6 pivotal class collective action moments in the US, second half of the Twentieth Century

…that led to the complete evisceration of the US working class’ capacity to contribute political leadership,[1] and thus stripped the US of capacity for public good, and stripped the nation from the state. This dismantling of US social and state capacity resulted in the triumph of charismatic-front direct capitalist rule in the US.

0.5) First Principle of the US: Prior to the 20th century, the political power of slavers, backed by financial allies in New York City and London, deprived the US South of public infrastructure, in favor of inegalitarian and extractivist institutions. This public infrastructure deficit has durably reproduced an expansionary inegalitarian and extractivist institutional base in the US.

1)    No political party organized labour, or built working class collective action capacity across the US.

By contrast, over the turn of the 20th century, the Social Democratic Party (SAP) in Sweden methodically propelled itself to political hegemony by first and foremost working (for three decades) to build unions, a labour movement, and thus working-class collective-action and leadership capacity in Sweden.[1]

In 1930s Minnesota, the Farmer-Labour party had similarly worked to build worker collective action capacity, including with anti-racism programs. But instead of expanding the Farmer-Labour Party model, on putative behalf of anti-fascist solidarity, the national Democratic Party took over and dismantled the Farmer-Laborers in WWII.[2]

While this strategy eventually provided politicians Humphrey, Mondale and Freeman the political force to transfer the controlling Southern slaver Democrats from the Democrat Party to the Republican Party, and so permitted liberals to use the Democrat Party to help leftists reduce some of the apartheid features of US society at the tail end of the Trente Glorieuses financial regulation era, the victory was pyrrhic. The deregulation of finance was soon to undercut desegregation by restoring its traditional partners, inegalitarianism and Herrenvolk democracy, inequality and economic scarcity, and labor import substitution.

Why is this pivotal? The Swedish Social Democrats, for contrasting example, built up working class cohesion and collective action capacity, and a strategic radical organized edge for liberals to “moderate.” In the US, however, repression of communists shut down the working class’ capacity to organize and coordinate external-internal (social movement-polity organization) strategy. In preventing cohesion & collective action capacity within the working class, the Atlantic ruling class stunted working class power-resources development in the US.

Targeting communists was the key strategy of the Atlantic ruling class in the early 20th century; and it was consequential for American political development. For example, when the Atlantic ruling class required labor cooperation, but another Anglo country, Canada, did not have strong policing capacity, during WWII Canada prioritized targeting and imprisoning (especially labor-organizing) communists in particular, while developing legislation to divert the rest of labour. Wildcat strike labor eruptions were channeled under liberal, labor-policing, professional, bureaucratic unions. Because policy tends to be shared, and it is well known that significant resources were devoted to repressing communists in the Atlantic ruling class’ nation-states, evidence from Canada supports Kolin’s (2017) historical research conclusion: Under historical conditions more favorable to the establishment of labor power resources, the US shared and pursued the communist repression priority as the keystone in the Atlantic ruling class’ broader labor-repression strategy.

Without communist organizers, the American working class could not build an effective inside-outside political strategy capable of advancing the public good. Into this infrastructure hole expanded the inegalitarian, extractivist slaver-region institutions. The Atlantic ruling class’ policy–imprisoning, economically marginalizing, and extraditing communists–working-class organizers– allowed slavers’ inegalitarian, extractivist institutions to expand where the US Civil War had almost cut them down.

Against the hegemonic capitalist ideology that only states and labor cause economic decline (Blyth 2002), no ideas, laws,[3] policies, or institutions capable of moderating and directing capital for the public good could sustainably develop in the US, to become capable of moderating both regional and international capitalist strategy. This has reduced the US to a global capitalist playground (See Epstein 2019; Krampf 2019).

2)    Instead, professionalized policing targets, represses labor collective action capacity in the US

In addition to the communist repression priority as the keystone in its broader labor-repression strategy, the US and its capitalist class had built up and continued to amass heavy cyborg public and private policing capacity with which to repress labor and prevent the development of working-class power resources (Bowles & Jayadev 2007; Mittelstadt 2015).

The US was able to further minimize class compromise, minimizing the development of robust labor rights law and labor-policing unions. The combination of exclusive union representation, mandatory agency fees, no-strike clauses, and “Management Rights” TM were until 2018 the foundation of the peculiar American labor laws.

Bereft of an organized radical edge, professional organized labour, as structured by Anglo-American law, mainly served to police its own members, forbidding and punishing collective action and strikes.

In the latter 20th century, after the global capitalist mid-century demonstration of finance’s power (coordinating capital and enforcing inflation until US politicians submitted), Democrats as well as Republicans devoted their efforts to policing and cutting down vestigal unions and labour cohesion and communication capacity.[4]

Why is this pivotal? Deeply-crippled working classes made the US (and UK) a beacon for global capitalist investment.

This is the basis of the “Trickle Down” claim that exclusive elite liberty and rule can exclusively contribute to the larger “club society” (Therborn 2017). However, as scientific economists are beginning to demonstrate, overdeveloped finance depletes its host economy and society (Epstein 2019; Krampf 2019).

While the US (and UK) rose to global prominence on the backs of slavery, colonial genocide, and other forms of terror visited upon working class and smallholding peoples, there is a venerable debate over the value of Herrenvolk democracy (Losurdo 2011), as it broadly cripples human development, while attracting resources distributed to reinforce economic, political and social inequality and ecological entropy (climate crisis). At best, Herrenvolk democracy broadly fosters lotto-mentality dispositions that occasionally throw up anti-social, risk-affine fresh recruits to the benefit of ruling class reproduction, and, in the conservatized-liberal Hobbesian spirit, it manufactures exclusive, strong militarized state capacity, and in that sense, a protection racket.

At its normal worst, Herrenvolk democracy facilitates socially-irrational growth by allowing unregulated finance to endlessly manufacture overlapping claims on the existing asset world as well as future, production and sales-backed wealth. These overlapping claims incentivize and organize societies to more and more belligerent, military-heavy, socially-irrational, ecologically-irrational expropriation and speculation. This is economic growth as cancer, when what is economically needed is the democratic redistribution of wealth.

3)    Anti-communist campaigns left a flaccid, rudderless, unsustainable liberalism[5]

Why is this pivotal? The US was incapable of sustainably governing global economy as a democratic country because (see Geoff Mann, 2017, In the long run we are all dead) liberal leadership only fleetingly, unseriously entertained the notion that capitalists need moderation, which requires strategic labor capacity and power resources.

Communists would have been needed to maintain such a counter-hegemonic vision, to coordinate a robust, complex labor organization structure including both multiple levels of institutionalized, multi-dimensional power resources (in unions, union federations, and the state), sovereign leadership capacity, and agile disruption and collective action capacity.

While it arose with a spectacular democratic revolution, the US collapsed into a frail, senile liberalism requiring extensive conservative buttressing and a humiliating return to slavery ideology and institutions, which the media, the police institutions, the carceral institutions, the militaries, elite US academia, and the US judiciary and its conservative constitutional law supply to the global Nightwatchman state that has replaced the nation-state.

4)    1955-1963 the UK deregulated financial speculation, enabling currency speculation on the dollar.[6] The US state did not shut the deregulation down.

The UK deregulates finance, breaks US state-US capitalist alignment

Why is this pivotal? Because the US’s global job, per Bretton Woods & the Marshall Plan, was to direct capital into productive activities, economic growth. Productive investment required, inter alia, repressing global finance’s capacity to coordinate and direct capital. In this, Keynesian economic theory tentatively broke with the conservative economics tradition. Keynesianism in its boldest hour assumed distinctively that not just states, and not just labour, but capital can cause economic problems and crisis, especially since (per Smith 1776) it is not only concentrated power, but also privileged by the state (chartered, protected by law and police, and championed by imperial militaries) to be uniquely, exclusively endowed with class cohesion and collective-action capacity [7] — attributes that are standardly denied in technocratic accounts of the neoliberalization era.

All the other countries stuck with the international plan for distributed growth. But Keynesians were elitists; ultimately, their fear and loathing of the working class crushed their innovative but wavering resolve to moderate capitalist power (Mann 2017).

When the UK subverted financial regulation from 1955-63, partly in order to maintain global financial supremacy in London, it cut the US state’s alignment with US capital, and ended the US state’s capacity to manage capital at all.

While the US had supported the UK’s financial deregulation as a way of removing war expenditure (and French) pressure on the dollar, US capital was immediately organized into an international inflation crisis campaign, taking strategic advantage of the US’s inflation-vulnerable “strength” at the center of global capitalism: The dollar as the currency of exchange, and the US’s expensive, divisive assumption of the imperial warfare task.

(Although ceteris paribus, cheapening money can reduce money lending returns in favor of borrowers, ceteris was not paribus. After decades of state regulation of finance, state deregulation of finance allowed finance to gain the global system-regulating upperhand as the quantity of global money flowed into the banks, offsetting the decline of individual units of money, concentrating and coordinating capital.)

Finance-sponsored economists (See Carrick-Hagenbarth and Epstein 2016) were loosed to develop marketing narratives and policy intervention models again based on the Atlantic ruling class belief that only states and labor hurt the economy (Blyth 2002). A fearful, chastened liberalism shrivelled and crawled back into the womb of conservatism.

5) In the early 1970s, after Nixon’s corporatist pricing board demonstrated that capital had the capacity to stabilize prices, capitalists, coordinated by finance, refused to do it voluntarily.[8]

Boss Battle: You’ll have your inflation & you’ll eat it too

1960s-70s inflation was variously, ideologically attributed to the working class and the US state, but Nixon’s Pricing Board demonstrated that that inflation was just as much, if not more so, a capital strike. Emerging from an era of state semi-autonomy, and assuming that state semi-autonomy could still magically exist after the concerted repression of organized labor, Nixon experimented with the pricing board, and the pricing board coordinated capitalists and controlled inflation. Nixon was however an ideological pro-capitalist. When financialized capital stopped cooperating with the US state, Nixon shrugged. (Shortly thereafter, Nixon was deposed for the inconvenience he caused.)

Why is this pivotal? Despite Nixon’s demonstration of capitalist power over prices, with no one naming capitalists as the agent of inflation requiring state intervention, capitalists collectively jacked up commodity prices, as Saudi Arabia (Britain’s long time satellite) led OPEC to jack up oil prices, creating a heightened inflation crisis. Economists amped hysteria throughout the US.

With the help of conservative economists as field generals and marketeers, capitalists maintained that this inflation was the sole fault of the US state and American labour, meaning that American labour would have to be completely repressed–stripped of all vestiges of political power–and the US state–the state’s institutionalizing, coordinating, legal and police coercion, and resource distribution capacity–would have to be completely captured by global capitalists.[9] Central banks were restored to capitalist class-action institutions embedded in every state, dedicated to repressing labour (Martin 2019 reviewing Kynaston 2017).

Liberalism and its Rule of Law ideal (“Judicial Activism,” it was then-derided by conservative jurists and comms pros) were left desanguinated corpses in the US, though the state’s institutions were still embedded with and surrounded by armies of liberal lawyers and bureaucrats. The next steps toward speculative-claims overlap and asset expropriation as growth would be the conservatization of those managerial forces into a financially-embedded comprador bourgeoisie (Epstein 2019) and working class police force; the expansion of marketing, surveillance technology, and militarization; the denunionization and the demeaning of the US working class; and the expansion and attenuation of citizenship in the import substitution of a new, disrupted, dislocated, traumatized, incarcerated, and un-enfranchised labor force.

6) From Nixon on, US state efforts to use policy and institution-building to mediate capitalist interests with societal interests (eg. OSHA, the EPA, a Fed independent of Wall Street, state responsibility for directing new economic sector development, etc.) were killed or occupied directly by unfriendly capitalists.

Charismatic Reagan was propelled into the front of the Executive to host the Republican restoration of direct capitalist rule over US institutions.

The Dem Party’s only response, from the liberal repertoire, was to sell itself as a “Credible” organization that could more conveniently (than direct rule with charismatic fronts) be delegated the management of capitalist interests [10] –in other words, a  meritocratic rentier political class. From the conservative (Public Choice) repertoire, the Dems could extract financial rents for this convenience service, for the reassuring, resonant professionalism they performed for international audiences in capitalist countries with semi-independent professional states and remnant liberal institutions.

But the neoliberal Dems’ convenient, performative professionalism has offered no value-added for working class Americans–on the contrary, the Dems have contributed and managed policies to disorganize and police the American working class. Usually, they have offered precious little value-added for regional and global capitalists.

Why is this pivotal? Blanket-policed by their employers, professional unions, political parties, and the police, American labour rapidly realized that they had no collective- action capacity and no institutional power, not even in the state. Further, culturally, intellectually, labour would only be conceptualized as an economic problem to be targeted, repressed, and stunted.[11] Without any labour power resources in the US, US and global capitalists were liberated to absolutely, directly run the country (with the currency and the military) at the center of global capitalism.

If not permitted the full range of human collective capacity, American smallholders and working class people were allowed to work ethnic, racial, religious, and gender identity networks. Meritocratic Dem thought leaders interpreted such vestigal collective-action purely as racism, a sign of the working class’s lack of virtue and unfitness for citizenship. Choice in capitalism: The working-class could support the Dems’ (the Credible Delegates Party) brand of virtue, or they could support with the Republicans’ (the Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule Party) virtue brand. As time, repression, and inequality marched on, it became evident that it didn’t matter. Working-class people and smallholders in American would get nothing—except crippling law and policing, economic disruption, precarious exploitation, enthralling debt, criminalization, incarceration, disenfranchisement, pollution, alienation, racialization, sexual assault, shame, and contempt. The US mass “consumer” class was being expropriated, and though many of the workers’ pensions were caught up in generationally gaming the class expropriation, unregulated international finance was the ringmaster.

Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule in the US

Trump, as a charismatic capitalist ruler, offers a wink, a little reality teevee strum und drang, a little business shock ‘n’ awe, a little commedia dell’arte to symbolically lighten the inescapable burdens carried by hundreds of millions of Americans, workers and their guards, managers, and owners. Along with impotent and often enslaved labour, they still have guarding, policing, and incarceration economic opportunities (Bowles & Jayadev 2005; M.A. Pidgeon & L.R. Wray, 2000; ); military national socialism (Mittelstadt 2015); declining access to beautiful public lands (Turkewitz 2019), lovely climates, city amenities (Florida 2019), and remnant infrastructure; and more, slightly higher- quality commodity goods than much of the world. It could be worse, and it’s palpably getting worse.

References

[1] Blyth 2002, Chapter 4. From Blyth, Mark. 2002. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge.

[2] Delton, Jennifer. Making Minnesota Liberal.

[3] Glasbeek 2017.

[4] Murakawa 2015, etc.

[5] Kolin, Andrew. 2017. Political economy of labour repression in the United States. Lexington Books.

[6] Schenk, Catherine R. 1998. “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955-1963.” Explorations in Economic History 35: 221-238.

[7] Per Smith 1776.

[8] Blyth 2002: 135-6

[9] Blyth 2002, Ch. 5;  Also, insert finance-coordinated capital assumption to modify central banking history narrative presented in Martin, Jamie. 2019. “A company of merchants: Review of Kynaston 2017.” London Review of Books 41(2): 35-37.

[10] Blyth 2002, Ch. 6.

[11] Blyth 2002.

[1] As observed in Gilens & Page 2014.

One thought on “6 pivotal class collective action moments in the US, second half of the Twentieth Century

  1. Pingback: Necessary Political-economic Framework: Controlling Asia by installing and enforcing Middle East tyranny | The Indomitable Neoliberals FC

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