A wrecking ball is an extremely blunt instrument used in the demolition trade to demolish crumbling and outmoded buildings. It is less destructive than the explosive charges used to bring down tall buildings, but like that method it also smashes through everything in its path. It is not an instrument capable of selective targeting. Masonry, glass, wood are all the same to this swinging ball of metal on a long chain. Metaphorically speaking, the western pro-capitalist political elites have for decades directed economic and political wrecking balls against the living standards of the working classes of their respective countries. They have swung them repeatedly at the trade unions and all but demolished these defensive institutions of the working classes.
The political elite of all complexions have swung economic and political wrecking balls at the wages of working people and reduced these to the point where wages for millions are below official poverty levels. Not content with this punitive level of demolition w ork, the elites have also swung austerity wrecking balls at many of the public institutions which for a time ameliorated the lives of working people. Libraries, Museums, Parks, Swimming Pools and Youth Clubs are among the low-cost services used by working people, in their leisure time which have disappeared or been allowed to atrophy. Free higher education, which allowed some children of working people, to attend university has been abolished in favour of imposing considerable financial obstacles and burdens on those dedicated individuals who persist in trying.
In addition, the landscape and infrastructure of many working class towns and villages looks as if an actual wrecking ball has been at work in some areas whilst in other places, boarded up shops, factories and commercial properties look as if they are just waiting for their turn to receive the same destructive attention. Within the span of one generation hope and aspiration for a better future has all but died within the working classes of Europe and North America. Over the same period the promises made by a once grateful capitalist elite for the working class sacrifices during the Second World War, have been cast aside. Everything, working people have previously done; strikes, demonstrations, petitions, appeals, letters to the media, formation of self-help groups, community initiatives etc.; have failed to stem the progressive destruction of their communities, by the neo-liberal policies promoted by all political parties.
For decades, no matter which traditional political party, (left, right or centre) got in power, the wrecking balls were relentlessly targeted toward the demolition of working class communities. Resistance has proved futile. But this process has left a strong legacy of resentment and anger based upon the unfairness of the present mode of production. For example; after interviewing over 5,000 people from depressed communities in France and Germany, the authors of a report (‘Return to the Politically Abandoned’ at http://www.progressives-zentrum.org), concluded the following;
“Media and politics at the national level are criticised for not having properly adopted this ‘citizens agenda’. This problem also results in a sense of unfairness and disadvantage. As such, when people in these regions devalue others, especially migrants, they do so as a reaction to their own experiences of devaluation (this follows the ‘logic of comparative devaluation’). Importantly, the interviews demonstrated no intrinsic patterns of xenophobia.”
This research replicates that done in the UK by Demos (see ‘Neglected Voices’ on this blog and/or https://www.demos.co.uk/project/citizens-voices/ for the original documentation.) and shares similar conclusions. Since everything else has so far failed, this has led to a new tactic by some workers. No longer able to promote beneficial reforms, actively resist or attempt to reverse the neo-liberal direction of capitalism, many working class voters have found an alternative way to at least partially hit back at the existing state of affairs. This alternative, has taken the form of voting for political candidates, (where they surface) who are in some way or another anti-establishment. Any new political candidates with convincing rhetoric against the liberal left perpetrators of neo-liberal economic policies and their divisive pursuit of identity politics, is enough to attract a vote from sections of the working class. The backing of such candidates, often right wing radical ones, is frequently a temporary expression of ‘the enemy of my enemy, is my friend syndrome. A mistaken tactic indeed, but in the present circumstances an understandable one.
There is undoubtedly a hope among many voters that such candidates, if elected, will at least take a ruthless intellectual and public swipe at the world view of the neo-liberal elite of left, centre and right persuasions. And a hope among many others that such candidates once elected will take a legislative wrecking ball to many of the established economic policies and state – funded stipends of the current self-satisfied political classes and their supporters in the media. That very few such radical candidates have emerged from the left of the political spectrum explains why many workers have chosen right – wing radicals to mount a frontal assault against aspects of the ‘system’. This in part explains the attraction in the USA, of Donald Trumps slogans of ‘draining the swamp’; and, ‘making America great again’, along with his war of words with much of the news media. It also goes some way to explaining the vote for Brexit in the UK. The job for the boys European Parliament swamp is much resented by many unemployed workers and those in poorly paid precarious employment. Getting out of the EC can be viewed as one way of stopping mega payments going to line the trough which the bureaucrats are getting fat from. And this tactic is spreading.
The election of Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil is yet another example of what I have metaphorically characterised as wrecking ball politics developing in the western hemisphere. As noted above, other examples have been the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the Brexit vote in the UK. My contention is that a section of the electorate in Europe and the west have all but given up with the bourgeois establishment parties of right, left and centre and since in contemporary politics there are no viable alternatives, they are not just voting against the established parties but voting for what can appear to be wrecking ball candidates. That is to say that the voter disgust in the crumbling outdated political structures and state institutions of the west (and their elite incumbants) has not quite reached the conclusion to pull the whole economic and political edifice down and erect something different, but large numbers are happy to see a wrecking ball in the form of a maverick politician swung at certain aspects of it.
In the USA, Donald Trump, during the election campaign, promised to take a swing at the ‘job-robbing’ global industrialists, (and instead create jobs for American workers) he promised another big swing at the establishment-biased media (characterised as manufacturers of fake news) and yet another swing at the jobs-for-the-boys establishment corruption, (also metaphorically characterised as draining the Washington swamp), all of which he did in speech after speech. Since election he has continued to do so. Perhaps that was all a section of the electorate expected of him and as long as he keeps doing this he fulfils such limited expectations. Republican retention of the recent senate elections would seem to confirm this, even if losing the house does not. Other supporters of Mr Trump may have other expectations, but of course Mr Trump is a commercially based capitalist and his political wrecking ball swings have his own pro-capitalist agenda to guide it. Consequently he will only take a swing at those things get in the way of his view of how US capitalism should function.
Incidentally, the recently publicised difference between the so – called nationalism of Donald Trump and the internationalism of Macron, around the remembrance events of the 1st World War, is a manufactured sham. Capitalism and its competitive impulse cannot be contained within the geographical limits of a continent, let alone a single country, as the two World Wars demonstrated. [see ‘1914 – 18, Capitalism’s First World War’, etc., on this blog] Both of these elites – as with all global elites – have vested economic and financial interests across the globe, whether as businesses, investments or lucrative consultancies. However, with the exception of countries within the European Community, their political interests can only be served within the boundaries of the nation state. Hence, their contradictory assertions.
Brussels, while it lasts, offers yet another lucrative avenue for some failed European politicians as the trajectory of the greedy UK Kinnock family dynasty illustrates. The source of many apparent contradictions and split personalities among such elites is to be found within these two areas of the capitalist mode of production. Their economic and financial interests have long outgrown national boundaries, whilst their electoral interests have not. As a consequence, what emphasis such elites place upon each aspect or how often they irritate each other and fall out can vary from time to time. Their deeply divided minds reflect their deeply divided interests.
In France, disillusionment with establishment politics of left, right and centre saw the election of Macron as a more polished and refined European wrecking ball to take what was thought of by many voters as a much needed demolition of party political corruption – in all its forms. Predictably, this personification of a French pro-capitalist political wrecking ball has also his own class agenda and has already targeted the socio-economic interests of the very voters who helped to push him into the political arena. Now it is the turn of Brazil and here we see, perhaps more clearly, the reason for the election of a maverick with an anti-establishment agenda. The corruption of the liberal socialist left in Brazil, with its top – down state controlled agenda, has disgusted many voters who aren’t dependent upon patronising state handouts. This dependency also indicates why this form of left retains its popularity amongst those who cannot see beyond the domination of capital.
However, to continue with the slum clearance analogy: in real ‘on site’ demolition work, wrecking balls don’t always swing in the way the onlookers would like them to. Even the operators can be at risk from an accidental trajectory if it unexpectedly swings toward them. Like an unrestrained pendulum wrecking balls can actually flail this way and that and they can also be directed at one or two targets most of us would not want to be hit. And of course, that is exactly what is happening with the election of these political wrecking balls. Things are still getting worse for working people despite any amused satisfaction at the infighting among the political elite. How long it will take, or how many undeserved targets will be needed to be hit for the personified wrecking ball tactic to work its way out of the voting psychology, is not easy to calculate. However, wrecking balls, even political ones, are not tools for construction but are only good for destruction and this will eventually become clear to everyone, as will the need for an alternative strategy instead of a limited tactic.
Meanwhile, the spectacle of the pro-establishment left and right verbally jousting with each other and maintaining that only they are the arbitrators of ‘truth’ and consequently the only reliable shepherds of struggling humanity, is at least extremely amusing. Providing that is, that the working classes don’t get drawn like lambs to the slaughter into joining one political side or the other and become irreconcilably split over which set of arrogant exploiters and oppressors they would prefer to be ruled by. If this should occur it would certainly not be a laughing matter. For that way engineered political divisions can be eventually transformed by degrees into civil discord and civil discord can then be manipulated into civil wars as well as international wars.
That is to say the type of wars, in which the working classes become the two opposed sets of cannon fodder in furtherance of rival elite supported solutions to the crisis of the capitalist mode of production. This is no empty or wild assertion for such a political bifurcation and divisive downward progression occurred in at least four European countries during the 1920’s and 1930’s (Italy, Germany, France and Spain, for example) and has again occurred in the countries which took part in the 21st century Arab Spring – Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. These represent further examples of the slippery slope of choosing an apparent lesser evil and watching it become the evil it had previously manage to mask. And all those those sequential politically engineered transitions from initial hope to desolate tragedy have been anything but a laughing matter.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2018)