On ”strasserism” and the decay of the left.

The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.

— Karl Marx

Long haired preachers come out every night

Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right

But when asked about something to eat

They will answer with voices so sweet

You will eat, by and by

In the glorious land in the sky

Work and pray,  live on hay

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

— Joe Hill

There is, as happens so often these days, a spectre haunting the imagination of the western left. That specter is most commonly dubbed ”strasserism”, though it has other names, such as ”redbrownism”, ”nazbolism”, or more unwieldy names like ”Angela Nagle leftism”. When I came into the left at the beginning of the last decade, these terms did not exist in any meaningful way. As far as me and the people I knew were concerned, ”strasserite” was an incredibly obscure term used exclusively by online neo-nazis is their petty, internicine conflicts. None of us paid them or their silly ideological totems any heed.

At the beginning of the first half of the 2010’s, the left I was a part of was finally starting to feel hopeful again, after the disorientation and loss of direction that came with the fall of actually existing socialism. During the long winter years of the 90’s and early 00’s, people either hopelessly and bitterly clung to a prophecy that everyone else had now fully discarded, or they tried finding new boutique causes to replace the ones that had failed. To take my native Sweden as an example, two of the more significant new causes were opposing the neo-nazis and opposing globalization. There were some victories – or at least, people liked to think so – but the idea of actually achieving political power was dead in everything but name. The left mostly came to accept the role as the social conscience of liberalism, or in the case of antifascism, fancied itself as the Batman protecting end-of-history Gotham City. The streets of triumphant liberal society might have been gritty, the politicians corrupt and undeserving, but antifascist Batman still rose out of bed every night to protect the craven and the low from monsters lurking in the shadows. Or so they liked to think. Most of the time, they just hung out and drank beer.

This political and intellectual period was already seriously winding down by the time I joined, on the heels of the great financial crisis in 2008. A few years on, and people were openly talking about how Marx was right, how capitalism and neoliberalism had failed, and that the left possessed the only alternative to the powers that be. Battered and humiliated, but not fully beaten, and with the tools and the will to get back into the fight – that was how much of the left saw itself when I joined it.

All the details of the intervening decade are beyond the scope of this essay, but it’s fair to say that the left today is more broken and politically defunct than at any point since the fall of the Soviet Union. In fact, a case can be made that the crisis facing the left today is more serious than the crisis of the late 80s and early 90s. ”Left populism” as a political model has failed. Jeremy Corbyn has presided over the worst labour party showing in nearly a century. The ”Sanders moment” is over, and there’s no sequel to any of these failed left projects anywhere in sight. This decline is likely terminal and irreversible, because unlike the decline in the 90s, the left no longer has any significant working class support. In fact, with each new ”left revival” a la Corbyn, the constant bleeding of working class support only seems to accelerate. Comrade Bhaskar at Jacobin magazine touts the (in)famous AOC as the next new great presidential candidate and hope for global socialism, but anyone with an IQ somewhere north of the melting point of water – or at least, anyone who doesn’t have a paper he’s eagerly trying to sell you – knows that this is a truly desperate flight of fancy that will never come to pass, not in a million years.

A certain Marty McMarty recently recorded a sort of post-mortem of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and I would recommend everyone who hasn’t to give it a listen, as it lays out most of the central contradictions that are at play within the left. Being familiar with the sort of analysis Marty makes will be useful here, because the aim of this essay is not to offer a critique of the left, or a plan for the left going forward. The goal is instead to explain why the left is in a panic over this thing it has taken to calling strasserism, give an outline of the true political content of this thing the left has taken to calling strasserism, and explain why the left cannot stop it, nor avoid its eventual demise at the hands of us, its dear friends and old comrades.

We first begin with the obvious. Strasserism does not actually exist. Nobody reads the Strasser brothers, not even the neo-nazis who threw accusations of strasserism at each other decades before anyone else. Nobody outside of Russia – and for that matter, nobody inside of Russia – cares about the intellectual output of the National Bolshevik party, if such an output were to be shown to exist. The reason the term strasserism has been brought out from the dustbin of history by the contemporary left is because said left is currently in the middle of a social and political panic, and this panic has at least two central functions. Firstly, panics such as these are one way for a group of believers to deal with a situation where prophecy fails. For the left, the only thing it knows today is constant failure. Like any religious cult, the failure of prophecy can only be redeemed by shedding the blood of those members identified as polluting the faith. The price of social cohesion is the turn toward constant purges.

Secondly, the panic over strasserism marks the central class contradiction that the left is completely unable to resolve. Here, it is important to understand that the way this class contradiction is papered over is by pretty much everyone agreeing to hide it in plain sight. It is not controversial or shocking in the slightest to point out that an organisation like the DSA consists almost entirely of middle class people, or that identity politics scares away workers, or anything of the sort. You will not be branded a ”strasserite” for saying any of this, because everyone knows it. In fact, it is in some way necessary for the ideological reproduction of the left that everyone involved in it sort of makes fun of just how ”out of touch with the workers” it often is.

Partaking in this ritual of self-depreciation does not mark you as an outsider. It is only if you break the rules of the game, only if you acknowledge the man behind the curtain, only if you point to the basic truth hidden behind this outer layer of ironic self-mockery that you become one of us, one of the so-called strasserites. This truth is a fairly simple marxist truth. Classes have class interests, and so the idea that you could have a political movement – the left – that was well and truly dominated by one class, yet still wholly committed to the class interests of another class, but also just too bumbling and out of touch to ever do a good job of looking out for the class it supposedly ”really” cares about is, to put it extremely mildly, a dubious idea. It is much more likely that a political movement dominated by one class will also be more or less entirely dedicated to pursuing the class interests of that class, while also being unable to take any strong action that goes against the interests of its dominant class.

Making fun of the left is pretty much the only real ”political activity” that a majority of contemporary leftists partake in. But this is, to borrow an argument familiar to fans of Žižek, an inherently non-transgressive act. It supports the idea that the left is just too wacky, silly, lazy or stupid to achieve its true goal, which is still assumed to be the emancipation of working people or some such. True transgression within this context is pointing out that the left’s class position is incoherent. Amusingly, the editor of Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson, recently got into hot water over a voiceclip of him saying that socialism would have been much better if Marx hadn’t been born, but this in fact makes Robinson’s political position less incoherent than the majority of his angry critics. There was a socialism before Marx, and it was utopian and based on human reason and moral progress. There are good reasons for why this brand of socialism fell out of favor, but within its context one can definitely hold the view that a small class of enlightened and educated well-to-do people, acting out of the goodness of their own hearts, will eventually bring about socialism by lifting up the poor, racist and/or stupid proles. You don’t have to agree with it, but it fits together.

A central premise of marxist, materialist or scientific socialism, on the other hand, is that classes simply cannot act this way. Classes pursue their own interests and act politically not out of greed, or generosity, or any other personal bit of sentiment, but due to historical and economical pressures. It is this very simple fact that makes the ”materialism” of someone like Bhaskar Sunkara at Jacobin magazine, and of most leftists of his stripe in general, so incredibly contradictory. For it to work, there has to be an unstated agreement among the faithful to never seriously use the tools of marxist analysis on the left itself. Any and all self-examination must remain on the level of personal discussion (”can person so and so really be a socialist, when her parents are so rich?”). The punishment for transgression against this agreement, for breaking the most sacred code of Omerta the modern left has, is swift and severe: you will get cancelled for this, and you will be added to the ever growing list of ”strasserites” and ”secret nazis” who tried to lure the faithful away from the true path. What happened to Angela Nagle is instructive in this regard; her article, The Left Case Against Open Borders, was an attempt to argue against unrestricted immigration from a class-based, materialist perspective. It’s quite likely – and also quite amusing – that she would probably have recieved less sustained hate online if she had written that immigration shouldn’t be allowed as long as non-white people talk funny and smell bad.

I should point out that I myself got ”cancelled” in early 2017, in much the same way as Nagle. In my case, the offending essay was an attempt to lay out why the swedish left constantly failed to make inroads among immigrant voters, even though it saw itself as the natural home for these voters. To give readers an idea of the general situation, the swedish Left party (Vänsterpartiet, literally ”the left party”) actually registers less support among immigrant women than the ”anti-immigrant”,” anti-feminist party”, the Sweden Democrats, do. The ”chuds and racists” of SD that the Left party loves to make fun of are quite literally taken more seriously and remain more popular among immigrants than them, and this problem has only gotten worse with time! To cut a long story short, the essay argued that the category of ”immigrant” is politically incoherent and useless as a tool of socialist analysis, because 1) people tend maintain their own ethnic identities even as they migrate, 2) there are huge class differences between and within different ethnic groups, 3) as the swedish political system actively tries to build and maintain ethnic political machines, the people that run those machines must be assumed to have a rational materialist interest in maintaing them, rather than selflessly fighting for international socialism or what have you.

I bring my own example up not to relitigate old battles but to underline the point that the sin that earns people the label of ”strasserite” or ”chud” or ”redbrown nazi” has nothing to do with racist animus, or even the issue of immigration more generally. Conjuring up the threat of racism and the ghosts of Nazi Germany is not done because it is true, but because it is necessary. In my case, having a father who came to Sweden to work from central Africa proved to be an embarassing but fairly minor speed bump on the way to declaring me a fighter for aryan blood purity. There is nothing foolish or irrational about any of this; our esteemed comrades are simply doing the only thing they can do, faced with a contradiction they are unable to resolve and a movement that is rapidly falling apart.

Nobody reads the Strasser brothers, and ”strasserism” is not a serious ideology anyone holds today. But we exist. We, forgotten friends and discarded comrades, shall soon return to rattle our chains. What alienated us from you was not racism, nor malice, nor  bloodthirst. What made us first strangers and then enemies in your eyes was a political disagreement, a disagreement the left would like to bury and pretend like it does not exist: the question of the fate and future of the social and economic class the left recruits from and fights for. Even as it tries to hide its self-centered struggle behind the vaunted political totems of a 20th century that has been dead for decades, the left cannot escape this question.

While I don’t pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, I would claim that the ”strasserite” class-analysis of politics in the west and the role of the left today has a few central features. To start: as the economies in western countries have shifted over the past decades, a new sort of class of people has sprung up and grown in social and political importance. In the united states, the most common name for this class is PMCs; the professional-managerial classes. Their name is less important than their function and political trajectory. To brutally simplify things for the sake of brevity, the notable feature of many PMCs as political actors is a blend of political liberalism and cultural progressivism, merged with a political project aimed at increasingly subsidizing their own reproduction as a class, ideally by means of state transfers. The state should forgive student debt. The state should dabble in reparations. The state should hire ”ideas people” to write up reports and thinkpieces about reparations. The state should create new racial justice commissions, or just generally create more jobs that can employ people who by dint of belonging to this class feel that them taking a job at Walmart means that capitalism has failed and it’s time for a revolution. The most radical, put-upon and economically insecure parts of this class today naturally gravitate toward the left, because the left is – no matter what leftists delude themselves by saying – a fairly focused, competent and credible class project. When Corbyn came out of nowhere and became Labour party leader, it was a real grassroots movement that brought him there; a grassroots movement of students and people who either have ambition to move up the ladder or a legitimate fear of looming proletarianization, of falling down the social and economic ladder and finding themselves joining the proles.

The particular form of ”pro-worker” rhetoric these members of the PMC use mostly boils down to a sort of charity. Vote for us, and we’ll give you higher benefits and free broadband, Labour recently tried to tell the recalcitrant workers of the north. It didn’t work. This mode of ”charity” is hardly selfless – it would be a free ”gift” from these PMC activists given to their precious salt of the earth proletarians, and like all gifts it would be reliant on the goodwill and generosity of the giver. Its main function would also surely be to feather the ever growing number of nests for this class of comfortable, university-educated administrators. And when some leftists start seriously debating why ”racists” should be denied medical care from the NHS, one starts getting a sense of just how much hierarchical domination their future ”worker’s paradise” promises to deliver to the working poor.

The point here is not a moral one. After Labour lost, one exasperated member and activist despaired over how blind the workers were, how easily fooled they were by tory propaganda. ”Don’t they see how evil capitalism is? How brutal and unfair it is?”, this activist wrote: ”I have many friends with good grades who are stuck working at grocery stores, stocking shelves”. Anyone who pretends to be some sort of materialist cannot in good conscience make fun of sentiments like this; it is completely rational for someone in that position to think that ”the evils of capitalism” are somehow laid bare for the world to see when their friends are forced to stock shelves like a common peon in order to pay the rent. That the other workers at the grocery store probably find this way of thinking completely ludicrous and arrogant is obviously besides the point.  Politically speaking, the fury and energy that proletarianization engenders should never be underestimated, because it causes political explosions. Jeremy Corbyn successfully challenged the political cartel that had been running Labour on the back of such a political explosion.

We should not make fun of an activist who despairs at the state of the world when good, solid middle class people with solid middle class grades can no longer achieve the middle class lifestyle they were promised. It is however a basic political truth that a worker’s movement consisting of people who are angry at the prospect social and economic ”demotion” – in other words, people who are fighting against the cruel fate of having to become workers – cannot ever succeed. Promising free broadband, or unlimited Space Communism, or some other stupid fantasy world where getting angry at having to work like a normal person is acceptable because nobody has to work won’t really change that.

On top of this, the more this class of people who are now tethering on the edge of proletarianization grows, the more parasitical they will become, must become. If the destructive spirit of unfettered capitalism decides that it no longer needs a big middle class, the only actor with the power to save this historically obsolete class is the state. The state can do this in two ways: either by redirecting a larger share of the economic resources it has towards subsidizing this class, or by using its power to reduce the costs involved in this class reproducing itself. It is here that a class conflict that is probably inevitable between workers and PMCs manifests itself. This is what creates a situation where you can have a debate between Cenk Uyghur on the ”left” saying ”If we deport the illegal immigrants, who will work in the chicken plants, huh??” and someone like Tucker Carlson on the ”right”, replying ”Maybe the chicken plants should pay a liveable wage then, even if it makes chicken more expensive?”.

It is important to note that the issue at stake between Cenk and Tucker in the above example has nothing to do with ”capitalism” or wheter it should be abolished. It is very easy to imagine a system of ”capitalism” with a hyperexploited, miserable working class trimming the hedges of happily progressive and socially liberal professionals. It is also possible to imagine a system of ”capitalism” where the workers make slightly more and live more comfortable lives in general compared to the first example, but nobody in the middle class can afford to hire a nanny from Ecuador. The american left loves to lambast Tucker Carlson – and other people on the right who are similar to him – as insincere or ”rich grifters”, but the fact that they are rich actually makes them potentially less unreliable allies in the eyes of the working class, not more. Situations where alliances form between the King and the peasantry to fight the middle class or the nobility are a dime a dozen throughout history. That the heir to the Swanson fortune would be willing to barter away the ability of the professional class to take a second yearly vacation – or indeed, the ability for their angry, card-carrying DSA children to remain in the professional class – in order to shore up political support among working people should hardly suprise anyone. The fortunes of the petty managers and professionals do not amount to a dealbreaker for someone like him. But they are a dealbreaker for the left. And that is why the left is dying. The interests of the professional-managerial classes and the working classes – and, to use a non-marxist term here for a second, the internal proletariat of the West – are now diverging to the point where the differences can no longer be papered over. You cannot try to ”do both”. You have to pick a class, and live with the fact that you’ve just made an enemy out of the other class.

The above is by necessity an extremely truncated description of the political situation we find ourselves in. You don’t have to @ me because you disagree on this or that terminology or minor point. I am, as I stated earlier, not pretending to speak for everyone, nor do the above paragraphs represent an exhaustive or even totally accurate accounting of my own political analysis. Still, it’s close enough, because the purpose of this essay is not to convince the good comrades in various eurocommunist parties, subreddits, or ”progressive” NGO:s to somehow return to the fold. No, the time has come to draw a political line in the sand.

The grand political divide that sundered the house of modern ”socialism” boils down to the question of which class should have its interests taken care of in the first instance. It is all well and good to talk about ”doing both”, or try to soothe workers by saying that once socialism wins, nobody will work, so they’ll all be taken care of then.  A century ago Joe Hill mocked the preachers who tried to placate starving workers by promising them there’d be plenty of pie up in the sky after they were all dead. Today, Aaron Bastani does an even more pathetic job within that vaunted political tradition, promising the british working class asteroid mining and fully automated communist holodecks once The Revolution(tm) succeeds. Until that day comes, though, it can’t really be helped that they’ll have to stay under the thumb of – and fight the battles for – the downwardly mobile professionals, huh? After all, who will build all those fancy asteroid miners if little Junior suddenly has to work at Starbucks like a common plebeian?

This is not a question of left incompetence, or Brexit suddenly wrecking everything, or something that Bernie woulda, coulda, shoulda done. The left is bleeding working class support everywhere. The left is picking up support among the more affluent and well-to-do stratas everywhere. The left is merging with greens and liberal ”progressives” everywhere. This is not incompetence, or cowardice. It is not personal, nor can it be fixed by the actions of individual persons; it is a vindication of historical materialism, and it is playing out right before our very eyes.

It is time for the ”socialism” of the professional and managerial classes and the socialism of the working classes to part ways. The former is moribund and a historical dead-end. The latter, I think, still has a case to be made for it. More importantly – and personal experience from outside the left bears this out  – it still has an audience that is willing to listen to it.

In my native Sweden, this conflict is already playing out politically. The left keeps picking up affluent liberals (”wow, you know, I used to hate socialists, but now with these scary populists around, I’ve realized some of you guys are all right!”), but is otherwise stagnant and filled with paranoia and malaise, like the left everywhere. But at the same time, there are more and more of us renegades every day – old comrades, new friends, racists and sexist and immoral chuds all – and we have decided to build a populist movement that does away with trying to serve two masters, that no longer tries to convince ordinary people that they need to listen to – or pay the salaries of – these puffed-up hall monitors that the left caters to today. It’s still early in the day, but I cannot lie: after years and years of losing, of having to listen to the petty political commissars of leftism telling you that ”it’s a decades long struggle, comrade!!” and ”this movement is bigger than X or Y!” and, of course, ”buy my book!” and ”fund the struggle, donate to my patreon!”, it feels good to actually start winning at something. Weird, but good.

I have no doubt in my mind that our little nordic example will soon be joined by many, many others. The 2010’s were a period of ever increasing paranoia and more and more vicious cancellations within the left, as anyone who tried to challenge the unstated primacy of PMC interests was violently shown the door. The 2020’s will be the decade where more of these figures – people like Sahra Wagenknecht and all the other good socialists who have been vilified and discarded by the liberal left – will return to haunt our political stage once again, and it will be the decade where the left discovers that its own class base is just too weak and small to achieve political power in the face of the angry working class it now fears and despises. This isn’t just sentimentality speaking, by the way: the moment you get kicked out of the left and are no longer subject to all its taboos and rules, you start to realize what a golden political opportunity we live right in the middle of. The populist right is actually fairly weak – far, far weaker than our old comrades would be comfortable admitting – and their growing grip on the working class is often a function of a lack of competition rather than any noteworthy competence on their own part. Once you do away with the ballast and the social and economic neuroses of grad students and managerial aspirants, working people are actually suprisingly receptive to our message. But then again, that very openeness to a non-PMC populism from the left is why we – and they – must be dismissed as racists and idiots at every turn.

Workers aren’t stupid. They’re not evil. They haven’t been ”tricked by the media”. They need no false shepherds to guide them, no well-paid moral commissars to teach them to not randomly slaughter their neighbors because of muh racism. They have abandoned the left parties because the left parties have abandoned them, not ”culturally” as some proponents of identity politics would like you to think, but materially. They know their own class interests, and they know that the left is inimical to those interests. This is good news, at least for those of us with the courage and political will needed to help them free themselves from their so-called ”betters”. Let the Labour activists of London lament over how ”disappointed” they are that the working class has stopped following orders. We will not be like you. We will not promise new masters and new yokes to live under, new aristocracies and ”vanguards” to subsidize, new cadres of people selling them moral sermons and sensitivity courses. We will promise them a chance at revenge.

The time for the two houses of Socialism(tm) to try to convince each other or ”win the argument” – whatever that even means today – is over. From now on, we ”strasserites” will not ask you for permission to do what we do, former friends and esteemed old comrades. Nor will we ask for forgiveness for having grown tired of being permanent losers, repeating the same empty ritual year in and year out (”g-guys, I know this sucks, but today we grieve, tomorrow we organize!!!”) just to pad out the resumes of talentless social climbers and vapid book peddlers. We’ll leave the losing to you, comrades, because that is after all the only thing you even know how to do. You say the common people are racist, sadistic and dangerous without you constantly hectoring them, calling them immoral, and telling them what to do. Well, we’ll just have to put that theory to the test, won’t we? Either way, the time has come for us to go our separate ways.

I write this because there are still people out there who don’t yet know that they can pick a side, who think that constantly losing and being seen as cruel jokes or craven enemies by the very people they purport to ”serve” is the only alternative on offer. It’s not. You can become a chud, a strasserite, a racist, a redbrown, a nazi just like us: in short, you can simply opt to leave the professionals and managers behind, and let them fight their hopeless battle against historical obsolescence.

I also write this as a final piece of courtesy to the people I once called friends, and to the, ahem, ”worker’s movement” I once belonged to. If you try to fight your battles without ever bothering to know who your enemy really is, you will lose the war before the first shot has even been fired. I live under no illusions as to the capacity of the modern left to tolerate any notion that their enemies are somehow competent or driven by something else than ”muh racisms”, because a competent enemy is exactly the sort of enemy the left knows it has no chance of defeating. That’s all fine, but on the off-chance there’s still some will to fight left underneath all that stagnation and decadence, then by all means come: here is the true face of your new enemy. Look as much as you like! We are the ghost of socialism past, and once your tired ”movement” has been finally shunted off into the dustbin of history, we will again be the heralds of its future.

We wish you all good luck in your final struggles to save your doomed movement and equally doomed social class. And, like the Zaporozhian cossacks of old, we would humbly and courteously invite you to kiss our asses.

19 reaktioner på ”On ”strasserism” and the decay of the left.

  1. Don’t despair. As an old-school socialist, I have been variously accused of being a Stalinist, a Tankie, a Nazbol, a Strasserite, a ‘beef steak Nazi’ and a Commie, depending on the political outlook of the accuser.

    Personally, I consider my own outlook to align with Australian socialism. Something like what the Labor Party in this country stood for until the last decades of the 20th century.

    The rot that set in after ‘68 is, finally, being recognised for what it is. Our time is coming. Stay strong.

  2. Well you address the core issue ”haunting” the core imperialist nations correctly. But at the same time, I can’t help but notice that this is just a continuation of this ”class-struggle” but in reverse. In an ironic (and deeply depressing way), it seems that the main ”contradiction” is the core is between the ”working class” vs ”the PMC’s” instead of the old marxist working class vs capital. The latter is multinational and cosmopolitan because core imperialist countries are not in need of value-producing workers, as much as an intelligentsia to work on ”research”. The reaction of the working class is, of course, nativism. There are superprofits (Sweden for example is one of the few countries with massive foreign investments) and we can claim some of them, instead giving them to the cosmopolitan intelligentsia.

  3. This is a very insightful analysis of the make up of contemporary left of the DSA/ Momentum type. But I am interested to hear more about the developing left alternative you describe. In the US at least the collapse of left populism has not created new alternatives and the field looks pretty barren.

  4. ”They have abandoned the left parties because the left parties have abandoned them, not ”culturally” as some proponents of identity politics would like you to think, but materially. They know their own class interests, and they know that the left is inimical to those interests.”

    Really? Can you establish this with any examples? If working class voters are voting for right-wing parties can you demonstrate how those policies have benefited them materially? Either in the US, UK, or Sweden? Lacking ant sort of substantiation I have a difficult time thinking that the author believes this himself.

    • The social policies of the rightwing parties in Hungary and Poland are the most obvious cases of this. These parties combine a material commitment to welfareism with a bunch of rightwing or nationalist planks. You may not like it – the left certainly doesn’t – but it’s a fairly effective mode of politics. In fact, this mode of politics is so effective that the parties in question – Law & Justice in Poland, Fidesz in Hungary – completely dominate their political systems with massive pluralities or outright majorities. It is reasonably likely that Boris Johnson’s project of one nation Toryism will end up doing the same, effectively shutting labour and the left out of political power for the foreseeable future.

    • An example: whether constituencies can tolerate the modern left’s very specific notion of internationalism, usually portrayed as a ”cultural issue”, seems to correlate a hella lot to whether those constituencies stands to gain or lose from cross-national wage competition.

  5. Givens is absolutely correct. Culture is material and ”they have abandoned the left parties”, not for economic gain, since the right wing parties don’t provide any, but for cultural reasons which Marxists and Ricardians alike consider to be immaterial, in defiance of both common sense and social science. In fact, ”they”, meaning ”the working class” hasn’t even abandoned the social democratic parties but has splintered according to both economic and cultural issues.

    • This sounds like a version of ”they have been tricked”, ”they don’t know what’s good for them” or ”What’s wrong with Kansas?”

  6. Well, sure, fascists have social welfare programs – crappy ones to be sure, but they do. Hungary and Poland remain standout EU members for abject poverty, but the fascist parties do propose state support. But that shows that your attempt to rally the workers to the left by offering ”economic populism” can’t compete with the more alluring mix of economic populism plus racism. In the end, you’ll have to go full quisling to stay in the game.

    • I disagree with your analysis, but insofar as you admit that you’ve de facto given up on winning working class people over to your side – them being lost to ”fascism” and all – I find your post to be a refreshing example of political honesty. I wish you luck with your political project, whatever that project may end up being.

  7. I don’t give up on the working class at all. But the working class is not what Marx spoke about – it’s changed over time. We don’t have the vast army of factory workers that Marx imagined would be moulded by the discipline of the factory floor into a sparkling new society. The success of the social democratic project means that in places like the USA and UK and Sweden, the class of people who need a salary to survive (the functional definition of working class) has little resemblance to the nostalgic idea of the working class as a mass of salt-of-the-earth cossacks or factory workers. In the USA, Biden beat Sanders because working class black voters of the civil rights generation outvoted revolutionary web designers and middle managers – and they were not mostly factory workers, but were retail or nursing or other less appealingly macho occupations. Gailbraith argued that the US new deal coalition broke when enough working people became wealthy enough to be conservative – to have holding onto what they have as more of a goal than economic change. And of course, we know that in Germany in the 1920s and in our era, large segments of the working class prize racial privilege over economics. So I’m not giving up on the working class at all, I’m giving up on nostalgic pseudo-revolutionaries who don’t understand why nationalism and racism matter, or how history is dialectical. Like Piketty, showing a graph that shows the US Democratic Party used to be mostly supported by people without a high school education and now attracts a much more educated voting block and concluding the usual idiocy – the Democrats abandoned the workers. And yet, what really happened is that working people got more education – people without high school are a small segment of the working class. The working class abandoned the silly role that the commissars imagined for them – for us.

    • I find this to be a fairly uninteresting and superflous line of debate. You don’t have to explain your political reasoning to me – in fact, I would prefer it if you don’t – because we are clearly not on the same side, nor will we ever pull in the same direction politically. Again, I wish you luck in your politics – whatever those are.

  8. Might I add a comment on the whole ”class struggle” idea? I must say I am a bit perplexed by the lack of connectivity of this idea to the earlier Hegelian ”master slave dialectics”. I say this because the emancipatory ideal, in the universal sense of ”saving mankind” is bound up in that little part of the Hegelian/Marxist historicism/ethos.

    I know it has been written that class stand against class etc. But reading Grûndrisse, for example, let you see the ideal of what is to be sought more clearly; i:e free time to cultivate the spirit (or the internal rationale of man, what gives proportions to his actions), this to then produce a better mankind. Since, as it is put in the theory of Marx, man produces himself by the means of his production. Or in Hegel the spirit who turns in to itself to produce a higher form of autodidacy

    There is a hint there at the dialectical movement of materialism in relation to mans thinking. And here is where we can turn to the master slave dialectic.
    The master is trapped by being dependent on the slave that he has subjugated.
    The slave is offcourse trapped by the subjugation, and wont for resources to produce freely.
    The master cannot produce, since he simply do not know how to. He knows how to control others.
    So that is why the slave is the one that has to lead the revolt, or is closer to the self fulfillment of freedom.

    The rethoric of class against class make the mistake of putting the capitalist, the haves, or the masters, in a false light of being complete, when in actuality they are in dependance (which is why there is so much fear, paranoia and from that subterfuge). Sure there might be some few out there who could be called complete, but more than often a bit of research show the opposite.

    But does this mean that the slave is revolting against the masters? No he actually have to become a master, which then fullfills the selffulfillment of being both a slave/producer as well as a master/controller.

    From what I see you are getting trapped in the same dicotomy of master vs slave that you are in a sense trying to write yourself out of. The problem of the PMC’s are not that they are masters, serving their own self intrests. The problem is that they are not slaves become masters. That is, the problem is that they lack the capacity to produce, and thus are forced into a position of being dependent on control as their means of getting a share of the production.

    The class struggle is the same for all classes, it is just showing itself in different ways. The struggle to ”step out of your class” is actually the problem of not fulfilling the ”spiritual”, which today might be better called psychological, disposition, needed to produce a better mankind by the means of your own production.

    This is why the baccantic priests; i:e the dancers, actors and musicians, who can live without the support of state or benefactors (being sucked into propaganda) are the highest esteemed by Socrates (who also knew the conundrum of mans struggles). They had gone beyond death it was told, or that is, they could embody the living without the fear of the dead. In a sense showing a psychology void of the ”earthly bonds” that the materialist situation puts as a yoke on them.

    I think that for the left to stand any real chance they have to re-instate the universality of mankind, not denying classes, but then again not pitting them against each other. The rule, and the goal, was and is to lift oneself, and others, above the struggle of classes.

    It is ok to use rethoric of fight and struggle, but it must be put as the struggle and fight for both you and me. Or for the common man, in the full sense, including ”the rich”.

    But a good read and a tought provoking quote at the top 😀

  9. I think this is a terrific piece & find a lot to agree with. I see this kind of argument all the time on twitter and follow a lot of the people making it. Altho they spend an awful lot of time posting cheap snarky ridicule against the PMCs, which gets boring. It’s fun for awhile but then it becomes tedious. Also, I’m always amused that the people making these arguments are themselves highly educated academics using language & concepts that the working class would find absurdly opaque. (I speak as a working class woman from a working class family in the US, having grown up in a working class factory town). The issue I have with them & you is this: ok, so just exactly what is this new campaign, project, effort to ”win back” the working class? You say it’s time to separate these two ”socialisms” — ok, so what are you doing to activate this? In concrete real world terms — what is this ”movement” or whatever word is appropriate. Normally I’d ask ”are you doing any organizing” but I’ve noticed that has become a dirty word among people making this argument. This is what I’m struck by: the pmcs and idpol ideologues (who I despise) are doing something in the real world (campaigning for Bernie Sanders in the physical real world, for example). What are you doing? The people making this same kind of critique on twitter don’t seem to be doing anything at all. They don’t seem to have any sort of real world contact with the working class at all (neither do the pmcs, but as I said, they’re actually doing something for their own class interests). I’m struck by how the people making the same kind of analysis & argument you are making are themselves bourgeois & highly educated. I don’t know very much about you personally but you yourself are very well educated with what I think sounds like an academic background. So what are you all doing in the real world? Because all I see is a lot of blog posts, tweets, etc. I’m being sincere when I say I truly *welcome* such a project — but I don’t see anyone working on this at all in the real physical world, except the rightwing, who’ve very successfully generated understandable support from workers.

  10. Thank you!
    I’m constantly threatening my non-Swedish speaking friends that I will have to translate of a lot of your insightful commentary on the ‘Transferiat’. Now I can just point them to this essay, at least as a starting point!


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