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.


Olaf Palme, 1964, on theory’s role in political and social change

“Politics, comrades, it is to want something. Social Democratic politics, it is to want to change because change provides promises of improvement, nourishes the imagination and energy, stimulates dreams and vision.

But naturally will must have a focus and a change must have a goal. We socialists are presumptuous enough to want something because the idea is the driving force of will, and we are bold enough to want change because change may make utopias into reality.

This is fundamental. Often we encounter the claim that ideologies are dead, that their capacity to pierce reality has decayed in withered phrases that could possibly be used to distort the perception of people, but that have lost their ability to innovate, initiate and stimulate. People rail against ideological superstition with a frenzy that would have blown Don Quixote’s mind and made his windmills leak.

To a certain extent, one can go along with this. The grandiose imaginations of the 1800s, their efforts to find a unified formula for explanation and a solution for all social problems have been corrected by an inexorable reality. Yet we are all strongly influenced by those ideologies, and we have much to learn from them. We cannot escape the allure of logic and symmetry, the thought’s stature and the imagination’s power of illumination that we encounter in their bold blueprints. We find an analysis of the social and economic conditions that remains viable to this day.

But we no longer believe in any unified theory. We cannot beat the scriptures and find absolute answers, and we experience ourselves not as participants in a destiny-bound process. There is no longer any absolute truth, but at least  two or three alternative truths, depending on the values assumed and how we interpret a complex reality. School children in communist states may rattle off quotations from Marx and Lenin with the same studious frenzy that our children recite hymn verses, and American industry associations may divulge writings that with basically the same narrow vision expound private capitalism’s gospel. For us, free debate has funneled into the place of nailed theses. Our fate is constantly asking questions and surely to try again, to doubt authority and distrust authority. Our responsibility is to deepen our knowledge, refuel independently and anchor our ideas in a personal conviction. It is perhaps less grandiose. But that is our freedom and our honor.

But the attack on ideologies is driven even further. Sometimes ideology is dismissed with a sigh of relief and deliverance. Finally, they say, we can free ourselves from “the dead hand of the past” and from “the suffocating hand of the future”. Finally, we can proceed to evaluate each issue on its own merits, for the special circumstances existing in each case.

We can be practical, realistic, and grounded. “All theory, dear friend, is grey. But the golden tree of actual life springs ever green,” we recite from Goethe’s Faust. Let us toss theory in the waste basket, let us value life.

Perhaps that can be hard hitting. I may dare to wreak havoc in response: when you remove the long direction of will provided by a foundation of theory and value engagement, you remove the emotional conviction, leaving cold, raw power and politics, as democracy fades to gray. Without theory, possibly one can make things a little better, but one can never change society. Possibly one can do something else, but one can never make something different. If you go ahead with the nose to the ground, without perspective, and without looking at a future that lasts beyond the next quarter, you can never do harm in society, and you are equally unprepared for the problems that the future offers. The historical experience clearly tells us that the ascendance of the practical man drives ideas out of the political arena, promulgating a vigorous decay of democratic policy.”

(To be continued, from P. 6 of “Politik ar att vilja” 1964.)

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?”

social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism

Sociologist John Gulick responds to an article on Japanese austerity politics:

“Also interesting here are the reform measures being backed by the international tutors of neo-liberal austerity. “Socially progressive” measures such as a more open immigration regime and a higher labor force participation rate for women are being proposed alongside the usual deregulatory, free trade, anti-welfare state nostrums. The Wall Street Journal editorial board really forces one to consider the homologies between social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism. (Yeah, these homologies will differ according to socio-cultural context.)”

My response to Aziz Rana’s nplusone article “Obama and the Closing of the American Dream” –the article claims that the American Dream has been reduced to advancement via educated professional status:

Well, I remember a study not but a few years ago that showed quite the opposite–regardless of whether their businesses survive, Americans have very little regard for education-based professional status. It’s not their dream. They just feel it’s not attainable, whereas thanks to teevee they can incredibly imagine themselves as Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Kardashiods, or a lotto winner. I don’t remember what that study was, but Michele Lamont got similar ethnography and interview data in her comparison of US v. French working class men’s attitudes.

If the American Dream is dead, it’s because we have conservative business policies in place of social democratic business-hudsbanding ALMPs and a policy bias toward quality work and full employment–and that means we have both tremendous incentives to flee a feudal labor market and a high rate of small business failure, reinforcing the options- and freedom-reducing conservative ideology benefitting the top 1% (and scattering Little King incentives below). If the Dream is dead, that’s how it died.

In other words, the causation behind the educated professional path remaining as an insufficient vehicle of social mobility–if you compare Anglosphere countries to Scandinavian countries– surely appears related to the Anglosphere’s characteristically conservative approach to managing the business and labor market policy landscape in such a way as to produce a high business failure rate and feudal workplace conditions.

If you don’t own capital, educated professional status is the one of the few strategies left that provide to the working class a hope of semi-comfort/semi-discomfort and demi-status. The other remaining strategies include patriarchal status (Perhaps that’s why so many women are getting higher ed degrees.), employment in a military, prison, or police institution, and of course deployment as a Conservative Expert or Agitator. In contrast to these latter remnant socio-economic strategies, to be an educated professional today requires enthralling levels of debt for the working class, and, often, insecure income. That debt combines with the disciplinary force of the steadily-growing army of the underemployed (and feudal workplaces); educated professionals today are thereby reduced to just another managerial (manhandling), retainer class. Being a retainer is not anyone’s dream; and it’s better to manhandle than to be manhandled, but it’s not autonomy.

Magical Rectitude:
Synthesizing observations on the coincidence of economic neoliberalism and ineffective social progressivism, with Rana’s analysis of the educated-professional death of the American Dream, as well as observations on neoliberal adoption and diffusion in the professional sublcass

I would very much agree that educated professional status, as one of the last refuges of American-dreaming scoundrels (though it operates the same in other countries as well), requires under the circumstances a desperate careerism that causes the elaboration of both economic neo-liberalism and justificatory, superficial, myopic “social progressivism” (of the quality Nancy Fraser critiques).

The temporary neologism I’m using for this kind of neoliberal social progressivism is “magical rectitude“, because it requires professional, emotive marketing. But I’ll try to get back to Mills and see if he has a term.

I think Rana’s right in pointing out that that American Dream remnant–mobility through education and attaining professional status–when it’s all that’s actually left (aside from authoritarian employment and the reifying fantasies of winning the high-inequality society jackpot) to the working class, is part of a system of feudal social immobility and appropriation. Not least because in that very context, the activity of educated professionalism reduces to serving as either a retainer or a labor repressor/manhandler.

Today’s professionals don’t have the independence Gramsci observed in Traditional Intellectuals. Their work is subordinated to and tied up in economic neoliberalism. At the historic “neoliberal” moment Traditional Intellectuals lose all vestige of autonomy, they have to legitimize their fading middle income and status. To promote a political agenda of non sequiturs, they thus they feel compelled to marketing, to mystifying idealism, framing their captured work as though it were driven by an independent, professional, community-oriented altruistic impulse following a linear path of progress: Deunionization on behalf of the children. Labor market deregulation for the immigrants. Austerity for the immigrants and women. Academic proletarianization for the students and world’s poor. Oil imperialism for Muslim women and Arab democrats.* It’s all fairly transparent (translucent) marketing, sales on behalf of oligarchy. So today’s educated professionals appear contemptible (to the working class, to the elite, to each other) on numerous fronts, and from a social movements perspective they appear captured.

…I think, though, if you think about this sub-class and its co-dimming autonomy and status, especially compounded with its educational, etc. debts, there is a structural, material wedge between educated professionals and the 1% that can be worried to good effect. Hence, OWS.

Gulick responds:

“Degreed professionals are increasingly crowded on one side by neo-Taylorist efficiency experts, and by the cultural hegemony of the self-promotional PR/social media ethos on the other. (Mills was on to this 60 years ago, quite fabulously!) And they are both the administrators and the administered of this.”

* Managerial, professional neoliberal social progressivism has conservative coalition-building and legitimation functions. As compared to such professional neoliberal social progressivism, more properly conservative doublespeak seems to deal more in abstraction: Student debt for the principle of responsibility. Unfettered police powers for freedom. Enthralling women for freedom. No health care access for free commerce. The agenda-setting conservative abstractions are exclusionary and not designed to directly co-opt their victims, but rather to co-opt a protective layer of would-be Little Kings.

For further discussion, see:

Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Melville, Herman. 1857. The Confidence-Man.

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.