Deconstructing the democratic state is an idea that they like. And please don’t lecture me about the class nature of the state.
You can be skeptical about the evidence of Russian hacking and its impact on the presidential election, but to entertain the belief that Trump and Putin will usher in a new era of detente between our two countries and make the world a safer place strikes me as a stretch. What is more likely is that this twosome will attempt to anchor a coalition of hypernationalist, authoritarian, militarist regimes and movements hostile to equality, democracy, planetary sustainability, and progressive, even centrist, governments.
3. I will go into this in greater depth in another blog post, but class understanding is more than some ill defined anger at “elites” in high places or militancy on the picket line.
He’s out of favor these days, but Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, insisted that class understanding isn’t narrowly constituted at the economic level. He wrote in his famous essay, What Is To Be Done:
“Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected … Those who concentrate the attention, observation, and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social-Democrats; for the self-knowledge of the working class is indissolubly bound up, not solely with a fully clear theoretical understanding — or rather, not so much with the theoretical, as with the practical, understanding — of the relationships between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through the experience of political life … the worker must have a clear picture in his mind of the economic nature and the social and political features of the landlord and the priest, the high state official and the peasant, the student and the vagabond … ”
Here is a more complicated picture of what constitutes a politically consciousness working class. While it doesn’t ignore the economic, it isn’t economistic. It is broadly framed. Class conscious workers, according to Lenin, don’t live in hermetically sealed caves. They are aware of their class position relative to a class of exploiters for sure, but they are also keen to the fact that the grid of exploitation in which they are enmeshed is neither flat, nor undifferentiated, nor disconnected from other grids of oppression.
Moreover, they are mindful of the necessity of allies as well as the main class and democratic tasks at any given moment.
By this measure, it is hard to characterize, as some did, the decisions of white workers to vote for Trump as a “class revolt.” Their vote reveals, after all, no appreciation of the organic interlocking of class struggles and struggles against racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, and more — not to mention the imperative of securing alliances with people of color, women, and immigrants or any understanding of the main democratic and class task in the election — the defeat of Trump. Class implosion, not revolt, better captures what happened last year.
4. I find the column below, written by Thomas Edsall, not so different than others he has authored. While he mentions racism, sexism, and nativism in his explanation of the voting decisions of white workers in the Midwest in last year’s election, he does so in passing. He gives much greater analytical weight to structural changes in the economy to account for their decision to support Trump.
Now I don’t doubt the many sided impact of these changes. The live of working peole, broadly understood, were recast in profound ways. I saw this early on and up close when I was living in Detroit in the 1980s. But what Edsall — and others who echo this line of thinking — miss (or downplay) is that the voting choices of white workers can’t be understood by economic shifts alone. In fact, the turn to and embrace of Trump by white workers are inexplicable apart from the activating agents of racism, misogyny, and nativism, plus the spectacular rise of right wing extremism four decades ago.
In my view — and many recent studies confirm this — these activating agents were decisive in the formation of the voting choices of a considerable number of white workers in the Midwest and elsewhere. Not everyone, obviously, shares this view. Like Edsall, they continue to proffer their economistic-deterministic model to explain what happened in the Upper Midwest a year ago, while evading an obvious question that challenges their conclusions: Why did major sections of the working class who experienced similar and even worse economic hardship and dislocation than their white brothers and sisters who voted for Trump decide not to throw in their lot with him?
But it is quite another thing to dismiss any role for Keynesian methods of regulating and stimulating the present day or future economy. Most progressive and left economists aren’t ready to go that far. In making a distinction between a mode of accumulation and methods of economic management, they see a place for Keynesian tools and insights in regulating a complex economy.
In fact, a government with progressive-radical-socialist ambitions would selectively and skillfully employ and adapt the insights, mechanisms, and institutional forms of economic management — Keynesian and otherwise — that were developed and employed in the last half of the 20th century. To simply dismiss them in present and future economic circumstances on the grounds that they are so deeply encrypted by the imperatives of capitalism or peculiar to a particular phase of capitalist development is an example of ideology trumping sound analysis. In fact, it makes about as much sense as the wholesale dismissal of the experience of economic planning in the former Soviet Union because the country went belly up.
On the other hand, I suppose there is an argument for both if you believe in some utopian leap from the present day economy in which the market plays a major role in the coordination of the economy at the macro and micro levels to an economy in which the market’s role is minimal. All I can say to that is: Good luck. Neither experience nor classical Marxist theory gives you much to lean on in making such an argument.
6. A deeply troubling story in the New York Times reports on the massive breakaway of an iceberg from the Larsen shelf in Antarctica. It reminded me of the urgency of addressing the causes of a warming planet. In a sane world, the issue of climate change should be at the top of the country’s political agenda. But it’s barely in the political conversation at this moment. And with a demagogic and dangerous moron in the White House, acting as the mouthpiece of a powerful bloc of fossil fuel interests, not only resisting any steps to mitigate a warning planet, but actively reversing any ameliorative measures, treaties, etc, that have been enacted in recent years, the likelihood that things change for the better in the near term is remote. Thus, the overarching question in these circumstances is: What to do?.