In the previous article “Best workers in the world”, I drew attention to the re-emergence of authoritarian, nationalist, one-nation ideas which are being promoted and implemented by various right-wing political parties throughout Europe and beyond. I used some of the ideas expressed by Donald Trump in his speech at Davos, to the US Senate and his State of the Union speech to demonstrate this, for three main reasons. First, because Donald Trump is currently one of the most prominent and widely followed international politicians; second because the ideas he has expressed are particularly clear examples of this re-emerging trend, and third; because given the common experiences of working people internationally this type of post-neoliberal thinking has made these ideas increasingly attractive to many working people.
However, as yet such ideas have not been attractive to large majorities of working people in their struggling communities. Perhaps this is only because, as yet, they are being uttered by right-wing extremists and therefore, by this association, are suspect. Here is just a reminder of one example from Donald Trump; “We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all” (Trump at Davos). A ‘bright future shared by all’; who wouldn’t want that? Here in the UK essentially the same message (a fairer Britain for all) is being peddled by the Teresa May wing of the Conservative party, also with mixed Thatcher and Cameron tainted results. But pause for a moment and imagine the effect of such ideas if, or perhaps when, they are being mouthed or penned by seemingly sincere left social democrats such as Bernie Saunders in the USA, Jeremy Corbyin the UK, or their analogues elsewhere. These ideas would then be far more influential, but nonetheless, equally misleading.
Misleading, because achieving a bright future for everyone is an impossible pipe-dream under the capitalist mode of production. Not even in boom times has capitalism created a bright future for all or fairness for all. Yet this fact is nowhere being admitted. Whilst the technological level of production achieved under the pressure of competition is truly impressive, the social, moral and ecological condition it has created is in many ways the opposite. As a socio-economic system capitalism is only capable of delivering nightmares from one side of the globe to the other. This fundamental structural flaw in the current mode of production is largely ignored or emphatically denied by the whole spectrum of establishment politicians – including many on the left. Mainstream politicians and their supporters are in complete denial concerning the systems many corrosive contradictions of which their privileges and ideas are an integral part.
Rival sections of the pro-capitalist elite, (left, centre or right politically) pretending to know what is best for the future and really caring for the welfare and well-being of workers, are now, as in the past, a dangerous threat to collective humanity. Perpetuating and spreading illusions about what lies ahead, is not what should be done to people we really care about. The underlying economic ignorance and self-serving motives for such pretence by political elites need to be exposed for what they are – strategies to ensure the survival of capitalist-based, resource squandering, over-producing, vastly unequal societies. As we already know from the history of capitalism so far, societies, whose entire logic puts economic and financial profits before people, before the environment, before peace, before sustainability, before clean air, clean seas, animal welfare, etc., etc., are the problem we all face, not part of the future solution.
Economic crises create political changes.
If we stay with the example of the USA, for the moment, and precis the social and economic conditions there, we will reveal the nature of the fertile ground for planting the message of one people, one nation, one strong elite to ensure it. It is these conditions which have provided the underlying basis for an enthusiastic response from large sections of the electorate to the above-noted Republican rhetorical concern for their welfare. By doing so we will also find a striking similarity to what is taking place within all the ‘advanced’ (sic) capitalist countries of the globe and some of the less advanced. In two previous articles, (‘Neglected Voices 1 & 2′) the deteriorating situation of the working class in the UK was examined so it will be useful as well as logical here to consider that of their American counterparts.
In his book ‘The Working Class Majority’, Michael Zweig calculates that, economically defined, two – thirds of Americans are working class. This is despite patronising and misleading claims by some commentators that working people are actually ‘middle-class’. And it is this working class, in the USA which has suffered most during the neo-liberal phase of capitalist economic and financial development. If this is doubted, just consider the following short summary.
It is estimated that between 1970 and 1980 in Ohio 50,000 jobs were lost in steel and related industries and unemployment there rose to 25%. By 2009 the general unemployment rate for those American working people on the lowest 10 percent income was 31%. By the same year it was calculated that manufacturing jobs in America were down to 10% of non-farm jobs and one third of these had gone by 2000. According to Molly Line (in ‘Job Hunt: Blue Collar Workers Struggle Most’) one in every six blue-collar workers lost his or her job in the post 2008 recession. Between 2000 and 2008 the poverty rate in some large metro areas in the US grew by 25%. In 2009, the National Centre on Family Homelessness estimated that 1.5 million children in the USA were homeless. Also in 2009, Elizabeth Warren wrote the following;
“One in five Americans is unemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payments on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filling for bankruptcy every month. The financial crisis has wiped out more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings.”
In May 2011 a poll concluded that 69% of Americans were worried about having enough money to live reasonably; 41% were afraid of losing their homes. According to Matt Miller (in ‘The Upside of Downward Mobility’) close to 100 million Americans were in families that make less real income than their parents did at the same age. According to the US Bureau of Statistics, 40 million Americans are not entitled to paid sick leave. If we add to all this tip of the iceberg set of problems facing American working people, environmental issues, such as the water poisoning at Flint in Michigan due to local state efficiency cuts, land and water contamination by Fracking in many rural areas, collapsing infrastructures, drug addiction and gun crime in urban settings then the combined effects on working peoples’ thinking cannot be surprising. The general situation was even worse in 2016 so why wouldn‘t many of these workers listen to and act upon the words of someone from the elite who wanted to; “...use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes…” (Trump at Davos)
True, many such words have been used before. Hardly any politician, Republican or Democrat running for President in the USA would now or in the past miss an appeal to the disaffected working class voters. After all they need as many votes as possible on election day. Yet, despite the increasing disillusionment of those who have heard it all before, from the mouths of Kennedy to Clinton and seen little or no subsequent action, it is a message many of them would still wish to hear – if sincerely meant. And would not such a voice be particularly listened to if that person was not one of the usual professional politicians either, Democratic or Republican, in the US (or Conservative or Labour in the UK etc.), who have done nothing but neglect their situation for four or five decades?
In the USA arena of 21st century economic and social crisis can it really be surprising that so many listened to the revamped message of one, people, one-nation, one strong protective government when someone different, such as Donald Trump, articulated it? After all, in the absence of revolutionary anti-capitalist perspectives there are only the following few options to choose for indigenous American workers of whatever shade of skin they are born into.
a) Do little or nothing apart from survive and see what happens. Apart from occasional strikes, petitions, demonstrations and voting for established parties this has been the default option for the vast majority suffering under one or more of the many negative symptoms produced by capitalism.
b) Choose to not vote at all from disgust or disillusionment or vote for alternative politicians in the hope for something better.
In the absence of revolutionary-humanist anti-capitalist ideas and actions, these are exactly the limited choices being made currently by large numbers of working people everywhere. But if those above are as yet the limited collective choices facing working people, the choices facing the pro-capitalist elites are also limited. Faced with social tensions due to the systemic crisis, the option of continuing to peddle the same neo-liberal message of the recent past or dust off and scrub-up the previously discarded paternalistic ethic of a more distant period, has split the elite both ways. Hence the current war of bitter words and back-stabbing actions between them. Interestingly, a related phenomena in terms of middle-class voting is also beginning to emerge in some countries as it did after the Second World War. Many of those with a stake in the present system are wishing to conserve their situation by backing left reformist politics.
This move is in stark contrast to those who among the new generation of working class feel they have been abandoned by left reformist politics and are seeking more radical, anti-establishment, albeit reactionary nationalist, forms of politics in the hope of raising their situation. In other words, the ‘established’ reformist left politicians are losing much of the working class vote and are gaining votes from the liberal-minded middle class. It is now becoming clearer that the traditional so-called political parties of the working class, are in reality what they have always been – parties of the middle-class. By the same measure it is also becoming much clearer to the working class that in reality they have no political party they can really call their own. Hence the present period of political apathy, voter instability and unpredictable party-political personality changes.
However, to return to the previous point; in face of the developing crisis, the paternalists on all sides need more than just the context of austerity and the refurbished petite-bourgeois rhetoric noted above. They need to spread divisions among the oppressed and exploited.
Creating enemies within and without.
So this reformulation of aspects of pro-capitalist one-nation ideology is only a beginning. It is obvious that to survive a severe crisis, any top-down form of society needs more than hopeful sounding, jam tomorrow, ideas and patronising sentiments. Faced with a large majority suffering in various ways from the effects of a decaying mode of production, unity of the oppressed against the system must be avoided and opposed at all costs. So first; human enemies without need to be identified or created, in order to present a threat common to all. Second; human enemies within need to be identified or created, in order to divide the masses. If the two projected threats can be linked in any negative way, so much the better. Furthermore these two designated scapegoats eventually need to be progressively demonised.
The political logic for this elite survival strategy is obvious. Labelling at least two human ‘sources’ as enemies within and without allows blame for any problems encountered during the elite promised process of ‘lifting the burden of the people’ to be deflected away from them and onto the scapegoats. That way away the elite and the mode of production they uphold and defend – the real enemies of humanity – are spared serious scrutiny. It is interesting to note that historically and contemporarily, the enemies within are rarely if ever, defined in economic class terms, for that would draw attention to the class nature of capitalism, and the real nature of problems and solutions. Instead, they are predominantly defined in cultural, nationalistic or political terms. Given the nature of bourgeois nationalist ideas, enemies without are of course more often than not defined in nationalist identities.
In terms of the USA, the current enemy ‘within’ are seen by the Democratic wing of the elite as being Trump and his ‘despicable‘ supporters, more of them later. The enemy of choice ‘without’ for the dominant Democrats is clearly still Russia, despite its transition from Stalinist Party authoritarianism to Putin style capitalist autocracy. They are eagerly cranking up anti-Russian rhetoric to a level reminiscent of the Cold War period and this is serving essentially the same elite-centred purpose. Furthermore, Democrats in the US conveniently wish to pin the blame on Russia, for their own poor showing in elections. Some Democrats would have us believe that the reason they lost the Presidential election, was not due to general voter disgust or disdain with their party and candidate, but due to Russian meddling. They are not even against insinuating that people who did not or do not vote for them, must be witting or unwitting dupes of Russia – a sort of sinister (or confused) 5th column – and therefore a potential enemy within.
In contrast, from the renewed Tea-Party, Trump, Republican perspective, the enemy ‘within’ is combination of the bureaucratic ‘swamp’ and the political correct brigade whilst the enemies without are not Russia (where lucrative financial deals can still be made) but Iran, China, Korea and other rogue (or Trumps defined ‘shit-hole) countries immigrants. In the UK the scapegoats without are defined by some Brexiteers as the French and German-leaning Brussels bureaucrats of the European Economic Union, whilst those within are currently the non-invited immigrants from wherever they originate.
This pattern of enemy within and without could be demonstrated to exist elsewhere but that would require far more space and time, than currently at my disposal. However, the above illustration, together with its most extreme historical expression in 20th century Europe, (Fascism) is enough to identify authoritarian nationalisms, enemy within and enemy without longevity and the progress of its currently mutating forms. But to grow, such ideas and forms also require more than just the fertile ground of degrading austerity and social concerns within communities, noted above (and in ‘Neglected Voices). Since establishment politicians are now so poorly regarded they need help in creating the above noted divisions. It is here that in terms of identifying their helpmates in manufacturing scapegoats within, we need to confront a double standard often introduced by those on the left who have departed from a working class position and adopted a petite bourgeois one.
Double standards concerning the ‘despicables’.
First of all we need to recognise that in most countries, the opinion makers and dominant public commentators occupy a middle-class social and economic position. Therefore, the voices and opinions of the middle-class are those which dominate the professions, the media and all branches of politics. These people are invariably the human instruments and amplifiers of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois propaganda. Such socio-economic categories of the ‘middle’ are the creation of the capitalist mode of production during the formative periods of its development. Historically, the middle-classes grew exponentially and benefited considerably during the periods of colonial expansions and imperialist control of the major global sources of raw materials and markets. Incidentally, as non-producers of capital, they were (and are) paid out of the surplus-value extracted by the capitalists and the state from productive workers at home and abroad.
Whether they fully understood the source of their substantial income stream or not, the middle-classes were frequently enthusiastic supporters of, and eager participants in one or other aspect of the global expansion of capital. During those periods, they either patronised or demonised the indigenous peoples who were forced to contribute to their stipends and who sooner or later complained bitterly. These global expansions of capital involved armed incursions which took away or destroyed the the established economic and social life of the indigenous peoples of most of the world and left them destitute, dependent or in millions of instances – dead!
In many cases, the initial European explorers were met, by the indigenous peoples with curiosity and even friendly support. It was only later when their entire life-styles were progressively threatened that invaded peoples resisted in more determined ways. Indigenous peoples rebellions took place in India, Africa, Asia, North and South America, the Middle-East, Australia as well as Oceana. Their opposition to pro-capitalist incursions was also frequently declared by the representatives of this class to be despicable (and even worse terms were applied) and their efforts described as ‘resisting progress’ toward a better world.
Later still, organised liberation struggles in many countries replaced earlier forms of anti-colonial, anti-settler resistance but still with the intent of reversing the infiltration of Europeans and of getting most of them out of their countries. Due to the breadth and depth of historical research, the modern, middle-classes, have learned the negative reality which accompanied these colonial and imperial conquests and incursions by pro-capitalist Europeans, and have largely modified their views. The left – orientated elements of the modern middle-classes have even become critical of these Colonialist and Imperialist episodes in the history of their respective countries. Many became retrospectively supportive of the indigenous peoples rights to resist the 18th and 19th century settlement of strangers among them and of the many forms (peaceful or not) this resistance took.
In the opinions of many left-leaning, middle-classes, rebellions and peaceful resistance by indigenous peoples to threats to their way of life, were no longer actions to be criticised or brutally put down. Instead they became rights of resistance to be retrospectively championed and defended. Skin pigmentations or differing modes of production, were no longer accepted by the ‘politically–correct’ left as a sufficient reason to deny the right of 17th, 18th and 19th century indigenous peoples to defend their preferred ways of life. Nor was it deemed valid to demonise them as ‘despicable’ and subhuman for doing so. In the consciousness of the left-leaning middle-classes the resistance of native populations to unwelcome dislocations of their ways of economic and social ‘being’ became legitimate forms of indigenous peoples struggle. Retrospectively, for those with an ounce of humanitarian concern, the centuries of resistance by dark-skinned people’s in Africa, less dark skinned peoples in North and South America, or the Middle East along with those in Asia and Oceanic Islands were seen to be ‘understandable’ and inevitable.
Step forward to the 21st century and witness how pale-skinned working class sections of humanity are now automatically and routinely being labelled, by some of the left-leaning middle class, as fascist or racist for wishing to defend their existing ways of living. When these now indigenous peoples and communities wish to protect their way of life from unwelcome and uninvited incursions and dislocations of it by pro-capitalists and their agents of change they are deemed well out of order. In North America, Europe and elsewhere, pale skinned indigenous working class communities are being demonised by some on the left for doing more or less what all indigenous peoples of whatever skin pigmentation shade have done in the past. That is to say try to defend their way of life using the only means available to them. Instead of supporting their rights to do so, whilst denouncing any fascistic style violence against other victims, they are not only being vilified generally by some on the left, but abandoned to the dubious attentions of the right-wing nationalist authoritarians and their above-noted ideological entrapment strategy.
The abandonment of a class analysis of capitalism, by the liberal and the reformist middle-class ‘left’ has rendered them incapable of distinguishing hardly anything in humanity beyond biologically-determined gender differences or the artificial and racist-inspired ‘identity’ designations of black and white. I describe the latter designations, as artificial and racist, because in fact there are no black or white skinned human beings; in reality these descriptive terms belong only to the artists or decorators palette. Like race, the terms were borrowed political applications and pejorative inventions imposed upon people, during the colonialist period. The terms were used to further imply a good and bad distinction between European pale-skinned conquerors and dark-skinned conquered. The fact that these terms are still being robustly applied to human beings (also in the form of defensive ‘identity politics’) is testament to the power of bourgeois and petite-bourgeois ideology in dominating the language and discourse of human relations. This domination is also testament to the relative weakness of a revolutionary-humanist tradition with which to counter it.
So because of the rarely challenged popularity of these artful political identity designations it still needs to be frequently asserted that in the real world of collective humanity there are no black and white human beings, just as there are no biological races. The real socio-economic world is now made up of dark-skinned capitalists, pale-skinned capitalists and shades between as well as female capitalists. There are also dark-skinned workers, pale-skinned workers and shades in between as well as female workers. The same pigmentation range also applies to the middle-classes. That is the visible reality which – for those who want to see – stands glaringly opposed to the linguistic distortions imposed upon it by the past and present needs of a pro-capitalist elite. It is only in fictionalised bourgeois or petite-bourgeois ideological descriptions of the human species that there are two opposed dualistic categories of black and white people etc., and the illogical racist extension of this fiction to suggest the existence of inferior and superior peoples.
And, whilst it is important to recognise any violence and injustice of previous generations of working people perpetrated against indigenous peoples, this recognition cannot be an excuse to inflict indifference or vengeance upon current generations of working people, who had little or nothing to do with this whole elite – promoted capitalist driven era. Furthermore, dispossession, conquest and ethnic cleansing led by powerful (and arguably extremely despicable) elites have occurred from the periods of the ancient Empires of Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, through to the middle-ages leaving most countries inhabited by people of widely different origins. Very few of us presently located anywhere are descendants of the original occupants of the land we live in. To pretend or assert otherwise is evidence of a politically motivated viewpoint not a historic one.
The past is past and can only be sensibly used to learn the lessons and improve how we treat each other in the present and future. That is a composite task for humanist motivated historians and academics, but for the few remaining anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists, there is another. That is to support the rights of all workers to collectively and humanely defend their standards of living, warn them about the divisive strategies and tactics of the pro-capitalist elites and to explain the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production. It is also a fact, needing constant repetition, that pale-skinned working people are also victims of the capitalist mode of production, even if in some places not to the same extent as their darker skinned brothers and sisters. Our task is certainly not to vilify or demonise them because through long struggles, many of them have moderately improved their living conditions. Any attempts to turn them or dark-skinned workers into the enemy within needs to be vigorously challenged.
Challenging ALL the dominant messages.
And of course, as already mentioned, all this political re-positioning by the right and centre is not just occurring in America and the UK. Elite voices in Europe and elsewhere are expressing similar ideas in the hope of influencing workers to vote them into office and keep them there. As mentioned in the previous article, it is the authoritarian, nationalist, one people message which needs to be challenged and confronted, not any particular mouthpiece who utters it. Abstract concepts such as nationalism and people serve to ignore or deliberately disguise the fact that there are economic and social-class structures which are international and interdependent. From a revolutionary-humanist perspective, there are no national solutions to the current multiple crises (economic, financial, social, political and ecological) caused by the capitalist mode of production.
There are no authoritarian solutions to these problems either. In fact the current economic, financial, political, academic, scientific, medical, military, regulatory, legal and sundry other authorities have got us into the above noted problems in the first place. Not one of them, left, right or centre, for all their so-called status and qualifications, had the foresight or determination to warn about, help avoid or prevent, financial manipulation and asset bubble collapses, crop failures, animal diseases, relative overproduction and destruction of commodities, military inspired war disasters, air and water pollution, ecological destruction, de-forestation, anti-biotic resistant bacteria, drug addiction, sexual predation, honour killings, female genital mutilation, fundamentalist terrorism and many other problems humanity now needs to overcome. It would be an extreme example of myopia or wilful self-delusion to think that with more authoritarian powers granted to elites than they already have, they will do anything but make matters worse.
Capitalist ideology and practice is based upon creative destruction and destruction always comes first. It’s advocates destroy previous methods of production, as well as modes of production, in order to replace them with their own preferences. Capitalists destroy land and sea resources to recklessly extract the raw materials they need to fuel their production and transportation methods. They deliberately destroy other economic communities in order to create markets for their goods. Where not prevented, they even destroy the health and safety of workers by long hours and unsafe practices. Capitalist and pro-capitalist elites at times even try to destroy entire communities and nations. Witness Iraq, Syria, Yemen to name just a few recent examples.
In two previous world wars, they have tried and succeeded in destroying as many of their rivals citizens as possible and as much of their infrastructure and productive capacity as could be achieved by the then available means. It is such a dominant way of thinking that pro-capitalist ideology has permeated and saturated the minds of the pro-capitalist elites in all the various departments of modern life irrespective of whether they are conservative, liberal or left leaning in their political disposition. For this reason it is the ideas of this entire political spectrum which needs to be exposed and de-constructed and these exposures taken to the working classes, wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, and no matter how they have previously voted. Workers of the world still need to unite; for they still have only their chains to lose and a better, more sustainable, future to create.
R. Ratcliffe (March 2018)