Folke Fridell’s Analysis of Unfreedom in Capitalism

Based mostly on Swedish Syndicalist biographical material, I wrote most of Folke Fridell’s English-language Wikipedia biography. But toward the end, I started doing a little analysis of his work, which is not Wikipedia’s thing. So if they delete it, here’s what I wrote:

Folke Fridell

Fridell was born in 1904, the youngest of a large family (6 siblings, and 6 more half siblings by his father) living in a stream-side home in a woods in Lagan, Kronoberg County, Småland, in Götaland, Sweden. His mother was a public school teacher and seamstress and his father was a soldier, tailor, and postal carrier. The family was locally known for their intense reading culture, and Fridell’s education mostly came through that family culture, the local library, and a book collection he found in a deserted house while he was shepherding. At age 13, he started working in a textile factory, and after a youthful spell of learning the masculine arts of card-playing, drinking, fighting, and generally being a roughneck, at age 19 he was shocked straight by his older brother’s drowning. Thereafter he returned to reading, and in addition took up writing after factory work hours. Fridell married Hanna “Stina” Wahlberg (9 years his junior) in 1934, and together they raised two boys, born 17 years apart. He would remain at the factory until 1946, when he was able to quit and support himself on his writing.[1]

Despite his brief hard-living period, at a young age, Fridell joined the IOGT, the Temperance movement. In 1921, the year of his brother’s death, he participated in the formation of and was made secretary of a local branch of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (Sveriges arbetares centralorganisation, SAC). In meetings, he was at first shy about the organization material he wrote. When the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation (Syndikalistiska arbetarefederationen, SAF) broke from SAC in 1929, Fridell followed, as he admired the more radical politics of the founder, a Swede who had spent some years working and living in the U.S. Fridell became a member of SAC once again when SAF merged back into SAC in 1938.[2]

In the 1930s, Fridell started writing for Arbetare-Kuriren, the newspaper of SAF. After the reunion of SAC and SAF in 1938, he contributed frequently to Arbetaren, SAC’s newspaper. Fridell is recognized as a theorist of syndicalism.[3] He was also active as a lecturer and a delegate at several SAC congresses; from 1942 until 1946, he was a deputy in the organisation’s central committee. Swedish Syndicalist archives include posters prominently advertising Fridell as the featured speaker at May Day demonstrations inviting “All peace- and freedom-loving people together.”[4]

Fridell debuted as a fiction writer with the novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn (“Thanks from me, treadmill” ?) in 1945, and his breakthrough came with his second novel, the strongly autobiographical Död mans hand (1946). He was hooked and wrote a book nearly every year thereafter, winning labor and national awards for his writing every decade of his life after 1950. Although they were savagely denounced and dismissed by conservatives, his novels were widely read, in part thanks to their distribution by book ombudsmen in the factories. Fridell explained the reason behind his art:

“As long as there are proletarians, there is a proletarian literature. And I would like to go a little further and say that as long as people are insulted in their work for so long, there must be voices that speak their language and take their case.”

By his influential criticism of monotonous and soul-killing factory work in the era of Taylorist automation, Fridell become a renewer of the workplace as well as a champion of the right of the worker to defend his dignity and capacity for cooperative decision-making. Other frequent themes of Fridell’s writing were juvenile delinquency, rural emigration, and dystopian views of the future.[5]

Fridell’s work has been regarded as easy to read, conveying an ironic sense of humor. A prolific writer and editorialist, he often wrote in the voice of an alter ego.[6] Some of his plays were translated into English; the working class characters’ dialogue was represented in British cockney accents.

The following excerpt from his novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn demonstrates Fridell’s anarchist, but also very Swedish critique of the suffocating, crushing experience of intimate betrayal, excessively imposed upon workers as unfreedom cascades like a net from the controlling interest of the capitalist (concentrated wealth accumulation):

“Imagine if I went to the employer tomorrow and said, ‘I do not want to work today. I will snatch pike from the brook and laze me in the grassland, for I am a free person.’ What do you think he would say? He would say I was mad, that I should be investigated or detained at a forced labor agency.

I judge his judgment because he is a party to the matter and he loses financially if I celebrate but one day. But that’s not the worst.

Worse it is that everyone else becomes his avatar. My companions would say, ‘Now Oskarsson has gone crazy again.’ And in the barracks all the fools would huddle in the stairwells and pitch pointed words at my old lady, and the kids would ask my kids how it was with crazy Oskarsson! And the end of the whole thing would be my own wife crying, begging me to relent and, for her and the children’s sake, to get back to work posthaste.”

The dialogue suggests the character is struggling with the pain of betrayal, as he partially feminizes that traitorous net of inegalitarian social control. That associative feminization could work as a distraction from the inegalitarian distribution of sovereign agency that, Fridell also recognizes, directs that refracted, enveloping, and penetrating coercive power. Yet Fridell’s analysis, expressed in his creative work, does not point to human social interdependence–or even non-sovereign, delegated agency–as the root of unfreedom. Rather, the cause of unfreedom is the inegalitarian institution of ownership and control–as it dominates, enslaves, and turns against us our own human social interdependence.

In capitalism, we are compelled to betray one another, and our own needs, usually for nothing other than the thoughtless maximization of elites’ relentless accumulation of wealth and rivalry with each other. In this way, our torturous social- and self-dissolution, our unmaking, is automated. That is one devastating price of absolute private property right and absolute elite liberty.

Conversely within this framework, heroism, which is not automated, consists in collectively devising and implementing interventions–deprioritizing capitalist and other rentier interests in control, exploitation, and appropriation–by which working people can regularly allow each other and themselves reasonable freedoms. Apart from fleeting, idiosyncratic moments of grace, heroic interventions cannot be uncontested, painless, or bloodless. But they restore to us our captured social network and ourselves, our freedom. They restore to us our social human capacity to relieve our mortal, sentient suffering.

Fridell died in 1985 at the age of 80 and is buried in the cemetery of Berga church in Lagan.[7] Outside the library in Ljungby, a bronze head sculpture of Folke Fridell commemorates his contributions to the development of literature, working conditions, and human liberty in Sweden.

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The 2018 Swedish vote and the global problem of political and apolitical conservatism

Antiracism in Sweden: The Left Party

To understand the recent election in Sweden, Doug Henwood interviewed an apparently stand-up guy, a California Democratic Party politico, Daraka Larimore-Hall, who also consults for the Swedish Social Democratic Party (the SAP).

First, the two valid points the California-based political consultant brought up:

1) Social democracy depends upon socialism. Or as I always like to put it: Socialism is the backbone of social democracy. You remove your vertebrae and see how that goes.

2) Across Europe, the Right can secure no more than 20% of the voting population, though depending on the electoral representation system, this can be enough to push the rest of the parties “rightward.” The solution is anti-racist organization that recognizes immigrants and restores class critique.

Yes! But however valid this second insight is, it is riddled with serious problems as formulated and as forwarded on the Behind the News interview. Larimore-Hall suggested both parts of the solution, though he did not put them together in the interview. I did, and before me, the Swedes did. Henwood separated them, and explicitly rounded out the interview railing against the strawman of race-blind leftism. What professional, liberal American elitists want everyone to agree is that their network alone can offer anxious, labor-affiliated European parties their special race knowledge “borne of over 200 years of experience.”

What people need to know is that for its entire existence, anti-racist organization that restores class critique has been the primary role of Vansterpartiet, the Left Party in Sweden. Vansterpartiet is the party of socialist immigrants, socialist ethnic-Swedes, and socialist-feminists. Behind them is Sweden’s historical pro-left refugee policy, its tight social science capacity, far more-developed historical-materialist culture, as well as its long experience as an immigration country (only interrupted by the mid-19th-early 20th century emigration). As experts in this ideas and organizing work, Vansterpartiet were enormously successful, keeping the Right disorganized and in miniscule numbers in Sweden. A good question: Why is the SAP importing political expertise from California when it has a working relationship with Vansterpartiet? Is the global liberal meritocrat network more important than real anti-racism?

capitfodrasism

“Who needs to school whom?” A photograph from the turn of the 21st century.

Let’s look at the data: This 2018 election the SAP did not lose votes to the Sweden Democrats. The bourgeois parties lost votes to the Sweden Democrats. The SAP lost votes to Vansterpartiet. This is because liberal elitism not only cannot fix today’s social alienation, it exacerbates it. In terms of anti-racist organization, all the liberal American elitists have got nothing to teach the Swedes. They also have little insight to offer about turning around the hinterlands barbarians more generally, because they cannot recognize (in the Hegelian sense) hinterlands people. They literally do not see them; the US is too vast and the North American interior periphery is a lousy place–You’re not going there if you don’t have to. And in an obdurate inegalitarian context, their privileged status and income, their inclusion, depends on not recognizing hinterlands people.

 

Tragedy & Farce

In contrast to Vansterpartiet’s approach, liberal elitism’s operationalization of anti-racist organization can be a grotesque parody, a farce. In the Meritocrats’ account, Right-wing parties push other parties rightward, and this is imagined to be because the parties are too anxious to capture the Right’s dying, “white” middle-class vote. Perhaps it is based in the California experience. Nonetheless, this is a spurious general formulation; its extension leans too heavily on the narrow equation of meritocracy, liberal elitism (or apolitical conservatism), with virtues, such as anti-racist virtue, distinguishing it from conservative elistism (or political conservatism). Theirs is a peculiar definition of what it means to be a thorough-going anti-racist; and it is constrained by what Dem Party politicos mean when they resolve to “stay the course,” to stick with their brand.

Empirically, under “anti-racism” consultant expertise, the SAP blew itself up (lost the election) in 2006 by campaigning on an anti-Facketgubbe (anti-Union Good Old Boy) “blame and shame” platform to wrest northern communities’ communist leaders from their jobs, and replace them with immigrants from the urban south of Sweden. This “anti-racism” platform was designed by in-house (conservative immigrant Swedish) consultants and championed by the SAP’s most EU-oriented politicians. As a real campaign platform, it was everything an anti-racist American Meritocrat could only dream of. It was also everything the conservative parties and their American political consultants could dream of.

Both time-order and identified interests (Bourdieu 2005: 102) warrant a causal claim here, rather than mere association: Hopelessly chained to the lodestone of absolute private property right, global liberal elitism, apolitical conservatism, has helped the world’s growing billionaire class advance political conservatism. It has even in recent years helped bring the Sweden Democrats from their long war of position at the margins into the polity.

Pursuing the transcendent vision the US Democratic Party recommends, specified clearly as conceptualizing hinterlands peoples as a ruined (economically and morally) and so ethically-disposable population–that is, heroically shifting the liberal concept of “ruined”expropriable–peoples from the early -20th century liberal racist imaginary to the neoliberal geographic and class imaginary, neoliberalized parties are “governing to the demographic-electoral future,” using the racial categories of today. That is, they are hoping to buy the credit of future voters by naming and shaming, sacrificing the lives of excluded, feared and vulnerable, nationalized “White” citizens–but not their conservative White bosses, who are organized as political conservatives–upon diminishing citizenship rights and crippling debt.

This self-celebrated liberal elitist version of “anti-racism” contributed to the political realignments over the past 15 years that have allowed the Sweden Democrats, in consultation and strategic coordination with Right-wing parties within slavers’ societies, to develop as a party from a very small population of marginalized Nazis. At this historic moment, the Sweden Democrats and mobilizing like parties around the world use their properly-conservative credibility as uncompromising protectors of nationalisms (symbolic or material), to offer a politicized network alternative to what we’ve grown accustomed to: neoliberalization, or the conservatization of liberalism. This is to also say, contra Giddens (1998), that neoliberalization, both from the right and from the left, was never an equilibrium “Third Way.” It was an apolitical conservatism always restoring political conservatism.

 

Internationalism > Cosmopolitanism

In Sweden it is also the case that Larimore-Hall’s analysis, and by extension the liberal elitist analysis, is absolutely invalid in important empirically-verifiable respects. For many political-economic reasons, the nationalized non-elite citizens of social-democratic Sweden are not the nationalized non-elite citizens of 1980s-90s California. Crudely applying the Dem Party electoral modernization strategy from California to national and global contexts, Larimore-Hall claims that hinterlands barbarians in small Swedish manufacturing towns “as in the U.S. Midwest” are the main Right base (along with older immigrant enclaves). This is absolutely wrong. Larimore-Hall has no political-geographic analysis; perhaps he’s spent too much time in metropoles. He’s probably certainly spent too much time in US Dem Party employment.

What happened in Sweden’s northern manufacturing towns in the 2018 vote is that more people voted Vansterpartiet. If you’re a political Marxist, you may note that that took their votes away from Larimore-Hall’s employer and Dem Party sister org, the SAP: That’s powerful incentive to analytical error. If you’re a structuralist, you will affirm that economically, these manufacturing-base hinterlands have no interest in making immigrants vulnerable. It makes all kinds of sense that they transferred votes to the pro-immigrant party at the expense of the cosmopolitan party. If your primary motivation is liberal elitism, you won’t even be able to hear this fact and analysis, let alone grasp them. To spell it out: The non-meritorious are not morally ruined, their interests are not an economic dead-end, and it’s not ethical to expropriate their worlds. Don’t believe everything capitalism tells you–especially when it’s flattering you.

Moreover, if you knew Swedish history, you would know that Sweden, with its higher state automony (thanks to the socialism behind social democracy, permitting sovereignty dispersed across class, gender, and race), developed Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) that planned for global market developments, and sank resources into continually retraining and relocating workers out of aging industries. Yes, ALMPs have declined as neoliberalization has ascended, and Swedish workers bear more of the brunt of economic disruption. However, they’re still relatively protected, Sweden still manufactures as well as innovates technologically, and they simply are not the Right’s electoral base. What they are is a force behind the long-standing Swedish political-economic Scandinavianism, as a counterweight to conservatization. This is why they are the targeted bete noir of liberal elitists’ political parties.

Political-economic Scandinavianism is not a racial politics. It’s a long-standing, often-thwarted internationalist aspiration of Swedes to form a coalitional alternative to serving as a tributary region to Germany (as the more right-wing Danes have long done), the UK (as Norway and Denmark have long done), and to the US (as Norway and Denmark have notably done). To keep Sweden’s prime economic niche, Sweden needs independence from the EU and Germany, as Germany thrives by monopolizing high-end science, technology, and manufacturing. Political-economic coalitional Scandinavian semi-autonomy, and the sub-regions that support political-economic Scandinavianism, is a thorn in the side for the political careerists in the SAP, because the EU is European politicos’ career apex. Again, Larimore-Hall’s analytical failure is the probable result of who pays his bills. Maybe Henwood should triangulate with people who study Sweden to contribute to the community of scholars’ knowledge, rather than relying for corrective “leftist” analysis on paid consultants whose chief authority is how their liberal elitist framework resonates in the alienated metropoles.

 

vikingake

 

Beyond Borders: Anti-immigrant Politics in Southern Sweden

Where the Right picked up votes from the bourgeois parties is in southern Sweden. This region is not an analogue to the post-industrial US Midwest. It’s an imperfect analogue to the agriculture-extractive aspect of the Midwest. Manufacturing was not dispersed across southern Sweden because that part of the country did not need the economic stimulus to survive capitalism.  What southern Sweden is is a bourgeois, high-population region with agriculture at its extractive economic base. It is the most Danish-entwined population, culture and political-economy in Sweden, indicating both inegalitarian cultural strains rooted in exploitative agricultural class relations, and Euro-German subsidiarization.  Agricultural capital is usually property-belligerent, because agriculture depends on appropriating nature’s work while hyper-exploiting labor (Though, to be thorough, in the early days on the 20th century, the SAP was able to launch partially based on a temporary, Red-Green coalescence of interests between farmers and labor). When immigrants come into any country, agricultural capital and their dependents want those immigrants as vulnerable as possible.

As Sweden has incorporated more refugees, family-reunification, and other immigrants, and as its bourgeois parties deregulated labor markets, over the first 18 years of the 21st century, the political-economic leadership interest of the affluent, populous agricultural region of Sweden has switched to a significant (though not total) extent from the bourgeois EU integration priority to an immigrant-exploiting priority. Whether this direction of change is temporary or not depends on many factors, which include but are certainly not limited to left strategy.

The interview between Larimore-Hall and Henwood is everything you’d ever want to know about why the international network of neoliberalized labour-affiliated parties are all strategically adrift, and, in the liberal world, drowning at the national and regional levels. To pull few punches, it’s related to how this ocean-views, echo-chamber network of paid political strategists and Thought Leaders can’t quit the liberal version of elitism, meritocracy, or apolitical conservatism. Why they cannot quit the disastrous meritocratic virtue framework is because it pays their bills, as well as fluffs their sense of self.

Lessons from Sweden

There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of brow-beating, and further threatening the incomes of, hinterlands barbarians.

There are no lessons from Sweden to be learned about the utility of shaming socialists to bolster your own sense of Meritocratic virtue in combat with conservative elitists (Because what other strategic value could it have?).

The English-speaking left could step up its internationalist game and reach out to Vansterpartiet. The small, hard-working Vansterpartiet still does very effective anti-racism work. There are lessons to be learned from Sweden in how to plan and execute anti-racist organization that restores class critique. This expertise has been developed in a context relatively free of police repression and slavers’ institutions, so it is both advanced, and it’s heavy, difficult work to translate directly into countries where policing and slavers’ institutions dominate society.

A central lesson to be learned from Sweden today is that we have to figure out how to fix liberal elitism, meritocracy ideology within the capitalist context. Tweedledum rival to conservative elitism, it is what shocks life into the fascist body agglomerated upon the cold stone dias of inequality.

 

Privilege, Elitism, and Rivalristic Symbolic Dominations

Shamus Khan (Sociology, Columbia), author of Privilege (2012), analyzes inegalitarian, predatory class social reproduction via elite education institutions. Privilege etymologically means an exclusive legal system for elites, set apart from laws that govern commoners.  This was a better Behind The News Henwood interview.

Khan examines how modern elite education institutions instill the elite privilege disposition, oblivious entitlement. Entitlement, I’ll further suggest, to both monopolistic access to resources, credit, and cooperation (making, in the Scarry 1985 sense), as well as to exploitation and appropriation (unmaking). The elite privilege disposition, or elitism, helps reproduce scarcity, though the context may be abundance (eg. an $80+ trillion global economy). It’s an important contributor to capitalist reproduction.

Elitism is a foundation of apolitical conservatism. It denies non-elite human development capacity. Insofar as elitists suppose, following Edmund Burke (1790), that non-elites uniquely fail to develop beyond a natural or structural disposition to pettiness (provincialism, parochialism, narcissism, exploitation and expropriation, withholding cooperation or credit), elitism problematizes distributed sovereignty and poses it as a central social crisis to be “solved.”

Elite privilege incentivizes symbolic domination, for liberals particularly through meritocracy and cosmopolitan discourses, for conservatives particularly through Excellence discourse. What’s attractive, or co-optative, about Excellence discourse is that it is about exceptionalism. Just as you may occasionally buy a lottery ticket, anyone can imagine herself as an exception. In contrast,  meritocracy discourse is about superior capacity to successfully execute a long-game individual or familial (multigenerational), multi-pronged domination strategy within the rules of an inegalitarian society. Both forms of elitism reproduce scarcity. If, as Bourdieu (2005: 186) described, “The petit bourgeoisie spend their whole lives trying to adjust themselves to their limited possibilities, their deceptive successes leading to complete dead ends…’doomed to structural decline,’” meritocracy discourse is a decreasingly-appealing, increasingly uncompetitive version of elitist symbolic domination.

Across fields of privilege and elitism, the conservative symbolic-domination advantage is clear, if baffling and infuriating to meritocratic apolitical conservatives, elitists who may even be politically liberal or critical. Now regard the unhappy marriage of apolitical conservatism and political conservatism (Robin 2017) and you realize How We Got to Trump & Kavanaugh.

Recommendations for Sweden

Keep pouring energy into internationalism and supporting internationalist innovation.

Build separate tracks within the SAP for domestic and EU public service.

The US Democrat Party is poison at home and in its worldwide coalition. It is constrained not by the limits of its politicos’ intelligence, identity, portfolios, prestige networks, or personal achievements, but by the limits of the interests that can be expressed in the polity of an anti-democratic, slaver-institution-bedevilled country at the center of global capitalism. Use all your diplomacy. Enjoy cocktails and ocean sailing together. But do not implement its handsome, articulate, likable operatives’ well-meaning strategic recommendations.

Reverse bourgeois governments’ legislation.

Recognize the contributions of socialists and reward the contributions of Vansterpartiet.

Bring in Pasi Sahlberg to restore public education.

As long as the private sector is male-dominated, and heterosexual families predominate, the public sector needs to remain female-dominated; and feminists should save addressing that difference for the last feminist policy change.

Keep strategizing for the development of a Nordic alliance.

Now and again, nationalize the banks.

Translate Swedish materialist philosophy into English.

Find a way to get back to Meidner’s plan for socializing the surplus.

 

Open Borders & the Carceral Candyland

A couple weeks later, Henwood interviews one of those German idealists, who proposes that we should ignore political economy and concentrate on the cultural failure of the hinterlands Rural Idiots, particularly the East Germans, who, presumably because of their rude communist history, fail to celebrate the relocation of imperially-disrupted populations. The stupid point of this meritocrat/cosmopolitan discourse is about how it’s the Rural Idiots–former communists–who are to blame for the lack of working class solidarity. Not that there’s anything to be done besides side with financial capital, open borders, and demand the “just” expropriation of the hinterlands and the welfare state.

300px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

Know your market! Some day someone needs to write the book on American conservatives’ and meritocrats’ undying, consumptive hunger to transfer all their prodigious failures upon the Scandinavian social democrats, whether it’s racism and xenophobia, failure to recognize the existential threat of Islam, failure to achieve communism, failure to reverse capitalogenic climate crisis, or failure to produce justice

In the German case, Henwood asks if voters are migrating left to right (Perhaps an anachronistic assumption borrowed from the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” thesis. As per above, he and his California Dem Party rising star had incorrectly assumed that was the case in Sweden.) The interviewee clarifies that the anti-immigrant right-wing party in German is taking votes from all quarters, for different reasons. However, this diversity of adherents the German uses as evidence that Die Linke should not be opposing neoliberalization or replacing conservatized liberal institutions.

The logic at play here is that the diversity of adherents for the anti-immigrant party means that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany, and not indicative of a coalition of voters dissatisfied for different reasons with the same structural constraint–neoliberalization, including in its class conflict and labor market interventions.

 


An aside: The master frame that xenophobia is a cultural institution in Germany is a premise Henwood continually suggests throughout the interview, and certainly a hoary piece of cultural essentialism that has haunted the idealistic German imagination, serves as a socio-psychological manipulation handle, and preempts historical-materialist analysis, abetting the conservative restoration.

It reflects an older consensus in genocide scholarship that genocide is caused by “deep divisions” between groups (Strauss, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation comparative research on genocide.” World Politics 59: 480-483). That older consensus emerged from the hegemonic Jewish community interpretation of the Shoah experience, and was better suited to serve that ethno-religious community’s modern political needs than to explain either genocide or Germany. Sometimes the metropole experience provides intellectual resources; sometimes it imposes unhelpful biases. Always it’s a loud voice. That’s why triangulation is important to valid knowledge.


 

The idealist proposes that the whole Left, but particularly the political parties, should be fighting for “Open Borders.” In this anarcho-liberal imaginary, capitalist liberation is equated with universal liberation. Conservatized liberal institutions are conceived in this neoliberal view as liberation from borders. Here we can see the idealistic convergence of left and right political conceptualization–or perhaps the conservative co-optation of left idealism. Yet borders always remain, and the “borders” capitalists are liberated from are not just those that serve absolutist kings or their states, but those borders, those constraints on elite liberty that have been fought for and erected to help workers liberate themselves.

The cosmopolitan Open Borders coalition is hot with idealist and financial-metropole liberal-leftists. The key to the cosmopolitan Open Borders stratagem is that you have to suspend  belief in class conflict, and conceptualize the welfare state simply as a bureaucracy, as opposed to an historical, contested and impure institutionalization of semi-accountability to the working class within a state thats “higher” functions, as Bourdieu (2005) identified, are to support capitalist accumulation.

I’ve discussed this for about 10 years now, but increasingly as cosmopolitans’ Open Borders idea has captured the left. The left-right Open Borders coalition will not liberate the working class because there is class conflict, and state institutions are forged in it. Open Borders work for actual universal liberty in a latter stage of communism that we are far, far away from. There are other utopias to be fought for first.

 

open border

Hey guys, the door to this rich man’s house is open!

There are three Open Borders strategy issues: 1) In the US, immigration policy is more subject to potential democratic intervention than other policy, because it’s not under juridical supervision. That seems hopeful. 2) However, the problem today, especially across Anglosphere countries as well as several others, is that borders and immigration are already an integral part of the militarized mass carceral-guard state and market securing unfree labor. A very large and stratified market stands like a tsunami between global migrants and freedom. 3) Any shadow of Open Borders policy, within left political parties, will have to be fed strategies that divert that market and restore pre-9-11 rights of movement and freedom from surveillance. Otherwise, we’re looking straight down the throat of open borders with prisons and indentured servitude behind them.

Toward Internationalism

Rather than pining to share in bankers’ cosmopolitan virtue, pro-immigration and Open Borders, the left should struggle step-wise, methodically, to innovate and build internationalist networks and internationalism: cross-border solidarity that values and champions non-elites’ capacity to develop as social, material humans. These are related but very distinct coalitions and solidarities (See Anderson 2002, as well as Lamont & Aksartova 2002). For example, unlike cosmopolitanism, internationalism does not ever black box what induces immigration–capitalist imperialism, expropriation, and climate crisis–and that this dynamic is no favor to the working class, whether established or newcomer. Internationalism, and not cosmopolitanism, can recognize non-elites’ visceral understanding of migration as a symptom of important political-economic problems, and align sympathies and networks to address those.

Internationalism and immigrant recognition are especially, as I concluded in my 2007 dissertation, a responsibility for organized labour. Organizing and organized labour is in the best, most interested, most embedded position to fight for recognition of immigrants’ contributions across space and their human capacity for development. It is organized labour that needs to work and struggle for egaliberte work relations, including building solidarity across the working class. This is also a very good way right now for organized labour to resist capitalist cooptation.

Whereas left political parties do need to recognize the various harms neoliberalization has afflicted people with, and correspondingly do need to focus upon building alternative policies and institutions to conservatized liberal institutions. This should include supporting the work of organized labour; but there needs to be a strategic division of labor extra-polity and intra-polity, as actual social democrats have long known. Left political parties should not be celebrating immigration and “dismantling” borders, because they will only be on-neoliberal agenda, stupidly dismantling institutionalized working-class supports, driving a wide swath of orphaned voters into the Right’s waiting wings. The institutionalized capitalist supports, the class borders and prison walls, will remain and grow, and the beatings will continue until morale improves. Another form of elitism, cosmopolitanism reproduces inegalitarianism and capitalist exploitation and expropriation.

Left political parties need to turn instead to learning how to hear the mob as human voices, learning what is wrong with both kinds of elitism, political conservatism and liberal/apolitical conservatism, articulating what is wrong with elite liberty and absolute private property right, and replacing conservatized liberal institutions with internationalist networks and egaliberte policy and institutions (Here’s one good example).

You can’t just sneer and spit “Social democrats!” and clutch capital’s skirts as your strategy because, historically, effective, actually- existing social democrats (That’s not Berstein’s SPD.) had a real, strategic plan that was effective up to a significant point. We can actually apprehend it and learn from it; the English-speaking left has not so far.

 

Pro-Immigrant v. Pro-Immigration: Breaking the political and apolitical conservative chokehold

The liberal approach to the problem of solidarity is characterized by a relentless idealist conflation of pro-immigrant and pro-immigration. Symmetrically, as befits a two-party capitalist system, the the conservative approach to the problem of solidarity is characterized by a relentless idealist conflation of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. Throughout this ideological and coalitional rivalry, liberals, neoliberals, and conservatives converge. They pragmatically take advantage of the empirical difference between immigrant and immigration interests and sentiment–to jointly make labour voiceless and vulnerable.

This conflation has growing resonance, because when the idealist conflation is asserted, an attempt is being made to cohere a liberal or conservative political coalition around that silent elite goal. In marketing the polity organization’s capacity for securing social cooperation for policy and institutional maintenance or change, these mobilizations have effects. A small group of true-believer White Nation political entrepreneurs equates anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. Backed by global conservative support, and reinforced by liberals who equate pro-immigrant and Open Borders, White Nation political entrepreneurs organize and draw in adherents who may not start out with much by way of anti-immigrant attitudes, but who perceive the effects of citizenship attenuation. This was the case in Sweden, where poll after poll showed extraordinarily high pro-immigrant, low anti-immigrant attitudes for decades, through thick and thin, through immigration surges.

What’s different now is that the anti-labour thrust of anti-immigrant politics–both anti-immigration and pro-immigration— is broadcasting an audible signal, forming White Nations around immigrant and labour vulnerability goals, the vicious conservative Winner-Loser protection racket. It’s grotesque and violent, and its effects are enduring and wretched, but for many, White Nationalism is the only protective social network left to them in capitalism, where, outside of capitalist networks, only family, religious-ethnic, and militarized policing networks are not criminalized.

Breaking that advancing conservative politicization will involve breaking the conflation of anti-immigrant and anti-immigration, pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, as these twin conflations vie to coalesce political blocs for capitalist interests. Together, conservatives and liberals have been constructing a behemoth global machine for disrupting and uprooting people from their homes, drawing them into core countries, and sucking them into unfree labour and prisons, replacing labour contracts, organizations, rights, and public goods and services that broadly redistribute recognition and value, and leaving native core populations to  servitude, surveillance, militarization, and the inegalitarian White Nation protection racket. Liberals will explain this has to be the policy because some people (sometimes Blacks, sometimes Whites) are ruined. Conservatives will declare that, even though this institutional structure and the Winner-Loser dispositions it proliferates are obviously constructed, it’s natural.

The capitalist pro-immigrant/immigration Open Borders utopia springs from a venerable tradition of conservative strategy: In 1651 the original conservatizer of liberalism, Thomas Hobbes proposed in his refutation of democracy that the only freedom we need to recognize is the freedom of movement, or as his Dutch twin Grotius would further specify: freedom of imperial movement upon the seas. This conservative siren song has a proven co-optation track record. The alternative utopia is socialist–mobilizing internationalism (or “ordinary cosmpolitanism” in Lamont & Aksartova’s language), and not elite “Open Borders” cosmopolitanism. Internationalism is the only way out of a regressive one-two chokehold that increasingly devalues and stunts migrant life while increasingly devaluing and stunting working class life. Liberalism’s lodestar is absolute private property right; without socialism, inheritor of the democratic Enlightenment, liberalism’s noblest sentiments on behalf of that absolute private property right can do nothing but return us, over and over again, to the brutal prison workhouse of inequality, inegalitarianism, and conservatism. In this vortex, freedom of movement for non-elites is reduced to little more than a white-eyed, cold marble statue in a museum.

References and Further Reading

Check out the geographic and sociological distributions of the 2018 Vote at SVT NYheter’s interactive website. Because, you know, Swedes are not idiots with the sociology, the geography, and the political economy.

Abraham, David. 1996. “Liberty without Equality: The Property-Rights Connection in a ‘Negative Citizenship’ Regime.” Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 1-65.

Abraham, David. 2007. “Doing justice on two fronts: The liberal dilemma in immigration.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 01 June 2010, Vol.33(6), p.968-985.

Abraham, David. 2014. “Immigrant integration and social solidarity in a time of crisis: Europe and the United States in a post-welfare state.” Critical Historical Studies, 01 September 2014, Vol.1(2), pp.215-253.

Anderson, Perry. 2002. “Internationalism: A beviary.” New Left Review 14.

Bacon, David. 2007. Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Beacon Press.

Bacon, David. 2009. Interviewed by Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer.

Bacon, David. 2013. The right to stay home: How US policy drives Mexican migration. Beacon Press.

Hurst, Allison. 2018. “Do you know who your foreman voted for?” People’s World, September 24.

Lamont, Michele and Sada Aksartova. 2002. “Ordinary Cosmopolitanisms: Strategies For Bridging Racial Boundaries Among Working-Class Men.” Theory, Culture & Society 19(4): 1-25.

Sampaio, Anna. Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants: Race, Gender, and Immigration Politics in the Age of Security. Temple University Press.

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.)

The Power and the Mediocrity of the Sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iceland & Primitive Accumulation

Here’s Silla Sigurgeirsdottir and Robert H. Wade’s Monde Diplomatique article “Iceland’s Loud No.” Here’s a good English-language Icelandic journalist covering the transformation of private (capitalist) losses into public (working class) debt throughout Europe.

Iceland prosecutes predatory bankers, December 2011.

Iceland exits the recession, December 2011.

From November 2011:

 Deena Stryker’s adaptation of the Italian article “Iceland’s Ongoing Revolution” is on the alternative news, essentially arguing that Iceland’s response to the transformation of private investor losses into public (cross-national and cross-generational working class plundering) debt throughout Europe is not adequately covered by the English-language press. She argues that this may be because Iceland has been striving to find alternate ways to pay off British and Dutch investors, other than working through the IMF (like Malaysia did successfully in the 1997 East Asian crash), and Icelandic people have been working to reform their political system to prevent plundering capture by global financial capital.

 This is an important contribution because, first, the question for smaller-economy Western countries ultimately is: When Iceland/Greece/etc. govts are forced by global capital and larger-economy (more powerful) governments to strip wealth off their own citizens to pay off British and Dutch etc. investors, with interest, how much wealth will be transferred to the big-economy investors and their bankers?

 Those investors were gambling. If it were just an economic market, they should have to absorb the risks and take the losses of their own gambling. But economics is also political, because it’s about amassing and maintaining power. British and Dutch political regimes exist in capitalism to take up the sticks and guns and punitive trade strategies to make sure that there is all profit (growth) and no risk to British and Dutch investors, and by extension the bankers that served them–That the costs of Accounting-books economic “growth” are confined (inasmuch as is possible–Aye. There’s the rub.) to the Icelandic, Greek, Spanish, Irish, US, British, etc. tax-paying working-class. That Accounting-books economic “growth” (AKA unregulated, state-backed investment) is a successful wealth-plundering strategy (AKA primitive accumulation). In this way big economies hope to attract capital and stay big, and smaller-economy countries hope to ride upon and not be eaten by bigger ones.

 So there is the vital second question, which Ms. Stryker has tapped, of how much wealth transfer will be forced and must be conceded by various populations. This is an ongoing political fight involving: 1) the blackmail capitalist claim that the global capitalist economy cannot be restored until the wealth transfer is realized as exclusive private accumulation, 2) coercive and coerced enforcement of this transfer by governing regimes, and 3) many countries’ working class populations, their range of beliefs about how political-economies can work, and their capacity to resist and fight. It is necessary for liberationists and democrats to engage those working class political-economic beliefs, as Ms. Stryker is doing by gesturing to the Icelandic differences, if nothing else to raise a reflexive working class limit on predatory financial capitalist machinations around the globe. (Well, that’s the liberal ideal outcome. I can think of more ambitious outcomes.)

The carping about Stryker’s article in Iceland’s The Grapevine is about journalists’ endemic quick and dirty deployment of econ stats in service of political extrapolations, in the midst of ongoing political contention in Iceland. It’s nice that The Grapevine is clearing up the stats and reassuring Icelanders that le jeu n’est pas fait; but their critique  is not essential to Stryker’s argument. The constraints are similar; but there is a difference in the Icelandic popular political-economic imagination and strategies–a difference that, if not decisive, other working class populations need to see.

It’s not helpful when, as at The Grapevine, journos confuse bank relations with investors with the state guarantees to those investors’ powerful countries, and feed into conservative obfuscation of what is at stake in “bank bailouts.” Moreover, you can expect The Grapevine critique to be blown out of proportion by conservatives who are on the primitive accumulation warpath. Yet I do not think The Grapevine editor is conservative. His Davidsdottir recommendation (above) is helpful; and he and his commentators are right in urging Stryker to correct the article–if not to pay respects to more precise  Icelandic understanding of Icelandic political-economy stats and affairs, then to make her contribution  more robust to right-wing attack.