Benner: Actually-existing Nationalisms

In her chapter “Explaining Nationalism” (Really Existing Nationalisms, 2018, Verso), Erica Benner conveys Marx’s assessment of the British ruling class M.O.:

“In Marx’s view…a (British) statesman of the bourgeoisie (succeeded) precisely in his ability to avoid British engagement in European conflicts (over monarchy v. democracy) while preserving Britain’s international image as the level-headed guardian of constitutional principles…”

Marx: “‘If he betrayed foreign peoples for fear of encouraging revolution,’ the British ‘did it with great politeness.’ ‘If the oppressors were always sure of (British) active support, the oppressed never wanted a great ostentation of (British) rhetorical generosity.’….(The British) ‘knows how to conciliate a democratic phraseology with oligarchic views…'”

My point: Why aren’t we all as politically-“discerning” as the British ruling class, if in a different direction? Is capital (wealth) required to maintain a political compass within a collective action coalition while that coalition ideologically and materially divides and conquers competitors, rivals, colonies, and enemies? Political compass, backed by shitloads of capital, permit ruling classes so many more strategic degrees of freedom than their would-be challengers have.

 

“The bourgeoisie’s interests in Britain, as in France and Germany, were thus advanced through the highly-selective application of principles that were supposed to underpin the legitimacy of its representatives. By suggesting that class interests explained why and when those principles were or were not applied, Marx challenged two more conventional ways of explaining foreign policy choices: those based on the idea that statesmen are motivated by free-floating principles or ideals, and power-political accounts which postulated a class-neutral ‘national interest’ as the basic guide to policy-making. Marx’s observations suggest a general, cross-national hypothesis: that the bourgeoisie’s commitment to the political doctrines which express their substantial interests is weakened, not reinforced, in proportion to the clarity of those interests and the confidence that they can be secured” (Benner 2018: 121).

We can reasonably suggest that a Marxist would revise the premise that liberal or constitutional political doctrines distinctly express the capitalist class’ substantial interests. That premise reflects the regional, historical view from unconsolidated 19th c. Germany, or, again, it reduces the British premier-capitalists’ venerable, instrumentalist, flexible and strong divide-and-conquer strategic tradition to one of its tactical components–  marketing co-optative, abstract liberal principles. Marx elsewhere (Capital V 1, Part VIII, Chapter 26; Rheinische Zeitung and New York Tribune reporting and analysis) recognized that slavery, colonialism, genocide, and extractivism also express substantial capitalist interests quite at odds with a constitutionalist posture.

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Revolutions of 1848

Excerpts from

Clark, Christopher. 2019. “Why should we think about the Revolutions of 1848 now?” London Review of Books 7 March.

Conceptualizing Revolutionary Change in Space & Time

Clark depicts the Revolutions of 1848 as having “sparked” an exceptional, spatial “transcontinental cascade.”

Rather than contrasting revolutionary moments, we can regard the 1848 Revolutions as part of a slow-release cascade over time, an “Extended European Revolution” that also included the French Revolution of 1789, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, the July Revolution of 1830, the Paris Commune of 1870, and the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Yet perhaps under liberal constraint and from a military strategy point of view, revolution has been largely understood not as a complex, non-linear, punctuated process over both space and time, but as the exceptional event. Impressively-social, shared emotion, democratic confidence, has been thought to restructure perception and in so doing diffuse sovereign agency, an unpredictable emotional spasm coordinating signalling and so action. The event, this social-emotional Mayfly moment across space (but not time) that perceptibly, if ephemerally, overmasters elite hierarchy, becomes fetishized in 20th century imperial Western social philosophy as the limit–the romantic simultaneous birth and death– of democratic change. 

“For politically sentient Europeans, 1848 was an all-encompassing moment of shared experience. It turned everyone into contemporaries.” The simultaneous 1848 Revolutions was a shared affective experience, a “euphoria of unanimity.”

Opposed to understanding revolution as a complex, punctuated, non-linear process over time, an Animal Spirits-type explanation for revolution has ancillary functions. It permits liberals and conservatives to tendentiously frame revolution as an exceptionally, unjustly violent eruption, doomed to failure. The explanation further permits conservatives and liberals to maintain a view of the “mob” as a sub-rational species to be managed, making democracy impossible or restricting it to parliamentary process, as Clark observes liberals prefer.

Our conceptualization of revolution has been twice-adulterated by the interests cohering hierarchical social orders.

Further fragmenting and misrepresenting revolution, the shared trans-regional event of the 1848 Revolutions was rewritten ex post facto as isolated, exceptional national events.

“These revolutions were experienced as European upheavals – the evidence for this is superabundant – but, as Axel Körner pointed out, they were nationalised in retrospect.”

Revolutionary organization innovations

Coalitional assembly reformations

“The Revolutions of 1848 were revolutions of assemblies: the Constituent Assembly in Paris, which made way for the single-chamber legislature known as the National Assembly; the Prussian Constituent Assembly or Nationalversammlung in Berlin, elected under new laws created for the purpose; the Frankfurt Parliament, convoked in the elegant circular chamber of St Paul’s Church in the city of Frankfurt. The Hungarian Diet was a very old body, but in 1848 a new national Diet was convened in the city of Pest. When the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I dissolved the Diet by decree, a new Hungarian national assembly met in the Protestant Great Church of Debrecen. The revolutionary insurgents of Naples, Piedmont-Sardinia, Tuscany and the Papal States all established new parliamentary bodies. The revolutionaries of Sicily, seeking to break away from the rule of Naples, founded their own Sicilian parliament, which in April 1848 deposed the Bourbon king in Naples, Ferdinando II.”

Organization innovations introduced by revolutionaries, but reviled by liberals

1848 Revolutions were a fluorescence of both polity and social movement innovation, representing both the included bourgeois citizenry and the working class excluded by absolute private property right. “But the assemblies were merely one theatre of action. By the summer of 1848, they were coming under pressure, not just from the monarchical executives in many states, but also from a range of more radical groups: networks of clubs and ‘committees’, for example, or radical counter-assemblies such as the General Crafts and Manufacturing Congress founded in Frankfurt in July 1848 to speak for workers in the skilled trades whose interests were not represented in the liberal and middle-class-dominated National Assembly. This body in turn split after five days into two separate congresses, because it proved impossible to bridge the divide between masters and journeymen.”

“Liberals revered parliaments and looked with disgust on the clubs and assemblies of the radicals which seemed to them to parody the sublime procedural culture of properly elected and constituted chambers. Even more alarming, from the perspective of ‘chamber liberals’, were organised demonstrations intended to intervene directly in the affairs of parliaments. In Paris on 15 May 1848 a crowd broke into the lightly guarded chamber of the National Assembly, disrupted the proceedings, read out a petition and then marched off to the Hôtel de Ville to proclaim an ‘insurrectionary government’ to be headed by noted radicals.”

“The tension between parliamentary and other forms of representation – between representative and direct forms of democracy – is another feature of 1848 that resonates with today’s political scene, in which parliaments have fallen in public esteem and a diverse array of competing non- or extra-parliamentary groups has come into being, using social media and organising around issues that may not command the attention of professional politicians.”

Revolution promulgates a cascade of non-linear transformations

Within 1848, the spring “euphoria of unanimity” degraded into summertime “violent clashes between liberal (or in France republican) leaders and radical crowds on the streets of the larger cities in Prussia and France,” and by fall the conservative reaction was ascendant. “In September, October and November, counter-revolution unfolded in Berlin, Prague, the Kingdom of Naples and Vienna. Parliaments were shut down, troops returned en masse to the streets, insurgents were arrested and sentenced.”

A radical revolt redoubled its efforts before they were crushed by conservative-commanded European militaries in the summer of 1849: “a second phase, radical revolt dominated by democrats and socialists of various kinds broke out in the southern German states (especially Baden and Württemberg), in western and southern France, and in Rome, where the radicals, after the flight of the pope on 24 November, eventually declared a republic.”

“In the south of Germany, this second-wave upheaval was only extinguished in the summer of 1849, when Prussian troops captured the fortress of Rastatt in Baden, the last stronghold of the radical insurgency. Shortly afterwards, in August 1849, French troops crushed the Roman republic and restored the papacy, much to the chagrin of those who had once revered France as the patron of revolution. At about the same time, the bitter war over the future of the Kingdom of Hungary was brought to an end, as Austrian and Russian troops occupied the country.”

Legacy: Strategizing how to counter the international/global power of elites’ military-force infrastructure

While revolutionary organizers strove to build internationalist networks, conservative elites own the military infrastructure that has allowed elites to successfully, and violently, operate across boundaries.The radicals and liberals were impressively successful in creating transnational networks, but these networks were horizontal: they lacked the vertical structures and resources required to wield decisive force. The counter-revolution, by contrast, drew on the combined resources of armies whose loyalty to the traditional powers had never been seriously in question.” “The Prussians intervened against the revolution in Baden and Württemberg. The French intervened in the Papal States against the Roman republic. The Russians intervened in Hungary.”

Clark argues that this collective experience of the international military might of hierarchical conservatism was also profoundly influential on the development of Western ideas. While revolution was reduced to senseless, brutal failure–or at best, beautiful but doomed, youthful, romantic folly–and dismissed in the minds of most conservatives and liberals, others put much thought to how democratic progress could advance in the face of conservatism’s military command efficiency–how networks could beat hierarchies. “You find this (latter) quest in Marx and Engels (especially Engels), in Ludwig von Rochau’s Grundsätze der Realpolitik (1853), in the Saint-Simonian technocracy that infiltrated administrative practice in France after 1848, and in the primacy of ‘blood and iron’ so memorably articulated by Bismarck.”

Yet the revolutions prompted a vast transformation in ideas, and in political and especially administrative practice across Europe. 

Legacy: Administrative practice shifts

Saint-Simonian technocracy… infiltrated administrative practice in France after 1848.”

In Social Structures of the Economy (2005) and Manet (2019), Bourdieu showed how Saint-Simonian French administrative practice provides ample space for elites to legitimately commandeer the state, deftly avoiding Weber’s  dreaded “Iron Cage” of rationality. First elites’ sons are washed through elite universities, where they learn to master articulating elite interests in an abstract, neutral register–either technocratic or philosophical. Then, starting immediately upon graduation, they are imported into state-supported leadership positions within bureaucracies, academies, and the public sphere. They don’t follow bureaucratic career steps to influence. The state bureaucracies and institutions are subordinated to politically-organized French capital.

Legacy: A 3-way division of political vision and prescription

Ideas forwarded by the 1848 revolutions include the necessity of social rights to secure or counterbalance the economic and political liberty of elites, such as are protected by states–law and militaries. Leading up to the 1848 Revolutions, in the 1840s Europeans realized that full-time (overtime) labor in exploitative and extractive capitalism would far too often result in pauperization, while the rich enjoyed the elite liberty of unbounded accumulation and political power.

This 1840s recognition promoted a distinct political tri-furcation: Conservatives argue that socio-economic inequality is divine and natural, a good thing; liberals demur that socio-economic inequality is negative, but they argue that socio-economic inequality is a symptom of illegitimate state interventions undercutting natural market equilibrium; socialists argue that socio-economic inequality is the result of elite interest maximization prioritized by capitalism, as that unbalanced, unchecked elite interest maximization destroys life, and stunts and militarizes polity, institutional, and disposition development.

What is to be done about socio-economic inequality? 

For conservatives, divine social inequality provides an opportunity for elites to express their monopoly on human virtue via absolute, exclusive Herrenvolk liberty, including discretionary, ad hoc forays into chivalrous charity.

For liberals, illegitimate social inequality provides a theoretical pretense for reorienting states to support further wealth accumulation, deregulating markets and liberating capitalists from social and ecological responsibilities.

Socialists strategize how egalitarian ideas and network organization can effectively contend with international, militarized conservative and liberal opposition, to permit democratic development.

Legacy: Revolutions constrain and channel elites’ discourse and tactical degrees of freedom

Yet aspects of the democratic ideas persisted through the counterrevolution, channeling inegalitarians’ behaviour, their degrees of freedom. “Counter-revolutionaries were as often as not – in their own eyes – the executors, rather than the gravediggers, of the revolution.” For example, “Louis Napoleon, who became president of France at the end of 1848 before making himself emperor in 1852, did not depict himself as the crusher of revolution, but as the restorer of order.” Against the far more laissez-faire liberal and conservative prescriptions, Napoleon “spoke of the need not to block, but to channel the forces unleashed by the revolution, to establish the state as the vanguard of material progress.”

Revolutions are also driven by anti-revolutionary, imperial socio-spatial management

Clark explains the global quality of the European Revolutions of 1848 with reference to how British ruling elites, managing the spatial distribution of disruption, dispersed protest to British Empire tributaries.

“The news of revolution in Paris had a profound impact on the French Caribbean and the measures adopted by London to avoid revolution on the British mainland triggered protests and uprisings across the imperial periphery as the historian Miles Taylor has shown. The transportation en masse of potential trouble-makers from England and Ireland triggered protests in Australia and the Cape Colony. To keep sugar cheap the British government abandoned the system of tariff walls known as ‘imperial preference’, exposing colonial planters in Jamaica and British Guyana to competition from outside the British Empire and giving rise to protests, riots and political paralysis. In Ceylon, the introduction of new taxes to cut costs without burdening British middle-class taxpayers triggered the emergence of a protest movement that soon encompassed around sixty thousand men.”

An empire, as a militarized hierarchy, controls the spatial distribution of disruption in order to contain revolution. After 1776, Atlantic elites successfully contained revolution in the Anglo-American empire, including both the Commonwealth countries and the US. London’s role–managing disruption spatially–in maintaining capitalist stability in the face of the Extended European Revolution, has over time resulted in a consumption-stimulating Anglo-American domestic class settlement. This successful system of imperial redirection, on behalf of capitalist metropole stabilization, is what has earned London and New York their status as secure depositories for global wealth in the capitalist-extractivist-slavery era. 

However, the Extended European Revolution shows that in prioritizing the accumulation of power over the development of life, the imperial disruption shell game contributes a procession of social and mounting environmental destabilization globally over time.

Legacy: Revolutions embed revolutionaries within some states, channeling institutional and policy development

Revolutionaries became embedded in the militarily-imposed state, constraining its conservative capacities. “More than a third of the préfets of post-1848 Bonapartist France were former radicals; so was the Austrian minister of the interior from July 1849, Alexander von Bach, whose name had once stood on the lists of suspect liberals kept by the Vienna police department.”

Revolution promoting the integration of some revolutionaries into European states has not overcome militarized, inegalitarian capitalism. But it has forged a more socially- and environmentally-rational, more-democratic Continental Europe, despite European elites’ command of international military force.

This is a fundamental distinction between Continental Europe and UK class compromises. In that sense, I am not really surprised about Brexit.

MMT as a tactic toward challenging rentier capitalism and its production of social and ecological crises

We are dominated by rentier capitalists, see here and here. That is why we are unable to pursue ecologically-rational and socially-rational policy changes. One tactic forwarded toward changing this rolling crisis is MMT . After all, given climate change is such a crisis that we’re being asked to to build nuclear plants and shoot people onto Mars, we should be able to tackle an extremely problematic social group we host, the rentier capitalists, coordinating capital and enforcing the accumulation-maximizing policy and institutions behind climate crisis.

People against MMT argue that capitalists create value or wealth, and states are totally epiphenomenal to that. They argue that if states–even the United States, the origin and capitalist-trusted protector of the global currency–ignore capital strike (the irrational diversions from managing liquidity for productive investment, including diverting  privatized wealth to rivalristic speculative claims on public wealth and future worker income; paying off a guard-dog layer cake of police, war, comms, and FIRE rentiers for their cooperation; hoarding; and so on) and strategically print money to fund socially- and environmentally-rational production, that will structurally cause inflation. These finance spokesgentlemen are arguing that financial rentiers are society’s only protection from price gouging–that is to say, workers demanding a larger share of society’s wealth, “forcing” global capitalists to fight “back” with price gouging (as well as asset-inflationary privatizations of public wealth).  Yes, that is a protection racket. But does the state today, particularly the American state, really have no capacity to modify financialized capitalism’s mafioso imposition?

Not only labor and appropriated ecological- and human-organized work provide the security underlying rents. Also states, particularly that old labor camp prison guard to the world, the United States, play a rather central role in often-forcibly securing the wealth and productive capacity that also is crucial to providing the underlying security for the capitalist class’ rivalristic claims on all that wealth. I think the anti-MMT arguments are a whole theoretical hodge-podge (A handful of class-technocratic warrior neoclassical economics! A dash of romantic structural Marxism! Who cares if the assumptions clash? We’re living in capitalism!) mess of marketeering junk on behalf of finance and against ecological and social change. But there are still important concerns to be worked out, and these involve high-stakes political strategy.

The main thing to recognize about inflation is, all capitalist theory aside, inflation is not necessarily structurally determined. Inflation is also a manipulable political tool for controlling states and territories through populations. In capitalism, capitalists have many degrees of strategic freedom. Highly-coordinated business has strategies besides capital strike. These financially-coordinated capitalist strategies include the capacity to raise prices–to induce inflation until the working class and any working-class accountable state institutions cry uncle and submit. Finance is the organizer of capitalists. We live in an era of financial penetration and domination.

Nixon’s corporate pricing board experiment, and capital’s subsequent refusal to cooperate, showed this to be the case. On the other hand, Nixon was unwilling to get back in there and use the state to bring capitalists back to heel because Nixon was an ideological inegalitarian and pro-capitalist. (And also, because capitalists and their police state are a mafia, Nixon was probably threatened with assassination, or even, like, job loss. JK! Kinda.)

MMT is structurally correct–state debt as a limit is a moral and political variable in the country producing and circulating the global currency.  Implementing policy based on MMT, particularly in a country of exorbitant privilege, could be feasible. But history has shown that the problem of implementing MMT -backed policy simply would be: Is there a way to disrupt or outmanoeuver finance’s capacity to coordinate capitalists to choke out MMT-fueled egalitarian and ecological reform, such as The Green New Deal?

This problem is all Kalecki: I am assuming that capitalists value above all (their ultimate use value is) control over the surplus and the conditions for the reproduction of exploitation and appropriation. So capitalists, particularly those who rely on the US for their wealth appropriation, have insufficient incentive to support pro-ecological and pro-social change. They would much rather wreck the Earth and shoot workers onto Mars, which would be a worse place for humans to live than Winnipeg. This Marxist assumption is borne out in the angry business comms reaction to MMT and the Green New Deal. Moreover, as the US protects global capitalist citizenship, not territorial citizenship, the US incentivizes and attracts the globe’s most antisocial capitalists–those who do not have to live with the social and environmental destruction their strategies create. By calling capital’s bluff, MMT exposes Americans’ conflict with the ultimate capitalist thugs (home-cultivated and beckoned), an over-fed, over-bred, over-cosseted, all-consuming moth blanket devouring the US and the globe…all for the glory of bigger yacht rivalry and owning New Zealand.

However, this is not the Nixon era. For example, today capitalists already compete with each other to capture the future income streams provided by running a mass consumption economy on credit (debt) rather than income, and that highly-coercive private financial appropriation of future popular wealth has already given us enormous asset inflation, as individual asset owners are relieved of current structural limits like income stagnation. What would it look like to have commodity inflation on top of a mountain of asset inflation at the investment- and currency-core of the global capitalist system? That sounds mighty disruptive to me–sure, terrible for the working class, who by structural definition don’t own enough to protect themselves in capitalism…but it also looks like global capital wouldn’t even be able to see the US as a reliable chain gang boss to send their investment capital to anymore.

Because society in the resource-rich US has been organized and disorganized for this very purpose, the US state has small interest in losing the exorbitant privilege status. But in terms of credible threat and degrees of freedom to pursue more developmental and repairing social and environmental policy, the US state could probably bargain a lot better with global capital if its conservative political rentier class were increasingly sidelined. There probably is no ready substitute for the US as the capitalist stronghold. Starting with an imperial Presidency and antidemocratic judiciary, slavery, the Federalist framework and inter-state rivalry, the US worked long and hard to form itself into a giant, once-gilded, increasingly bare-life, militarized working-class prison. (The very structure that permits exceptional, meritorious metropole cosmopolitan sapeurs to efficiently abject and write off “ruined” hinterlands US life, enjoying their exceptional imperial space, instead of organizing for development.)

At this historical juncture, is any state in a position to take over and maintain global capitalists’ currency, to guard the globe’s privatized wealth? Is the City of London, with the (post-Brexit) UK state (not the EU) behind it, ready to step in? It’s a buttress and prod to Wall Street, but if the UK could run the global economy, they would. Now they’re mostly just a financial city-state. Is Brussels, with a European population that has long fought slavery on its shores and is heavily invested in ecological modernization? When Europe, particularly France, manoeuvered toward dropping the gold-backed dollar in the Nixon era, it wasn’t only because the US’s war against the Koreans was paid for with printed money, it was also because the European population did not support the Korean War as a reason to print money.  The incomplete mobilization toward dumping the US dollar required class coalition in Europe. Is China ready to take over the global interior-exterior capitalist gendarme role from the US? It’s still trying to build markets with social credit experiments.

There might be leverage here. Could the US state have any capacity to bargain harder and better with global capital at this historical point? Could this current historical constellation present US-global working class leverage, including through the Justice Democrats, as a contributor to a multi-tiered, internationalist, democratic strategy to distribute wealth for human development and ecological repair? We have less to lose than we have long imagined. Not only are we fast ecologically imploding, not only is wealth being rapidly extracted from the US hinterlands, but now we know, thanks to Piketty et al’s historical research, that capitalism will never be able to fulfill wealth distribution promises, always requires crippling and stunting inequality, and always requires “corrective” war anyway.

We have a lot to gain. What sorts of solidarity organization is needed to support strategy? To strategically soften the impact of belligerent capitalist strike strategies, including inflation and capital withdrawal, could the global working class build solidarity networks past the monstrous US policing system, to help US workers survive a potential, disciplinary inflationary blow-out, to win a class battle against global capitalists from the US, and correct socially- and environmentally-irrational capitalism?

 

A New International?

Because rents of global exploitation and appropriation have trickled down to US workers, it’s been easiest for global workers to say “Fuck that” to solidarity with US workers. On the US side, the working class is too immigration policy-selected, and police- and comms-disorganized to signal willingness to fight and sacrifice for the advancement of socio-economic and ecological rationality. The US has long perfected co-opting and constraining workers to conservatism with policing and military jobs, defanged and dwindling business-subordinated unions like the AFL-CIO, extending public subsidies that workers tap into to cycle through ratty small business ownership, and selling conservative morality narratives suggesting that White and ethnic exploitation and patronage networks are sufficient to weather capitalism.

But strategically, in terms of global internationalist strategy, US worker-consumers occupy a key economic niche, supplying the underlying value to global capitalists’ rents; and US workers have been suffering in that position for a while. Political science data (including Gilens & Page) say that everyday Americans are not as reality-resistant, not as conservative as they’re drawn.

We need organization.

We could also use research: What constellations of conditions, can we observe, reduce finance’s capacity to coordinate capitalists to choke society into submission to their antisocial projects of self-aggrandisement, ceaseless imperial war and social disruption, and ecological annihilation?

We know that a combination of massive-scale capital-destructive war and communist organization is one set of conditions (per Piketty 2014). Are there any others?

Tactical Components for Dismantling Rentier Capitalism’s Chokehold, Addressing Social, Economic and Ecological Problems in the 21st Century

  • Socialists in the state
    • MMT or credible MMT threat
    • UBI & UBS
    • Cooperative capacity building policy and institutions
    • Diverting funding from carceral state to social citizenship supports
  • Working Class Organization
  • Worker Internationalism
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Enabling Conditions for the Effectiveness of the Tactical Components

  • War
  • Socialism
    • Socialist Ideas
    • Socialist Organization
    • Socialists in the US state
  • Lack of state capacity to host global currency and enthrall workers
    • Brexit and City of London-UK decapacitation
    • Chinese consumption capacity not fully developed
    • European workers disinclined to/ too capacitated to tolerate servitude
  • ipsum lorem

Challenges that Reproduce Rentier Capitalism, Social Crises, Ecological Crises

  • US working class co-optation
    • US police/military state
      • US working class disorganization
    • Longtime capitalist-subsidiary unions, such as the AFL-CIO
    • Public subsidization of irrational junk businesses
    • Meritocracy ideology and managerialist incentives
  • Global capitalist organization via finance
    • Capital strike tactical capacity
    • Inflation-inducing tactical capacity
      • working class disorganization and co-optation
      • state decapacitation and subordination
    • Asset-inflation
      • working class disorganization
    • ipsum lorem
  • ipsum lorem

 

KEVIN KRUSE wrote One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

I have to post this because I always get Kruse confused with Thomas Sugrue, and I forget the title of this book.

Years ago, back before Evil Annamaria Tremonti killed off her good twin sister Good Annamaria Tremonti, The Current interviewed Kruse about this book.

American Sociologists’ Problem is that they’re small-time Dem Party hacks

I distinctly remember thinking Jeff Manza had his shit together. I thought that in grad school. Then I read a review he wrote in 2015 “Reconnecting the political and the economic in the New Gilded Age.” Did something happen to him–or to me–in the intervening years?

A Review of a Review: Upshots, with my corrections for reality.

  1. Once upon a time, Sociology reduced inequality to “social stratification,” an anti-Marxist concept that helped Sociologists ignore increasing X-treme class inequality, until a French economist forced them to tapdance.
  2. U Chicago-brand Monica Prasad wrote a book on how finance is defs not politically- organized. I think this is the same book as the one where she thought, based on not looking for disconfirming data, that the flood of global capital to the US from Nixon on was just lucky and in no way the result of prior elite organizing and the way capitalism works. According to Manza, Prasad’s 2012 thesis is that financialization happened from below, when Midwestern farmers (AKA the German Populist Enemy Within) demanded and got cheap credit.
    1. I hope (but doubt) that what Prasad is doing is clearing a place in the hearts of elites for Sociology as a court philosophy. I will look away while she does that, and I am not going to be worrying about whether she will be rewarded for such work.
    2. What is particularly disturbing is the degree to which the sociological hierarchy falls all over itself praising Prasad’s various “historical” narratives about how finance is defs not politically organized. Only one causal chain can explain that protection racket as far as I can tell, and it is the facts that Dems take their money from finance (Manza 2015: 456, citing political scientist Nolan McCarty’s work), and sociologists fall in line as small-time Dem Party hacks. This loyalty (I can’t believe it’s patronage.) is fast turning Sociology into that academic discipline that uses a flimsy, transparent moralistic claim that it is so concerned with the Little People that it is now explaining the rise of social, political, and economic inequality as the micro work of the Little People. Sociology, the discipline thats sine qua non is societal expansion, goes from denying inequality in the 20th century to, in the 21st century, explaining that the irrational Little People made inequality. Just shut the whole shitshow down.
  3. The sociologists try to argue that finance, the organizing force of capitalism, had no agency in anti-inflationary policy, capital flooding, and by extension inequality. In the bat-shit crazy Dem Party view forwarded by Prasad, Krippner, and Manza, Volcker’s wage-suppressing anti-inflationary policy was just serendipitously followed by an influx of global capital. No, that doesn’t make sense from anything anyone has ever known about financial capitalism ever.
    1. In defense of this indefensible Crazy Coincidence thesis, Manza mumbles something about how Greenspan was “natural”…and in no way a GIANT POLITICAL MACHINE of the 20th Century as has been shown over and over again.
  4. So Manza struggles throughout this 2015 review to establish “the popular foundations of a high-inequality regime” (457). It is really painful to watch. The Little People caused post-Trente Glorieuses epic inequality. Ahhhggggghh. That’s the sound of my eyeballs rolling. How, uh, counter-intuitive.  How contrarian. Wow. Much agency. So capillary. Amazeballs. With that kind of theory fueling them, no wonder the Dems are so hapless.
  5. On p. 450, Manza confuses Institutionalism with Power Resources Theory, by erasing the part of PRT that identifies labor movement and labor movement repression as causal factors.
  6. Usefully, Krippner 2011 (Capitalizing on crisis: The political origins of the rise of finance) shows that the role of finance grew throughout the US capitalist economy. In 1950, 10% of US corporate profits were financial; by 2000, 40% were financial. This is good data to use in building an argument that increasingly, economic growth is about claims on past and future wealth.
    1. While Manza likes Krippner because Krippner, like Prasad, is saying that the American working class was paid off and supported financialization and inequality, it seems that somewhere in Krippner there is also an allowance for the fact that financialization may have been in the interest of capital. Weird. HELP US, GHOST OF BOURDIEU!
  7. Apparently it is not enough to finger Midwestern farmers as the cause of financialization and inequality. Manza goes insane attempting to report on Krippner’s theorization of the causal relation between the American working class, qua consumers, and anti-inflationary policy (Manza 2015: 454).
    1. Supporting evidence for all this American worker-fingering insanity is information from Streek (2013) that American “consumers” benefitted from anti-inflationary policy. Holy shit, liberals (I don’t mean Streek, who got plucked here). Consumers have always been the intermediate beneficiary of imperialism, colonialism, slavery–cheap goods.
      1. But beyond that Triangle Trade capitalist jump-start moment in the industrializing cities of England, in their worker/reserve army form, that is, most of their lives, the people who are occasionally consumers are not necessarily the beneficiaries of anti-inflationary policy, commodity cheapening, diminished state accountability to the working class and reduced working-class supportive public infrastructure, junk jobs and underemployment.
      2. American “consumers” are still the primary global consumer beneficiaries of capitalism. Nonetheless, that does not mean that these people caused anything. They are among the most powerless people in the world. It is illegal for them to organize. They have no political representation. Working Americans are famously indebted to the teeth. They are under continuous, massive surveillance. They are infamously incarcerated en masse. They are global capitalism’s worker prisoners, and the cage is usually not gilded. If they’re agents, they’re not sovereign agents, their agency is delegated–Meaning, to understand causation, we need to identify the sovereign agents whose interests are delegated to the non-sovereign agents.
      3. There may be symbolic domination going on, but it doesn’t mean the interest is American consumers’ own interest, which the Sociologist Dems are leaning on to try to build their causal argument. The American working class has been consuming, not on income, but on debt. Individual debtors benefit from inflation, not anti-inflation.
      4. American working class debtors are massively different from the exceptional American capitalist class and state, in that American working class debtors’ terms of credit are far, far worse.
      5. Bereft of the means of production at the expensive center of global capitalism, consumption is required; this consumption is not unambiguously in working peoples’ interest.
      6. Do you know what is unambiguous? Anti-inflationary policy is the unambiguous interest of finance. If we’re interested in causal arguments–we have the motive. Now all we need to do is look to see if financial capital used its power for political organization.
    2. Manza tries to claim he is using a Gramscian framework. If that’s a Gramscian framework, then let’s just kill it off before we add any more insult to the injury of Gramsci’s death in Turi di Bari.
  8. Also on 454, Manza seems to think that Power Elite/Power Structure research was defeated by Institutionalism in the 1980s-90s. Wut? Skocpol and Domhoff fruitfully argued throughout their careers (Kind of a model career-long debate, really.), until ultimately, Skocpol admitted she was wrong with her thesis that middle class state workers make US policy. …Because state-centrism was a bat-shit crazy thesis that only survived because capitalism works through misdirection and lying.
  9. Manza gives a nod to a non-crazy theory. Mark Mizruchi (Michigan, 2013) associates the rise of inequality with the decline of politically-organized capital’s willingness to compromise, eg. when the CED (Committee on Economic Development, from 1942) converted into the fascist Business Roundtable in the 1970s. Mizruchi thinks that business went fascist because rivalristic payments to shareholders became the focus of business management. That begs the empirical question of how finance was deregulated to make shareholders’ financial interests the governing interest.
  10. On p. 455, Manza reveals his “own view” on what caused “the extraordinary shifts in distribution and life chances inaugurated by the high inequality regime”: When the Little People elected Reagan, that forced a “rational” CEO reaction “to support policy agendas that may prove destructive in the long run.”  Groaaaaannnn. Oh, Dems. What happened to you, Jeff Manza? Were you always a putz?
  11. Jeff Manza sweetly believes that the US is a “democratic polity where the interests of the 99 percent have ample opportunity to demand” democratic policy (455). Now he’s just trolling. He is baffled by why the 99 failed. How has pluralist theory even survived into the 21st century?!!??? It’s not pluralism. It’s frustrated, ad-hoc Dem Party efforts at electoral strategization without acknowledging the political-economic structure that they have contributed to building. At first, I thought Manza was willfully ignoring the work of Gilens and Page, but then toward the end it seems like he might know of its existence?
  12. Manza has to resort to some political scientist dudes (McCarty et al) to figure out how the Little Peoples messed up Camelot. The idea he gets from Polisci McCarty, and proposes to import into Dem Party Sociology, is that the US has “polarized” politics. “Polarization” refers to the fact that immigrants have reduced citizenship, where capitalists have super-citizenship, were one to obliquely admit of class. No, it’s not clear what this has to do with Manza’s agenda. But as we have since seen, what the Dem Party did with that “polarization” insight was to endorse the Chamber of Commerce’s Open Borders (Decimated Citizenship) platform…permitting the continuance of polarized citizenship and inequality. They must have decided, against the empirical evidence, that the citizenship polarization was not between immigrants and capitalists, but, more fancifully, between immigrants and working-class Americans. It’s difficult to say how Dems construe the decimation of social citizenship rights and the epic growth in criminalization as enhanced working-class citizenship. We are forced into the hypothesis that political and ideological liberals have been conservatized by their dependent relationship with finance.
  13. In a flat-ontology approach to surveyed attitudes data that should leave Dem Party wonks creaming their pants, Leslie McCall discovers that “Americans do not support programs of redistribution that reward people who are not working” (Manza 2015: 458).
    1. To me, in all this mess, what is really interesting, and for further exploration, about this manufactured consensus and sine qua non of living in the US, is that owners are considered to be part of the working people, per conservative economic theory. So liberal Anglo-American policy provides public subsidies to business owners, regardless of the business’ function and functionality, in direct opposite to the social democratic policies forcing/incentivizing profitable business and quality jobs. With increasing productivity, and technological unemployment and underemployment, the liberal state that follows existing attitudes is forced to endlessly, irrationally subsidize business owners and withhold resources from workers, or imprison workers. That is the social contract in the US: If you own a business, you will be socially subsidized. If not, you may get lucky, or you may be made into a prison slave.
  14. Manza thinks that McCall, Newman, and Jacobs’ survey findings indicate that “egalitarian politics are crippled by public preferences. What I am especially attracted to…is the simple possibility that since the origins of the American welfare state, in the broadest possible sense Americans have more or less gotten a version of what they want”…including CRIPPLING INEQUALITY!!! It’s so hard to tell if Manza is a minor Dem Party hack or a Canadian. Manza considers Little Man individual preferences to be “the most parsimonious and elegant solution to the puzzle of the comparative weakness and limited generosity of the American welfare state” (and here he cites himself, from a time in which I didn’t find him loathesome). We have conservative economists. Why do we need sociologists? Why does anyone need a junior economist who can’t do math? Fold up the shop.
    1. From economic and other historians, far more sociological hypotheses about what is conditioning attitudes for surveys: The persistence of inegalitarian slavery institutions; capitalist-funded instruments of right-wing organization, including, inter alia, religious organizations.
  15. Then, bizzarely, far, far too late in this game, Manza acknowledges Gilens (2012): “the rich (those at the ninetieth income percentile) get what they want (their average policy preference) far more often than the poor (respondents at the tenth percentile).” Manza learns nothing from Gilens, because unlike the Dream Jeff Manza that I have carried in my head all these years, the actual Jeff Manza is stone-cold class blind and utterly unconcerned with face validity.
    1. That sick fuck Manza goes on to cite a fanciful discussion of oligarchy by a fellow named Winters (2011) in which the US–despite all empirical evidence–is not a “warring oligarchy” but a “civil” oligarchy. WHAT ABOUT THE FUCKING BIGGEST FUCKING MILITARY, MULTI-TIERED POLICE SYSTEM, AND CARCERAL SYSTEM THE PLANET HAS EVER KNOWN?????!!!!! Fuck. Put the fucking Dem Party sociologists out to pasture.
    2. I will be far less exercised if someone can tell me that Manza wrote that whole review sitting on his hands and trying earnestly to suck the cocks that need to be sucked for Sociology not to die.
  16. Suzanne Mettler (2011) calls the tax expenditure system “the submerged state.” Manza coins the term “tax avoidance industry” (or something like that. I can’t find it now and am leaving. Might try to find it later. Might have a life instead).
  17. In the end, Manza recommends researchers find out how former public servants get rich serving capital and then prancing through the revolving door into capital’s waiting opium den. Such Elite Theory interest dissection would probably contribute to providing knowledge for a future society that didn’t want to devolve into a giant stinking pile of shit. I have no idea what the fuck Dems are going to do with that knowledge that they’re not already doing, which is parlaying a sclerotic, capitalist-elitist political system into personal family fortunes.
  18. I am just going to underscore that never once in that entire Manza lit review article did anyone ever feel the need to justify with clear scientific data or theory the elitist assumption that the American hoi poloi want to be raped. Liberalism has been captured by conservatism.

After the Civil War Democrats almost never won in the Midwest, and the Democratic Party was controlled by business conservatives who were happy enough to lose. They saw their role as freezing out the Progressives and the Populists.

It didn’t always work. In 1915 the North Dakota Republican Party was taken over by a Socialist splinter group called the Nonpartisan League, which was a major factor in ND politics for 30 years and controlled the state for some of that time.

–from HS Merrill. Bourbon democracy of the American Middle West, 1865-1896.

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