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Liberal Capitalism is Dead

From its beginnings out of the European Enlightenment, liberal capitalism was based on a promise of progress through justice predicated on equality before the law. In light of the fact that the Enlightenment ran alongside the European Witch Hunts, the ideological foundations of liberal capitalism have always been something of a thought experiment, since the political democracy of liberal capitalism has tended to turn a blind eye to the class war characteristic of the Witch Hunts. This is doubly true of the class war of societies dominated by class hierarchies, such as every society that a liberal democracy has ever operated within. The fact that the Enlightenment did take place alongside the Witch Hunts might perhaps be considered indicative of a pronounced cognitive dissonance; the failure amongst liberal capitalists to perceive any could likewise be considered telling.

As the radical historian Rudolf Rocker noted in the years prior to WWII, the promise of equality before the law under liberal democracy was shipwrecked on the rocks of class society, a fact that has only become truer in the post-war period, as the United States acted as midwife for the rise to power of a transnational corporate empire in the midst of its own rise to global dominance as geopolitical hegemon. With the rise of transnational corporate capitalism, the limitations of liberal capitalism are becoming too conspicuous to safely sweep under the rug. Politicians are bought and paid for before they even reach office thanks to corporate campaign donations, as are the national committees of two-party duopolies, and this is only the beginning.

On shipwrecks

In digging deeper, we find that the revolving door between transnational corporations and the state builds and sustains old boy networks and creates institutional linkages with private, unaccountable power; private security outnumbers state armed forces in most countries these days, private prisons create demand for draconian sentencing laws, and Amazon aids both the CIA and NSA by storing their copious surveillance data on its cloud servers. Public choice theorists sponsored by the Koch brothers propagandise jurists and policymakers behind the scenes to protect corporate power from democracy by conflating individual freedom and extreme class privilege. This and various other forms of totalitarian mischief are enabled by the legal fiction of corporate personhood—one that stands, not because of any clear judicial ruling that can be pointed to as a cogent argument as to why corporations should have the same rights as human beings, but as a series of fait accomplis perpetrated in the closing decades of the 19th century, beginning with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co. in 1886.

The result of this long process of corporate capture is the hollowing out of liberal capitalist democracy; the corporate power arising out of the inherently monopolistic tendencies of the class-based system appropriates the forms of its victim, articulating corporatist and fascist value systems and priorities using the language of democratic freedom. Where Huey Long once said that, ‘when fascism comes to America, it will come draped in the flag and carrying a bible’, we might now add to that, ‘and stealing the language of the democratic freedoms upon which it preys.’ Billionaire Warren Buffet tells no lies to the New York Times when he says, ‘’There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’ Liberal democracy becomes a colony of transnational corporate power in much the same style as the allegedly ‘postcolonial’ second and third worlds. As ideologically-induced amnesia sets in, so too does much of the populace, hypnotised by consumerism. In the face of the corporate Leviathan, we settle for throwing an endless torrent of consumer durables into the bottomless pit of our alienation. We live out our lives as capture-bonded debt mules for rent-seeking finance capital, in lieu of exercising meaningful control over the conditions of our daily lives and our work, as free individuals under conditions of economic as well as political democracy.

It is obvious enough to most of those who aren’t part of the big party for the rich (Rest in Power George Carlin) that the way the world operates in fact is not quite the same as the version sold in the glossy brochures. The democracy Big Mac looks like the real deal in the studio shots for you to look at when ordering, but not much like the one you’re served by a teenager earning minimum wage (and you’re hungry again 20 minutes later anyway). In contradistinction to the paranoid fairy tales of the public choice theorists, governments are less a two-party duopoly of rent-seekers for the poor than a two-party duopoly of rent-seekers for the rich—their capture by the corporate interests represented by public choice theory and its various libertarian cousins and offshoots being the decisive fact on this count. Liberal democrats having thus been routed, the working classes and otherwise poor and dispossessed huddled masses of the world suffer and die under the class despotism of transnational finance capital rent-seekers.

What do with a drunken sailor

With this more or less as the prevailing state of affairs, those who still hold to liberal capitalist democracy are faced with a dilemma. One option for liberals who aim for a more progressive capitalism is to recognise they have been routed by resurgent corporate neoaristocrats seeking to reverse the democratic gains of the 18th and 19th centuries. In making this recognition, they need to accept, with the rebellious students of May ’68, that ‘those who make half a revolution dig their own graves’—that, in other words, political democracy is doomed to fail if constructed atop divisions of economic class. One might as well build a skyscraper on sand, a fact recognised by the mainstays of the French Revolution who understood very well that political freedom was impossible without economic equality, as monied elites would use their economic power to secure political power and turn the laws to their own advantage (economist Michael Hudson exposes this phenomenon as a long historical tendency with devastating precision in his masterful work Killing the Host).

Another option for liberals, which seems to be the one that many of them take, is to try to unring the bell of corporate capture, seeking amendments and reforms within frameworks of national governments now so subject to the whims of transnational capital that they resemble little more than wholly owned subsidiaries. Without any hope of achieving meaningful reforms within a system lurching conspicuously into police state surveillance and corporate-driven totalitarianism predicated on the neoliberal ideology of capitalist supremacism, movements for reform, at best, take on a performative aspect, one of keeping up appearances. If transnational corporate capitalism attempts to maintain the fiction of a pulse within liberal democracy for its own cynical purposes, then it is aided and abetted by performative liberals, captive to their own false pride. Both keep the corpse walking and waving, Weekend at Bernies-style, and both for reasons that much prefer not to be stated openly.

We find various attempts within liberal academia then to close the barn doors after the horse has bolted. Such reflect in one form or another commentary from political theorist Karl Polanyi around the idea of ‘re-embedding capitalism,’ of re-associating capitalist markets with the social and community environments they operate within and to re-anchor them in the needs and rights of the individual. Just as we might do what’s right rather than what we’re told instead of doing what we’re told rather than what’s right, so too might economies serve individuals, rather than individuals be made to serve economies, while being told to do what they’re told rather than what’s right. For his part, Polanyi died in 1966 and did not live to see the growth of transnational corporations and globalisation carried out under neoliberal conditions. No less significantly, Polanyi died only four years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, the work largely credited with launching the ecological movement.

Future attempts from liberal capitalists to greenwash Polanyi notwithstanding, ‘re-embedding capitalism’ neglects then to account for the development of ecological insights into the ‘metabolic rift’ at the core of the present ecological crisis—the tendency of capitalist social relations to undermine the natural metabolism of Earth’s ecology in the process of reducing our planetary home (along with everything and everyone on it) into an object of resource extraction and profiteering. As against proposals from ecological thought for such strategies as degrowth economics, municipalism and recommoning in the increasingly pervasive areas where neoliberal capitalism fails to deliver, re-embedding capitalism as a strategy at best represents a tragic failure of imagination. At worst, and as a by now wildly obsolete idea, it functions to extend the life of transnational capitalism and all of its inherent abuses in the name of combatting them, by dignifying capitalist social relations as such.

Making a home in the wreckage

Under these circumstances, liberal attempts to reform transnational corporate capitalism take on the aspect of a political version of trickle-down economics. ‘Re-embedding markets’ is promised to deliver results later—though efforts to actually follow up and find out whether any real difference is being made appear spartan, as though no one really wants to know what the answer is for sure. Where putting band-aids on the cancers of corporate capture, transnational globalisation and metabolic rift and hoping for the best is concerned, intuition gets us close enough.

Thus echo chambers die hard, especially apparently in academia, even despite the frontal assaults of neoliberalism on higher education. Bodies of work and careers are built up around argument and perspectives rendered obsolete by the quickening spiral of neoliberal capitalism into the ecological, economic and societal inferno; the defence of liberal reforms takes on a conservatising and authoritarian aspect as ranks close against the intrusion of inconvenient realities and unwelcome moral challenges. Liberals embrace voluntary grievance mechanisms where policy is already set as a sop to the otherwise voiceless and powerless victims. The corpse appears to smile and wave while the protagonists, with one arm up the back of its shirt and their shoelaces tied to its, mutter at each other through clenched teeth so as to not give the game away.

In taking on an authoritarian and conservative aspect, liberal capitalism then comes to reflect basic realities of capitalist social relations as it becomes itself a colony. It might be said that the money power built on those relations has the psychology of a vampire, insofar as it views all life around it merely as extensions of its own will and objects to be exploited—indeed, ofttimes destroyed—to keep it alive. Vampires are nothing if not narcissistic junkies, and if their grabby-hands accumulation of capital is anything to go by, as a class the global capitalist class are collectively narcissistic junkies.

The consequences are well known in the statistics on world poverty and income inequality—emblematic in the fact that 25,000 people a day die from hunger while a third of all food produced globally every year goes to waste because starving people are too poor to buy it. Meanwhile, the rapaciousness that creates this horrorshow is feeds a systemic overaccumulation crisis at the other end of global capitalism, where the transnational corporate aristocracy can’t put their money to work anymore because they’re the only ones who still have any. In their tyrannical insistence on ideological conformity to the idea that freedom and class privilege are the same thing as the root enabler of these conditions, the transnational corporate elite do a good impression of the Borg from Star Trek, except also vampiric, narcissistic takers of life and its material conditions just to sweeten the deal even further.

With this being the case, the power built with and through the psychology of vampiric global capitalist world hegemony appears then to permeate down through the entire system, defining the social relations that characterise it at each step, as capital dominates and tyrannises over all life. It figures then that a world social order so vampiric and exploitative as to reduce the world and everyone in it as objects fit only for exploitation for profit also demands total obedience to class hierarchy. The history of class warfare within capitalist modernity and the struggle of the capitalist class for supremacist dominance—a war it will be winning until it overaccumulates to breaking point, or cooks the planet, or both—appears to support this point. So too does the vampiric money power demands wilful blindness from all concerned; the king might have no clothes, but even liberal capitalists must insist that he does, in lieu of having to acknowledge their routing by transnational corporatism.

In looking to rehabilitate capitalist social relations through strategies such as ‘re-embedding capitalism,’ and otherwise by dignifying voluntary redress mechanisms within neoliberal jurisprudence, liberal capitalists become as complicit as those they claim to oppose in normalising the vampirism characteristic of the predatory gaze of transnational corporate capitalism. They become as complicit, ultimately, in normalising cultlike submission to the ideological priorities and value systems associated with capitalist social relations as such; this would appear to go some way towards accounting for the fact that a liberal capitalist who will even name capitalist social relations as a fact of everyday life is so rare as to be non-existent. To even name capitalist social relations, even as they affect every aspect of our lives, is to do offense to the fog of cultish normalisation of economic autocracy, and so too also to the routed logic of political democracy constructed atop societies divided into have-yachts and have-nots.

We must, however, name capitalist social relations if we are concerned with social justice, and the kind of baseline sane and orderly, classless society that can guarantee it. As the socialist feminist Combahee River Collective (CRC) pointed out, ‘work must be organised for the collective benefit of those who do the work, not for the profit of the bosses.’ The fact is that social relations in the economic sphere under capitalism are as autocratic as those in the political under a monarchy (and abolished as intolerable for a society concerned with civilised norms of individual freedom and dignity by democratic revolutions in Europe and North America hundreds of years ago). Nevertheless, and again as the CRC pointed out, a comparable democratic revolution in the economic sphere that was not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution, would hardly secure the freedom of anyone not male or white. Thus a ‘radical subjectivity’ inclusive of identities based on various forms of structural oppression, argued the CRC, was necessary to combat the class reductionism that was as blind to the structural role played by misogyny and racism in propping up autocratic economic social relations as it was the suffering of those subject to it.

Recuperating the siren’s call

For the reactionary neoaristocrats perpetrating corporate capture and capital-supremacist totalitarianism, the level of offense to cultish norms in even discussing capitalist social relations was as good as trying to subvert society—as if subverting society isn’t inherent to feeding off of it as rent-seeking finance capitalist do the point of overaccumulation crisis. By contrast, liberal capitalists seek to deal with the messy business of capitalist social relations by replacing the stick from the right with the carrot.

Production of the carrot as means of enticing loyalty to class hierarchy starts by stripping the identity-politics-as-radical-subjectivity articulated by the Combahee River Collective of its class analysis—inclusive of its revolutionary goals in overturning racism and misogyny as systemically necessary mechanisms of victim-blaming, along with the system that produces them. Freed of having to acknowledge the consequences of class within liberal capitalist democracy, their own routing being not the least of which, liberal capitalists enlist anti-sexism and anti-racism struggles in the recruitment of more diverse talent to feed into the machinery of capitalism, and all it entails in the extraction of surplus value and appropriation of unpaid care labour (again taboo).

In addition to glossing over the institutional function of misogyny and racism by giving capitalism the appearance of racial diversity, this also of course ensures that misogyny and racism continues; for all the tireless efforts of liberal capitalists to make capitalism more diverse, somehow misogyny and racism strangely never seem to go really away. This does not however prompt a general questioning of the reduction of identity politics to single issue struggles. It does, on the other hand, prompt the reduction of nominally progressive politics to a sexy shopping list of worthy causes to be strung together minus any intersectional analysis to understand how various forms of oppression function often in concert at the systemic level.

This bastardisation of anti-sexist and anti-racist struggles in the service of capital accumulation also offers liberal capitalists a mechanism for silencing criticism of capitalism from the left. While the fascists of the capitalist right bolster their capitalist supremacism with the identity politics of white supremacism, the liberals of the capitalist left bolster their capitalist supremacism with what we might call ‘identity reductionism’—the reduction of social actors, whose status as members of (typically) underprivileged groups, sectors and classes within class hierarchies affects their living conditions, to atomised individuals, whose rights are conceptualised in terms of a legal plaintiff (Judith Butler).

Where the white supremacists of the capitalist far-right use identity politics to rationalise their class privilege by conflating challenges to it with attacks on their freedom and victim-blaming, the identity reductionists of the capitalist left use identity politics to rationalise their class privilege by conflating challenges to it with attempts to assert and reimpose social privilege. Both attitudes exist to defend capitalist privilege from challenge; both reflect the same underlying ‘projecting’ dynamic based on identity, even if the pretexts vary between reactionary/hateful, and progressive/benign. As Asad Haider argues,

When rights are granted to ‘empty,’ abstract individuals, they ignore the real, social forms of inequality and oppression that appear to be outside the political sphere. … In other words, when the liberal language of rights is used to defend a concrete identity group from injury … that group ends up defined by its victimhood.

Instead of addressing the material causes of physical or verbal injury, liberal identity politics ends up ‘reduced to a reaction,’ as Haider puts it, and “emancipatory content disappears.’ As Stalin’s persecution of dissent in the Soviet Union as threats to the revolutionary freedom of the working class demonstrated, it is just as possible to perpetrate reaction and otherwise exercise authoritarian rule on progressive pretexts as it is reactionary ones.

Back in the capitalist west, academia as the traditional bastion of liberal capitalism (propaganda mythologies from the Murdoch press notwithstanding) presents a notable forum for the use of identity reductionism by liberal capitalists as a useful tool of reaction—as a means, in other words, of shutting down challenges to capitalist social relations (much less to say the co-option of anti-sexist and anti-racist struggles to the service of capital accumulation). The logic of ‘if you challenge liberal capitalism, the racists and misogynists win’ functions just as well as ‘if you think for yourself, the communists and terrorists win’ in shutting down debate and enforcing ideological conformity. As academia is captured and colonised by neoliberalism, so too are many within it—all the more so as funding cuts and austerity create fear of rocking the boat and increased willingness to submit to the value systems and ideological priorities of the all-coveting eye of predatory transnational capital.

This is hardly a contentious point. Upton Sinclair once wrote, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ The pressure to conform ideologically to the cult of private accumulation that bristles even at the naming of capitalist social relations is made easier at the outset by internalising the logic of the transnational overlord. For those whose salaries depend on upholding the routed and shipwrecked liberal capitalism, the conflict between the moral challenges reality presents to their conscience and the demands of collecting a salary can be resolved easily enough if we abandon or simply neglect the parts of our individuality that notice or care about the misery and suffering of others. We don’t feel the suffering of members of our own class if we allow ourselves to forget that classes exist or that they matter (or even that we share common interests, classist pretences to the contrary notwithstanding).

Abandoning individuality and internalising the value system of the corporate overlord for easier ascension into the rapidly diminishing middle classes also makes the performativity of routed liberal democracy easier—along with abandoning the politics of class, and the working class along with it. One can collect a paycheck and feel perfectly at ease, especially if one works at surrounding oneself only with other liberal capitalists and shutting out anyone who insists on harping on taboo topics like capitalist social relations. The long-term political effects were not hard to predict. As Richard Rorty wrote in 1998:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else . . . At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots . . One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

In the conditions of 2020, the salience of this observation is impossible to miss. Liberal capitalists, living in blissful bubbles free of taboos like class, are now confronted with a working class who know they’ve been abandoned, and who know being poor and working class is the one identity that identity-reductionist capitalists have zero interest in knowing anything about. The disinterestedness of identity reductionists in poor and working class life is again reflected in the preoccupation with ‘re-embedding capital’ while respecting cultish taboos against mere acknowledgement of capitalist social relations. Capitalism as a fait accompli of colonial and imperial violence historically is to be made more serviceable (as a lost cause and keeping-face performance in the face of transnational corporate capture of governments worldwide), rather than addressing the needs and desires of human beings and finding ways to service those (again, though such strategies as promotion of degrowth economics, municipalism, recommoning, community defence organisations, and/or radical union organising).

The uneducated working class certainly are not the most articulate in confronting the classist elitism of liberal capitalists; objecting to being labelled a misogynist or racist for rejecting classism can easily be read as taking the crumbs of token privilege thrown out to the white working class and white make workers in particular, to ensure their loyalty within class hierarchies. Just because someone does not reject classism in an articulate manner does not, however, actually make them a reactionary—any more than it means middle class liberals who are woke about every identity except being working class and poor are not well out of touch, which it would seem they are. Not only are they out of touch but militantly so, a fact made starkly apparent by Hilary Clinton’s infamous denunciation of working class Trump supporters as a ‘basket of deplorables’ in 2016, comments the latter inevitably took up as a badge of honour and proof that their man was fighting the cause of the common people.

A basket of shipwrecks

Ironically enough, the insistence of identity reductionists on tinkering around the edges of the capitalist social relations they demonstrate scant awareness of at best leaves the door open for every far right demagogue to then come piling in—which they do in droves. It does not appear to have been for nothing that the final campaign video from Donald Trump prior to the 2016 presidential elections addressed the decline of the manufacturing industry in the United States—something on which the allegedly more progressive Democratic Party was conspicuously silent. Indeed, as Chomsky points out,

The Democrats long ago gave up on the working class, that’s not part of their constituency[, which these days is] an elite, professional constituency. They focus on—to the extent that they’re issues—mostly identity politics, which is okay, but it’s not class-based. It’s not going to appeal to the needs of most of the population. Other Republicans have just taken over the vacuum.

As have opportunists even further to the right, exploiting the vacuum of interest in the immiseration of the working class under neoliberalism from nominal progressives to feed them scapegoats and paranoid, totalitarian conspiratorial poison. In the face of these developments, identity reductionist liberal capitalists continue to turn a blind eye to the oppressiveness and injustice of class hierarchies per se, with all that follows in willing blindness to the consequences. Leaving the door open for every far right demagogue to come piling in (which they do), liberal capitalists still have the gall to act surprised when the working class doesn’t support them at the ballot box. They should perhaps not. As the experience of the Republicans under Trump and the far right his administration has emboldened suggests, the abandonment by liberal capitalists of class politics, and the working class along with it, is the seed of the rot of fascism.

Amidst the fear of rising fascism, it is all too easy to take any attempt to critique identity politics in the hands of neoliberal capitalists as a RWNJ talking point. The fact remains, however, that criticising liberal capitalists from the left and attacking them are not the same thing. Stripping the class-based politics of revolutionary subjectivity as articulated by groups like the Combahee River Collective of their substance, and co-opting them as a service to enhanced capital accumulation is a valid criticism, as is tinkering around the edges of neoliberal capitalism while leaving root causes intact. As noted, such not only leaves racism and misogyny safe from identification as a systemic feature of capitalism, liberal or otherwise, but does nothing to address the effects of class society as such—not least of which being the ever-deepening immiseration of just about everyone but the transnational corporate aristocracy (including, ironically enough, classist liberals).

Averting the rocks

It has long been apparent that liberal capitalists, in neglecting or abandoning the working class, sow the seeds of fascism, digging their own graves as noted by making half a revolution and then turning a blind eye to the consequences while trying to have their cake and eat it too. In noting this tendency, Gilles Dauvé also pointed out long ago in his excellent pamphlet When Insurrections Die that it leads liberals to oppose (or at least try to manage or thwart) resistance to fascism that encompasses anti-capitalist and antihegemonic critiques. Even with fascism knocking on their door, liberals historically have still tried to salvage capitalism—and their own class privileges along with them—somewhat predictably tending to end up losing both. As the degeneration of the Republican Party into oligarchical fascism tends to suggest, supporting the analysis from Dauvé, the far right will hardly hesitate to sacrifice liberals along with the working class to their class privileges during periods of crisis.

Dealing with critiques of identity reductionism and working class opposition to liberal capitalism by handwaving them away and accusing critics of being right wing has, by now, been more than done enough to become a cliché—as much of one as associating political dissent with enabling terrorism. The fact is that the working class swung hard left after WWII; the combination of Red Scare, ‘if you think for yourself, the communists win’-type class war, Cold War liberalism and neoliberalism killed off most working class militancy. With the rise of neoliberalism and capitalist supremacism, liberal capitalists capitulated once again, just as they did throughout the Cold War, and abandoned the working class and left them to rot while withdrawing into enclaves of ideological purity. Within these enclaves, the most advanced ways of attempting to deal with systemic issues appear to involve the work of a theorist who died before much anyone knew of such things as global warming or neoliberalism. Otherwise, we find a milieu where the power of victimhood takes priority over building positive bridges and unity based on mutual understanding and class solidarity, nd becomes the basis for carving out performative, toxic fiefdoms of authority and influence, bereft of emancipatory content.

Under these conditions, resistance is reduced to alienated roles of permanent protest—the goal of the nominal left is to rise to the top of the toxic shitheap, such that they might be the ones to lead. The toxic influence of identity reductionism further infects radical left ghettos, becoming the basis for a competition to be winners of the Oppression Olympics—a certain parallel to the top dog competition on the right to be winners of the Tough Cunt Olympics. The self-appointed apostles and gurus of leftism fashion themselves saviours of the working class, and work to undermine anyone who questions their judgement too much by making them out to be wreckers and saboteurs, to associate them with reactionism. The informal hierarchies that arise are defended, paradoxically enough, in the name of protecting the emancipatory project from petit-bourgeois and reactionary elements—for which deference to liberal identity reductionism as a last resort against acknowledging failures of strategy on the left provides ample ammunition.

All told this would appear to help to account for the inability of the left to build on historical levels of working class dissatisfaction with the status quo of global capitalism. Without meaningful and constructive ways to address alienation and immiseration, fascist conspiracism recognises the opportunity and fills the void with ideologically-driven negativity and paranoia. The forces of progress are losing because we seem to imagine we can fend off the rising far right without a sizeable chunk of the proletariat—because we choose perfect enemies over imperfect allies. This of course begs the question as to where these attitudes come from—the idea perhaps that ignorance is an inherent quality of the working class, poor and lumpenproletariat, rather than the result of the neglect of their education by neoliberal governments of all shades, an effect of mass education in ‘imposing ignorance’ as per Chomsky, or even part of the colonialist project of disenfranchisement. Either the ‘redneck,’ ‘chav’ or ‘bogan’ is inherently reactionary, or they just somehow didn’t make it to finishing school. Suffice it to say that one of these views reflects an appalling classism.

To reiterate, the other side of the coin is that the growth of corporate power has, over the course of the last century or so, subverted political democracy via regulatory capture enabled by neoliberal ideology, subverted evangelicals with prosperity gospel, and fed the feedback loop with tax cuts to and deregulation of the ultra-wealthy, itself enabled by the coup by stealth on the part of public choice theory and corporatist libertarianism. Amidst this sordid state of affairs middle class liberals and laborites, and those aspiring to join them, did not even have to be offered anything—they just sold out, and then invented identity reductionism as a blunt instrument to stifle dissent, making assumptions and moving goalposts along the way as necessity dictates. As the chickens of world capitalism come home to roost in ever-deepening ecological and overaccumulation crises, the fascism that arises to save class privilege from political democracy is what results. The Brenton Tarrants and Rowan Baxters of the world are emboldened because the working class is too weak to challenge their cultural figureheads; needless to say, once they are legion all the hard fought for social reforms those of us who can only imagine democracy in political terms cherish will all vanish.

As Barabara Smith argues, ‘If the left ultimately wants to make a real difference, as opposed to settling for handouts, it must consider creating a multi-issue revolutionary agenda. This is not about political correctness, it’s about winning.’ Class consciousness and class solidarity is as equally important as revolutionary subjectivity; class reductionism does just justify identity reductionism. Solidarity with all oppressed people and classes is more important than single issue narrow range activism. Praxis is more important than smugness. Illusions to the contrary at this point are killing us; those who continue to entertain them can barely even hide your contempt for the poor—it fairly drips from them. Meanwhile the deplorables amongst the popular classes are being sucked into conspiracy land Qanon fascism, and the apostles of identity politics stripped of their class foundation have nothing to offer them, having fallen into the same collectively narcissistic, in-group exclusionary toxic cesspit as the right. As the inventors of identity reductionism, the far right have taken the ball and thrown it back in the faces of the arrogant wealthy liberals mocking the silly fascists in the cabarets. We don’t need a PhD in history to know what comes next.

The issue of linking various forms of hierarchical oppression to class hierarchy and acting on the basis of class solidarity against all forms of oppression shouldn’t be that hard to understand; ditto critical analysis of forms of nominal leftism that fail to make such linkages. If unreconstructed leftists want to fly off the handle over attempts at constructive self-criticism that is of course their choice, but it does beg the question as to whether their priorities are greater understanding, or reinforcing liberal orthodoxy against any intrusion of intersectional class politics. It is no one else fault but their own if they refuse to make a distinction between being criticised and being attacked, and invoke precisely the kind of single-issue politics being criticised on the basis of an ‘if you question my judgement the enemies of social equality win’-type logic to silence further discussion of the topic. The irony there is not hard to discern. The left in general has a strong tendency to confuse rejection of its principles and ideals, and rejection of its often hideous praxis—which often seems to involve behaviour approximating everything it alleges to oppose in the right on the basis of an ‘ends justifies the means’ kind of mentality. Of course means have to be consistent with ends, since the one determines the other—not the other way around.

If we want a left that is united enough to actually present effective resistance to the onslaught of far right reaction, which is becoming an ever more dire danger by the day, we have to deal with the reasons why the working class abandon progressive politics. If we want to lead instead of just reacting ourselves, maybe acknowledging the abandonment of the working class by nominal leftists who care about every form of hierarchical oppression except those rooted in class hierarchy might not be a bad place to start. Those who do give a rats about class oppression might do well to ask themselves how it comes to pass that we have a nominally left politics that fails to consider the synergy between forms of othering such as misogyny and racism and capitalism, and the systemic role of various forms of bigotry in blaming the victims of autocratic social relations rooted in class. If we fail to make these causal connections and act on that systemic critique through a politics of class solidarity, on what grounds can we then complain that the working class have been seduced by far right demagogues who take advantage of the void thus created? We can’t.

We need to be better than this.

Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in history at Western Sydney University, Bankstown. He is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).     Wildcat Ocular lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

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