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.

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

By contrast, the Social Democratic Party (SAP) in Sweden methodically propelled itself to political hegemony by first and foremost working to build unions and a labour movement in Sweden.[1]

In 1930s Minnesota, the Farmer-Labour party had similarly worked with organized and state management radicals to build worker collective action capacity, including with anti-racism programs, and power resources; but on altruistic behalf of anti-fascist solidarity, the national Democratic Party took over and dismantled the Farmer-Laborers in WWII.[2]

While this strategy eventually provided Humphrey, Mondale and Freeman the political force to oust the controlling Southern slaver Democrats from the Democrat Party–to the benefit of the Republicans, 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 financial regulation era, the victory was pyrrhic. The deregulation of finance was soon to undercut desegregation by restoring inegalitarianism and Herrenvolk democracy, inequality and economic scarcity, and labor import substitution.

Why is this pivotal? Where the Swedish Social Democrats built working class cohesion and collective capacity, and a strategic radical organized edge to “moderate,” state repression of communists shut down the working class’ capacity to organize, institutionalize, and coordinate external-internal (social movement-polity organization) strategy, preventing labor autonomy, cohesion & collective action capacity, and power resources development in the US.

In comparison, in Canada, during WWII when the Atlantic ruling class required labor cooperation but Canada did not have strong policing capacity, the state prioritized targeting and imprisoning (especially labor-organizing) communists, while developing legislation to channel wildcat strike labor eruptions 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, suggesting that 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 strategy capable of supporting labor political capacity to advance the public good.

Against the capitalist hegemony that only states and labor cause economic decline, no ideas. laws,[3] policies, or institutions capable of moderating and directing capital for the public good, capable of countering both regional and international capitalist strategy, could sustainably develop in the US.

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 strong public and private policing capacity with which to repress labor and prevent the development of working-class power resources. The US was able to further minimize class compromise, minimizing the development of robust labor rights law and labor-policing unions.

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 support, the basis of the “Trickle Down” claim that exclusive elite liberty and rule can contribute to the larger “club society” (Therborn 2017) economic welfare.

Obviously, 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 peoples, there is a profound, 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 worthy of Great Apes.

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) and agile disruption 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. This 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 capable of exclusionary, excessive cohesion capacity and power concentration.[7]

All the other countries stuck with the plan. 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 power 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 pressure on the dollar, US capital was immediately organized into an inflation crisis campaign targeting the US’s inflation-vulnerable “strength” at the center of global capitalism: The dollar as the currency of exchange, and the US’s assumption of repressive imperial warfare.

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.

Sponsored conservative economists were loosed to develop policy intervention models again based on the Atlantic ruling class (Van Der Pijl 2012) 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 demonstrated with corporatist pricing boards that capital could stabilize prices, capitalists, coordinated by finance, refused to do it voluntarily.[8]

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

Why is this pivotal? US 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 and hysteria throughout the US. With the help of conservative economists, 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 and the US state–the state’s institutionalizing, coordinating, legal and police coercion, and resource distribution capacity–would have to be completely captured by capitalists.[9]

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 would be the conservatization of those managerial forces, the denunionization and the demeaning of the US working class, and the import substitution of a new, un-enfranchised labor force.

6) From Nixon on, US state efforts to use policy and institution building to mediate capitalist interests with societal interests (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] From the conservative (Public Choice) repertoire, the Dems could extract rents for this convenience service and 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, even contributing and managing policies to disorganize and police the American working class, and usually, 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.[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.

American smallholders and working class people could align with the Credible Delegates Party or they could align with the Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule Party. As time, repression, and inequality marched on, it became evident that it didn’t matter. Working class Americans and smallholders would get nothing—padded with crippling law and policing, economic disruption, precarious exploitation, debt, criminalization, incarceration, disenfranchisement, pollution, alienation, racialization, sexual assault, shame, and contempt.

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 powerless labour, they still have guarding, policing, and incarceration economic opportunities, military national socialism, access to beautiful public lands, lovely climates, remnant infrastructure, and more, slightly higher- quality commodity goods than much of the world. It could be worse…

[1] Blyth 2002, Chapter 4.

[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.

[10] Blyth 2002, Ch. 6.

[11] Blyth 2002.

[1] As observed in Gilens & Page 2014.

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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.

Capitalism Takes Food from the Poor

Have you ever wondered how it is that capitalism causes malnourishment? Here’s one way.

“The global rush to buy farmland continues, and international investors are focusing on the poorest countries with weak land-rights security…Investor interest in land was triggered by the 2007-08 spike in food prices, and the long-term trends that drive deals are rising commodity prices, population growth, growing consumption and demand for biofuels and timber…The deals in the database amount to 83.2 million hectares (205.6 million acres) of land in developing countries…Most of the investors are private companies, accounting for 442 projects covering 30.3 million hectares, followed by state- owned companies with 172 projects and 11.5 million hectares, based on the data. Investment funds were behind 32 projects covering 3.3 million hectares….

 Governments often sell land already in use by smallholder farmers, according to the (research) group. About 45 percent of deals target cropland or crop-vegetation mosaics, where investors are competing for land with local farming communities, the group reported. ‘Investors are targeting countries with weak land tenure security, although they try to look for countries that at the same time offer relatively high levels of investor protection,’ the Land Matrix group said.”

Look at the Landportal Landmatrix data on capitalism incentivizing investors to steal arable land from the poor, that the moneyed might speculate on the dispossessed’s ensuing starvation.

Breaking Windows…or the Whole Welfare State?

In Le Monde, Brotherton & Phillips argue that a criminology theory, Broken Windows, became distorted by vulgar American social speciation (The poor are evil. Their automatic small transgressions cascade into crimes against the Order), and this corruption is what resulted in a recent, tyrannical Supreme Court ruling.

I like this analysis, in that it points to how even materialist explanatory frameworks become distorted within a conservative culture. (And why materialist explanations can never serve as adequate substitutes for historical-materialist explanations.)

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, any Supreme Court decision must be assessed in the context of that body’s other contemporaneous decisions, and there, unless we are hopelessly immobilized by fear, we must recognize a stark pattern has emerged.

 It is not simply that the Supreme Court justices fell prey to a bowdlerization of Broken Windows theory. That would be a tough enough problem to address. But in fact the situation is much, much more dire. The justices were selected for the Supreme Court because they are far from innocents. The US Supreme Court has come to revert to pre-liberal, end-of-days feudal British legal traditions, and this is not through a series of mishaps. SCOTUS sanctioned election fraud at the highest level; it has recently ruled in favor of capitalist class totalitarianism in the workplace; it has come to rule repeatedly in favor of state tyranny over citizen liberties; it is positioning itself to revoke Congress’ capacity to create welfare institutions. Through its interpretations and rulings, the both conservative and fundamentally elitist US Supreme Court is actively, systematically creating the legal framework for the decisive blows that convert the US to a ferociously capitalist class-biased night watchman terror state.

The working elite theory is that the conservative initiatives will bolster the investor confidence that the US, its dollar and its debts rely on. But the conservative theory of investor confidence is superficial, a symptom of a larger conservative misreading of capitalist accumulation incentives. Because of the 40+ year dominance of conservatism, the US economy is going down like a stepwise-imploding dirigible, and its elites will not fall without scrambling together a new age of serfdom and primitive accumulation—concentrated accumulation by any means possible.

Though they are always enchanted by American capital’s money, networks, organization, ready policy models, hype, and marketeers’ assurance, the rest of the world would do well to continue to turn away and let the Americans alone erect their self-rape and -pillage legal framework in their “exceptionalist” (British serfdom and imperialism meets American slavery and nuclear chain-reaction exploitation) tradition.

Marxists are correct about what is happening here. Despite their emotional rejection of Marxists above all, American liberals need to start to assess whether they will withdraw from the real world to protect their visions of marginally-conflicted, equilibrium, civilized capitalism, or whether they will get back in there and organize to defend the pillars of their crumbling, limited-Enlightenment utopia—from conservatives this time, again.

You have to ask yourself: Are you really comfortable with slavery and serfdom?, because these remain fundamental conservative institutions–entirely complementary to, we can see plainly before us, capitalism, wretched capitalism. Absolute power corrupts absolutely; and under a system of concentrated power–such as is capitalism, there is no high, easy road to progress.

It was William Julius Wilson who argued that affirmative action in the US was designed and applied  to benefit (black) elites rather than the people who had been super-exploited in US history, see “Still separate and unequal” by George M. Frederickson.

Adolph Reed was critical of Wilson, but consanguinely argues that affirmative action is primarily used by black elites (eg. mayors) to support capitalist elites.

Check:

  • Frederickson implies that Wilson’s critique applies more widely: Global elites benefit from affirmative action, rather than impoverished American minorities with historical roots in the US. Does Wilson say this, or does he just focus on middle class v. working class American blacks?
  • Does this critique apply to multiculturalism / diversity management as well? Angela Davis and Zizek have critiqued global capitalist multiculturalism.
  • What have BAR, Manning Marable had to say about this, if anything? 

“The term ‘pluralism’ is acquiring increasing currency in our own time. It is presumably the ideology describing the centrifugal tendencies of a society that threatens to disintegrate into unreconiled groups under the pressure of its own principles. This is then represented as if it were a state of reconiliation in which people lived together in a harmony while in reality society is full of power struggles. As a minor by-product of these lectures I would like to recommend that you adopt an extremely wary attitude towards the concept of pluralism which, like the similar concept of ‘social partners,’ is preached at us on every street corner. To transfigure and ideologize the elements of discontinuity or of social antagonisms in this way is a part of the general ideological trend. In the same way, it is very characteristic of our age that the very factors that threaten to blow up the entire world are represented as the peaceful coexistence of human beings who have become reconciled and have outgrown their conflicts. This is a tendency which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements.” (Adorno. History & Freedom: 93)

BAR has published Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (imprisonment) in serial form. Other commentators on this topic: Bruce Western, Angela Davis.

We Have Never Been Modern

This Robin post reviews Karen Orren’s scholarship into the persistence of feudal law in the US workplace. Right, where people spend almost all of their waking time, when not unemployed.

Orren, Karen. 1991. Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law and Liberal Development in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521422543.

Orren’s “”Belated Feudalism” set off multiple explosions when it appeared in 1991, inflicting serious damage on the received wisdom of Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz. In his 1955 classic ”The Liberal Tradition in America,” still taught on many college campuses, Hartz argued that the United States was born free: Americans never knew feudalism; their country – with its Horatio Alger ethos of individual mobility, private property, free labor, and the sacred rights of contract – was modern and liberal from the start. For decades, liberals embraced Hartz’s argument as an explanation for why there was no – and could never be any – radicalism in the United States. Leftists, for their part, also accepted his account, pointing to the labor movement’s failure to create socialism as evidence of liberalism’s hegemony.

 But as Orren shows, American liberalism has never been the easy inheritance that Hartz and his complacent defenders assume. And the American labor movement may have achieved something far more difficult and profound than its leftist critics realize. Trade unions, Orren argues, made America liberal, laying slow but steady siege to an impregnable feudal fortress, prying open this ”state within a state” to collective bargaining and congressional review.

By pioneering tactics later used by the civil rights movement – sit-ins, strikes, and civil disobedience – labor unions invented the modern idea of collective action, turning every sphere of society into a legitimate arena of democratic politics.”

While the US had slavery and identifiable feudal lords in the South, it maintained feudal workplaces throughout, and up through the entirety of the 20th century. Along with the continuing influence of anti-revolutionary British culture (P. Anderson), instilled via the Anglo American elite class (W. Domhoff), no wonder Southern feudal conservatism (D. Blackmon) was resonant and spread throughout the US even after the Democratic Party was modernized in the mid 20th century.

I had been aware that the contemporary torture and domestic and international repression privileges of the US Executive office were based in ancient and barbaric Anglo feudal law, but now I recognize that, considering British feudal warlords became the capitalist class, the idea flogged, that there was a legal or institutional break with feudalism in the Anglosphere, has been vastly overmarketed.

The last thing we have needed is a break from the fledgling Enlightenment movement, which set up the US as a semi-independent state locked into global economic elite rule, but would have been thereupon abandoned per the Federalist and slaver preferences, save for the unions. American unions were not radical because they were busy trying to push the US from slavery and feudal law and institutions into basic liberal law and institutions.

…Now, that argument is not going to get you very far, if viewed without historical depth. Societies and their institutions obviously don’t have to try to mince their way through lukewarm liberalism. Sweden, for one, developed much more radical and effective unions starting from feudalism. Then there’s Russia, the Latin American countries, etc. However, given the fact that the US was advertising itself as a modern, liberal bastion–to immigrants, to foreign allies–the early 20th century unions found political opportunity in pushing for actual liberal laws and policies within the US.

Here the thesis I will again advance is that liberal institutions as your “Left” do not create a sufficient or robust counter to conservatism–Liberalism is incapable of moving a society into even merely political democracy, let alone democracy and freedom egalitarianism.

And with the destruction of the unions and labor rights, the US has slid back down the muddy liberal bank and sunk back into the dank, suffocating morass of conservatism: Freedom for a few; slavery for most.

Here in “Birth Control McCarthyism” (referencing his book “Fear: The History of Political Idea,”) Robin explains why feminists and labor have a lot of ground in common, faced with conservatives. Insofar as we lose sight of the necessity of the feminist-labor coalition, it is because we have come to have a scandalous blindspot for the horrible, deranged, rabid elephant in the Western livingroom, the ubiquitous, pervasive, legal fact of our (especially Anglosphere) societies: the totalitarian workplace.