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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In comparison, in Canada, during WWII when the Atlantic ruling class required labor cooperation but Canada did not have strong policing capacity, the state prioritized targeting and imprisoning (especially labor-organizing) communists, while developing legislation to channel wildcat strike labor eruptions under liberal, labor-policing professional, bureaucratic unions.

Because policy tends to be shared and it is well known that significant resources were devoted to repressing communists in the Atlantic ruling class’ nation-states, evidence from Canada supports Kolin’s (2017) historical research conclusion, suggesting that under historical conditions more favorable to the establishment of labor power resources, the US shared and pursued the communist repression priority as the keystone in the Atlantic ruling class’ broader labor-repression strategy. Without communist organizers, the American working class could not build an effective inside-outside strategy capable of supporting labor political capacity to advance the public good.

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

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

In addition to the communist repression priority as the keystone in its broader labor-repression strategy, the US and its capitalist class had built up and continued to amass strong public and private policing capacity with which to repress labor and prevent the development of working-class power resources. The US was able to further minimize class compromise, minimizing the development of robust labor rights law and labor-policing unions.

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

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

Why is this pivotal? Deeply-crippled working classes made the US (and UK) a beacon for global capitalist investment support, the basis of the “Trickle Down” claim that exclusive elite liberty and rule can contribute to the larger “club society” (Therborn 2017) economic welfare.

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

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

Why is this pivotal? The US was incapable of sustainably governing global economy as a democratic country because (see Geoff Mann, 2017, In the long run we are all dead) liberal leadership only fleetingly, unseriously entertained the notion that capitalists need moderation, which requires strategic labor capacity and power resources. Communists would have been needed to maintain such a counter-hegemonic vision, to coordinate a robust, complex labor organization structure including both multiple levels of institutionalized, multi-dimensional power resources (in unions, union federations, and the state) and agile disruption capacity.

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

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

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

Why is this pivotal? Because the US’s global job, per Bretton Woods & the Marshall Plan, was to direct capital into productive activities, economic growth. This required, inter alia, repressing global finance’s capacity to coordinate and direct capital. In this, Keynesian economic theory tentatively broke with the conservative economics tradition. Keynesianism in its boldest hour assumed distinctively that not just states, and not just labour, but capital can cause economic problems and crisis, especially since (per Smith 1776) it is capable of exclusionary, excessive cohesion capacity and power concentration.[7]

All the other countries stuck with the plan. But Keynesians were elitists; ultimately, their fear and loathing of the working class crushed their innovative but wavering resolve to moderate capitalist power (Mann 2017). When the UK subverted financial regulation from 1955-63, partly in order to maintain global financial power in London, it cut the US state’s alignment with US capital, and ended the US state’s capacity to manage capital at all.

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

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

Sponsored conservative economists were loosed to develop policy intervention models again based on the Atlantic ruling class (Van Der Pijl 2012) belief that only states and labor hurt the economy (Blyth 2002). A fearful, chastened liberalism shrivelled and crawled back into the womb of conservatism.

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

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

Why is this pivotal? US capitalists collectively jacked up commodity prices as Saudi Arabia (Britain’s long time satellite.) led OPEC to jack up oil prices, creating a heightened inflation crisis and hysteria throughout the US. With the help of conservative economists, capitalists maintained that this inflation was the sole fault of the US state and American labour, meaning that American labour would have to be completely repressed and the US state–the state’s institutionalizing, coordinating, legal and police coercion, and resource distribution capacity–would have to be completely captured by capitalists.[9]

Liberalism and its Rule of Law ideal (“Judicial Activism,” it was then-derided by conservative jurists and comms pros) were left desanguinated corpses in the US, though the state’s institutions were still embedded with and surrounded by armies of liberal lawyers and bureaucrats. The next steps would be the conservatization of those managerial forces, the denunionization and the demeaning of the US working class, and the import substitution of a new, un-enfranchised labor force.

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

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

The Dem Party’s only response, from the liberal repertoire, was to sell itself as a “Credible” organization that could more conveniently (than direct rule with charismatic fronts) be delegated the management of capitalist interests.[10] From the conservative (Public Choice) repertoire, the Dems could extract rents for this convenience service and the reassuring, resonant professionalism they performed for international audiences in capitalist countries with semi-independent professional states and remnant liberal institutions. But the neoliberal Dems’ convenient, performative professionalism has offered no value-added for working class Americans–on the contrary, even contributing and managing policies to disorganize and police the American working class, and usually, precious little value-added for regional and global capitalists.

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

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

Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule in the US

Trump, as a charismatic capitalist ruler, offers a wink, a little reality teevee strum und drang, a little business shock ‘n’ awe, a little commedia dell’arte to symbolically lighten the inescapable burdens carried by hundreds of millions of Americans, workers and their guards, managers, and owners. Along with powerless labour, they still have guarding, policing, and incarceration economic opportunities, military national socialism, access to beautiful public lands, lovely climates, remnant infrastructure, and more, slightly higher- quality commodity goods than much of the world. It could be worse…

[1] Blyth 2002, Chapter 4.

[2] Delton, Jennifer. Making Minnesota Liberal.

[3] Glasbeek 2017.

[4] Murakawa 2015, etc.

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

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

[7] Per Smith 1776.

[8] Blyth 2002: 135-6

[9] Blyth 2002, Ch. 5.

[10] Blyth 2002, Ch. 6.

[11] Blyth 2002.

[1] As observed in Gilens & Page 2014.


The Power and the Mediocrity of the Sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

Primitive Accumulation, Negative Externalities and Growth

Over the years, Stefano Bartolini has modeled economic growth, showing that whereas most models of economic growth feature accumulation and technical progress as engines of growth, a third engine is needed to ensure self-perpetuating economic growth. History, the theory of Polanyi & Hirsch, and Bartolini’s models suggest that third engine is 2 negative externalities that combine to drive growth: 1) positional externalities, and 2) externalities that reduce social and natural capital.

Pagano 1999 defined a positional good: consumption by an individual of a positive amount of a positional good involves the consumption of an equal negative amount by someone else. Power and status are fundamental positional goods; others include education and housing.  The positional goods/services/externalities theoretical tradition extends from Veblen 1899/1934 and Hirsh 1976. In addition to Bartolini, Robert H. Frank (“Falling Behind”) has continued to explore this tradition as well as Bowles and Park 2002, Schor 1998, and Corneo and Jeanne 2001.

“Industrial revolutions are the paradigmatic example of this (Growth as Substitution) mechanism: they are the most striking processes of labor supply and accumulation increase because they are the most striking processes of social and environmental devastation recorded by economic history” (Stefano Bartolini, “Beyond Accumulation and Technical Progress: Negative Externalities as an Engine of Economic Growth.” 2003: 9).

Williamson 1995, Krugman 1995, and Bartolini et al have shown that the transition to an industrial economy has always been associated with explosive growth in the labor force participation rate.

Such growth-propelling negative externalities are discussed within the Marxist tradition as primitive accumulation. To further explore: The relationship between primitive accumulation and other capitalist strategies of promoting profit-restoring growth to the point of increasing contradiction / social and environmental irrationality.

Bartolini’s growth-model can better explain the failure of conservative economics’ predicted relationship between growth and happiness (Bartolini 2003). Inter alia, political scientist Lane 2000 shows that American growth is not associated with increased happiness.

Micro Neoliberal Diffusion & Adoption

Hypothesis about neoliberal policy diffusion & adoption, receiving end:

Junior professionals a) have got wherever they are because they embody “good boys/girls” rational actor culture, & use the ideology of meritocracy for self-promotion, b) have not developed a hegemony-strategic collective-action repertoire or habitus, and c) have low horizontal social capital. This means junior professionals are not very capable when it comes to engaging in collective action in any capacity independent of the professional hierarchy. It also means that they have been and are being socialized as sharks.

At a minimum, extra organization must be undertaken to move junior professionals to action independence from the professional hierarchy in which they are embedded and receive their incentives.

Papandreou: Occupy!

The deposed Greek prime minister advocates Occupy!

The Greek parliament forced Papandreou to resign from his position of Prime Minister when he suggested holding a national referendum to allow the Greek people to have a say in whether they would accept the European Union’s bailout plan which would necessitate severe austerity cuts.

Democracy Now! speaks with Papandreou about the financial crisis, the role of banks, and the importance of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.

 “The Occupy Wall Street movements … are saying something very, very specific, that inequality, in the end, is an inequality of power, and we need to redistribute power, not just money—power—and this is, I think, the democratic challenge that we have today,” Papandreou says.

Inequality, Economic Growth & Standards of Living

In this 2011 PERI paper by Thompson & Leight, “Searching for the Supposed Benefits of Higher Inquality,” the authors review the messy literature on the relationship between economic inequality and economic growth. They propose an alternative approach to this research stalemate.

If you are interested in charting the relationship between inequality and economic growth, urban & regional-level data is your best bet. Only in 2006 did Saez & Picketty pull together (fairly) reliable international comparative data on income inequality. See Saez‘s data and analysis on his Berkeley website.