A Jobs Program to Defeat Trump

By Jon Rynn

November 13, 2016

The Core Problem: Trump Plays the Employment Card

fadfadfDonald Trump offered a solution to the problem of not enough good jobs, and Hillary Clinton did not.  That is the core of what happened.  Democrats need to offer a better solution than Trump, and then they will take the Presidency and the Congress.  Sure, he stirred up racism, sexism, xenophobia and other bigotry, but progressives are not going to compete to be the best bigot.  They can compete to be best at creating jobs, and by creating jobs they will clear away the bigotry.  I will argue that the best way to create jobs is to spend trillions on a massive green infrastructure building program, which will revive manufacturing and the Democratic working class coalition.

Let’s look at what Trump offered, and what Hillary did not.  One of the core parts of his rally speeches was a story: that he would threaten a company that was going to close a factory and go to Mexico instead.  He would tell the company that he would slap a 35% tariff (he called it a tax) on the imported goods from the factory that moved.  At the end of his story, the company backs down and keeps the factory and jobs in the United States.  He also promised to renegotiate bad trade deals, like NAFTA, that have destroyed jobs.  Both of these ideas, renegotiating trade deals and imposing tariffs on runaway factories, are to the left of most of the Democratic Party.  They appealed powerfully as a story of hope for people who have lost most hope.

The next batch of ideas are not good ideas, and progressives don’t need to deal with them:  attacks on immigration, rhetoric like the wall between Mexico and the U.S., and mass deportation.  These are obviously horrible.  But they are logically consistent and concrete (literally), an argument for creating jobs.

Democratic Party Deficits

wisconsinNow let’s look at Hillary’s ideas — actually, maybe we shouldn’t because they are pretty sparse and very wonky, and they bore me and just about everybody else in the country.  She said she would spend $50 billion per year on the infrastructure, which considering the state of the infrastructure is inadequate and wouldn’t lead to many jobs anyway.  She also talked about ending the tax break corporations get for moving factories overseas.  This is the same, small idea that John Kerry pushed out in 2004.  I am still furious about that one, because at the time there was a huge media spotlight on factories going overseas, and when he proposed to end the tax break as the solution the entire issue went floating away.

So clearly, we need, at the core of a Democratic/progressive campaign, a solution to the problem of not enough good jobs.  Other issues should be discussed, but jobs have to be at the center, and we need a concrete policy that people can readily understand.

An Alternative Economic Plan

bookcover17percentI would like to propose the idea of a massive program of rebuilding the infrastructure — on the order of one or two trillion dollars per year, not per decade.  Something large enough that it would clearly lead to tens of millions new jobs.  Something large enough, in fact, that it would not just lead to jobs to construct infrastructure, but would also lead to the creation of millions of new manufacturing jobs, and thousands of new factories.  This would not only pull in the non-racist part of the white working class (and probably many of the superficially racist), but also it would increase the enthusiasm of the black and Latino working class.  And rebuilding cities and suburbs would keep the college-educated/white- collar voters engaged as well.

I offer the following as constructive criticism: as important as a raise in the minimum wage may be, it is not enough to challenge the Republican domination of national politics.  Even health care, climate change, or changing the justice system, separately are not enough.  These issues can only be addressed if the economic problem is solved at the same time.  Otherwise, Trump and his successors will feed on the lack of jobs and pit segments of the public against one another.

The only way to guarantee that jobs will be created is for the Federal government to provide the funds to hire tens of millions of people.  What Trump offers is to keep the existing jobs by imposing a 35% tariff; but renegotiating trade treaties do not guarantee jobs because they depend on the vagaries of the market.  If you want the enthusiasm of both the white, black, and Latino working classes, you need to guarantee jobs, and only the government can do that.

There is certainly plenty to be done.  The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we need to spend over $2 trillion dollars just to get our roads, bridges, water systems, schools, etc up to an adequate level.  But I am talking about an entirely higher level of infrastructure rebuilding: to create a society that does not create greenhouse gases, in other words, a society that will prevent the worst of global warming.  If you look at my site GreenNewDealPlan.com, you will see how $1.7 trillion could be spent each year over a twenty year period, including plans for an Interstate Wind System, an Interstate high-speed rail system, a building boom of dense residential housing in city and town centers, transit, solar panels, and many other kinds of production that would then lead to a boom in manufacturing in this country.  In fact, the government could probably guarantee a job for anyone who wanted one.

So we can address two existential threats at the same time: mass unemployment (by fixing an economy that is leading to authoritarianism), and sustainable development (by creating a society that prevents global warming).

How Do We Pay for It?

bank_north_dakotaOne of the obvious objections to a massive jobs program would be that “we can’t afford it.”  How would we pay for all of this?

When the financial system was teetering on the brink of collapse, the funds were found to help the banks; basically the government simply created money, and nothing terrible like inflation happened.  The same thing can be done in order to fix the economy and create a large middle class.  And unlike bailing out the banks, this money would lead to real, concrete wealth, not changes in bank accounts.  When money is created to reflect new wealth, that money does not lead to inflation.  So most of the money to rebuild the country could simply be created, not borrowed.

Of course, we could also increase taxes on the very rich and on profits of the large corporations, and we could also cut the fat out of the military budget.  These could be part of a larger solution.  But I think the main way to get away from being dismissed as not being “serious” is to simply respond that we can do what private banks do all the time: create money. In fact, we could also create a network of public banks to create money.

If the infrastructure can be rebuilt without borrowed money and its attendant interest payments, then another innovation could change politics: the revenue from the new infrastructure, from things like wind-generated electricity, rents from new housing, or fare for high-speed trains, or interest charged at public banks, could be used to decrease or even entirely eliminate income taxes for the middle class.  Here is a way to do an end-run around the Republican Party and their constant blathering about cutting taxes.  Income taxes were originally designed to be only paid by the rich, and we could go back to that model if most of the revenue for the government came from revenue-generating industries that the government owned.

Why Planning Can Work

newdealnraOf course, many people in the Democratic Party would object that the era of big government is over, that nobody thinks the government can do anything right, and that the main strategy of the Democratic Party should be to capitalize on the fear of the bigotry of the Republican Party.  Well how well is that strategy working?

The Democratic Party has, frankly, become very pro-corporate, and their policies pretty much reflect that position.  In order to create a program to rebuild the country, almost all of the goods used to rebuild the infrastructure would have to be manufactured in this country. “Buying American” would be a rejection of free trade ideology and of many of the ongoing trade policies that Democrats have been supporting.  There is a central question that must be asked and answered. What do you want: (a) to be ideologically pure and help Trump create authoritarianism, or (b) to create a country with a thriving middle class committed to progressive causes and one that prevents the worst of global warming?

The idea of government has been trashed, from both the Right and Left.  From the Right, we have been told that the market can solve all problems, and that the government is the problem, not the solution.  From the Left, the government has been fought to stop horrible wars and resist encroachment of the national security state.  Many progressives have given up and don’t think the government could ever do anything useful again.  But we need to be reminded that throughout American, indeed, throughout human history, government has been at the center of economic life.

FDR was not the only president that used government to save the economy.  As far back as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, the government has been used to encourage manufacturing and infrastructure.  The original Republicans implemented a very strong program of building infrastructure, education, and trade protection.  Teddy Roosevelt and the progressives legislated necessary regulation of the market and protection of the environment, and even conservatives like Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower oversaw expansion of the national infrastructure.  Of course, FDR and the New Deal led to Social Security, support of unions, a massive jobs program in the 1930s, the creation of governmental infrastructure systems like the Tennessee Valley Authority and rural electrification, and support for agriculture.  All of these supports for the economy led directly to political realignments, as large sectors of the population saw the good that government could do for their daily lives, and we can build on this stellar history to reverse the conventional wisdom about government.

So what kind of political realignment would a massive green infrastructure jobs program kick start?  The Democratic Party would once again become the party of the working people.  New factories and the promise of more factories would not only revive white working class areas, they would transform African-American population centers in the inner cities as well, because the loss of manufacturing hurt African-Americans years before it hurt white communities.  Manufacturing decline is the root cause of income inequality. This is a multiracial issue, and the mantra of “manufacturing won’t come back” is not based on fact, it is an argument for decline of the United States and of the Democratic Party.  Either the Democratic Party implements some kind of program to revive manufacturing, or it will forever be lost in the wilderness.

The white-collar class wants rebuilt cities and a full employment job market, and they want a prosperous economy.  Even the rural areas should profit from a rebuilt infrastructure, because they are even more spread out than surburbia, which should also want a rebuilt infrastructure that is bankrupting their towns and counties.

With an infrastructure jobs program at its core, the Democrats could add various other important policy changes that would fit in with the core agenda.  Medicare for all would be easy to finance if everybody has a job.  Free public college, a high minimum wage, better policing, childcare, a decrease in the sources of bigotry, all of this can be integrated into a massive jobs program.

We stand at a crossroads.  If progressives and the Democratic Party don’t offer an alternative, the right-wing nationalists like Trump (and others in Europe and around the world) will offer an alternative, because regular conservatism and Clinton/Obama liberalism will not.  A progressive alternative is easy: use the government to rebuild the infrastructure and manufacturing, creating tens of millions of jobs, and ushering in a new era of progressive prosperity.

Jon Rynn is author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity.

 

Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and the Crisis of the Left: A Report on Marx 2016

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

“…having got into the university, English studies had within twenty years converted itself into a fairly normal academic course, marginalizing those members of itself who were sustaining the original project. Because by this time what it was doing within the institution was largely reproducing itself, which all academic institutions tend to do: it was reproducing the instructors and the examiners who were reproducing people like themselves. Given the absence of that pressure and that demand from groups who were outside the established educational system, this new discipline turned very much in on itself.”

Raymond Williams, “The Future of Cultural Studies,” in Politics of Modernism, London: Verso, 2007: 153.

Nationalists and Cosmopolitans
img_1867Today, Marxism is at a crossroads concerning the central split between a growing nationalist, xenophobic politics on the right and mainstream Neoliberal cosmopolitanism defined by concessions to globalization, immigration and the free movement of labor. The Cosmopolitan Crisis can be defined by the ways in which the Left objectively becomes an appendage of Neoliberalism or is unable to create a meaningful political space to its Left. This means that Leftists, without their self-conscious awareness, can potentially become aligned with the forces promoting a Neoliberal agenda. This alignment occurs when ideologies celebrating “difference,” “localized resistance,” or “determining structures” mitigate the possibilities for solidarity and comprehensive social change. The alignment is based in part on the role of academics in manufacturing the fetishism of resistance, the fetishism of difference and the fetishism of capital. While racism, patriarchy and capitalism represent constraints on democracy and equality, academics potentially fetishize their role as a way to promote their own representational power. Taking a page from Raymond Williams, this representational power is partially based on the decoupling of academic life from the real needs of those excluded from academic establishments. Before elaborating upon these mechanisms behind the Cosmopolitan Crisis, I want to first explicate the obvious but not always clearly understood fault lines which face us.

The dominant choices can be seen in the dualities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the U.S., Marie La Penn and François Hollande in France, or Jimmie Åkesson and Stefan Löfven in Sweden. The first in this group embraces right-nationalism, a symbolic embrace of the nation, racism, and varying degrees of a rhetorical critique of globalization. Trump recently argued that Hillary Clinton was guiding a “global power structure” which stacked the economy against the working class. Far earlier, in December of 2014, La Penn argued that Globalization was “a barbarity” and that the world was now “in hands of multinational corporations and large international finance.” Åkesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), belongs to a party that considers “ownership as a prerequisite for a successful society.” Their platform advocates “a controlled, responsible market economy.” Rather than debunk growth, they argue it “is essential to sustain our prosperity,” yet “must be balanced against the important social values such as public health, heritage, environment, social equity and national sovereignty.” In sum, all three of these xenophobic parties—the Republican Party, the National Front, and the Sweden Democrats—see a potential conflict between a globalized growth regime and national interests.

The leading alternative to the far-right is the Neoliberal center. In the United States, recent revelations attached to Hillary Clinton’s emails suggest that Wall Street leaders help determine who gets leading government posts. In France, the Socialist Government pushed a parliamentary measure supporting “a controversial labor proposal—which would give companies more power to fire workers and extend hours—without a vote.” In Sweden, falling unemployment, increased housing construction, and expanded exports have mitigated austerity. Nevertheless, even in Sweden 94 percent of the population now lives in a municipality where there is a housing shortage. This proportion has significantly increased in recent years. In 2015, 68 of 288 localities in Sweden had an unemployment rate of 10 percent of higher according to statistics complied by Ekonomifakta. Petter Nilsson of the Left Party has argued that the Social Democratic Party became less radical after the 1970s: “They set an inflation target, allow unemployment to rise, and Sweden becomes a traditional European country.” This helped the right-wing parties unite, which they had previously been unable to do. As a result, the right-wing bloc won “two elections in a row, which was unheard of before,” polarizing Swedish politics and leading the Social Democrats to feel that they needed “to win back the middle-class swing voters who went to the right-wing coalition.” Yet, the Left’s failures have helped sustained the right in Sweden over two parliamentary electoral cycles (2010 and 2014).

A central choice of the left is to remain wedded to narrow Cosmopolitan concerns so that it is coopted by the Cosmopolitan right or begin to adopt positions of the Nationalist Left so as to stem the far-right ascendency. Another key choice is to move beyond Postmodern, identity politics and embrace economic democracy as a social inclusion mechanism. Black Lives Matter has led the movement beyond the former and towards the latter in its recent policy proposals. Nevertheless, the hegemonic position within the Social Democratic and various parts of the academic left has been to embrace aspects of Left Cosmopolitanism combined with a belief in the power of unregulated globalization which is the Neoliberal agenda. This position means that migration, diversity, and a discourse centered on gender and ethnic inclusion are prioritized with less attention paid to capital mobility, industrial policy, national or local anchoring of jobs and managed trade relations. Although some on the Left critique globalization, many champion its contributions to growth and poverty reduction in India and China. They rhetorically align themselves with the agenda of transnational corporations which help destroy jobs in the North by promoting business opportunities in the South. Others are critical of outsourcing, but see the nation state as passé with “international solidarity” the cure all for global capitalism. While there are merits to aspects of these stances, the inability of the Left Cosmopolitan discourse to convince voters to cease supporting the far-right should give us pause.

harold-washingtonSome who argue that identity politics and class politics are not mutually exclusive point to Harold Washington’s tenure as mayor of the City of Chicago and aspects of the Rainbow Coalition movement.  Yet, Washington was the exception to the rule, with his administration emphasizing the importance of manufacturing, reindustrialization and a proactive politics to encourage equitable economic development. Today, identity politics has very little connection to the interests promoted by Harold Washington.  Mel King, the original founder of the Rainbow Coalition idea was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who ran for mayor of Boston and the U.S. Congress.  One of his principal economic advisers was Bennett Harrison, a professor at MIT who co-authored The Deindustrialization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment and the Dismantling of Basic Industry.   Throughout his life Harrison made links between a progressive vision of reindustrialization and economic development to the problems facing African Americans.  Yet, the strain of thought represented by Washington, King and Harrison is almost non-existent in contemporary visions of identity politics.  In contrast, William Julius Wilson, through various books like The Truly Disadvantaged and When Work Disappears, zeroed in on the links between factory closings and the economic underdevelopment of African American communities.

The Cosmopolitan Crisis of the Left
rue4Left Cosmopolitanism without Left Nationalism will lead to the ascendancy of Right Cosmopolitanism. Within the U.S., the Left has begun to debate the merits of winning over Trump voters. The Clinton campaign’s celebration of diversity and Wall Street, many Brexit supporters’ mutual hostility to both multiculturalism and globalization, suggest the fault lines. The price of support for an anti-racist stance is usually Neoliberalism, with the exception to the rule being the campaigns of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn. While Green parties offer a third option, they are often limited by their inability to avoid a spoiler stigma (as in the U.S.) or their vicarious dependency on larger Social Democratic parties (as in Sweden). In both cases, Green parties are trumped by Right Neoliberalism or political parties in allegiance with dystopian fracking, coal or militarist interests. Even where Corbyn attempts to bridge the gap between Left Cosmopolitanism and Left Nationalism, the quality of some Left Cosmopolitans’ debates with Right Nationalists threatens to erode his support or legitimacy. The current contest centers on various charges that have surfaced in The Guardian, The Independent and The Telegraph that Corbyn is soft on anti-Semitism. While much (if not all) of the argument may be without substance, the capacity to launch such claims is partially dependent on a politics that cannot distinguish between anti-Semitism and hostility to Israeli policies. This predicament potentially infects the Left and the right.

Given this background, a central question for Marxism (or even anarchism) now becomes whether it will function as a de facto ally of the Neoliberal regime which it purports to nominally despise. This de facto alliance can occur in three possible ways that can be classified by distinct mechanisms.

The first occurs when the “scientific” analysis of objective realities and material conditions clouds interest in potential change. For example, class analysis simply revolves around “bourgeois sociology,” innate descriptions of occupational categories rather than (also) the proactive mobilization of groups. A central mechanism here is historicism, in which the power of given circumstances trumps free will and social movement power. Anarchists tend to be freer from this mechanism than many Marxists as a key part of their lexicon builds on the study of past and present social movements.

The second occurs through voluntarism in which strategies or theories of social change potentially do next to nothing or insufficiently challenge the concentrated military, political, economic and media power of established elites or ruling classes. A central mechanism here is magical thinking and the superfluous investment in badly designed social movements which actually maintain the alienation of the “multitude” or potential publics from actually accumulating power in any systematic fashion. Here many anarchists have a potentiality to fall into the naïve voluntarist trap. This trap is the fetishism of resistance, i.e. the resistance to the status quo in spaces marginal to the system is held up as the fulcrum point for social change. In contrast, one could better argue that social change occurs as movements systematically accumulate political, economic and media capital dispersed through diverse spaces.

The third occurs when concerns for oppression related to gender, racial (ethnic), or refugee status displaces an analysis of actual political problems or solutions. This can take the form of “victimization studies” so popular among students of ethnic studies and related academic niches, i.e. a “structure of feeling” in which empathy trumps strategic ideas about how to de-victimize a group by empowering it. A central mechanism here is the fetishism of difference or the valorization of difference in which academics, journalists and politicians turn difference into a kind of exchange value for power accumulation in their respective spheres. While the reality of racism and patriarchy does create differences, these differences can be manipulated when a cultural politics substitutes for economic reforms or an inclusive politics of economic equality.

In the Cosmopolitan Left version of this problem, solidarity with the oppressed becomes a way of distancing one’s self from the potential “victim’s” real situation, e.g. empathy substitutes for empowerment, a discourse about rights and solidarity (something apparently promoted by “social movements”) substitutes for discussions of specific designs for mechanisms to give people actual economic, media and political power. So-called “anarchist” deconstructions of “social engineering” from above end up displacing participatory planning to both redesign and remake institutions from below. The Left potentially suffers from an inability to “connect the dots,” to link problems of militarism, climate change, economic inequality, and xenophobia by over or under-stating the relationship of capitalism to these problems, e.g. the economic is privileged over the relative autonomy of the (militarist) state or racism is decoupled from an analysis of proactive, democratic economic power.

In Europe, one tendency is for parts of the anti-racist Left to copy the worst aspects of sectarian, American-incubated New Left politics of the 1960s and 1970s—so much so that Europeans are actually behind actual U.S. political developments. In the Swedish context (held up by many in the U.S. as a shining example), no variety of Left academic discourse has readily led to a practical politics stemming the tide of the far-right ascendancy and the actual marginalization of many communities in the “New Sweden” (a term used to define a country defined by growing ethnic diversity). Unemployment rates for immigrants far outpaces that of natives. In the American context, the aforementioned debate about “winning over Trump voters” that we now see in some circles is about a year (some would argue decades) late. Two recent books related to this question, one by Jon Rynn and the other by Brian D’Agostino, have been systematically ignored because the Left cultural elite was disinterested.

bdAnother variant of the fetishism of difference occurs when the class factors leading to support for the Nationalist Right are simply reduced to racism even though there is evidence suggesting that supporters of Trump, Swedish Democrats, and Brexit are partially motivated by class reasons (rejecting globalization or tied to unemployment) and not simply racism. For example, one poll shows that in the Brexit case, of those believing globalization was “a force for ill,” 71 percent supported the leave position. In contrast, among those believing globalization was a force for good, only 49 percent supported the leave position. These figures don’t discount the fact that Brexit supporters were more likely to dislike multiculturalism, feminism, and immigration than Brexit opponents. Yet, these forces may be associated with cosmopolitan-sanctioned globalization and indifference to the working class or those most marginalized by automation, outsourcing or skills shifts.

In the case of Trump, one of his greatest sources of support was white registered voters, without a college degree.  Many Left commentators, backed by mainstream political science and journalism, argue that racist attitudes or the peculiarities of “white people” best explain Trump’s rise. Thomas Edsall, in an August column for The New York Times, has confirmed a conclusion that I have shared with my colleagues, namely the ways in which Trump has exploited the limits of Clinton’s politics (and vice versa). As he writes: “the Trump campaign — both through the support Trump generates among working-class whites and the opposition he generates among better educated, more affluent voters — has accelerated the ongoing transformation of the Democratic Party. Once a class-based coalition, the party has become an alliance between upscale well-educated whites and, importantly, ethnic and racial minorities, many of them low income.” Even if attitudes related to race drive Trump support, we know that many whites don’t support Trump and that winning over those that do might help break down race divides that empower the Nationalist and Cosmopolitan rights. The Pew Research Center’s July study found that among Trump voters, 90 percent said the economy was “very important,” in contrast to 80 percent for Clinton voters. Trade policy was also more important to Trump voters (64 percent listing it as very important) than to Clinton voters (58 percent listing it as very important). Jonathan T. Rothwell’s comprehensive study on Trump voters has been used by the Left to downplay class and inflate race explanations for Trump’s rise. Yet, even Rothwell writes: “Among Republicans who favor Trump, 58 percent oppose trade deals and 57 percent oppose reforming immigration. By contrast, among Republicans who do not support Trump, 42 percent oppose trade deals and 28 percent oppose reforming immigration laws.”

The Ascendancy of the Nationalist Right
karl-marx1Against this backdrop, we turn to the Marx 2016 conference held in Stockholm on October 15th and 16th of this year. The conference was a follow up to the Marx 2013 conference three years ago. Some of the challenges posed by the Cosmopolitan Crisis were addressed by one of Sweden’s grand classical Marxist thinkers, Göran Therborn, author of The Killing Fields of Inequality. Therborn argued that the present moment was “not a time for agitation,” but rather “critical thinking.” A key element of such thinking has to account for how the 2008 financial crisis produced results that were “relatively unexpected on all sides.” One aspect of the unexpected was worker resistance at an extensive scale, including strikes and other forms of political mobilization in Greece and Spain as well as the global Occupy Movement, which traveled far beyond its epicenter in Zuccotti Park in New York City. In Spain, the Indignados movement was able to transform itself into the Podemos political party. Greece saw the rise of Syriza. Yet, Therborn says that these movements were crushed.

One explanation was given by Arto Bohos Artinian, a conference panelist from the City University of New York. He argued that not only the Occupy movement but also electoral politics each potentially suffered by constraining the terrain on which political battles have been waged. His account is a contribution towards deconstructing the fetishism of resistance. He explained the “energy” of the Occupy movement “has largely dissipated precisely because we did not figure out a way to generalize, to introduce that struggle in the state, in places of work, or extend it across larger parts of urban geography.” In contrast, he said “the demands of struggle on the intermediary (operational) level point in the direction of abandoning parliamentary politics as the main organizational tool of the left.” We should similarly not rely too much “on organizations optimized for tactical struggles (most anarchist structures, or as in the U.S., various leftist protest movement organizations who move from one protest campaign to another).” While these ideas were discussed, they did not enter the mainstream concerns of plenary sessions.
Therborn noted another unexpected (for some) tendency which is the rise of far-right political movements throughout Europe and the United States.

Presently, the National Front has the allegiance of the largest share of workers in France. In Sweden, the working class membership of SD comprises about half the working class membership of the Social Democrats, i.e. the far-right SD is the second largest working class party in Sweden. My own analysis of Swedish data shows that in 1988 the votes garnered by all parties to the Left of the Social Democrats was 4459 percent of the vote for the far-right SD. By 2014, that share narrowed to only 122 percent. Data compiled by Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou published in The Political Quarterly (July-September, 2014) support Therborn’s concerns. In France, the National Front’s share of the vote for the European Parliament increased from 6.34 percent in 2009 to 24.86 percent in 2014. In the United Kingdom, UKIP’s share increased from 6.09 percent to 26.77 percent. In Germany, the far-right got only 1 percent of the vote in 2014.

Why this “Socialism of fools”? One reason may be the absence of a socialism of non-fools. As Therborn explained, no government or political party in any rich country has attempted to systematically tackle the problems of inequality. At the same time, the ruling class elites in the IMF and World Economic Forum recognize that the increase in inequality is a potential political problem. Yet, “there are no barricades,” which has sustained the continual redistribution of wealth upwards. Kate Soper, at the London Metropolitan University, asked perhaps the most important question of the conference: “Can Marxism do more than say what has gone wrong?” She noted the problem of historicism by suggesting that a Marxism which succumbs to fatalism is problematic in its lack of ideals.

One basic problem centers on how conceptions of identity, and hence potential social mobilization, have emerged as alternatives to conceiving an alternative vision for the design of contemporary society. Therborn pointed to several key categories. The first category—class—has become problematic given a fragmentation of occupational groupings. Part of the fragmentation is based on systemic deindustrialization, beginning in the mid-1960s onwards, which has eroded “the clarity of the working class.” In the wake of deindustrialization, the middle strata has taken on a new importance. This strata has sometimes aligned with the people against the oligarchy and other times with the oligarchy against the people. In contrast to a colonial reaction to imperialism, modernity in Europe emerged from internal class conflicts, organized for example by trade unions. Other scholars, like Barbara and John Ehrenreich, have pointed to the rise of a professional managerial class (PMC) with contradictory interests to support and oppose the system.

Vivek Chibber, another plenary speaker, argued that academics in this class have promoted arbitrarily divisive ideologies. He echoed the concerns of the political theorist Adolph Reed regarding how concerns over race and ethnicity are manipulated by a political strata (tied to the PMC) that mutes the possibilities for trans-ethnic or multi-racial coalitions, i.e. the problem of the fetishism of difference. Kate Soper implicitly noted that the PMC is engaged in a politics of consumption which reproduces dystopian climate change (explaining that we should not blame Chinese workers for the cheap goods that they are producing and instead maintain a critical stance towards the consumerist life style). Socialists’ embrace of “the good life” reproduces capitalist ecocide.

Therborn said that race and religion, key forces shaping contemporary identities, have been under-theorized by the Marxist tradition. In contrast to a simplified notion of religion as the “opiate of the people,” Therborn said that religion is now reinforced in various parts of the globe and impinges on social conflicts. Evangelical and Pentecostal sects have “radiated out,” being successful in recruiting poor working class people in places like Brazil, Guatemala and Nigeria. Likewise, a global Islamist movement has emerged, rapidly expanding its political capital and reach. These tendencies potentially polarize the political landscape and complicate the ability to build a social movement analysis simply based on class. They also show us how social mobilization actually occurs in non-class-specific formations. When it came to gender, Therborn mentioned August Bebel’s book Women and Socialism, the second most read Marxist book of the Second International.

Nationalism, as suggested earlier, is becoming a central category, leading Therborn to ask: “Why does the nation have an appeal?” His answer is that for social or economic losers, the nation offers “a home in a strange world.” In a commodified world, the nation is “one of the few things you don’t have to pay for but that you have a right to.” In contrast, the nation is being challenged by both “cosmopolitan elites” and “cosmopolitan diasporas.” Nations have even become stronger, despite globalization, with increased surveillance, greater controls on the population and an increased capacity for gaining revenue. The nation may offer security for some, but there has been a “dark history” attached to “the racialization of class.” A common theme in the conference was Marx’s writings about Ireland and how ethnic (or racial) divisions in the working class have strengthened the ruling class and weakened the labor movement. Nevertheless, Friedrich Engels wrote to Karl Kautsky on February 7, 1882: “I hold the view that there are two nations in Europe which do not only have the right but the duty to be nationalistic before they become internationalists: the Irish and the Poles.” Thus, the Irish question does not simply have a Cosmopolitan reading, but also a nationalist one. Yet, the Marxist legacy on nationalism is partially ambiguous. It is far more fruitful to analyze different varieties of nationalism.

Alternatives to Right Nationalism and Cosmopolitans I: The Trap of the Politics of Resentment
SDIf the Left cannot come to grips with why working class people act as they do, they will not make much in the way of inroads against the Nationalist Right. With nationalism, the nation intervenes to displace the impacts of a class-based, class conscious politics. Rather than “class consciousness,” we get what Therborn called “class resentment.” Rather than being based on “a sense of collective identity,” built on skills, capacity and hope for collective change, we get an “individualized” sense of injustice in which the enemy is not capitalism, corporations or the ruling class but a “social establishment.” A critical observation of Therborn was that xenophobia, which feeds the far-right, is an expression of class resentment, not just racism. He thereby argued that while we must “have respect for refugees suffering from UK and US invasions,” there is also a group of persons who do not benefit from immigration and free trade. This reality is part of the project of updating 19th Century Marxism with 21st Century realities.

Therborn’s observations led me to ask, “how can the Left offer something to SD-type supporters rather than just degrade them as racists and fascists?” Therborn replied that supporters of La Penn and Trump should not be dismissed simply as “racists.” Rather, we need to address such persons “in a new way,” beyond the language used in the 19th and 20th Centuries. We need to “attack the reason for class resentment” through “a new political style.” He took some inspiration from the Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders campaigns as progressive alternatives. The rhetoric of the far-right and these politicians seems to share “the refusal to follow the conventional rules” as “an important part of their appeal.” In contrast, other politicians “sound boring and out of touch with ordinary people” (a fate that seems to characterize the right Cosmopolitans). Podemos also was built on a kind of political charisma. At least one member of the audience gave a Left Cosmopolitan reading of Therborn, deconstructing him as somehow negative towards migration. While Therborn noted immigrant workers’ contribution, he also argued that such a stance was hardly sufficient, i.e. such a solidarity politics does not necessarily address the politics of resentment. Thus, there is nothing wrong with solidarity per se, but notions of solidarity become a problem when they displace a proactive politics that can stop the far-right’s ascendancy.

Alternatives to Right Nationalism and Cosmopolitans II: Democratization of Space and Time
bertolt-brechtThe democratization of media space might be of interest to Marxists worried about the far-right’s ascendancy. A countervailing model could be seen during the Occupy Movement, when a self-organized media spotlight was serially shifted from one Occupy venue to another using channels like Livestream. In contrast, the Global Teach-In was able to link several Occupy and affiliated locations in real time, helping to mobilize thousands of local activists in the U.S., U.K., Sweden, and elsewhere, who debated questions concerned with economic democracy, demilitarization, and ecological renewal. Nevertheless, Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a leading left journalist, argued that Marxists should not analyze the media. Rather, they should come up with new facts and “say what society should look like.” Nevertheless, a recent academic study shows that “the media effect shows to be more important for the SD compared to the other parliamentary parties, similar in size.” The Swedish media, led by the public television network SVT, has given tremendous media exposure to this far-right party and helped legitimate it (even and especially when debating it). While providing an analysis of various class fragments, Ekman did not address the problem of a (subjective) class for itself, but rather focused on the (objective) categories of a class in itself, i.e. occupational categories and other objective distinctions. The problem is that the Swedish Left’s ways of organizing are dysfunctional, driven by the deconstruction Ekman may be concerned with but also by a failure to organize properly. So how class manifests itself in actual movements is critical.

Christian Fuchs, author of Reading Marx in the Information Age, was given a potential platform at the conference for expounding on how new media might be deployed in a revolutionary fashion to address the various ecological, economic and postcolonial contradictions of the contemporary era. Yet, Fuchs instead preferred a kind of Talmudic decoding of Marx’s work in a lecture that was hard to fathom. Any radical media theory worth its salt must confront the fact that the representational power of media is based on a kind of exchange system involving economic circuits of power. The mass public is relatively alienated from these circuits in mainstream media, the economic form of which Marx describes in Volume 1 of Capital (which was Fuch’s primary concern). Popular culture, once viewed by the American Left as showcasing popular (progressive) dissent, nevertheless showcased Donald Trump. Fuchs’s book has zero reference to Bertolt Brecht, one of the left’s signature theorists of the proactive power of media. Brecht explained that citizens could create new spaces for social mobilization if they creatively used the media to organize (via mass-to-mass communication). Instead, contemporary Left media and most academic formats simply reproduce the spectacle of point-to-mass communication. Facebook’s innovation was to turn point-to-point communication (linking individuals and potentially bypassing elite broadcasting media) into a kind of do it yourself spectacle. Now we can alienate ourselves without depending on the broadcasting power of big media. The fetishism attached to either economic power or media power without reference to the creation of the new spaces specified by Brecht is a dead end. While Brecht may be beyond Fuch’s concerns, one has to question why deductive readings of Marx are more important than synthetic applications of Marx.

The deductive tendency was exemplified by another speaker, Elena Louisa Lange, whose talk was entitled “What Marx’s Critique of Vulgar Economy Can Teach Us Today.” Fuchs correctly explained that “economy is a social relation,” but expressed disinterest in analyzing a “post-capitalist system.” She also argued that cooperatives will not eliminate capitalism. In contrast, her co-panelist Paul Raekstad was more concerned with the “prefigurative” spaces which potentially create what C. L. R. James called, the Future in the Present.  Raekstad explained a principle which was ensconced in the early thinking of the American New Left, i.e. the idea that the way we organize and politically act today, our “social relations” and “culture,” should embody the future society we want to create. Raekstad linked Michael Lebowitz’s concerns with alternative spaces and Carl Boggs’s writings on “prefigurative communism” to the practices of the Occupy Movement and the equivalents in Europe previously addressed by Therborn.

Lange countered by suggesting that Raekstad was “too optimistic about human agency.” According to Lange, it was not human beings but rather “capital” which “is the subject of the historical process” for Marx. Lange emphasized the problem of “the fetishism of commodities” as a counterpoint, but it is not apparent what this really means. Capitalism devalues human agency, appearing to eliminate it through: abstract exchanges of finance, spectacular displays of commodities in which workers’ inputs are concealed, and by reducing labor to an object of capitalist decision-making. If anything, prefigurative movements potentially constitute a counter-culture antagonistic to commodity fetishism, a point duly noted by the New Left but neglected by those Jon Gerassi once called “technicians of the Left.”

The Left itself promulgates the fetishism of capital by failing to see commodity fetishism and “capital” as the other side of alienated relations. For example, the landlord is the other side of our investments in rent. The traditional job is the other side of our labor time investments in non-democratic spaces. The spectacle is the other side of our investment in what Stanley Aronowitz has called “colonized leisure.” Each investment is the other side of a potential alternative to the way our capacities are deployed. Academic Marxism potentially inflates the decision-making power and role of the intermediaries of landlord, capitalist, bureaucracy, media corporation, etc. by denying the capacity for de-alienation. When I asked Lange about de-alienation she suggested this was nothing of interest to Marx (or the latter Marx), apparently embracing Louis Althusser’s distinction between the early Marx focused on alienation and the “mature” Marx focused on capitalist operations. This distinction is the holy writ of the fetishism of capital and the elixir of historicists everywhere. In contrast, Seymour Melman, in his book After Capitalism, explains how dealienation (tied to cooperatives) provides a mechanism beyond such fetishism.

Alternatives to Right Nationalism and Cosmopolitans III: The Capacity for Industrial Policy and Cooperative Networks

shaik-bookWhile historicism should give us pause, so too should voluntarism. Anwar Shaik, a key plenary speaker, addressed the conference by explaining themes attached his new book, Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crisis. In an extensive conversation with Shaik preceding the conference, I asked him a series of questions about the capacity of either cooperatives or industrial policy to create alternatives to the present Neoliberal economic realities. Shaik’s position was that on the one hand the Left has distanced itself from a discourse leading to proactive actions vis-à-vis key centers of capitalist decision-making, but also that the opportunities for remedial action are potentially constrained by basic laws of capitalist accumulation.

Eric Kaufmann, in “The Politics of Immigration: UKIP and Beyond,” published in The Political Quarterly, argues that beyond economic and cultural explanations for the rise of the far-right, we must consider “a third possibility,” which is the role played by integration. With increased integration, we reduce “the number of people whom the ethnic majority perceive as ‘outsiders’ and thus moderating their sense that…‘Britain feels like a foreign country.’” One potential mechanism for integration has been industrialization, as when migrants gained jobs in what some call the Fordist wave of migration. Deindustrialization helps destroy a major bridge into the “middle class,” or higher waged jobs of the working class.

One question is whether industrial policy could promote the industrial base that facilitates integration. Robert Rowthorn and Ramana Ramaswamy in a paper published by the IMF link deindustrialization to productivity growth in the manufacturing sector rather than North-South trade. In contrast, Will Kimball and Robert E. Scott argue in a paper published by the Economic Policy Institute that “Growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs, 2.4 million (three-fourths) of which were in manufacturing.”

While capitalism has promoted uneven development and thus segregation, a comprehensive social inclusion program could be promoted even under capitalism. Yet, it is not clear how this can be discussed simply by referring to Marx’s work other than to say that a Marxist reformist political program includes provisions for mobilizing economic power and directing social movements to gain concessions from the state. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels advocated changes in state policy including: “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax,” “centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly,” “centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State,” “extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing of cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the social generally in accordance with a common plan.” Therefore, the idea that an industrial policy is somehow impossible is not a Marxist proposition.

A key argument these days is that with dramatic automation social policy should turn to new niches opening up in the service sector. Consider two limitations to this line of analysis. The first is that even if factories radically reduced their total number of employees, producing the same amount or more per a given unit of labor, the factory deploying robotics becomes a source of significant wealth. The wealth of the growing robotics industry has been described by a Boston Consulting Group study: “spending on robots worldwide is expected to jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025.” Therefore, a cooperative ownership of firms making or deploying robotics would create one portion of a pool of capital to organize work and hence promote integration. I don’t see this on any Left agenda because the main tendency is to deconstruct the robotized economy.

bookcover17percentA second problem is the strategic role of manufacturing vis-à-vis services. Jon Rynn, author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity, explains: “A country can’t trade services for most of its goods. According to the WTO, 80% of world trade among regions is merchandise trade — that is, only 20% of world trade is in services. This closely matches the trade percentages that even the US, allegedly becoming ‘post-industrial,’ achieves. If in the extreme case an economy was composed only of services, then it would be very poor, because it couldn’t trade for goods; its currency would be worth very little. The dollar is also vulnerable in the long-term. A ‘post-industrial’ economy is really a pre-industrial economy — that is, poor.”

Independent of the causes of deindustrialization, economic decline has been associated with the rise of far-right parties. Historically, an analysis of “171 elections in 28 countries between 1919 and 1939” found that economic depressions were significantly correlated with political support for fascist parties. In Sweden, a statistical study showed a significant correlation between support for SD and unemployment. OECD statistics show that from 2004 to 2011, the number of persons employed in manufacturing decreased by 17.7 percent in the U.S., 14.9 percent in France, 9.1 percent in Sweden and 1.7 percent in Germany. Data compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics showed total manufacturing declining during this period by 22.1 percent in the UK (from 3,293,000 to 2,564,000 jobs). The rank of the biggest winners for far-right votes (in the EU parliamentary election of 2014) among these countries was Britain first, France second, Sweden third and Germany last. The rank for the most manufacturing jobs lost (2004-2011) followed this same exact pattern.

If inserted in this list, Austria’s far-right parties got 17.29 percent of all voters in the 2014 EU election (behind the UK and France but ahead of Sweden). Yet, Austria lost only .3 percent of manufacturing jobs during this period. In contrast, Denmark’s far-right party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) got 26.6 percent of all voters in that election, ranked behind UKIP but ahead of the National Front. Yet, Denmark lost 16.0 percent of its manufacturing jobs, i.e. behind the UK and ahead of France. The only outlier in this group then is Austria which became a leading destination for refugees during the refugee crisis in 2015. An analysis by Jan-Werner Müller explains that Norbert Hofer’s far-right Freedom Party “is drawing growing numbers of workers away from the Socialists, who in the eyes of their former constituents have made too many concessions to free trade and immigration.”

In theory, an industrial policy which developed green, sustainable industries anchored in local states would deflect aspects of the far-right’s appeal with industrial workers. Yet, the ability to develop such policies is likely to be constrained by the logic of capitalist competition. At the conference, Shaik explained that “the regulative concept of capitalism” must address the logic of “the aggressive, warlike firm.” Under capitalism, firms try “to kill each other like the mafia.” These competition wars give rise to patterns which we can investigate and which Shaik describes in his book. In contrast to the claims by Paul Baran and Sweezy in Monopoly Capital, which echo Rudolf Hilferding’s work on Finance Capital and Lenin’s Imperialism, Shaik argued against the notion of stability in the economy centered on hegemonic power of individual firms. Each firm is subject to new challengers, even if there are lags between the dominance of the newest challenger and the power of incumbents. One way this war is expressed is through business cycles. Another way is how the attacks on the social contract during the Neoliberal era have helped decouple wage and productivity gains. Shaik discussed how workers’ movements have helped redistribute wealth from economic elites downwards despite the competitive logic of capitalism.

Nina Björk, a leading Swedish left journalist, also emphasized the importance of class politics, rather than just embracing anti-racist sentiments. Capitalists try to lower their costs, hence attempt to lower wages. A competitive society and ethos has strengthened in which people view their relations with others as a zero sum game. While noting the Swedish state’s apparent diminished capacities to influence the growing social divisions within society, she identified an alternative “socialist” society. This society was based on a utopian vision embracing not just political (or electoral) democracy, but also economic democracy. While not offering much of any details about how to gain economic democracy, Björk at least pointed to one potential element of a new kind of third way beyond the cosmopolitan and nationalist rights.

Some of these details were described by a film shown at the conference, “Can We Do it Ourselves?,” produced by Patrik Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, André Nyström and Nils Säfström. The film pointed to the productivity advantages of cooperatives, their ability to promote democratic wealth accumulation and generate jobs. In contrast to democratizing space, Kate Soper argued that “work is the main drain on peoples’ activity” and so should be a focus of political agitation. While sought after, work is often disliked. In contrast, a “reduction of work” is a “threat” to capitalist agendas. We are caught in a “work and spend treadmill.” Rather than “return to a simple life,” we need to embrace green technology and to utilize consumption that bypassed established financial institutions. While Marx was “alert to the downside of capitalism,” he “did not take on climate change” as a problem. Soper implied that some Marxists invested too much in Marx’s own writings about climate change and needed alternative references to inform their politics. She also argued that “degrowth is not an immediate option.” Rather, she embraced a vision more informed by reconstructionist concerns for conversion of dystopian militarist and unsustainable technologies.

capital_and_the_debt_trap_bookCan we reconcile the cooperative utopian vision with the competitive constraints that Shaik has emphasized? Recent studies have shown that cooperatives remained resilient in the wake of the great 2008 financial crisis. At the conference, I picked up a copy of the transform!, the European journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue. In this the volume (11/2012), an article by Erik Olin Wright, “Class Struggle and Class Compromise in the Era of Stagnation and Crisis,” explains that against the backdrop of the current Spanish economic crisis, “Mondragon has fared much better than most of the rest of the Spanish economy: only one of the 270 cooperatives in the group has had to be dissolved.” One reason for such resiliency is Mondragon’s “system of cross-subsidization of less profitable by more profitable cooperatives, which acts as a buffer when times are difficult.” Solidarity and commitment to the enterprise is reinforced by “the common stakes of workers in the cooperatives.”

Alternatives to Right Nationalism and Cosmopolitans IV: Militarism and the Refugee Crisis
warAs noted above, one basis of the far-right’s power has been its political mobilization around the refugee crisis. This crisis in turn is rooted in militarism, something discussed by Lucia Pradella, a lecturer at King’s College in London. Pradella linked the bombing of Iraq not only to the creation of millions of refugees, but also the extension of a global reserve army of labor. She argued that Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis were the “main victims of the permanent war of the West.” The immigration deal between the European Union and Turkey has forced immigrants into more dangerous routes via Libya and increased deaths in the Mediterranean. Fortress Europe makes migration both more dangerous and expensive, yet simultaneously intensifies the exploitation of all workers. Institutional racism, austerity and restructuring (triggered by capital mobility and automation) are part of a cycle of factors triggering class divisions.

Pradella argued that while Corbyn was elected as part of an anti-austerity movement and originally spoke before a 50,000 person rally in solidarity with refugees, he increasingly has become co-opted. Pradella claimed that Corbyn’s pro-European Union stance allowed right-wingers to maintain their political monopoly in the pro-Brexit campaign and further allowed that campaign to be coded as racist. Corbyn’s actions, Pradella claimed, helped shift debate in the United Kingdom to the right. Pradella linked Corbyn’s actions to ideas of “progressive patriotism” and views by the Left journalist Paul Mason which appeared to cheerlead for migration restrictions. She claimed that the Labour response to racist attacks of the Conservative Party have been weak. In contrast to “progressive patriotism,” Pradella argued that migration has transformed the working class through “new relations of friendship and solidarity.” Migrant workers in Italy and Germany have become part of a militant labor force. Rather than support any version of (even Left) nationalism, Pradella celebrated Left Cosmopolitanism and an “internationalist program.” In the face of a “global crisis,” a global movement is the necessary response. Notions of “sovereignty” and “nationalism” have been bad for the Left she argued.

I asked Pradella whether the Left could talk about how to more efficiently and equitably integrate immigrants rather than just say we need more or less migrants. I pointed to a politics of scarcity which helps contribute to intra-class divisions. I also asked her why the Left could not talk more about demilitarization. In response, Pradella argued that “the politics of scarcity” was a neo-classical explanation of the crisis. In other words, the real material effects of scarcity manufactured by elites can be imagined away because it does not have to exist. Pradella also claimed that “migration is here to stay,” which is just another way of saying that it is impossible for the National Front to win an election and seize state power. By arguing that “workers are international, not national,” Pradella believes that uneven development has zero political impact on the serial struggles of working class people manifested in bids for national state power across the globe. The state is just a fiction because capitalism is somehow globalized. Pradella argued that migrants’ leadership in the antiwar movement, evidenced by the role of Palestinians in Britain’s anti-intervention movement, somehow shows an enlightened Left anti-militarism.

These explanations are hardly convincing. In fact, Robert Stuart author of Marxism and National Identity, writes that “the fin de siècle witnessed Marxism’s transformation from a cosmopolitan congeries of militants into an international association of national parties.” Such “emergent ‘socialist-nationalist’ organizations” did not ignore the national question. Nevertheless, increasingly parts of the Left seem to parrot lines that come from Johan Norberg’s In Defense of Global Capitalism and Philippe Legrain’s Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them or Neoliberal celebrations of the free flows of capital and labor.

In Sweden, the Left’s inability to figure out how to combine ethical arguments with economic ones about scarcity reduction led to immigrant curbs. The Social Democrats push for labor standards against the right’s argument that lower wages help ethnic integration. In the British context, studies argue automation rather than migration is a greater threat to employment. Nevertheless, in September Corbyn “rejected calls for immigration curbs by a growing number of Labour MPs,” and favored “harmonization of wages and working conditions” as the key to winning public support. Irrespective of the economic merits or demerits of migration, Pradella is part of a Left that does not focus much on the details of improving the integration system. Even if immigrants are needed, these needs are often decoupled from concerns about economic equality. A Cosmopolitan embrace of free labor movement, tells us little about why Britain is such a segregated society. In May of this year, Ted Cantle argued that British society was “increasingly dividing along ethnic lines—with segregation in schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces,” creating risks that fuel prejudice. Like Sweden, the integration system is not working well. Thus, being open to immigrant entry hardly has meant being open to immigrant aspirations.

One way to meet these aspirations is through social policies. A recent study by Patrick Emmenegger and colleagues, “How Rich Countries Cope with Deindustrialization,” published in The Age of Dualization, explains that “politics and political choice” are central “in driving and shaping the social outcomes of deindustrialization” as governments respond to deindustrialization in “different ways.” Therefore, “while increased structural labor market divides can be found across all countries, governments have a strong responsibility in shaping the distributive consequences of these labor market changes.” They believe that “insider-outsider divides are not a straightforward consequence of deindustrialization, but rather the result of policy, that is, of political choice.” These comments are significant for those supporting some form of income support in lieu of reindustrialization.

These policy options (supporting measures that might improve integration and win over far-right voters) are tied to the fate of welfare states. If weakening welfare states diminish the probability of successful integration, one might analyze the opportunity costs against this growth. During the same time span (2004-2011) when various countries were deindustrializing (and far-right parties were gaining political fuel), data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that the U.S. spent $5,375,502 million, France $520,729 million, and Sweden $51,153 million (in 2014 dollars) for their military machines. In 2011, France’s total population represented only 80 percent of Germany’s. Yet, over the 2004-2011 period Germany spent only 73 percent of what France did on its military, i.e. $379,348 million (in 2014 dollars). Together with diminished tax revenues, the military budget represents the other side of constraints on the welfare state. As Seymour Melman, the industrial economist and defense critic, once explained: “it is of great importance to see the magnitude of a military budget as a capital fund, that is, a military budget which when used sets in motion exactly the source of resources which in the industrial enterprise are called fixed capital, working capital.” The former term, “fixed capital,” means the money value of land, buildings, and machinery. The latter term, “working capital,” represents “the money value of everything else that has to be brought to bear to make the industrial enterprise work.” The money expended on military budgets “as a capital fund” can be compared with other investments.

During Marx 2016, however, not all speakers were uniformly concerned with the opportunity costs of militarism. One reason may be a certain blind spot on this question, despite the contributions of various Left analysts from Rosa Luxemburg (who was profiled at the conference) to Karl Liebknecht (who was not). In the book, Dialectics of War, Martin Shaw writes that “the model of ‘capitalism’ derived from Marx offers no more direct, basic recognition of war than that of ‘industrial society.’” Marx articulated the separation of civil society and the state common in the 19th Century, while “later Marxism confronted the twentieth century experience of war by adapting the model, to theorise about the state, imperialism, and nationalism.” Yet, the deploying of these words has allowed “their users to skirt round the problem of war by examining the wider economic, political and ideological relations: rarely the social process of war itself.” Marx himself saw the military as a sphere potentially shaping economic relations somewhat independently from other forces. In a letter to Engels on September 25, 1857, Marx explained how the army was “important for economic development,” with armies being the mechanism used by the ancients to “first fully develop a wage system.” Militaries represented “the first use of machinery on a large scale.” Moreover, “even the special value of metals and their use as money appears to have been originally based—as soon as Grimm’s stone age was passed—on their military significance.” The armies first carried out “the division of labour within one branch.”

Of all speakers, Gilbert Achcar at the University of London, was most concerned with the impacts of militarism. He analyzed how militarism, together with globalization, helped shape the political contours of the Arab Spring (and by extension the refugee crisis). Achcar traced the Arab Spring to very low rates of growth before the uprising and record levels of unemployment. Yet, nations touched by revolt were unlikely to reform without violence because they were “patrimonial states,” i.e. dissimilar to states which separate the ruling class and the state. As “ruling families own the state,” the state became “a praetorian guard of these regimes.” In other words, militarism represented a major constraint on democracy. The state was essentially privately owned by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya as it is now owned by Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The militarized and privately controlled character of these states mean that they are “unlikely” to experience “smooth and rapid” change. In sum, these states will defend the power and “their class and group privileges until the last soldier.” The Cosmopolitan celebrations about the Arab Spring as a potentially peaceful transition were therefore based on an illusion. In contrast, a revolutionary period taking several decades will be necessary. The process of change in these societies, Achcar argued, will be “very difficult and will be very bloody” and this transformation “will go on for a very long time.”

The role religion plays in escalating tensions must be seen as part of a larger process defined by the hierarchy of states and hence militarism. Islamic fundamentalism is not simply a quasi-religious phenomena. Rather, while having a foot in the nationalism of the Middle East, it “became the tool of the United States and the Saudi kingdom” in which their alliance served as “an ideological weapon against Soviet influence, Communists and the Left.” Israel played a role in constraining Arab nationalism during the 1967 war when it dealt a key blow to Left, nationalist resistance. In every Arab country, Achcar explained, right-wing elements “used Islamic fundamentalism to counter the Left.” With the defeat of both the Old Left and newer student Left, Islamic fundamentalists came to fill the political vacuum. Sometimes they collaborated with the established regimes, as the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt. Elsewhere they clashed as in Algeria, Syria and Tunisia.

Achcar explained that there was some truth to the idea that social media could counter the fundamentalists, as when young people used social media to organize rallies in the so-called “Facebook Revolution.” The problem, however, was that virtual communication in the Arab Spring simply served as a poor compensation for durable physical networks. Yet, “you can’t win elections in countries with poor [Internet] penetration rates” or oppose the “repressive apparatus” without this very “physical formation,” i.e. face-to-face organizing. In contrast, to the social media-dependent Left, the “Islamic contenders” had such sustained face-to-face mobilization. In fact, the Islamacists first joined the uprisings as part of a bid for power and clashed with the old regimes. Yet, their actions were essentially a move to co-opt such uprisings as many later supported repressive measures.

The Arab Spring and its aftermath has posed a dilemma for U.S. military planners. They recognize now that Iraq was “a major defeat.” Now Iraq is a kind of proxy or ally with Iran, which has become “enemy number one.” As a result, the lesson learned by U.S. and aligned military elites is what has been called Saddamism without Saddam. The planners now seek to keep the hierarchical, militarist state in place within the Arab world, by simply attempting to depose the ruling (and unpopular) figureheads. This now explains the U.S. strategy in Syria and Yemen and why the U.S. has vetoed the distribution of anti-aircraft weapons in Syria.

Conclusions: Towards a Reconstructive Left
the-future-is-usEssentially, Achcar’s talk helps explain a potential context for a continuing flow of refugees. The instability of regimes in the Arab world, supported in part by U.S. actions, helps contribute to the power accumulation system measured in NATO support, military budgets and arms exports. Together with Israeli militarism, NATO expansion drives, and the dystopian aspects of NATO and Islamic fundamentalists, we have a formula for continued military spending in North America, Europe and beyond. Such spending robs the welfare state which could promote social inclusion and integration, hence militarism contributes to an environment in which the far-right flourishes. The ability to provide a Left alternative to this downward spiral is constrained by Right Cosmopolitans whose lack of racism helps legitimate their support for militarism, globalization, weak solutions for climate change, outsourcing and free-wheeling management decisions to automate without the social control of business. Yet, the resulting negative economic conditions generated by Right Cosmopolitans helps feed their far-right counterparts. These militarist and globalist agendas similarly weaken alternative policy streams attached to more systemic investments in a Green New Deal and renewed infrastructure spending for mass transportation, alternative energy, and urban planning and telecommunication regimes which reduce the expenditures on energy or carbon-based fuels. Militarism and nationalist competition depletes equitable economic development and green technology sharing on a global scale.

The only real alternative to these mechanisms is a Reconstructive Marxism, Anarchism or Social Democracy which would honestly address the root causes of problems in militarism, the absence of the social control of business and the lack of a new ecological regime. Reconstructionist tendencies exist in the U.S., Britain and Sweden. While industrial policy and state investments from above and economic and electronic democracy from below could play a potential role here, each is limited by analytically determinist claims and epistemologies focused on what capitalism does to us rather than what we can do to capitalism. Essentially, we are partially reliving an era of epistemological determinism (similar to Stalinism) in which people are not free to choose in given circumstances. Some also falsely believe in resistance measures which simply leave status quo power accumulation mechanisms in place.

The epistemological (or philosophical) problem is central. In 1947, Dwight MacDonald’s journal Politics published Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay, “Materialism and Revolution.” In this essay, Sartre took up themes that would later appear in Search for a Method. At the start of the essay, Sartre tries to show that both “idealism” and “materialism” appear limited. By “idealism” Sartre means a kind of abstract set of theories not rooted in actual material conditions. In fact, some “recognize that this philosophy functions as a myth in the hands of the ruling class.” It is associated with abstract “rights and values that are already given,” concealing from an individual “his power to devise roads of his own.” Of “materialism” he writes, to most youth “the principles of materialism seem false: they cannot understand how matter could engender the idea of matter.”

Idealists who believe in abstract rights and materialists who swear by objective processes both potentially sacrifice the revolutionary imagination. In contrast, Sartre helps explains that the contemplation of what is not (what could be called utopian designs for society), helps limit what currently is: “What actually is a value, if not the appeal of that which is not yet?…The revolutionary philosophy must above all explain the possibility of transcendence: and obviously it cannot draw its resources from the purely material and natural existence of the individual, since it turns against this existence to judge it from the standpoint of the future. This possibility of detaching oneself from a situation in order to take a point of view concerning it (a point of view which is not pure cognition but indissolubly comprehension and action), is precisely what we call freedom. No sort of materialism will ever explain this transcendence of a situation, followed by a turning back to it.”

The active creation of new institutions to transform the status quo, the idea that government is based on active participation by the people, and the ability to conceive of alternative designs for existing institutions are subverted by an idealist belief in the status quo, voluntarist fetishism of resistance and the historicist fetishism of capital. While deductive readings of Marx offer a critique of that status quo, only a synthetic approach can overcome the twin pitfalls of voluntarism and historicism.

Jonathan Michael Feldman can be reached at @globalteachin on Twitter. The author thanks Steven Colatrella for helpful comments.

Deconstructing The New York Times on “The Bernie Sanders Revolution”

March 13, 2016, Revised March 14, 2016.

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

A New York Times editorial published on March 12, 2016 faults Sanders for claiming that a political revolution is either desirable or operational.  They write: “revolutions are typically bottom-up, not top-down events.” They also note: “there are not enough elected office holders in Congress or in statehouses to carry out his revolution through new laws or policies.”  This limitation represents “the big difference between running an inspiring campaign and actually governing.”  The formula here is that revolution is a function of governors and not the pressure that a social movement inspired by a leader can bring on elected officials.  Yet, the history of the United States shows how various social movements can successfully challenge legislators and make changes in policy.  The Civil Rights movement is a case in point, having charismatic leaders who led massive social movements to effect change.

The counter-argument to this claim is twofold.  First, Sanders is just running a presidential campaign and not necessarily directing a social movement.  Is this claim accurate?  Sanders has thousands of followers, a detailed mailing and fund-raising list, organizing staff, discrete policy messages about a number of social issues and problems, etc.  His campaign has all the ingredients for a social movement and is in fact based on various social movement actors. For example, when activists mobilize to shut down Trump rallies such episodes represent a social movement action and some portion of these activists are supporters of Sanders.

The second counter-argument is that activities like the Civil Rights movement took place when the Democratic Party had a lot of power in statehouses and the U.S. Congress and now the situation is different.  This counter-claim is supported by the Times when they write: “should Mr. Sanders win the nomination and the White House, he would very likely inherit a Democratic Party whose numbers in Congress have sharply dwindled and whose proportions in state legislatures–the farm team for potential national office holders–have likewise declined.”  Now, in contrast, “the oldest members of both the House and the Senate are Democrats; the youngest in both chambers are Republicans.”

This second argument is weak for many reasons.  One reason is that large parts of the Democratic Party, before the ascent of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, were tied to a politics of segregation and racism.  Another reason is that the very young Republicans now in government positions are partially there because of a social movement linked to the T-Party.  As The Wall Street Journal explained recently in an article entitled,  “Grass-Roots Anger Transforms Republican Party in Congress and Presidential Campaign,”  local movements are challenging political leaders:  “insurgent uprisings rocking the Republican Party in Congress and the presidential campaign are creating heartburn among establishment party figures, who worry an unguided fury will keep the GOP from reclaiming the White House next fall. But that same turmoil is eliciting cheers from many in the party’s grass roots, who, far from fearing the turbulence, think it serves their burning desire to force changes in the government.”  The very youth of the Republican Party cannot be detached from social movement action: “This ground-up rebellion is shaking a party long dominated by seniority that habitually elevates the next person in line. This is particularly true in the presidential primary. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the last two GOP presidents and the early favorite among the party’s establishment voters, has failed to generate enthusiasm among the grass roots.”

Of course, one might argue that the T-Party phenomena is limited to right-wing grassroots action, with little implications for the Left or the Sanders movement. This is hardly true when it is the Sanders campaign that is most attracting younger voters.  In Michigan, Sanders won 81% of the youth vote, with Clinton getting only 19%.  If we turn to the United Kingdom, we see Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for leadership of the Labour Party, his success and related movement support, has led to a dramatic expansion in the number of Labour Party supporters.  As The Guardian explained in one news story: “Corbyn’s campaign has also been helped by a surge in new members and supporters who paid £3 to take part in the vote, leading to a near-tripling of those eligible to about 550,000 people. Throughout the campaign, he addressed packed rallies and halls, where he had to give speeches outside the buildings to crowds gathered in the street.”  Likewise, Sanders has led numerous rallies, mobilizing in one sense thousands of supporters throughout the United States.  While Corbyn runs to the Left of Sanders, the similarities between the campaigns should not be underestimated.

Another argument by the Times is that “Sanders’s own political career illustrates what can happen when a revolutionary has no ground troops.”   In his 25 years in Congress, they argue “he hasn’t gotten many big things done.”  Being “an uncompromising political independent, his outsider status has largely prevented him from attracting the support that would be needed among Democrats to turn into law his liberal ideals on health care, on college education and on fighting poverty and climate change.”

In this particular paragraph of the editorial, there are again numerous problems.  First, Sanders now has more “ground troops,” in contrast to his 25 years in Congress. Second, the idea that “getting things done” is always virtuous is belied by the trajectory of President George W. Bush who–by getting things done in Iraq–helped waste and destroy thousands of lives and trillions of dollars and also helped give rise to ISIS.  In contrast, if Bush got fewer things done, the United States would have been stronger militarily, economically, and politically.  Third, the idea again is that mobilizing young and progressive people is somehow bad for getting young and progressive people in Congress.  This line of thought is clearly illogical and shows how the editorial seems to be grasping at straws.  It almost seems like an intellectual form of desperation to make points that invert realities. As Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker explained: “With Sanders winning young voters overwhelmingly, his campaign may eventually be seen as an incubator for the Party’s future politicians.”

Towards the end of the editorial, the Times suggests that President Obama, like Sanders, created an electoral apparatus outside of “traditional party structure,” but failed when he could not reverse the growing tide of Republican Party support. Yet, Obama did not mobilize the millions of Americans on the Obama campaign’s mailing lists but rather killed “the Obama movement” as soon as the election was over.  Obama did not create ways to organize the social movement or consumption power of millions of voters.  He did not support mass rallies and marches against Republican retrenchment.  He did not put empowering trade unions at the forefront of his first months in office, but took up other concerns.  He did not back some kind of community action programs which would have used government money to empower local organizing campaigns or try to raise money for such campaigns by organizing a series of speeches that supported local organizing efforts.  He did none of this while the T-Party was busy generating a mass movement to help take over Congress.

At the end of the editorial, the Times praises the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements and sees them as a potential base for future Democratic Party support.  Yet, the former movement could not offer a comprehensive program linked to a legislative agenda  making it a weaker vehicle for social change. In fact, the Sanders campaign builds on some of the themes of that movement and so to set the two in opposition is somewhat misleading. So too is the attempt to suggest that Sanders has little to do with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Sanders slowly has taken up many themes addressed by that movement including police repression, the prison-industrial complex, and the very need to create social movements to combat racism and poverty.

It is true that there is a need for a social movement support system that operated in concert with but independently from the Sanders campaign, giving it a more critical direction.  Such a system could  complement the routines of electoral politics with other forms of economic, media and political action.  Electoral politics in itself as Sanders acknowledges will not change much.  But so too will traditional social movement activity not change much unless it develops new strategies and designs.  The counterfactual argument that working within the system through pragmatic deals changes much is belied by Obama’s trajectory and the relative success of the T-Party and Corbyn revolution.

Do Not be a “Fifth Column”

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

April 28, 2016

FAHLSTROMThe Logic of Subversion:  Capitalism, Fascism, and Democracy

Some parts of the Left or apparent Left have used the term “Fifth Column” to describe their activities.  The term is used on a Facebook page to describe one such group.  While social media may not have a large impact on mainstream society, it does inform the thinking of various activist networks (for better or worse).  Therefore, some analysis of this term and the larger phenomena seems warranted.

At the outset it is worth considering the following propositions. The first proposition is that the choice today is between “socialism or barbarism.”  These choices might be exemplified between the choice between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  The second proposition is that capitalism is one step away from fascism.  This choice is exemplified by the support which capitalists gave fascists, with companies like IBM a key reference point.  The third proposition is that capitalism was promoted by revolutions that advanced the power of the “bourgeoisie” and democratic spaces, rights, and capacities.  Which of these propositions makes sense?

The first proposition seems true enough, except if Sanders looses the election then the choice will not be between socialism and barbarism (like it or not).  Thus, thinkers like Noam Chomsky suggest voting for Clinton in this scenario.  One reason might be that a divided Left in pre-Nazi Germany led to the ascent of fascism. Of course, the Left may have better choices in Sanders, but opponents of Sanders and supporters have severely constrained their options given the way his campaign has been organized or those opposed to him have failed to organize.

The second proposition has elements of truth, but the main problem is that capitalism may be one step away from socialism or economic democracy.  This is because capitalism contains within it the seeds of its own dissolution. The spaces exist in cooperatives, networks of consumers, and other ways in which networks come together and organize public goods or cooperative or public energy companies and the like.

The third proposition has value in that it represents the dual character of the contemporary moment, creating possibilities for progress and regression.  The strategic problem, however, is the need to exploit the spaces suggested by the second proposition.  This exploitation is not based on the language of espionage, secrecy and hidden subversion but rather the language of mass engagement, participation, and mobilizations tied to organizing.

Why Does the Left Adopt Slogans Used by Fascists?

The origins of the term “Fifth Column” are tied to a description of fascist supporters who were thought to undermine Republican Spain (the anti-fascists). Therefore, I don’t think progressives should use this term to describe their own activities. The idea that the Left is some clandestine group on the margins is also a very bad starting point. Notice how the campaign of Bernie Sanders does not take on this idea of self-inflicted marginality, clandestine cult and the like. Part of these sentiments may be linked to Third Worldism and the inspiration some on the Left take from insurrections there. This inspiration is very much based on a misinterpretation of reality. Frantz Fanon described media influences in a way in which “majorities” and not “minorities” were won over. Therefore, it is not sufficient to argue that Sanders is a tool of the “non-revolutionary” pseudo Left or other such reductionism to counter my main point.  I would hardly describe Sanders in this way because he is opening up spaces for social change and–if the Left had its act together–could be pushed further to the Left.  Fanon was decidely favoring the Algerian Revolution, which did not turn out so well given that Algeria is hardly emblematic for supporting cooperatives and progressive social experiments today. Today Algeria is authoritarian, so we must think also about what Fanon did not say.

I think the real Fifth Column today are the far right groups which are trying to undermine the aspects of democracy which are left in advanced capitalist states by floating and promoting racist and marginalizing ideas (in the United States and Europe). In other regions of the world, fundamentalists play a similar role. The idea of military or espionage like subversion as the key tool of social change lends itself to Bolshevik and Leninist type analysis which has long been criticized by critical Liberals and anarchists alike as well as Social Democrats. Leninist itself has been criticized by those on the Left like C. L. R. James, Arthur Rosenberg or Noam Chomsky. Parts of the Marxist left are unaware as well of the capacities for mass social change within the rules or spaces of the established system in part because they use bad theories, deploy bad designs and are bad (uncreative) organizers. The cult of being different and subversive tends to be reinforced by the self-marginalizing identity politics sponsored intellectually by branches of Neoliberalism and the liberal elites as a way to allow critical persons to let off steam without changing much.

An Alternative to Fifth Columnism

An elegant statement of an alternative view of politics comes from C. L. R. James in his essay, “Every Cook Can Govern.”  Here he describes how spaces for democratic engagement can be a natural extension of the capacities that each human being has to be responsible, to think, and to contribute to society.  Similar ideas appear in the work of Seymour Melman discussing cooperative economics or Gar Alperovitz explaining a variety of democratic openings in the contemporary United States.  Similarly Lewis Mumford also addressed how various spaces for democracy compete with undemocratic spaces throughout contemporary society in advanced capitalist states like the United States. He makes this argument in the book, In the Name of Sanity.  There, Mumford argues that democracy “is necessarily most visible in relatively small communities and groups, whose members meet frequently face to face, interact frequently, and are known to each other as persons.” In contrast to the idea that technocratic rationality and concentrated power forecloses most options under capitalism, Mumford writes: “even when paying tribute to the most oppressive authoritarian regimes, there yet remained within the workshop or the farmyard some degree of autonomy, selectivity, creativity.”

Political repression may convince some persons that the best path to system change is to take on the appearance of a secret agent or underground spy.  Yet, counter-revolutions are most easily opposed by active, public, mass engagement.  This opposition can be seen in the relative success of non-violent movements, although the fight against British colonizers or Nazis were not pacifist fights.

Will the 2016 Election Really Save the Middle Class?: The Real Cause of Income Inequality

February 7, 2016

By Jon Rynn

Bernie Sanders has stirred the passion of many voters by concentrating on the problem of growing income inequality. Inequality, he points out, leads to stagnating and declining income for most people. The higher income for the top 1% completely distorts the political system. With more power for Wall Street and billionaires, politicians who depend on the rich and powerful for campaign funds pass more bad policies, leading to even worse income inequality, in a vicious cycle.

Thomas Piketty’s book about inequality showed that income and wealth inequality have been getting much worse over the last half-century. There seems to be a “positive feedback” process occurring, that is, the most powerful people accumulate more and more income-producing assets, and this greater wealth allows them to gather yet more wealth. “Positive feedback” is the process that occurs in nature and in engineering that leads to quickly escalating gains, such as when a microphone feeds back and starts screeching. Growing income inequality is our economy screeching.

Manufacturing, on the other hand, is the economic sector that turns off the “positive feedback” of income inequality in the economy. Manufacturing does this in a couple of ways. First, manufacturing generates so much wealth that a middle class can develop, as happened in the 19th century. Before that time, what little surplus wealth was generated was grabbed by the ruling elite, and almost everybody else engaged in the toil of farming. But the surplus that manufacturing creates can also be taken by the ruling elite, leaving everyone else in the same boat as before. However, the second reason manufacturing leads to a middle class is that manufacturing requires high skill levels — which is why Germany now, and the United States before, have had comfortable middle class families working in factories. When people have high skills — assuming they can organize, as in unions — then they have power, and with power comes better income and better income equality.

So a country that has manufacturing has more wealth, and more economic and therefore political power for a large part of its population, what is known as the middle class. But if the manufacturing sectors starts to decline, then so does the wealth-generating power of the country, as well as the power of the middle class. And thus we find that the United States is declining in power and in its middle class. By not focusing on the role of manufacturing in the economy, both Sanders and Piketty miss an opportunity to explain the phenomenon of income inequality that they are describing — and they have trouble proscribing effective solutions as well.

Income equality, and manufacturing, both peaked around 1968 in the United States. Manufacturing has almost always been the quintessential middle class sector because manufacturing employs about the same percentage of the workforce as the income it receives. In 1968, 25% of the workforce was engaged in manufacturing, and 25% of the country’s income went to manufacturing. On average, in 1968 people in manufacturing received the average income of the economy. No other sector can boast this “middle class-ness”.

For finance, insurance, and real estate (abbreviated as FIRE), in 2009 these industries employed only 5.7% of the work force, but received a whopping 21.5% of national income.   Therefore the average person in FIRE made almost four times the average of a working American (these figures come from data from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis).

On the other hand, if you total up the hotel, restaurant, health, and retail sectors, you will find that in 2009 these lower-income service sectors employed 30% of all workers, but received in income about 20% of the nation’s income. Thus, on average, a worker in a low income sector received about 2/3rds of the average income. And this is an average — if you take out the doctors and other highly paid professionals from these sectors, the rest of the workforce has even lower income.

From 1968 to 2009 the manufacturing sector declined from one quarter of the economy — every fourth working person — to about one in every 11 people, a decline of about 16% of the total employment pool.   Where did those people go? Most of them went into the lower income service workforce, which grew from 12.8% to 20.5% of the workforce (and many others stopped working altogether). So, on average, the people that moved from manufacturing to low income services lost 1/3rd of their income, if not more since most were not the highly paid professionals in those sectors. In mainly white communities, these are some of the people interested in Trump and suffering from high death rates. In mainly African-American communities, the loss of manufacturing is the economic crisis that has been decimating African-American communities for decades.

While many communities were being devastated by factory shutdowns, about half the income drop of manufacturing (from 25% to 11%), was scooped up by FIRE (from 14.2% in 1968 to 21.5% in 2009). Most of the rest of the income was claimed by what are called professional, technical, and scientific services (from 2.4 to 7.6), where on average people are also highly paid. This professional sector accounts for about one quarter of the loss of manufacturing employment (moving from 2.1% of the workforce to 5.6%). Because of this shift from manufacturing to professional income, many in the Democratic Party focused on professional voters instead of working class voters.

Thus, there has been a movement of people from middle class manufacturing jobs to lower middle class and lower class service jobs, even within the higher average service sectors, while at the same time income moved to smaller, non-manufacturing sectors, particularly FIRE, and particularly to the “ruling elite” within FIRE.

The decline of manufacturing in the United States is usually framed like this: “Because of globalization and automation, manufacturing is never coming back.” I will address the nature of globalization and whether ‘manufacturing is never coming back’ in subsequent posts, but automation is not the reason manufacturing in the U.S. is declining.

Manufacturing is automation. That is, manufacturing is the process of people using machinery to create goods, including other machinery which can then be used for making more machinery and goods. When people use the word “automation,” they are generally referring to using some kind of computer technology within the machinery used for production. Computer technology is another form of machinery, and is in turn made by people and machines. But more importantly, there is no sharp break in capability that computer technology has brought to manufacturing. For the entire 20th Century, the productivity increase of manufacturing, that is, the value of goods that a particular value of machinery could produce, has been going up by about 3%, at a pretty steady rate, and computer technology has not significantly increased those gains. The German middle class has been doing very well, even with computer technology, because the German government intervenes in the economy in order to support manufacturing. Although the share of manufacturing in Germany has been going down over the last 40 years, it is still at around 20% and forms the basis for their prosperity. Moreover, a recent assessment by Bernard S. Bernanke at the Brookings Institution found that “in 2014, Germany’s trade surplus was about $250 billion (in dollar terms), or almost 7 percent of the country’s GDP,” continuing “an upward trend that’s been going on at least since 2000.” Manufacturing has therefore continued to contribute wealth to German society which conceivably can be partially taxed or redistributed to lower income earners.

Throughout history, and even at points in American history (for example, Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln), the government has made manufacturing the focus of national policy. There is nothing inevitable about the decline of manufacturing, in the U.S. or anywhere else.

The rise of FIRE and the decline of manufacturing are linked, because the increased profits resulting from the imported manufactured goods that used to be made in the United States now go to the top 1% or so, where much of FIRE resides. That is, when goods are made in China, and sold in the US, the profits eventually wind up in FIRE and with billionaires, instead of going into the pockets of middle class manufacturing workers in the US. With those greater profits, FIRE and the billionaires indulge in the positive feedback processes of accumulating greater and greater economic and then political power, leading to growing inequality.

By the late 1990s, this financial power led to a further positive feedback loop, as the government deregulated the financial industry, allowing for the emergence of the “too big to fail” banks, leading to our financial oligarchy of five or so huge banks and a bunch of hedge funds and their billionaires. Thus, Sanders correctly calls for breaking up the banks, to roll back this “positive feedback” process. Trump, too, has used what used to be called “economic nationalism” to call for tariffs (or taxes) on imported goods to encourage manufacturing, and both Sanders and Trump are against the TransPacific Partnership, whose passage would continue a long tradition of destroying the manufacturing sector. However, both politicians do not explicitly get to the bottom of the problem: we need to rebuild the manufacturing sector, which will simultaneously decrease the power of FIRE and increase the power of the middle class.

Of course, Bernie Sanders would fight for policies that are much more progressive than Donald Trump. But I fear that unless we start to attack the root of the problem, and in particular unless progressives make rebuilding manufacturing a central plank of their platform, there will be more and even worse Donald Trumps to come.

Even calling for the rebuilding of manufacturing is much easier than laying out policies to do it. I think that the US has passed a point of no return, and the government must step in and directly encourage a manufacturing renaissance by rebuilding the American infrastructure. That is the topic of the next post (you can see a more detailed look at this and other issues in my book chapter, “A green energy manufacturing stimulus strategy,” available at jonrynn.com, and also look at plan details at GreenNewDealPlan.com)

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to Rebuild the American Middle Class, parts of which are available for reading at ManufacturingGreenProsperity.com.

Learning About The Past. Thinking About The Future

June 14, 2012

“The logic of planetary responsibility is aimed, at least in principle, at confronting the globally generated problems point-blank—at their own level. It stems from the assumption that lasting and truly effective solutions to planetwide problems can be found and made to work only through the renegotiation and reforming of the web of global interdependencies and interactions. Instead of aiming to control local damage and local benefits derived from the capricious and haphazard drifts of global economic forces, it would pursue results in a new kind of global setting, one in which economic initiatives enacted anywhere on the planet are no longer whimsical and guided by momentary gains alone, with no attention paid to the side effects and ‘collateral casualties’ and no importance attached to the social dimensions of the cost-and-effect balances. In short, the logic is aimed, to quote Habermas, at the development of ‘politics that can catch up with global markets.’”

Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008: 29.

Continue reading

Swedish Arms Exports

COMBINE MORALITY, ECONOMICS AND POLITICS WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEFENSE INDUSTRY AND ARMS EXPORTS IN SWEDEN

Inga ThorssonWill the narrow framing of the debate over the potential renewal agreement between Sweden and Saudi Arabia lead to a defeat for those opposed to arms exports?  To avoid defeat of those opposed to renewal and to broaden the campaign against a militarized Swedish economy, we need to combine peace and economics, or better, disarmament and economics with an alternative foreign policy.  These two articles published in Swedish show how we can combine both MORALITY and PROFIT or MONEY MAKING when it comes to the problems of Swedish military-serving firms, military production and alternatives to arms exports: (a) Ny Teknik  and (b) Broderskap.   The basic idea is to create a civilian economic alternative to such firms such that jobs, profits and tax revenue can be preserved to a certain degree through government action and corporate planning.  Having morality without some economic alternative will often lead to wishful thinking that does not change anything when it comes to Swedish arms exports to dictators. You must provide an economic alternative. Cutting arms exports without alternatives can cost jobs, taxes and profits.  Even if arms exports to dictators are immoral (which they are), this  argument about economic costs is very powerful and often wins out. It has to be met with both a moral and economic alternative.  We can’t rely just on a moral deconstruction.  The need to confront self-evident on March 6, 2015 when an editorial published in Dagens Nyheter and signed by thirty-one Swedish business leaders argued that the Saudi agreement was necessary for maintaining business confidence in Sweden as a reliable trading partner.

For those who doubt that economic arguments often have won out over moral arguments connected to solidarity and disarmament, read this article: (c) SIPRI. The article shows also the historical legacy of the economic and moral arguments in Sweden regarding the military economy.  This sad legacy of Swedish militarism has gone on for decades. One reason is the decoupling of morality and economics. When the Left decouples these two, it plays into the hands of militarists. In contrast Inga Thorsson, the Swedish parliamentarian and peace activist pictured above, tried to create an alternative discourse which now is subject to “social amnesia,” the social historian Russell Jacoby’s phrase to depict the burying of radical or comprehensive worldviews from the past.  It is not just the Right but much of the Left as well that is guilty of social amnesia.

We should also keep in mind that the problem of the Swedish military economy is not just limited to Saudi Arabia.  In fact, the problem involves Swedish ties to many other dictatorships like Thailand and the passing of Swedish weapons to third parties.  Thus, a recent report on Swedish radio explains, “Two-hundred-fifty Swedish tanks of the type BMP-1 are secretly being shipped to Iraq…It is illegal in Sweden to export weapons to Iraq, but the tanks are being sold via a company in the Czech Republic.”  Why does this happen?  It happens because Swedish regulatory agencies assume that weapons are controlled by laws and regulations and Sweden does not take any serious political responsibility for weapons that leave its territory, even though Sweden is responsible for such weapons and technologies. This problem is not new and has repeatedly taken place as a report in The New York Times explained in the 1980s. We must reconsider the American sociologist C. Wright Mills who wrote: “The individual human being “is a social and an historical actor who must be understood, if at all, in close and intricate interplay with social and historical structures” (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 2003: 158).  It is the structure of the Swedish military economy, its defense addiction, that lies behind the ties to Saudi Arabia, the supplies to Thailand (the off again and on again dictatorship), and the Czech Republic.

Jonathan M. Feldman, Global Teach-In, March 6, 2015

What do we mean by new wealth?

Perpetual growth under present circumstances threatens the ecosystem. The current system of energy usage is unsustainable. Zero growth in a depression threatens to create a permanent class of unemployed and underemployed persons, however. Debts and imports can rob wealth, but simply cutting deficits without generating wealth and growth will further erode living standards and democratic control. Scarcity leads to infringements on democracy and worsens poverty. The growth of waste–tied to war, rising administrative overheads in bureaucracies, consumption of less than socially useful luxury products, and use of energy-intensive transportation systems–will promote the kinds of growth that threatens the ecosystem and the economy. Oil imports can reduce security, increase debt and further the kinds of waste that undermines the economic foundations of a national economy.

What do we mean by “growth” in a regime where new wealth is created? A new definition of growth is needed, based on the expansion of wealth-generating activities tied to sustainable energy systems, locally anchored jobs, the development of innovations promoting human needs and energy-reducing investments like mass transportation. Technology that provides clean energy locally and to developing nations, reduces energy consumption in homes and buildings, facilitates home care for older citizens and reduces surplus packaging adds sustainable value when economic activity is expanded.

Therefore, we must grow the number of wind mills, mass transit systems, engineering activities that reduce or design out waste, and other means to reduce carbon footprints while simultaneously expanding jobs. Locally anchored production is necessary so that jobs don’t get offshored through global sourcing, unless there are real benefits to the majority of working people from doing so.

We also need to package or organize wealth in new ways. Mandating alternative energy is a critical and necessary step in the right direction, building incentives and markets for sustainable energy. Yet, sometimes the alternative energy is supplied by foreign firms, so the resulting jobs dividend is diminished. Wind cooperatives, municipal utilities and new financing systems are needed to encourage this local jobs dividend. The generation of green economic capital will extend green political capital. Building up a local complex of flexible domestic suppliers will facilate growth and change.

We need to understand the limits to “green jobs” proposals that don’t address: (a) how jobs will be locally anchored, (b) the quality of the job, (c) the need to build job ladders that promote qualified jobs, (d) the advantages to unionized jobs, and (e) whether a green job proposed is backed by socially responsible financial institutions. The very scarcity environment encouraged by austerity politics and wealth erosion has often lead to the scapegoating of trade unions. The attack on public investment and cheerleading for the privatization of everything is based on a political vacuum which only citizens’ active political mobilization can challenge. Deindustrialization, financial bailouts and war promote austerity by eroding wealth. Reindustrialization, alternative financial institutions and “ecological conversion” promote sustainable wealth. This “ecological conversion” involves the design of the economy, housing and living arrangements leading to decreased energy usage, commuting times and emissions.

The concentration of political, economic and media power sustain the present economic system and probability of negative outcomes. Yet, social and organizational innovations can provide alternatives and reduce the probability of these outcomes, depending on whether, how much and how people organize. Neither wishful thinking, nor sitting on the sidelines is appropriate in these times. The potential for trade wars, fights between localities, and even greater mass unemployment mean that we must put ourselves on the pathway towards comprehensive solutions. Piecemeal change is no longer the “pragmatic” option.

Inequitable tax systems, the permanent war economy, and power concentrated in companies lacking any sense of civic duty or social responsibility will deplete both the economy and the institutional foundations of democracy. Our ability to challenge big government and corporate actors that engage in this depletion is enhanced by our capacity to organize our own media, political and economic power. Voting, consumption, procurement, and audience power, can be integrated and extended through new institutions and networks that provide economic, ecological and democratic alternatives.

For further reading: Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power, New York: Random House, 1976; Seymour Melman, Profits without Production, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983; Manish Bapna and Vinod Thomas, “Three ideas that are good for both economy and environment,” The Guardian, January 6, 2012.

*-Note: This editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the global teach-in as a whole.

Why Not Falling Off the Fiscal Cliff Requires Conversion

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

Don’t Just Cut the Defense Budget With Laissez-Faire Economic Policy

Progressive and left leading economists have proposed military budget cutbacks,  increased taxes and closing loop holes as ways to reduce the deficit.  The problem with the first proposal is that it often is not accompanied by proposals to create civilian alternatives for defense firms.  Does the left seriously think that the defense firms will “say uncle” and allow their budgets to be cut without a serious fight?  And if they are forced to “say uncle,” does the left believe that laissez-faire solutions will work and that defense firms can manage the transition as easily on their own as they could without some kind of planning effort involving the government?

Defense firms are part of an alliance with the Congress, parts of the government, and their suppliers, i.e. the military-industrial complex, that also involves universities, members of Congress, and other key actors, like “defense intellectuals” in various think tanks.  This large scale constituency is well positioned to fight cutbacks. Moreover, there are many defense-dependent regions and local communities which would be hurt by military budget cuts in the absence of civilian alternatives to lost jobs and economic activity.

Why Cutting the Military Budget without Civilian Planning is Insufficient

Consider a few problems.  First, many companies are highly defense dependent and require assistance or prodding to go into civilian markets.  For example, companies like Lockheed-Martin and Nortrop-Grumman are about 80 percent or more defense dependent.  These companies have engineers and managers who are usually oriented to serving the military markets and military designs rather than meeting civilian requirements.

Second, defense firms and communities are now mobilizing politically to oppose cuts, i.e. there is the threat of a political backlash.  This backlash was part of Romney’s political campaign (corresponding to real interests in fighting military cuts).  Although Romney was not successful in convincing the majority of Virginia’s voters, despite using the argument about military cutbacks hitting that state.  Consider this report from a few months ago: “Lockheed Martin’s vice president for legislative affairs, Greg Walters, recently announced that if the $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending mandated by last year’s ‘supercommittee’ budget deal go through as planned, it may have to issue layoff notices to the ‘vast majority’ of its 123,000 employees.”  Perhaps that is just corporate propaganda, but it certainly contains more than a grain of truth. It’s not a secret that the U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars on the military and that this creates thousands of jobs.

Third, if cutbacks are made without civilian alternatives for firms and military-dependent communities, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost.  For example, one claim (which might be exaggerated) is that Florida could lose as many as 80,000 jobs.  Some news reports addressed the possibility that thousands of the Pentagon’s civilian employees could lose their jobs.  One report in September cited an estimate that claimed that defense cuts in Tennessee could lead to a “$809 million cut in the state’s gross domestic product.”  Let’s assume that civilian investment creates more jobs than a defense investment.  What if the civilian investment projected does not materialize to match the defense investment?  We need to consider the opportunity cost represented by lost capacity at closed plants, i.e. the failure to make useful things like wind mills, mass transit, and other new technologies at defense firms that simply junk, mothball or sell off industrial and engineering capacities.

As a result of these considerations, we need to develop civilian alternatives for defense-serving firms and communities.  This can occur by providing civilian budget investments and R&D contracts for defense firms to bid on so that they have the possibility of making new products and services.  Conversion involves advance notification, teaming with civilian counterparts, lowering overheads, relocation assistance, income subsidies for key workers, green procurement budgets, and training in diversification processes, as well as some supplemental teaming with civilian capacities.

What are the benefits of military-to-civilian conversion?

There are several benefits of a plan to support conversion and diversification of defense firms (the two concepts are similar, but not identical).

First, peace groups, environmentalists and lobbyists for defense cuts can win allies in trade unions and some companies (probably lower-tier firms because the big ones want to argue at this point that conversion is not even possible).

Second, defense firms can be turned into wealth generators rather than tax absorbers.  By making useful products they can generate incomes and profits that can be taxed, rather than absorb tax revenue by making weapons. These tax revenues could better fight the budget deficit than mothballed and closed down plants. Want evidence?  Just look at Detroit’s fiscal difficulties created by deindustrialization.  Consider the jobs that would have been lost if an industrial policy did not save GM and Chrysler.  Could this industrial policy have been more ecologically-minded and fought for a greener alternative to what was produced? Yes!  But no one took up that fight in any serious way.  A forthcoming report considers a plan to support a more ecological industrial policy for Michigan.  The US imports a lot of its mass transit products.  Here is a place where defense firms (properly teamed with civilian firms expert in mass transit) could convert to more useful activity.

Third, defense firms have a large share of the domestically-anchored manufacturing and advanced engineering capacity that still exists in the United States. Losing this capacity is a huge opportunity cost.  Converting the capacity is a net gain for producing green products and services.  Even states like Michigan known for civilian manufacturing have a significant share of defense production. That defense capacity helps stabilize the state’s industrial base whether we like it or not. If you don’t like it, then support conversion of defense firms not laissez-faire economic ideas.

Fourth, if defense firms are successful in converting, they could create domestically-anchored high quality jobs, contribute to the U.S. export machine, and thereby support higher living standards and lower the trade deficit.  The alternative, low growth and depression, eventually will promote a right-wing backlash or a steady state consensus which does not make the proactive investments in a green infrastructure and technology necessary to stave off ecocide.

Why are the Counter-Arguments Weak?

There are  many objections that can be raised to economic conversion planning to support civilian activity in defense firms backed by civilian government investments.

First, won’t money invested in defense firms for conversion contribute to the deficit?  Yes, they might in the short-run, but if the U.S. loses further its advanced engineering and manufacturing capacity, then it will soon head the way of Greece, a country largely unable to quickly generate domestically-anchored wealth.

Second, won’t defense firms fail in conversion and diversification.  Yes, if they do it the wrong way.  No, if they do it the right way (then they will have a fighting chance to succeed).  The research on how to do it the right way is extensive.  The problem is that many scholars and policy makers refuse to read the documentation (see this link and Appendix 1 below for citations).  This research shows that some firms succeed and others fail at conversion, but we know the reasons for success and failure.  Yet, we have not adopted and fought for the success formula.

Third, can’t defense firms simply export more weapons rather than convert?  Well the global recession limits the customer base found in many countries.  Japan and China might militarize further, but won’t they do it with more domestic (as opposed to U.S.) components?   Besides furthering weapons sales contributes to the cycle of violence, limited trade, and is ethically problematic.  We have to fight for conversion to limit global arms exports.  If the U.S. arms nations, contributes to their military waste, then this could crowd out civilian sales coming from  defense firms converting to civilian markets and based in the U.S.

Finally, why should this one sector be helped over and above other sectors?  The answer is simple. Defense firms are strategic assets and different from other firms and warrant special treatment because of their manufacturing capacity, engineering capacity and presence as often domestic anchors at the regional and national scales.  The high degree of specialization and often inflexibility of these firms is yet another reason why these are strategic industries.

Support the economic conversion of defense firms by writing your Congressperson, mayor, local elected official and newspaper.  Send them this link.  Get them informed!  Don’t reward laissez-faire, do nothing solutions that will further weaken the U.S. economy and the suffering of depressed living standards and the loss of production capacity to produce needed green products and services!  Make this part of your NGO or social movement’s agenda.

Appendix 1: Defense Firms Can Diversify if They Do It Right

Recent claims made in Forbes that defense firms won’t diversity are misleading. The right question is: What does the United States need to do to enhance its economic and strategic security? More soft power, more alternative energy and mass transportation, more wealth producing activities that relate to these through green manufacturing, etc. Less hard power and military hardware and less cycle of violence military campaigns in the Middle East.  What did the Forbes article fail to consider?

First, ironically Defense News showed on April 14, 2012 the empirical data that debunks the premise in “Companies Turn Toward Diversification,” mentioned General Dynamics and their acquisition of Vangent.

Second, the long term political horizon does not look good for defense budgets in the sense that both the T-Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements have argued for military budget cuts. Of course, a new crisis is possible that would trigger more defense spending, but the U.S. military budget seems to be increasingly paid by unsustainable Japanese and Chinese debt. How long can debt-driven defense spending go on without a major economic crisis triggering military budget cuts?

Third, it is partly irrelevant that “skills are fungible, behaviors aren’t.” When defense firms or military-serving divisions have been forced to change behavior with the correct managerial group, then they have sometimes done so. The idea that diversification was “unblemished by success” is totally wrong, factual incorrect and the counterexamples have simply been ignored, see for example my write up about how Boeing Vertol learned to make subway cars (cited below). Of course, the incentives for making helicopters was greater than subways, but that is not a behavior issue, that is a question of market signals. For why those might change, see above.

Fourth, not all defense investors hate diversification, as the Defense News article points out. Most firms would choose survival over suicide. Some diversifications have been very successful, whether or not defense analysts want to be honest about it. For example, McDonnell Douglas had a very successful spin-off that I documented (see article discussing Vitek, cited below).

Why are the successes few? The post-Cold War propaganda campaign against diversification was largely successful. It continues today.  The political question of “what to produce” is a taboo for the right, ignored by postmodern abstractions. The government failed to develop a comprehensive civilian industrial policy. Yet, when even marginal interventions were made, under the right formula, diversification succeeded. It really is the reader’s responsibility to identify the formula (and the shareholders for that matter).

References:

Feldman J M, 1999, “Civilian diversification, learning, and institutional change: growth through knowledge and power,” Environment and Planning A 31(10), pp. 1805 – 1824. (On McDonnell Douglas).

Jonathan M. Feldman (author), Gerald I. Susman and Sean O’Keefe, eds. Chapter 18, The Defense Industry in the Post-Cold War Era: Corporate Strategy and Public Policy Perspectives, “The Conversion of Defense Engineers’ Skills: Explaining Success and Failure Through Customer-Based Learning, Teaming and Managerial Integration,” pp. 281-318. Oxford: Elsevier Science, 1998. (on Boeing Vertol).

The author is a principal convenor of the Global Teach-In: www.globalteachin.com.

Congress coddles military while neglecting Sandy victims and violence prevention

By Brian D’Agostino

What I find remarkable about the recent “fiscal cliff” debate in the United States, which is now morphing into the “debt ceiling” debate, is the absence of America’s bloated and obsolete war economy from the discussion, even as vitally needed programs are on the chopping block.  For two months, right wing Republicans in the House of Representatives held up $60 billion in emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy, insisting that it be paid for by cuts to other essential programs.  Nor has there been any discussion in Congress — three weeks and counting since the Newtown Connecticut school massacre — of funding for mental health and wellness programs for all who need them, which could prevent future tragedies.  As the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) noted in its statement “How to End Violence in America” (download here), such programs would cost a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars that America spends every year on unnecessary weapons systems, military bases, and prisons.

In my new book The Middle Class Fights Back, I outline visionary but practical policy alternatives to the austerity agenda and callous inaction of a Washington elite beholden to right wing ideologues, corporate CEOs, and predatory investors.  One of these initiatives is a Green New Deal that can put millions to work while speeding up the transition to renewable energy, thus mitigating future catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy.  Such massive public investment can be paid for by carbon taxes, greatly increased taxes on the rich (under Republican President Eisenhower the highest marginal rate was 91%), and diverting resources from the war economy.  A second initiative is an innovative option for corporations to issue stock to their workers in lieu of the corporate income tax, which would make corporations that empower their workers more competitive than those who cling to the past.  For more information on the book, visit my website at middleclassfightsback.org.