The geography of alienation
To understand the recent election in Sweden, Doug Henwood interviewed an apparently stand-up guy, a California Democratic Party politico, Daraka Larimore-Hall, who also consults for the Swedish Social Democratic Party (the SAP).
First, the two valid points the California-based political consultant brought up:
1) Social democracy depends upon socialism. Or as I always like to put it: Socialism is the backbone of social democracy. You remove your vertebrae and see how that goes.
2) Across Europe, the Right can secure no more than 20% of the voting population, though depending on the electoral representation system, this can be enough to push the rest of the parties “rightward.” The solution is anti-racist organization that recognizes immigrants and restores class critique.
Yes! But however valid this second insight is, it is riddled with serious problems as formulated and as forwarded on the Behind the News interview. Larimore-Hall suggested both parts of the solution, though he did not put them together in the interview. I did, and before me, the Swedes did. Henwood separated them, and explicitly rounded out the interview railing against the strawman of race-blind leftism. What professional, liberal American elitists want everyone to agree is that their network alone can offer anxious, labor-affiliated European parties their special race knowledge “borne of over 200 years of experience.”
What neither the Dem Party SAP consultant nor his interviewer knows is that for its entire existence, anti-racist organization that restores class critique has been the primary role of Vansterpartiet, the Left Party in Sweden. Vansterpartiet is the party of socialist immigrants and ethnic-Swedes, and socialist-feminists. Behind them is Sweden’s tight social science capacity, far more-developed historical-materialist culture, as well as its long experience as an immigration country (only interrupted by the mid-19th-early 20th century emigration). As experts in this ideas and organizing work, Vansterpartiet were enormously successful, keeping the Right disorganized and in miniscule numbers in Sweden. A good question: Why is the SAP importing political expertise from California when it has a working relationship with Vansterpartiet? Is the global liberal meritocrat network more important than real anti-racism?
Who needs to school whom?
Let’s look at the data: This 2018 election the SAP did not lose votes to the Sweden Democrats. The bourgeois parties lost votes to the Sweden Democrats. The SAP lost votes to Vansterpartiet. This is because liberal elitism not only cannot fix today’s social alienation, it exacerbates it. In terms of anti-racist organization, all the liberal American elitists have got nothing to teach the Swedes. They also have little insight to offer about turning around the hinterlands barbarians more generally, because they cannot recognize (in the Hegelian sense) hinterlands people. They literally do not see them; the US is too vast and the North American interior periphery is a lousy place–You’re not going there if you don’t have to. And in an obdurate inegalitarian context, their privileged status and income, their inclusion, depends on not recognizing hinterlands people.
In contrast to Vansterpartiet’s approach, liberal elitism’s operationalization of anti-racist organization can be a grotesque parody, a farce. In the Meritocrats’ account, Right-wing parties push other parties rightward, and this is imagined to be because the parties are too anxious to capture the Right’s dying, “white” middle-class vote. Perhaps it is based in the California experience. Nonetheless, this is a spurious general formulation; its extension leans too heavily on the narrow equation of meritocracy, liberal elitism, with virtues distinguishing it from conservative elistism, such as anti-racist virtue. Theirs is a peculiar definition of what it means to be a thorough-going anti-racist; and it is constrained by what Dem Party politicos mean when they resolve to “stay the course,” to stick with their brand.
Empirically, under “anti-racism” consultant expertise, the SAP blew itself up in 2006 by campaigning on an anti-Facketgubbe (anti-Union Good Old Boy) platform to remove northern communities’ communist leaders from their jobs, and replace them with immigrants from the urban south of Sweden. This “anti-racism” platform was designed by in-house (conservative immigrant Swedish) consultants and championed by the SAP’s most EU-oriented politicians. As a real campaign platform, it was everything an anti-racist American Meritocrat could only dream of.
Both both time-order and identified interests (Bourdieu 2005: 102) warrant a causal claim here, rather than mere association: Liberal elitism pulled political conservatism from its long international war of position (and its dissolute state in Sweden) into the polity. By pursuing the transcendent vision the US Democratic Party recommends, specified clearly as conceptualizing hinterlands peoples as a ruined (economically and morally) and so ethically-disposable population, “governing to the demographic-electoral future” using the racial categories of today–that is, buying the credit of future voters by sacrificing the lives of today’s excluded and vulnerable nationalized (sometimes but not always White) citizens, the liberal elitist version of “anti-racism” instigated the political realignments over the past 15 years that have allowed the Sweden Democrats, in strategic coordination with Right-wing parties within racialized societies, to develop as a party from a very small population of marginalized Nazis. At this historic moment, the Sweden Democrats and like parties around the world use their properly-conservative credibility, as uncompromising protectors of nationalisms (symbolic or material), to mount an alternative to what we’ve grown accustomed to: neoliberalization, or the conservatization of liberalism. This is to also say, contra Giddens (1998), that neoliberalization, both from the right and from the left, was never an equilibrium “Third Way.” It was always restoring conservatism.
Yet in Sweden it is also the case that Larimore-Hall’s analysis, and by extension the liberal elitist analysis, is absolutely invalid in important empirically-verifiable respects. For many political-economic reasons, the nationalized non-elite citizens of social-democratic Sweden are not the nationalized non-elite citizens of 1980s-90s California. Larimore-Hall claims that hinterlands barbarians in small manufacturing towns “as in the U.S. Midwest” are the main Right base (along with older immigrant enclaves). This is absolutely wrong. Larimore-Hall has no political-geographic analysis; perhaps he’s spent too much time in metropoles. He’s probably certainly spent too much time in US Dem Party employment.
What happened in Sweden’s northern manufacturing towns in the 2018 vote is that more people voted Vansterpartiet. If you’re a political Marxist, you may note that that took their votes away from Larimore-Hall’s employer and Dem Party sister org, the SAP: That’s powerful incentive to analytical error. If you’re a structuralist, you will affirm that economically, these manufacturing-base hinterlands have no interest in making immigrants vulnerable. If your primary motivation is liberal elitism, you won’t even be able to hear this fact and analysis, let alone grasp them. To spell it out: The non-meritorious are not morally ruined, their interests are not an economic dead-end, and it’s not ethical to expropriate their worlds. Don’t believe everything capitalism tells you–especially when it’s flattering you.
Moreover, if you knew Swedish history, you would know that Sweden, with its higher state automony (thanks to the socialism behind social democracy, permitting sovereignty dispersed across class, gender, and race), developed Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) that planned for global market developments, and sank resources into continually retraining and relocating workers out of aging industries. Yes, ALMPs have declined as neoliberalization has ascended, and Swedish workers bear more of the brunt of economic disruption. However, they’re still relatively protected, Sweden still manufactures as well as innovates technologically, and they simply are not the Right’s electoral base. What they are is a force behind the long-standing Swedish political-economic Scandinavianism. This is why they are the bete noir of liberal elitists’ political parties.
Political-economic Scandinavianism is not a racial politics. It’s a long-standing, often-thwarted aspiration of Swedes to form a coalitional alternative to serving as a tributary region to Germany (as the more right-wing Danes have long done), the UK (as Norway and Denmark have long done), and to the US (as Norway has notably done). To keep Sweden’s prime economic niche, Sweden needs independence from the EU and Germany, as Germany thrives by monopolizing high-end science, technology, and manufacturing. Political-economic coalitional Scandinavian semi-autonomy, and the sub-regions that support political-economic Scandinavianism, is a thorn in the side for the political careerists in the SAP, because the EU is European politicos’ career apex. Again, Larimore-Hall’s analytical failure is the probable result of who pays his bills. Maybe Henwood should triangulate with people who study Sweden to contribute to the community of scholars’ knowledge, rather than relying for corrective “leftist” analysis on paid consultants whose chief authority is how their liberal elitist framework resonates in the alienated metropoles.
Where the Right picked up votes from the bourgeois parties is in southern Sweden. This region is not an analogue to the post-industrial US Midwest. It’s an imperfect analogue to the agriculture-extractive aspect of the Midwest. Manufacturing was not dispersed across southern Sweden because that part of the country did not need the economic stimulus to survive capitalism. What southern Sweden is is a bourgeois, high-population region with agriculture at its extractive economic base. It is the most Danish-entwined population, culture and political-economy in Sweden, indicating both inegalitarian cultural strains rooted in exploitative agricultural class relations, and Euro-German subsidiarization. Agricultural capital is usually property-belligerent, because agriculture depends on appropriating nature’s work while hyper-exploiting labor (Though, to be thorough, in the early days on the 20th century, the SAP was able to launch partially based on a temporary, Red-Green coalescence of interests between farmers and labor). When immigrants come into any country, agricultural capital and their dependents want those immigrants as vulnerable as possible.
As Sweden has incorporated more refugees, family-reunification, and other immigrants, and as its bourgeois parties deregulated labor markets, over the first 18 years of the 21st century, the political-economic interest of the affluent, populous agricultural region of Sweden has switched to a significant (though not total) extent from the bourgeois EU integration priority to an immigrant-exploiting priority. Whether this direction of change is temporary or not depends on many factors, which include but are certainly not limited to left strategy.
The interview between Larimore-Hall and Henwood is everything you’d ever want to know about why the international network of neoliberalized labour-affiliated parties are all strategically adrift, and, in the liberal world, drowning at the national and regional levels. To pull few punches, it’s related to how this ocean-views, echo-chamber network of paid political strategists and Thought Leaders can’t quit the liberal version of elitism, meritocracy. Why they cannot quit the disastrous meritocratic virtue framework is because it pays their bills, as well as fluffs their sense of self.
Lessons from Sweden
There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of brow-beating, and further threatening the incomes of, hinterlands barbarians.
There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of shaming socialists to bolster your own sense of Meritocratic virtue in combat with conservative elitists (Because what other strategic value could it have?).
The small, hard-working Vansterpartiet still does very effective anti-racism work. There are lessons to be learned from Sweden in how to plan and execute anti-racist organization that restores class critique. This expertise has been developed in a context relatively free of police repression and slavers’ institutions, so it is both advanced, and it’s heavy, difficult work to translate directly into countries where policing and slavers’ institutions dominate society.
The central lesson to be learned from Sweden today is that we have to figure out how to fix liberal elitism, meritocracy ideology within the capitalist context. Rival to conservative elitism, it is what shocks life into the fascist body prepared upon the cold stone dias of inequality.
Privilege, Elitism, and Rivalristic Symbolic Dominations
Shamus Khan (Sociology, Columbia), author of Privilege (2012), analyzes inegalitarian, predatory class social reproduction via elite education institutions. Privilege etymologically means an exclusive legal system for elites, set apart from laws that govern commoners. This was a better Behind The News Henwood interview.
Khan examines how modern elite education institutions instill the elite privilege disposition, oblivious entitlement. Entitlement, I’ll further suggest, to both monopolistic access to resources, credit, and cooperation (making, in the Scarry 1985 sense), as well as to exploitation and appropriation (unmaking). The elite privilege disposition, or elitism, helps reproduce scarcity, though the context may be abundance (eg. an $80+ trillion global economy). It’s an important contributor to capitalist reproduction.
Elitism is a foundation of apolitical conservatism. It denies non-elite human development capacity. Insofar as elitists suppose, following Edmund Burke (1790), that non-elites uniquely fail to develop beyond a natural or structural disposition to pettiness (provincialism, parochialism, narcissism, exploitation and expropriation, withholding cooperation or credit), elitism problematizes distributed sovereignty and poses it as a central social crisis to be “solved.”
Elite privilege incentivizes symbolic domination, for liberals particularly through meritocracy discourse, for conservatives particularly through Excellence discourse. What’s attractive, or co-optative, about Excellence discourse is that it is about exceptionalism. Just as you may occasionally buy a lottery ticket, anyone can imagine herself as an exception. In contrast, meritocracy discourse is about superior capacity to successfully execute a long-game individual or familial (multigenerational), multi-pronged domination strategy within the rules of an inegalitarian society. Both forms of elitism reproduce scarcity. If, as Bourdieu (2005: 186) described, “The petit bourgeoisie spend their whole lives trying to adjust themselves to their limited possibilities, their deceptive successes leading to complete dead ends…’doomed to structural decline,’” meritocracy discourse is a decreasingly-appealing, increasingly uncompetitive version of elitist symbolic domination.
Across fields of privilege and elitism, the conservative symbolic-domination advantage is clear, if baffling and infuriating to meritocratic apolitical conservatives, elitists who may even be liberal or critical. Now regard the unhappy marriage of apolitical conservatism and political conservatism (Robin 2017) and you realize How We Got to Trump & Kavanaugh.
Recommendations for Sweden
Keep pouring energy into internationalism and supporting internationalist innovation.
Build separate tracks within the SAP for domestic and EU public service.
The US Democrat Party is poison at home and in its worldwide coalition. It is constrained not by the limits of its politicos’ intelligence, identity, portfolios, prestige networks, or personal achievements, but by the limits of the interests that can be expressed in the polity of an anti-democratic, slaver-institution-bedevilled country at the center of global capitalism. Use all your diplomacy. Enjoy cocktails and ocean sailing together. But do not implement its handsome, articulate, likable operatives’ well-meaning strategic recommendations.
Reverse bourgeois governments’ legislation.
Recognize the contributions of socialists and reward the contributions of Vansterpartiet.
Bring in Pasi Sahlberg to restore public education.
As long as the private sector is male-dominated, and heterosexual families predominate, the public sector needs to remain female-dominated; and feminists should save addressing that difference for the last feminist policy change.
Keep strategizing for the development of a Nordic alliance.
Now and again, nationalize the banks.
Translate Swedish materialist philosophy into English.
Find a way to get back to Meidner’s plan for socializing the surplus.
Ongoing Bullshit: How not to interpret Germany, Part 3 million
A couple weeks later, Henwood interviews one of those German idealists, who proposes that we should ignore political economy and concentrate on the cultural failure of the hinterlands Rural Idiots, particularly the East Germans, who, presumably because of their rude communist history, fail to celebrate the relocation of imperially-disrupted populations. Holy shit. The stupid point of this meritocrat/cosmopolitan discourse is about how it’s the Rural Idiots who are to blame for the lack of working class solidarity. Not that there’s anything to be done besides side with financial capital and demand the “just” expropriation of the hinterlands.
Capitalism wins as long as leftist cosmopolitans have drunk the narcissism Koolaid. They’re not useless, but they’re bound for continued failure.
In the German case, Henwood asks if voters are migrating left to right (Perhaps an anachronistic assumption borrowed from the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” thesis. As per above, he and his California Dem Party rising star had incorrectly assumed that was the case in Sweden.) The interviewee clarifies that the anti-immigrant right-wing party in German is taking votes from all quarters, for different reasons. However, this diversity of adherents the German uses as evidence that Die Linke should not be opposing neoliberalization or replacing conservatized liberal institutions.
The logic at play here is that the diversity of adherents for the anti-immigrant party means that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany, and not indicative of a coalition of voters dissatisfied for different reasons with the same structural constraint–neoliberalization, including in its class conflict and labor market interventions.
An aside: The master frame that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany is a premise Henwood continually suggests throughout the interview, and certainly a hoary piece of cultural essentialism that has haunted the idealistic German imagination, serves as a socio-psychological manipulation handle, and preempts historical-materialist analysis, abetting the conservative restoration.
It reflects an older consensus in genocide scholarship that genocide is caused by “deep divisions” between groups (Strauss, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation comparative research on genocide.” World Politics 59: 480-483). That older consensus emerged from the hegemonic Jewish community interpretation of the Shoah experience, and was better suited to serve that ethno-religious community’s modern political needs than to explain either genocide or Germany. Sometimes the metropole experience provides intellectual resources; sometimes it imposes unhelpful biases. That’s why triangulation is important to valid knowledge.
Rather, the whole Left, but particularly the political parties, should be fighting for “Open Borders,” the idealist proposes. In this anarcho-liberal imaginary, capitalist liberation is equated with universal liberation. Conservatized liberal institutions are conceived in this neoliberal view as liberation from borders. Here we can see the idealistic convergence of left and right political conceptualization–or perhaps the conservative co-optation of left idealism. Yet borders always remain, and the “borders” capitalists are liberated from are not just those that serve absolutist kings or their states, but those borders that have been fought for and erected to help workers liberate themselves.
The cosmopolitan Open Borders coalition is hot with idealist and financial-metropole liberal-leftists. The key to the cosmpolitan Open Borders stratagem is that you have to suspend belief in class conflict, and conceptualize the welfare state simply as a bureaucracy, as opposed to an historical, contested and impure institutionalization of semi-accountability to the working class within a state thats “higher” functions, as Bourdieu (2005) identified, are to support capitalist accumulation.
I’ve discussed this for about 10 years now, but increasingly as cosmopolitans’ Open Borders idea has captured the left. The left-right Open Borders coalition will not liberate the working class because there is class conflict, and state institutions are forged in it. Open Borders work for actual universal liberty in a latter stage of communism that we are far, far away from.
Rather than pining to share in bankers’ cosmopolitan virtue, pro-immigration and Open Borders, the left should struggle step-wise, methodically, to innovate and build internationalist networks and internationalism. These are related but very distinct coalitions and solidarities (See Anderson 2002, as well as Lamont & Aksartova 2002). For example, unlike cosmopolitanism, Internationalism does not black box what induces immigration–capitalist imperialism, expropriation, and climate crisis–and that this dynamic is no favor to the working class, whether established or newcomer. Internationalism, and not cosmopolitanism, can recognize non-elites’ visceral understanding of migration as a symptom of important political-economic problems, and align sympathies and networks to address those.
Internationalism and immigrant recognition are especially, as I concluded in my 2007 dissertation, a responsibility for organized labour. Organized labour is in the best, most interested, most embedded position to fight for recognition of immigrants’ contributions across space and their human capacity for development. It is organized labour that needs to work and struggle for egaliberte work relations, including building solidarity across the working class. This is also a very good way right now for organized labour to resist capitalist cooptation.
Whereas left political parties do need to recognize the various harms neoliberalization has afflicted people with, and correspondingly do need to focus upon building alternative policies and institutions to conservatized liberal institutions. This should include supporting the work of organized labour; but there needs to be a strategic division of labor extra-polity and intra-polity, as actual social democrats have long known. Left political parties should not be celebrating immigration and “dismantling” borders, because they will only be on-neoliberal agenda, stupidly dismantling institutionalized working-class supports, driving a wide swath of voters into the Right’s waiting wings. The institutionalized capitalist supports, the class borders, will remain, and the beatings will continue until morale improves. Another form of elitism, cosmopolitanism reproduces inegalitarianism and capitalist exploitation and expropriation.
Left political parties need to turn instead to learning how to hear the mob as human voices, learning what is wrong with both kinds of elitism, articulating what is wrong with elite liberty, and replacing conservatized liberal institutions with egaliberte policy and institutions (Here’s one good example). You can’t just spit “Social democrats!” and clutch capital’s skirts as your strategy because, historically, effective, actually- existing social democrats (That’s not Berstein’s SPD.) had a real, strategic plan that was effective up to a significant point. We can learn from it if we’re not so busy spitting and mewling.
Because, you know, Swedes are not idiots with the sociology, the geography, and the political economy.