A Good Case In Point

“I, Spike Lee Of Sound Mind And Body Will No Longer Wear Prada Or Gucci Until They Hire Some Black Designers”T.I., Soulja Boy, and Others Call for Gucci Boycott After Blackface Scandal: ‘Apology Not Accepted’

I’ve noted arguments by Adolph Reed and Walter Benn Michaels that identity politics as currently practiced in the USA is completely consistent with the logic of capitalist development, rather than a challenge to it.

As Reed said for example:

… race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature…. As I have argued, following Walter [Benn] Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.

I could not resist noting Mr. Lee’s courageous statement as a particularly instructive example.

(If you have missed the recent controversy re Gucci’s balaclava knit top turtleneck you will certainly want to catch up.)


From Johannes Agnoli

The world market society, our present reality, is labelled globalization. Apart from its ideological status in social conflict – that is, the attempt of capital to make European labour accept unconditionally high unemployment and low wages – the term globalization presents something quite different; namely, the complete commercialization and commodification of social life. In other words, the so-called laws of the market, operating at a global scale, penetrate and condition everything from industrial production to cultural production. Bourgeois society rests upon the operation of these laws and it is these laws that transform bourgeois society into a world-wide ensemble of commodities. – Johannes Agnoli The Market, the State, and the End of History

In his interesting article on the role/viability of the liberal constitutional order under capitalist globalization, the late Italian Marxist Johannes Agnoli reminds us that globalization is both a horizontal and a vertical process, extensive and intensive.

As we consider the possibilities and limitations of the growing electoral national populist movements around the world, it is worth keep in mind his warning:

“… the question is whether the developing supranational oligarchies (the economic, the political, and the cultural) will consider it necessary to submit themselves to the inherited, bourgeois rules of constitutionality. The acuteness of the social conflicts which loom on the horizon, seems to raise much doubt that this will indeed be the case.”


Note: The entire article can be found at the sometimes interesting Communists in Situ, the site of “a loose network of people from different cities (berlin, athens, cairo, lisbon, zurich, paris, new york, rio de janeiro, etc)…not a political group, nor an organisation and there is absolutely nothing formal about it. In fact, we do not take ourselves too seriously. But we are serious about the times we live in…. [W]e do our best to explore a specific potential: roughly and approximately, almost and more or less, this potential coincides with the eternally suspended actuality of that which, for two hundred years now, is expressed with the name communism.”

From the Black Agenda Report

There just aren’t that many left sites worth reading these days for anything other than know-your-enemy purposes.  One outstanding exception to this, however, is the Black Agenda Report (“News, commentary and analysis from the black left”) which, having apparently resisted absorption by the system, consistently provides a fresh and provocative take on things.

Of course, BAR and I obviously disagree regarding the site’s insistence that any self-defensive movement by middle American whites is necessarily racist and supremacist, however, reading around that one can appreciate the articles’ consistent recognition that the the co-optation of black community leadership by the globalist system represents a betrayal of the real interests of the black working and middle classes and that the “resistance” is a ruling class ploy.

Of particular interest is an article by BAR editor Glen Ford published in July, Russiagate is a Ruling Class Diversion, which I’ve been meaning to discuss since then but, due to my habitual procrastination, am only getting around to mentioning now.

The article begins by reviewing the system’s response to Trump’s election:

Trump’s howling racism was what made Democrats believe he was the ideal candidate for a trouncing by Hillary Clinton, who could be counted on to escalate Barack Obama’s general military offensive and to aggressively pursue TPP and other corporate governance arrangements…. When Clinton lost, the ruling class panicked and resolved to bring down the Orange Menace no matter the cost to U.S. institutions and to the appearance of stability in the very bosom of the empire. The rolling coup was begun.

Mr. Ford correctly goes on to claim, in terms we would not use, that Trump’s movement is fundamentally racial at its core:

Donald Trump proved that his white base is more enthusiastic to support a candidate that affirms white supremacist “values” (yes, that’s what they value most) than they are about maintaining an aggressive military posture everywhere in the world… These same voters were presumed to be the most militaristic cohort in the nation, dependable fodder to elect fire-breathing war hawks. But clearly, Trump’s base — composed of a majority of whites – cares more about white supremacy in the U.S. than waging endless wars abroad. And, they either hate “free trade,” or don’t care enough about it either way to abandon their White Man’s President.

Looking forward, Mr. Ford recognizes that there is no going back for the Republicans or the Democrats:

Trump still retains the support of his white majority. Most importantly, these white supremacists feel affirmed, as “a people,” by his presence, and what they perceive as Trump’s loyalty to them. They are feeling “Great Again.” And they are reveling in their national strength, as a bloc…. This re-energized, aggressively white supremacist, intensely self-aware White Man’s Party will assert its permanent, militant and very large presence in the U.S. political spectrum, no matter what happens to Donald Trump…. and they now hate the Democratic Party in a far deeper way than before, when it was perceived as too concerned with Blacks and other “minorities.”… The “witch-hunt” against Trump is perceived as an elite mob out to lynch the “deplorables” — or, at the least, to decertify them as decent Americans.

As far as the ruling class is concerned, this transformation of the Republican Party into an implicitly white party will force the bulk of it into the Democratic Party, which will essentially become the sole party of the plutocracy.

… the establishment corporate Republicans that Trump crushed in winning the GOP nomination will not win back his followers’ allegiance unless they become more like Trump, i.e. more blatantly white supremacist. Which is decidedly not the corporate way, in the 21st century. Thus, corporate America, wedded as it is to a “diversity” doctrine that means little to the masses of Black people but is a red flag to the White Man’s Party “deplorables,” will be forced to identify more publicly with the Democrats, or pretend to be apolitical.

With a decreasing ability to mobilize the majority of white voters, the Democrats will be forced to increasingly rely on Blacks and other minorities for their electoral numbers, however this, in turn creates significant difficulties for the elites at the top of the Democratic Party, since the minority base would like to see significant economic change.

The Trump phenomena — and the resultant ruling class hysteria — has stolen the corporations’ option to pose as “non-partisan” actors in U.S. politics. They are forced deeper into the Democratic camp, creating further contradictions for the “inclusive” party, which must ultimately answer to a more clearly defined — and also more self-aware – constituency of the “left,” most broadly speaking, if it is to preserve the duopoly.   This other half of the country, slightly bigger than Trump’s white majority base, is composed of a minority of whites, virtually all Blacks, and large majorities of Latinos and other minorities. It is way to the left of the Democratic Party and roiling with economic demands that the Lords of Capital will not, and cannot, fulfill while keeping on the path of a global race-to-the-bottom and deepening austerity, enforced by endless wars.

In order to maintain this unstable bloc of top and bottom against the middle, Mr. Ford tells us, the elites must come up with a diversion, otherwise they run the risk of a fundamental and, to them, unfavorable re-alignment of American politics:

Therefore, there must be Russiagate hysteria — or some other fictitious obsession — primarily to divert the attentions of the “left” half of the electorate, most of which is broadly social democratic (the Black component is the most left-leaning, and peace-oriented). If the duopoly were to collapse, and the various cohorts of the U.S. political spectrum were reorganized along ideological lines, the two biggest parties would be the Trumpist White Man’s party and a social democratic party with a platform to the left of 2016 Bernie Sanders, with the (rightwing) Democrats and establishment Republicans coming together in an avowedly “centrist” party, the smallest of the three. Space would also be created for more radical and libertarian politics.

The ruling class is determined to prevent such a scenario from occurring, and thus needs a permanent, all-consuming diversion. But the Russiagate hysteria — or something else like it — cannot be maintained indefinitely; U.S. political structures cannot withstand such an institutional assault by the ruling class, itself.

As interesting as Mr. Ford’s take on things is, I need to point to several errors.  In the first place, while Mr. Ford correctly sees that corporate America is committed to multiculturalism, he misses the fact that it is precisely the discourse of “anti-racism” and diversity that welds the Democratic coalition together far more effectively than claims of Russian interference.  It is the demonization of the white middle strata that most effectively maintains the power of the Wall Street Democrats via their mobilization of the Black and Latino communities, not “Russiagate” (which is clearly not achieving any real popular traction in spite of the media’s relentless flogging).

Mr. Ford also misses the fact that, when it comes to economic policies, any white populist movement is as likely to espouse many of the sort of New Dealish policies that pass for “socialism” today as is a left movement liberated from the control of the centrist Democrats, especially as even center-right corporate interests decamp to the Democrats.

While Ford is correct that the Trump phenomenon reflects a defensive white movement which, as I’ve said elsewhere, can only be understood in the context of the combination of the arc of Black protest beginning with the death of Trayvon Martin through the events of Ferguson and the growth of Black Lives Matter, he is incorrect to reduce it to that.  Trump’s ability to win, for example, a significant number of Latino votes reflects a parallel and often overlapping civic nationalist impulse spanning racial groups.

As with many on the “far” right, Ford seems to ignore the possibility of the simultaneous growth of a populist civic nationalist movement and identitarian movements, since arguably globalization and the “race to the bottom” he describes are profoundly inconsistent with the material interests of middle and working class Americans of all nationalities.

And so, while I don’t say that it is likely given the reality of racial politics in America, there is at least the theoretical possibility of the development of a plebian anti-globalist/anti-corporate bloc involving various racial/ethnic groups pursuing a policy of economic nationalism in the event of a break-up of the Democratic Party coalition.


(For more on some of the issues raised here, see my Trump as National Bourgeois, 5PT – Nationalism, Tribalism or Identitarianism and On the Left and “Fascism”.)

What’s Left?

Pity the poor left, reduced to shilling for the military, the CIA, the FBI, the foreign policy establishment, the Democratic Party, various Silicon Valley billionaires, and now the “bourgeois press” (as we used to call it when there actually was a left).

For most of the left, this absorption into the system has gone almost unnoticed, however there remain a few individuals swimming (with great difficulty) against the current.

An interesting example of the agonies endured by some in an effort to maintain an independent position can be found in the introduction to a 2015 article by Paul Street republished yesterday at CounterPunch: Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People.

Street’s article is now prefaced by a groveling, paragraphs-long apology for daring to take a critical stance toward what any leftist once recognized as one of the pillars of the system:

I detest the malignantly racist, sexist, narcissistic, and authoritarian pathological liar and bully Donald Trump on many different levels, and I share none of his sick world view, but the corporate media really is, well (to use Trump’s recurrent phrase), “the enemy of the people.”

Here below is an essay I first published (on the venerable radical Website ZNet) in the late summer of 2015…. It was written from a Marxist and international socialist and anti-imperialist perspective and not at all from a Trumpian, white-nationalist standpoint.

He goes on to wring his hands over what he calls

… recent bizarre developments. “Liberal” CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, the Washington Post and much of the rest of the corporate news establishment are standing up against Trump in defense of blood-soaked U.S.-imperial spy-masters, surveillance chiefs, liars, and assassins like former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – and in defense of the supposedly noble imperial project that these and other current and former top U.S. intelligence and military operatives on Herr Trump’s security clearance “Enemies List” have long “served” in pursuit of what CNN and MSNBC talking heads absurdly call (no joke) “speaking truth to power.”

And, just in case you didn’t realize that, yes, he hates Trump too:

Of course, nobody should confuse my position (supported with references to brilliant left media and propaganda critics like Alex Carey, Ed Herman, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Robert McChesney, and Stephen Macek)in 2015 (no different in any fundamental way from my position today) with that of white-nationalist thugs like Trump and Sean Hannity.

No, an enemy (in this case Trump) of some of our enemies (Brennan, Clapper, and much of the rest of the U.S-imperial establishment) is not necessarily our friend or ally. But that hardly means that everything this (truly hideous) enemy (Trump) says is false… or that we on the Left need to reflexively and absurdly jump to the defense of imperial criminals at the instigation of that (well, yes) “enemy of the people” the U.S. corporate and so-called mainstream war, news, and entertainment media.

What is shocking about Street’s argument is not it’s critique of the media, which is typical stuff – or at least once was:

Consistent with its possession as a leading and money-making asset of the nation’s wealthy elite, the United States corporate and commercial mass media is a bastion of power-serving propaganda and deadening twaddle designed to keep the U.S. citizenry subordinated to capital and the imperial U.S. state.

No – the shocking thing is that for the left, publishing this now requires paragraphs of apology and qualification.

Forgotten but not Gone

I’ve fallen silent lately, partly due to the distractions of work but more as a result of my political disorientation arising from the disappointing (but not surprising) trajectory of the Trump presidency, combined with the failure/self-destruction of the “alt-right” and the inability of any meaningful elements of the left to develop a politics truly independent of the ruling class.

It is clear to me that we find ourselves in an interregnum.  The societal crisis which gave rise to the Trump movement promises only to grow worse.  The national populist genie cannot be put back in the bottle in spite of the vicious counter-offensive launched against it.  There is, however, no indication of a way forward and no political movement that, even if it lacks analytical clarity, seems to personify the needs of our people the way the pre-electoral Trump movement did.

What comes next and, more importantly, how we can effect what comes next are the critical issues to be addressed.  So, to those few who have not forgotten me, let me say that I wish I had the answers, but at least I’m thinking about it…

RIP – Tom Wolfe

I was sad to read this morning of Tom Wolfe’s death.

One of the few public intellectuals not afflicted with a crippling case of political correctness (or a paralyzing fear of running afoul of the same), Wolfe was a refreshingly honest and amazingly talented voice. His fearless willingness to openly speak his mind on “sensitive” topics was a testament to his courage and to a certain invulnerability which only his great talent could provide.

Here is an excerpt from a December, 2017 Le Figaro interview with Wolfe which may be found in translation at The Europeans blog:

Political correctness, which I nick-name PC for ‘police citoyenne‘ [‘citizen police’], was born from the Marxist idea that everything that separates human beings socially must be banished, in order to avoid one social group dominating another. It turned out, ironically, that political correctness became a weapon in the hands of the ‘dominant classes’, a notion of behaviour that was well-fashioned to conceal their ‘social dominance’ and sooth their consciences.

Little by little, political correctness has even become a marker for this ‘domination’ — and an instrument of social control…

In Radical Chic, I charted the emergence of what we might call today the “caviar Left” or “limousine progressivism”, that is, a Left that is largely emancipated from all empathy with the American working class. A Left that adores contemporary art, identifies itself with exotic causes and the suffering of minorities, but despises the “rednecks” of Ohio.

Note: The Europeans is an excellent blog, mainly (entirely?) providing translations of interesting interviews and articles from the French media. My only complaint is that the author doesn’t post more frequently, although I guess I am hardly one to talk.