The 2018 Swedish vote and the global problem of political and apolitical conservatism

Antiracism in Sweden: The Left Party

To understand the recent election in Sweden, Doug Henwood interviewed an apparently stand-up guy, a California Democratic Party politico, Daraka Larimore-Hall, who also consults for the Swedish Social Democratic Party (the SAP).

First, the two valid points the California-based political consultant brought up:

1) Social democracy depends upon socialism. Or as I always like to put it: Socialism is the backbone of social democracy. You remove your vertebrae and see how that goes.

2) Across Europe, the Right can secure no more than 20% of the voting population, though depending on the electoral representation system, this can be enough to push the rest of the parties “rightward.” The solution is anti-racist organization that recognizes immigrants and restores class critique.

Yes! But however valid this second insight is, it is riddled with serious problems as formulated and as forwarded on the Behind the News interview. Larimore-Hall suggested both parts of the solution, though he did not put them together in the interview. I did, and before me, the Swedes did. Henwood separated them, and explicitly rounded out the interview railing against the strawman of race-blind leftism. What professional, liberal American elitists want everyone to agree is that their network alone can offer anxious, labor-affiliated European parties their special race knowledge “borne of over 200 years of experience.”

What people need to know is that for its entire existence, anti-racist organization that restores class critique has been the primary role of Vansterpartiet, the Left Party in Sweden. Vansterpartiet is the party of socialist immigrants, socialist ethnic-Swedes, and socialist-feminists. Behind them is Sweden’s historical pro-left refugee policy, its tight social science capacity, far more-developed historical-materialist culture, as well as its long experience as an immigration country (only interrupted by the mid-19th-early 20th century emigration). As experts in this ideas and organizing work, Vansterpartiet were enormously successful, keeping the Right disorganized and in miniscule numbers in Sweden. A good question: Why is the SAP importing political expertise from California when it has a working relationship with Vansterpartiet? Is the global liberal meritocrat network more important than real anti-racism?

capitfodrasism

“Who needs to school whom?” A photograph from the turn of the 21st century.

Let’s look at the data: This 2018 election the SAP did not lose votes to the Sweden Democrats. The bourgeois parties lost votes to the Sweden Democrats. The SAP lost votes to Vansterpartiet. This is because liberal elitism not only cannot fix today’s social alienation, it exacerbates it. In terms of anti-racist organization, all the liberal American elitists have got nothing to teach the Swedes. They also have little insight to offer about turning around the hinterlands barbarians more generally, because they cannot recognize (in the Hegelian sense) hinterlands people. They literally do not see them; the US is too vast and the North American interior periphery is a lousy place–You’re not going there if you don’t have to. And in an obdurate inegalitarian context, their privileged status and income, their inclusion, depends on not recognizing hinterlands people.

 

Tragedy & Farce

In contrast to Vansterpartiet’s approach, liberal elitism’s operationalization of anti-racist organization can be a grotesque parody, a farce. In the Meritocrats’ account, Right-wing parties push other parties rightward, and this is imagined to be because the parties are too anxious to capture the Right’s dying, “white” middle-class vote. Perhaps it is based in the California experience. Nonetheless, this is a spurious general formulation; its extension leans too heavily on the narrow equation of meritocracy, liberal elitism (or apolitical conservatism), with virtues, such as anti-racist virtue, distinguishing it from conservative elistism (or political conservatism). Theirs is a peculiar definition of what it means to be a thorough-going anti-racist; and it is constrained by what Dem Party politicos mean when they resolve to “stay the course,” to stick with their brand.

Empirically, under “anti-racism” consultant expertise, the SAP blew itself up (lost the election) in 2006 by campaigning on an anti-Facketgubbe (anti-Union Good Old Boy) “blame and shame” platform to wrest northern communities’ communist leaders from their jobs, and replace them with immigrants from the urban south of Sweden. This “anti-racism” platform was designed by in-house (conservative immigrant Swedish) consultants and championed by the SAP’s most EU-oriented politicians. As a real campaign platform, it was everything an anti-racist American Meritocrat could only dream of. It was also everything the conservative parties and their American political consultants could dream of.

Both time-order and identified interests (Bourdieu 2005: 102) warrant a causal claim here, rather than mere association: Hopelessly chained to the lodestone of absolute private property right, global liberal elitism, apolitical conservatism, has helped the world’s growing billionaire class advance political conservatism. It has even in recent years helped bring the Sweden Democrats from their long war of position at the margins into the polity.

Pursuing the transcendent vision the US Democratic Party recommends, specified clearly as conceptualizing hinterlands peoples as a ruined (economically and morally) and so ethically-disposable population–that is, heroically shifting the liberal concept of “ruined”expropriable–peoples from the early -20th century liberal racist imaginary to the neoliberal geographic and class imaginary, neoliberalized parties are “governing to the demographic-electoral future,” using the racial categories of today. That is, they are hoping to buy the credit of future voters by naming and shaming, sacrificing the lives of excluded, feared and vulnerable, nationalized “White” citizens–but not their conservative White bosses, who are organized as political conservatives–upon diminishing citizenship rights and crippling debt.

This self-celebrated liberal elitist version of “anti-racism” contributed to the political realignments over the past 15 years that have allowed the Sweden Democrats, in consultation and strategic coordination with Right-wing parties within slavers’ societies, to develop as a party from a very small population of marginalized Nazis. At this historic moment, the Sweden Democrats and mobilizing like parties around the world use their properly-conservative credibility as uncompromising protectors of nationalisms (symbolic or material), to offer a politicized network alternative to what we’ve grown accustomed to: neoliberalization, or the conservatization of liberalism. This is to also say, contra Giddens (1998), that neoliberalization, both from the right and from the left, was never an equilibrium “Third Way.” It was an apolitical conservatism always restoring political conservatism.

 

Internationalism > Cosmopolitanism

In Sweden it is also the case that Larimore-Hall’s analysis, and by extension the liberal elitist analysis, is absolutely invalid in important empirically-verifiable respects. For many political-economic reasons, the nationalized non-elite citizens of social-democratic Sweden are not the nationalized non-elite citizens of 1980s-90s California. Crudely applying the Dem Party electoral modernization strategy from California to national and global contexts, Larimore-Hall claims that hinterlands barbarians in small Swedish manufacturing towns “as in the U.S. Midwest” are the main Right base (along with older immigrant enclaves). This is absolutely wrong. Larimore-Hall has no political-geographic analysis; perhaps he’s spent too much time in metropoles. He’s probably certainly spent too much time in US Dem Party employment.

What happened in Sweden’s northern manufacturing towns in the 2018 vote is that more people voted Vansterpartiet. If you’re a political Marxist, you may note that that took their votes away from Larimore-Hall’s employer and Dem Party sister org, the SAP: That’s powerful incentive to analytical error. If you’re a structuralist, you will affirm that economically, these manufacturing-base hinterlands have no interest in making immigrants vulnerable. It makes all kinds of sense that they transferred votes to the pro-immigrant party at the expense of the cosmopolitan party. If your primary motivation is liberal elitism, you won’t even be able to hear this fact and analysis, let alone grasp them. To spell it out: The non-meritorious are not morally ruined, their interests are not an economic dead-end, and it’s not ethical to expropriate their worlds. Don’t believe everything capitalism tells you–especially when it’s flattering you.

Moreover, if you knew Swedish history, you would know that Sweden, with its higher state automony (thanks to the socialism behind social democracy, permitting sovereignty dispersed across class, gender, and race), developed Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) that planned for global market developments, and sank resources into continually retraining and relocating workers out of aging industries. Yes, ALMPs have declined as neoliberalization has ascended, and Swedish workers bear more of the brunt of economic disruption. However, they’re still relatively protected, Sweden still manufactures as well as innovates technologically, and they simply are not the Right’s electoral base. What they are is a force behind the long-standing Swedish political-economic Scandinavianism, as a counterweight to conservatization. This is why they are the targeted bete noir of liberal elitists’ political parties.

Political-economic Scandinavianism is not a racial politics. It’s a long-standing, often-thwarted internationalist aspiration of Swedes to form a coalitional alternative to serving as a tributary region to Germany (as the more right-wing Danes have long done), the UK (as Norway and Denmark have long done), and to the US (as Norway and Denmark have notably done). To keep Sweden’s prime economic niche, Sweden needs independence from the EU and Germany, as Germany thrives by monopolizing high-end science, technology, and manufacturing. Political-economic coalitional Scandinavian semi-autonomy, and the sub-regions that support political-economic Scandinavianism, is a thorn in the side for the political careerists in the SAP, because the EU is European politicos’ career apex. Again, Larimore-Hall’s analytical failure is the probable result of who pays his bills. Maybe Henwood should triangulate with people who study Sweden to contribute to the community of scholars’ knowledge, rather than relying for corrective “leftist” analysis on paid consultants whose chief authority is how their liberal elitist framework resonates in the alienated metropoles.

 

vikingake

 

Beyond Borders: Anti-immigrant Politics in Southern Sweden

Where the Right picked up votes from the bourgeois parties is in southern Sweden. This region is not an analogue to the post-industrial US Midwest. It’s an imperfect analogue to the agriculture-extractive aspect of the Midwest. Manufacturing was not dispersed across southern Sweden because that part of the country did not need the economic stimulus to survive capitalism.  What southern Sweden is is a bourgeois, high-population region with agriculture at its extractive economic base. It is the most Danish-entwined population, culture and political-economy in Sweden, indicating both inegalitarian cultural strains rooted in exploitative agricultural class relations, and Euro-German subsidiarization.  Agricultural capital is usually property-belligerent, because agriculture depends on appropriating nature’s work while hyper-exploiting labor (Though, to be thorough, in the early days on the 20th century, the SAP was able to launch partially based on a temporary, Red-Green coalescence of interests between farmers and labor). When immigrants come into any country, agricultural capital and their dependents want those immigrants as vulnerable as possible.

As Sweden has incorporated more refugees, family-reunification, and other immigrants, and as its bourgeois parties deregulated labor markets, over the first 18 years of the 21st century, the political-economic leadership interest of the affluent, populous agricultural region of Sweden has switched to a significant (though not total) extent from the bourgeois EU integration priority to an immigrant-exploiting priority. Whether this direction of change is temporary or not depends on many factors, which include but are certainly not limited to left strategy.

The interview between Larimore-Hall and Henwood is everything you’d ever want to know about why the international network of neoliberalized labour-affiliated parties are all strategically adrift, and, in the liberal world, drowning at the national and regional levels. To pull few punches, it’s related to how this ocean-views, echo-chamber network of paid political strategists and Thought Leaders can’t quit the liberal version of elitism, meritocracy, or apolitical conservatism. Why they cannot quit the disastrous meritocratic virtue framework is because it pays their bills, as well as fluffs their sense of self.

Lessons from Sweden

There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of brow-beating, and further threatening the incomes of, hinterlands barbarians.

There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of shaming socialists to bolster your own sense of Meritocratic virtue in combat with conservative elitists (Because what other strategic value could it have?).

The English-speaking left could step up its internationalist game and reach out to Vansterpartiet. The small, hard-working Vansterpartiet still does very effective anti-racism work. There are lessons to be learned from Sweden in how to plan and execute anti-racist organization that restores class critique. This expertise has been developed in a context relatively free of police repression and slavers’ institutions, so it is both advanced, and it’s heavy, difficult work to translate directly into countries where policing and slavers’ institutions dominate society.

A central lesson to be learned from Sweden today is that we have to figure out how to fix liberal elitism, meritocracy ideology within the capitalist context. Tweedledum rival to conservative elitism, it is what shocks life into the fascist body agglomerated upon the cold stone dias of inequality.

 

Privilege, Elitism, and Rivalristic Symbolic Dominations

Shamus Khan (Sociology, Columbia), author of Privilege (2012), analyzes inegalitarian, predatory class social reproduction via elite education institutions. Privilege etymologically means an exclusive legal system for elites, set apart from laws that govern commoners.  This was a better Behind The News Henwood interview.

Khan examines how modern elite education institutions instill the elite privilege disposition, oblivious entitlement. Entitlement, I’ll further suggest, to both monopolistic access to resources, credit, and cooperation (making, in the Scarry 1985 sense), as well as to exploitation and appropriation (unmaking). The elite privilege disposition, or elitism, helps reproduce scarcity, though the context may be abundance (eg. an $80+ trillion global economy). It’s an important contributor to capitalist reproduction.

Elitism is a foundation of apolitical conservatism. It denies non-elite human development capacity. Insofar as elitists suppose, following Edmund Burke (1790), that non-elites uniquely fail to develop beyond a natural or structural disposition to pettiness (provincialism, parochialism, narcissism, exploitation and expropriation, withholding cooperation or credit), elitism problematizes distributed sovereignty and poses it as a central social crisis to be “solved.”

Elite privilege incentivizes symbolic domination, for liberals particularly through meritocracy and cosmopolitan discourses, for conservatives particularly through Excellence discourse. What’s attractive, or co-optative, about Excellence discourse is that it is about exceptionalism. Just as you may occasionally buy a lottery ticket, anyone can imagine herself as an exception. In contrast,  meritocracy discourse is about superior capacity to successfully execute a long-game individual or familial (multigenerational), multi-pronged domination strategy within the rules of an inegalitarian society. Both forms of elitism reproduce scarcity. If, as Bourdieu (2005: 186) described, “The petit bourgeoisie spend their whole lives trying to adjust themselves to their limited possibilities, their deceptive successes leading to complete dead ends…’doomed to structural decline,’” meritocracy discourse is a decreasingly-appealing, increasingly uncompetitive version of elitist symbolic domination.

Across fields of privilege and elitism, the conservative symbolic-domination advantage is clear, if baffling and infuriating to meritocratic apolitical conservatives, elitists who may even be politically liberal or critical. Now regard the unhappy marriage of apolitical conservatism and political conservatism (Robin 2017) and you realize How We Got to Trump & Kavanaugh.

Recommendations for Sweden

Keep pouring energy into internationalism and supporting internationalist innovation.

Build separate tracks within the SAP for domestic and EU public service.

The US Democrat Party is poison at home and in its worldwide coalition. It is constrained not by the limits of its politicos’ intelligence, identity, portfolios, prestige networks, or personal achievements, but by the limits of the interests that can be expressed in the polity of an anti-democratic, slaver-institution-bedevilled country at the center of global capitalism. Use all your diplomacy. Enjoy cocktails and ocean sailing together. But do not implement its handsome, articulate, likable operatives’ well-meaning strategic recommendations.

Reverse bourgeois governments’ legislation.

Recognize the contributions of socialists and reward the contributions of Vansterpartiet.

Bring in Pasi Sahlberg to restore public education.

As long as the private sector is male-dominated, and heterosexual families predominate, the public sector needs to remain female-dominated; and feminists should save addressing that difference for the last feminist policy change.

Keep strategizing for the development of a Nordic alliance.

Now and again, nationalize the banks.

Translate Swedish materialist philosophy into English.

Find a way to get back to Meidner’s plan for socializing the surplus.

 

Open Borders & the Carceral Candyland

A couple weeks later, Henwood interviews one of those German idealists, who proposes that we should ignore political economy and concentrate on the cultural failure of the hinterlands Rural Idiots, particularly the East Germans, who, presumably because of their rude communist history, fail to celebrate the relocation of imperially-disrupted populations. The stupid point of this meritocrat/cosmopolitan discourse is about how it’s the Rural Idiots–former communists–who are to blame for the lack of working class solidarity. Not that there’s anything to be done besides side with financial capital, open borders, and demand the “just” expropriation of the hinterlands and the welfare state.

300px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

Know your market! Some day someone needs to write the book on American conservatives’ and meritocrats’ undying, consumptive hunger to transfer all their prodigious failures upon the Scandinavian social democrats, whether it’s racism and xenophobia, failure to recognize the existential threat of Islam, failure to achieve communism, failure to reverse capitalogenic climate crisis, or failure to produce justice

In the German case, Henwood asks if voters are migrating left to right (Perhaps an anachronistic assumption borrowed from the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” thesis. As per above, he and his California Dem Party rising star had incorrectly assumed that was the case in Sweden.) The interviewee clarifies that the anti-immigrant right-wing party in German is taking votes from all quarters, for different reasons. However, this diversity of adherents the German uses as evidence that Die Linke should not be opposing neoliberalization or replacing conservatized liberal institutions.

The logic at play here is that the diversity of adherents for the anti-immigrant party means that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany, and not indicative of a coalition of voters dissatisfied for different reasons with the same structural constraint–neoliberalization, including in its class conflict and labor market interventions.

 


An aside: The master frame that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany is a premise Henwood continually suggests throughout the interview, and certainly a hoary piece of cultural essentialism that has haunted the idealistic German imagination, serves as a socio-psychological manipulation handle, and preempts historical-materialist analysis, abetting the conservative restoration.

It reflects an older consensus in genocide scholarship that genocide is caused by “deep divisions” between groups (Strauss, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation comparative research on genocide.” World Politics 59: 480-483). That older consensus emerged from the hegemonic Jewish community interpretation of the Shoah experience, and was better suited to serve that ethno-religious community’s modern political needs than to explain either genocide or Germany. Sometimes the metropole experience provides intellectual resources; sometimes it imposes unhelpful biases. Always it’s a loud voice. That’s why triangulation is important to valid knowledge.


 

The idealist proposes that the whole Left, but particularly the political parties, should be fighting for “Open Borders.” In this anarcho-liberal imaginary, capitalist liberation is equated with universal liberation. Conservatized liberal institutions are conceived in this neoliberal view as liberation from borders. Here we can see the idealistic convergence of left and right political conceptualization–or perhaps the conservative co-optation of left idealism. Yet borders always remain, and the “borders” capitalists are liberated from are not just those that serve absolutist kings or their states, but those borders, those constraints on elite liberty that have been fought for and erected to help workers liberate themselves.

The cosmopolitan Open Borders coalition is hot with idealist and financial-metropole liberal-leftists. The key to the cosmopolitan Open Borders stratagem is that you have to suspend  belief in class conflict, and conceptualize the welfare state simply as a bureaucracy, as opposed to an historical, contested and impure institutionalization of semi-accountability to the working class within a state thats “higher” functions, as Bourdieu (2005) identified, are to support capitalist accumulation.

I’ve discussed this for about 10 years now, but increasingly as cosmopolitans’ Open Borders idea has captured the left. The left-right Open Borders coalition will not liberate the working class because there is class conflict, and state institutions are forged in it. Open Borders work for actual universal liberty in a latter stage of communism that we are far, far away from. There are other utopias to be fought for first.

 

open border

Hey guys, the door to this rich man’s house is open!

There are three Open Borders strategy issues: 1) In the US, immigration policy is more subject to potential democratic intervention than other policy, because it’s not under juridical supervision. That seems hopeful. 2) However, the problem today, especially across Anglosphere countries as well as several others, is that borders and immigration are already an integral part of the militarized mass carceral-guard state and market securing unfree labor. A very large and stratified market stands like a tsunami between global migrants and freedom. 3) Any shadow of Open Borders policy, within left political parties, will have to be fed strategies that divert that market and restore pre-9-11 rights of movement and freedom from surveillance. Otherwise, we’re looking straight down the throat of open borders with prisons and indentured servitude behind them.

Toward Internationalism

Rather than pining to share in bankers’ cosmopolitan virtue, pro-immigration and Open Borders, the left should struggle step-wise, methodically, to innovate and build internationalist networks and internationalism: cross-border solidarity that values and champions non-elites’ capacity to develop as social, material humans. These are related but very distinct coalitions and solidarities (See Anderson 2002, as well as Lamont & Aksartova 2002). For example, unlike cosmopolitanism, internationalism does not ever black box what induces immigration–capitalist imperialism, expropriation, and climate crisis–and that this dynamic is no favor to the working class, whether established or newcomer. Internationalism, and not cosmopolitanism, can recognize non-elites’ visceral understanding of migration as a symptom of important political-economic problems, and align sympathies and networks to address those.

Internationalism and immigrant recognition are especially, as I concluded in my 2007 dissertation, a responsibility for organized labour. Organizing and organized labour is in the best, most interested, most embedded position to fight for recognition of immigrants’ contributions across space and their human capacity for development. It is organized labour that needs to work and struggle for egaliberte work relations, including building solidarity across the working class. This is also a very good way right now for organized labour to resist capitalist cooptation.

Whereas left political parties do need to recognize the various harms neoliberalization has afflicted people with, and correspondingly do need to focus upon building alternative policies and institutions to conservatized liberal institutions. This should include supporting the work of organized labour; but there needs to be a strategic division of labor extra-polity and intra-polity, as actual social democrats have long known. Left political parties should not be celebrating immigration and “dismantling” borders, because they will only be on-neoliberal agenda, stupidly dismantling institutionalized working-class supports, driving a wide swath of orphaned voters into the Right’s waiting wings. The institutionalized capitalist supports, the class borders and prison walls, will remain and grow, and the beatings will continue until morale improves. Another form of elitism, cosmopolitanism reproduces inegalitarianism and capitalist exploitation and expropriation.

Left political parties need to turn instead to learning how to hear the mob as human voices, learning what is wrong with both kinds of elitism, political conservatism and liberal/apolitical conservatism, articulating what is wrong with elite liberty and absolute private property right, and replacing conservatized liberal institutions with internationalist networks and egaliberte policy and institutions (Here’s one good example).

You can’t just sneer and spit “Social democrats!” and clutch capital’s skirts as your strategy because, historically, effective, actually- existing social democrats (That’s not Berstein’s SPD.) had a real, strategic plan that was effective up to a significant point. We can actually apprehend it and learn from it; the English-speaking left has not so far.

 

Pro-Immigrant v. Pro-Immigration: Breaking the political and apolitical conservative chokehold

The liberal approach to the problem of solidarity is characterized by a relentless idealist conflation of pro-immigrant and pro-immigration. Symmetrically, as befits a two-party capitalist system, the the conservative approach to the problem of solidarity is characterized by a relentless idealist conflation of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. Throughout this ideological and coalitional rivalry, liberals, neoliberals, and conservatives converge. They pragmatically take advantage of the empirical difference between immigrant and immigration interests and sentiment–to jointly make labour voiceless and vulnerable.

This conflation has growing resonance, because when the idealist conflation is asserted, an attempt is being made to cohere a liberal or conservative political coalition around that silent elite goal. In marketing the polity organization’s capacity for securing social cooperation for policy and institutional maintenance or change, these mobilizations have effects. A small group of true-believer White Nation political entrepreneurs equates anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. Backed by global conservative support, and reinforced by liberals who equate pro-immigrant and Open Borders, White Nation political entrepreneurs organize and draw in adherents who may not start out with much by way of anti-immigrant attitudes, but who perceive the effects of citizenship attenuation. This was the case in Sweden, where poll after poll showed extraordinarily high pro-immigrant, low anti-immigrant attitudes for decades, through thick and thin, through immigration surges.

What’s different now is that the anti-labour thrust of anti-immigrant politics–both anti-immigration and pro-immigration— is broadcasting an audible signal, forming White Nations around immigrant and labour vulnerability goals, the vicious conservative Winner-Loser protection racket. It’s grotesque and violent, and its effects are enduring and wretched, but for many, White Nationalism is the only protective social network left to them in capitalism, where, outside of capitalist networks, only family, religious-ethnic, and militarized policing networks are not criminalized.

Breaking that advancing conservative politicization will involve breaking the conflation of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration, pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, as these twin conflations vie to coalesce political blocs for capitalist interests. Together, conservatives and liberals have been constructing a behemoth global machine for disrupting and uprooting people from their homes, drawing them into core countries, and sucking them into unfree labour and prisons, replacing labour contracts, organizations, rights, and public goods and services that broadly redistribute recognition and value, and leaving native core populations to  servitude, surveillance, militarization, and the inegalitarian White Nation protection racket. Liberals will explain this has to be the policy because some people (sometimes Blacks, sometimes Whites) are ruined. Conservatives will declare that, even though this institutional structure and the Winner-Loser dispositions it proliferates are obviously constructed, it’s natural.

The capitalist pro-immigrant/immigration Open Borders utopia springs from a venerable tradition of conservative strategy: In 1651 the original conservatizer of liberalism, Thomas Hobbes proposed in his refutation of democracy that the only freedom we need to recognize is the freedom of movement, or as his Dutch twin Grotius would further specify: freedom of imperial movement upon the seas. This conservative siren song has a proven co-optation track record. The alternative utopia is socialist–mobilizing internationalism (or “ordinary cosmpolitanism” in Lamont & Aksartova’s language), and not elite “Open Borders” cosmopolitanism. Internationalism is the only way out of a regressive one-two chokehold that increasingly devalues and stunts migrant life while increasingly devaluing and stunting working class life. Liberalism’s lodestar is absolute private property right; without socialism, inheritor of the democratic Enlightenment, liberalism’s noblest sentiments on behalf of that absolute private property right can do nothing but return us, over and over again, to the brutal prison workhouse of inequality, inegalitarianism, and conservatism. In this vortex, freedom of movement for non-elites is reduced to little more than a white-eyed, cold marble statue in a museum.

References and Further Reading

Check out the geographic and sociological distributions of the 2018 Vote at SVT NYheter’s interactive website. Because, you know, Swedes are not idiots with the sociology, the geography, and the political economy.

Abraham, David. 1996. “Liberty without Equality: The Property-Rights Connection in a ‘Negative Citizenship’ Regime.” Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 1-65.

Abraham, David. 2007. “Doing justice on two fronts: The liberal dilemma in immigration.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 01 June 2010, Vol.33(6), p.968-985.

Abraham, David. 2014. “Immigrant integration and social solidarity in a time of crisis: Europe and the United States in a post-welfare state.” Critical Historical Studies, 01 September 2014, Vol.1(2), pp.215-253.

Anderson, Perry. 2002. “Internationalism: A beviary.” New Left Review 14.

Bacon, David. 2007. Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Beacon Press.

Bacon, David. 2009. Interviewed by Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer.

Bacon, David. 2013. The right to stay home: How US policy drives Mexican migration. Beacon Press.

Hurst, Allison. 2018. “Do you know who your foreman voted for?” People’s World, September 24.

Lamont, Michele and Sada Aksartova. 2002. “Ordinary Cosmopolitanisms: Strategies For Bridging Racial Boundaries Among Working-Class Men.” Theory, Culture & Society 19(4): 1-25.

Sampaio, Anna. Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants: Race, Gender, and Immigration Politics in the Age of Security. Temple University Press.

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WWII & the twilight of Western Enlightenment

AT the turn of the 20th century, ruling classes mobilized nation states to struggle for territorial control and economic development, while working classes struggled for emancipation

From the 16th century, the Atlantic ruling class (the ruling class of Britain, the Netherlands, the US, France, and other North Atlantic territories) successfully ascended to world power through a potent combination of capitalist relations and primitive accumulation, including enclosures, global imperialism and colonialism, and slavery. By the turn of the 20th century, both German and Russian networks were left out of this power ascent, stagnant but still latently capacious and entitled. They had long-influential ruling classes managing and intervening in European territories. Where Russia had dwindled from Enlightenment and power influence to supplying mercenary militaries to the ultimately-losing European ruling class repressions of democratic revolts, German society had lost its influential long-time role supplying the educated, princely managerial staff to European monarchies.

Communists overthrew the dissolute Russian monarchy network, and mobilized massive and disruptive economic modernization campaigns across the Soviet Union’s vast Eurasian territory. German territories attempted to correct their over-investment in European aristocracy by reorganizing as a militarized nation-state mobilizing strong managerial and productive capacity. To carve out territory in an already-owned world required warfare. While the Atlantic ruling class has had enormous capacity to absorb other ruling elites, it has not accommodated them, with the exception of the semi-independence concession to Middle East absolutist tyrannies ruling keystone geopolitical and oil extraction territory. When upstart Germany lost WWI, the Atlantic ruling class sought to crush an independent Germany and the German sense of entitlement with the Treaty of Versailles. This vainglorious effort only produced more outraged re-organization in Germany, spawning the fascist campaign to put Germany on the global capitalist map.

Germany’s reactionary, anti-socialist fascism at first was thought to be compatible with the anti-communist Atlantic ruling class order. For seven years, from 1933 to the September 1939 invasion of Poland, the capitalist Atlantic ruling class had agreeable relations and multiple pacts with the pro-capitalist, anti-communist fascist regimes, including Nazi Germany. During this period, the young Soviet Union had been struggling with imperial, fascist Japan, which was invading China.

13 Nation-state Compacts with Fascist Germany

YEAR SIGNATORY COUNTRIES NAME OF PACT
1933 UK, FRANCE, ITALY THE FOUR POWERS PACT
1934 POLAND HITLER-PILSUDSKI PACT
1935 UK ANGLO-GERMAN NAVAL AGREEMENT
1936 JAPAN ANTI-COMINTERN PACT
1938 SEPTEMBER UK GERMAN-BRITISH NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1938 DECEMBER FRANCE GERMAN-FRENCH NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 MARCH ROMANIA GERMAN-ROMANIAN ECONOMIC TREATY
1939 MARCH LITHUANIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 MAY ITALY PACT OF STEEL (FRIENDSHIP & ALLIANCE)
1939 MAY DENMARK NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 JUNE ESTONIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 JULY LATVIA NON-AGGRESSION PACT
1939 AUGUST SOVIET UNION MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP NON-AGGRESSION PACT

A side product of Britain’s imperial expansion and its opposition to Russia and that country’s power, Polish and other weaker-community nationalisms surged in the 16th century. Russia and Poland then struggled for territorial control, with Russia controlling the territory from the 18th century until Russia’s collapse after WWI. By contrast, the Atlantic ruling class gained further power after WWI, taking control over former Ottoman Empire territory and populations.

In August 1939 Germany made an opportunistic, temporary alliance with the Soviet Union and Slovakia to re-take Poland and divide it. Britain and France had a post-WWI pact that should Poland be invaded, they would regard the invasion as an act of war against the Atlantic ruling class. Polish gold was smuggled out to London and Ottawa. In reclaiming territory, the Soviet Union was again acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order, and so was a categorical enemy. But the geopolitical crisis was a fascist state acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order. In an already-owned world, German economic development intolerably forced both (temporary) capitalist-communist cooperation and a dis-identification between the Atlantic ruling order and capitalism.

While the Atlantic ruling class has remained in fairly-constant geopolitical opposition to Russia (regardless of its government), British sponsorship of Polish and Eastern European national ambitions has been rather more opportunistic than a primary goal. It is the Polish (among other Eastern European buffers) nationality’s perspective that the Western powers “betrayed” their sponsorship agreements in 1939 (inter alia), as the North Atlantic powers allied with the Soviet Union to fight WWII, to stop Germany’s further territorial invasions and expansions. The Soviets ground down the imperial German war machine; and the Soviet Union’s gambit to reduce the Atlantic ruling order’s combined anticommunist and geopolitical opposition was thus soon played out.

British war leader Winston Churchill hoped to simply redirect WWII against the Soviet Union upon Germany’s defeat in April 1945. But British analysts concluded that the Atlantic powers would not be able to defeat and control the Soviet Union’s territory via direct warfare. So, in another “betrayal,” Churchill and Stalin divided up the former Austro-Hungarian borderlands (the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in WWI), from 1945 until the modern Russian communist experiment was liquidated in 1989 under the co-optative idea, and a patently false and geopolitically-naive expectation, suggesting that simply by dissolving communism to the benefit of oligarchs, Russia would become included and supported as an autonomous capitalist country in the North Atlantic metropole archipelago, much as Germany, Italy, and Japan had been under the redistributive Marshall Plan. But in that North Atlantic, states had since largely been claimed by a financially-liberated, cosmopolitan ruling class, and that class already had a capitalist relationship with the great reserves of Chinese and Indian labor, resources, pollution sinks, and consumers. Nor was it possible for even-oligarchical Russia, with its broader social networks and infrastructure, to be integrated into the Middle East tyrants’ efficient, special relationship with the Atlantic ruling class.

Since then, the Atlantic ruling class has pursued an oppositional relationship with Russia, offering instead the City of London as an increasingly-posh haven for the Russian klepto-collaborators and their booty, the once-public wealth accrued with brains, blood, sweat and tears within the Soviet Union territories. A globally-networked, cosmopolitan ruling class with key bases in North Atlantic financial cities and countries currently enjoys the restoration of its undiluted, unrivaled power, as well as steep and immobile social hierarchy and all its effects. As billions of people are surveilled, policed, incarcerated, militarized, exploited, poisoned, dispossessed, violently disrupted, and dislocated into spectacular migrations, outside of continental Europe, aristocracy and servitude have been restored. Western Enlightenment ideas, culture, and institutions have fallen, but the extraction and slavery infrastructure remains and has been technologically enhanced.

Thus, while there are still states and of course market institutions managing cosmopolitan extractivism and the social reproduction of inegalitarianism, with the eradication of Enlightenment thought and institutions, nation-states have been reorganized as rigid, stagnant Night-watchman states. Nations are reserved for the industrializing countries.

The Power and the Mediocrity of the Sign

In “What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success,” Anu Partanen reveals capitalist Anglo-America’s elephant-in-the-room-sized blind spot, why its focus on competition and “excellence” results in diminishing performance in order to promote concentrated power and idealism.

The Finns (Per Sahlberg) on education reform that demands accountability from teachers: “There is no word for accountability in Finnish. Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” In Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility.

The Finns (Samuli Paronen) on competition: “Real winners do not compete.” There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The driver of education policy in Finland is not competition amongst teachers and schools, policy forcing the ideal conservative conditions of bellum omnia contra omnes, but rather cooperation. School choice is not an issue, nor is putting education in the hands of the private sector and profit motive. This is in distinct contrast to America, Sahlberg observes, where “schools are a shop.”

The Finnish education reform goal was always equality and equity, never “excellence” or whatever conservative daydreams that word stands in for. “Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.” What the world dominated by conservative Anglo-american capitalist dogma still cannot face is that it is equality that most efficiently produces star performances and substantive excellence.

Tiger Moms’ genius boys in Shanghai and Singpore can put in 20-hour days of rote memorization and exhaustive cramming, and only manage to approximate in performance the Finnish children who are simply well cared for and supported by valued, independent, unionized teachers and their egalitarian society. Surely, the East Asian genius boys are better poster boys for conservative capitalist discipline; but just as surely they are inefficient…and 99% of these memorizers and crammers will never be able to write a non-plagiarized essay, that is, communicate independently, like humans can.

Why does egalitarianism more efficiently make excellence? The answer is right in front of our nose, right in front of our blind spot. It’s because in the inequality tradition, poor people are overwhelmingly, structurally prevented from attaining their human potentials, and, a factor that perversely torments conservative theorists much more, the rich enjoy the comfort of knowing that surrounded by throngs of shackled “competitors,” they can enjoy many a good old slack.

In such a conservative culture, it is the appearance and ideal of excellence that matters, because the sign unmoored is directed by and justifies power. To be chosen is a sign, necessarily imposed upon the material world. The grim “play” of signs, only ordered by the mystified, atopic distribution of power in a reified collective imagination (a world not made but given, or made by all because you cannot choose unfreely), is Anglos’ obsession, and the more people you can induce to submit to this obsession, the more human life chances are allocated by market power and the more absolutely necessary capitalism (or its feudal and slavery complements)  is for any life chance at all.

At or adhered to central nodes of global capitalist accumulation, Anglo-Americans are altogether too kind, too attentive to, too solicitous of the promotional, the unmoored sign, constantly mistaking it for the legitimate, autarkic limits of knowable (meta)reality. Our literature, for one example, is far too ready to believe that the con man is the true knower.

Historical materialism v. modern scepticism

 An outline of the historical march of the skepticist-materialist argument

 

1)       Scepticism (From 360 BC, Democritus et al) rests on the idealist epistemological assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a foundation; each foundation is a biased selection of these artificial categories, with no guarantees as to their veracity. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful.

 

2)       The founding Western materialist Epicurus (307 BCE) follows Democritus, but critiques the logic of the skeptic epistemology, holding that applied consistently it undermines itself and it does not correspond to how we navigate and encounter the world—how we know. (Pace Bhaskar) For realism, we must allow for actual encounters with (and feedback from) a world that can resist artificial constructions and promote innovation in categorical construction. Epicurus elaborates upon the physics foundations that emerge in our characteristic array of human senses and that emerge in but do not fully determine our concepts (constructions). The materialist system is designed to register changing (and distinguish them from consistent) relations, for a fuller discussion see Lewontin, Gould, Levins (but this has ramifications for your critique, see below). (I also have a lecture on this.)

 

3)       Christianity teams with other Western idealists to destroy almost all materialist texts and expurge from recorded scholarship the materialist tradition for 1,000 years (from the 3rd century AD)–until the Enlightenment recovers the materialist tradition in the 17th century.

 

 

4)       In the 1840s Historical Materialism (Marxism) modifies materialism’s sensory epistemology with historically-situated social constructionism—pace The German Ideology (The materialist Feuerbach introduced ahistorical social constructionism to materialist epistemology), see also Marx’s dissertation on Epicureans v. Democritus (Skeptics). Thus the epistemology of historical materialism is distinguished by three forms of recourse to the world behind social categories (which includes social and natural relations): a) categories partially informed by sensory information, b) sensory information, and c) historically-embedded relations. These three historical-materialist epistemological foundations are not held to provide knowledge completely independent from social constructions—they do not preclude social constructions, but rather they can cast into doubt, modify, limit, and check social constructions; although Marxists use social constructionism as a tool (consider the false consciousness argument), Marxism as an historical-materialist paradigm is not a radical social constructionist (idealist) epistemology. As historical materialism does not jettison ontology and its epistemology is a combination of sensory information and historicized social constructionism, its social constructionism is not absolute social constructionism.

 

5)       In the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the 1968 “collapse” of the French Left, Postmodernism brings the idealist skeptic project to “political intervention” by isolating (and, claiming exclusive ownership of) modern materialism’s social constructionism, while rejecting Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that to know we purely depend upon social constructions, built with power-over, which can only be known as it weaves the veil of artificial constructions absolutely separating human knowledge from the social and natural world. For logical reasons adumbrated below as well as historical-political context reasons, Postmodernism’s frequent political intervention targets Marxists.

 

 

6)       Thus targeted, historical materialists (Marxists) have responded to Postmodernism with the Epicurean critique of scepticism, adding the “Healthy Approach” manouever (see below). Insofar as we recognize that all categories are socially-constructed, all approaches and paradigms must rest upon assumptions, and thus scepticism can be applied to any approach or paradigm. Thus when we engage in deconstruction, critique of metanarratives, critique of grand narratives, etc., we are never innocent of politics, we always choose which foundations of which approaches and ideas we attack at which juncture. Ethically, we should be able to defend with integrity why we see the target as either the prime enemy worthy of continuous deconstruction, or as particularly prone to obscure its assumptions (eg. Because it rejects social constructionism). The Hist-mat approach holds that it clearly forwards social constructionism, that postmodernism’s social constructionism is derivative of and not epistemologically superior to Marxim’s, and Marxists clearly have explicitly, repeatedly laid out Marxist epistemology. Marxists point out that as Postmodernism fixates on Marxism as especially needing foundations-exposing political intervention above most other given paradigms, Postmodernism’s scepticism/Deconstruction/critique of metanarratives are subject to critique on the basis of what kind of social relations they support, because they can and they do choose. Although postmodernists assert the claim that the very act of deconstruction alone is definitively ethical, liberatory (as ultimately guaranteed by the skeptic epistemological assumption), nonetheless from the historical materialist epistemological position (a refutation of skepticism), each particular application of skepticism remains vulnerable to a critique of its situational ethics.

 

7)      When postmodernists are confronted with the ancient materialist critique of skepticism (the modern version being absolute constructionism), they deploy the rhetorical move of temporarily moving down to a “soft” constructivist approach–eg. From “Lyotard’s work is characterised by a persistent opposition to universals, metanarratives, and generality. He is fiercely critical of many of the ‘universalist’ claims of the Enlightenment, and several of his works serve to undermine the fundamental principles that generate these broad claims.” down to “Lyotard’s narrative in The Postmodern Condition declares the decline of only a few defunct ‘narratives of legitimation’ and not of narrative knowledge itself. It is not logically contradictory to say that a statement about narratives is itself a narrative, just as when Lyotard states that “every utterance [in a language game] should be thought of as a ‘move’ in a game” his statement is itself a ‘move’ in a language game.” Here in its soft constructionist version, we have a postmodern admission that recognizes the defensible approach involves not fighting against the tyranny of metanarratives or grand narratives per se, but making political choices (with ethical ramifications) about which community to demand to defend its foundations. This is in essence a reversion to the historical-materialist position, which is more sustainably undergirded by historical-materialist sensory-soft constructionist epistemology, not radical constructionist skepticist epistemology in temporary suspension. If you are going to attack historical materialism on the idealist grounds of scepticism, then you must know that its critique of scepticism’s infinite logical regress is forthcoming, and you can’t in good faith defend your position from that critique by pretending that you invented or you own soft constructionism, which is a partial epistemology forwarded by historical-materialism and designed to require a materialist supplement.

 

 

 

Although they have been in conversation (and in the case of materialism, suspension), over 2500 years, no one has found a way to reconcile materialism to scepticism (of whatever necessarily idealist bent). They are distinct traditions, with distinct epistemologies corresponding to a presence and an absence of ontology. 
   

 

Appendix: Skepticism v. Epicureanism
Skepticism
Skepticism (Democritus) rests on the idealist assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it; we shall never know. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a necessarily biased selection of these artificial categories. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful (scepticism!).
While Democritus is the skeptic that Epicureans originally critiqued, the idealist Descartes (Cogito ergo sum) is the first modern skeptic. Descartes’ skeptical hypotheses included “reality” as a dream or alternatively a contrivance of the devil. (Other modern skeptic hypotheses about reality include Brain in a Vat, Matrix, and Last Thursdayism, incl. Creationism. We will get to postmodern scepticism in a moment.)
Most philosophies have weaknesses and can be criticized, and this is a general principle of progression in philosophy. Pierre Le Morvan (2011) has distinguished between three broad philosophical approaches to skepticism. The first he calls the “Foil Approach.” According to the latter, skepticism is treated as a problem to be solved, or challenge to be met, or threat to be parried; skepticism‘s value on this view, insofar as it is deemed to have one, accrues from its role as a foil contrastively illuminating what is required for knowledge and justified belief. The second he calls the “Bypass Approach” according to which skepticism is bypassed as a central concern of epistemology. Le Morvan advocates a third, historical-materialist approach—he dubs it the “Health Approach”–that explores when skepticism is “healthy” and when it is not, or when it is virtuous and when it is vicious.
The Greek Materialist Critique of Skepticism
Epicurus started with Democritus, but had critiques of Democritus’ approach.
Materialist Epistemology is connected to Ontology
Epicurus says that all sensations give us information about the world, but that sensation itself is never in error, since sensation is a purely passive, mechanical reception of images and the like by sense-organs, and the senses themselves do not make judgments ‘that’ the world is this way or that. Instead, error enters in when we make judgments about the world based upon the information received through the senses.
Skepticism-tends-to-Nihilism (Infinite Regress)
Epicurus says that it is impossible to live as a skeptic. If a person really were to believe that he knows nothing, then he would have no reason to engage in one thought or course of action instead of another. Thus, the consistent skeptic would engage in no thought or action whatsoever, and would die.
Epicurus thinks that, in order to make judgments about the world, or even to start any inquiry whatsoever, we must already be in possession of certain basic concepts, which stand in need of no further proof or definition, on pain of entering into an infinite regress. This concern is similar to the Paradox of Inquiry explored by Plato in the Meno, that one must already know about something in order to be able to inquire about it. However, instead of postulating that our immaterial souls had acquaintance with transcendent Forms in a pre-natal existence, as idealist Plato does, Epicurus thinks that we have certain ‘preconceptions’–concepts such as ‘body,’ ‘person,’ ‘usefulness,’ and ‘truth’–which are formed in our (material) minds as the result of repeated sense-experiences of similar objects. Further ideas are formed by processes of analogy or similarity or by compounding these basic concepts. Thus, sense-experience undergirds all concepts, through which sensory data is filtered. (Historical materialists will modify this epistemology by adding a non-absolute social constructionism, but not excising the role of the senses in knowledge formation.)
Epicurus is concerned to refute the skeptical tendencies of Democritus, whose metaphysics and theory of perception were similar to Epicurus’. At least three separate anti-skeptical arguments are given by Epicureans, all basically addressing the problems with vicious scepticism, AKA either infinite regress (No idea or action can be asserted to be true, including this one, because nothing in human understanding can rest upon anything other than unprovable assumptions. A thoroughgoing commitment to scepticism precludes thought and action.) or poor-faith posture scepticism—a postured commitment to absolute scepticism (eg. A stated commitment to critiquing metanarratives.) as a fig leaf over an actual political game, the selective application of scepticism against a political enemy, whether the skeptic is calculating or being used as a tool.
For example, Harvey implicitly critiques (by analogy) a form of vicious skepticism:
“(T)he whole baggage of ideas associated with postmodernism could be deployed to radical ends, and thereby be seen as part of a fundamental drive towards a more liberatory politics, in exactly the same way that the turn to more flexible labour processes could be seen as an opening to a new era of democratic and highly decentralized labour relations and co-operative endeavours” (Harvey 1992: 353).
But though it can be portrayed that way, that is not how it is deployed nor how it operates.
Obviously, there is an alternative to vicious, bad faith, or “unhealthy” scepticism, and that is, for explicit reasons of political choice (which, Historical-materialism holds, can themselves be subject to contextual critique), deploying the sceptical approach, not as a total (totalizing) approach, but to instrumentally identify (and possibly to refine) or critique paradigmatic assumptions. Virtuous skepticism requires political judgement, and a refinement of epistemology to permit social constructionism, and not social constructionism to the epistemological occlusion of all else. (Correctly) identifying assumptions is not a complete manoeuvre, as, explicitly acknowledged or not, all approaches must rest on epistemological assumptions, even scepticism, and this includes postmodernism.
The Epicurean/Materialist Critique of Skepticism (incl. Democritus)
As Skepticism has been modified by postmodern social constructionism, the following 2/3 Epicurean critiques of scepticism pertain:
1) Skepticism is a Self-refutating Argument
If a skeptic claims that nothing can be known, then one should ask whether he knows that nothing can be known. If he says ‘yes,’ then he is contradicting himself. If he doesn’t say yes, then he isn’t making a claim, and we don’t need to listen to him.
2) The Argument from Concept formation
If the skeptic says that nothing can be known, or that we cannot know the truth, we can ask him where he gets his knowledge of concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth.’ If the senses cannot be relied on, as the skeptic claims, then he is not entitled to use concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ in formulating his thesis, since such concepts derive (at least partially-HM) from the senses.
The “Modern Epicurean” (Historical materialist) Response
Given the Epicurean tradition was destroyed for a thousand years by an idealist coalition of Christians & skeptics, materialist assumptions have been modified since the Enlightenment, notably by historical-materialism:
1) Maintenance of insistence on the role of senses in epistemology (Epistemology connects with ontology.), while allowing that social relations (featuring power) also condition the concepts (which are therefore partially social constructions) through which knowledge passes.* See E Scarry, Marxist historical materialism.
2) Maintenance of the Epicurean insistence on the necessity of establishing concepts (paradigmatic assumptions), adding a condition that those concepts should be made explicit (which is NOT understood as a property of postmodernism). The paradigm is not moot when the assumptions are exposed; the paradigm changes when both the sociological relations and the sensations informing the assumptions no longer hold.
*Note: You can see here that false consciousness is a problem for historical materialists because it is produced when power disallows and strips away sensory information from social construction. In effect, Marxists recognize in false consciousness radical social construction, and since radical social constructionism legitimates such concept-stripping (or refuse to recognize a diminishment in concept formation), Marxists do oppose radical social constructionists.
Postmodern scepticism (The aftermath of the 1967 Six-day War and conservatism’s 1969 defeat of the Paris students)
Postmodernism is modified form of scepticism that rests upon rests upon the epistemological assumption (as all positions and approaches, not just Marxism or other “totalizing ideoglogies,” must rest upon characteristic assumptions, pace Kuhn) that we can only know social constructions. This is an assumption because it is not provable against the alternative (Hist-mat) epistemological assumption, sensation interacting with social construction; but it is required to found the postmodern project (to found the view that deconstruction is a particularly, and uniformly liberatory project). It is this epistemological assumption (and the corollary jettisoning of ontology) that distinguishes the skeptic (incl. Postmodern) tradition from the materialist (incl. Historical materialist) tradition.
Postmodernism is a form of scepticism that in adopting historical materialism’s constructionism (a part of the epistemological foundation of historical-materialism, which also retains materialism’s sensory epistemology connected as it is to its ontology), was reformulated in a reaction to the materialist critique of scepticism’s tendency to solipsism (see above). Post-modernism tries to save the idealistic skeptic project by isolating and adoting historical-materialism’s social constructionism and jettisoning Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that while our senses are immaterial to epistemology (sensation is always behind the veil of social constructions), we instead use social constructions, built with power-over. For social science postmoderns, rejecting historical-materialist dual epistemology and clinging to sceptical idealism, material relations do not inform concepts. The social constructions are the pure product of BrainS in a Vat. Social change is a matter of wilfully changing the concepts against a social power that exists only to the extent that we imagine it to. Historical-materialism’s weaker and sensory-supplemented version of social constructionism fails to reach the same political diagnosis.
This idealist diagnosis is what repeatedly leads postmodernists to determine that historical materialism is the most direct and dire political threat to freedom. However, historical-materialists are dissatisfied with the postmodern approach not (just) because it fingers historical-materialism as the problem but because its sceptical epistemological assumption is logically unsatisfactory and postmodernists tend to play fast and loose in alternating between absolute scepticism and soft social constructionism (just as conservative economists interpolate between hard and soft versions of their own assumptions when faced with devastating critique, pace Varoufakis, who also examines further correspondences between the contemporaneous assumptions of postmodernism and conservative economics).

Dean Baker’s Critique of Capital Rents

I think “The Rent is Too Damn High” is one of Dean Baker’s best arguments.

But still, Desai’s critical examination of the limitations of the conservative Anglo interpretive and political tendency applies. She recalls the limited sociological imagination that emerged in Britain in response to the Great Depression:

“(During the Great Depression) the ‘responsible and judicious’ British intellect saw the new political task and sought to harness all its native (liberal and individualist) resources to its fulfilment…Thus in Britain, as Elizabeth Durbin has shown, the newly founded microeconomics was used to justify state intervention so as to increase social welfare and the Fabians, who constituted a distinct segment of the new intellectual stratum and who had already examined and rejected Marxism, used it in their theory of ‘rents’ and ‘unearned incomes’ to justify socialist goals” (Desai 1994: 47).

Loyalists: Anglo Anti-intellectualism

The maintenance of a close connection between the embourgifying British aristocracy and the mid-19th century men of arts and letters in Britain

“was seen by the Russian Communist Dimitri Mirsky as implying that ‘the intellectuals made no attempt to think independently of their class, but rather were proud of belonging to it. In short, there were no intellectuals.’…It seems broadly true that, to a far greater extent than was true in France or Germany, not to mention Russia, in Britain mid-Victorian cultural figures tended to be literary or scientific, thus strictly speaking falling outside the sort of intellectual category necessary for a truly hegemonic politics. Moreover, even as they remained closely tied to the ruling class, which was for the great majority their class of origin, they did not, like traditional intellectuals, form a separate social category with an independent institutional structure of its own” Desai 1994: 44.

Here Desai is discussing how the aristocratic-based and aristocratic-values-proliferating British Romantic literary movement quickly eviscerated the middle class Utilitarian program for thoroughgoing  social change. “The dominant cultural tendency became a sort of unsystematic, self-consciously untheoretical, romantic conservatism, opposed to rationalism, to grand theory, and above all to Benthamite ideas: ‘For the next hundred years, every poet, novelist and philosopher knew how to do at least one thing: to refute and deride Utilitarianism'” (Desai 1994: 42). Even today we knee-jerk dismiss Bentham’s program–indeed any progressive, ambitious social change vision and program–as ipso facto tyrannical (Foucauldians and anti-communists coalesce to keep this alive.), which was also the conservative Romantics’ dogma. Significance:

1) Britain’s bourgeois class did not produce an adequate effort at envisioning and advancing social change aimed at propagating freedoms. You could see this as the exceptional Anglo institutional capacity to repress revolt, or you could hypothesize: Bentham’s program was in fact not worthy of pursuing–Perhaps because, with the middle class Benthamite revolutionary aspirations, there was not sufficient coalition and interchange with the working class. The convergence, in exceptional Britain, was always already between the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie. The working class and peasantry were totally shut out–you know, as in a totalitarian way–except to the extent that they could be romanced by the aristocrat-dominated vision of land-based freedom.

2) As opposed to the English department consensus, Desai, following Anderson and Gramsci, is emphasizing that literary producers (and scientists as well–see Oppenheimer’s eye-opening, frustrated efforts at becoming a public intellectual) do not have the institutional and identity independence to form a properly-independent intellectual class capable of a) co-opting some elites to the cause of revolution, and b) significantly challenging hegemony.

The relationship between the Victorian literary establishment and political-economic elites was incestuous. English reform is what the US Civil Rights Movement would have been with Kathryn Stockett (“The Help”) at the helm, instead of MLK, the women bridge leaders, and Malcolm X.

Yet we have a tendency, in Anglo-american societies, to imagine, quite conservatively, that reformist literature–not intellectual schools that break with the dominant class’ interest, coalesce with the exploited class, and foster action — is all the social imagination we need or normatively should produce. We have seen pure middle class Bentham, and didn’t like it, and that’s all we need to know–It’s back to conservatism (freedom for a few, enthrallment for most) for us!

3) I’m sure quite shockingly it is never the case that elite opposition to rationalism or grand theory translates into beautiful anarchy. No, because you see there’s always the undead army of conservatism behind that opposition. Coleridge’s conservative, Durkheimian policy suggestion for governance: A “clerisy” institution, composed of nationalist “cultivated men,” “a morally and religiously sound clergy and aristocracy to serve as a cultural elite that would restore the community of England” (Coleridge).

Arabia & the West: Painful Lessons from Media History

In the solid “The Arab Spring and the West: Seven Lessons from History,” The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne reaches into the British Pathe News Video Archive to recall the oil-dependent fundamentals of West-Middle East Relations.

1) The West never gives up its drive to control the Middle East, whatever the setbacks.

2) Imperial powers can usually be relied on to delude themselves about what Arabs actually think.

3) The Big Powers are old hands at prettifying client regimes to keep the oil flowing.

4) People in the Middle East don’t forget their history – even when the US and Europe (conveniently) does.

5) The West has always presented Arabs who insist on running their own affairs as fanatics.

6) Foreign military intervention in the Middle East brings death, destruction, and divide and rule.

7) Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world.