainstream media (NYT, ABC, Newsweek, etc) is taking advantage of the Sanders surge to create the drama of a political horse race, while asking whether a strong Sanders showing will help or hurt Clinton’s chances to win the White House. The progressive media (The Nation, The Progressive, American Prospect, MSNBC, etc) and blogosphere is greeting the Sanders surge with enthusiasm and excitement but also raising questions about whether he’s in it to win or to push Hillary to the left, whether he can raise enough money to mount a credible national campaign, and whether his presidential campaign, win or lose, can also help strengthen the progressive movement (and the Democratic Party’s progressive wing) for the long haul.

The Sanders campaign has surged so quickly, and things are changing so rapidly, that it may be difficult to grasp what it means.  With that in mind, here is a reading list (all from 2015 unless indicated otherwise) that may be useful for those who want to understand what is happening and to put it in historical perspective. You can also find out more at the Sanders campaign website.

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The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Occidental College or its employees. Occidental College is not responsible for the content of this communication.

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Category : Elections | Organizing | Strategy and Tactics | Blog