The Semi-Colon and the Implosion of the Swedish Educational System

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

In the last year, or even months, I have begun to notice that many students are unable to use the semi colon properly in my university classes. It’s a small step that demonstrates that the Swedish education system is failing. Here is how this failure works and teaches us valuable lessons.

Students confuse a semi-colon with either a comma or a colon. Yet, by the time they get to my classes, they must have had other teachers who failed to point this out to them. Thus, we have a symmetrical system of failure. Failure on the supply side and failure on the demand side. Failure on the student side and failure on the teacher side and above all a failure on the administrative side because hardly anyone really cares that language is abused and misused. A teacher like myself who sees this first asks himself what teachers proceeded me and engaged in “benign neglect.”  This neglect extends not just to the proper use of semicolon, but also the proper use of possessives, the link between singular nouns and singular verbs, and even the ability to properly format a document.

It’s all normalized at the administrative level because what is of course more important is managing identity politics relations (as opposed to getting rid of patriarchal structures, promoting economic inequality and addressing the unfair concentration of political power). Administrations can’t conduct language tests and force students to get remedial help.  That is too “authoritarian” and costly.  The proper use of language is not a major concern for pedagogic theory as advanced among the university faculty.  Instead, pedagogic theory often emphasizes that lectures are useless and students have limited concentration levels. The politics of scarcity is married to politically correct sounding formulations that endorse the alienation of individuals from their potential abilities to act in the world.  Even the left is often indifferent to academic decline, often blaming “for profit schools” rather than also blaming the entire mediocrity of the system.

Again and again and again the endless mantra among pedagogic theorists or academics is about how individuals’ capacities are limited, but that we must support diverse identities and allow people to flourish in their differences. This respect for difference is combined with a passive aggressive tolerance of language incompetence, a language incompetence which obviously reproduces the class differences which are tolerated.  In sum the other side of “the respect for difference” is “the respect for inequality, a lack of solidarity and a lack of liberation.”  If student concentration levels are normally low, one might have pedagogic departments emphasize how to increase student concentration levels. Sadly, this possibility is considered revolutionary, not pragmatic and “pie in the sky,” a utopian possibility in which the word “utopia” is a code word for being naive and not “realistic.”  Of course, this version of realism might be called “crackpot realism,” the kind of realism that is leading to the disintegration of learning and the promotion of ignorance and sloppiness.  Playing devil’s advocate, we could say some level of hierarchy is needed because of the division of labor and uneven distribution of competence.  That’s true up to a point, but it will always be better if the general level of education is increased in an organization because of informational scarcity, accountability requirements and even for pure productivity concerns, much less egalitarian impulses.

I have been told by some that my creation of guidelines for my students about how to write properly is a waste of time.  Yet, the basis for learning and education must involve a solid language foundation.  What I have been told really is that an improvement of educational foundations is a waste of time.  This is one step removed from saying that education itself is a waste of time.  Why do academics believe that their own profession is a waste of time?  The answer to this question requires that we investigate the labor process of academic life.

As most people know, academics divide their time in several large blocks.  The first priority is often their own research.  The second is teaching. The third is administration.  The official “third task” in Swedish universities was at one point, “social involvement” or some such thing.  This third task might involve consulting for large companies or perhaps even helping a peace organization.  In practice, however, I find almost zero academics involved in the Swedish peace movement. At most, very few such persons are formally involved.  Almost all academics are primarily concerned with advancing something called a “career.”  The central question then is how does career advancement and the growth of far-right parties, systematic and existentially threatening climate change, and rampant militarism (which can take the form of arms exports to dictatorships) combine to create a larger totality?

What the decline of proper usage of the semicolon tells us is that not only are political commitments to necessary causes suffering.  In addition, commitments to the educational process itself are now suffering.  Academics rationalize their ill-attention to such matters because their time and their research is the most important thing in the world.  This claim may or may not be the truth, but any truth is certainly part of a larger commitment to narcissism and self-indulgent pursuits embodied in fears of mortality or claims on immortality.  The here and now of students and their lives are devalued because career advancement is key.  This advancement is tied to power structures in which declining expectations managers are utilized to diminish expectations.  It’s a mild form of what a public relations officer working for the Pentagon must do while explaining U.S. military progress in Afghanistan or the utility of other past military missions that left a lot of dead people, underdevelopment and chaos.

The embrace of this politics of scarcity and mediocrity is not limited to any specific ideology.  One reason is that persons on the left or the right basically want to advance their careers.  We have a politics of style in which a substitution of a few words here and there reflects the same drive, with the same deleterious results. This politics is also tied to the extension of cynicism systems.  As teaching quality declines, academics are faced with the choice in reproducing an orgy of mediocrity and saving their own time, or trying to save a sinking educational ship when it comes to language usage, or perhaps rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking educational Titanic.

What is rather surprising in all this is the emergence of a new kind of militant defense of mediocrity that is slowing creeping up into the academic system. These are champions of a kind of laissez-faire approach to learning, i.e. let students drown in their own limited capacities, what they don’t know about what they don’t know can’t hurt the students. Of course, such free market thinking, even advanced by nominal leftists, is really about conserving time for the academic’s own commodity production.  The “craft” or batch production of academic products is conserved by treating the educational system as a Fordist production nightmare which is somebody’s else’s problem.  That distancing is just the other side of how the right and left equally are indifferent to social responsibility but do believe in the cult of structures and the replacement of really existing individuals with socially constructed identities.

This strange hybrid, “militant mediocrity,” appears as part of a process which began as part of the post-New Left counter-revolution.  The basic approach was to appropriate the forms and symbols of dissenting culture and reincorporate them into commodities, cliches, and administrative practices.  The idea of enhancing an individual’s value substituted for actually assisting that individual’s capacities.  Of course, the elites always have to have competent to managers, at least in more progressive varieties of capitalism.  Less elite students or universities can be allowed to indulge their ignorance, under the tutelage of academics who are rewarded for repressive tolerance of their ignorance.  It’s a win-win for the academic and the student because they both end up getting what they want. This kind of hollow victory, much like the meeting of a sadist and masochist, is of course rather pathetic.  The pathetic development is tied to the assassination of truth, a process aided in turn by mediocre reproduction of “post-modern” ideas and the harvesting of student bodies to extract private or public tuition funding, i.e. truth is a barrier to exchanging the student body (C) into capital (M).  The middle class has often had as its central cultural code the killing of truth or its dilution.  None of this really is surprising.  In fact, much middle class culture is based on the cultivation of ersatz products in work, leisure, and other spheres.  The phony substitute is good for profits, good for professional preservation, and keeps everyone happy with masks and mirrors reflecting into each other into a total abyss–a metaphor that nicely matches the constant memory suppression of the ecocide or nuclear holocaust that might be right around the corner.

In summary, the sad decline in the proper usage of the semicolon turns out to represent a kind of psychological and economic development managed by the politics of stupidity.  The stupidity is managed by elites who don’t seem to care very much about whether the population can fully master proper language usage.  Students’ bodies, time, minds, lives must be harvested to extract capital to keep the educational machinery going.  The psychic ego of the academic must be tied to cranking out research products to burnish the sense of importance, most of which will turn into what often amounts to useless dust in a period of 20 years more or less.

The monies which could have been spent on mandatory courses to improve language capabilities are not allocated so that academics can negotiate their mortality, administrators can harvest tuition, and students can be left to enjoy their limited capacities which are the first casualties.  In the Swedish context, the top social priorities are health care, the military budget to defend against a phony Russian threat, and perhaps keeping the highway system going so that cars can go where they want.  There’s some attention to mass transit modernization, which is honorable, and even ecological investments which are significant but limited, yet none of this is as dramatic as a society which seems indifferent to the productivity losses engendered by letting the proper use of language decline.

Is Chomsky Totally Wrong About Antifa? No

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

In a recent interview Noam Chomsky has argued that what antifa does “is often wrong in principle – like blocking talks – and [the movement] is generally self-destructive.”  He continued, “when confrontation shifts to the arena of violence, it’s the toughest and most brutal who win – and we know who that is…That’s quite apart from the opportunity costs – the loss of the opportunity for education, organizing, and serious and constructive activism.”  Do we resist or reconstruct society? That is the larger problem as I see it.

I don’t agree with the idea that Chomsky is entirely wrong. First, Chomsky’s arguments are potentially plausible in some instances.  One key question is whether such a movement provides legitimacy for the Right by engaging in anti-democratic practices. For example, there is some resonance with blocking free speech and what happened in Evergreen State College (where the pseudo-Left aided the Right) or elsewhere in the United States when valid forms of free speech or democratic rights are disrupted.

Peter Beinart has explained this problem in an essay in The Atlantic:  “Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts. It leads to what happened this April in Portland, Oregon, where antifa activists threatened to disrupt the city’s Rose Festival parade if people wearing ‘red maga hats’ marched alongside the local Republican Party. Because of antifa, Republican officials in Portland claim they can’t even conduct voter registration in the city without being physically threatened or harassed.”

The antifa effort seems directed in part at the symptoms of the fascist problem. Is this movement doing any proactive work related the underlying causes of fascism, racism or the racist variant of nationalism?  This kind of in the street activism is not proactive regarding the educational basis of an anti-fascist movement which might start by mobilizing in the schools (not that this always succeeds as the teacher of James Alex Fields can attest).  Yet, in Sweden there has been some success in anti-fascist education in the schools in terms of attitudinal change.  Another issue is how the larger Trump/nationalism movement is based in part on valid arguments related to de-industrialization, capital flight, unemployment and manufacturing.  I don’t see ANY direct line between antifa politics and building jobs for white people who are totally desperate, committing suicide in record numbers.   Nevertheless, the existing state security regime against fascists is dysfunctional, unable to offer basic protections against Nazis, fascists, and racist thugs.  The police failed in Charlottesville, as Alex S. Vitale explains in The Nation: “Backed up by armored vehicles, riot police stood rooted in formation, quietly watching fascists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis battle Black Lives Matter, religious leaders, and antifascists.”

The very language deployed by the Left, centered on key terms like “white supremacist” is totally misleading, confusing, and self-defeating. By understanding this confusion, one sees part of the larger problem. First, there is nothing “white” about “white supremacists” other than their investment in a fictive narrative in which “whites” are superior.  The fiction is twofold: (a) these people don’t speak for all white people, so using the label “white” as a modifier makes no sense; (b) they don’t really believe all whites are superior because they often hate Jews (many of whom are white). The countervailing argument is the modifier “supremacists,” so you could argue that they are not just talking about “whites” but a new entity, i.e. “white supremacists.”  Yet, these people do not believe that all whites are supreme or superior, i.e. they don’t put “white” Jews in that category.  So, the whole concept of “white supremacy,” whether mouthed by racists or those opposed to them, makes utterly no sense whatsoever.  The term “white supremacy” reminds me of a similar term, “Islamic radicalism,” which similarly contains a kind of malware tied to Islamophobia, although fears of Islamophobia have also sustained terrorism as Gilles Kepel argues in the book, Terrorism in France.

The term “racist thug,” however, does not contain an encrypted advertisement for an academic theory within it (centered on so-called “white privilege”), so the idea of “white supremacist” is a bit like malware.  To identify these people by their own self-description of their ideology is not exactly a radical or critical conception, reminding one of a Republican Party that does not embrace “republican” ideals or a “Democratic Party” that does not support “democracy.”

At best, this term is part of a background explanation to something else.  At worst, it is part of a postcolonial displacement system unable to recognize any broader totality to what being white is or isn’t or the dialectical character of fascism and racism, i.e. it partially builds on valid narratives or feelings of victimization, some of which is grounded in reality rooted in the destruction of jobs, which are distorted by historical inaccuracy, hatred and a juvenile if not insane version of sociology.   Just as Judith Butler viewed working class whites supporting Trump with utter contempt, objectifying them so as to complicate any serious movement to defeat Trump, we need to think a bit deeper about the problem.  Many whites suffer from job loss and a feeling that they are not validated by a system glorifying elites and celebrities.

Police failure and the breakdown in the state security regime does not mean, however, that a defensive measure against fascism or even a physical confrontation with fascists gets at the larger underlying basis of support for fascism in (a) economic decline, (b) deindustrialization, (c) the lack of a coherent pro-active discourse vis-à-vis this phenomena.  We see how the failure of the system creates an opening for a left political innovation which does not quite work properly because it is partially based on a kind of morality play which is divorced from deep political or economic analysis, or even cultural analysis.

Donald Trump is rather clever by bringing up the racism of Thomas Jefferson.  Yet, Thomas Jefferson believed in radical democracy, something Trump’s narrative effectively buried.  Jefferson believed in local, grassroots democracy in which the masses of citizens created an accountability system with respect to the State, through town meetings and related forms of action and assembly.  I don’t see antifa leading to that and I see it potentially excluding that mode of action.

There might be a division of labor where groups like antifa do their thing and other groups do something else, i.e. there is no “zero sum game” and so antifa protects people from the fascists.  That is a plausible argument, but the problem is that antifa’s tactical mistakes (noted above) and the way they become the epicenter of social movement ideas about how to fight fascism put the Left into a potential swamp where they can never win.  Street fights and street protective measures are not the epicenter of anti-fascist action.  You cannot compare anti-fascists who volunteered to fight Franco with the effort necessary to defeat Trump who–at this point–is the most significant support system for Fascists in the U.S.  Or, more accurately, if antifa sees its lineage in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, perhaps they could recognize the failure to support a proactive politics within the Left which helped sustain fascism.  In sum, antifa is another left product, with potential roots in a dysfunctional academic culture, which is not radical, sometimes useful, but can’t put the Left on a pathway to systematically accumulate power.

Postscript, August 19, 2017

A reader has pointed out that Peter Beinart’s use of the word “claims,” leaves the impression that Cornell West’s argument that antifa saved his life or that antifa saves lives is patently false. We do not doubt West’s account. We do not doubt that antifa saves lives.  Moreover, in the post above, we imply that antifa can serve a useful purpose.  Our point of departure is not focused on debunking everything about antifa so much as showing that parts of Chomsky’s argument (if not much of it) is entirely plausible.

The article suggests that the larger movement (of which antifa is a part) uses language and arguments which has drawbacks.  It is entirely conceivable that a street-centered movement to oppose fascists can be necessary, but the way that plays out as a larger defensive system can be constrained.  These constraints or limits occur when such a movement simply becomes a defensive or reactive system organized with respect to its enemies and cannot be part of a larger effort which takes on a broader cultural, economic and political agenda.

Another reader suggested that the term “white supremacy” is valid and should not be questioned given the current political context.  I have no doubt that there is a mistaken belief by certain persons who are white that whites are superior, but I still believe that their linguistic and symbolic claims to whiteness are based on an absurdity that should not be validated.  In fact, just as the term “Islamic extremist” partially legitimates the credentials of terrorists as Muslims, the term “white supremacists” validates the adjective “white” as a proper modifier.  While, objectively speaking, the persons in question might be considered Muslims and can be characterized as “white” (respectively) clearly there is a lot more going on. The additional modification or explication of what is going on can’t be limited to “extremism” or “supremacy.”

More importantly, the various terms used to explicate terrorists who self-describe themselves as Muslim or try to root what they do in Islam, end up being deployed in Islamophobic practices.  This has made it actually hard to act against terrorists because the fear of Islamophobia prevents measures to regulate, monitor or control such persons because of the way they deploy or engage in Islam for their purposes.

The parallel point with “white supremacy” or “white supremacists” is admittedly not so transparent.  There are structures associated with caste or social constructions of race which create a hierarchy and basis of power for some or many whites vis-à-vis non-whites.  The idea of “white privilege” can become highly problematic, however, when it fails to acknowledge mass unemployment, poverty and despair among whites who are hardly privileged or whose privileges pale in comparison with their non-privileges.  The basic point is that we know that there are so-called “inter-sectional” forms of oppression involving race, class, gender and the like.  So the term “white supremacy” only captures a fragment of the oppression totality.

More importantly, some people will argue even though the term “white privilege” is problematic, it does not mean that we can’t think of “white supremacy” as valid.  Yet, when the “white supremacist” is a fascist, we know that their power deployment system or origins are not simply reducible to racial structures, castes or even alleged or real “white privileges.”  The power base involves a discourse related to de-industrialization, manufacturing decline and globalization as well, e.g. indirectly rooted in economic alienation.  None of that is captured in ideas of “white supremacy.”

The counter-argument is that these persons have an ideology rooted in white superiority and this motivates their political engagement.  But, what gives these groups a great deal of power (or potentially is most threatening about them) is their capacity to exploit citizens’ economic fears. This capacity is not simply rooted in the self-identification of so-called “white extremists” or the labeling system and analysis of much left analysis of such groups.  Rather, there is a value in aspects of economic nationalism that anchor jobs within the U.S.  The counter-arguments in which the left celebrates globalization, the achievements of Indian or Chinese capitalism to develop at the expense of the white (and non-white) working class are partially being manufactured by elite, academic universities which themselves are often patronized by global financial capitalists or those aligned with them.  A radical agenda to support manufacturing and control over the economy is often considered heresy (with notable exceptions like Ha-Joon Chang at Cambridge University).

In the case of Richard Spencer, the discourse often centers on a belief of white marginalization and encirclement.  As he says, “our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” His ideology is tied to validating identity based around whiteness: “What blocks our progress is the meme that has been carefully implanted in White people’s minds over the course of decades of programming, from Mississippi Burning to Lee Daniel’s The Butler—that any kind of positive racial feeling among Whites is inherently evil and stupid and derives solely from bigotry and resentment. And that the political and social advancement of non-Whites is inherently moral and wonderful.”  Basically, Spencer invalidates the idea that racism exists, but does advance some notion of political mobilization around “whiteness.”

If a person who is white is excluded from society and the multi-cultural, Neoliberal society offers that person very little, it is possible (as opposed to morally acceptable) that some fraction of such persons will gravitate to Spencer and his ilk.  Yet, it strikes me that the supremacist language tied to deploying notions of “whiteness” conflates problems of scarcity, alienation, and feelings of having one’s culture or identity devalued into a simple problem that can be solved by “white power.”  That notion is clearly idiotic, but I don’t think we should cede to such persons their claims to deploying whiteness in this way.  Islamic extremists want their self-understanding of being Muslims and deploying Islam to be validated.  White supremacists similarly want their self-understanding of being white and deploying whiteness to be validated.  Any such validation gives these people power and defines them from a vantage point partially rooted in these persons’ self-understandings.  I don’t think that is sufficient as a basis for triggering a characterization of such persons.

Certain variants of postmodernism, identity politics, cultural studies, postcolonialism, and the like are very weak at identifying non-cultural, non-ethnic, and non-racial forms of motivation, identification and social processes, e.g. those rooted in materialism, political economy, and capitalism requiring equitable economic development and economic democracy as means of redress.  When journalists and such academics describe the supremacists they often use the supremacists’ own self-referential modifiers (or parts of them) to do so and end up creating confusion as to what these people represent and how to stop them (if they are dangerous, as they increasingly are).

The Final Stages of New Leftism: From Anti-Intellectualism to Character Assassination at Evergreen State College

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

June 7, 2017

@KyngStyle [Tweet, May 26, 2017]

If u think #ExposeEvergreen is only about bret weinstein or 1 email, u dont have a clue. Thus u should stop telling POC how 2 feel about it

@willmcwill2   [Tweet, May 30, 2017]

Replying to @KyngStyle

No one is telling POC how to feel. That’s in your head. What’s going on is that a scientist called out critical race theory for the bs it is

Birds, Atheists and Radicals

The recent student protest movement at Evergreen State College provides a useful signpost that we are seeing the final stages of New Leftism.  In the present stage, so-called oppositional movements objectively aid their alleged political target because they simply lack the capacity to do otherwise.  They end up replicating the very systems they attempt to oppose.  Let us start with three analogies.

We know that birds sometimes are trapped in buildings, but they ram their heads into glass windows.  They attempt to free themselves, but they just hurt themselves. The window, which some have described as a metaphor for openness and closure, shows us the contradictory position of the bird.

We know that some atheists vehemently attempt to deny the existence of God or religion as a kind of obsessive and sole explanation for a larger reality.  Yet, these very same atheists seem defined by God, if only by spending most of their time denying God.  Some atheists use God as their window.

We know that some radicals regard the system as defined by a narrow group which wields police and media power, yet they design social movements whose main fuel is referenced by what the police and mainstream media do.  Like some atheists, they live vicariously off of what they claim to oppose.


The background to the protests were outlined in an article in The Olympian by Matt Driscoll, who wrote on June 5th that there have been a series of protests and demonstrations at Evergreen that go back at least to September of 2016.  These were tied to “a strained relationship between students of color and local police and campus police — similar to tensions between communities of color and law enforcement across the country — to accusations of unequal punishment for white students versus students of color.” In addition, Driscoll’s informants have said, “there’s mounting anger over what’s viewed by some as a lack of action from the school’s administration to deal with a number of longstanding issues of racial equity.”

A series of meetings with the college administration proved to be less than fruitful and according to students were the other side of being ignored for years:  “For years students of color, trans and queer students and other minorities have been asking, then demanding, for mandatory equity training for staff and faculty.”

When The Left Turns on Its Own

In an article in The New York Times published June 1st, Bari Weiss explains the case of Bret Weinstein, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, the Occupy Movement, and Glen Greenwald.  Weinstein is a Professor of Biology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  Weiss and a post in the Heterodox Academy explain why Weinstein suffered the wrath of so-called, “left” students and activists.  According to Heterodox Academy: “For several years, Evergreen has held a ‘day of absence’ in which students, staff, and faculty of color are invited to stay away from campus and take part in discussions about racism and other intersectional issues, organized by the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services, Rashida Love. But this year, the event was inverted; people of color were invited to stay on campus while all white people were asked to stay away from campus. White professors were asked to not teach their classes. White students were asked to not attend their classes.”

Weinstein objected to this move which he saw as oppressive.  But students claim that white absence was voluntary. This argument may have been a red herring as Weinstein explains in an interview: “There were several emails inviting people to participate…Let’s be very careful about this.  There was no implication that white people would not be allowed on campus. There was, however, the implication—when this finally was described—the implication was that white allies would be off campus and therefore there was the implication that if you were white and you showed up on campus that you were therefore not an ally and that is the thing that pushed me to respond.  I did not like the implication that by the very act of being there [on campus] I was not allying with people of color.”  Weinstein says he received private support, but was attacked for being against students of color.

Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, blames Weinstein for “quickly” taking “the part of lightning rod” and “repeatedly characterized the Day of Absence as coercive, though it didn’t seem to be.”  He adds that “Evergreen’s president, Bridges” to him “that it flat­out wasn’t.”  Weinstein, in an “exchange with protesters outside his classroom, he proclaims, ‘History could pivot on this hallway right now.’ It’s Olympia, Professor Weinstein, not Iwo Jima.”  Assuming hypothetically that Weinstein’s claim that white absence was coercive was inaccurate, we see nevertheless that Weinstein’s email objecting to the event was part of a trigger for student demands that he be fired.  Thus, given that firing is coercive, the aura surrounding students’ demands seems rather coercive to me, irrespective of the accuracy of Weinstein’s specific claim.   As for Bruni’s other point quoted here, I think he fails to see that the Evergreen episode has wider implications for the left and the whole problematic of identity politics and styles of acting that lack any sense of reciprocity.  This essay will demonstrate why.  Nevertheless, one informant interviewed by Driscoll argues that “the ‘Day of Absence’ email…was actually one of many emails that (Weinstein) had sent over the course of the year.”  Students of color according to Driscoll’s sources view “Weinstein’s written words — taken in total — as ‘tone deaf.’”  Nevertheless, no one offers any proof that Weinstein’s tactical disagreements are a reason to send a group to his office and demand that he be fired.

I can’t find any evidence that being “tone deaf” or having tactical disagreements (which may actually be the same thing stated differently) is a good reason to demand that someone be fired, but some of the video material referenced in this essay shows students’ being “tone deaf.”  Another report appearing in a blog post connected to USA Today, points to a press release attributed to student and custodian Blake Vincent and posted on a Facebook page.  It claims that students were not threatening, but is a crowd demanding that someone be fired and speaking in harsh tones not “threatening”?

The paradigmatic split in this dispute centers on what students feel they are entitled to do and say and how they are allowed to act without expecting a response that reacts in kind.  The press release continues: “The students chanted and continued to try to make their feelings known to Weinstein, but he was refusing to listen and instead attempted multiple times to take over the discourse and make the students listen to him. During all this, some of Bret’s students were surrounding him and verbally attacking the group of protestors.”  If “make their feelings known” equals, “demand that he be fired,” and Weinstein does not want to patiently listen to that, who can blame him?  And, as there seems no valid reason to fire Weinstein, why shouldn’t his students react to what they probably view as an absurd demand?  In essence, Evergreen State students appear to have a valid grudge and set of demands against police harassment and perhaps institutional racism, but their way of dealing with Weinstein makes their rights appear devalued by a sense of entitlement regarding persons who disagree with them.  The coercion of police violence from above is matched—in a different form—by the coercive demand for firing from below.  To the extent that the students’ larger claims are valid, their tactical mis-steps seem all that more absurd.

Some of the controversy at Evergreen State rehearses the New Left era practices of nationalism and separatism and their appropriateness in different contexts.  To make a long story short, we can say that the New Left did a good job in making the case for tactical separation for regrouping, consolidation and advancement of specific interests, but the tactic advanced into a strategic failure which clearly played into the right’s hands.  Separatism and casting whites out of all kinds of organizations appeared to validate racism in the name of opposing it.  As in the Weinstein case, separatism required that even white allies have to be castigated when they don’t obey the dictates of would-be activists who are simply acting according to a managerialist impulse.  A related problem, as we will see, is how personal politics leaves larger social structures off the hook.   In sum, the moral high ground is quickly lost by political styles that quickly help deflate the value of political action.  The students’ certainly got their administration’s attention, but they also provided soundbites nationally for right-wing and liberal pundits whose interests in opposing institutional racism (or necessary national policy shifts) are mixed at best.

Scott Jaschik in the Inside Higher Ed blog also explains that: “Weinstein…has come out against a recommendation on faculty hiring by the college’s Equity and Inclusion Council. That recommendation, currently under consideration by college leaders, would require an ‘equity justification/explanation’ for all faculty hires.”  Various structures tend to perpetuate the bias that significantly over-represent whites and men in the hiring of faculty.  These structures are rather deep and selective, short-term quotas can help break down the cycle of exclusion in which the absence of a diverse faculty helps perpetuate ethnic and gender stratification.   Yet, quotas or equity investigations based on intersectional criteria don’t necessarily generate a competent faculty or even an ideologically diverse one.  In this sense quotas are rather much like the status quo systems of hiring.  One might therefore think of alternatives (or possible supplements) to both approaches, e.g. more investment in quality primary and secondary education upstream.  Even if Weinstein were wrong on the equity issue, the larger problem for me is how his “community” has treated him.

The Times reports that Weinstein “has become a victim of an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge the ideological orthodoxy on campus.”  Fifty students confronted Weinstein outside his office, calling him a racist and told him he supported “white supremacy.”   Following the protest, the college police informed Weinstein that they were unable to guarantee his safety on campus.  Jaschik notes that “‘Fire Bret’ graffiti is visible on campus.”  Weinstein claims that he and his “students were specifically followed, harassed and doxed.”

These are clear acts of character assassination where a difference of opinion leads to harassment of another person as a racist who has no relationship to racism.  Here the students believe that they themselves embody anti-racism such that opposition to the students’ will equals racism.  Yet, the students through their tactics actually pass over many significant representations of anti-racism.  Very much like robots, they have been coded—likely by their academic milieu—to deconstruct and oppose narratives which run counter to that which they religiously deem acceptable.  In the Stalinist model, the primary flow of oppression is top-down, directed by bureaucrats, but sometimes enlisting the populace as spies.  In the new model with roots in the New Left, various ideologies manufactured by academics take the form of a kind of disease which flows from the bottom up and engulfs the bureaucracies.  The disease I speak of is not the self-righteous (or even angry) opposition to racism, harassment, police violence and surplus hierarchy.  Rather, it is the disease of using the ideas of racism, intersectionality, whiteness, police violence and professional authority to justify just about any arbitrary action which goes against politically correct and peer group-defined norms.

A video which opposes the protestors shows a student or students cursing at Weinstein and demanding that he resign.  A large group chants that he resign. That is clearly harassment and even if Weinstein is wrong about various claims and his positions, he certainly has the right to express his opinions without such a backlash.  Tolerating his speech does not constitute repressive tolerance as there is nothing overtly oppressive in his speech.  The film shows a student complaining about police harassment, but in turn the very same student engages in a kind of verbal harassment.  A timeline of key events by the campus newspaper reported that on May 23rd, students disrupted Weinstein’s class “to discuss emails,” with some declaring that he should be fired. This led the campus police to be called, who in turned called the County Sheriff’s office for backup: “When the cops arrived, student protesters formed a protective ring around the students of color conversing with Weinstein. This ring of students was ripped apart by Officer Timothy O’Dell when he shoved through protesters, injuring two students.” In any case, disrupting the teaching of a class because of a tactical disagreement seems could be interpreted as a violation of free speech. Blake Vincent’s press release, quoted earlier, mentions state troopers and Olympia police threatening students with mace.  What happened?  As best I can surmise, the pursuit of Weinstein helped trigger the intervention of the police in a way that has made the students involved looked very bad from a national media lens.

One might argue, as the Afropunk journal claims, that the protests at Evergreen were centered on racial justice, without Weinstein being the main event. His suspension is just one of many other demands by students. Others claim in social media that other forms of marginalization were also central to student concerns. The problem with this line of argument is that the protestors’ harassment of Weinstein has made that the main event, providing ammunition for both Breitbart and Fox News as well as The National Review and scolding commentaries from The New York Times.

The Occupy movement used protest to leverage an equality discourse in mainstream media related to the larger national if not global society; its cousin in Evergreen uses protests to manufacture right-wing debating points, centered on a narrow preoccupation with university governance and outing dissenters who reject their tactics.  The student demands express a total disinterest in affecting the larger political system which it turns out leverages their mistakes to reproduce systems of racist, militarist and class power. In contrast, Occupy had a kind of internal discipline based often fostering mutual respect among dissenting views, i.e. there was a tendency to oppose sectarianism.  Yet, there were also tendencies in Occupy to normalize some ideas that were off the wall.  The problem is that both Occupy and Evergreen never transcended the limits of the earlier New Left’s failures, partially because they have assimilated these failures through academics and other ideologues who recycle separatist and politically correct tropes.  As Kenan Malik explains there are “common bonds between racial and multicultural notions of human difference.”

It should not surprise us therefore that the students were supported by a group of faculty who blame Weinstein for assisting right-wing media.  This group wrote a letter stating that: “Weinstein has endangered faculty, staff, and students, making them targets of white supremacist backlash by promulgating misinformation in public emails, on national television, in news outlets, and on social media.”  A June 1st, press release by the group Stand with Students, posted on faculty member Melissa Ponder’s Facebook page, explained that Thurston County officials received an anonymous phone call from someone threatening “to murder as many people on…campus as I can.” The threat led the campus to be shut down as safety measure.  The press release argues that “the caller was likely emboldened by incendiary misinformation in the media about recent protests on campus.”  Yet, the press release denies harassment of Weinstein.  One major charge against Weinstein is that he or others falsely claim that he was threatened with violence.   The displacement of consciousness about how Weinstein was harassed by debunking the charge of violence is a clear indicator of what has turned out to be a dangerous lack of introspection.  The bubble surrounding the protestors and their allies seems to be a side effect of their post-modern disdain for truth and the way in which they dogmatically filter out facts that contradict their self-righteous narratives.  The students are likely victims of racism and negative engagements with police, but this has clouded their thinking about how to act politically as they are under the toxic influence of identity politics and faculty-sanctioned narcissism.

An Alternative to Postmodern Politics      

The student actions, supported by various faculty and parts of the administration, represent a case of what Stanley Aronowitz called “Postmodern Politics.”  This is the term he uses for intellectuals who “have abjured ‘grand narratives’ (antitotality), and utopian visions and have abandoned the search for a new or significantly altered paradigm of social transformation.”   Basically, we have a disagreement on tactics and persons purporting to be leftists harassing someone who disagrees with them, in the name of the left and anti-racism.  How are we to interpret this episode?

First, one might argue that the students basically only view politics as the projection of symbols and become angry at persons who do not validate their symbolic politics.  In contrast to attacking a nominally left professor for a disagreement in tactics, so-called left students could have done the following (in addition to pursuing some of their own, reasonable demands):

(a) Organize a study circle to learn about the limits of their own discourse.  This discourse, by needlessly feeding actions creating soundbites for right-wing media, has helped to endanger their community.  The readings could include Chistopher Lasch’s The Agony of the American Left, Adolph L. Reed’s essays, “Black Particularity Reconsidered” and “The Limits of Antiracism,” James A. Geschwender’s Class, Race and Worker Insurgency, and Kenan Malik’s Multiculturalism and Its Discontents.

(b) Organize a protest against the high levels of incarceration in Washington State, 482 persons for every 100,000 in the population (in 2016).  This rate was higher than Thailand, New Hampshire, the Russian Federation, New Jersey, Rwanda, New York, Panama, Belarus, South Africa, Finland, Sweden, China and Iraq (to mention more than a few). In 2013, the proportion of African Americans working in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce was only 11 percent.  In contrast, in 2017, the share of African Americans in the prison population was 37.7 percent. Clearly this discrepancy is a central reproduction system for inequality.

(c) Link the above protest to a march on the state capital to demand state funding for cooperatives to help employ unemployed workers.  Develop such cooperatives on campus to create jobs for excluded populations. In 2015, 8.9% of African Americans in the State of Washington were unemployed.  These cooperatives could of course build on the tradition of African American cooperatives, a strategy for equitable economic development championed by W. E. B. Du Bois.  Here we get at a root cause of powerlessness rather than engagement in symbolic politics and harassment of individuals that one does not like.

(d) They could have established a folk high school (based in a supporting community center, church, mosque or synagogue) which gave courses for teachers and university administrators on how to combat institutional racism.  A Google search of these terms: “anti-racist” “folk high school” “Washington State,” yielded only seven results—none of which seemed terribly relevant for intervention proposed here.  One way to put this: Don’t just get whites or African Americans off campus, remove everyone off the campus to learn how to reorganize universities and other institutions.  The university might hire an expert on British policing to train its own university police and other police forces in the region.

(e) Support national, state and regional policies that would shift budgets from military commitments towards investments in mass transportation, alternative energy and a green recycling infrastructure within buildings. They could have supported cooperative firms and banks to provide employment in disinvested areas, particularly those communities where desperation leads to support for Donald Trump or other extremists.  This approach is necessary because racism is not simply based on ideas, psychologies or identities, but also material conditions.  In contrast, the reforms proposed by Evergreen State College President George Bridges to address problems of racism and diversity are simply an inner-directed appeal to students; it lets the larger society generating racism off the hook but appears to buy off student complaints.

(f) Design and implement a pod-cast and radio network, supported by a door-to-door canvass, which championed the strategies above as well as solicited memberships which would pay for an advertising campaign on local buses supporting these goals.  Investigate extremist communities and where they are located and broadcast counter-programming to such areas pointing out how the absence of solidarity hurts unions, wage gains and solidarity, i.e. appeal to these persons’ self-interests rather than talk down to them with a language invented by university professors and associated with the professional managerial class.

Second, one might argue that many mentoring some of these students formally or informally are doing a terrible job.  In my class called Democracy, Policy and Social Change, I teach students about how to organize economic, media and political power to support democratic goals.  I teach them about the limits to their own potential class, the professional-managerial class, as well as how to democratize higher educational structures.  Most importantly, I teach students that it is not enough to argue that you are a victim and lack power, or that power can be defined by A having more power than B or even that A can make B do something that B would not ordinarily do.  Rather, I show how B can get as much power as A or at least learn about how to get much more power, more rapidly, by emulating the practices or access of power that A has cultivated.  I would not teach my students that yelling at a left-leaning professor is a way to accumulate power to challenge capitalism, racism, ecocide or even harassment.  I would tell students that this strategy is “barking up the wrong tree.”  Apparently, Evergreen has taught students that using obscenities, being rude and telling people you disagree with that they are privileged are useful tactics for gaining power, i.e. authority figures at the university have not significantly counter-acted this message.  Concessions to students on police safety and harassment are certainly necessary, but these seem to accompany a symbolic politics that easily passes over the larger social structures.

Third, Evergreen State College has embraced a superficiality filter that students are celebrating.  John Sanbonmatsu, in an essay entitled, “Postmodernism and the Corruption of the Academic Intelligentsia,” published in the Socialist Register, 2009, writes: “The destruction of the public sphere, the decline of social movements, and the virtual disappearance of an independent press has shunted much of the intelligentsia into the academic system.  There, the ‘state nobility’ finds its mental labour mediated through the tenure process and the competition for scarce federal grants and fellowships.” Sanbonmatsu goes further, explaining how social movements become distorted by the ideological dogma of universities.  He writes: “Postmodernist ways of knowing can in fact be found in a growing number of social movements.”  The intellectual vacuum represented by the absence of constructive proposals and plans to redesign society at Evergreen has been filled with moral relativism that ends up tolerating harassment.  Weinstein for his part blames the administration of Bridges (hired in 2015) for “arming the postmoderns” at the school.  He claimed that the plan to vacate whites from campus would “let the intellectual descendants of Critical Race Theory dictate the bounds of permissible thought to the sciences and the rest of the college” and that those who insisted “on discussing the plan’s shortcomings” were “branded as racists.”

We can surmise that the Administration at the Evergreen State College is perpetuating the status quo by tolerating these students’ harassment of Professor Weinstein and promoting what appears to be a pathetic mentoring and educational system for social change.  The College should know that there is no shortage of fully competent teachers who live in exile, outside the United States—or even reside within the country—who have been marginalized from the academic system by their lack of interest in identity politics or associated narratives.  Some of us regard pseudo-diversity moves, identity politics and the concealment of class realities as an elite, right-wing cosmopolitan narrative which parts of the left have embraced so that they can unwittingly promote the agenda of large-scale, transnational corporations.  These corporations support all free migration, free capital mobility, and nominal cultural representations of diversity.  They are often far less interested in democratizing their workplaces, creating apprenticeship programs linked to qualified jobs for a diversity of workers, or lobbying against the under-investment in mass transportation and over-investment in the U.S. military budget. They certainly did not put up a major fuss after Iraq was invaded, a coup was launched against Honduras and billions in arms were promised to Saudi Arabia.  Hardly any intersectional theorist embraces a systemic program for demilitarization as militarism is not one of the categories that they deploy, except as a passing (and ill or undefined) buzz word.

Awaiting the Death of the New Left Paradigm          

Fourth, we can safely regard the manifestation of the anti-Weinstein campaign as a sign that the New Left/identity politics paradigm has long outlived its usefulness.  Put differently, a large segment of the current left has its origins in a strain of the New Left which has basically followed a pattern similar to that of the U.S. Communist Party.  On the one hand, a few offshoots learn the lessons of history and are reflective about what their politics has actually been based on.  On the other hand, a great many are not reflective about anything their politics has been based on and how it is rooted in an obsolete paradigm.  Ironically, the cross-racial, ideological politics of the U.S. Communist Party was actually more subversive and authentic than the latest strains of identify politics and the politics of “resistance.”  The problem, however, is that these New Left strains (like a large part of the somewhat-related Occupy movement) are totally indifferent to a critical reflection about social movements’ history.  Of course, part of the early and later New Left associated with names like Paul Goodman, Tom Hayden, Herbert Marcuse and the like is a completely different matter.  Parts of this movement could perhaps be seen in the Sanders campaign, but that strain is clearly threatened by the developments described here.

To be blunt, there is a very American strain of anti-intellectualism here which requires far more introspection than the students or the Administration were capable of. Evergreen State College has created a milieu where such reflection is significantly weakened, probably because many academics there have such a weak understanding of the limitations of both past and present social movements and the academic symbols they use for career advancement.   The tiresome cheerleading (as opposed to reflective redesign) of social movements ends badly, sometimes in repressive tolerance, i.e. the tolerance of repressive activity.  As Paul Goodman explained, certain forms of left propaganda is “prone to arouse guilt just because it is irrefutable and on the side of the angels.”  Thankfully, Evergreen has some courses which try to promote reflective thinking, but perhaps this does not filter down to the undergraduate level.

When a nominally left organization or social movement reproduces the very inauthentic and repressive politics of the system that it claims to oppose, we know we are at the beginning of the end for that particular tendency.  We are sadly, not necessarily at the end of the end.  In the case of the Communist Party, Stalin’s crimes did not immediately lead to the death of the party in other countries.  Stalin died in 1953, but the repression of radical democracy movements in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) was still followed by diehards who stood by the party.  One final blow was the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the mothership for Communist movements everywhere.

In the New Left case, one might place the epicenter of that movement in the United States.  Under the Trump regime, coming after doses of Bush and Obama, the United States appears on a trajectory of rapid decline.  We see presidents who alienate allies.  We have “Leftists” who alienate and harass other leftists. And let us not forget, the presence of ecological groups who cooperate with oil companies, rather than try to dismantle them. We see police who murder senselessly. The list goes on and on to reveal a society defined by stupidity, chaos, and narcissistic self-indulging behavior.

Trump’s election should have been a wake-up call for all persons practicing identity politics to figure out how to authentically incorporate class, economic democracy, political accountability, and the reconstruction of major institutions into their portfolio of ideas.  An explicit anti-sexist and anti-racist agenda is needed, but is being defeated by academic theories like Critical Race Theory which in practice validate individuals’ narcissism and personal agendas. Many social movements and university-based activists are already processed by the control systems vetted by Right-Wing Cosmopolitanism, e.g. Hillary Clinton and her allies or even publishing companies who cash in on identity politics. The full death of the New Left will only come when a new movement and intellectual tendency emerges that outs the New Left and identity politics for what they really are.  We see some tendencies in that direction, but they are currently far from the hegemonic power seen manufactured by the stupidity of our contemporary social movements and their allies in the knowledge factories of mediocrity.

The author can be reached on Twitter here: @globalteachin.  He encourages sympathetic readers to contact the Evergreen State College Board of Trustees by writing them here

Police Shootings, Neoliberal Scarcity Regimes and the Left: Behind the Balch Springs, Texas Murder

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

The Problem of Decentralization as Scarcity

Every few weeks, when I study The New York Times, I read about another police shooting of some innocent citizen–killed for no reason. It gives me a feeling of nausea. That is the emotional side of the problem.  There is also a cognitive side and that is my suspicion that large parts of the so-called “Left” don’t have a clue about what to do regarding these things. I don’t mean Black Lives Matter (BLM) which has in theory a pretty comprehensive program of activities or set of organizing ideas.  Rather, I mean a more comprehensive problem which I will get to shortly.

Adolph Reed, however, has offered some criticisms of BLM which are certainly worth considering.  First, there is an “immensely fortified and self-reproducing institutional and industrial structure” behind the repressive state. Challenging that state “will require a deep political strategy, one that must eventually rise to a challenge of the foundational premises of the regime of market-driven public policy and increasing direction of the state’s functions at every level toward supporting accelerating regressive transfer and managing its social consequences through policing.”  Second, “the focus on racial disparity accepts the premise of neoliberal social justice that the problem of inequality is not its magnitude or intensity in general but whether or not it is distributed in a racially equitable way. To the extent that that is the animating principle of a left politics, it is a politics that lies entirely within neoliberalism’s logic.”

One element of Neoliberal structures are rooted in a certain form of decentralization. Decentralization might mean “community” control of police, but it could also mean decentralization to a level of fiscal responsibility defined by shortages of capital and resources. The latter problem associated with fiscal decentralization has been noted by Bo Rothstein, author of Just Institutions Matter.

Texas and Florida: Two Cases of Neoliberal Scarcity Regimes

Jordan Edwards, an unarmed African American fifteen year old, was shot in the head by a white police officer on April 29 as he “sat in the front passenger seat of a car leaving a house party last Saturday after police officers arrived to break up the party,” as The New York Times recently reported. The shooting took place in Balch Springs, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.   One source stated that the city had a majority Latino population (55.5%), with the next biggest group being African Americans (23.1%) followed by Whites (19.2%). The Times explains that even though “the city is majority black and Hispanic, only a handful of the department’s nearly 40 police officers are either black or Hispanic.” Cedric W. Davis Sr., the city’s first African American mayor (2008-2009) argued that this discrepancy was “unacceptable.”  As Davis explained, “You can’t represent a community as diverse as this one if you don’t have anybody that can relate. They do some good work. But a lot of the people are afraid of them.”

The Dallas News reported in 2015, that “Eight out of 10 Balch Springs police officers are white — though three out of four residents are not. And state records as of early February [2015] indicated that only one of the city’s 42 police officers is a woman.” Moreover,  “Balch Springs is part of a larger pattern. A Reporting Texas analysis found that suburban police departments in Dallas County have some of the largest demographic gaps in the state. In all but a few, the majority of police officers are white and the majority of residents are minorities.”

Why is Balch Springs unable to rectify this racial discrepancy?  Pedgro Gonzalez, a spokesman for the city’s police department, explained that his department found difficulty to recruit African American and Latino police officers because they lacked sufficient resources and because nearby departments offered better pay.  Gonzalez said, “we’re a 35-, 37-man department, and we don’t have money to recruit.” Gonzalez said, “we recruit through Facebook. Our top-out pay is like $68,000. Mesquite, which is right next door, makes $78,000. It’s very difficult to recruit.”

We might  learn something by comparing Texas with similar states as well as with other states which differ on key parameters.  Texas is one of the U.S. states that does not levy an income tax.  In  theory such taxes could be used to pay for diversifying police forces and training in preventative means of crime prevention, i.e. that don’t lead police officers to shoot unarmed youth in the head.  In Texas, the poorest 20% pay 12.6% of their income on taxes, the middle 60% pay only 8.8% of their income and the top 1% pay a pitiful 3.2% of their income (in 2015). The Texas police killed 98 persons in 2015 and 82 persons in 2016.  Florida, like Texas, lacks an income tax.  The poorest 20% paid 13.2% of their income on taxes, the middle 60% paid 8.3% of their income, and the top 1% only 2.1% of their income on taxes.   Florida police killed 60 persons in 2015 and another 60 persons in 2016.  In theory, the fiscal constraints on police departments on the state level might have something to do with self-imposed fiscal poverty.  Economic poverty, a problem which is aggravated by impoverished governments, also plays a role.  Reed notes research by Zaid Jilani who found  “that ninety-five percent of police killings occurred in neighborhoods with median family income of less than $100,00 and that the median family income in neighborhoods where police killed was $52,907.”

Sweden and New York as Alternative Regimes

There administrative differences between various police departments could easily be leveled by merging police departments at greater levels of administrative aggregation. This is what has occurred in Sweden, for example.  The fiscal difficulties would then be based on problems at the local state or national state level, depending on which level of aggregation were chosen.

We can also see how fiscal and political alternatives play themselves out on the state level within the United States. New York State is one of the states that has guidelines against racial profiling.   In contrast to New York, Florida and Texas were two of the more than twenty U.S. states in 2014 with racial profiling laws that were not clear and specific in prohibiting racial profiling. New York also has a more robust welfare state than Texas or Florida, even if that welfare state is under duress.  New York State also has income taxes and a population about 72% the size of Texas and about 98% of Florida’s. New York State police killed only 19 persons in 2015 and only 17 in 2016.

Constraining the Risk Society: Reconstruction, Not “Resistance”

Simpy resisting police violence won’t be enough. That strategy won’t stop Trump or police violence. The tragedy of the Jordan Edwards shooting is partially a byproduct of what Ulrich Beck, the famous German sociologist, calls a “risk society,” in which we should come to expect risks to our livelihood.  These risks are partially created by a climate of racism and what Beck calls a lack of self-reflection, i.e. in this case governing the proper training and financing of police forces and the organization of government functions.  There are institutions of power and ideology, backing dysfunctional decentralization, an impoverished welfare state, and a lack of power for those persons who are victims to this irrational system.  The alternatives can be found in reconstructive principles that support political, media and economic democracy, i.e. social and economic reconstruction.

One central problem is that people of color in cities like Balch Springs suffer from disempowerment in political and economic power.  On the political front, citizens of Balch Springs are represented in the U.S. Congress by white, conservative Republican Jeb Hensarling and African-American, Democratic Eddie Bernice Johnson.  In March of this year, a district court ruled that gerrymandering in the state of Texas violated the Voting Rights Act.  The case was filed originally in 2011, charging that the redistricting to disempower minority voters took place after 2010 census in Texas as a result of intentional designs.  One the economic front, the median worker income is $26,476 in Balch Springs which is lower than the national average of $29,701.  The city’s poverty rate of 19.3% is higher than the national average.

The original platform of the Black Panther Party contained elements or a reconstructionist regime to address such power disparities.  Huey P. Newton, co-founder and Black Panther leader, explained the organization’s ten point program.  The first point he said was that “we want freedom, we want power to determine the destiny of our black communities.”  The second point was “full employment for our people.” The third point was “housing fit for shelter of human beings.” The seventh was “an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.”  On a smaller scale it is interesting to note the trajectory of Sam Allen, a police officer and administrator of forty years, who retired in 2008 and joined Balch Spring’s policies department as the city’s community service director. There he was charged  “with creating and expanding programs and events that bring people together” including crime-watch units and a citizen-police academy.  He was also responsible for getting “more minorities and women to join the Balch Springs Police Department.”

One key idea behind reconstruction is the promotion of alternative ways to design the deploying of the political, media, and economic forms of capital which promotes social change.  What that might mean is the following.   Occasionally the Left organizes demonstrations and conferences involving anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of persons.  The meet in one centralized location, usually a place like New York, Washington, or Chicago.  BLM often organizes local demonstrations, however.

While national gatherings have their place, the limitations to like-minded individuals assembling in one spot are the following. First, often this amounts to a “self-congratulation” society, where those who think similarly congratulate each other for thinking similarly (this practice extends to Facebook which has perfected that kind of cultural deformity).

Second, it ignores that regional differentiation is jeopardizing the enlightenment project and elements of democracy in the United States. Such regional disparities helped elect Donald Trump. In contrast to Obama’s famous proclamation at the 2004 Democratic Convention, that “pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats” and how misguided that was, we do see regional patterns that differ, partially based on the legacy of slave states, rural and urban disparities and the like.  If some areas of the country are more enlightened and have greater resources than others lacking enlightenment and resources, persons in these enlightened and resource rich regions have a responsibility to intervene in the knowledge and resource poor areas.  This pattern partially occurred in the Civil Rights movement which involved a solidarity system between North and South and not simply postcolonial manipulation.

Third, in contrast to the notion that there are simply these angry people out there who expressed their rage as Trump voters and such persons should be demonized and subject to a kind of distancing and psychological analysis, one could argue that such voters exist in a kind of bubble.  By objectifying the Trump voter, the Leftist does not have to take any responsibility.  It is a cop out.  In contrast, one can try to influence such voters and their cultural sphere. For example, the U.S. once had a great debate on slavery and the Abolitionists intervened as part of this debate.  Today, we must realize that there are parts of the United States in which we must similarly intervene like high police violence regions.  Recently, the U.S. far right has intervened in the French election to try to promote a politician whose party has a fascist legacy.  It is only fitting that the Left try to adopt certain places where they try to intervene by advancing progressive candidates for office, e.g. a kind of investment bank for candidates who support income taxes, community control boards for police, and an expanded welfare state.  Or, they could intervene by creating local internet broadcasting or radio and community television platforms promoting such an agenda.  One way to intervene would be to rescue one city at a time.  Each city rescued could contribute to what amounted to a kind of “revolving loan fund,” with such capital financing courses in how to democratize a city, develop cooperatives, regulate police violence and provide subsidies to recruit more culturally enlightened police officers.

A final thought exercise.  Assemble about 1,000 persons for whatever reason in a kind of left meeting.  Each person donates 30 dollars to a fund to hire a political organizer in Balch Springs, Texas.  The money is matched by a foundation grant.  The organizer promotes worthy left publications, organizes book tours by authors, and champions a program of economic, media and political reconstruction.  Just a thought.

The author teaches at Stockholm University and can be reached at @globalteachin on Twitter.



Expansion of Hate Crimes in Sweden

By Jonathan Michael Feldman

February 5, 2016, Edited February 7, 2016

The Police Museum in Stockholm currently has an exhibition about hate crimes in Sweden.  In this short post, I want to review some of the statistics about such crimes and make proposals about how to fight this menace.  The review of hate crimes I make is not systematic, as I will just focus on three kinds of social groups: Jews, Muslims and Afro-Swedes.  The exhibit clearly documents a long-term pattern of xenophobia and a clear blot on the so-called “Swedish model.”



Let us first turn to Jews living in Sweden. According to recent statistics, these crimes have increased in Sweden as can be seen in Figure 1.  There were 159 in 2008, but 277 in 2015.  Some of the difference in figures may be based on different methodologies, but news reports suggest an increase in such crimes. These statistics have been compiled by Brottsförebyggande rådet (BRÅ).  In this figure, data from 2012 on is based on a sample survey.  The museum exhibit profiles Henryk, a victim of anti-Semitism who is a school teacher.  

His story is told through the accompanying photograph and the text to the left.   Anti-Semitism in Sweden is partially driven by general xenophobia and hostility to heterogeneity in the culture as well as by a misguided and ill-informed backlash system against Israel’s policies.  While some explain anti-Semitism by pointing to how Jews in Sweden support Israel, others point to systematic anti-Semitic propaganda in various Arab countries. Such propaganda is matched by various propaganda statements by the Likud bloc in Israel.  The idea that people can be harassed and assaulted because of their political beliefs is questionable in any case, i.e. it is a slippery slope that can easily damage a democracy.  The characteristics of someone who is visibly Jewish or easy to identify as Jewish can’t be reduced to foreign policy opinions.  These characteristics, rather than foreign policy ideas, are usually what make Jews subject to attacks.  Nevertheless, foreign policy crises can unjustifiably trigger  anti-Semitism. 

Let us next turn to Islamophobia in Sweden. According to recent statistics, these crimes also have increased in Sweden as can be seen in Figure 2.  This data, also collected by (BRÅ), also uses a survey starting in 2012. There were 272 hate crimes against Muslims in 2008 and 558 in 2015.  Here again shifting data sources may explain a part of the increase, but there is no shortage of statistics to document a rising pattern of hostility towards Muslims in Sweden.  Various news reports tell the story, including incidents where numerous mosques have been attacked by vandals.

  The museum exhibit profiles Hala (above) who was attacked by racists for wearing a hijab.  Here is a clear case of a fear or hostility to difference which is potentially connected to false generalizations against Muslims. Hala’s story is told in the accompanying text.  Islamaphobia has many explanations.  Like anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia involves elements of xenophobia and scapegoating of persons falsely associated with foreign policy developments, especially terrorism (which can also arise domestically).  In other cases, negative actions by some persons who happen to be Muslims are generalized to all Muslims.  Some persons who engage in terrorist activity or support ISIS claim to act “in the name of Islam.”  This pattern is similar to actions by Israeli leaders who act “in the name of Jews,” such that Israeli actions are compressed into being “Jewish actions.”  

The heterogeneity of Islam and Judaism clearly argues against essentialist reductionism, i.e. offering explanations about activities by persons who happen to be Jewish or Muslim as if their religious affiliations explain all. One problem is that individuals who adopt a certain value system or ideology can use their religious affiliations as a cloak by which to disguise their political agendas.  In the book, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, Bassam Tibi defines the appropriation of religion for political purposes as fundamentalism. Such fundamentalism is not limited to the Muslim world, but also extends to the Jewish world as Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky explain in their book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.  There is also Christian and even Buddhist and Hindu fundamentalist which backs various kinds of militarism tied to racist nationalism.

The last kind of hate crime I want to discuss involves racism against Afro-Swedes. According to recent statistics, racist incidents involving hate crimes with an Afrophobic motive also have increased in Sweden as can be seen in Figure 3. Again, the data shows a steady increase over the last few years, with survey data coming into use in 2012.  In 2008, there were 761 such incidents, but by 2015 there were 1,074.  The systemic character of such racism has been documented by news reports, including a recent analysis by the United Nations.

The Police Museum exhibit profiles the story of Jallow who reported a racist incident at Lund University and in turn was harassed by racists at that very same university.  His story is explained in the accompanying photograph below.  Racism in Sweden has many explanations, the simplest one being a fear of difference and a devaluation of difference. This devaluation runs very deep in Swedish society and is not limited to a few extremists.

While Swedish society has elements of tolerance, it also has elements of “repressive tolerance,” i.e. a toleration of racist activity which can be seen in minimal prison sentences for some racist offenders, a lack of in depth discussion of racist problems and a normalization of a political party whose origins lie in the Nazi movement.  This party has been given lots of free air time on Swedish TV, part of a journalist practice which grants media access to elected officials simply because they have been elected.

Mainstream society might want to blame a narrow group of extremists for racist activity, but racism can also be seen in mainstream culture managed by cultural elites. For example, Eastern Europeans (particularly from former Yugoslavia) are typically treated as ruthless criminals in Swedish films and television programs. The widely praised film “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money”) was just one of many examples where such persons are identified as criminals.  For the last few weeks, the TV series, “Innan vi dör” has some more Eastern European (former Yugoslavian)  criminals who are trailed by white ethnic Swedish heroic police.  In fact, the Police Museum exhibit also brings up the prolific images of police in movies and television, potentially opening up an introspection as to how police are portrayed.  In some television programs, one even sees ethnic police, even Afro-Swedish police; corruption within the police force is a theme that often comes up. The larger problem, however, is the normalization of ethnic hierarchies which is common place and is found in news and cultural programming alike.  

There are many solutions to the problem of hate crimes.  One solution would be a greater policy focus on such problems by police forces, backed by political decisions. Yet, the police can’t monitor all of society’s institutions, particularly the mainstream ones which also tolerate various degrees of racism.  This racism indirectly legitimates thought patterns that could help racists rationalize their actions, perhaps legitimating them.  The fictional portrayal of racism in universities, labor unions, and other spaces in civic society is largely missing–if it even exists. There are no regular, institutionalized programs on racism or even class inequities, with the discussion limited to social movements, academics and a few marginalized politicians.  

While some deconstructions of Swedish society as systematically racist often sound like tiresome politically correct tropes, the reality never fails to disappoint in terms of validating the larger argument behind such tropes.  Persons who do appear on the very rare television program to discuss racism, help explain the problems of racism and can go into some of its details.  Yet, the linkage of problems of racism to alternative budget priorities (such as the trade off between social exclusion and its associated violence on the one hand and military spending on the other) is almost taboo on all sides of the political spectrum).  Another taboo is explanations of how to systematically “empower” (for lack of a better word) the diverse groups who are victims of hate crimes.  There are many models for how to promote such an accumulation of power, but the most systematic involve the mobilization of economic, media and political power on behalf of disenfranchised groups.  

The non-racist society should marshal its procurement power, ability to deliver a media audience, and its votes to a new kind of social movement dedicated to fighting racism in its core and periphery.  It would not simply take aim at Nazis and racists, but it would also expose mainstream society’s contributions.  Relying on the incumbent institutions which continue to engage in the repressive tolerance of racism is no longer an option.  Rather, new kinds of institutions must be forged which show how to rebuild society with economic democracy, new media platforms and social movements able to create a reconstructionist practice in the state.


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, 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, and also look at plan details at

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