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?


“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.




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.


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.


Recognition, Multiculturalism & Structural Apprehension

When I was a masters student, I found Axel Honneth very useful, and I had to read Kymlicka (whom I was less enamored of. Maybe I changed.) for my dissertation. In “Redistribution or Recognition?” (2003) Nancy Fraser made the distinction that recognition (as opposed to distributive justice) could be a liberatory politics if it were to involve recognizing identity as status, as opposed to essentializing identity. Unfortunately, in a conservative era, the recognition of identities as distributed status gets drowned out by essentialist interpretations of identity. As well, Patchen Markell has introduced caution about the empancipatory potential of recognition and multiculturalism.

Here are excerpts from an effusive (wordy) review of Patchen Markell’s Bound by Recognition (Main points in bold):

“…Markell’s genius lies in crafting one of the most gripping opening paragraphs (not simply a sentence) composed in the last several decades of contemporary political theory. Markell begins by narrating various instances among the countless acts of recognition, each sentence containing a separate case in point.

Consider a sample of the book’s beginning, which illustrates the complex dilemma of recognition: “Walking along a crowded avenue, you see a friend and call out her name: suddenly, a pocket of intimacy forms in an otherwise anonymous public space. Standing in a long line at the immigration office, you find yourself grateful for your Canadian passport, which you know will make it easier for you to extend your employment in the United States. You roll back the metal gates in front of your shop window, which now displays (next to the list of South Asian languages spoken inside) a new assortment of items prominently bearing the American flag. Sitting down with a calculator, you and your partner wonder weather it will be possible to get a home loan together at a decent rate without being married…Driving down a street in a predominantly white neighborhood, you are pulled over again by the police, suspended in mistrust while the officer runs your identification and plates. You recall how several of your male co-workers unexpectedly declared that they think you’ll be the next woman in the office to have a baby” (p.1).

BOUND BY RECOGNITION builds upon Hegel’s political theory in order to address the ways in which humans enter into moments of recognition. Humans constantly experience what Hegel calls a “struggle for recognition” (“Kamft um Anerkennung”). These intersubjective struggles involve individuals working out their asymmetrical relationships to arrive at a moment of mutually recognizing the humanity of one another in the hope that each will attain sovereign agency over their own mind and body.

As Markell shows, struggles for recognition many times do not lead to resolutions of conflict. Paradoxically, seeking sovereign agency and emancipation in recognition without questioning the normative sources of privilege in a system actually has the effect of reinforcing societal injustices.

Echoing Hannah Arendt’s Emerson-Thoreau Medal Lecture and writings on action, Markell contends we must first acknowledge the human condition of finitude and plurality by recognizing the non-sovereign character of human action when confronting issues of identity and difference. Doing so allows us to begin de-legitimizing normative structures of privilege while simultaneously theorizing ways in which persons excluded in a polity may gain greater inclusion beyond merely recognition.

 The book highlights recognition’s limits through an exegesis of Hegel’s thought, tragic recognition in the work of Sophocles and Aristotle, 19th century Jewish emancipation in Prussia, the contemporary movement of multiculturalism endorsed by theorists such as Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, and central contemporary political theorists reinforcing conventional readings of Hegel on recognition such as Robert Williams and Axel Honneth.

Markell shifts the terrain of political theory by proposing a politics of “acknowledgment” (as opposed to a politics of recognition) which does not abandon the thought of Hegel. It brings out new dimensions in theorizing freedom and human agency in Hegel that Hegel himself did not fully theorize normatively.”

MF: Yuck: “acknowledgment.” Bad neologism. Glad that didn’t catch on. But the analysis is great. Better to push for a change in how we understand recognition: Recognition 2.

“Among the most powerful sections is Chapter 4, which contains an unorthodox reading of the PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT and Hegel’s writings on recognition. Markell unconventionally argues that Hegel possesses “two voices” regarding recognition (pp. 90-95): (1) the diagnostic voice [prominent in the PHENOMENOLOGY] and (2) the reconciliatory voice [prominent in the PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT]. Markell explains that Hegel does not hold a unitary concept of recognition. This claim offers space for shifting theorists’ attention to a politics of acknowledgment. 

Markell concludes by illustrating how his politics of acknowledgment differs from the politics of recognition through a critique of multiculturalism. He does not reject identity politics. He does reject movements like multiculturalism that recognize minority groups without changing the structures of oppression that grant limited sovereign space to these groups.

The aim of acknowledgment revolves around confronting human finitude, acknowledging the elements of sacrifice we perform in an uncertain world future, and restructuring the world to allow for increased human agency. I leave it to the reader to see how the author outlines pillars of this new politics, relating them to areas as wide ranging as ancient Greek tragedy, feminism, and critical race theory.

An aspect of the book other reviewers do not mention is Markell’s desire to link this new politics to contemporary democratic theory, and this radical link emerges in the closing sections.

The author’s Afterword discussing the choice of the book cover to the text’s theme (pp. 190-193): Markell’s literally binding cover shows a photograph from an unorthodox reenactment of the final scene of Aeschylus’s ancient trilogy ORESTEIA. It represents a case of recognition’s limitations. Markell notes reading about a production of the play in which the Furies, dressed in red ceremonial robes, are bound by recognition at the end of the EUMENIDES following their “taming” by Athena after they attempt to punish Orestes for murdering Clytemnestra and her lover. Dressing them in red-the robe color worn by Athenian resident aliens (metics) during the Panathenaic festivals-Athena decides to incorporate the Fury outsiders into Athenian society, relegating them to a subterranean chamber of a home.

What initially appears as Athena’s positive recognition of the Furies in fact ends up highlighting how the Furies become bound by recognition. The book cover portrays one Fury tied to a chair on stage. This sums up visually Markell’s moving thesis.”

The Political Opportunity Structure for Immigrant Advocacy

In a rather astute little essay, “Occupying the Immigration Debate,” David L. Wilson explains that this is an historic moment for immigrant advocates, one that needs to be taken advantage of, and it’s time to make efforts to counter and replace the oppressive, manipulative corporate narrative on immigration.

We need to raise the profile of two points:

1) Elites use divide-and-conquer strategies, including promoting immigrant-native division, primarily to further their accumulation (wealth and power hoarding) interest. We aren’t cornered into being elites’ tools anymore on this; we can build the critical mass to innovate and improve working families’ life chances.

2)  Neoliberal ideology and policy disrupts and destroys people’s homes and livelihoods, and drives population mobility. Capitalism is “creative” destruction. In that siege and upheaval context, working people and their families need solidarity, cooperation and restoration.

We can broaden our influence and change immigration politics. Do not “imagine obstacles that aren’t really there,” urges Allan Nairn. ” Do not “think [ourselves] out of power.”

Conservative Soc Mov Module: Muslim "Honor Killing" Criminals

The thing about conservative political strategy is that it is modular. Conservatives have got a playbook, and it’s not that elaborate. So if they do it to Sweden, they will do it to the Anglo world:

Canadian media sells “Honour Killings” as indication of “natural” Muslim seditionist tendencies.

Political strategy question: How do you get a people who see themselves as super-civilized liberators to support anti-liberatory conservative policies?

It turns out, this is easier than a level one Soduku puzzle. Start with flattery, and then they’ll turn on their own righteousness nozzle. Nationalism + defensive, instable, cul-du-sac liberalism  =  conservative-pliable mass psychology. Think of how conservatism has bloomed in contemporary Sweden, France & Canada.

On the advice of a elder feminist, I went to Sweden to study how their welfare state repressed immigrants. What I found there was a full-blown conservative campaign to destroy labor rights in Sweden, using the double-barreled politics of describing immigrants as both criminals and victims–criminals who make having a welfare state impossible (Because they can’t be trusted, and destroy civilization.), and victims of a welfare state thats de-commodification policies don’t let them “express” (sell) themselves. The conservative-fed media conclusion was that if you got rid of labor protections (and so by extension the labor confederation and social democracy), immigrants would be good and thrive, just like they do in Austria and the Anglo countries.

The Swedes were in complete denial about the potency of immigration politics in Sweden–Despite the legislative meetings and bills; despite feminist galvanization against the cruel, cruel, racist state and the cruel, cruel anti-Swedish civilization Muslim fathers; despite the massive media coverage of these conservative themes (and a very few, although of course always tragic, instances of violence within Muslim households) and simultaneous neglect of contextual data clearly showing that patriarchal violence is common across “civilizations” and hardly monopolized by Muslims; and despite the fact that Karl Rove was there in Sweden strategizing with a new conservative political coalition about this conservative campaign. One year later, the conservative coalition was the ruling government, and it has been ever since.

Now the exact same political trope is being used in Canada. Why now, eh?

You have to know your audience. On the other hand, there you have your data. Are you going to tell some unreconditioned, decades-old tool story about how the immigrants are super oppressed by the state and their fathers? Sure some of them are, sometimes. And they are oppressed by “authority” in a broader sense. So look, there’s something else going on here as well. Something rather pressing.

As Nancy Fraser has argued, people need to strongly consider that the contemporary incapacity of pro-liberation liberals to apprehend conservatism and conservative strategy is decidedly non-trivial. That incapacity decides labor policies and capital regulation in favor of capital. It feeds state-based working class institutional breakdown and reinstitutes full human commodification. It allows capitalist elites to confidently delegate to altruistic liberal managers the diligent pursuit of the task of imposing proletarianization, irrational and ideological privatization, and austerity. In an era of declining growth, it fuels capitalist expansion via primitive accumulation, rather than allowing humans to decrease our throughputs while rationally redistributing accumulated surpluses. Not really ironically, it exacerbates racism and sexism. It promulgates vicious war.

What I’m talking about is this problem: People can be very nice. People can be anti-authoritarian. People can be pro goodness and they can be all about extending moral consideration. Not conservatives, but liberals to lefties. (Though conservatives can champion  elaborate decorum. Order, you know.) 

All that fails to solve this problem: Without an adequate, socially-embedded theoretical framework (eg. Marxist), even self-identified progressives’ work (in the broad, materialist, Scarry sense) can be readily co-opted by conservatives to advance the conservative goal of shrinking moral consideration, monopolizing surplus and stunting human development. This is the problem of directive hegemony (Therborn. As opposed to legitimation — Habermas).

(Discuss Desai, Hall on the historical Thatcherite construction of conservative hegemony, around here.)

If structure is the accumulation of collective action, then conservative collective action creates the pathways that convert altruistic intentions and beliefs into dehumanizing hierarchy and tyranny.

Political-economic engagement (intellectualism, to use Perry Anderson’s term) is not just for conservatives or property-owning white men. Political-economic literacy and engagement matter. A lot. To everybody.

To illustrate this point further, I will discuss how the summer 2011 Winnipeg Rebelles gathering unfolded. Hint: To work together–to express our humanity, even feminist, multiculti lefties/progressives need to be able to distinguish conservatism. And in my personal experience in the technocratic, anti-Big Questions, anti-macro theory Anglo world, this has been an unmet need for over a quarter century, at a minimum.

We’ll see what happens to the Honour Killings conservative strategy in Canada. If Canadian feminists and the judiciary can avoid getting sucked in, if they firmly assert that violent patriarchy is not the exclusive property of Muslims (Obviously, in Canada there is already wide recognition that Aboriginal women are killed by their male relatives.), then maybe they can keep the neocon anti-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” politics out of courtrooms and out of currency. And just maybe it will not justify, in the minds of Canadians, both Israel bombing Iranians (Yes, partly on behalf of Anglo-American geopolitical/energy strategy.) and domestic austerity measures.

good neoliberal cop bad neoliberal cop: immigration

Neoliberalism: Politics, policies, institutions and culture promoting higher levels of exploitation and social, economic and political inequality under the public rubric of creating a space of socio-economic inclusion for a permanent underclass.

On “Compassionate Conservatism,” applied to immigration politics:

It is stupid to deny the concept of the alien. A central, enduring social problem is the global Chamber of Commerce’s politics, which work in all countries to keep both immigrants and natives *vulnerable,* and set against each other, to cheapen labor. Any liberatory political program, including compassionately fighting immigrant scapegoating and xenophobia, would have to include first recognizing the nature of the Chamber and then strategically breaking down the Chamber, which always, everywhere works to destroy worker solidarity by here playing their “immigrants as criminals” card and there playing their “immigrants as victims” card.

We won’t stopped getting played by indiscriminately, upon stark emotional manipulation, embracing “the foreign” every time it romantically accompanies capital mobility and global upperclass entitlement–because the Chamber will always turn back around to tell us to pitilessly scapegoat the “foreign” *workers;* and we’ll never figure out how to develop better ideas and approaches. To stop getting played over and over like this, we need a far more focused lens.

We are brothers and sisters of men and women the world over. But corporations and political management organizations are not our flesh and blood. They are not human. Their interests, goals, and activities are often opposed to ours. Most of them today are alien to us, utterly alien.

Value struggles at the heart of capitalism

Synopsis of:

McNally, David. 2009. “From financial crisis to world-slump: accumulation, financialisation, and the global slowdown.” Historical Materialism 17: 35-83.

How is capitalism reproduced? What is capitalist crisis?

McNally is arguing that Brenner’s concept of post-1973 “global turbulence” is more accurate than a “long downturn.” The Bretton Woods era (core growth (prolonged expansion; rising levels of output, wages, and employment—p. 45) + no overaccumulation crisis) was a deviation, not the capitalist norm (44). While capitalists argue that their system steadily promotes growth, promotes welfare, and does not generate its own limits, McNally argues that crisis and global turbulence is the norm in capitalism (43). Capitalist expansion throws up limits to itself, such as when it demands wage compression (45). Crisis does not prevent but rather accompanies globally-shifting growth. After 1973, capitalist expansion centered on East and South Asia (43). McNally argues that problems of overaccumulation did not manifest in the core in 1973; they manifested in the East Asian semiperiphery in 1997 (46).

[MF note—to revise: “Crisis” is understood popularly. From a popular perspective, and from a parochial capitalist political perspective, “crisis” is understood as a condition whereby capitalism is exposed as a destructive system and a conflicting class system. Local capitalist leaders are exposed as unable to rule for the common good. To talk about a crisis of accumulation that occurred after 1973 is to talk about the rise of conditions—declining profitability (people must buy more things and services, but people are only part of the cost of goods and services), cured by local wage compression and production relocation that spatially and temporally defers accumulation collapse—that expose its destructive and class-conflicted nature.]

Methodological issue: The national-state and national economies should not be the unit of analysis when analyzing the reproduction of capitalism. “…(C)apitals in the ‘core’ economies of the world-system have demonstrated a systematic tendency to move investment outside the core in search of higher rates of return,” producing higher rates of accumulation in select semi-peripheral regions, and slower rates of growth in the “dominant economies.” Because capitalism is a world-system dedicated to accumulation, frameworks attempting to explain the reproduction of capitalism must analyze the operation of capitalism as a global social relation. (44-45)

Thesis I:
After 1973 crisis of profitability in the core, capital restructured, growth occurred in East Asia

After the recessions of 1974-75 & 80-82, the ruling class launched offensives against unions and the Global South. Generated primitive accumulation & larger reserve labor armies, introduced lean production, raised the rate of exploitation. Ruling class invested in East Asia (45).

McNally argues that 1983-2007 was a period of capitalist restructuring, that involved the destruction of capital in the core (47). Characterized by rapid de-industrialization and de-unionization in the core (47). In the US, the rate of surplus value was increased by 40% (48). Profit rates climbed between 1982 and 1997, though at their peak they remained half of mid-1960s profit rates (see confirmation by Mohun, Moseley, Wolff, Dumenil and Levy, Husson, Brenner; McNally 2009: 49-50).

Cites Ch. 13-15 of Capital v. III, discussing the tendency for rate of profit to decline and capital’s arsenal of countermeasures. Restructuring countermeasures can only be stopped by “massive organized working-class resistance.”

“In the absence of such powerful class-resistance, crises will serve as moments of reorganization that create conditions for increases in labour-productivity and rates of profit—which, in turn, make renewed expansion possible. (49)”

[MF note: TINA enters when capitalist agents insist that renewed expansion is what the working class wants.

Yet what are those restructuring countermeasures, according to Marx?

According to McNally, post-1980, restructuring countermeasures included a) re-subordinating “Global South” (peripheral countries) to promote primitive accumulation; b) using primitive accumulation (in India and China) to create huge new global labor-reserves; c) relocating accumulation to China (semi-peripheral countries); d) financial market ascendance. (55) They also included wage compression accomplished through union-busting, bifurcated wage tracks, cuts to the social wage (reduction in social rights and benefits); lean production techniques and technology to boost the relative surplus-value; and increases in work hours in the US to boost absolute surplus-value (60) This latter group of restructuring countermeasures reduced living standards of working-class people while concentrating wealth at the top of the social ladder, thereby increasing inequality within societies. In 1991 the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 39% of corporate wealth, but 2003 they owned 57.5% (60). This creation of vast inequality produced a huge demand from the wealthy for interest-paying financial instruments; it fueled the extension of vast amounts of credit to working-class households desperate to sustain living standards (67). Now restructuring countermeasures include collapse, merger/nationalization of financial institutions, auto and electronics industries, service sector slumps, the ongoing collapse of sales and profits. With the centralization of capital we will have decline in wages, benefits and employment. With the diminishment of the dollar to act as a stable form of world currency, there will be pressures to develop an Asian currency bloc, and competition among currency blocs for greater conrol of financial markets and global monetary privileges (77). Debt loads in the emerging market economies will make countries like Turkey and South Africa vulnerable to restructuring and asset appropriation. Core governments will further regulate the movement of labor (78).

“At the same time as they press for ‘free movement’ of capital, governments at the core of the system also demand tighter control and regulation of the movement of labour. With the deepening of the conomic crisis, many have already started to play the anti-immigrant card. Britain, in particular, has signaled a tightening up of immigration policy, as has Canada, and others will surely follow. As businesses fail, factories close and unemployment mounts, protectionism—‘Buy American’, ‘British Jobs for British Workers’—is likely to fuel xenophobia and immigrant bashing.’ Government officials and parties on the Right will continue to fan xenophobic sentiments…This crisis will thus put a premium on a Left for which anti-racism and defence of migrant workers are absolutely central to a politics of resistance” (78-79)]

By mid-1980s, Japanese & German capital turn to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment, rather than domestic investment) (50; data from OECD). In the 1990s, there was a 300% jump in capital-formation in East Asia (outside Japan) (63). FDI follows tractable labor; invests in East Asia, where people pushed off the land (primitive accumulation) due to rural impoverishment, dispossession and war (52). Post-1990, this contributed to a quadrupling of the world working class population (reserve army of labor) after 1980.

Primitive accumulation and higher rates of labor exploitation is the cause of 1982-1997 profitability rebound (54-55). McNally argues for Marxist basics, against a magic box view of credit.

Thesis II:
Based on fictitious capital, the dollar creates demand for hedging risk, financialization of capitalist relations

Due to escalating debt taken on to pay for the Vietnam War, the US printed more money in 1971. The US was wreaking havoc with the value of the gold underlying the currency. Countries began demanding gold in exchange for dollars and withdrawing from the Bretton Woods system. The Nixon administration unilaterally ended the gold standard, and exchange-rates floated. This was seen as an American victory over adversaries at the time. As we shall see, by refusing to deal with the mounting costs of the Vietnam War, Nixon merely staved off a reckoning for one generation and laid the basis for a global crisis. To hedge risk in the uncertain financial system, new financial instruments were developed. These financial instruments created a large financial services market and financial sector profits, as well as large speculation. New credit instruments were created for financiers and consumers, but these credit instruments did not play an important role until after 1997. Neoliberalism is the financialization of capitalism (46).

Why the financial sector collapsed is because 1) money became volatile after early 1970s end of dollar-gold convertibility; 2) wages were compressed for 30 years; 3) the world economy is flooded with US dollars (56).

When dollar became the international credit money, it was grounded in fictitious capital (general confidence in the future increase in the dollar). This made global credit money (the dollar) a magnet for speculation (57). Now money could not measure value reliably. Value is the socially-necessary (abstract) labor-time and commodities’ market value (57-58).

To protect against this volatility, capital had to assess risk and hedge against risk, especially those capitals moving through multiple currencies. Derivatives were developed to assess and hedge against risk. Investors could buy derivatives (insurance) against risks to assets they did not own—that is, speculate. Therefore, financial instruments have been developed to capture future values—shares of surplus-value not yet produced. This is a proliferation of fictitious capitals, eg. mortgage-backed securities and Collaterialised Debt Obligations (59). Working-class debt was packaged by banks and hedge funds and sold to themselves, as well as pension funds and financialized corporations (61). During Alan Greenspan’s tenure as President of the Federal Reserve (1987-2005), private and public debt in the US quadrupled to $43 trillion (61). When the bubble burst in 2007, capital fled the US. Private capital flows were reduced by $1.1 trillion in the third quarter of 2007 (65).

Thesis III:
1997 East Asian overaccumulation crisis at the root of core credit overextension

Capitalist expansion began to falter in 1997, with East Asian overaccumulation crisis. Rates of growth, postponement of general capitalist crisis bolstered with expansion of credit. Credit bubble burst in summer 2007.

McNally has previously argued that there was an overaccumulation of capital in East Asia by the Asian crisis of 1997. The investment boom had created excess capacity in computer chips, autos, semi-conductors, chemicals, steel, and fiber optics (62). US prices for consumer durables began to decline in the autum of 1995 and continued falling into 2008 (62). As a result East Asian economies cut local currency exchange rates, shed labor, reduced costs, and restructured industry. Still capacity was not reduced very much, as foreign investors snatched it up. East Asian firms drove down costs, but exports continued to grow. Their market was the US, which accounted for 1/5 of world exports, and which sustained $857 billion current-account deficit. Low interest rates and cheap consumer credit allowed US consumers to go into massive debt to consume imports and permit a temporary global economic recovery (63). Only the US could have built up such a current-account deficit, because it held the inconvertible world money, the dollar (64). No matter what US finances looked like, it was in countries’ interest to back the dollar.

Asset values dramatically departed from wealth creation after 1996. Eg. The NYSE continued to rise while profits turned down (53-54). Gargantuan credit expansion and low interest rates “’financialized’ (“embedded in interest-paying financial transactions”) relations between capital and labor’” as well as between capitals (55-56). Lines between industrial capital and financial capital blurred. Firms financialized themselves during neoliberal period because finance was more profitable (56). Bewteen 1980 and 2004, FIRE (Finance, Real Estate, and Insurance) doubled to capture nearly 50% of US profits.

By the mid-2000s, due to overinvestment, China was experiencing overcapacity, in steel, iron-alloy, auto, aluminum, cement, coke, and home appliances (64). Overcapacity again weighed down profit rates (65). The US appears to be exhausted as a source of demand sufficient to restart sustained global capital growth (66). Real capital is destroyed because there’s no sufficient engine of demand (67). Fictitious capital, based on expectations of obtaining future from working class Americans, has deflated and will continue to decline: there is not working class income to pay much credit card debt; as corporate profits sink, corporations cannot repay the IOUs they used to finance Leveraged Buy Outs (LBOs); commercial mortgages are in trouble; Credit Default Swaps (CDS) were used for speculation, and the sellers of CDSs have to pay not just the creditors insuring against debtor default, but the army of speculators as well (that’s why the US bailed out AIG to the tune of $150 billion, most of which has been used to cover losses in the CDS market.) There remain $54 trillion in CDSs (67-68). Most derivatives including CDSs are not regulated. No one can tell where they are, and this destroys banks’ confidence in each other, so markets remain illiquid (69).

The violent abstraction of the capitalist value form v. sensuous, concrete working-class values

So: As money became more volatile, its measure of value has become troubled (69). The solution that the fearless capitalist leaders came up with was derivatives. But they translate all risk onto a single, abstract metric. Value at Risk (VaR) is used to assess risk, and as a risk-assessment instrument, VaR assumes that all history, social, political, climatological and economic relations are the same, there are no qualitative breaks; so for example to calculate housing prices in 2007, VaR used price data from a period of soaring housing prices. VaR is a typical capitalist “violent abstraction” (Marx) (71). Yet, “during every crisis, value measurement is radically disrupted and destabilized. Pressures of overaccumulation and declining profitability induce a destruction of values…” We don’t know the value of “trillions of dollars worth” of financial assets. This is a systematic problem, exacerbated by the financialization of neoliberal capitalism. Derivatives are a primary symptom of a crisis of value measurement. But value collapse is caused by “overaccumulation, falling profits, and unsustainable build-ups in fictitious capitals” (72).

Systemic crises are moments of both great danger and opportunity (72). Debt—the financialization of relations between capital and labor—disciplines the working class in the Global North. Debt also permits capital to accumulate by dispossessing the working class, and the Global South (72). The only alternative to unfreedom is to repudiate debts (73). Yet without capitalist investment, there is no source of livelihood for workers under capitalism (73).

As well, the working class can struggle against the violently abstract, volatile capitalist value form, instead asserting life values—land, water, food, housing, income (74).

From the perspective of capital, value abstraction, the commodity (the exchanged object without sensuous, concrete working class use-value) is the point of all human activity, because of its capacity to promote accumulation (capitalist use value) (74-75). [M-C-M’.]

[MF note:

A commodity’s capacity to promote accumulation is not simply a matter of whether there is an unmodified demand for it. Rather, the preferred commodity removes wealth into the exclusive control of capital. That’s what accumulation is.

Value-abstraction shifted valuation, to the demise of feudalism. It got rid of patriarchal aristocracy. Then, in using the commodity value form to distance economic prices from sensual, concrete working class values, it removed valuation to spheres which only the capitalist neo-aristocracy manages under the scarce-capital conditions of capitalism.]

Even if capitalists can be indifferent to the sensuous, concrete use-values of commodities, the working class cannot be indifferent to such use-values of commodities (75). There are value struggles at the heart of capitalism.

The crisis puts a premium not only on anti-racism and defence of migrant workers, but also on socialist organization. “Leashed capitalism” is a false construction. To build the capacity of workers to remake the world, they must have access to socialist ideas and to socialism, to a systemic transformation that breaks the hold of the capitalist value form over human life (79).

Foundational Policy Moments

… brought to you, courtesy of academic professionalization:

In “The Mismeasure of Man”, Stephen Jay Gould demonstrates that one of the founding moments in 20th century US political history is a technocratic racism moment as well.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a pscyhology academic functionary, Robert Yerkes, aimed to establish his discpline as a policy-contributing science by getting the US army to administer intelligence tests–devised by himself–to all recruits. This was a period of high immigration and high inequality. The US government assented. The academic was able to process millions of tests, which–very poorly formulated–“showed” that the average American male in the army was mentally retarded.
The policy conclusion?
According to the involved psychologists and policymakers, US political and economic policy should be run–not to reduce inequality and improve human capital across the population, as you might think–but rather to preserve and manage a population where the mass of people were functionally retarded. Obviously, they concluded, democracy was not feasible, given the U.S. population is filled with mentally-retarded ethnic others and working class mental-deficients.
Academic ambitions reinforced the American conservative anti-democratic bent through codification and scientism.

American psychology’s origins are remarkable in their highly-professional political conservatism. Nonetheless, clearly other scholars have lent their sanction of conservative politics and policy to further their professional goals. Ehrenreich discusses a conservative policy position (the culture of poverty theoretical construct) unwittingly unleashed by anthropologists and sociologists concerned with professionalism and career (although, more understandably, in the face of repression, and again, a little more unwittingly. It’s a good example of how socialists can produce conservatism to stay in a terribly-rigged game.).

I’m still waiting on Careerism: Prolegomena to a Political Theory.