Don Hamerquist: Distinguishing The Possible From The Probable: Contending strategic approaches within and against transnational capitalism

Brief Explanatory Note:

This was written in the last days of 2019 and the first days of the current year. In early March, before doing an initial private circulation, I made a few additions to relate some of the argument to the emerging Pandemic which was clearly a very relevant factor that I hadn’t dealt with adequately. A few references to “Covid-19” (e.g., P. 10) were added that I certainly don’t regard as an adequate treatment of these issues. More important, the argument didn’t foresee the historic break in the culture of capitalist rule that would emerge a few weeks after it was completed and would have to be extensively reworked to take these developments adequately into account.

Whatever is clear and useful in this piece owes a great deal to the critical assistance I got from Kristian Williams.

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The past few years have not been a period of calm for global capitalism and its U.S. component. Major changes in working and social life in transnational capitalism were accelerated by the 2008 crisis and the halting and partial economic recovery that followed it. While the profits of finance capital have rebounded from the bottom of the 2008 crisis, the capitalist social order has not confronted the deeper systemic weaknesses that were revealed and, consequently, it has not recovered popular legitimacy anywhere. The problems of legitimacy are particularly notable in the “Lockean Heartland”[1] of capitalist societies where the collapse of “actually existing socialism” had led to widespread proclamations of the universal and final triumph of capital and the “end of history”.

The current situation includes large reservoirs of popular discontent and sporadic episodes of rebelliousness and resistance that further weaken capitalist hegemony. Although these popular upsurges are increasingly frequent, widespread, and disruptive, their capacity to expand working class power and autonomy is undermined by an atomized hopelessness and cynicism that also reflects the increased precarity of working-class life. (The recent events in France[2] might be a hopeful exception, – although from my distance it appears that the Yellow Vests resistance has limitations that raise questions about its sustainability.)

As the problems facing transnational capital grow in magnitude and urgency, the obstacles to forming and implementing a relatively unified transnational ruling class perspective are also growing. Toxic schisms within the ruling elites, based on diverging economic interests and substantive ideological differences, reduce their incentives and capacities to act coherently[3] either by incorporating significant sectors of the popular classes or by utilizing repression efficiently.

These factors, affecting both the ruled and the rulers, produce a good deal of “flailing and churning”[4] as transnational capital deals with lingering effects of its last crisis while preparing for new and potentially more dangerous problems that are visible on the horizon – including inevitable ‘black swans’ that by their nature are not that visible. It might seem that this situation, where increasingly dysfunctional structures of class oppression and exploitation have led to widespread questioning of the legitimacy of the social order, meets two of Lenin’s well-known three conditions of a revolutionary situation. Does it follow that the only remaining strategic issue is to meet Lenin’s third condition: a sufficiently organized and properly oriented working-class vanguard, a revolutionary party? Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately depending on one’s perspective – experiences with left strategies based on such “party-building” presumptions point most of us in other directions.

 

INTRO

This paper attempts to estimate some features of ruling class power and hegemony that are likely to play significant roles in the emergence of another systemic crisis of transnational capitalism in the relatively near future. Before getting into the substance of the argument, I’d like to lay out a few of the assumptions that I do make and some of the limitations that these might entail.

My argument is largely limited to the historical and geographical core of the global capitalist system – the “Lockean Heartland” as defined above[5]. The capitalist periphery and the relationship between periphery and core will be considered indirectly. This isn’t a statement of the relative importance of the sectors or of the relationship between them. I realize that a more adequate analysis would give those issues more attention than I do here. However, in my opinion there are important features of capitalism that don’t function on the capitalist periphery as they do in the center. In specific, contrary to many left views, in the capitalist core, capital’s ideological domination over the working classes plays a more important role than the exercise of police and military power by the capitalist state and its apparatuses– although both factors are always mutually reinforcing to some extent. I would argue that this relationship is generally reversed on the periphery of the transnational system.

I realize the ruling class policies and initiatives that I emphasize are challenged and contested by other ruling class segments that support different politics. The relative strength and viability of such alternatives are always important open questions for strategic discussion. My hope is that centering the discussion on the capitalist core will assist the development of factually grounded estimates of the relative viability of these different policy initiatives and will put the questions that are raised in a more manageable framework.

I will emphasize so-called ‘subjective factors’, specifically some more or less organized and ideologically coherent policies of sectors of the ruling class. This emphasis is part of my general skepticism about determinist perspectives that focus on ‘objective factors’. However, I realize that most political outcomes of mass struggles in capitalist societies will be resultants of both objective and subjective factors and are seldom fully understood by any of the social actors. They typically emerge behind the backs of the ruling elites – and the other players in the class and social struggle as well – and don’t reflect any longer-term strategic perspective of either rulers or ruled. Nevertheless, any determinist perspective that treats ruling class policy as an effect of objective social forces is mistaken; as Alan Greenspan was mistaken in 2005 when he said that; “Thanks to globalization: Policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces…The world is governed by market forces”.  My position may exaggerate the importance of contending ruling class policies, but even when such initiatives are not decisive, they will provide important features of the political context in which radical challenges to capital will develop (or will not). Countering them is an important part of a revolutionary strategy – if it is only a part.

Finally, I will raise the possibility that minority fractions of the ruling class, working outside of, and sometimes in competition with, the generally recognized ruling class consensus, are promoting the elements of a complex strategic defense of U.S. and transnational capitalism. I’ve written two articles[6] on somewhat similar ruling class projects during the sixties and seventies of the past century. Both limited knowledge and participation to a compact combination of a few sectors of the state apparatus and a few elements of the ruling class, not just for years but for decades. While those projects were focused on state and quasi-state political repression, their implications for the current period are substantially broader and can also apply to projects to renovate capitalist legitimacy. While these contemporary projects will certainly not be transparent, it’s not likely that they will be as covert and clandestine as their predecessors of half a century ago. Nevertheless, even if these ruling class initiatives are relatively open and the steps to implement them are straightforward, they are likely to be overlooked or misunderstood by the left, since they don’t conform to the simplistic and dogmatic analyses of political forces and tendencies that currently prevail. This will lead both to a flawed understanding of capital’s efforts to stabilize and strengthen its hegemony and, perhaps, give it some popular cover or even some effective, if unintended support.

There are reasonable criticisms of the approach I’m taking. I’d like to touch on a few of these before beginning the discussion and, hopefully, avoid some unnecessary argument.

One probable criticism of my emphasis on ruling class ideology, organization and policy is that it understates the significance of the popular mass movements and initiatives that are the other side of class and social struggle. It is not possible to evaluate ruling class politics without fully recognizing the significance of the resistance to them. The trajectory of capitalist societies is determined by such mass and class resistance and capital’s adaption to it. Particularly important in this regard are the struggles that have explicitly or implicitly raised more general challenges to capitalist oppression and exploitation. Various radical political tendencies, e.g.; the Italian workerists (Tronti) and the Facing Reality grouping (James & Glaberman) emphasize this side of the argument, and apparently Negri and Hardt[7] (Empire) do so as well.

I have a good deal of sympathy with their position, but its tendency to treat one side of a dialectic of struggle as somehow more determining and less determined than its opposition can undermine the understanding of purposive political activity. When the significance of collective purposive activity by rulers is discounted, the purposive activity by the oppressed and exploited that is in response will be as well. This can end with treating all organized revolutionary interventions in the class struggle as “vanguardist” mistakes that are a net subtraction from the potentials of those struggles and can easily become an explanation and justification for revolutionary passivity. To be fair, while minimizing the importance of organized ruling class policy raises these risks, an exaggerated emphasis on the conscious and organized elements of capitalist power and the weakness of the popular resistance may also produce an incapacitating and disorienting sense of powerlessness, particularly when the mass political struggle is on the tactical defensive.

I realize that I’m avoiding many complicating aspects of these issues, but I will stand with my basic argument: organized ruling class projects and initiatives, even those that are misconceived or incompetently implemented, are essential features of the terrain where revolutionary strategies emerge and must be tested. They are the political and social context from which a categorical radical alternative to capitalism must be constructed and will provide the substance of the counter-attacks on such alternatives.

It’s also important to acknowledge that there are important topics where a focus on ruling class policy, particularly conscious and organized policy, is not the best approach. Consider the issues around the nature and potential for neofascism in the capitalist core. I don’t question the importance and urgency of this topic and have written about it extensively over a few decades.[8]  I think that there is major potential for a modern fascism in the center of global capital that is based on the explosive combination of the reactionary and nihilistic rejection of the neoliberal transnational capitalist status quo with the rapid expansion of declassed and marginalized populations. The unequal and oppressive relationships between the capitalist core and periphery make this potential particularly dangerous. A more adequate approach would emphasize the real and important possibilities for an autonomous development of a mass non-liberatory alternative to capitalism in the capitalist core. Those issues deserve to be treated more carefully and at greater length than I do here, where the issues of fascism will be primarily raised as limiting factors on capitalist class tactics.

The focus on the central core of capitalism also prevents any serious consideration of the distinctive political and economic characteristics of capitalism in the “second” and “third” worlds; China, Russia, India, Brazil, etc. I won’t consider the potential that these “other capitalisms” might actually offer alternative universalizable models for transnational capitalism; and I won’t evaluate the potentials for a global capitalist convergence that that might imply. Although important issues are involved in various contending multilateral, unilateral, and de-centered conceptions of the global capitalist system, they will also be outside of the scope of this argument.

One final point: Many leftists believe that unforeseen, and perhaps unforeseeable, conflicts and contradictions impacting the global capitalist system, “black swans”, or perhaps what Badiou terms “events”, will overwhelm any ruling class efforts to develop and implement a coherent strategy. They argue that this objective process will substantially determine both the general nature and content of class rule and the specific character and magnitude of efforts to manage, marginalize and repress radical oppositions. In such views the positions and preferences of ruling class segments, and the character of the organized responses to them, are largely derivative matters, at best. However, to repeat, this evades the reality that some ruling class policies are always being implemented – more or less effectively. Whether these policies are well-grounded and competent, or misconceived and incompetent; and whether they do or don’t conform to a radically changing structural context, whatever policies are actually adopted will have important impacts on radical political work. The options chosen by the sectors of the ruling class that have access to levers of governmental power are always a major determinant of the form and content of capitalist politics and the specific mix of repressive and incorporative features that confront the revolutionary left. This highlights the need for serious investigations into the nature and the potential viability of competing ruling class initiatives when and where they emerge – investigations that distinguish possibilities from probabilities and sort out possible implications of the major alternatives.

 

A WORLDWIDE DRIVE TOWARDS FASCISM?

I’d like to begin from Basav Sen’s recent argument for the emergence of a “…worldwide wave of authoritarian ethnonationalist governments…”

What this points to is the disturbing reality that resistance to the dangerous BJP agenda in India and worldwide will have to contend with a similarly widespread coalition of fascists and capitalists, including from parts of the “liberal” end of the political spectrum. Indeed, the Modi government in India is part of an emerging worldwide wave of authoritarian ethnonationalist governments… in the U.S.Brazil, the PhilippinesHungary, and elsewhere.” [9]

Sen advances a “common sense” view of global capitalist reality that is shared by many U.S. radicals. It posits a purposeful and universal drive of contemporary capitalism towards “authoritarian” and “ethnonationalist” regimes. While I agree that the future of modern capitalism will necessarily be increasingly authoritarian, Sen’s addition of the term, “ethnonationalist”, makes it clear that he sees little space between his reactionary “world-wide wave” and an explicitly fascist trajectory[10]. The implication is that this “worldwide wave” is the chosen policy of hegemonic sectors of capital, and that the ruling class option for fascism is not an outcome forced on them by strategic weakness in the face of radical mass challenges, but a preference. That this is Sen’s actual view is further indicated by his endorsement of the familiar counter strategies of the classic anti-fascist resistances: the hopeful “popular” and “united” fronts and the symbolic armed challenges. On these points as well, I would be in disagreement.

The argument for “…an emerging worldwide wave…” (of fascism?) assumes an essential commonality between different segments of the transnational capitalist system; the U.S., Brazil, India, the Philippines, Hungary, etc. As noted above, I’m cautious about arguments that claim to apply to both the capitalist metropolis and its periphery. In fact, when the question of actual fascist potential is considered within the capitalist core, the ruling class support for fascist ideology and its related organizing projects, even recognizing that they are frequently covert, is far more limited and conditional than Sen thinks. And while there may be more tangible evidence for his “wave” elsewhere in the global capitalist system; perhaps as he claims in places like Brazil, and the Philippines; I’m skeptical about of those of his claims as well.[11]

There are good capitalist reasons for a lack of ruling class support for fascism in societies where capitalist hegemony is deeply entrenched and broadly-based. In the political, economic, and cultural centers of the “Lockean Heartland”, the blanket suppression and eradication of actual and potential regime enemies is not capital’s objective. To the contrary, it avoids those policy options that would helpfully validate the popular left theme: “…first they came for (?)…then they came for everyone else…”.

The ruling class opposition to fascism in these societies is no expression of democratic or egalitarian sentiment or principle. It not a rejection of fascist divisions between “uber-” and “unter-“. It is the residue of capitalism’s historic experience with German Nazism that produced a broadly-distributed ruling class understanding that the not-so-ultimate potential of fascist politics in the capitalist core is the “common ruin of the contending classes”[12]with their own class, the party of capital, being a likely casualty.

 This common ruin might follow E.P. Thompson’s notion of the “extermination of multitudes”[13] through war, disease, and ecological collapse:

“Exterminism designates those characteristics of a society — expressed, in differing degrees, within its economy, its polity and its ideology — which thrust it in a direction whose outcome must be the extermination of multitudes. The outcome will be extermination, but this will not happen accidentally (even if the final trigger is “accidental”) but as the direct consequence of prior acts of policy, of the accumulation and perfection of the means of extermination, and of the structuring of whole societies so that these are directed towards that end…”  https://newleftreview.org/issues/I121/articles/edward-thompson-notes-on-exterminism-the-last-stage-of-civilization

While a version of “exterminism” was integral to the German Nazi program, the notion is not uniquely fascist. As Thompson indicates, it can also be an unintended dystopian consequence of confused ruling class responses to complex social crises, particularly one if working class and popular resistance is strategically weak and incapable of presenting a viable systemic alternative. (We might consider the possibilities of the current Pandemic in that context.)

Sectors of the metropolitan ruling class are increasingly aware of the apocalyptic potentials of capitalism’s long-deferred social and ecological costs and other noxious byproducts of its development. They will do everything possible to avoid and delay any transformation of such potentials into actual crises. At least, and this is an extremely important condition that I certainly don’t intend to minimize, they will take all the necessary steps that remain compatible with maximizing the returns on their capital over the medium and longer term.[14]

The contrast between the predominance of such precautionary ruling class stances in the metropolitan centers of capital and their relative rarity on its periphery is not particularly mysterious. Capital’s hegemony, as contrasted with its military and police power, is particularly useful where it has enjoyed the most extensive popular buy-in from the classes and strata that it oppresses and exploits. Its continuing dominance in these areas requires fetishized structures and supportive ideologies to sustain a plausible façade of popular participation that can camouflage a social order based on oppression, exploitation and appropriation as a state of “freedom” based on “equal exchange” and “equality before the law”[15]. So long as this facade can be maintained in the capitalist core, the entire global system is provided a sufficient base of dreams and illusions to nourish and mobilize a range of reform alternatives (color revolutions?) to the authoritarianism, bureaucratization, warlordism, and quasi-fascism that feature prominently on the capitalist periphery. (Whether these reform alternatives have much long-term viability is quite another matter.)

This provides classical fascism with little appeal for the ruling elites in this country and other similar metropolitan capitalist nation states. The most careful search will find few supporters of the Turner Diaries[16] among the leading figures in transnational or U.S. capitalist circles. The radical reactionaries that developed and still advocate this variant of fascism are very aware of the fundamental hostility of the capitalist power structure to their program and their very existence. It is a welcomed and reciprocated hostility. Nevertheless, a substantial sector of the U.S. left, most likely a majority of it, bases much of its politics on the assumption that capital embraces a “drive towards fascism”– and usually this “fascism” is seen as a Turner Diaries (Nazi) variant – not an ‘improved, modern’ third position, Strasserite, or deep ecology neo-fascism.

Rather than speculate about an impending “neoliberal fascism”, the left should look at ruling class political initiatives that are more clearly operational. To repeat a point made above, I don’t intend to minimize, much less a dismiss, the danger of fascism and the importance of confronting its political and military expressions. Indeed, when fascism is seen as something beyond a manipulated capitalist policy option, a collateral benefit is a better insight into its actual nature and the particular dangers it presents; not to mention the need for a more  concrete and effective, and more radical, anti-fascist response to it. Beyond the obvious reasons for this approach, it provides a much better framework for developing a comprehensive anti-capitalist vision of society that goes beyond a critical compilation of some of capitalism’s excesses.

 

AN ALTERNATIVE POSSIBLE PERSPECTIVE FOR CAPITALIST POWER

To understand the basis for transnational capital’s strategic perspectives we should begin with some central political and economic realities in the capitalist core. In the first place, this requires a clear acknowledgement that the leading sectors of the transnational ruling class, including important elements of the U.S. ruling elites, are committed to relatively sophisticated strategies to keep populist mass movements away from the levers of government power. I’ve made arguments for this conclusion elsewhere[17].

The same transnational ruling class elements that fret about populism are also aware that for millions of people in the capitalist core the new global order is defined by its “… failure…to sustain cultures and communities that provide identity, meaning and purpose in life …” Guardian 4/24/19. A widely circulated Financial Times interview with Ray Dalio, of Bridgewater Venture Capital offers a more detailed description of the “broken” nature of contemporary capitalism (I’ve highlighted Dalio’s actual language.):

‘I’m a capitalist and even I think capitalism is broken,’ Mr Dalio said as he tweeted out his essay. Expanding on the theme to a mass audience on 60 Minutes, the CBS current affairs television show, he said capitalism was ‘at a juncture.’ Americans could reform it together, ‘or we will do it in conflict.’

Few other capitalists have acknowledged publicly that they share the immediacy of Mr. Dalio’s fear of ‘some form of revolution,’ but more and more of his peers echo his concerns about inequality and the populist backlash it has fed. Globalization and technological change have ‘led to increased stress and declining living standards for many and created enormous wealth for a few.’ Financial Times 4/21/19

The transnational capitalist elites are quite aware of the instability of the structures and processes they manage and the volatility of the populations they subordinate.[18] They realize that their pursuit of profit also produces their populist oppositions and ensures that these will generate and regenerate. Various key players in the ruling class also recognize any number of potential social disruptions that can reverse economic and political ‘good times’ and rapidly transform current populist challenges to their already shaky political equilibrium[19] into much larger and more destabilizing threats.

Transnational capital’s hostility to (rightwing) populism is not a simple uniform class stance. There is no clear consensus on the best way to implement it; or in some situations whether even to implement it at all. However, in the capitalist core the main tendency of this ruling class segment is to weaponize its semi- official hostility to the two main pillars of contemporary ‘right’ populism; anti-immigrant nativism and economic nationalism. If the issues of economic inequality eventually emerge further, we should expect this hostility to intensify since any challenge to growing inequality will raise more fundamental difficulties for transnational capital than anti-immigrant sentiment or economic nationalism. However, the complex politics that would be involved in any such process makes it likely that this ruling class sector will avoid direct confrontations to the extent possible.

Any emergence of genuine left populist tendencies will greatly complicate the situation; the approaches of various capitalist fractions will become even more confused and the confusions will become more politically relevant. All of these complicated potentials and problems are part of the birth pangs of a transnational capitalist class and the halting process of cobbling together the elements of a transnational culture, ideology, and regulatory apparatus out of an array of different capitalist nation states and antagonistic capitalist political and economic blocs of very unequal power – all of which are beset by different elements and degrees of institutional ‘failure’ -a failure that is not limited to the nation state level but is evident in many aspects of governmental and administrative structure and authority.

Major movements towards the development of a transnational state form for capital are unevenly constricted by the strongest nation-state institutional structures that continue to command significant resources of police and military power, despite their increasingly hollow character and general drift towards failure. In this country for example, significant parts of the military-industrial complex and some extractive industries face specific competitive and ecological challenges that give them compelling interests in economic nationalism. This sector’s extreme centralization, combined with its financial precarity and its susceptibility to political corruption, provide it an exaggerated political influence in the current (impending crisis) conditions. The supportive attitude of this bloc of capital for Trump’s regime has been obvious, as are its defining impacts on Trump’s MAGA variant of nationalism. While these contradictions and similar ones elsewhere in the transnational structure work themselves out, the effective political power of transnational capital will have definite limits and its capacity for ultimate hegemony will remain in question.

Consider some more specific possibilities. The recent “energy independence” of the US rests on technological advances in shale oil/gas fracking that supports major increases in U.S. fossil fuel production. The entire structure is economically fragile, dependent on a $60 per barrel price that is well above the cost of production in many international oil-producing areas. This provides a significant social-economic bloc in this country a vested interest in reduced oil production and higher production costs elsewhere in the world, and with some direct economic benefits from a continuing state of chaos in major oil-producing areas, particularly the Middle East. While this increased production entails a further avoidance of the longer-term fossil fuel environmental impacts of fossil fuel dependence, the immediately relevant point is the distinctive set of state actions and interventions, both domestically and internationally, that it entails. These call for a nation state that can maintain an aggressive military posture and sustain a large and expensive military force. However, neither transnational capital, nor the integrated international oil cartel, nor what there is of a domestic U.S. oil industry will benefit if these conditions lead to a major war. While’ they need a supportive state, it must e one one that lacks sufficient autonomy to be unduly burdensome and can be trusted to not be so aggressive that it impacts global supply chains and distributional networks negatively in the final analysis.

If the unwanted happens, culminating in a profusion of crisis phenomena; serious trade wars, currency collapses, liquidity and solvency issues – not to mention actual serious military conflict; the elements of U.S. capital that currently support a strong and aggressive nationalist posture will quickly find themselves in a greatly weakened position relative to other capitalist interests, priorities and programs.[20] Faced with such circumstances, these nationalist-oriented segments of capital will be put on a downward trajectory. They may continue to have some importance in this country, economically and politically, but in my opinion, their global and national importance will decline rapidly in relation to the FIRE – finance, insurance, and real estate – sectors[21] of capital.

When we consider the transnational capitalist system, the U.S. included, the changing balance between transnational and national segments of capital in political and economic strength is quite evident. Even the most nationalist elements of what is termed “U.S. capitalism” are increasingly dependent on transnational financial capital for funding and investment opportunities and ‘just in time’ global supply and distribution chains for production and distribution of commodities. The global interdependence of all sectors of capital, including ‘energy’, erodes the independent capacities of any elements of capital that might be inclined towards nationalism and limits the possibilities that it will develop and sustain a mass base for such goals The arguments that are involved are less straightforward, but I think that these same transnational linkages will also restrict ruling class support for the authoritarian structural changes and ‘mass politics’ required by any type of “fascist” option.

 

IMPACT ON CLASS AND SOCIAL STRUGGLE

As the current ‘normalcy’ ends, (which, thanks to COVID-19 it apparently has,) its distinctive alignments, interests and relationships are very likely to be upended and transformed. The specific characteristics of this process may not be predictable, but I’m confident that one feature of the process will be a further net shift in capitalist power towards the transnational level and away from the national. This will be the eventual situation, even if for some time there are various historical accidents and other contingencies that sharpen the contradictions between different nation states and different sectors of capital producing outcomes that appear to support a opposed trajectory that features a militarized autarchy. It might take some time to work out the different functional relationships between competitive blocs of capital, existing national state structures, and emerging transnational institutions and processes; particularly since these processes can be impacted by a sustained revolutionary upsurge anywhere in the transnational structure. The left must remain alert to these contradictory possibilities without fixating on features that may well be ephemeral.

While the global system currently remains profitable (at least according to some metrics), it still lacks the stability provided by a hegemonic equilibrium. However, the period ending with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic had provided transnational capital with some limited time and space to develop and implement a range of tactics within the framework of its general anti-populist orientation

 

TACTICAL OPTIONS FOR CAPITAL

In this situation transnational capital has a variety of incentives and opportunities to provide tactical latitude to either right or left populist movements (and governments) to saddle them with responsibilities for dealing with emerging crises under in circumstances where even partial success is quite unlikely. Of course, this approach presents capital with sufficient risks to guarantee that it will typically be contested within the ruling class. The very real confusions that develop from these internal struggles will make it difficult to determine the extent to which such pre-emptive tactical approaches are in play. However, in the current circumstances, the possibility that the ruling class is giving populist movements and regimes the rope with which to hang themselves shouldn’t be too heavily discounted.

This is only one possible tactical response of transnational capital to the flexibility that recent economic and political developments provide for defeating or containing populist challenges through active and organized interventions in the class struggle. Additional possibilities range from frontal efforts to crush populist insurgencies (think of poor Syriza, and perhaps fascist Golden Dawn as well), to the relatively subtle campaigns to ipact movements with a populist potential and gradually diffuse and re-incorporate their social base; e.g., Sanders and Corbyn. While metropolitan radicals are usually somewhat alert to the dangers of increased repression in these circumstances, this is usually combined with a blindness to the potentials for co-optation – particularly co-optation in the parliamentary arena. This produces a recurring triumphalist focus on questionable accumulations of popular ‘victories’ that are more accurately seen as steps towards the defanging of organized resistance – particularly resistance with significant anti-systemic implications.  Only hopelessly Panglossian attitudes towards the struggle make this incrementalism plausible, but such attitudes always seem to flourish in our movement.

Whatever tactical priority that it choses, a major social tipping point that involves a serious global economic reversal will certainly pressure the transnational ruling class towards better defined and more aggressive postures that aim to reassert effective political control while exposing populism’s inability to govern under crisis conditions. Despite some shifting in the ruling class’s tactical mix of repression and co-optation, a combination of both will continue to be used against any mass opposition movements that emerge. It will be prudent to plan on both ruling class tactics becoming tactically more competent and better planned strategically. This doesn’t necessarily imply a relative expansion of repression, but it does make it likely that there will be clearer distinctions between incorporative and repressive tactics and that ruling class approaches to repression will focus on more carefully chosen and more serious enemies.

The most likely outcome of this period (assuming that the COVID-19 episode is somewhat contained) is a regime characterized by an enforced austerity and enhanced repression. However, as implied above, if the problems for capital become more severe, a quite different response may result, that includes more significant incorporative tactics and ambitious structural reform schemes; the ‘Green’ and ‘New’ New Deals that we have noticed – possibly even some semi-viable third parties.[22] Since I believe that serious problems are likely for capital, so I will emphasize these  more radical potentials for its response.

 

CAPITALIST STRATEGIES

At this point, I’d like to return to some earlier themes to make my argument more specific to this country; and specifically to the ‘Trump’ phenomenon. Eventually I hope to demonstrate the importance of some organized ruling class political initiatives that are emerging in this country, initiatives that I believe are motivated by strategic purposes that diverge significantly from their public relations packaging.

The more ideological (fascist-tending?) sectors of Trump’s initial political/electoral base realize his overtly pro-capital stances on social costs, regulations, and taxation, have turned the “drain the swamp” element of his populism into a cynical joke and his reactionary mass appeals on issues of immigration and economic nationalism are rhetorical facades without real substance. At the same time, Trump has effectively implemented a good number of pro-capitalist policies, including include many that run counter to fairly explicit campaign pledges made to the more militant sectors of his reactionary populist base. These actual policies have featured the expansion and militarization of economic production and the abandonment of various pledges about taxes, social security, and medical care – policies that have made the rich relatively richer which his campaign claimed he wouldn’t do. And this is not to forget Trump’s effective abandonment of the anti-interventionism that was an important features of his 2016 campaign.

These changes, shifts that look like run of the mill political opportunism to important sectors of his base, may have gained Trump some additional ruling class support and neutralized some opposition from that quarter – at least for the moment. However, all such increases in ruling class support are accompanied by losses of politically effective support among the potentially insurgent right populist elements of his electoral coalition. Given the combination of these contradictory pressures, it’s not likely that Trump’s 2016 political base will survive another election cycle without industrial-scale complicity by Trump’s official capitalist opposition to keep him in office on the basis of an increasingly transparently fraudulent pseudo-populist basis. This is unlikely to happen, although I’m not willing to rule it out given the oddities of our current politics. However, to be clear, this doesn’t exclude the possibility that Trump might prevail electorally in 2020 with a significantly different platform and electoral base. However, that would be a result caused either by the cosmic incompetence of his oppositions, or by some unexpected impact from a major externality – “black swan” event; or perhaps one a bit paler – like COVID-19.

As his original nativist and protectionist policies are forced to become more concrete or lose plausibility, both ruling class and popular attitudes towards Trump’s administration will undergo further changes. The most predictable outcome is the erosion of support from the overtly reactionary and fascist-tending populist components of his initial base. Logically, this should end left efforts to define Trumpism as an emergent quasi-fascist social movement, but it almost certainly will not. Many left commentators will probably continue to promote the same Trump/Bannon, “fascist-creep” perspective without much introspection about the fact that this is also the central plank of the platform of the ‘liberal’ sectors of transnational capital that oppose Trump and his alleged populism.

While the Trump trade policy, tax policy, and his abandonment of what this was of regulatory control over capital will eventually damage his popular support, without a significant left opposition or an actually plausible establishment alternative, the time required for this to coalesce into a significant mass reactionary alternative will be ‘trumped’ by the given parliamentary/electoral schedules. The ruling class segments that were initially inclined towards Trump’s neo-liberal policies on climate change, taxes, and government regulations, but that were hostile to other elements of his economic stance; e.g., the trade and immigration policies, can mobilize much more rapidly and effectively than any of the disaffecteds in his popular base. The Koch Brothers enterprises, the Business Roundtable, and the Chamber of Commerce, etc. are already categorical opponents of Trumpism on many central issues, and this ruling class opposition is growing. Hopefully, these two anti-Trump factors, one semi -‘popular’ and one oligarchic, will cripple each other before either develop a significant social base for red/brown politics. However, that may be too sanguine since it also depends on the emergence of a competent left opposition.

It can’t be repeated too often that when the global socio-economic situation deteriorates through recession, war, perhaps a pandemic, or some combination of these factors – and it will – a substantial and rapid fragmentation of the current ‘Trumpism’ is inevitable. What might replace it is a difficult question. The conflicts between Trump and his surrounding clique with the more manic elements of the Anti-Trump resistance have produced a rash of nitwitted displays of power that exhibiting an essential indeterminacy infused with the aspects of irrationality that the Greeks termed “akrasia”.[23] As this mixes with the volatile nihilist potentials of the fascist-tending pro-Trump mass strata, I incline towards the possibility that the most likely developments are those that will make bad situations still worse. But as Trump says, “We will just see.”

 

THE PARTY OF DAVOS

The leading grouping of the transnational ruling class has been characterized as the “Party of Davos”. As I have said above, this grouping’s basic attitude towards the shifting policies and unpredictable tactics of the ‘Trump’ phenomena and the ‘populism’ it represents, is conscious, organized, and, for the most part, overt hostility. The broad campaigns to hamstring Trump or remove him from office; to reverse Brexit; to limit the successes of anti-E.U. campaigns, as well as the successful strangulation of the feeble Greek Social Democracy are all related parts of this hostile response of transnational capitalist elites to potentially disruptive populisms. However, as I also indicated above, this response also includes some significant contradictory aspects. The shape of these can be seen in a recent NY Times opinion piece that characterizes Trump as follows: “He… is the face, however duplicitous, of a revolution against the Party of Davos”. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/03/opinion.

The ambiguity behind calling Trump a “duplicitous” representative of a populist challenge to global capital is apparent in the Davos opposition’s alternatives to his politics. These alternatives wobble between a strange mixture of halting and tentative partial criticisms and efforts to eliminate him via the tactics of coup and putsch. While we can be sure that the underlying contradictions of capital will persist, post Trump, there is very little that is inevitable about how they will develop in the interim. We should pay close attention to this confused and confusing asymmetric conflict between transnational capital and its populist challenges; recognizing the multitudes of potentials for diverse and even contradictory outcomes. Trump’s fate might ultimately produce an outcome as successful for transnational capital as the defenestration of Syriza,  but it’s very likely that the process will be substantially more difficult. While Trump continues to survive situations that appeared to threaten disaster, we should keep in mind that it would not take much, possibly a serious misstep on China trade or another ecological disaster (perhaps COVID-19 or some even blacker Black Swan?), to put a quick end to the specifically Trump features of this historic episode.

Despite Trump’s evident willingness to compromise any and all of the significant challenges to the international and domestic capitalist status quo that his 2016 campaign intimated; and despite his slide towards orthodox Ameri-centric conservatism, for the so-called Trump “resistance” he remains a dangerous rebel and disrupter. Their resistance expands erratically, at moments creating potentially far more serious and longer-term problems for transnational capital than any of Trump’s policies. In this way, both sides of the conflict take on characteristics that are difficult to explain by any rational calculus, since it could result in the collapse of both sides of the U.S. two-party parliamentary framework and the reformist illusions that are a part of it. In this historical context that would be a major step towards chaos and, ultimately, “exterminism”.

The strange polarization between a dubious personalized populism and the bizarrely exaggerated opposition to it is only one potential interpretation of our current circumstances. Despite its disruptive potentials, and to some degree because of them, the phenomenon of Trump ‘populism’ might actually be a use value for transnational capital and the ‘Party of Davos’; gifting it with an unintended assist from a sector of the purported ‘left’ opposition to capital. The transnational ruling class stands to gain significant benefits by presenting populism as a proximate threat – a foreshadowing of global fascism. This allows the resistance to the Trump variant of populism to  present itself as a defense of parliamentary democracy and ‘good’ capitalism, where an accurate understanding of the nature and dilemmas of the transnational capitalist system and the actual relationship between contemporary capitalism and the potentials for fascism and “exterminism” are replaced with by fever dreams of a reformed (and reform-worthy) capitalism. In the process, sectors of the transnational ruling class might open some paths towards a renewed social consensus and a resuscitated hegemony, at least for some time and in some significant areas of the transnational system. It is likely, I think, that strategically placed sectors of transnational capital understand such potentials and are organizing to take advantage of them. However, it is very unlikely that there will be anything approaching a ruling class consensus on the specific approach and any attempts at implementation are certain to be a source of significant ruling class division.

The CAP/AEI of John Podesta and Nera Tanden is a major official propagator of such politics like this They announce as much in this crude marketing of the thesis:

“Today, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute released the results of a unique collaboration focused on defending liberal democracy and the transatlantic partnership in an era of rising authoritarian populism”.  Press release: 5/8/18. I’ve criticized this approach in other writing.[24]

 

THE LEFT VERSION

Henry Giroux offers a very extended ‘left’ version of the same thesis. Here are two citations from one of his recent essays; the first showcasing Giroux’s propensity to exaggerate crucial points; the second illustrating more extended elements of his political confusion (My emphasis):

“The dark times that haunt the current age are epitomized by the barbarians who echo the politics of a fascist past and have come to rule the United States, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, and elsewhere. [1] The designers of a new breed of fascism increasingly dominate major political formations and other commanding political and economic institutions across the globe. Their nightmarish reign of misery, violence, and disposability is legitimated, in part, in their control of a diverse number of cultural apparatuses that produce a vast machinery of manufactured consent.”

Giroux asserts that neo-fascists, “dominate major political formations and other commanding political and economic institutions across the globe.” While the rulers and regimes in the countries he mentions certainly comprise a mixed lot of reactionaries and demagogues with a range of reactionary politics, it is debatable which, if any, of them are fascist. There is no evidence that they command, “political and economic institutions across the globe”, and little evidence that they have any such authority within any specific nation-states. The existential musings of Ray Dalio about capitalism’s future that I cited earlier are nearer political reality than Giroux’s assertion that “…barbarians who echo the politics of a fascist past…have come to rule the United States…”. None of Giroux’s “barbarians” actually command very much, but a good case can be made that Dalio, Klaus Schwab of Davos, Jaime Dimon of The Business Roundtable and other luminaries of the “shareholders to stakeholders” cohort of capitalist reformers actually have the resources to command “political and economic institutions across the globe”.

In those cases where Giroux’s argument is most plausible (perhaps Brazil?), the circumstances appear to be reversible although genuinely fascist movements and government are not likely likely to be intimidated out of power through ‘legal’ parliamentary means. In fact, the reactionary movements and regimes that Giroux cites all appear short on the ideological stability and the organized mass base that is essential for any fascist insurgency that has a real potential to supplant bourgeois parliamentarianism. An argument might be made that Modi and RSS India (see footnote #10) would be possible exceptions. However, this particular pairing doesn’t make Giroux’s list – at least not this version of it.

Giroux argues further that:

“…Two worlds are colliding: First, as a number of scholars have observed, there is the harsh and crumbling world of neoliberal globalization and its mobilizing passions that fuel different strands of fascism across the globe, including the United States. Power is now enamored with amassing profits and capital…” and is increasingly addicted to a politics of white nationalism and racial cleansing.[3]Second, there is the world of counter movements, which is growing especially among young people, with their search for a new politics that can rethink, reclaim and invent a new understanding of democratic socialism, untainted by capitalism.https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/10/pedagogical-terrorism-and-hope-in-the-age-of-fascist-politics/

Laying aside the implication that capitalism has not always been, “…enamored with amassing profits, Giroux’s central confusion is the political alternative to “neo-liberal fascism” that he advances. This alternative is described as, (a) “…counter-movement”; (a) “…new politics that can rethink, reclaim and invent a new understanding of democratic socialism, untainted by capitalism. Unfortunately, the actual “resistance” falls well short of this hopeful description. Along with Giroux, it includes the Ray Dalios as well as the Neera Tandens. Some might argue, that the Hillarys and Baracks, all of whom are well removed from “…democratic socialism, untainted by capitalism…”, should be included as well. Then there are the other important components of the anti-Trump resistance from the liberal intelligentsia and the NGO ecosystem that constitute the “non-profit industrial complex”[25]. These make the capitalist taint more evident. Finally, even the various socialists and anti-fascists that also see themselves as part of the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ tend to be fixated on a ‘revitalized’ Democratic Party; a policy goal that is distinctly tainted by capitalism.[26]

The actual exercise of power within the existing transnational and national capitalist state structures is complicated and confused, not only by this range of fragmentary and conflicting economic and social interests, but by major political figures and significant sectors of the ruling elites that frequently appear to act on transactional impulse –in opposition to anyone’s better judgments of longer-term self and class interests. This produces incoherent, even contradictory, policies, including some that are only explicable as “akrasia”, a clear feature of Trumpism and various other autocratic capitalist political tendencies. The regimes that emerge are dominated by multitudes of Gramsci’s “morbid symptoms”[27] and frequently can only be labeled as kakistocracies[28] –  constituent parts of capital’s response to its flowering secular crisis that Dave Ranney aptly describes as “flailing and churning”.

These largely contingent and accidental factors are important aspects of current reality, but they shouldn’t obscure some quite rational and organized ruling class efforts to maintain and extend class power that may be hidden within the confusions and chaos of the moment. I would argue that some substantial and coherent ruling class projects have recognized the need for a revamped global institutional and ideological framework that is capable of transcending transnational capital’s inclination to essentially ignore its longer-term economic costs along with the problems presented by increasingly hollow state and governmental structures while becoming increasingly lost in the search for maximized short term returns on investment. These are attempts to augment the limitations of current approaches to class rule with better techniques and more efficient tools to manage oppressed and exploited populations; notably including populations that are increasingly marginalized and ‘redundant’ to modern capitalist production.

 

TWO STRATEGIES (“MANUFACTURED CONSENT”)

I’d like to separate out two such ruling class approaches that I believe are in play in the capitalist core. At times in practice these are complementary, but they imply different strategies of rule with very different ultimate potentials for success. The first approach aims towards a capitalism where potentials for revolutionary subjectivity are crippled and smothered by elaborate systems of mass surveillance and information control. Its trajectory is towards Bernaysian “manufactured consent” (Lippman and Chomsky) where a technologically based authoritarianism suppresses potential mass oppositions through variants of ‘repressive tolerance’. The Valdai Club, a Russian Atlanticist source, presents a version of this approach. [29]

Earlier I cited Basav Sen’s piece on the implications of Modi’s recent victory in India. Modi heads one of the “…authoritarian ethnonationalist governments…” that play a central role in Sen’s argument. Although Sen doesn’t argue this point and most likely wouldn’t agree with it, there are good reasons to include Russia and China in his “authoritarian, ethnonationalist” category. They are certainly authoritarian; and there is certainly no doubt that both, but particularly China, are well advanced in social control technology. If Russia, China, and other remnants of the ‘Second World’ are included as I suggest they should be, some of Sen’s examples – not only India, but Brazil and Argentina and perhaps the Philippines and some Eastern European states, might be counted as at least partial successes for the Bernaysian approach. However, such a conclusion would have to confront many issues related to the differences in type and trajectory of each of Sen’s “authoritarian, ethnonationalist” examples. For the most part these issues are outside of the limited scope of my arguments here. However, I question whether any of Sen’s “ethnonationalist” formations present plausible solutions to the current legitimacy and profitability dilemmas of transnational capitalism.[30] None of them provide either a model for a stable authoritarian capitalist regime or a model for a transitional state with a plausible potential to become a fully fascist society. Again, I would note that India remains as a possible exception and outlier to this not-fully-informed generalization.

Despite the substantial ruling class buy-in and the fact that important elements of it are already well into the process of implementation[31], I would argue that, over time, the ‘carceral state’ approach to power in the capitalist core is unlikely to prevail. Ultimately, the viability of “manufactured consent” and comprehensive surveillance in these societies depends on already having attained the stable mass passivity that they are intended to generate and this is an outcome that I believe is beyond political possibility. Let me attempt a general argument in support of this proposition:

Any effort to fully implement the political and social changes that define this approach, either as part of an overall plan for the entire transnational capitalist system, or a plan that is limited to a substantial portion of its metropolitan component, will include a series of incremental steps within existing ethnonationalist nation states or blocs of such states. For its success in any sector of the global system, the competition between and among blocs of capital and an array of nation state political formations would have to be sufficiently controlled to allow these steps towards a surveillance state to proceed without disrupting crucial elements of social cohesion in the targeted society (which almost necessarily must be a nation-state).  However, the search for profit throughout the transnational capitalist system involves globalized production and financial networks with capital and population flows across current borders that the existing ‘hollowed’ state structures are increasingly less capable of resisting. The operation of capitalist competition will elevate the contradictions between the social and economic costs of maintaining and extending a stable authoritarian domination over current populations and the reductions of production costs required to successfully compete with the sectors of transnational capitalism that will not be automatically subordinated to autarkic nationalist strictures elsewhere in the system when they can be ‘outcompeted’ in transnational markets.

Many of the participants in this intra-capitalist competition have already been hollowed out by their integration into the transnational system, making it virtually inevitable that there will be breakdowns and tipping points in the near future. Some of these will develop in the normal run of the business cycle, and some will develop in combination with increasingly inevitable ecological disasters and pandemics and will contain contradictions that threaten to explode into war. And we should not forget the potential impacts of the “white” and “black swans” that are possible anywhere. The fallout from these tipping points ensures that the only ‘manufactured consent’ social equilibrium with any shot at stability is one that is universal from the outset. However, that is a utopian perspective. It is far more likely that the current reality of global capitalist competition will undermine the potentials for carceral regimes over any considerable length of time in any significant portion of the capitalist core.

The actual outcome of attempts to implement such structural changes anywhere in the transnational capitalist system will be an accelerating general austerity and a destabilizing “race to the bottom” –elements of which are already evident. This will put the viability of any version of the “carceral state” in question, and make it inevitable that attempts to implement it on a strategic level will find that

Mao’s central adages: “it is right to resist”; and “oppression… breeds resistance[32] are important countervailing factors. Although the specific content of this “resistance” is not predictable and there are absolutely no guarantees it will meet with success, either in the middle- or long -term, it does have a clear potential to disrupt any attempts at establishing an authoritarian stability in a portion of the capitalist core.

 

TWO STRATEGIES (A DIFFERENT CAPITALIST HEGEMONY)

My next argument is a minority view in the U.S. left. It emphasizes a different ruling class approach to maintaining effective power in the Lockean Core of the transnational capitalist system; an approach that prioritizes the development of a real and substantial popular consent to capitalist legitimacy from classes and populations in these nation-states and blocs that don’t share the same material interests with capital. The goal is to re-establish a more durable political and social equilibrium that limits challenges to the essential elements and basic interests of transnational capital. This objective of hegemonic dominance cannot be achieved or maintained by coercion and manipulation, although there will continue to be a good deal of both. Instead it depends on the successful expansion of general participation in social frameworks (parliamentary political parties and traditional trade unions) where the subordination of overwhelming majorities to tiny minorities has historically been effectively masked.

The manufactured consent and the hegemonic approach co-exist and compete throughout the global system, with different relative strengths at different moments and in different locales. However, in the core capitalist blocs and states the left should focus its politics on constructing a counter-hegemonic alternative to ruling class attempts to extend and consolidate the hidden, fetishized, character of capitalist dominance. This will make the actual dimensions of accelerated state repression clearer and provide a better basis for challenging it. In any case, it is important that the metropolitan left focus on understanding and countering those co-optative ruling class strategic initiatives, actual and potential, that look to reconstitute a mass base for a capitalist legitimacy that doesn’t rest on TINA (“there is no alternative”) mantra.

I want to be clear that this same priority does not necessarily hold for ‘second’ and ‘third world’ sectors of the transnational system. In these areas a generalized repressive, and often militarized, authoritarianism is likely to provide the more substantial danger for revolutionary movements. While selective repression will be combined with most of these ruling class initiatives to reconstitute its legitimacy, such repression in the capitalist core is unlikely to develop into a series of incremental steps towards a police state; towards “jailing the movement”. Rather it will tend  to be focused and limited, subordinated to advancing larger incorporative strategic goals that will provide a foundation for a cross-class, ‘anti-fascist’, social compacts that can defend and promote ‘democracy’ and ‘good capitalism’ as alternatives to “barbarism” and “exterminism”.[33] In fact, we should expect that in our current situation, major sectors of the ruling class and state structure will increasingly emphasize a partially fabricated/partially real danger of “authoritarian populism”– or to use the liberal/left alterative terminology, a common enemy of “neo-liberal fascism” – as a basis for their proposed ‘popular fronts’.

This strategy will be implemented under circumstances with decreasingly limited real possibilities for a return to the historic social democracy of material benefits, democratic participation, and class mobility. No new ‘New Deal’, decorated by the real, if terribly limited, benefits and dreams of “Fordism”, is within the realm of possibility. This modern capitalist perspective will raise the potential for a “modern” social democracy, that rests on narratives of common interest between rulers and ruled that evoke memories of WWII’s flawed “anti-fascism”. This will be a quasi-wartime social democracy, premised on obedience to authority and accommodation to austerity and explained and rationalized by fears of a fascist possibility that is partly a fabrication and partly a recognition of the real potential for Thompson’s “exterminism”.

The mass ‘popular’ side of this compact will loosely cohere an array of reform constituencies into something like a social democratic movement. As the fascist danger can reasonably be presented as a global threat in some substantial ways, this resuscitated social democracy will have both national and supra-national levels. However, since its practical focus will be confined within parliamentary and reformist frameworks that are by nature national, it will necessarily confine most of its politics within nation states; although some details, like the specific characterization of ‘enemies’ and the assessment of their strength, may reference the international level. In any case, without some interventions in the struggle from the radical left, the main tendencies of this process will probably reflect the worst of the existent politics.

Such a cross-class compact can’t function, if it is only an exercise of ruling class social engineering. We should be prepared to for capitalist factions that employ a broad range of tactics; some of which are likely to be innovative and creative. Some of these ruling class initiatives will be quite open, but many of the more important will be (and, in my opinion, already are) disguised, and at least partially covert. It is extremely important that the left increase its capacities to recognize these approaches for what they are, and not confuse ourselves with hopeful cliched visions of what we might hope they would be.

Let me illustrate some issues by citing a few ruling class comments that I think reflect this approach to capitalist hegemony. The first is from a liberal Russian ruling class source and deals with Macron’s France (my emphasis):

“Macron is politically weakened. His only hope is a split in the opposition. The main condition for survival, the main insurance of his presidency, is that his main opponent is Marine Le Pen…Everything is being done in order to…convince people that Macron is the last line of defence against fascism.”

Arnauld Dubien, Valdai Club, 10/25/18 https://www.lecourrierderussie.com/international/2018/10/forum-2018-club-valdai-vladimir-poutine/

Here’s a similar analysis applied to the E.U. as a whole:

“The nationalist and far-right parties across Europe are sensing an opportunity, particularly with European Parliament elections coming up later this month. The European Union, as a political force and option, is in turmoil. It is only a question of time before right-wing parties across Europe will replace the sporadic meetings of their leaders with a sort of coalition. Exploiting popular dissatisfaction with governments, right-wing parties are warning voters about globalization, stressing that holy national identities are endangered and stirring fear of the unknown (migrants).” Mira Oklobdzija, CounterPunch, https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/14/the-new-kid-on-the-nationalist-block-thierry-baudet/.

Finally, consider these grossly exaggerated possibilities for reformist cross-class cooperation based on illusory cross-class common interests:

“In the United States, organizations like Indivisible, a progressive group created by former congressional staffers in the wake of the 2016 elections that now has 5,000 local chapters, are not waiting for the political pendulum to swing by itself. They’re already working hard to push politics back to the left — and their organizing produced results in the 2018 midterm elections when the Democratic Party retook the House of Representatives.” the_rising_tide_of_the populist right  John Feffer, TomDispatch, 5/13/19.

 

A BETTER APPROACH TO RESISTANCE

On a theoretical level, an adequate response to these ruling class politics should begin from Gramsci’s concept of ‘organic crisis’ (“State and Civil Society”; Prison Notebooks; p. 210; p.276). A recent New Left Review article on the French “Yellow Vests” gives a good restatement of the Gramsci position that illustrates its current relevance: (my emphasis throughout)

“The concept of the organic crisis, formulated by Gramsci in the 1930s, has served to orient a number of analyses of the recent conjuncture. Here it will suffice to recall that Gramsci was referring to a radical rupture in the links between representatives and the represented. A collapse in support for the traditional parties may be the most visible symptom of an organic crisis, but it extends throughout the mediating organizations of civil society. Though its expressions will vary, it essentially involves a crisis of hegemony of the dominant class, the breakdown of its ability to maintain its leading role within the social formation—in other words, a generalized failure of consent.

Gramsci distinguishes this from a revolutionary crisis, which is characterized by a qualitative rise in the activity of the masses, forming a collective will in opposition to the ruling bloc—a situation of dual power. By contrast, an organic crisis appears at a moment when the subordinate classes have shown their incapacity to polarize the situation in their favour. Typically, their response to the crisis is uneven—as Gramsci put it: they are not all capable of orienting themselves equally swiftly, or with the same rhythm. Meanwhile, despite their weakened hegemony, the traditional ruling classes still have important reserves at their disposal: the coercive and bureaucratic apparatuses of the state, as well as its intellectual strata -‘intellectual’ in the Gramscian sense, denominating also technical expertise and leadership capacity. The organic crisis unleashes a recomposition of political personnel, which can take diverse forms—from a Bonapartism, preserving the parliamentary facade, to the various Caesarisms and the ‘state of exception’—aiming to resolve the situation in the interests of the dominant bloc. The field is therefore open to solutions of force, represented by Gramsci’s ‘men of providence’. https://newleftreview.org/issues/II116/articles/stathis-kouvelakis-the-french-insurgency

Our current political context resembles such an ‘organic crisis’ of capital; including on the political level; “…a generalized failure of popular consent[34]…” (where the) “… subordinate classes’ have ‘…shown their incapacity to polarize the situation in their favour”. It is most certainly a “… crisis (that) consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born;  this interregnum where (in the famous passage)… a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, page 276.

I’ve argued that in these circumstances, core capitalist societies will attempt to manage their crisis by reactivating the political consent it receives from the classes and social groupings that it oppresses and exploits. Although this approach will certainly be augmented by police force, the most crucial ruling class political initiatives will be those that attempt to repair the fractured connections between “representative and the represented”, not those that are aimed at enforcing authority over the popular classes through administrative and military power.

Within the socio-political and geographical limits that I have indicated, the co-optative approach is likely to be the most attractive for the leading sectors of capital and we should not lose sight of that reality. However, it’s important to see all of these questions of strategy as open and with indeterminate answers that require that we consider all conclusions as tentative and provisional. Actual ruling class behaviors must be constantly monitored and evaluated to determine the support for either of these major strategic alternatives (or for any other alternative for that matter). Such evaluations will be made harder by the proliferation of “morbid symptoms” in ruling class behavior that grow out of an elaborate mosaic of ‘accidents’ and contingencies, many of which are not susceptible to rational explanation and are increasingly characterized by akrasia.

 

WHAT RESPONSE?

So how should the revolutionary left respond to this political context to “polarize the situation” in its favor? Might the lessons we can learn from the combination of state repression and political co-optation in our not-that-distant past help clarify some issues and problems? I think the answer is, yes.

In this country, Badiou’s injunction to revolutionaries to operate, “…at a distance from the state”, is consistently ignored and the great bulk of left radicalism focuses on intermediate ‘democratic’ goals, and ‘basic reforms’ that, at least in this country at this time, generally combine support for some “(Green) New, New Deal” with an opposition to postulated tendencies towards  “neoliberal fascism”. Despite various disclaimers, this is a perspective where the main struggles are reformist and parliamentary and the intermediate strategic goals involve capturing the levers of capitalist governance by a broad popular ‘front’ that includes, implicitly or explicitly, a ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ sector of capital. This implies the opposite approach to the state from the one offered by Badiou. It is an alternative that fits comfortably with the state apparatuses and official state ideologies that are identified with the dominant sector of the transnational capitalist ruling class. Such approaches are widely advocated and pursued, despite their multiple failures of their political predecessors in this country over the past century plus; and despite the even clearer and more categorical failures throughout the rest of the capitalist core. If there are reasons and arguments for how a repetition of these defeats might be avoided, I’m not aware of them. In fact, these historic failures are seldom even raised within the U.S. left, much less seriously evaluated.

 

CONCLUSION

I think there is clear evidence that major, possibly decisive, sectors of transnational capital and of its U.S. components, are more concerned with maintaining and extending the profitability and institutional stability of their global system of transnational capitalism; than with maximizing the relative power of ‘their’ national capitalisms. The existential threat that they fear is emerging from destabilizing nativist populisms and, most important, from the potentials for the transformed internationalist class conflict that exists beneath populist insurgencies. This sector of transnational capital is very aware of the need to strengthen its popular legitimacy to guard against these threats – and this is a need that will increase exponentially in the likely event of more serious global economic and political disruptions.

As the elements of crisis in the global system intensify, the different options facing transnational capital will become clearer. Whether the measures taken are repressive or co-optative, overt or covert, I think that the various organized ruling class efforts to implement them will increase in importance. In my opinion, the initiatives with the most potential to successfully defend capital and seriously damage the revolutionary left will be those that domesticate tame reform coalitions to deal with some social costs of capitalist development within the framework of the continued dominance of capital – managing and mitigating any incidental risks that might be created for capitalist power and profit by keeping the reform struggle against capital in thrall to the postulated existential danger of ‘creeping’, or perhaps ‘looming’, “neoliberal fascism”.

It’s important that the left understands that this response from capital will include sophisticated class conscious and strategically organized initiatives by ruling class segments; some of which will be overt, and others which will be at least partially covert. The short path to left suicide is to act within the framework of comfortable leftism, as though we are only dealing with spontaneous ruling class responses to changing objective circumstances that are outside of any faction’s directive control and that can be successfully challenged.[35]

Neera Tandem’s “liberal democracy and the transatlantic partnership”, are a current very public example of one wing of this more sophisticated ruling class approach.[36]

This position advances conceptions of a ‘good’, ‘reformable’, ‘democratic’ capitalism as an ally in a popular front against ‘fascism’. To the extent it gains some popular radical legitimacy, its exaggeration of the reactionary threat of ‘populisms’ tends to eliminate the crucial distinctions between reform and revolution. The left should consider whether some recent organizational problems such as those mentioned in my recent Kersplebedeb pieces cited early in this argument might have been impacted by the implementation of such ruling class strategies.

This returns us to the issues of the state repression of previous decades that I raised early in this discussion. I think that some current repression and disruption of the left might be something more than appears on the surface. Although the evidence is growing that a substantial proportion of the transnational ruling class is not inclined to risk its already shaky political legitimacy by supporting a generalized repression in the capitalist core, a step that could be a feature of an essentially fascist trajectory. However, it has access to effective repressive tactics that don’t entail such risky options. While the transnational ruling class is providing significant cadre and many other resources to the official democratic ‘resistance’ to existing reactionary movements – a number of which that are widely seen as neofascist – sometimes with a bit of justification – it is also providing significant resources for taming potential sources of radical challenge. I’ll let this point rest for the moment.

The minority of ruling class segments that might continue to support Trump and other quasi-populist tendencies are generally motivated by perceptions of their short-term, largely economic, interests; not by some larger ideological purpose. The politics of such ruling class strata are seldom clear and usually opportunistic, far from an unchangeable given. They are very unlikely to retain much fervor for any type of populism, if and when a negative actual impact on their profits becomes apparent. These strata provide neither a stable base of support for reactionary populisms nor for a serious challenge to them; and most of them have no intention of playing such roles in the foreseeable future.

Capital’s main policies in the metropolis, at least prior to the emergence of more extended economic collapse, should be expected to emphasize the reformist parliamentary terrain while legitimating a range of formations that represent the ‘good capitalism’ response to ‘populism’. In this country the Move-Ons, Onward Togethers, Quincy Institutes and Stand Up Republics and others of similar ilk will be more significant threats to left insurgency than any ruling class sponsored movements that aim at an imposition of fascism by a coup from above – whether or not these have overt ruling class sponsorship. In such conditions, it is a mistake to treat elements of confused quasi-populism and reactionary conservativism as fascist precursors, and an even greater mistake to see the ‘official’ oppositions to such rightwing politics as building blocks for a viable anti-fascism. This is particularly important if there is evidence that such approaches are directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, promoted by major ruling class fractions.[37] Such efforts should be seen for what they are: attempts to rescue capital by resuscitating a corrupt parliamentary reformism and an exhausted social democracy under the guise of an anti-fascist defense of democracy.

Another major factor is based in the vast potentials for manipulation of social media that have emerged over the past two decades. Matt Taibi’s recent comment (“Rolling Stone”, 10/18/19) notes “…the danger posed by Facebook, Google, and Twitter – under pressure from the Senate – organizing with groups like the Atlantic Council to fight “fake news” in the name of preventing the “foment of discord.” Taibi primarily locates this issue as an element of the “manufactured consent” option that I have previously argued is an important, although subordinate, element of ruling class strategy. However, if social media can be manipulated to undermine institutional criticism and social debate under the guise of preventing the “foment of discord”, as Taibi and the Atlantic Council suggest, it can also be manipulated to actually “foment discord” within radical insurgencies. We should look forward to this being a major methodology in modern repressive strategies.

In this context, it’s certainly appropriate to note that the current rash of political implosions on the left reveal some definite patterns. Accurately or not, the leftist and sectarian crimes and blunders of the more radical sectors that have been most seriously fragmented have been emphasized at the cost of eroding basic critiques of capitalist institutions and ideologies and crippling the concrete analyses of current conditions. When we are can analyze these developments with the benefit of a few decades of hindsight, as we can now evaluate the half century old experiences of political repression of the past, it’s not likely that this disintegration will appear to be all that accidental. However, whatever serious damage may have been done to the left, the problems of capitalism will also continue and at least we will be guaranteed the opportunity to begin again – and screw up again.

This article has reached the point where some indication of a viable alternative would be in order – an alternative extending beyond academic critiques and polemical exhortations to include some plans of action. It’s clear, at least to me, that the proper left response is to build an extra-parliamentary anti-capitalist social bloc that is intransigently hostile to all capitalist policy options and actively organizing against them at a “distance from the state”. But how?

I’m sorry to have little to offer here beyond generalities. A minimum requirement for success in this undertaking is the emergence of a left with sufficient organizational cohesion to think and act collectively as an actual radical force while taking proper care of its internal business. If my understanding of capital’s strategic priorities is anywhere close to correct, major sectors of the transnational capitalist ruling elite are actively working to prevent such a development. Indeed, such efforts, both overt and covert, are probably well launched already.

d.h., 3/18/20

 

Endnotes

[1] This category was developed by Van der Pijl and is defined as follows by William Carroll, Making of the Transnational Capitalist class. (The) “…region within the world-system in which capitalist internationalization was most intense, what he (Van der Pijl) called the Lockean heartland, and the Atlantic ruling class that, over the course of three centuries, had come to form a hegemonic fraction.”

[2] Gabriel Rockhill: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/13/understanding-frances-general-strike-in-the-context-of-the-yellow-vests-and-global-class-warfare/

[3] “To act coherently, the state apparatus as an ensemble needs to be unified by a guiding set of ideas—a state project, in Jessop’s terms—which provides it with an overall orientation and shapes the forms its ‘strategic selectivity’ will take. This project is distinct from, and narrower than, the hegemonic visions by which the dominant bloc aims to unify the broader social formation behind its rule and which serve to legitimate state power.” Juan Carlos Monedero; “Snipers In The Kitchen” NLR, winter 2020

[4] David Ranney, “New World Disorder”

[5] There are a variety of arguments about whether Japan should be considered a part of this category.

[6] https://kersplebedeb.com/posts/a-threat-of-the-first-magnitude/

https://kersplebedeb.com/posts/further-thoughts-on-repression-by-don-hamerquist/

[7] “… we focus first on the ways in which movements against capitalist society and its disciplinary regime have functioned as motors driving capitalist development. We then examine the ways in which capital, by pursuing its own development, creates weapons that can eventually be wielded against it.” Hardt & Negri, New Left Review, 12/19 Issue

8] Hamerquist and Sakai; “Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement” (first published 2002)

http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2018/10/new-stuff-from-old-guy-part-1.html

[9]  Basav Sen, https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/27/the-terrifying-global-implications-of-Modi’s-re-election/

[10]  Basev Sen, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/09/why-the-trump-modi-relationship-is-so-dangerous/)

[11] I particularly question the application of Sen’s approach to Brazil. Increasingly, Bolsonaro’s subservience to the extractive wing of global capital and to neoliberal economics in general outweighs his regime’s more classically fascist characteristics. Particularly since it appears likely that, despite some rhetoric to the contrary, this social base is not capable of a break with bourgeois parliamentarism and legalism This leaves Bolsonaro’s regime essentially reversible in ways that wouldn’t be possible in an actual fascism. See https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2020/march/brazil-undone. Similar points are made by this earlier treatment of the changing status of the “Car Wash” prosecution: https://theintercept.com/2019/10/04/fearful-of-lulas-exoneration-his-once-fanatical-prosecutors-request-his-release-from-prison-but-lula-refuses/?    I’d also recommend this article on the recently collapsed Italian ‘populist’ coalition – particularly some of the later sections that detail the contradictions within the positions of both the Northern League and the Five Star Movement. Note that Salvini, the quasi-fascist leader of the temporarily victorious populist coalition appears to be well on the way to jail. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/10/04/the-revenge-of-the-elites/. Similar arguments and evidence are relevant for most of the alleged ‘fascisms’ in the Baltic and Balkan areas. It’s hard to see how even quite reactionary regimes can be defined as fascist, when they can lose governmental control and/or have key policies reversed by “legal” parliamentary means. However, this appears to be a feature of the ambivalent and sometimes contradictory relationships of most of these right-wing populisms with capitalist globalism.

(In my opinion the key issue in forecasting the likely trajectories of these ‘populist’ insurgencies and regimes is the presence or absence of an organized, autonomously radical reactionary mass base that can substantially define the political terrain. However, my factual knowledge in some of these cases is lacking and I intend to avoid hasty negative generalizations – particularly in light of India where the RSS does appear to provide such a mass social and ideological base for fascism.)

[12]   This is a paraphrase of Marx from the Communist Manifesto. The connection between this conception of essential limits for capital and Luxemburg’s theme of “Socialism or Barbarism” is clear enough.

[13]    I’ve taken the Thompson insight from some useful criticisms that Dave Ranney offered on an earlier article of mine that covered some of the same ground as this one does. https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=13622622&postID=8912449938511451385&isPopup=true&

[14] My reference here is far too casual. The constraints profit maximization puts on national and transnational capitalist state institutions and political policies should never be miminized. However, the investigations in this area must consider the complicated global context and the lack of the institutional frameworks that can discipline the competition between large blocs of capital and the stronger nation-states. These problems go directly to both the importance and the fragility of the recent Business Roundtable statement that would hopefully places “social responsibility above profit” and prioritize “stakeholders over shareholders.” https://www.businessroundtable.org/business-roundtable-redefines-the-purpose-of-a-corporation-to-promote-an-economy-that-serves-all-americans  .

[15] This approach to capitalist power comes from Marx’s conception of capitalism as a fetishized social order where an essential “expropriation” appears as “an exchange of equals” on the level of production; and the essential domination and subordination of those who are ruled occurs behind their backs, disguised by fictions of equality and democracy on the level of power. Also significant to Marx’s conception of capitalism is the opaque relationship between political rule and economic exploitation that is not a characteristic of other class societies. (See Capital, V.1, p.280.) The capitalist state functions to maintain and defend capitalism as a system, not as an appendage or tool of the capitalist class or some fraction of that class. Michael Heinrich is an important source for this position that challenges various instrumental conceptions of the capitalist state that are widespread among Marxists. Nate Hawthorne has a good exposition of Heinrich’s argument at LibCom: http://libcom.org/files/Michael%20Heinrich-%20State%20and%20Capital.pdf

[16] The Turner Diaries, a political novel, vintage 1980, by William Pierce, is the classic (Nazi) exposition of a fascist revolution in the U.S. It advocates the violent suppression of the “liberal” transnational sector of the capitalist class along with the destruction of capitalism’s institutional framework and its consumerist culture. The Turner Diaries has been a major organizing document for U.S. fascists, although its main theses are increasingly challenged by the more overtly anti-capitalist (as contrasted with anti-bourgeois) Strasserite “Third Position” advocates.

[17] “ … important segments of transnational capital, segments with substantial economic resources and real political strength that currently monopolize most of the levers of state power in the global capitalist system, are strategically hostile to populist nationalism of either left or right variants for very good capitalist profit maximizing reasons…When nativist populisms are pictured  as “ascendant,” growing and on the march. Who are they marching against? When populism wins an election somewhere, who “loses” it?  How can we understand Brexit, or Russiagate, the TPP or the Paris Climate Accord…without noticing that every arena of struggle against populist nationalisms includes major mobilizations by the transnational “economic elites” in their specific interests. Economic elites” that ultimately tend to wind up “winning” most of these battles…” http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2018/11/new-stuff-from-old-guy-part-3.html

18 Companies today face an existential choice. Either they wholeheartedly embrace “stakeholder capitalism” and subscribe to the responsibilities that come with it, by actively taking steps to meet social and environmental goals. Or they stick to an outdated “shareholder capitalism” that prioritizes short-term profits over everything else—and wait for employees, clients, and voters to force change on them from the outside. Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum Founder (Davos); 1/16/20 Foreign Affairs

[19]  https://opportunity.businessroundtable.org/ourcommitment/ If there is any question about the general and specific attitudes of the U.S. and global capitalist elites to such issues, check the signatories on the Business Roundtable statement. I’m linking a range of similar positions that include a Ted Talk by Seattle billionaire, Nick Hanauer; Martin Wolf’s recent critique of “rentier capitalism” in the Financial Times; Ann Pettifor’s essay in Prospect Magazine; and SalesForce’s Marc Benioff’s similar plaint:

https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_hanauer_the_dirty_secret_of_capitalism_and_a_new_way_forward

https://www.ft.com/content/5a8ab27e-d470-11e9-8367-807ebd53ab77  “Why rigged capitalism is damaging Liberal Democracy”, Martin Wolf, 9/17/19, Financial Times

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/high-finance-is-wrecking-the-economy-and-the-planet-but-it-wont-reform-itself-banking-wall-street-city-of-london  Ann Pettifor, 10/5/19, Prospect Magazine 

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/salesforce-founder-marc-benioff-says-capitalism-as-we-know-it-is-dead-2019-10-04  Marc Benioff, SalesForce, 10/4

[20] There is extensive literature available on these issues. Much of the discussion is critical of the basic Robinson/Harris concept of a transnational capitalist ruling class (and state); and their responses to these criticisms. I’m personally inclined towards the contributions of William Carroll, but I think that these questions should be regarded as open. I’ve linked a couple of useful sources, but many more are available. https://medium.com/@cartervance/marx-on-vacation-assessing-a-theory-of-global-capitalism-40f33e45e93f

http://financeandsociety.ed.ac.uk/ojs-images/financeandsociety/JCGS_3_8.pdf

[21] The FIRE sector is focused on monopoly-based “rents” and the revenue generating capacities of speculative manipulations of Marx’s “fictitious capital”, not commodity production. In monetary terms it is orders of magnitude larger than what is been termed the “productive” sector of capital and the disproportion is rapidly increasing. Some have expressed this relationship in Marxist terms as the supplanting of M-C-M’ by M-M’. (Wolfgang Streeck)

[22] An excerpt from a Financial Times editorial statement: April 4th, 2020

“Radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”

[23] The Platonic conception of Akrasia raises the factor of erratic and incompetent governance and highlights weaknesses of political judgment and political will within a society’s ruling strata that produce political behavior that is destructive to the longer-term interests of the political actors. Behaviours that run counter to the better judgments that are immediately available to political actors and their social group. We have a surplus of such ‘akrasia’ in the Trump phenomenon – but we should not overlook the concept’s relevance elsewhere – perhaps with Boris Johnson and Brexit; Modi in India; or maybe Bolsonaro and the ‘CarWash’ scandals in Brazil.

[24] “Russia and an assortment of right- wing populist ideologies, groups, parties – electoral and not; and some regional state formations…maybe including Trump, but certainly involving the Bannon ventures, are the new threat. It is an amalgam of mass nativist movements and right-wing electoral ventures with a salting of authoritarian state formations.”It is Trump, Orbin and Putin in alliance with the AfD and LePen, Spencer and Milo, and a scattering of leftist opportunists with propensities towards the authoritarian; presented as an international movement and a resurgent fascist danger by a significant sector of the transnational capitalist ruling class, with the help of a wide array of liberal and leftist ideologues…This is a framework for a “resistance” that is much more comfortable for transnational capital than any radical left opposition to nativist populism would be. It is a “resistance” that legitimates the entrance of transnational capital into the political arena under fraudulent “democratic” and “progressive” popular front branding, while its pursuit of maximized returns continues relatively unimpeded, insuring that the grievances that evoke populist responses are reproduced.”

http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2018/11/new-stuff-from-old-guy-part-3.html

[25] It’s good to see that there is some critical reflection on the social role of the “non-profit-industrial-complex on the left – specifically from some sectors of DSA. Consider this recent piece by Annabel Vera from Sacramento DSA.: https://www.sacdsa.org/blog/2019/10/22/beyond-nonprofits-toward-change/ Vera includes some references to other pieces that take a similar critical approach that I haven’t read. Perhaps it is a bit sectarian to note that some of the elements of these analyses of non-profits might be (but normally are not) included in a parallel critique of trade unionism.

[26] The flawed type of protest politics that flows from such analyses is well expressed in the following counterpunch excerpt: https://www. org/2019/10/15/citizens-must-remove-trump-from-office/

[27]  Ranney expands on his notions of ‘flailing and churning’ in his valuable book: New world Disorder. While I agree with the term as an overall description of the political situation, I would caution against any implication that the organized and planned elements of transnational capital’s efforts to stabilize its rule can be essentially disregarded in the development of a strategy for the left. I’m quite sure that Ranney would be in essential agreement on this point.

[28] The term, kakistocracy, the “rule by the worst”, gained public currency in 2018 when fired CIA head, John Brennan, noted the extraordinary level of collective and individual incompetence in the Trump administration and accused it of being a kakistocracy. Appropriately Brennan opted for a tweet to make his point. https://twitter.com/johnbrennan/status/984803286006951936?lang=en

[29] “In all evidence, Western rationality is reaching a new level that implies a leap in development. But it is also giving birth to new monsters. Modern technologies make it possible to penetrate human psyche much deeper and to install new identity. The economy is being dehumanized, while labor control efficiency grows exponentially. Modern workers are under tight surveillance, with their time clocked in seconds. Many other parameters can be monitored as well, from eye-pupil movements to brain activity. This efficiency is being gladly adapted to politics. Modern technologies can help alienate human beings from their proper nature and identity to an extent never envisaged by Marx, Fromm, Adorno, Marcuse and the critics of repressive rationality. While earlier Foucault’s freak show was limited to the human body, today it is penetrating human psyche” and may know about us much more than we do ourselves.” http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/twilight-of-the-west-the-new-totalitarianism/

[30] There are a couple of points that I would raise in such a discussion: Most obvious, there is a significant potential for parliamentary reversals in Sen’s examples. Such reversals appear to be in process in Brazil and Argentina. For these authoritarian societies, a capitalist ‘outside’ that depicts capitalism as a viable organization of society based on ‘individual rights’ and ‘legal equality’, will always provide a destabilizing pole that raises possibilities for purportedly democratic ‘colour revolutions’. In Russia and China, the attempt to maintain and extend political support through expanding domestic consumption, will underlie a variety of convergences with the oligarchic pseudo democracy of the ‘advanced’ capitalist countries.

Sen sees ‘authoritarian ethnonationalism’ as a part of a ruling class drive towards fascism. This entails a conception of fascism that is unmoored from one of fascism’s essential characteristics; an organized mass ‘revolutionary’ base, hostile to bourgeois culture and traditional elites, and politically and organizationally distinct from the existing capitalist authoritarian politics. None of Sen’s examples, except possibly India with the centrality of Hindutva and the RSS, include more than hints of such mass autonomous fascist movements. While both Sen and Giroux postulate the growth and eventual fusion of neoliberalism and neo-fascism, the actual political tendencies in Latin America and Eastern Europe appear to reverse this convergence and current developments in Chile, Ecuador, and Brazil, feature their disintegration and fragmentation. Consider this survey of Latin America: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/10/chile-in-flames-the-neoliberal-model-in-crisis-throughout-the-region.html.  It details a number of developments that are disrupting linkages between neoliberalism and neo-fascism. In contrast to their neofascist allies, the ruling class sectors identified with neoliberalism have extensive recent experience with wielding governmental power. They hold to the doctrines of market-centrism, privatization, the “American Consensus”, etc., more than to fascist principles. These sectors tend to respond to mass opposition with substantial concessions and are even open to breaks with neoliberal orthodoxy, although such concessions may be accompanied by episodes of police violence. This is not typical of fascists that have gained state power.

[31] There is extensive current reporting on the use of such techniques in response to COVID-19. They all indicate that the techniques will certainly outlast the pandemic.

[32] For most of the metropolitan left these Maoist Little Red Book adages are past their sell-by date and I shouldn’t leave them hanging without a justification. I’d begin with an argument from Wolfgang Streeck, mentioned in a previous footnote. (Cont.) No. 32, continued:   “It seems, however, that disorganized capitalism is disorganizing not only itself but its opposition as well, depriving it of the capacity either to defeat capitalism or to rescue it.” Wolfgang Streeck NLR, 2014

This strategic pessimism misunderstands the characteristics of all radical insurgencies. These involve, and indeed depend on, epistemological breaks where social actors emerge from passivity and assume political roles that would have been unthinkable “yesterday”. As Gramsci saw the process: “The boundaries and the dominion of the “force of circumstance” (cont.) (cont.) become restricted. But why? Because, basically, if yesterday the subaltern element was a thing, today it is no longer a thing but an historical person, a protagonist…necessarily active and taking the initiative.” Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 336-337

My argument here is elaborated in much more substantial detail in Badiou’s treatment of the Paris Commune in The Communist Hypothesis, p.205-225. Clearly Badiou is heavily influenced by the Maoist understanding that resistance is an inevitable response to all oppression, and that the resistance to capitalist society will be based on many factors in addition to the specific capitalist form of the exploitation of labor. Streeck’s error lies in his conception of how capitalism disorganizes its opposition. He understands how the countervailing force of social democratic trade unionism provided some impetus to capital’s adaptive development, but he assumes that the same institutions, the unions and ‘working class’ parliamentary parties, that ‘built’ modern capitalism in his view, provide the only possible framework for an anti-capitalist alternative to it. In fact, they provide the institutional and ideological framework in which potential challenges to capital are transformed into a social base for the working classes acceptance of “…their essential subordination”.

This general perspective explains why Streeck apparently thinks that the only possible framework in which an alternative to a collapsing capitalism can emerge is a revitalized parliamentary nation-state. It’s hard to see this as a revolutionary alternative, particularly since Streeck acknowledges that while such a revitalized nation state might be an instrument to overthrow capital, it could also be a factor in its rescue and revitalization.  https://newleftreview.org/issues/II87/articles/wolfgang-streeck-how-will-capitalism-end.

[33] If the global capitalist system falls into a recession or some other major crisis these processes are more likely to be accelerated than to be reversed. While such crises will certainly involve heightened mass repression, for the most part traditional (courts and jails) repression will be more clearly focused on a relatively narrow strata of radicals. The more dangerous aspects of repression, an increasing amount of which will be privatized, will employ the counter-insurgent techniques developed during the Cointelpro period: pseudo-gangs and encapsulated groups; organized promotion of incompetent leaderships; and the corruption of political discussion and debate.  However, in my opinion, more significant than such expansions and transformations of repressive policy – although clearly related to it – will be the various emerging ruling class initiatives to pursue and popularize a range of incorporative concessions.

[34] Some elements of a crisis of profitability will have features that relate more or less directly to crises of legitimacy; e.g.: a secular decline in the rate of profit; a rapid increase in social and economic inequality; and an increase in general indebtedness propelled by financialization. The emergence of critical tipping points in capital’s so-called ‘externalities ’that are features of the deferred social and ecological costs of capital production will further sharpen the contradictions between the transnational economic content of current capitalism and its nation-state-based forms of its domination. The “generalized failure of popular consent” is, and will continue to be, the overdetermined impact of the combination of all such factors.

[35] It was always a mistake for the anti-fascist movement to look at fascists as ‘boneheads’, but it was widely done. It would be a similar mistake, but a much more serious one, to take a similar approach to the capitalist ruling class.

[36] An elaborate version of the argument is presented by Ken Gude in an essay from the CAP/AEI’s, “Moscow Project”:  https://www.google.com/search?q=Ken+Gude%2C+Russia%27s+5th+Column&oq=Ken+Gude%2C+Russia%27s+5th+Column&aqs=chrome..69i57j33.26728j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[37] Contradictions around ‘identity’ might substitute for the left fault lines of the -70s that were exploited so effectively in the repressive projects of that period. This points to the importance of paying attention to political formations that combine and advocacy of reformist electoral politics inside the general left with the promotion of various internal disruptions of more militant sectors of it – typically around some question of identity. For example, consider the Stand-Up Republic group, a prominent non-radical component of the anti-Trump Resistance that also had cadre involved in a significant disruption of the IWW. As should be expected, this situation is not without its ambiguities, but we should expect that such ambiguities will always be with us.

Don HamerquistDon HamerquistDon Hamerquist

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