Let me first make clear what I mean by the term dualism before moving on to describe and analyse it’s uses in politics and the media. The dualistic mode of thinking is a conceptual framework which divides practically everything in the world into two (polar) opposite positions or sides. Dualism is a simplistic and restricted intellectual framework in which important issues are presented as having only two basic alternatives – things are either black or white, so to speak. The real world of colours, shades of grey or contradictions are excluded from discussions or assertions when they are governed by dualistic reasoning. For example in religion, where dualisms abound, we find; God and the devil; good and bad; right and wrong, believer and heretic, Jew and Gentile, etc. Nothing in between nor any other alternative. In addition, the reader will note that within most religious and political dualistic frameworks one of these sides is generally designated as positive and the other side as negative.
Dualism also exists in a less problematic form in the common sense uses of concepts such as up and down; left and right, in and out etc., but these trivial everyday uses are not my concern. The intention of this article is to point out how this form of crude reasoning is used for particular purposes and how it invariably fails to represent reality. In bourgeois and petite-bourgeois politics and social affairs it is frequently used by social democratic, as well as right-wing thinkers, to advance their own political agendas. Understanding the use and limitations of dualism is important, because dualistic reasoning has become a powerful tool in the hands of the elite and their sycophantic servants not only in religion, but importantly in the media and politics.
In fact whenever we hear an argument or discussion (or read one) in which only two sides or alternatives are presented, alarm bells should ring, no matter who formulates them in this way. Furthermore, whenever, only two alternatives are presented in such a way that one alternative is made preferable to the other then multiple alarm bells should ring. This is because it invariable involves an invitation to take defensive or offensive sides without any serious alternatives being explored. In religion and other (more secularised) branches of politics, for example, the suggestion of a choice between good and bad or right and wrong, often leads to a distorted us and them mentality, whether this is from within a religious denomination, a political grouping or a national government.
It will be recalled that after 9/11, George Bush famously expressed a dualism publicly (with regard to his so-called fight on Islamic terror) in exactly that form; i.e. you are either for us or against us. By adopting this tactic he and his supporters managed to convince many (both among the elite and general population) to view the world that way. Yet, as was the case with the eventual Iraq war, millions of citizens around the globe didn’t fall into this dualist trap. They just didn’t see these as the only two possibilities. Millions of people were opposed both to religious forms of terror and to the Republican Bush and New Labour Blair inspired ‘shock and awe’ state orchestrated terror. So much so that huge demonstrations took place against war.
Unfortunately, the latter two political epigones of capital and their supporters had sufficient power and elite support to ignore other alternatives and pursue their own version of good versus bad. Dualistic reasoning even emerged in the form of a further closely related rationalisation in respect of the war against Saddam Hussein. Some politicians asserted the invasion of Iraq to be the lesser of two evils, when arguably it was the greater. This devastating war and it’s aftermath has powerfully demonstrated both the limitations of dualistic frameworks and their fraudulent use by one-sided and self-serving politicians. And as we shall see in a later section, they are still desperately using these tactics as the multi-dimensional crisis of the capitalist mode of production continues to grind out its by-products of targeted poverty, environmental pollution and financial instability.
Lesser evil-ism and party politics.
The development of two – party political systems epitomises the dualism at the heart of the bourgeois mode of production where the means of production have been separated from those who produce. Economically Labour and Capital (i.e. workers and means of production) two parts of a socially constructed whole, have been made to have separate social class existences and not surprisingly this fundamental bourgeois inspired and created duality has been mirrored elsewhere, including in politics. In most countries, two political trends dominate the competitive endeavour between elites to govern nation states. For example; Conservative and Labour in the UK; Republican and Democratic in the USA. In other countries the political names differ, but the two party alternating system of parasitic governance is essentially the same.
This dual party system reinforces four important bourgeois ideas. First; that the realm of economics is independent and separate from politics, when clearly it is not. Second, that the governance of societies requires politicians and states. Third, that there are usually only two serious alternative political parties to choose between. Fourth, that it is a privilege for ordinary people to be allowed to choose who governs them. When both these main parties (and their alliances) are exposed as serving the needs of the system and not the population in general – as is now the case in most countries – this too gives rise to the previously noted lesser of two evils opinion. The lesser-evil rationalisation is the dualistic partisan fall-back position. Internationally, the working classes are now being approached by the media and politicians on the basis of choosing the lesser of two evils. Yet it is obvious that not everyone is swallowing this self-serving political message.
As the credibility of politics and the capitalist economic system has sunk to an all time low, with little or nothing positive or inspiring to offer voters except more of the same, some voters have turned to more radical right-leaning nationalist fringe parties in the hope (albeit a mistaken hope) for something better. Yet when ordinary working people are seeking more radical alternatives, many on the left have denounced them – and without a shred of verifiable evidence – labelled them as proto-fascists. Instead of welcoming their break with the dual political faces of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and rigorously exposing the right-wing parties as a dead end, they are urging workers to adopt a position of lesser evil-ism. In the USA this amounts to left groups and left individuals, advocating a vote for Clinton – style democrats as being a lesser evil than republicans.
Apparently it matters little that the Republican and Democratic parties are the two Janus faces of the pro-capitalist political establishment both of which are responsible for the present crisis riddled system. It matters not that Democrats have waged as much war against other countries as the Republicans, or that each have oppressed American working families and indigenous native Indians to a similar degree. Instead, these left social democrats try to frighten the naive into choosing between an imaginary rise of Fascist authoritarianism, supposedly inspired by Trump – style republicanism, and an equally imaginary anti-fascist democracy, supposedly inspired by the Obama and Clinton Democrats. This perspective is offered despite the fact that 20th century history demonstrates that authoritarianism is just as much a product of splits within the working classes and left and centre social-democratic politics as it is of right-wing nationalist politics. National Socialism (Nazism) was such a left/right amalgam.
Naturally the Democratic bourgeoisie in the USA welcome this injection of left energy to their tactic of saving capitalism by their own more subtle, or rather more Machiavellian, methods. The Republicans on the other hand are able to point to the rapacious record of the Democrats both internationally and within the USA and welcome support from the extreme right. Both sides are now able to blame each other for all the many negative aspects of modern life in the USA and at the same time spread anxiety about the results of their opponents side being elected. In this way another two important outcomes occur. First, the capitalist mode of production again escapes serious scrutiny. Second, the working classes become divided along the same lines as their respective economic and political elites.
Essentially the same dualistic pattern is emerging throughout Europe. There, as well as here in the UK and elsewhere, lesser-evil dualism is operating at two levels. The first level is within party politics, which parallels that in the USA, with rival political parties blaming each other for the financial, economic, social and environmental crisis. Here too we also also have a social-democratic and moderate left singing to the lesser of two evils hymn sheet. In the UK many on the left are calling for working people to vote for the Labour Party as the lesser evil of its non-identical – but still its bourgeois political twin – the Conservative Party. Yet here also both parties are the loyal defenders of the capitalist mode of production which is the underlying cause of all the financial, economic, social, moral and environmental problems most people face. Lesser evil-ism amounts to sowing illusions as neither party wishes to seriously challenge or change the present capitalist system.
In Europe (as was the case in the UK) the same dualistic political game plan is also being played by the elite and additionally in regard to the European Economic Community. In the Brexit campaign here in the UK, both sides played the dualistic lesser evil card. For some it was the lesser evil of staying IN, whilst for others it was the lesser evil of getting OUT. This mantra is also being repeated within other Europe countries. Millions of workers in the UK became convinced by one side or another in this political charade, and voted for or against. So in this case too we also had working people divided over how to make things better whilst the system which exploits and oppresses them avoided serious scrutiny. And over here too, workers are being encouraged to blame each other over their mistaken lesser-evil beliefs as their present and futures lives continue to deteriorate.
Practically everywhere the political left has abandoned any form of critique of the capitalist mode of production and opted instead for supporting what it mistakenly considers the lesser of two evils. And isn’t it obvious that choosing between two evils is still choosing an evil and shouldn’t this be made absolutely clear and an alternative perspective offered? Considering their system is in serious systemic crisis, this lack of radical alternative couldn’t be working out better for the ruling classes on both sides of the Atlantic. And perhaps not surprisingly, they have growing support from within the ranks of the traditional workers organisations – the trade unions.
Capitalism and Trade Unions.
Trade unions are a by-product of the capitalist mode of production. Historically, trade unions were set up by working people who found themselves exploited in large numbers during and after the industrial revolution. In industry, mining, agriculture and commerce, large companies replaced small ones and workers were grouped or ‘combined’ by the hundreds or even thousands. It became possible for workers to combine their own meagre resources to form organisations aimed at collectively resisting employer impositions or to achieve better wages or conditions. After lengthy opposition from employers organisations and unfriendly governments, trade unions eventually became an accepted feature of life in the developed and developing capitalist countries. In the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and the West, Trade Unions and their officials, even became respected and rewarded with government posts and honours.
Over time, the attitude of sections of the pro-capitalist elite toward trade unions changed from opposition to collaboration and incorporation. Over the same period of time the attitude of the trade union leadership to employers and the capitalist mode of production also changed from hostility to collaboration and even co-operation. Trade union leaders and officials went from being low-paid, overworked, vilified individuals in the 18th century, to highly-paid, well resourced and handsomely pensioned in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Many of them have become a routine part of the capitalist ‘establishment’ and remain entirely loyal to it. So ‘establishment’ are they that many have been co-opted into financial institutions, or appointed onto international capitalist organisations and even invited as pro-capitalist apologists to appear on Television. In Europe many have become well – heeled bureaucrats riding on the EU gravy train and in England some are even offered (and eagerly accept) the stupid anachronisms of knighthoods and peerages.
Incidentally, this pattern of trade union leader turned active participant in pro-capitalist economics and politics has worked it’s way through to the ex – colonised countries of the world. It is now not just a European and North American phenomena but an international one. Argentinian trade union corruption may be hard to beat but many others are trying. For another recent global example, just look at the trajectory of many in the South African ANC including the next in line to be president of South Africa. When they were being persecuted by the white ruling class, they appealed to workers of the world to support their cause. Many of us responded. Now, they don’t need us as they have replaced the white ruling class, and become a wealthy black ruling class. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that wherever trade union officials exist, their varying points of view – more often than not – orbit around the central body of bourgeois capitalist ideology.
Like comets or other such circulating bodies in the solar system, their eliptical orbits around the centre of capitalist ideology make trade union bureaucracies and left social democrats appear at times to be travelling away from it. However, the gravitational attraction of money and power holds them in its grasp and their ideological trajectory returns them sooner or later towards capitalisms centre of power and influence. In previous articles I have outlined the past role played by social democracy and trade union officialdom in stabilising and rescuing the capitalist mode of production, particularly during periods of severe crisis. [See for example; ‘The Nazis; A double warning from history’. and, ‘Fascism: can it happen again?’ on this blog] I will conclude this article with the following critique of a contemporary attempt aimed at trade unionists, by trade union officialdom to get working people to help save the capitalist system from its own internal dissolution and self-destruction.
In any serious crisis in which the lives of millions are being devastated by economic, financial, social and ecological problems it is obvious that those suffering from such effects will sooner or later try to identify the cause. It is during such periods that the role of those who wish to perpetuate the capitalist mode of production, from within the trade union movement is revealed. For a start, they do not seriously critique the capitalist mode of production, but critique left and right political groupings and their supporters. They invariably blame the victims. If the reader doubts this consider the following facts.
Having previously organised an international conference of over 100 trade unionists, from European countries, primarily from Germany, Hungary, Poland and Greece an organisation named Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung published its latest ‘Mitte-Studie’. This 100 page ‘Study’ was published as a comprehensive report entitled ‘Trade Unions and Right Wing Extremism in Europe’. Their research had revealed that, at least in some cases, trade union members were actually more likely than non-union members to hold hostile views toward people unlike themselves. That is to say trade unionists were more likely than non-trade unionists, to be against immigrants coming into their respective countries for economic reasons.
Since trade unions were actually created to protect workers jobs salaries and working conditions, then it cannot be surprising that trade unionists would be hostile to the recruitment of cheap alternative labour by employers. It would not matter whether these workers were imported into their countries or not. Maintaining jobs , wages and conditions is the traditional reason for the unions existence. Yet the report simply classifies this understandable defensive reaction (related to the capitalist search for high returns on capital) as a kind of intellectual infection. Indeed, the report suggests that based on evidence they have uncovered;
“We need to acknowledge that membership in a trade union does not provide immunity against infection from the far right.” (Page 10)
Note that any rational hostility by trade unionists to imported (and highly competitive) labour has been redefined as an infection carried by the political far – right. The authors cannot accept that many workers are intelligent enough to have made their own assessment of economic immigration, so they conclude workers have been infected by an alien virus. Amazingly, amid the 21st century ongoing economic and social crisis, the current priority problem for trade unionists has actually been radically redefined by the authors of this document. It is NOT how protect jobs or overthrow the system which exploits all labour – indigenous or foreign – but how to immunise workers from an implied intellectual infection. The document goes on to explain that it is important to draw a clear line between right-wing political extremists and those moderate politicians who support capitalist forms of democracy.
“It is especially important for the trade union movement to draw a clear line against right- wing extremist as well as right-wing populist parties and movements, since they call into question and/or actively oppose the foundational values of our democratic, pluralistic, rights-based society. (Page 7)
So there we have it in a nutshell. The foundational values of ‘our’ (sic) society which are to be defended against right-wing anti-capitalist critiques are those based upon a pluralist rights-based capitalist democracy. Nothing wrong with capitalism then? Incidentally, the document chooses to include a lengthy quote from a right-wing publication to make sure trade unionists know what they should oppose. The quote contains the following anti-capitalist rhetoric;
“Free-floating global capital blurs the boundaries between the political authority of one state and another, robs nations of their autonomy in taking decisions and acting, and leads to forms of capitalist governance without a government elected by the people. By attacking key principles of nation-states such as territoriality, sovereignty, and legality, globalisation destroys the only conceivable geo-political spaces of popular government for the benefit of anonymous, supranational power structures…….Unbridled capital pays no heed to territory, people and standards. This fact harbours within it the prospect that, if this development continues, there can only be a future for unscrupulous profiteers and mere alms for the people suffering from this trend, who are at risk of dissolution.” (Page 18)
Here the author/s have stumbled across, but steadfastly ignored, the real danger of right-wing authoritarianism. It is most dangerous when, in a severe economic and social crisis, authoritarians are allowed to appropriate elements of a correct anti-capitalist analysis, without any serious challenge to their motive for doing so. Interestingly, this is not the first time this has happened during a capitalist crisis. The attraction of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the German National Socialist Party (ie the Nazis) for millions of German workers during its growth in the 20th century is a lesson obviously ignored by these 21st century social democratic trade unionists. That particular European occurrence was no exception, for during the same 1920’s and 1930s crisis period, anti-capitalist rhetoric was replicated in the early development of Italian Fascism. This too seems to have escaped the attention of the well-funded authors of this social-democratic defence of the capitalist mode of production.
The free movement of capital and labour.
Throughout this extensive document there is no mention of the legitimacy of a trade union or left anti-capitalist critique of capital – just more of the same social-democratic rhetoric of ‘rights-based’ bourgeois democracy. According to this document, a partial and one-sided anti-capitalist critique must be rejected, not because it is partial and incomplete but simply because some right-wing authoritarians are mischievously using it. In contrast, this form of ‘respectable’ trade unionism is openly exposed as supporting and promoting the current rights-based society and no other. That is to say, the current right of workers to be exploited, the right for the privileged to excessively consume, the right for the poor to live in poverty and the right of the masses to observe the pomp and extravagance of the elite.
In other words this document supports what already exists economically, financially, socially, politically and ecologically – ie neo-liberal, finance-dominated capitalism. But what exists now is exactly what needs to be seriously challenged from a working class and humanist perspective. Yet within this so-called worker friendly document there is not even a serious reformist call for a campaign for the right to work with good pay, conditions and pensions for everyone. The only ‘right’ to to be rigorously defended by left social-democratic tendencies of this ilk, is the entitlement of workers to democratically vote between those who want to govern them and who then pay themselves high salaries and excellent pensions. The document continues;
“The slogan of the far right is “Only the nation can solve social problems.” The truth is just the opposite: social problems can only be solved internationally! precisely for that reason it is crucial that workers should not allow anyone to play them off against one another. To the contrary, in the globalised world of work there has to be a fair balancing of interests.” (Page 7/8)
Note that it is social problems, not economic or ecological problems which are to be solved by this documents nod to a capitalistic form of internationalism. It seems the world of economics is to be left as it is, which can only mean an internationalism of the neo-liberal kind. However, it is the last sentence that clearly confirms the pro-capitalist essence of the documents purpose. In the globalised world of work (ie. workers of the world working for the capitalist class and competing with each other for fewer and fewer low-paid jobs) there has to be a fair balancing of interests. This, of course, is exactly the purpose of the European Union – a so-called balancing of the interests of capital and labour. Capital has to be free to move about so the same applies to workers – they have to be free to move about.
This ‘balance’ – which is in reality a massive ‘imbalance’ – is nothing other than the already realised 21st century world in which capital is free to roam the world in search for cheap labour and secure profits, whilst workers are free to constantly search for whatever dwindling number of jobs they can manage to locate. And in reality, rather than in rhetoric, the ‘search’ by capital prevents the workers ‘search’ from being achieved. It also results in the current low pay and insecure ‘balance of interests’ with austerity for the many and obscene wealth for the few. In case this central message and ultimate purpose of the document – defence of the bourgeois system and its almost worthless human-rights – has not become obvious throughout, page 73 makes it explicit. It does so by mentioning the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which it correctly says;
“….is based upon the principles of democracy and the rule of law..It [.and..] ensures free movement of persons, services, goods and capital…” (Page 73)
Having falsely identified the current socio-economic situation as one of working people abandoning the ‘established’ political parties by becoming infected with a right-wing intellectual virus; having highlighted the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the right and failed to provide a left alternative anti-capitalist perspective, the authors of this social-democratic diatribe do not stop there. They then urge trade union representative bodies to adopt their own social-democratic motives and implement the following programme of action.
“The trade-union worker’s representation body shall communicate democratic values to young people more intensively again. The participants also plead for the maximum possible participation of young workers and trainees in trade-union organizations.” (Page 99)
To sum up.
Social democracy and the trade union movement, led by their 21st century bureaucratic elites have already failed to explain the causes of the current and past crises of capitalism and how it systematically creates poverty for its members, non-members and voters. Some trade union officials are again suggesting the movement is to be used to deliver the basic democratic capitalist values that the capitalist states educational system already has embodied in its curriculum. These are precisely the bourgeois democratic values that the system has taught to the very workers and trade unionists who are rejecting them left, right and centre – and for very good economic and social reasons.
With friends like the people who crafted this document, along with those who paid for its publication and who supplied its content, the working classes, don’t need any other enemies. Yet they do have them. As the capitalist mode of production reaches the limits of possible expansion, working people, the world over are faced with more than one sort of pro-capitalist enemy to combat. First, the right-wing authoritarians who occasionally pretend to care about the dire circumstances of workers and add a morsel of anti-capitalist rhetoric in order to trick unsuspecting people into thinking they are substantially different than what has gone before.
Second, the left leaning social democratic tendencies (political and trade union) who keep their authoritarianism hidden – but ready in waiting. The latter’s authoritarianism, will be brought out in the open when the working classes, white-collar and blue, conclude that it is necessary to change the system rather than continue to suffer under it. Before that the social democrats will undoubtedly copy the right-wing (who used Reagan and now Trump in the USA) and use every media and show business trick (Oprah for a future President?) to try to fool the electorate into thinking these ‘stars’ are going to be the acceptable faces of capitalism. Meanwhile I doubt that British celebrities such as Naomi Cambell or Simon Cowell will be approached in the UK – at least not in the short term.
Third, the sectarian dogmatism and dualism (tied as they are to ‘you are either for us or against us’) mentality among the anti-capitalist left who introduce ideological confusion and division among the oppressed. However, in this latter regard, reports here – as elsewhere – indicate that working-class understanding is rapidly becoming seriously critical of everything that currently exists. Long may this last.
R. Ratcliffe (January 2018
PS. For more on dialectics see ‘Ways of Thinking 1, 2 and 3 on thi’s blog.
For an interesting alternative take on the lefts abandonment of anti-capitalist critique see –
There is also another suggestion by a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung supporter on how to win the working class back to illusions, that capitalism can be made to work fairly – at http://www.ips-journal.eu/storage/topics/democracy/article/show/getting-the-job-done-2511/