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’s corporatist pricing board demonstrated 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

Despite emerging from and influenced by an era of state semi-autonomy, Nixon was an ideological pro-capitalist. He shrugged. 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.

If not permitted the full range of human collective capacity, American smallholders and working class people were allowed to work ethnic, racial, religious, and gender identity networks. They could align with the Credible Delegates Party or they could align with the Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule Party. As time, repression, and inequality marched on, it became evident that it didn’t matter. Working class Americans and smallholders would get nothing—padded with crippling law and policing, economic disruption, precarious exploitation, debt, criminalization, incarceration, disenfranchisement, pollution, alienation, racialization, sexual assault, shame, and contempt.

Charismatic Direct Capitalist Rule in the US

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

[1] Blyth 2002, Chapter 4.

[2] Delton, Jennifer. Making Minnesota Liberal.

[3] Glasbeek 2017.

[4] Murakawa 2015, etc.

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

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

[7] Per Smith 1776.

[8] Blyth 2002: 135-6

[9] Blyth 2002, Ch. 5.

[10] Blyth 2002, Ch. 6.

[11] Blyth 2002.

[1] As observed in Gilens & Page 2014.

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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?”

Hobsbawm on the Vicissitudes of Left-liberalism

Hobsbawm, Eric. 2012. “After the Cold War: Eric Hobsbawm Remembers Tony Judt.” London Review of Books, April.

Beautifully-written rebuttal of the 20th century liberal rejection and condemnation of communism, as well as homage to civic courage. Crafting a story of intellectual and political maturation and redemption, Hobsbawm dissects how Tony Judt traversed from the Cold Warrior troops and conservative tooldom (as Judt started out trivially focused on critiquing dying French Left intellectualism) to trenchant critic of imperial Israeli apartheid politics.

Both Hobsbawm & Judt understood the twentieth century’s “basic passion: namely the belief that politics was the key to our truths as well as our myths.”

 …Judt “launched one of the most implacable attacks on (Hobsbawm) in a passage which has become widely quoted, especially by the ultras of the right-wing American press. It amounted to: ‘make a public confession that your god has failed, beat your breast and you may win the right to be taken seriously. No man who doesn’t think socialism equals Gulag should be listened to.’

 …after 1968 (Judt) became much more of a militant oppositionist liberal over Eastern Europe, an admirer of the mixed but more usually right-wing academic tourists who provided much of our commentary on the end of the East European Communist regimes. This also led him and others who should have known better into creating the fairy tale of the Velvet and multicoloured revolutions of 1989 and after. There were no such revolutions, only different reactions to the Soviet decision to pull out.

 …Four things shaped French history in the 19th and 20th centuries: the Republic born of the incomplete Great Revolution; the centralised Napoleonic state; the crucial political role assigned to a working class too small and disorganised to play it; and the long decline of France from its position before 1789 as the Middle Kingdom of Europe, as confident as China of its cultural and linguistic superiority. Denied a Lenin and deprived of Napoleon, France retreated into the last and, we must hope, indestructible redoubt, the world of Astérix. The postwar vogue for Parisian thinkers barely concealed their collective retreat into Hexagonal introversion and into the ultimate fortress of French intellectuality, Cartesian theory and puns. There were now other models in higher education and the sciences, in economic development, even – as the late penetration of Marx’s ideas implies – in the ideology of the Revolution. The problem for left-wing intellectuals was how to come to terms with an essentially non-revolutionary France. The problem for right-wing ones, many of them former communists, was how to bury the founding event and formative tradition of the Republic, the French Revolution, a task equivalent to writing the American Constitution out of US history. It could not be done…

 …Tony had so far made his name as an academic bruiser. His default position was forensic: not the judge’s but the barrister’s, whose objective is neither truth nor truthfulness, but winning the case. Faced with governments and ideologues who read victory and world domination into the fall of communism, he was honest enough with himself to recognise that the old verities and slogans needed to be junked after 1989. Probably only in the ever nervous US could such a reputation have been built so quickly on the basis of a few articles in journals of modest circulation addressed exclusively to academic intellectuals.

 …(Judt) was well aware of the risks, personal and professional, he ran in attacking the combined forces of US global conquest, the neocons and Israel, but he had plenty of what Bismarck called ‘civilian bravery’ (Zivilcourage) – a quality notably lacking in Isaiah Berlin, as Tony himself noted, perhaps not without malice. Unlike the ex-Marxist scholiasts and intellocrates on the Left Bank who, as Auden said of poets, made ‘nothing happen’, Tony understood that a struggle with these new forces could make a difference. He launched himself against them with evident pleasure and zest. This was the figure who came into his own after the end of the Cold War, widening his courtroom technique to flay the likes of Bush and Netanyahu rather than some political absurdity in the Fifth Arrondissement or a distinguished professor in New Jersey. It was a magnificent performance, a class act; he was hailed by his readers not only for what he said, but what many of them would not have had the courage to say themselves. It was all the more effective because Tony was both an insider and an outsider: English, Jewish, French, eventually American, but plurinational rather than cosmopolitan” (Eric Hobsbawm 2012).

Economic Leadership Today: A Report from the Trenches

 The tiny bit of progress in elite thought on institutionalized, socially-subsidized banking failure and Western working-class economic decline: Conservative economists and policymakers are finally acknowledging inequality, and vaguely entertaining the Occupy-introduced notion that inequality might not be all they fantasized for us after all.

Unfortunately, they have no conceptual tools or will to address it. Stale, refried 1991 Robert Reich (Such as is presented by the elite economic consensus in the OECD’s “Divided We Stand“. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Remember for capitalist conservatives, inequality is thought to create stability–by diversifying economic preferences and market niches.) aint going to do it.

I attended and wrote note notes last night at a panel on Canadian business’ relationship to inequality and Occupy protest, provided by the business school for the benefit of the business community in a Canadian city.

Businessmen in the audience said they wanted to stay with the “globalization makes inequality necessary” line. They like that, know it, don’t want to abandon it. Feels good.

 But it’s killing off your consumer market, and there can only be a few Walmarts in monopoly capitalism, replied the business profs. Can you businessmen at least think about maybe taking some of your profits and investing them in local charity works, or in Living Wages?

The progressive business profs tried to introduce the idea that inequality has costs, to human health,  to human capital, and economic costs in the form of consumer market decline.

The idea that inequality has human and economic costs did not appear to register with the businessmen and business students in the audience. On the one hand, the audience managed to respond that they expect the Chinese to replace failing Americans as the consumer market to the world; on the other hand, they expect to still keep super-exploiting starvation-wages Chinese labor. Cake; eat it too. So that’s the quality of plan you get from the leaders of a high-inequality regime.

The business school dean authoritatively lectured on how Canada should respond to economic inequality. He cribbed the OECD’s “Divided We Stand”. His takeaway OECD message? Stay the course; Occupy will fade; the problem is simply that some people just aren’t techno-skilled enough–ergo Canadian businesses should engage in more in on-the-job training. 

 It’s good to read this OECD report so you know how your elite are failing.

 The business dean refused to acknowledge parasitic over-financialization’s relationship to unyielding Western economic gout. Over-financialization, at the root of economic destruction and political sclerosis, is not on elites’ radar as a problem.

You might be interested in knowing that the business dean and business profs said that elites are hoping on securing the continued loyalty of the top 30-40% income earners, at least within Canada, to help maintain their order. Is that you?

 …Because I know 30-40%ers who are having their incomes actively suppressed right now by the neoliberal machinery in place. They’ve got big and growing education debt and housing debt–or they don’t live middle class in significant ways/aren’t bought off. Neoliberalism has a life of its own. The  middle class buy-off is in decline, and that means that the discipline that the middle class enforces is  slated to follow… and though they are still purportedly relying on it, this decline is off elites’ radar! Good thing they’re still over-“investing” in guard labor.

 Their leadership is not as irreplaceable as their money leads businessmen and their technocrati to believe they are.

What Is and Is Not Social Democracy

This Varoufakis political analysis applies as well to the federal-level, organized-labor-backed, social service NGO-backed liberal parties of North America. And kindly recall, North Americans, that simply sitting a bit to the left of one or even two conservative capitalist-dedicated parties, in no way qualifies a party for social democratic status in any historical-comparative empirical sense.

Social democratic historically meant, and in order to retain a sense of perspective and strategic possibility needs to continue to mean: Within capitalism, a) the parliamentary wing of b) an actual left, working class-for-itself social movement coalition that includes politicized, organized labor, pressing for, inter alia, socialism-building goals.  The moment you drop part b,  you are a liberal party. Possibly lefty-liberal in some fortuitous historical moments and on small  geographic scales, but liberal.

A liberal party champions (usually, the immediate) interests of politically-organized capital. The peripheral concerns of the welfare of the working class and the economic and geo-strategic health of the region cannot come into stable focus for a liberal or conservative party. That’s why, ironically, actual social democratic parties can manage the capitalist economy better than dedicated capitalist parties.

A social democratic party in capitalism is a party of internal tension. A social democratic party is a dialectical engine; a social democracy is a dialectical machine. The ultimate goal of social democratic parties is always their own aufhebung. The goal of a social democratic party is to work within capitalism to build the institutional and cultural conditions of socialism, see Rudolf Meidner. If that aint the goal, you’ve lost the tension. The bourgeoisie have successfully co-opted the party; and what you’ve got left there is a liberal party, not a social democratic party. At that point, you’re carrying the name “Social Democratic Party” for branding continuity only.

Social democratic parties differ from socialist parties in capitalism in that they are a coalition between socialists and lefty-liberals. Most social democratic parties, because they are coalitions of socialists and the lefty-liberal idealists of a kinder, gentler capitalist utopia that can never exist independently (because capitalism requires alienation and exploitation), shoulder relentless, organized capitalist pressure and undergo internal struggles over whether to turn away from the socialist horizon.

A social democratic culture then is a most peculiar balance of strategic thinking and pragmatism, sentimentalism, and egalitarianism and utopianism.

The Liberal Misrecognition of Social Democracy: Equilibrium Third-way Establishment Politics?

Barnard Europeanist Sheri Berman is also keen to distinguish social democracy from the many unmoored, opportunistic uses of the term.

“Correctly understood, social democracy is far more than a particular political program. Nor is it a compromise between Marxism and liberalism. And neither should it apply to any indivdual or party with vaguely leftist sympathies and an antipathy to communism” Berman “Understanding Social Democracy” XXXX: 4.

Berman argues that social democracy is distinguished from liberalism and communism by active political management of a capitalist market. The capitalist market is assumed to be required for provision of “the material basis upon which the good life could be built” and the promotion of “real growth” (Berman XXXX: 23). So the market is perhaps “traditionally accepted or tolerated,” but it is also effectively TINA, sacred to social democrats, just as it is as for laissez-faire liberals. Yet soc dems’ Nordic-cool dis-stance toward the sacred market uniquely requires a state capable of active market care and management, rather than liberals and conservatives’ preference: state capture. In Berman’s (Peter Evans-affine) view, the capitalist market is something like social democrats’ troublesome god.

Berman insists that armed with such a superior approach to capitalist market and society, social democracy is a third-way, in equilibrium. In such a perspective, active politics is institutionalized polity economic policy. Social movement, especially Marxism, is at most an initial condition to be overcome.

Berman’s is a laudable attempt to rescue social democracy from political obfuscation; it is a compelling narrative; and it jibes with some of some social democrat party members’ assumptions, actions, and strategic claims. However, to understand social democracy, we need to remedy Berman’s liberal oversights in terms of social democratic origins and active politics, as well as her equilibrium view of polity politics. When Berman attempts to understand social democracy, she tells us she will take us back to the origins of social democracy. And yet she does not.

Social movement is starkly missing from Berman’s origins narrative. Restoring the extra-establishment active politics is key to an holistic theoretical-empirical understanding of social democracy. There is a related problem with Berman’s static equilibrium view of polity politics: You cannot theoretically recognize or cogently explain both the rise and decline of social democratic institutions and culture –despite the many empirical indicators of such–unless you see social movements, including especially Marxist socialism, as central to not just the initiation, but also the ongoing development and robustness of social democracy–how it is resolved at critical junctures of essential class conflict.

In a better explanatory framework, social movement does not uniquely inhabit a disequilibrium state; rather, social democracy (like any other political regime), despite its impressive institutionalization, develops in tension and periodically arrives at critical disequilibria. The data better fit a more dynamic, dialectical conception of social democratic politics, where both the changing opportunity structure and extra-establishment social movement continue to matter profoundly to establishment polity political formation.

The Marxist Misrecognition of Social Democracy: Class Conflict Denial?

The notions that the capitalist market is a sacred tree (Yggdrasil, for example. An alternative to  Berman’s distemperate child-god metaphor.) to “true” social democrats (Norns perhaps), and that social democracy is a equilibrium-state third way, are widely-accepted theses. Too widely. I am sorry to say that most Western Marxists’ analysis likewise tends to collapse the historical social democratic internal tension. Like Varoufakis, such Marxists do not differentiate social democracy from liberalism. This is a conceptual error imparted especially to the Anglosphere by the Fabian tradition, which is the Revolution-poor British people’s approximation of social democracy, gelded of its socialism, but retaining a moral commitment to intervening in capitalist excess and crisis, for example with poor-relief social programs, taxation, and capital regulation.

Where Berman and the Fabians regard the capitalist market-as-sacred-tree approach to be ideal, most Marxists see it as an obstructionist, even Machiavellian form of liberalism. These Marxists regard social democratic parties as homogeneously-liberal “Decepticon” organizations in service of capital. They hold that social democrats use deceptive strategies–including the pacifying denial of class conflict–in order to compete for, absorb,  neutralize and betray working class energy. The reductive Marxist perception of social democracy as merely a competitive strategy to crowd out socialism is the crucial linchpin to these Marxists’ ad-hoc understanding of social democracy.

There are two obvious and curious side effects to this Marxist theoretical collapse. First, while they are periodically outraged by “social democracy,” Northern Marxists also misidentify semi-peripheral and peripheral social democratic societies as socialist societies, as in the case of Latin American countries such as contemporary Venezuela. This misrecognition clouds analytical and strategic judgment (More on that later).

Second, in reducing their conceptualization of social democracy to liberalism, most Western Marxists are completely, utterly uninterested in the experience, the tension of social democracy where it was most prominent and sustained, in 20th century Scandinavia. (Except to the extent that they can find an obliging Scandianvian to say that social democracy is reducible to Anglo Fabianism.) That is to say, they are completely uninterested in actually assessing social democracy.

They tend to discuss (complain about) social democracy as strictly something that happens to Canada, New Zealand, the UK, or Germany… or now, as with Varoufakis, southern Europe. These are countries and regions that in the best of cases have had an organized-labor-backed party that ceased to be social democratic in anything but name about a hundred years ago (eg. Germany). In the most far-fetched cases, the liberal parties Marxists call “social democratic” have never claimed to be social democratic, and may not even have much of a labor affiliation (Canada’s NDP is a great example). All we can say, rigorously, is that these parties have working-class electoral bases and are to some degree to the left of the US Democrat Party, which is saying profoundly little indeed. It is neither surprising nor is it hypocritical when liberal parties spearhead neoliberalism.

Exactly, swerve the Marxists. That is why social democratic strategists have nothing to offer, they insist. Marxists believe that the only thing to be done is revolution. There is, in their view, no possible route forward in an institutional coalition with any portion of the (unbounded) bourgeoisie, on any time or geographic scale. In effect, these Marxists have a priori determined that social democracy is impossible. Therefore, for such Marxists, social democracy only exists in places where it doesn’t. Such Marxists’ consistent geographic and historical displacement should immediately strike us as symptomatic of an insufficiently-valid analysis.

I think that there is no good (rational) reason why Marxism cannot accommodate a more valid, rigorous, empirically-embedded conceptualization of social democracy, related to but distinct from both liberalism and socialism. Marxists can start with a sober version of their recognition of the socialist strategies and goals of social democracies such as Venezuela, combined with a more sustained, empirically-observant modeling of how the incessant political power of capital tends to erode social democracy–by attacking its socialist backbone. The capitalist context is why social democratic coalition parties, while distinct from liberal parties, are vulnerable to liberal co-optation, rather than liable to reach the socialist horizon that distinguishes social democrats from liberals.

A more valid, change-sensitive (dialectical)  conceptualization would in fact contribute to Marxism, obviously. First, on the issues of social democracy and socialist strategy, it would bring Marxism out of the idealist ether, and back into its theoretical home territory–historical-materialist grounding.

Additional benefits for Marxists of improving their conceptualization of social democracy:

2) Improves our understanding of historical moments of collective class compromise. Permits Marxists to recognize a broader, yet still-robust and delimited coalitional (samarbete) strategy. For example, we can better recognize that the 20th century advancement of social citizenship owed its lifeblood to the existence of a credible communist threat/alternative. This allows us to demonstrate that capitalism’s non-capitalist and petite bourgeoisie adherents’ capitalist utopia (eg. historically, the US in the 1950s-1960s, or alternately, a racism/sexism/heterosexism/ablism/pollution-free capitalist utopia of the postmaterialist future) is dependent upon socialism and communism as a credible threat and alternative. In other words, it’s possible to make a hearty, unflinching argument to lefty liberals: If you pine for a(n imagined) capitalist utopia, and yet you aren’t among the top 1% wealth earners, you need socialism. They kind of know it; they need to be confronted with it.

3) Allows better analysis of the crucial points of social democratic breakdown. Liberal Swedes still don’t know that Swedish social democracy was slated to die in 1976 when their capitalists defeated Meidner’s proposal to socialize profits. In their triumphal co-optation of the Social Democratic Party (SAP), they are bereft of any idea of how to analyze the purportedly “social progressive” neoliberal policies today that steadily break down social democracy and class compromise, clearly reducing their co-opted SAP to impotent electoral rubble–precisely in the historical moment when the SAP utterly forgot both that it needs a socialist lodestar to exist and that its existence as an institution is not the point of its existence.

4) Stops Marxists from contributing to neoliberal obfuscation tactics that undermine organized labor and the working class.

….

Research Plan: Compare Anglo tradition (Fabianism & Keynes) with Scandinavian social democratic intellectuals (Meidner, Rehn)

Featurette:

Get to Know a Non-autistic Economist, for example this unique guy who understood social democracy:


Rudolf Meidner and his brilliant wage earner funds that could have saved the Swedish model from the dustbin of history.

(See also?: Whyman, Philip B. 2007. “A case for Swedish wage earner funds.” Journal of Post Keynesian Economics30 (2): 227-258.)

The US Model of Social Exclusion

Here is a link to Schmmitt & Zipperer’s “Is the US A Good Model for Reducing Social Exclusion in Europe?” (2006) CEPR.

Not so much, contend the authors, analyzing social exclusion through the variables of income inequality, poverty, education, health, crime and punishment, the labor market and finally, the coup de gras, social mobility.