Friday 18 September 2020

Uncomfortable Choices.

Dangerous Times: This will be the choice confronting those coming of age in the 2020s. Embrace Neoliberalism’s belief in racial and sexual equality; adopt its secular and scientific world view; and cultivate the technocratic, multicultural, global outlook required of those who keep the machinery of hyper-capitalism humming. Or, throw your support behind the defenders of the national people’s community; agitate for an end to free-trade and globalisation; and use any means necessary (including violence) to uphold the social, sexual and racial hierarchies of your ancestors. That is to say – become a fascist.

THE GREAT MORAL CHOICE of the 1930s was between communism and fascism. The so-called “Great Powers” which had not yet succumbed to fascism: Britain, France and the USA; did not strike those in search of a better world as its most likely midwives. The first two still presided over vast empires in which wealth and liberty were allocated strictly according to skin pigmentation. At home, Uncle Sam followed a very similar distribution scheme, even if, internationally, he presented himself as the enemy of European imperialism. When push came to shove, however, and most especially if that shove came from below, the liberal democracies proved to be neither liberal nor democratic. The Soviet Union, or at least the version of it presented in the newsreels, seemed to be reaching for something higher. A future dedicated to something more uplifting than the doctrine of white supremacy and the global looting it underwrote.

The great moral choice of the twenty-first century is no longer between fascism and communism. The history of “actually existing socialism” – a devastating human tragedy made all the more unbearable by the sheer scale of its multiple and murderous betrayals – utterly discredited the Soviet blueprint. Tragically, fascism has fared a great deal better than its historical rival. Adolf Hitler may have failed – a betrayal of sorts – but his belief in the superiority and right-to-rule of the Aryan peoples never wavered. His ghost, and the spectre of his ideology, have proved alarmingly easy to raise. Which leaves neoliberalism as the only “actually existing” contender to fascism redux. Neither a happy, nor a particularly comfortable, choice. But, as the neoliberals are so fond of asking: “What’s the alternative?”

It is the ongoing inability of the Left to answer this question that makes the present era so hard to bear. Since actually existing socialism blipped-off history’s screen in 1991, capitalism has had nothing to restrain its worst “animal spirits”. The social ruin produced by so much unconstrained greed has, entirely predictably, provided an ideal breeding-ground for fascist ideas.

The smashing of the West’s trade unions in the 1980s, and the contemporaneous ideological subversion of the social-democratic political parties they had created, left a yawning chasm between the casualties and the beneficiaries of the new, neoliberal, world order. Stripped of effective economic and political defences, the western working-class was left to wither and rot as the factories that had sustained it for nearly two centuries were shut down and their jobs shipped off to China, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

The upshot? Millions of desperate white men, gripped by a toxic nostalgia for the days when being Caucasian and male “still meant something”, found themselves transformed into a tempting political prize. But although the parties of the racist right were successful in persuading members of the decaying working-class to give them their votes; those same voters were singularly unsuccessful in persuading the all-conquering neoliberals to bring back their secure, well-paying jobs. This resentful remnant would become, indeed, the “grapes of wrath”; a bitter vintage just waiting for the trampling feet of opportunistic populist politicians.

Which presented the hyper-capitalist, hyper-globalised economy with a really big problem. For the One Percent who clip its ticket, and the narrow social layer of managers and professionals who make it run, it is absolutely vital that their delicate economic mechanism be kept as far away from stupid people as possible. The extreme sophistication and complexity of the science and technology that make hyper-capitalism work are violently allergic to ignorance. The woeful responses of populist regimes to the global Covid-19 pandemic have made this agonisingly clear – in both human and economic terms.

Hyper-capitalism and its neoliberal defenders cannot, therefore, allow a repeat of the fatal alliance between the fascist brutes who seized control of the German state in 1933, and the highly-sophisticated civil servants, managers and professionals who, in spite of Nazi brutality, kept the German economy and German society functioning until the bitter end. Neoliberalism’s hyper-capitalist china-shop, and the clumsy ignorance of fascist bulls, are a dangerous combination – as Trump’s America proves.

Neoliberalism’s dilemma is how to keep fascism at bay without raising the spectre of communism. Or, more bluntly, how to combat right-wing populism without resurrecting the politics of class conflict? The solution which presented itself most persuasively to neoliberal ideologues was “identity politics”. By shifting the focus of left-wing attention away from the injuries of class: inflicted by capitalism; and directing it instead towards the injuries of race, gender and sexuality: inflicted by whites, men and straights; identity politics made the broad political unity needed for a successful struggle against the capitalist system much more difficult to attain.

Better still, by branding whites, men and straights as the “structural” enemies of justice and equality, identity politics set its followers on a collision course with the very same white working-class males the far-right were seeking to recruit. Neoliberalism, which has always been supportive of racial and sexual equality (both of which enlarge the capitalist marketplace) seized the opportunity presented by this bitter cultural clash to inoculate the next generation of professionals and managers against the fascist distempers unleashed by their unenlightened brethren. Hyper-capitalism is now ready to embrace the “woke” – and heaven help any employee who declines to polish her corporate employer’s public image by challenging, even privately (via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) the new orthodoxy.

Increasingly, this will be the choice confronting those coming of age in the 2020s. Embrace Neoliberalism’s belief in racial and sexual equality; adopt its secular and scientific world view; and cultivate the technocratic, multicultural, global outlook required of those who keep the machinery of hyper-capitalism humming. Or, throw your support behind the defenders of the national people’s community; agitate for an end to free-trade and globalisation; and use any means necessary (including violence) to uphold the social, sexual and racial hierarchies of your ancestors. That is to say – become a fascist.

Neither of these options has anything to offer the poor. Neither of them will restrain the rich. Neither will do anything like enough, or anything at all, to combat climate change. Neoliberalism believes itself to be rational. Fascism claims to reflect the natural order. But the followers of both ideologies remain content to be carried on the backs of human-beings whose rights and aspirations they do not consider worthy of serious regard. It was to these people that the socialists used to speak.

“Workers of the world, unite!”, cried Karl Marx. “You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!”

If only he and his socialist successors had given a little more thought to how they should win the capitalists’ world – and what to do with it when they did.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 September 2020.


Anonymous said...

"But, as the neoliberals are so fond of asking: “What’s the alternative?” It is the ongoing inability of the Left to answer this question that makes the present era so hard to bear."

Yanis Varoufakis has now given an answer too that very question:

Tom Hunter said...

Yanis Varoufakis?

Danae Stratou’s magnificent house on the Greek island of Aegina, with its commanding view of the Aegean sparkling beyond the infinity swimming pool, where he outlined his belief in equality. To continue the rock’n’roll theme, Stratou, the daughter of a wealthy Greek industrialist...

Stratou is Yanis's wife. Making Yanis yet another wealthy communist with no idea of working class toil and struggle, or even how to make money. Yeah, communist history is replete with genius leaders like this.

Nick J said...

It is very obvious to me that neoliberalism currently subscribes to equality of outcome for anything that doesn't cost those at the top.

One thing that scares the crap out of neolib is equality of opportunity, simply because that would result in competition for what they quietly seek to keep away from competition. It's the old boys club and the old school tie, it's the cost of entry, it's monopolistic or cartel behaviour. To those that already have will be given.

Meanwhile it's fine for us to fight for equal outcomes for dwarfs on fashion catwalks because it costs neolibs nothing. And it's a great distraction from their existing real privelege. Kids aren't dumb, they see it, don't assume that they are all wokester convenient fools.

Jens Meder said...

Dear Lefties.
Was not the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" of the Soviet Union actually more harshly fascist (governing by lethal dictatorship) than Mussolini's in Italy and even comparable to (or worse?) than Hitler's in numbers persecuted and killed ?
And isn't the Marxist "vision" of workers "having nothing to lose by destroying the shackles of capitalism" pure ignorance or deliberate deception, because there is nothing but hand-to-mouth insecurity and poverty without the "shackles of capitalism', which would have to be imposed by an obviously strongly fascist (totalitarian) government of govt. monopoly capitalism -

unless the workers were willing to take up the efforts, austerity, responsibilities and
risks of capital creation, ownership and management themselves ?

Marx did not mention that possibility, but perhaps the more realistic modern Left could at least start to investigate, discuss and debate the pros and cons of that alternative, because if they don't, what is there to stop the liberal Right to discover the lofty, poverty-less prospects of a 100% of citizens' personal property (capital) owning democracy ?

Or is the latter not an attractive alternative to the status quo ?

John Hurley said...

Listening to A Slice of Heaven: Choices Margaret Mutu tells us whites wont be in charge: "you go down Queenstreet and you hear multiple languages. Robin Peace says we should learn multiple langauges because "we can't have a situation where migrants come here and we don't have social cohesion".
Jon Haidt uses a metaphor of the elephant and the rider. The rider is reason the elephant is emotion/ intuition. My intuition is strongly that the above situation is wrong. Why should we adapt to them. In the same episode a couple of 2nd generations tell of their parents experiences. One was walking around Christchurch and stopped to look at a garden. The people came out. He thought they were going to chase him out but they invited him in. The other similarly. Later though "too many" - "stirred up by politicians" (as though they cause it or should ignore people's concerns for the cause). My intuitions tell me that I am normal although to someone like Simon Cohen I'm "racist". Jon Haidt also says multicultural society is a miracle and fragile. He predicts that (also thanks to social media) there will be a catastrophic failure of American democracy. "It is hard to maintain a system when trust goes out of it". Any talk about fascism needs to be seen in Robin Peace's context.

KJT said...

We had the answer from 1935 to 1970. A State predicated on equality of opportunity, a fair go and enough redistribution to avoid extremes of poverty or wealth.

Socialism that worked, in other words.

Of course those who benefited from extremes of wealth, had to fuck it up.

Jens Meder said...

Hmmm Anonymous - would not a much less complicated and "pre-ordained' or "prescribed" form of people's capitalism than suggested by Yanis Varoufakis - and therefore politically more feasible - be in granting the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start unconditionally to all citizens from "cradle to grave" who have not received it - together with a publicity drive on the personal and social benefits of at least some minimally meaningful level (e.g. close to home ownership value) wealth ownership by all citizens eventually ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

So much wrong with this, but some preliminary comments.
1. The idea that somehow neoliberals want equality for women and minorities so that they can spend money – on the contrary, neoliberals are quite happy with quite a bit of poverty, and if that happens to be minorities so much the better – as they are mostly white. Equality is something you only read about in economics textbooks. In the real world they don't care. Of course most of them belong to the international white ruling class, who have more in common with each other than with the people of the country they happen to be citizens of.
2. The idea that somehow neoliberals steered women and minorities into identity politics – sorry but that's nonsense. It deprives women and minorities of both intelligence and agency. And ignores the fact that decades of social democratic governments in many countries – like New Zealand, Australia, and Britain did nothing to solve the problems faced by women and minorities. Perhaps they were just tired of waiting?
3. Are you denying that there is structural racism? In which case I suggest you read Eduardo Bonilla – Silva's 'Racism Without Racists'. You might then consider that problems associated with race are entangled with that of class, but separate enough so that people realise that they have not been solved anywhere by an emphasis on class rather than race. There was racism in the USSR, there is racism in China. If the left can't solve these problems why on earth do they deserve support?
4.I keep saying this, but I think it bears repeating – until you can ensure that the outcomes and experiences of the political process for minorities is the same as it is for the majority, you are going to get identity politics, and it's almost certainly a good thing. But even if it's not a good thing it's an inevitable thing until the left gets off its arse.

Rex Harrison said...

The alternative? None of the isms of today are adequate for an increasingly globalised village. We need to start from first principles - not from defending an existing ism. The first "first principle" must be the recognition of the one-ness of mankind, recognising the value of the diversity of the many races that make up humanity. From this follow a number of other principles. For example "O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind, and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully" and "O rulers of the earth! Be reconciled among yourselves, that ye may need no more armaments save in a measure to safeguard your territories and dominions." --Baha'u'llah

By following these and other principles a society will emerge free of enslavement by the current isms.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

If you are unable to comprehend reasonably straightforward English, GS, I'm not sure there's much point in responding to your dogmatic outpourings.

For example, I never suggested that neoliberalism created identity politics or (in your case) critical race theory out of whole cloth as part of some sort of conspiratorial master-plan. Merely that neoliberal theorists and politicians were quick to perceive how helpful these ideas could be in advancing their own project.

This is not to deny, however, that classical liberalism, out of which neoliberalism grew, does, indeed, promote and uphold human equality and, crucially, equality of opportunity.

Ideological systems work, in my view and experience, because they address real issues and concerns. The neoliberalism of the 1980s struck a chord with the children of the 1960s and 70s precisely because it celebrated individual effort and insight and castigated the heavy-handed interventions of an overbearing state.

Just recall the themes that made Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" such a popular novel (and film) and then consider the neoliberals' pitch to the baby-boomers.

You've spent too may years in academia, GS, and conceded too much ground to the fashionable nostrums which have so traduced our universities' proud traditions of free inquiry and free expression.

In short, you have forgotten Nietzsche's advice about fighting monsters and staring into abysses.

John Hurley said...

Rex Harrison
Richard Dawkins says we cannot perceive race (anymore than we can not perceive colour).
Also life is struggle and much of that is competition for scarce resources. As a consequence all species learn that ethnocentrism is a winning strategy. That means that ethnocentric tendencies compete with "recognition of the one-ness of mankind". It is a common culture that bonds us together. Ultimately we are transferring our genes into the next generations and if not myself then my co-ethnics.

Our society is run by a group of fools especially essentialising identity versus assimilation.

In the newspapers the editorials are resorting to ad hominem argument ("in the past we have had a lot of irate callers and letters to the editor but hopefully now we are more mature;nuanced; respectful; not motivated by fear. Te reo is "the language of the land"; lands don't have languages. lands have people; people have languages etc). They have diversified New Zealanders and now you can read the most vicious version of the founding of modern NZ by an Indian or be told that "Maori is the only unique part of this country that needs to be upheld and there just needs to be solidarity" Julie Zhu and Paul Spoonley.

In London Sadiq Khan is taken to task by Peter whittle. Sadiq Khan says much of London's heritage "is from a bygone era" and the Labour council committee will decide what is to be "celebrated". A black council woman on Zoom tried to have him ejected. Somehow diversity [forced smiles] is supposed to be greater than it's parts. Instead we have a closing of ranks and institutionalising of public discourse . I think white supremacy is a red herring. Declaring that there is no difference between white supremacy and white nationalism (Eric Kaufman uses ethno-traditional nationalism) means not marking your own social engineering.

Odysseus said...

Communism and fascism are two sides of the same coin - murderous totalitarian ideologies of the Left. The Nazis were socialists with ethno-nationalist characteristics. The modern political scale actually runs between individualism on the one hand, which is generally libertarian, to collectivism on the other, which is generally "socialist". "Neoliberalism" as practised is a hybrid - touting the responsibility of the individual by pursuing notions like "user pays" but happy for governments to socialize the costs imposed by monopolies and other unfair, non-transparent practices by corporates when they get into trouble think of the GFC bailouts or the rape of the Greek economy to repay German bankers. We have to be smarter than slavishly adhering to any of these discredited approaches.

Jens Meder said...

Since only wealth creation and ownership is capable of delivering anything desired on the material level, such as enhanced economic, medical and welfare security, education, more freedom of opportunity and ability for useful or non-useful (unprofitable) hobby actions -

what else can be a more constructively all(rational)people-unifying initiative than agreeing on a systematic effort to achieve at least a minimally meaningful (or higher) level personal wealth ownership by all citizens eventually, with 100% of citizen participation in the effort, including (for the sake of moral unity and equality) even the incapacitated and other welfare beneficiaries ?

If the latter is thought of as nonsense, then is it not a fact, that it is actually in practice already through our taxation revenue based NZ Super Fund contributions?

sumsuch said...

Being lazy, isn't this all covered under the 30s? We, and our allies, took the social democratic middle way then. The difference is ... too terrible to explanate. Thin torsos then and thick now -- complacence, which is lack of sense. By the(fucken) way our 30s is 100 times then. Shit-kick the ball out the stained glass windows of conventions.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

One of the stupidest things I ever heard on this blog or for that matter pretty much anywhere else was something like "What a pity that Siouxsie Wiles had the ear of the Prime Minister." Who would they prefer to have the air of the Prime Minister Sean the diesel mechanic? We've seen what ignoring "academia" does for the Covid response and the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Of course, when conservatives say "academia" they don't usually mean physicists or engineers, simply those people who tell them things that make them feel uncomfortable – that they don't actually want to hear. And unfortunately Chris you seem to have caught the conservative bug of criticising such people. It's somewhat ironic that you should use the Nietzsche quote then.
It isn't academia that is leading the black lives at a movement in the US, something that you no doubt would criticise as "identity politics". It's people who have simply had enough of being treated differently because of their race. If you conservatives were to listen to academics, and question them – in fact hold conversations with them instead of stereotyping them, you might learn something. Not every problem can be solved by taking an axe into the bush and living off the land, or using number eight fencing wire.

Sam said...

No, when comrade Stalin made an unfunny joke you still had to laugh.

John Hurley said...

On the rocks

aberfoyle said...

I know some in the left who say give the money exploiters 10% of their wealth and tell them to f--- off,others who say, lets take it all, all their wealth, and some who say, taking all their wealth would be a step toward what Hitler done, creating a kleptocracy in the name of national socialism, or as today we call fascism without the genocide.

Is capitalism not a dept exploit money lending usury system reliant on large profits every financial year bigger and better, exploiting profits from those in like a church, tithed to its every exploit of right of redeem not of soul, but if not paid property and goods redeemable if fault of financial default.and that is the hindrance to social reform and Social care, the Tithe to Capitalism!s exploit of not only financial usury but also the loss of Home and the possessions within, and also the loss of a safe comfortable life and neighbourhood.

These sort of things is why the left its support OUTSIDE THOSE PREPARED TO STAND UP, have the Kiwi silent majority behind those standing up.

John Hurley said...

Watch the "expert on the far-right" Paul Spoonley @ 5:16 [above video]

John Hurley said...

Meng Foon

[45:27] and um in terms of the internet stuff right you know the bobby on the street the policeman on the street back in the 70s and 80s and even earlier was a great deterrent to crime so i was just thinking you know as someone actually posted hate crime on or hate speech on the internet why doesn't um the government or the service provider says right we're going to close you up for one month that is the punishment right and also um a enforcement body to actually ident.. well they know who the isp address is of all these people they go and knock on the door and says look um
someone in your house is actually producing hate stuff in your household and they need to stop it. Once they actually caught out i'm sure that a lot will actually stop it's only because people can get away with it at the present time and they've not been called out and they've it's coward brave warriors in their own homes doing these sort of things so there's some practical steps that if i had the power i would do but we'll continue to
lobby with great optimism that hopefully more particularly our politicians will actually make the rules actually stronger you know the uh in terms of um the hate speech crime and the the threshold itself i mean once upon a time we used to burn women that were witches and chop people's heads off beat people with whoops and all that sort of stuff
well that doesn't happen now then as time goes on there's actually less tolerance of that stuff and i don't know why the thresholds that aren't actually a little bit lower or at least have an opportunity to actually provide some um muscle and not with bus ticket stuff to actually be a little bit more punitive and create a little bit of fear and people that actually create these sort of things

aberfoyle said...

Heh! John,is not America in the control of egotist capitalism!s ego outspoken and full of corporate lies deception, and contrary to their speak care of hope and human care without exploit of creed and religion. John, ever marched as the police batter down.