Inside China’s Internment Camps, Uighur Muslims Stitch US Sportswear


By Roland Boer
Stalin’s Moustache Blog

October 2018, Beijing – I begin with a caveat: for more than six months I have not read corporate (sometimes called ‘western’) news sources. Instead, I read more reliable and in-depth sources, for reasons I have explained elsewhere. I find corporate news sources given to selective sensationalism, in which they select a few items, give them a twist and distort them, so as to produce a sensationalist account that does violence with the facts, fits into a certain narrative and attracts a certain readership (some ‘western’ Marxists among them). It is like a toxic drip into the brain, with which I can well do without.

By word of mouth and from reliable sources, I have heard that it has become fashionable in some quarters to switch from the ‘vegetarian between meals’ (Dalai Lama) and focus on the Uyghurs, mostly concentrated in Xinjiang province in the far western parts of China. Supposedly, the whole of the Uyghur minority is kept under what some call a ‘police state’. The reason why is never articulated, except perhaps the inherent evil of the Communist Party of China.

Let us have a look at the facts.

To begin with, there is the simple historical question. Xinjiang was incorporated into the Chinese state in the 1750s and eventually became a full province in 1884, marking the western border of the Chinese state under the Qing. Obviously, Xinjiang has been part of China for centuries.

Further, for some international critics, the claim that radical Muslim Uyghurs are involved in terrorism is a smokescreen for the suppression of the Uyghur. But let us see how selective the terminology of ‘separatism’ and ‘terrorism’ is. From one perspective, the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 is ‘terrorist’, while the efforts by some in Tibet and Xinjiang are peaceful and ‘separatist’, seeking independence. In short, any attack on western sites are ‘terrorist’, but any attack in other parts of the world – whether China or Russia or Syria – are ‘separatist’. From another perspective, the attempted suicide attack on a China Southern flight in 2008, threats to attack the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a car ramming in Tiananmen Square in 2013 and the deadly knife attack in Kunming railway station – all perpetrated by Uyghur radical Muslims – are ‘terrorist’ acts. To add a twist to all this, the Chinese government typically uses a three-character phrase, “separatism, extremism and terrorism,” which indicates that they see a continuum and not an either-or relation.

Third, it is clearly not the case that the whole of the Uyghur minority nationality is engaged in separatism, extremism and terrorism. I have encountered a good number of Uyghurs who assert strongly and passionately that they are Chinese and decry the small number of their nationality who engage in terrorist activities. The fact is that a very small number of Uyghurs, influenced by radical Islam, have engaged in terrorist activities. By far the vast majority of Uyghurs see themselves as part of China and seek to contribute positively to it.

Fourth, a crucial feature of Chinese sovereignty is the resistance to all forms of foreign interference. This approach to sovereignty arises from the anti-colonial struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in which Chinese independence from semi-colonialism developed a strong sense of the need to prevent foreign intervention. (It also influences China’s dealings with other countries, in which it avoids any effort to change political, economic and social patterns.) Thus, there has been a profoundly negative effect from the CIA’s intervention in Tibet in the 1950s, funding the Dalai Lama and inciting the ill-fated uprising in 1959, in which tens of thousands of Tibetans died and the Dalai Lama and his entourage fled to India. CIA operations wound up in the 1970s, only to be replaced with western propaganda, funding and organisation – especially by the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy that carries on the work of the CIA – of protests in Tibet, all of which are based on a particular interpretation of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. These activities have also focused on Xinjiang, with the added dimension of a distinct increase in influence from Islamic radicalism from further west in the 1990s. The discovery of Uyghurs training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, or links with militant groups in restive parts of Pakistan, as well as various radical fronts focused on Xinjiang and passing weapons, explosives and militants along drug routes, made it clear to the Chinese government that another form of foreign interference had arisen. All of these efforts are seen as profound challenges to Chinese sovereignty.

Fifth, it is asserted by some that Uyghurs are subjected to facial recognition cameras, social credit systems and political arrest. Let us set the record straight. Facial recognition cameras, first developed reliably in China (as with so much technological innovation these days) are used for the sake of social security – a fundamental feature of Chinese culture. I am told that some corporate media reports make much of the fining of jaywalkers. This is laughable. If the Chinese devoted their valuable time and energy to this pursuit, billions of fines would be given every day, for the Chinese love to jaywalk. Instead, facial recognition cameras are used for more serious purposes: criminal networks; fugitives from justice; or terrorist cells.

Social credit: the best example is a recent announcement on a high-speed train. The announcement stated that if you had not bought a ticket and did not contact the conductor as soon as possible, it would reflect negatively on your social credit record. In other words, the system is geared to ensuring conformity with the laws of the land.

Arrest for political purposes: this is usually framed in terms of ‘prisoners of conscience’, who are supposedly subjected to ‘brain-washing’ techniques. Again, let us deal with the facts. The fiction that one million Uyghurs are in ‘internment camps’ – spread by dodgy news services – is precisely that, a fiction. China has abolished re-education labour camps, although it could be argued that in certain circumstances (international interference) that they can be a good thing. Instead, a central feature of high-school and university is ‘ideological and political education’. This entails being taught the basics of Marxism, socialism with Chinese characteristics, and now Xi Jinping Thought. All worthwhile subjects that need to be taught well. And all Chinese people – including the 55 minority nationalities and even theological colleges – must study such subjects

Sixth, some sources – such as the ‘Human Rights Watch’ (affiliated with the US state department) trot out a standard ‘western’ approach to ‘human rights’. This tradition typically focuses on civil and political rights, such as freedom of political expression, assembly, religion and so on. In an imperialist move, this specific tradition of human rights is assumed to be universal, applying to all parts of the globe. Because some Uyghurs are denied Muslim practices, expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment, and subjected to ideological and political education, this is deemed to be a violation of ‘human rights’.

The problem here is that such an approach systematically neglects alternative approaches, such as the Chinese Marxist one. This tradition identifies the right to economic wellbeing as the primary human right. So we find that in relation to Xinjiang, Chinese sources have identified the deep root of the problem as poverty. Thus, when unrest in Xinjiang rose to a new level in the 1990s (under foreign influence), much analysis and policy revision followed. The result was two-pronged: an immediate focus on comprehensive security (which is a core feature of Chinese society at many levels); and a long-term effort to improve economic conditions in a region that still lagged behind the much of eastern China. Not all such incentives have been as successful as might have been hoped, with the various nationalities in Xinjiang – not merely Uyghur, but also including Han, Hui, Kazak, Mongol and Kirgiz – benefitting at different levels. The most significant project to date is the massive Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2014. Although its geographical scope is much vaster than the western parts of China, the economic effect is already being felt in these parts. In light of all this It is reasonable to say that there has been a marked improvement in the economic wellbeing of all those who live in these and other regions, such as Yunnan and Guizhou. The basic position is that if people see that their living conditions have improved, they will more willingly see themselves as part of the greater whole

The outcome: in the short-term the Chinese government has instituted various measures to ensure that the terrorist attacks of 2008, 2013 and 2014 do not happen again. The fact that they have not happened in the last few years is testimony to the effectiveness of these measures. In the long-term, previous policies to develop Xinjiang economically have been assessed and found wanting, so a whole new approach has been developed in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Finally, we should be aware of the deeper level of the ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ in relation to all of the 55 minority nationalities in China. Since its revision in the 1990s (after careful studies of the breakup of the Soviet Union), the policy has developed two poles of a dialectic. On the one hand, autonomy of the minority nationalities was to be enhanced, in terms of economic progress, language, education, culture and political leadership. On the other hand, China’s borders were strengthened as absolutely inviolable. Secession is simply not an option. A contradiction? Of course, but the sense is that for the vast majority of the nationalities, it is precisely the benefits of increased autonomy that has led them to appreciate being part of China.

Category : China | Marxism | Socialism

Check out operator in a Tesco supermarket. ‘We should break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework.’ Photograph: Robert Convery/Alamy

A movement that started out as a critique of capitalist exploitation ended up contributing key ideas to its latest neoliberal phase

By Nancy Fraser
The Guardian

October, 2013 – As a feminist, I’ve always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I’ve begun to worry that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends. I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.

In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms. Where feminists once criticised a society that promoted careerism, they now advise women to “lean in”. A movement that once prioritised social solidarity now celebrates female entrepreneurs. A perspective that once valorised “care” and interdependence now encourages individual advancement and meritocracy.

What lies behind this shift is a sea-change in the character of capitalism. The state-managed capitalism of the postwar era has given way to a new form of capitalism – “disorganised”, globalising, neoliberal. Second-wave feminism emerged as a critique of the first but has become the handmaiden of the second.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the movement for women’s liberation pointed simultaneously to two different possible futures. In a first scenario, it prefigured a world in which gender emancipation went hand in hand with participatory democracy and social solidarity; in a second, it promised a new form of liberalism, able to grant women as well as men the goods of individual autonomy, increased choice, and meritocratic advancement. Second-wave feminism was in this sense ambivalent. Compatible with either of two different visions of society, it was susceptible to two different historical elaborations.

As I see it, feminism’s ambivalence has been resolved in recent years in favour of the second, liberal-individualist scenario – but not because we were passive victims of neoliberal seductions. On the contrary, we ourselves contributed three important ideas to this development.

One contribution was our critique of the “family wage”: the ideal of a male breadwinner-female homemaker family that was central to state-organised capitalism. Feminist criticism of that ideal now serves to legitimate “flexible capitalism”. After all, this form of capitalism relies heavily on women’s waged labour, especially low-waged work in service and manufacturing, performed not only by young single women but also by married women and women with children; not by only racialised women, but by women of virtually all nationalities and ethnicities. As women have poured into labour markets around the globe, state-organised capitalism’s ideal of the family wage is being replaced by the newer, more modern norm – apparently sanctioned by feminism – of the two-earner family.

Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households. Neoliberalism turns a sow’s ear into a silk purse by elaborating a narrative of female empowerment. Invoking the feminist critique of the family wage to justify exploitation, it harnesses the dream of women’s emancipation to the engine of capital accumulation.

Feminism has also made a second contribution to the neoliberal ethos. In the era of state-organised capitalism, we rightly criticised a constricted political vision that was so intently focused on class inequality that it could not see such “non-economic” injustices as domestic violence, sexual assault and reproductive oppression. Rejecting “economism” and politicising “the personal”, feminists broadened the political agenda to challenge status hierarchies premised on cultural constructions of gender difference. The result should have been to expand the struggle for justice to encompass both culture and economics. But the actual result was a one-sided focus on “gender identity” at the expense of bread and butter issues. Worse still, the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality. In effect, we absolutised the critique of cultural sexism at precisely the moment when circumstances required redoubled attention to the critique of political economy.

Finally, feminism contributed a third idea to neoliberalism: the critique of welfare-state paternalism. Undeniably progressive in the era of state-organised capitalism, that critique has since converged with neoliberalism’s war on “the nanny state” and its more recent cynical embrace of NGOs. A telling example is “microcredit”, the programme of small bank loans to poor women in the global south. Cast as an empowering, bottom-up alternative to the top-down, bureaucratic red tape of state projects, microcredit is touted as the feminist antidote for women’s poverty and subjection. What has been missed, however, is a disturbing coincidence: microcredit has burgeoned just as states have abandoned macro-structural efforts to fight poverty, efforts that small-scale lending cannot possibly replace. In this case too, then, a feminist idea has been recuperated by neoliberalism. A perspective aimed originally at democratising state power in order to empower citizens is now used to legitimise marketisation and state retrenchment.

Reconnecting to solidarity

In all these cases, feminism’s ambivalence has been resolved in favour of (neo)liberal individualism. But the other, solidaristic scenario may still be alive. The current crisis affords the chance to pick up its thread once more, reconnecting the dream of women’s liberation with the vision of a solidary society. To that end, feminists need to break off our dangerous liaison with neoliberalism and reclaim our three “contributions” for our own ends.

First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework. Second, we might disrupt the passage from our critique of economism to identity politics by integrating the struggle to transform a status order premised on masculinist cultural values with the struggle for economic justice. Finally, we might sever the bogus bond between our critique of bureaucracy and free-market fundamentalism by reclaiming the mantle of participatory democracy as a means of strengthening the public powers needed to constrain capital for the sake of justice.

Category : Feminism | Neoliberalism | Uncategorized


The Manifesto

In memory of Joachim Bunge, who first smuggled this text out to me in the 1960s, and of my father, who first gave me the Communist Manifesto, printed by a Croatoserbian partisan brigade, in 1945. 

If we then in a poem now & here consider the nature 
Of people, as the great Lucretius considered the nature of things, 
It’s because we too are only vouchsafed a dim break of day…       
Brecht, On the Poem for Learning

By Bertold Brecht

Wars are destroying the world, & the ruins are visibly haunted
By an enormous spectre, not simply born of war.
In peace it could already be sighted, terror to the rulers
But friend to the children of slums. In scanty kitchens
Often it peeps, horrified, angry, into the half-empty pots.
Often it waits for the exhausted in front of shipyards & mines;
It visits friends in jails, passing without passport.
Even in offices it may be seen & in auditoria
Heard. At times it dons a hat of steel, enters
Huge tanks & flies with deadly bombers. It speaks in many
Tongues, in all of them.  And in many it holds its tongue.
It sits as a guest of honour in hovels, a headache of villas,
It has come to change all things & stay forever, its name is

You’ve heard much untruth about it from enemies, from friends
Much untruth also. This is what the classics say:
History books speak of great individuals, how
Their stars wax & wane; how their armies roam;
And further how empires resplend & fall. But the doubting great
Teachers examine the old writings for other lore
& they teach: history is mostly the story of how CLASSES STRUGGLE:
For they see all peoples split into classes struggling among
Themselves. Slaves & plebeians once, patricians & knights;
Artisans, peasants, nobility; burgesses then
& proletarians, processing the enormous economy,

Stand at daggers drawn in enormous contentions of power.
In daring subversion the partisan masters thus added
The story of ruled classes to the story of classes that rule.

Yet the ruling classes behave differently at different times,
Rome’s patricians act other than Spanish grandees,
Burghers of early cities than the later cities’ bourgeois:
Here, a class cleverly uses the hulking despot,
There, the despotic plurality of their own Houses;
One opts rather for bloody wars, another for slyness,
As their specific position allows, but always to strengthen
The rulers’ rule, & always struggling against the ruled.
When peoples leap in slaughter on peoples, behind their battles
Other battles are raging, not so loud, steering the former.
The armies of Rome storm into the far-off icy Pontus
While back at home, in Rome, plebeians & patricians fight.
Germans are warring on Frenchmen, yet German cities, allies to
The Emperor of Germans, also wage war on German lords.
When a truce unites inimical classes to counter the external
Enemy, in true danger or artificial entrapment,
Both win the fight but only one the victory:
That class returns victorious, the other rings the bells,
Cooks the victory banquet & builds the triumphal column.
For deeper & longer lasting than the wars our primers render
Are the wars of classes, open or secret, not for enemy
Cities but for their own, ending only in revolution
Or in a joint downfall of the fighters, rulers & ruled

Thus came about the age, which now is ending, of the bourgeois:
A fleeing serf, he became a burgher of the market town,
Then of the city, & behind its secure walls the guilds
Flourish. Cloth keeps crossing the walls, & commerce awakens
The dreaming country. Seaports build ships that sail to new shores,
Busily round Africa & set courageous sights
On American gold. Opening Chinese & East Indian
Markets, the New World, the accumulation of wares & moneys
Give wings to manufacture, & powerful there appears

From feudal relations a new societal ruler, the burgher.

Industry overtakes crafts. Long will endure the distaff,
But the master crosses the market with less echoing footsteps
And work once divided by guilds is now by the factory owner
Divided within one, bigger workshop. & still the markets
Insatiably grow. Even manufacture can no longer fill
The new demands, & lo! machines & steam overturn
All again, & the manufacturer gives way to the captain
Of industry, commander of workers & financier–
Our bourgeois. The Teachers show us in detail how large
Machine-based industry created a worldwide market
& the market in turn helped to concentrate industry
Till the bourgeoisie had fought its way to eminent rule:
State power attends to the business of the bourgeoisie now
Clothed in pomp & purple raiment, a willing executive board.

And this class has proved a hard & most impatient mistress.
With brazen cheek & iron heel it stamped out the rotten
Patriarchally still idyll, tore up the feudal, old,
Motley ties that bound protector & protégé,
Permitting no nexus but naked self-interest between people,
Payment in cash. The chivalric masters & loyal servants,
Love of native soil, honest craftsmanship, serving
A cause or inner calling, it has drowned in the icy jet
Of calculation, & brutally sold off dignity of persons
As small change. In place of the numberless chartered freedoms
It set up the sole Freedom of Trade. No doubt, this was always
A natural, pious exploitation; now it is naked
& shamelessly wielded.

Physician & priest & judge & poet & researcher, in the past
Still met with pious awe, it hires as workers for wage,
Sends to a doctor the ailing as paying customers, & he sells
His recipe, & the priest sells his consolation.
Justice may now be purchased from the watchman of property, the judge.
Whatever ploughs its inventor imagined, its dealer sells

For swords. Hungrily the artist glorifies, with quick
Nobilitating brush-stroke, the bourgeoisie’s visage,
Versed in the artifice of art he massages for money the lady’s
Languid emotions. Smirking, the bourgeois turns the poets
& thinkers into paid lackeys. The temple of knowledge becomes
A stock-exchange, and even the family’s holy abode
Hustling he stamps with the seal of unholy haggling

Indeed, what are to us the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids,
What a Crusade, & what even the Great Migration of Peoples,
To us who have seen the titanic buildings & expeditions
Made by this all-upsetting class, that always & wherever
It breathless reaches replaces what it created, living
On upset? Without pausing it alters machines & all products.
Formerly unimagined forces it hauls from air & water,
Creates new materials, never seen on this planet:
Thrice in one generation it changes the cloth of one’s clothes,
The hold of knife & fork frequently alters its feel
In the hand, & the eye is always faced with new formations.
So too are people changed, peasants are into factories
Driven, craftsmen driven in droves to new savage shores.
Villages shoot up & cities where this class digs for ore,
Dead & unpeopled in a flash when it moves away. So quick
A boom was never seen before, nor so quick a bust.

Retaining unaltered the way of production was always the first
Business of the classes that rule–this class is the first that erects
The upset as the sine qua non of society. Building its buildings
On permanently quaking soil, fearing nothing

So badly as rusting & moss, it enforces daily change
On the force of existing relations, all that was stable habit.
The steady & solid is pulled down, the sacred desecrated,
& people stand unsafe, the earth rolling beneath their feet,
Finally forced to examine their living with sober sight.

And all of this happens not in one country or two
For an unquenchable urge to sell off the bulging commodities

Ceaselessly drives the bourgeois class across the whole
Worldwide expanse of the Earth. It must everywhere look around,
Build upon, settle in, everywhere tie the sticky threads.

It makes consumption & production cosmopolitan.
It is at home everywhere & nowhere. It destroys the rich
Crafts & indigenous arts, & fetches its raw materials
From furthest-off places. Its factories service fashions & needs
Brought forth by the most diverse climates. High amid
Clouds the feverish commodities climb up the mountain pass.
They trample on rotting toll-bars that have stood for a thousand years.
Their password is CHEAP! & who are the white-bearded geezers there,
Priests come to curse the blasphemers? Not a chance, they are buyers.
And those walls there, never conquered? –The agents smile
& with bales of lightest calico batter soundlessly down
The Chinese walls. Mountains make way, islands regroup,
Peoples start needing each other. Spiritual wealth too becomes
A commonwealth of spirit. The Roman scholar avidly reads
A formula from Poland, lines penned by an English hand are completed
By a Japanese hand, & together scholars all over the world
Design an image of the world. Literatures of various peoples
Become the world’s literature.

Panting, the coolie hauls from entrails of the foreign vessels

Products never before beheld, & sweating behind them
The great new begetter itself, the machine. Thus the bourgeois
Civilizes barbarians by turning them into further bourgeois.
Like joins to like & produces more likeness, the bourgeoisie
Produces a world after its own image & likeness.

Thus cities lord it over the country, & they grow gigantic
Constantly tearing people from the doldrums of rural duration.
And as cities over country, so the bourgeois nations lord it over
The peasant henceforth; the civilized rein in barbarians
and semi-barbarians, the East becomes dependent on the West.

Machinery & property & people, up to now scattered about
Coalesce into huge formations. Faster & faster,

Implements pile up in prodigious workshops, masses of people
Agglomerate into abundantly producing centers, & the swelling
Property piles up in the hands of a few proprietors.
New political fields are created: loosely bound regions                                       
Separately ruled, with separate laws & separate tariffs
Are pressed together into one nation, with one single
National interest of the class that rules over all.

Never before did such a creative ecstasy happen
As was set ablaze by the bourgeoisie at the time of its triumph.
It created power out of steam & electricity. In few years
It cleared up, as by magic, the wildest continents of the world,
Pumped petrol out of the ground & propelled ships with it & cars,
Extracted coal & amassed it into heaping useful mountains,
Dug up iron untouched by a thousand generations

& forged steel into flexible bridges & heavy turbines
Milking the rivers & lakes to light up villages & towns.
It changed forests into weightless paper. Into distant prairies
The daily paper is flung by trains, good news & bad.
In five decades, as if humans wanted simultaneously
To live in all places of the planet, the ether became a carrier
Of messages. & now the first people rise up in steerable aircraft
Above the earth. No dream had ever shown to humanity
That such forces slumbered in its formative womb nor such liberations.

This gigantic creation of goods was confined & fettered
By aristocracy’s mortmain & its State of absolute kings:
Wrathfully the bourgeoisie exploded its fetters.
Like unto hurricanes arise the creative forces & shatter
Ancient power, supposed eternal. Other classes,
Yesterday servile, tear up the property deeds, codes
Of law & ledgers of debtors, laughing at senile rights.

Ruling opinions were always the opinions of rulers, they follow
The rulers’ downward path, for the flight of thinking must follow
Such tempests: they force the thoughts of people down to the ground

Or wheel them forcibly round to other flight paths.
Right is no longer right, wisdom not wise, all is other.
The temples had seen & defied a thousand seasons’ change
When they tumbled down into dust, shaken by the victors’ step.
But in those left standing, the gods’ countenance changes:                                                
Lo! the Old Ones wondrously look like the rulers today!
Huge are the changes occasioned by new creative forces.

But liberty equality fraternity, what happened to it?
Freedom for the bourgeois to exploit people, say the classics, equality
Before the law for the rich & poor to buy palaces
Or to be permitted to sleep under the bridge arches.

Born out of tempests that bore it to power, the bourgeoisie
Beholds the deadly tempests violent gather against it.
For now that this class, with its new property deeds & rights,
Had conjured forth forces never hereto imagined
It seemed a conjurer who has lost control of the underground
Forces he has brought up. As rain quickens crops, but unceasing
Completely washes them out, so the rising creative forces
Multiply fortunes & powers of the class that rules, but rising
Still further, they endanger that selfsame rule.

From now on the story of commerce & mass production tells
How the forces that create the goods engage in rebellion against                                     
The bourgeois ownership & bourgeois ways to create goods.

Colossal crises, recurring in cycles, similar to huge
& blindly groping hands that grip & throttle commerce,
Convulse in speechless rage companies, markets & homes.
Immemorial hunger had plagued the world when granaries emptied:
Now, nobody knows why, we’re hungry when they’re too full.
Mothers find nothing in the bare pantry to fill the small mouths
While sky-high mountains of grain rot behind walls.
& while bales upon bales of cloth are warehoused, the ragged family,
Overnight kicked out of its rented home, wanders freezing
Through emptied city quarters. He who cursed exploiters

Now cannot find exploiters. Ceaseless was his work,
Ceaseless is now his search for work. But the gate is locked.                               

Alas, even hell functions no longer. Where now? The giant
Edifice of civil society, built with so much exertion
By so many sacrificed generations sinks back into barbarism.
Not the TOO LITTLE is threatening, the TOO MUCH makes it totter.
The house does not exist for dwelling, the cloth for dressing
Nor the bread for stilling hunger: they must bring Profit.
If the product however is only used, but not also bought
Since the producer’s pay is too small–were the salary raised
It wouldn’t pay to produce the commodity–why then
Hire the hands? For they must produce at the workbench more
Than a reproduction of worker & family if there’s to be
Profit! Yet what then with the commodities? In good logic therefore:
Woolens & grain, coffee & fruits & fish & pork
All are consumed by fire, to warm the God of Profit!      
Heaps of machines, tools for entire armies of workers,
Blast furnace, shipyard & mine & iron & textile mill
All sacrificed, cut up to appease the God of Profit!

Yet their God of Profit is smitten with blindness. He never sees
The victims. He’s ignorant. While he counsels believers he mumbles
Formulas nobody grasps. The laws of economics
Are revealed as the law of gravity at the time the house collapses
Crashing on our heads. In panic torment the bourgeoisie
Starts cutting to pieces its goods & wildly runs with the remains
Around the globe, searching for newer & larger markets
(The plague-stricken thus flees but only carries the plague
Along & infects the places of shelter!). In new & larger
Crises it wakes up staggered. But upon the impoverished people —
Whose multitudes the bourgeoisie is whirling around
In planless plans, now thrown into saunas now onto icy
Streets again–it dawns that the Springtime of the bourgeois class                                    
Is over: its constricting world can’t grasp the riches created.

Against the bourgeoisie the weapons are raised that once

It death-dealing swung to shatter the feudal world, for it has
In its turn brought forth a class which swings the death-dealing weapons
Against it. Together with it from the very beginnings there grew
In huge masses its inseparable servant, the proletariat,
That only lives by work but only picks up work
If it quick & abundant adds to the bourgeois’s capital.

As the capitalist is selling commodities so the worker
Sells his commodity, labour-power, & is forced to compete
& to share the ups & downs of the capitalists’ market.
Appendage to the machine, he sells his manipulation
& gets his subsistence & what it costs to propagate
& rear his useful kind, for the price of labour-power,  
As of other wares, conforms to the cost of its coming about.
These workers cohabit no more in the patriarchal workshop
Of a master of their craft. Drilled in long columns, foot-soldiers
Of machine trades, they stand in the wide factory halls,
Slaves of the bourgeois class, daily & hourly enslaved.

Work is divided. The workers perform their monotonous part.
The hours run on killing the mind & exhausting the muscle.
What the journeyman of the crafts saw, the product of his hands,
They see no more, no shoe or plough which they would have made.
The machine is ingenious, the worker grows dull, for the grips are simple:
But the effort put in is still huge, the wheels revolve quicker.
No doubt, anybody can do it. Sweating women & children
Surround the workbench, gender & age count no longer.
All they are now is mere tools & living levers, producing
Commodities whose end it is to create Profit.

When they’ve given their exploiter more than they cost, when the exhausted slumping
Hands finally clutch the scanty pay envelope,
At factory gates new robber bands await them: landlord,
Usurer, shopkeeper, physician, all stage their raids.

No doubt, soon enough such “middle classes” as traders, peasants,
& craftsmen fall into the proletariat, because the small profit
Is not enough to buy new machines, or because factory
Production devalues their specialized skill–all are kicked out
From shop or workshop or tenant farm to the army of workers.

And the proletariat climbs up step by step in the war
That rages between the owners of hands & the owners of tools,                                      
A war that came to be as soon as these classes came to be.

Single workers to begin with, then workers of a single plant
Fought their bourgeois owner. They began by fighting the ways
& not the whole system of bourgeois production of goods. They trashed
Foreign commodities & machines, & burned factories down
To rid themselves of this new, more profound enslavement, to get
Back to the feudal enslavement, to arrest, despairing & tired,
The iron hand on the world clock, by themselves forged.

Still scattered all over the country, the proletarians remain
Long disunited, divided by deadly competition
For work, & the divided workers fight first the enemy of their
Enemy, absolute monarchs & landowners, guildsmen
& clerics; for still the flag of progress flutters over
The bourgeoisie, & it’s able to incorporate all victories.
But any victory strengthens also the class it needed         
For winning. The growing large industries concentrate proletarians
Into ever huger masses. Workers grow alike:
Who may find a wave in the turbulent torrent? Past differences,
Industriousness or skill, are cancelled working the machine.
Wages are equalized too. They fluctuate & sink in crises
Or totally cease whenever no work is to be had. All of this
Torments all at the same time. Coalitions of workers appear
Seeking to protect their wages. Open collisions begin.

Here & there, briefly, workers may win. More often they lose  
The local battle for which they united. But the union stuck
& transcended localities. Trains & then phones connect places.

All over the country scattered skirmishes grow to struggles
Of classes. As a class the workers now fight the political fight.
& the class, oft sundered through competition among its needy members,
Always united anew through new fights fought in common,
Reaches for the letter of bourgeois law & forces the employer
To come a cropper here & there, it manages to pinch
A fleeting little hour or so off the long working day.
But it knows, & when it forgets blows will bring it back:              
It has to seize hold of the law & finally break its letter.

The rising class gains much from the old classes’ dissension
& constant infighting. Still the bourgeoisie has to fight
Aristocrats in army & civil service, then within
Itself as the deadly roller of progress rolls over some of it,
&  above all & always it fights the bourgeoisie of other
Countries. All these require fellow-fighters from lower
Strata, so it drags the proletariat to political struggles
As helper, & arms its own enemy in the arena.

The proletariat learned how to learn. Painstakingly
Exploited at workbench, drill & construction crane, it needed
Education & was forced into schools. Meagre the knowledge
It got & mostly falsified, but knowledge still of the power
Of knowledge & awareness about their thirst for their own

Angry abuse would a Haroon al-Rashid hear on the market
Against the bourgeoisie. The failing corner-store keepers,

Owners of petty businesses as well as rentiers & farmers
Fight tooth & nail to keep their minuscule property intact.
The carpenter luridly curses furniture factories, the farmer
Big agribusiness, & all deplore our moral decline.                       
These good people don’t want to subvert the societal structure, its lone
Good side they are attacking & accusing, the great production
Of goods, shaking their shattered fists in vain.

The rotting mob of our cities, formed from putrefaction
Of the old society’s lowest strata, is also oft

Pulled by revolution into proletarian ranks but it is
Only a victim, not an enemy of bourgeois rule, & easily bought
As a bestial servant to batter the proletarians down.

The only class finally that may vanquish the bourgeoisie
& shatter its fettering State is the proletariat. It has
The proper stature & position. What ensured life in the old
Society has long since been swept away & wholly destroyed
In the being of the worker. Without property, to wife & child
Neither family head nor bread-winner, discernible
Barely by nation & race, since identical servitude bound
To identical bench & machine endow him with the same
Identity from the Ruhr to Canton, the proletarian
Sees in religion & morals mere fata morganas,
Prejudices to him behind which hides the robbing grab.                                       
Other classes, having come to power, protect what they got
While dictating to everybody else the novel way of getting.
This class conquers the goods-producing works by wholly repealing
The way they are got. This class has nothing to safeguard for itself.
To the contrary, any individual safeguard it has to destroy.

Mountains of machinery behind fences & walls & hidden even better
By laws, & on this side millions upon millions of willing workers
Terribly torn away from the means of working by fences & walls
& the State’s laws, each a singleton that may be hired
By the hour to set in motion the machines, hired like water-power                                  
Or electricity, for the cost of production, but only if that
Blind God of Profit, the crazy one, nods, the gambler.

The rulers’ rule was always founded on the fact that the ruled
Could somehow live from the toil: their exploitation was sure.
But now the bourgeoisie can manage no more to ensure
A servile life to their serfs. Instead of feeding off
Its proletarians, now it must feed them. It needs to employ them
But has no employment for them & yet lets their numbers swell.
And dehumanization wins, marking the victims

& victimizers, chaos results from the bourgeoisie’s                                                         
Plans, the more plans more chaos, & lack is born from production
Wherever it rules, death-dealing to the vast majority.
No longer can society live under its rule. The new class
It raised, the proletariat, will bring it down: it raised
Itself the giant hands that dig its grave.

The vast majority is in this movement, & when it rules
This is no longer ruling but suppression of rule. Only
Oppression shall here be oppressed: the proletarians, lowest
Level of society, must, in order to rise, smash
Into pieces the whole social structure with all its upper levels.                              
The proletariat can only throw off its special class
Servitude by throwing off the servitude of all.


Copyright (C) Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1964
Copyright of English translation (C) Darko R. Suvin 1999, 2001.

Category : Uncategorized


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.”

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.

A headshot of Azfar Khan

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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). 

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. 

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

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.


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

Review of The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, by Peter Gabel, Routledge.

By Martha Sonnenberg

Peter Gabel’s new book, The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self, is at once a startlingly new and groundbreaking contribution to critical social theory, and a call to action for all who desire to be a part of transformative movement beyond a current world of alienated fearfulness, oppression, economic and spiritual deprivation, misogyny, racism and xenophobia. His book provides a refreshing perspective, and one necessary, in my opinion, to save a young progressive movement from the one dimensional thought which has characterized both the old and new left, and all revolutionary movements before and after. At a time when thousands of young people are exploring notions of “socialism” (Democratic Socialists of America, DSA, now reports its membership at upwards of 50,000), when the bastions of patriarchy are being rattled by the voices of #MeToo , this book offers an opportunity for these movements to avoid the flaws and failures of previous movements for change.

Gabel’s precursors may be the cultural Marxist critical theorists of the Frankfort School of Social Research in 1920’s Germany, most notably Herbert Marcuse, who became somewhat of a cultural guru for the New Left of the 1960’s, as well as the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, and others (Georg Lukacs, Wilhelm Reich) And while Gabel also draws from Marx and Freud (among others) he pushes beyond the limits of all of them, to show how and why each of us has both a “false self” created by the fear of the humiliation of rejection by others, and an authentic self which yearns for expression and which emerges when we can mutually recognize each other and let ourselves be truly known.

Gabel’s essential thesis is that our basic drive as human beings is our longing for mutual recognition of our authentic selves, and towards a loving connectedness with one another. The fear of the rejection of that longing (fear of “ontologic humiliation”) leads us to the creation of “false selves,” behind which our innermost desires are hidden and suppressed. Gabel’s discussion of the creation and maintenance of the false self is reminiscent of Gramsci’s notion of “cultural hegemony” and can be understood as a deepening exploration of how hegemony functions to maintain dominant authority. But Gramsci understood that people can be capable of creating “counter-hegemony” or a “contradictory consciousness” in a movement for self-transformation. Thus Gabel, like Gramsci, presents us with a profound and contemporary dialectic notion of “being” in that he sees people as agents of their own self-transformation even while inhabiting their false selves. The push toward authenticity, despite the power of the false self and despite fears of rejection, cannot be completely suppressed—it manifests itself, it expresses itself when we feel safe, loved…and when we are in the midst of social movement.

For anyone who has been a part of a social movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the movement for LGBTQ liberation—all movements which challenge the apparent hegemonic definition of reality–that feeling of being connected with others, of feeling that one’s being was meaningful and purposeful and appreciated is something that will never be forgotten. Gabel refers to this feeling as “the ricochet of mutual recognition.” He gives the example of Rosa Park’s action and the resulting Montgomery bus boycott— how her action became meaningful because of all the precedent small acts of civil disobedience, the culture and songs of the civil rights movement. Her action “had opened up a new possible space, as yet not fully revealed before Park’s action…the notion that “the colored section” might not be a fact, and by extension, that all such racial segregation might not also be “the way things are.” A new perceptual universe is opened.

Gabel states that his theory calls for a “spiritualized politics”, with an analysis that does not deny the importance of economics, but does not restrict itself to economics. The desire for mutual recognition, for that “vibrant life force that unites us,’ requires that we push beyond the limits of an economic transformation of society to allow a “psychospiritual strategy that elicits from each of us the capacity to sustain mutual recognition.” And this is where Gabel moves beyond Marcuse, Gramsci, and yes, Marx too, in that his critical theory is not for the use of leaders, or a vanguard, to reach and mobilize or educate a mass movement—rather, this critical theory is for the leaders themselves as well as those who make up the rank and file of a movement—it is for all of us to confront our fear-dominated heritage, in order to create what Gabel calls a “spiritually redemptive socialism.” If we do not attend to this psychosocial and spiritual dimension of our existence, if we remain tied only to the material and external aspects of society, we will be unable to sustain the “ricochet of mutual recognition” and our movements will, as they have, succumb to inertia, pessimism, cynicism, and a loss of their redemptive and transformative spirit.

There is ample historical evidence for Gabel’s point. We need only look at the model of the Russian Revolution, from its dynamic and creative beginning, in 1917, with art, poetry, theater, feminism stimulated by revolutionary élan, succumbing to the suffocating stranglehold of Stalinism. The same can be seen in the Chinese revolution, ending with the oppressiveness of the Cultural Revolution. The economic struggle was not enough. As each of these revolutions faced external challenges, the mutuality of presence that had been there in the beginning gave way to the alienated status quo of authoritarian control, with its attendant fear of the other.

We, of the 60’s generation, have witnessed the same process in our own movements as they dissolved, frantically pursuing an external task, becoming more and more dogmatic, relying on leaders who became increasingly autocratic, suppressing dissenters, degenerating into sects, undermining group confidence. The decline of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as described by Mark Rudd, offers a chilling example of what happened: “We de-organized SDS while we claimed we were making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence…Gone permanently was the sense of experimentation and openness of the early SDS.” And later, “If it was going to be a war between Marxist factions, we would not shrink from the battle of correct words and ideas.” (My Life with SDS and the Weather Underground, 2009) As Michael Lerner recalled of those times, “Watching the competing factions tear the organization apart at its June 1969 convention was a heartbreaking experience” Millions of activists, Lerner remembers, lost all confidence and felt “they had accomplished nothing” and that the only “real” struggle would be one modeled after the Soviet seizure of power, or the revolutions led by Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, or Mao Tse Tung.”(“Reflections on NAM”, Works and Days, 2010)

It is distressing that we can already see some of these tendencies emerging in the fledgling movement of today. Michael Hirsch described his perceptions of the 2018 DSA convention in New York, noting that most of what we see in the major positions of DSA , Medicare for All, free education, rent control, while important, do not go beyond a limited economic analysis, offering moderate ethical reforms, at best. And he noted the beginning of in-fighting: “A lot of discussion at the NY DSA convention seemed to be battling shadows. Some chastised others for being insufficiently Marxist…Others treated Marxist categories as so much empty rhetoric that got in the way of real organizing.” (Michael Hirsch, “Connecting Reform and Revolution: Socialists in the Mist”, New Politics, 2018) Further, women are becoming concerned about gendered divisions of labor within DSA chapters, noting that the “inability of men to listen to womens’ feedback…threatens the success of the entire progressive movement.” (“Statement on Women in DSA Leadership”, Rosie Bz and Annie DF, @bread and roses, 2018)

Gabel addresses these issues–why movements lose confidence, why so many of these movements deteriorated into soulless and hierarchical organizations, or worse, into in-fighting and vitriolic dissolution. They succumb to the fear of that which wages war against them. And those forces are real—as we experience daily the assaults of Trumpism on people of color, women, immigrants, gay, lesbian and transgender groups. To avoid these historic pitfalls in face of such assaults, Gabel calls for a spiritualization of political and social activism, in ways that are thought provoking, creative, and above all doable. He writes:

“…if we are to transcend our alienation so as to actually “change society”, we must heal and repair the life-world that we ourselves are living, rather than fix it as if it were something outside of us. This means that social activism must be…a transformation and elevation of social space that brings us into authentic contact with each other, and makes us present to each other while also enabling us to know that this is occurring and gradually become what we are intending.”

To “become what we are intending”–This is a profound declaration, and one that really makes Gabel’s theory revolutionary in ways not anticipated by his precursors. Here, he is closest to the thinking of Grace Boggs’ humanitarian Marxism, when she said, “To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more “human” human beings. In order to change, transform the world, they must change/transform themselves” (Grace Boggs, Living for Change, University of Minnesota Press, 1998)

Gabel challenges us to transform ourselves. He challenges us to understand our own internal contradictions between desire and fear, to confront our own false selves. He challenges us, even in the degrading midst of a Trumpist world, not to lose confidence in our abilities to create alternative social spaces that negate the apparent reality of “what is.” And finally, he challenges us to evoke and live to the best of our abilities in our vision of the world to which we aspire, to avoid anger filled “us vs. them” discourse and dehumanization of others struggling with us, lest we “flatten out” the world we want to create. How we behave, Gabel says, toward ourselves, toward others in our lives, in our movement, as well as toward those who may oppose us, is as critical, may be more critical, to social transformation as the goal we are trying to achieve. I hope that The Desire for Mutual Recognition, is carried around in the backpacks of DSAers, that it will be promoted, read and discussed by this newer generation of activists, (and by the older generation as well!) , because this book can help activists consciously understand what it means to be a part of a movement. This book can provide insights about the transformative changes they are realizing and experiencing, and hopefully, help them avoid the demoralizing effects the legacy of fear can have in undermining social movements. In these times dominated by small mindedness, fear, racism, chauvinism, injustice and inequality, Peter Gabel’s book provides an inspiring reminder that while the current situation may be real, it is not inevitable, and that social transformation is possible.

Category : Uncategorized

Neoliberalism has created genuine grievances, exploited by the radical right. The left must find a new way to articulate them

By Chantal Mouffe
The Guardian

Sept 10, 2018 – These are unsettled times for democratic politics. Shocked by the victory of Eurosceptic coalitions in Austria and in Italy, the neoliberal elites – already worried by the Brexit vote and the victory of Donald Trump – now claim democracy is in danger and raise the alarm against a possible return of “fascism”.

There is no denying that western Europe is currently witnessing a “populist moment”. This arises from the multiplication of anti-establishment movements, which signal a crisis of neoliberal hegemony. This crisis might indeed open the way for more authoritarian governments, but it can also provide the opportunity for reclaiming and deepening the democratic institutions that have been weakened by 30 years of neoliberalism.

Our current post-democratic condition is the product of several phenomena. The first one, which I call “post-politics”, is the blurring of frontiers between right and left. It is the result of the consensus established between parties of centre-right and centre-left on the idea that there was no alternative to neoliberal globalisation. Under the imperative of “modernisation”, social democrats have accepted the diktats of globalised financial capitalism and the limits it imposes on state intervention and public policies.

Politics has become a mere technical issue of managing the established order, a domain reserved for experts. The sovereignty of the people, a notion at the heart of the democratic ideal, has been declared obsolete. Post-politics only allows for an alternation in power between the centre-right and the centre-left. The confrontation between different political projects, crucial for democracy, has been eliminated.

This post-political evolution has been characterised by the dominance of the financial sector, with disastrous consequences for the productive economy. This has been accompanied by privatisation and deregulation policies that, jointly with the austerity measures imposed after the 2008 crisis, have provoked an exponential increase in inequality.

The working class and the already disadvantaged are particularly affected, but also a significant part of the middle classes, who have become poorer and more insecure.

In recent years, various resistance movements have emerged. They embody what Karl Polanyi presented in The Great Transformation as a “countermovement”, by which society reacts against the process of marketisation and pushes for social protection. This countermovement, he pointed out, could take progressive or regressive forms. This ambivalence is also true of today’s populist moment. In several European countries those resistances have been captured by rightwing parties that have articulated, in a nationalistic and xenophobic vocabulary, the demands of those abandoned by the centre-left. Rightwing populists proclaim they will give back to the people the voice that has been captured by the “elites”. They understand that politics is always partisan and requires an us/them confrontation. Furthermore, they recognise the need to mobilise the realm of emotion and sentiment in order to construct collective political identities. Drawing a line between the “people” and the “establishment”, they openly reject the post-political consensus.

Those are precisely the political moves that most parties of the left feel unable to make, owing to their consensual concept of politics and the rationalistic view that passions have to be excluded. For them, only rational debate is acceptable. This explains their hostility to populism, which they associate with demagogy and irrationality. Alas, the challenge of rightwing populism will not be met by stubbornly upholding the post-political consensus and despising the “deplorables”.

It is vital to realise that the moral condemnation and demonisation of rightwing populism is totally counterproductive – it merely reinforces anti-establishment feelings among those who lack a vocabulary to formulate what are, at core, genuine grievances.

Classifying rightwing populist parties as “extreme right” or “fascist”, presenting them as a kind of moral disease and attributing their appeal to a lack of education is, of course, very convenient for the centre-left. It allows them to dismiss any populists’ demands and to avoid acknowledging responsibility for their rise.

The only way to fight rightwing populism is to give a progressive answer to the demands they are expressing in a xenophobic language. This means recognising the existence of a democratic nucleus in those demands and the possibility, through a different discourse, of articulating those demands in a radical democratic direction.

This is the political strategy that I call “left populism”. Its purpose is the construction of a collective will, a “people” whose adversary is the “oligarchy”, the force that sustains the neoliberal order.

It cannot be formulated through the left/right cleavage, as traditionally configured. Unlike the struggles characteristic of the era of Fordist capitalism, when there was a working class that defended its specific interests, resistances have developed beyond the industrial sector. Their demands no longer correspond to defined social groups. Many touch on questions related to quality of life and intersect with issues such as sexism, racism and other forms of domination. With such diversity, the traditional left/right frontier can no longer articulate a collective will.

To bring these diverse struggles together requires establishing a bond between social movements and a new type of party to create a “people” fighting for equality and social justice.

Forget Trump – populism is the cure, not the disease

We find such a political strategy in movements such as Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, or Bernie Sanders in the US. This also informs the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, whose endeavour to transform the Labour party into a great popular movement, working “for the many, not the few”, has already succeeded in making it the greatest left party in Europe.

Those movements seek to come to power through elections, but not in order to establish a “populist regime”. Their goal is to recover and deepen democratic institutions. This strategy will take different forms: it could be called “democratic socialism”, “eco-socialism”, “liberal socialism” or “participatory democracy”, depending on the different national context. But what is important, whatever the name, is that “democracy” is the signifier around which these struggles are articulated, and that political liberal institutions are not discarded.

The process of radicalising democratic institutions will no doubt include moments of rupture and a confrontation with the dominant economic interests. It is a radical reformist strategy with an anti-capitalist dimension, but does not require relinquishing liberal democratic institutions.

I am convinced that in the next few years the central axis of the political conflict will be between rightwing populism and leftwing populism, and it is imperative that progressive sectors understand the importance of involving themselves in that struggle.

The popularity in the June 2017 parliamentary elections of Mélenchon, François Ruffin and other candidates of La France Insoumise – including in Marseille and Amiens, previous strongholds of Marine Le Pen – shows that when an egalitarian discourse is available to express their grievances, many people join the progressive struggle. Conceived around radical democratic objectives, populism, far from being a perversion of democracy – a view that the forces defending the status quo try to impose by disqualifying as “extremists” all those who oppose the post-political consensus – constitutes in today’s Europe the best political strategy for reviving and expanding our democratic ideals.

Chantal Mouffe is professor of political theory at the University of Westminster

Category : Capitalism | Neoliberalism | Rightwing Populism