Oct 28, 2018

New Stuff from an Old Guy - Part 2

By Don Hamerquist

Editor's note
This is the second part of a three-part essay by longtime Three Way Fight contributor Don Hamerquist. In Part 1, Hamerquist argued that transnational capital is seeking “renewed foundation of mass legitimacy and popular acquiescence,” and that this quest is shaped by its conflict with both left-wing and right-wing populist movements in many countries. In Part 2 (below), Hamerquist criticizes widespread leftist tendencies to see fascism, right-wing populist movements, and capitalist interests as all aligned together, and to divide capital into “good” and “bad” sectors. He argues instead that transnational capitalists are “strategically hostile” to both left-wing and right-wing populisms, that all of capitalism (including its more liberal elements) tends toward repression, and that fascism is best understood as “an array of emerging reactionary anti-capitalisms” – a right-wing revolutionary tendency that is real but distinct from “reformist” right-wing populisms. In Part 3, Hamerquist will address the danger of a new popular front that corrals leftists into supporting capitalism in the name of defending “democracy.”

Part Two

The anti-capitalist left must provide significantly better answers than a left-populist “New New Deal.” For the most part, I don’t think it does. Consider these examples of left responses to the current political circumstances. I think they illustrate a number of underlying problems and confusions and highlight some debatable conceptions of contemporary capitalism and fascism. (I realize these cites may not adequately reflect the politics of those who are cited. Any emphasis indicated is my responsibility.)

First, are two recent excerpts from Ajamu Baraka: I believe he is associated with Black Agenda Report and the Green Party (past vice presidential candidate).
The capitalist elite understand that they are facing new and dangerous conditions. That is why despite the intense struggle that is going on within their ranks, they will close ranks using Russia-gate to limit the range of information and analysis available to the public. It is why they will also close ranks on the left tendency in the democrat party and by extension against left electoral expressions and formations in general. The democrat party bosses already demonstrated that they would rather lose than concede any institutional power to their left pole.

-- Ajamu Baraka, CounterPunch, 7/13/18

Fascism represents a specific form of capitalist decay. That is why even though the proto-fascism of Trump represents a dangerous tendency, avoiding the political and ideological dead-end of anti-Trumpism demands that we keep the focus of our analysis and agitation on the ongoing structures of the white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy and not individuals and personalities if we want to avoid doing the ideological dirty work of the ruling class.

-- Baraka,  Black Agenda Report, 8/1/18
I have some sympathy for Baraka’s position and his mistakes are less central to my argument, however, they are important. Baraka asserts that “the capitalist elite” will close ranks rather than conceding any institutional power to their left wing. This is a mistake – also probably a bit of wishful thinking. The differences of interest within the ruling class and the range of policy options that are available to them, makes it unlikely that they will “close ranks” around any particular tactical approach. Baraka seriously underestimates these ruling class differences and thus he underestimates their policy options. In fact, in response to any significant upsurge of popular struggle, we should expect increasing involvement of sectors of the transnational capitalist elites in all sorts of “left electoral expressions and formations…” For example, as long as the current “left” postures by Democrats are useful to segments of capital in this country, and they obviously are, the likelihood of the U.S. ruling class closing ranks around the repressive and authoritarian trajectory that Baraka suggests is minimal. Further, these co-opting initiatives won’t be limited to the Democratic Party “reformers” that Baraka and BAR quite rightly criticize. They will include third parties and other “left” radical parliamentary and non-parliamentary initiatives, including some social democratic, socialist, “anti-fascist” – or even “anti-imperialist” – ventures.

I noted some situations earlier where the ruling transnational elites might strategically concede some governmental authority (perhaps temporarily) to rightwing nativist populisms. With some modifications such tactics will certainly be applied to left populist forces – particularly given the left’s susceptibility to cooptation and similar manipulations. Some obvious hints about the potentials for co-opting ruling class interventions are provided by the range of current “movement” activity that is tied to foundations and NGOs for funding and, ultimately, for political direction. These existing ties provide many opportunities to extend the influence of transnational capital across the entire range of left organizing initiatives – and those impacts are susceptible to rapid escalation. While they are still mainly potentialities in this country, they have been extensively implemented elsewhere in the global system and we should pay some attention. Perhaps the remarkably unobstructed upwards trajectory of our DSA/Democrat Socialist boomlet points to problems that we will soon be enjoying on a more widespread basis.

Baraka argues against an exaggerated emphasis on “anti-Trumpism,” and he is right that this will be a diversion from the necessary focus on capitalism – on what he calls the “structures of the white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy.” However, Baraka’s picture of capitalism is too narrow – too focused on its potentials for expanded repression. He minimizes the continuing possibilities for a parliamentary incorporation of an expanded acquiescent base from among the exploited and oppressed. While these possibilities are constrained by the dictates of global profitmaking, they are still quite real, notably in this country. The ruling class will certainly implement policies that take advantage of any and all possibilities to co-opt and contain movement upsurges; and these will impact the entire range of parliamentary leftist politics that Baraka endorses and practices – irrespective of whether they are, or are not focused on “anti-Trumpism.”

Taken by itself, no expansion of capital’s repressive command will resolve its strategic dilemmas – even if that expansion involves the adoption of quasi-fascist state forms in parts of the global capitalist system. Important segments of transnational capital will not share Baraka’s myopia on this question. They will see that, in addition to an expanded capacity for repression, capital needs to reshape, broaden, and deepen its popular “consent,” its hegemonic status to successfully respond to specific populist challenges from its right and its left.

This brings us to Baraka’s conception of fascism as “a specific form of capitalist decay.” In my opinion, describing the trajectory of late capitalism as “fascist” adds nothing but moralistic condemnation to our understanding of capitalism. Although this is clearly not what Baraka intends, the identification of fascism with a moribund capitalism opens some doors to conceptions of a “good” historical capitalism – or a partially good current capitalism, composed of various “productive” segments of capital and political and economic structures that are less afflicted by “capitalist decay.” Recall the earlier cite from Anthony Wikrendt that ended with the hopeful recommendation that the ruling class should, “…yield to the interest of the General Welfare in building a new world economy free of dependence on burning fossil fuels, the likely result will be a new “golden age of capitalism.” From such conceptions, it is a very short step to anti-fascist fronts that will include the representatives of this good (productive? democratic?), socially conscious and responsible capitalism.

Although the features of “capitalist decay” that concern Baraka are real and must be confronted, I’d argue for a different conception of fascism that doesn’t see it as a particularly rotten subspecies of capitalism or a compendium of its reactionary and authoritarian features. I think that the “fascism” that constitutes a distinctive existential threat to both the capitalist world order and to the revolutionary left consists of an array of emerging reactionary anti-capitalisms.

In contrast to approaches to fascism that emphasize the potentials for additional authoritarian, totalitarian and anti-egalitarian elements in capitalism and position fascism as a potential tool for the capitalist ruling class, my concern is with the radical forces that mount authoritarian, totalitarian and anti-egalitarian challenges, perhaps nihilistic ones as well, to capitalism as it currently is. Forces that constitute features of “barbarism” – some of which are potentially significant, and others, such as salafi jihadism, that are already significant.

The fascism that constitutes an existential threat to both the capitalist world order and the revolutionary left consists of an array of emerging reactionary anti-capitalisms.

I understand the problems with a conception of fascism that is so different from common left usage, and will do my best to work around them. However the actual issues are not about language and definitions so much as they are about the underlying reality that is being defined and named, and that can be significantly changed in the process of this naming. The question is whether we should focus on fascism as a tendency within capital or as an independent existential threat to it. I take the second side of this proposition and believe that the opposing side will have great difficulty understanding the political views of serious organized right wing revolutionary groups that are fairly clear about that they think. The popular view of fascism will contort itself to understand and explain the politics of reactionary mass movements that are also hostile to capitalist state power and capitalist markets – and that frequently are opponents, not supporters, of capitalism’s increasingly authoritarian and totalitarian features. Too often leftists picture such right-wing political groupings and their radical subversive projects as frauds and hoaxes, deluded crazies, or public relations manipulations of the capitalist state. No doubt such characterizations sometimes have an element of truth – much the same could be said if they were applied to various elements of the left. However it is a dangerous delusion to think that the revolutionary right is limited to people who don’t know what they think and don’t mean what they say.

A second weakness of the popular view of fascism is that it sees the increasingly repressive and authoritarian character of capitalism as the result of a political project of a reactionary sector of capital, and doesn’t take sufficient account of late capitalism’s internal momentum towards anti-egalitarian, repressive, and oppressive social measures. In my view this repressive trajectory in capital has objective material roots that are independent of any policies or pressures from the ideological right. In fact, in the case of the commodification of social relations and the consumerization of technological advances, many of these developments are closely identified with transnational capitalism’s more politically ‘liberal’ elements.

In my opinion, we will have a better understanding of how to organize political work, if we carefully delineate the useful elements of the Strasserite, Third Position form of fascism from the questionably relevant model of the German Nazi state project. It’s even more important in my opinion to conceptually draw a clear line between what we regard as fascism and all of the elements of reaction and conservativism that are historical features of the development of specific capitalist formations. Of course, some of these elements of capitalist reaction will be incorporated in the politics of incipient fascist groupings. However the necessary fight against capitalist reaction will be more productive when it is challenged as a constitutive element of concrete capitalist social formations, not as a foreshadowing of some future fascist state.

My next argument will begin from two recent comments by Eric Draitser. Draitser is connected with the CounterPunch structure and apparently heads CounterPunch radio.
Many decent, well-meaning people who have dedicated their lives to fighting neoliberal imperialism have suddenly positioned themselves to the right of neocons in alliance with ascendant fascism in the US. They don’t espouse the fascism, but have nonetheless made common cause with the far right in defense of Trump on the grounds of world peace and smashing the neoliberal/neoconservative consensus in Washington.

-- Eric Draitser, CounterPunch, 7/27/18

* * *

So let’s consider what comes next…

Trump inspires such antipathy from Democrats and others that (if) the 2020 election marks a defeat for Trump (…the) Trump base would be incensed, likely suggesting that the Deep State conspired to destroy Trump and steal the election from him… What would happen is a sharp rise in far right wing, fascist paramilitary groups. And while the growth of that movement took off under Obama (for reasons that are not difficult to imagine), it would multiply exponentially in a post-Trump period, particularly when the overriding narrative will be that Trump was a crusader for America who was blocked at every turn by the liberals, CNN, Antifa, and all the other undesirables that seek to destroy the US. Trump was our hero, sent by God to clean up this country, and instead he was crucified over Russia, porn stars, and fake news.

-- Draitser, CounterPunch, 8/2/18
The Draitser passages have the virtue of emphasizing the possibility of fascism developing a mass radical insurgent character. However, his positing of an “ascendant fascism” raises questions on both an empirical and a theoretical level. The descriptor, “ascendant” might be somewhat plausible when applied to reactionary nativist populism in the U. S and to the reactionary anti-immigrant populisms in sections of Europe, although there is need for better evidence over a longer period to fully justify it. However the estimates of “populism” don’t straightforwardly transfer to fascist organizing potentials. For those that believe Draitser’s picture of ascendant fascism is accurate enough, at least for this country, I’d suggest keeping up with some fascist and near-fascist websites. For example, check out some of the pessimistic posts on the Occidental Dissent site.

I think that the distinctions between reformist and revolutionary projects on the political right are crucial. Far more important, most of the groupings that actually place themselves in the neo-fascist camp also think they are crucial. No left revolutionary would equate the prospects for social democratic left populism with the prospects for working class revolution – at least I would hope not. The same holds for revolutionaries on the right. If there is confusion on this issue, the revolutionary left will not adequately comprehend the unique existential challenge presented by fascism or the specific strengths and vulnerabilities of current capitalist structures and ideologies.

It is a dangerous delusion to think that the revolutionary right is limited to people who don’t know what they think and don’t mean what they say.

Whether or not organized fascist groupings are doing well or poorly at any particular time or in any particular place, it’s important to see fascism as a serious danger and to see anti-fascism as a necessary element of a radical anti-capitalist perspective. This clarity is harder to reach when the prospects for fascism are conflated with the prospects for rightwing populism. The question of whether fascism, seriously defined – which in my opinion means narrowly defined – is on the rise in this country and Europe requires clear definitions of categories and substantial empirical data. An answer for this country would start with a critical look at Draitser’s view of the political circumstances that are relevant to the question. In my opinion, but not his, fascism will not be a simple linear development of the capitalist reaction contained in the Trump phenomenon. Nor is it likely to emerge from a simple reaction of Trump’s resentful political base to its likely defeats and failures.

Despite Henry Giroux’s arguments in his extended essay “Neoliberal Fascism and the Echoes of History,” it’s far more likely that serious fascist movements in this country will be based on a radical and revolutionary, but essentially reactionary, rejection of both Trump’s idiosyncratic nativist pro-business parliamentary politics and the core elements of transnational capitalism that Trump is nominally aligned against. Such fascism will not be vulnerable to challenges from a reformist left that conflates it with the reactionary ideologies and structures of historic capitalism. To repeat a point, the importance of challenging capitalist reaction is not minimized when we choose not to call it fascism. Developing effective challenges to capitalist reaction and repression is a central task, but it is a different obligation from the development of a clear understanding and effective response to fascism. In my opinion, both will be weakened, if the very real differences between them are muddied.

My last selection is a representative passage from Henry Giroux’s essay mentioned above that defines what he calls Trump’s “neoliberal fascism.” Giroux is an academic, a professor of “cultural studies” at McMaster University in Canada.
Under these accelerated circumstances, neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with authoritarian “strongman” ideals—the veneration of war, a hatred of reason and truth; a celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity; the suppression of freedom and dissent; a culture that promotes lies, spectacles, scapegoating the other, a deteriorating discourse, brutal violence, and, ultimately, the eruption of state violence in heterogeneous forms. In the Trump administration, neoliberal fascism is on steroids and represents a fusion of the worst dimensions and excesses of gangster capitalism with the fascist ideals of white nationalism and racial supremacy associated with the horrors of the past.

-- Henry Giroux, Truthdig, 8/2/18
Giroux posits an emergent modern fascism in this country and elsewhere (apparently including most of Eurasia) that threatens to gain access to critical levers of governmental authority. Giroux’s conception of U.S. fascism is clearly articulated. His fascism incorporates the entire historic gamut of reactionary, white supremacist, sexist, and anti-democratic institutions and practices in this country. In addition, it incorporates the negative features of the current capitalist world order associated with neoliberalism; austerity, increasing inequality, privatization and commodification of social goods and common spaces. This fascism he calls: “neoliberal fascism.”

For Giroux, the fundamental antagonisms between market-centric neoliberalism, always a core element of the transnational capitalist “Davos-Aspen” ideology, and the populist nationalisms that have emerged in reaction against transnational capital, are transcended by a politics where “neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible movement.” Giroux believes that this “movement,” that combines the most reactionary features of fascism and neoliberalism with a mass base of right-wing populists, nativists, and fascist street forces, is seriously contesting for state power in the U.S. I suspect that he would also agree with Draitser selection cited previously:
Many decent, well-meaning people who have dedicated their lives to fighting neoliberal imperialism have suddenly positioned themselves to the right of neocons in alliance with ascendant fascism in the US. They don’t espouse the fascism, but have nonetheless made common cause with the far right in defense of Trump on the grounds of world peace and smashing the neoliberal/neoconservative consensus in Washington.

-- Draitser, CounterPunch, 7/27/18.
Giroux’s argument does violence to the historical meanings of its primary terms, neoliberalism and fascism. Neoliberalism is an extensively articulated element of capitalism’s ideological framework. It always emphasizes the primacy of “markets” and individual “choice” in both the economic and the political arenas. Fascism proposes a radical totalitarian and hierarchical anti-parliamentarianism and the drastic subordination of individual needs and potentials to an imposed collective good. It has a “trans-capitalist” character (see Sohn-Rethel on Nazi Germany), while neoliberalism universalizes capitalism.

Fascism and neoliberalism undoubtedly share some reactionary positions and might cohabit politically for a tactical moment, but it’s more than a stretch to picture this as, “…a comfortable and mutually compatible movement…” This is a variant of the notion of “fascist creep” that is evident in quite a few left/liberal positions. Here’s another example:
…the process of creeping fascism is at work. Today, it’s considered acceptable by legislators to entertain a political discussion about whether leftists should be criminalized for their political activities. Who is to say that government will not act on that conviction tomorrow, under convenient political circumstances, for example in the wake of a terrorist attack, and undertaken in the name of preserving “national security?” Regardless of the fate of the “Unmasking Antifa Act,” it is yet another point of escalation in the incremental campaign to normalize authoritarian and fascist principles in government. That campaign has been quite successful among Republican adherents, to the detriment of principles of freedom and democracy.

-- Anthony Dimaggio, CounterPunch, 8/21/18
Dimaggio divides capitalism into a bad side that features “normalized authoritarian and fascist principles,” and a good side blessed with “principles of freedom and democracy.” I would hope that the problems with such positions are self evident.

Lorenzo Masilo makes an argument that has some similarities with Giroux’s. Masilo also sees a merger between right wing populism and what he terms the “economic elites”:
… many of today's "populist" leaders offer a mix of authoritarian rule and exclusionary politics repackaged as a vision for a brave new world: walls in place of globalisation, muscular diplomacy in place of multilateralism, "my country first" in place of free trade and protectionist or even social-nationalist measures to tame neoliberalism…

Let there be no mistake: Their revolutionary rhetoric is a sham, too. Right-wing populism is out to shovel up popular discontent to make it subservient to the interests of economic elites. It is no coincidence that Trump's tax regime disproportionately benefits the rich, that Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey or Orban's Hungary are turning into oligarchic kleptocracies, or that Austria's xenophobic government is on a quest against social welfare.

-- Lorenzo Masilo, Aljazeera, 8/5/18
However, Masilo doesn’t see the power relationships and the political implications of this merger as Giroux does. For him, the ‘economic elites’ are the puppet masters of an essentially fraudulent right wing populism. (This alleged fraudulence is questionable but, in contrast to Giroux, Masilo’s does have some supporting evidence.) The basic difference between Giroux and Masilo is that the former pays little attention to any ruling class opposition to the movements he calls fascist, and none at all to the specific oppositional role of the transnational ‘economic elites’. In Giroux’s perspective the dominant elements of the capitalist ruling class, the transnational economic elites, have been swept up in the conjoining of “neoliberalism and fascism.” That’s a real long way from Masilo’s conception that, “right wing populism is…subservient to the interests of economic elites.” It is also a long way from reality.

It is readily apparent that the segments of transnational capital that still control most levers of state power in the global capitalist system are strategically hostile to populist nationalism of either the left or the right. There are very good capitalist reasons why this is true. If this fact and these reasons are not clear to Giroux, they are certainly clear to populist movements. When nativist populisms are pictured as “ascendant,” as growing and on the march…who are they marching against? When populism wins an election somewhere, who “loses” it? Every arena of struggle against populist nationalisms includes major mobilizations by the transnational “economic elites” in their specific interests – and the “economic elites” tend to “win” most of these battles – although it sometimes takes a bit of extra effort and a little time.

Major questions about the methods and objectives of this ruling class fraction are raised by its evident hostility to emerging populisms. Does Giroux’s vision of the struggle against “neoliberal fascism” find the Macrons and Merkels, the Obamas, Clintons, and Soros as allies or enemies – part of the problem or a part of the solution? Will “neoliberal fascism” reflect or reject the politics and culture of Aspen, Davos, and Valdai and the policies of the IMF, ECB, World Bank, WTO, G7? Will these segments of capital, and the individuals and institutions that they incorporate, represent themselves in future struggles in a “comfortable and mutually compatible” relationship with the Bannons and Breitbarts?

For Giroux, the global capitalist elite has either disappeared into a quasi- fascist movement or is politically dispersed. However, in the real world, fractions of the transnational capitalist elites lead the toothless ‘anti-fascist’ fronts that call themselves ‘resistances’. In this country and in most of Europe they can be found in “comfortable and mutually compatible” relationships with assorted reformists and social democrats. These are shaky compacts, but they are not compacts with fascists. Is this a “sham,” a ploy to confuse the gullible similar to the project that Masilo attributes to the leaders of rightwing populisms? Masilo’s assertion that the actually popular elements of right wing populism are only demagoguery is hardly plausible and Giroux falls well short of it.

Part 1 of this essay is here. Part 3 is here.

Oct 23, 2018

New Stuff from an Old Guy - Part 1

By Don Hamerquist

Editor's Introduction

Don Hamerquist is a longtime contributor to Three Way Fight and co-author of Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement (first published 2002) [cite], which helped to inspire creation of Three Way Fight in the first place.

In this essay, Hamerquist addresses the conflict between transnational capitalism and populist nationalist movements, conceptions of fascism, and some pitfalls facing the radical left. The essay is divided into three parts.

Part 1 argues that the transnational section of the capitalist ruling class is looking for a new basis of stability. Transnational capitalism is still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis and faces widespread populist oppositional movements (left-wing and right-wing), which are fueled by neoliberalism’s massive increases in inequality and other problems. In this context, restabilization requires transnational capitalists to seek a “renewed foundation of mass legitimacy and popular acquiescence.”

Part 2 critiques various leftist responses to the current situation. In particular, Hamerquist criticizes a widespread leftist tendency to see fascism, right-wing populist movements, and capitalist interests as all aligned together. Often this implies a division of capital into “good” and “bad” sectors (or “authoritarian” versus “democratic”). He argues instead that transnational capitalists are “strategically hostile” to both left-wing and right-wing populisms, that all of capitalism (including its more liberal elements) tends toward repression, and that fascism is best understood as “an array of emerging reactionary anti-capitalisms” – a right-wing revolutionary tendency that is real but distinct from “reformist” right-wing populisms.

Part 3 argues that transnational capitalists are manipulating anti-fascism to help them build a new mass legitimacy. Hamerquist posits a new popular front that conflates right-wing nationalist populist movements with fascism, and that corrals leftists into supporting capitalism in the name of defending “democracy.” If leftists go along with this and fail to offer a radical anti-capitalist response to the real grievances that are fueling populism, they will help restabilize transnational capitalism and may help push right-wing populist movements into genuinely fascist politics.

Three Way Fight hopes that the essay will contribute to constructive discussion and debate about these important issues. Part 1 of the essay is below. The essay is continued in Part 2 and Part 3.

*                   *                   *

Part One
… Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister and co-founder of the DiEM25 democratic movement, laments the triumph of a Nationalist International – at least stressing that they “sprang out of the cesspool of financialized capitalism.”

-- Pepe Escobar, “The West Against The Rest or The West Against Itself?” 9/18/18
Two things appear to be certain. First, at least in the so-called “West” – North America, the European Union and Australia – there is an emerging conflict between emerging populist nationalisms and the economic processes and political institutions that comprise the transnational capitalist system. Second, this transnational system is limping towards another tipping point after an incomplete and distorted recovery from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

The combination of these prospects leaves left/liberals and “progressives” stuck between nostalgic visions of a “New New Deal” and an implicit support for a tidied up global status quo. Radicals must do better.

I want to look a bit deeper into the contradictions between globalized capitalism and the populisms of the left and right that are both its effects and its flawed challenges. In the process I indicate a potential scenario for capitalist stabilization that, I’m afraid, is more probability than possibility. This will lead to criticisms of various “common sense” left strategic approaches and will include some aspects of an alternative approach.

*                   *                   *

Anti-austerity protesters facing riot police,
Brussels, 3/24/2011
The lack of a mass anti-capitalist response to the 2008 global financial crisis has reduced the obstacles to the gradual and distorted recovery of capitalist economic activity. Globally, “recovery” has meant neoliberalism – a more broadly generalized austerity and the increasing privatization of social resources and collective goods. It is a recovery defined by massive increases in economic and social inequality; a recovery that deliberately avoids the issues of capital’s “externalities”: the looming ecological crises and the genocidal implications of the marginalization and increasing precarity of major populations.

For the moment, U.S. capitalism works within a relatively benign economic context, despite its continuing dependence on Ponzi financial manipulations and an expanded militarization that has yet to be balanced out by the economic and political costs of a major war. This context is time-limited. Growing problems from frictions in capital and labor flows, from trade and investment imbalances, and from the gamut of corruptions that rot inside the complexities of rent-seeking financialization are on the horizon.

The transnational segment of the global ruling class is certainly more aware of the fragilities of global capitalism than less strategically placed sectors of the class – more aware of the need to put the capitalist house in order, limiting the potentials for new crises and widespread disruptions. This ruling elite recognizes the need for stronger transnational state and quasi-state formations with a global vision of ruling class interests and the capacity to discipline competitive elements of capital to a coherent strategic perspective. The point is made in this recent (7/18/18) report from the “International Panel on Social Progress”:
Interestingly, the Panel sensed that “globalization and the spiral of inequality and corporate political power have triggered a growing legitimacy crisis in old and new democracies, undermining the nation-state as the basis for democracy and welfare policy.” It sees transnational private actors and international financial institutions as new players in the global governance system.

It also doubts that the present international financial system based on “flexible exchange rates and footloose capital mobility, low barriers to trade and high barriers to low-skilled migration” can be sustained into the future.

-- Review comment on International Panel on Social Progress Report, Naked Capitalism Links (8/15/18)
However each tentative step towards stronger transnational governance encounters powerful and diverse segments of capital with material interests in thwarting the process. Beyond the direct resistance from the dynamics of the pursuit of private profit, capitalist nation states that see themselves as actually (or even potentially) losing in global competition typically oppose such transnational projects.

Perhaps more important, is the likely opposition from the more or less spontaneous, more or less popular, countervailing movements that are reacting to the current impacts of transnational capital. They include both struggles against austerity that are fueled by the increasingly obvious linkages and contrasts between austerity and corruption, and challenges to the lack of representative legitimacy and accountability. There will be no support here for efforts to streamline and strengthen transnational governance in the interests of elites that are already benefiting grotesquely from capitalist globalization.

Even if capital’s general ideological hegemony continues to be more or less unchallenged, this array of social forces against globalization ensures that technocratic adjustments and minor reforms won’t be enough to produce more effective structures of governance for transnational capital. To reach that objective, the institutional changes and new structures must be accompanied by a renewed foundation of mass legitimacy and popular acquiescence. This objective, if it is even possible, is certainly not easily attained – not even in the core territories of capital. However, without an expanded legitimacy, transnational capitalism will increasingly be forced to prioritize command over consent, and an extended period of “flailing and churning” in which no protracted social equilibrium will be possible is the likely outcome for the transnational capitalist system.

Is there any capitalist adaptive scenario that can address this dilemma for capital and improve the possibilities for an extended period of transnational capitalist stability? Unfortunately, I think there are such possibilities that can develop from the working out of nationalism/globalism’s contradictions. The revolutionary left should take care to avoid incorporation into such stabilizing scenarios.

The initial elements of one such scenario are apparent in this recent observation by a well-known neocon theorist, Robert Kagan (husband to Victoria Neuland of “fuck the E.U.” note).
The peaceful, democratic Europe we had come to take for granted in recent decades has been rocked to the core by populist nationalist movements responding to the massive flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. For the first time since World War II, a right-wing party holds a substantial share of seats in the German Bundestag. Authoritarianism has replaced democracy, or threatens to, in such major European states as Hungary and Poland, and democratic practices and liberal values are under attack in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. France remains one election away from a right-wing nationalist leadership, and Italy has already taken a big step in that direction.

-- Robert Kagan, Washington Post, 7/14/18
There are many such pessimistic statements from transnational capitalist elites of varying political hues. They may disagree about many other matters, but they agree that nationalist/populist responses to transnational capital are on the ascendency… that they are a real danger to global stability…and that the transnational ruling elites are poorly prepared to counter them.

William R. Rhodes, Senior Vice-Chairman, Citigroup,
speaks at World Economic Forum meeting,
Tianjin, China, 9/27/27/2008
These claims have some basis, but they are often overstated and this is the case here. The imminent and overwhelming lurch towards right wing populist nationalism is not so self-evident. There are important limitations on supposedly ascendant nativist populisms: visible ceilings on their accomplishments (Trump?); likely instances of setbacks or stalemates (Brexit, Trump?) and their substantial, if temporary, reverses (Macron vs. LePen?).

Political/economic reality dictates that no revival of mercantilism and tariff wars will negate global supply chains; the centrality of transnational financial capital won’t be reversed with MAGA rhetoric; nativist protectionist and anti-immigrant politics will ultimately lose any contest with the geo-political and market factors that determine labor and capital flows. All of this will hold in the absence of a serious rupture of the overall global capitalist framework, and such a rupture is currently beyond either the reach or the intent of nativist populisms – certainly of the right-wing variants. (I’ll raise some important complications on this question later.)

Here is an academic perspective on the problems that confront any populist nationalism, right or left…and the obstacles for left populisms will be greater since they are more dependent on their ability to secure substantial economic concessions for their constituencies than their right wing cousins:
In a globalized economy, it may be extremely difficult for any country to implement policies that protect the bargaining power of workers, that reverse income inequality, that raise minimum wages, that improve the social safety net, or that otherwise make households better off relative to businesses and governments. Implementing any of these policies causes a country’s international competitiveness to deteriorate. Consequently, rather than achieving the desired result, these policies cause the trade balance to go into deficit, and either unemployment will rise or debt must rise.

-- Michael Pettis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 7/10/18
Despite these limitations, recent right wing populist successes have blocked and perhaps even reversed the momentum towards stronger transnational capitalist institutions. This has happened even when these limited and ambiguous successes look very reversible.

The transnationalist sectors of the capitalist ruling class are able to understand and respond to an unfavorable alignment of forces. Their response is apparent in largely successful attempts to infiltrate and co-opt nativist oppositions and deflect the political trajectory of their populist elements. The grotesquely pro-capitalist policy content of Trump’s millionaire-stacked entourage is an obvious example here. However, the left should be alert for ruling class tactics that are less overt but possibly more important. Transnational capital may only mobilize a half-hearted and diluted resistance to some populist insurgencies, not so much from weakness or confusion, but because there are reasons to concede nativist populism some victories. It’s a way to shift political responsibility for the economic reversals, trade wars, environmental crises, and nasty military conflicts that continue to infect global capital – even at the apex of the current recovery. Similar tactics might also pass off responsibility for expanding authoritarianism – which will be an essential feature of all regimes of mature capital – by subcontracting it to local jurisdictions under circumstances that maximize illusions that repression is essentially accidental, contingent and easily reversible through popular pressure.

I believe that this tactic is currently in play in this country, as well as in the U.K. and Greece, and probably Italy and Spain. When successful, such gambits help expose the essential hollowness of the populist promises of material advantages and more responsive governance in situations where they have some measure of (parliamentary) success. The collapse of its promises exposes populism’s strategic weakness and exacerbates its internal contradictions. This increases cynicism and internal polarizations that demobilize and demoralize the actual and potential mass constituencies of populist movements and cripple potentials for future organizing initiatives.

Currently, with Greece as the possible exception, such tactical responses from transnational capital are directed towards populisms of the right wing nativist variant. However, the same political forces using much the same tactics will undoubtedly confront potentially “left” variations of populism (e.g., possibly Imran Khan in Pakistan?). (I will have to think a bit more about how to relate this argument to situations in this hemisphere – the reversals of the “Pink Tide” in Brazil and Ecuador [Venezuela? Bolivia?], and what to make of AMLO in Mexico.)

However, although they may be tactical successes, such maneuvers don’t confront transnational capital’s basic problems and can even exacerbate them. The tools and methods that effectively undermine and discredit populist governance will not create the base of legitimacy and popular acquiescence that transnational capital urgently needs for longer-term stability. No discrediting of populism gains an affirmative popular ‘consent’ to transnational capital.

If the conflicts between nativist populisms on the “right” and reformist social democratic populisms on the “left” develop without a clear liberatory internationalist anti-capitalist alternative to both, possibilities for a longer-term stabilization of global capitalism can emerge. This can happen, even in the absence of a comprehensive ruling class strategic project. My fear is that these possibilities are more likely probabilities and I’d like to spend some time on how they might emerge.

This comment expresses a common left/liberal approach to current politics:
The key question for the immediate future is whether those populist revolts will tack left or tack right, and in which countries. The most important, of course, being the USA. If the USA tacks right, with appeals to jingoistic white identity nationalism as the primary motivation for sustaining political support, then the gloom and doom will come to pass.

If the populist revolts tack left, with appeals to the better angels of our nature coupled with appeals for a classical republican (not “R”epublican) mobilization of civic virtue for selfish interests to yield to the interest of the General Welfare in building a new world economy free of dependence on burning fossil fuels, the likely result will be a new “golden age of capitalism.”

-- Anthony Wikrent, Naked Capitalism, 7/19/18
Leaving aside the “better angels” and “new golden age,” there is some value in Wikrent’s recognition of the internally contradictory elements of the populist/nationalist response to the impacts of transnational capital. Roughly speaking, these impacts have a right and a left, each of which contain potentials to morph into the other, as well as to fork in a multiplicity of ways. Wikrent, along with many others on the left, is fixed on hopes that this develops into a populist “left” fork that can resurrect and institutionalize the mass reformist constituency that provided some relative stability for capital in a previous period.

Whether or not it would be desirable, it’s not possible to replicate the “successes” and “victories” of the past in our present not-so “golden age.” The material benefits of those arrangements, which have been termed “Fordism,” were always restricted to strategic minorities of the working class in the “First World” – class segments that are no longer so strategic. The potential political and economic returns for transnational capital from such reformist national class compacts are much more limited than they were historically.

No “New New Deal” is in the cards for the same reasons that the promises of right wing nationalism will not be fulfilled. If left populist movements gain any victories, they are overwhelmingly likely to be “victories” within a parliamentary/electoral context where they will have even less potential to provide tangible benefits for their core constituencies than the similarly questionable victories of their right wing nativist cousins. The characteristics of global capitalism that limit the current prospects for right wing nativist populism; the globalized supply chains and the transnational financial structures, present similar limits for all reformist left variants of populism and they will be particularly effective against those versions of populism that are inclined to follow the social democratic electoral/parliamentary model.

This essay is continued in Part 2 and Part 3.

Photo credits:
1. Picture by M0tty [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
2. Photo by Natalie Behring/copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Oct 17, 2018

Yes, we have Twitter.

well, we've done it. we have finally attempted to update ourselves beyond this 14 year old blog. yes, we signed up to Twitter. but we're still keeping the blog. for now.

we will be using the Twitter account to help publish new material from Three Way Fight as well as reposts/retweets of material related to what we're attempting to do here. not all retweets are necessarily endorsements but all will be part of the thinking and discussions that we're attempting to have and that we hope can be useful.

so here you go: https://twitter.com/Three_Way_Fight

After 14 years we're finally managing to get ourselves some social media (image courtesy of BRRN).

Oct 4, 2018

Two interviews about the U.S. far right

Photo of vintage microphoneI recently recorded two radio interviews about my book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire. Between them, the interviews touch on many of the book’s major themes.

Christina Aanestad interviewed me on September 16 for The Sunday Show on KPFA of the Pacifica Radio Network. The interview aired on September 23 as part of the station’s pledge drive and is available in KPFA’s online archives, here. Our 45-minute conversation explored a range of issues, including the following:
  • federal security agencies’ history of widely varied relationships with violent right-wing organizations – ranging from sponsorship to crackdown
  • Christian theocratic forces – Christian Reconstructionists and New Apostolic Reformation
  • the contrasting racial politics of white nationalists and Christian theocrats
  • Patriot movement ideology and conspiracist anti-elitism
  • the alt-right’s political origins – especially European New Right, paleoconservatism, and manosphere
  • Proud Boys – distinct from but in coalition with white nationalists
  • the alt-right’s relationship with Donald Trump
  • some pitfalls in analyzing the far right
  • the need for a multi-pronged antifascist strategy.
The second interview was with Rob Seimetz for the program Moving Forward on the Progressive Radio Network. We spoke for an hour by phone on September 22 and the interview aired a few days later. It’s available here. Some of the points addressed include:
  • the concept of fascism and whether the U.S. should be considered a fascist country
  • white supremacism and color-blindness as different forms of racist ideologies
  • the distinction between rightists who are loyal to the existing U.S. political system and those who are not, and how these forces are also interconnected
  • anti-establishment and leftist-sounding elements of far right politics, and the difference between systemic analyses of power and anti-elitism based on conspiracy theories
  • the recent “shift in the center of gravity of patriarchal politics in the US” from the Christian right’s emphasis on the patriarchal family (and mobilizing women) to the alt-right/manosphere emphasis on predatory sexuality (and excluding women from politics altogether)
  • paleoconservatism’s role in shaping the alt-right
  • the alt-right’s mixed success since Trump took office, and the longer-term threat posed by far right forces. 
Photo credit:
Vintage Astatic Silver Eagle Microphone, by Joe Haupt from USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.