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Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Review.

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Populista: The Rise of Latin America's 21st Century Strongman

Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Head of Zeus.

In the new millenium new ways forward for the radical left in Latin America seemed open. “For a decade and a half, populist left-wing presidents were in power from the Amazon to the Andes, The leaders of the Pink tide were democratically elected and radical in heir socialist reforms, though not sufficiently communist to be deemed ‘red.” The BBC correspondent in Latin America Will Grant continues, “Yet within a decade and half, the party was over…A movement that had promised so much was either floundering or had crumbled entirely….. several governments morphed into pseudo left wing kleptocracies run by repressive authoritarians. In some cases the constitutions had been changed to allow indefinite presidential re-elections and concentrate power in the hands of the executive.”

Will Grant’s hefty and path-breaking book begins in Venezuela. The early, pre-Presidential biography of the leader the Bolivarian Revolution, a career military man, would-be 1992 MBR-200, golpsita, the is a starting opener. In power from 1999 the “worker President”, Hugo Chávez who promised a “socialism of the 21st century.” Wreathed for years in “unconditional love” he passed away in 2013, still holding the reins of government. Behind the grieving the promise of socialism had already begun to end with the “biggest robbery of national resources and looting of national funds in Latin American history” .

It is hard to summarise what Chavez and his successor’s ‘socialism’ as an alternative to the capitalist system’ was and is. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, (PSUV) and millions of members owes a founding loyalty to “Comandante Hugo Chávez” and a mixture of anti-imperialist, patriotic, and a variety of ideas fashionable on the left. It is better to look at its practice. Today far from abolishing capital or bringing workers and peasant power, resources are dominated and exploited by the Boliburguesía, the monied cartel ennobled by this socialist and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chavista thugs terrorise political opponents, even the local Communist Party is now banned from running for office. The country’s economy is “in free fall”; infrastructure is wasting away. Cuban trade and help have brought their ruthless secret service in their wake. Conditions are bad enough for over 4 million refugees to have fled. Only die-hard supporters blame these conditions on ‘Imperialism’.

“Venezuela is a stark warning of what can happen when vanity and dogma outweigh pragmatism and common sense” Yet Populista is far from another denunciation of the vain hopes of the left. As he moves from the North to Brazil Grants paints a portait of the extraordinary life of the leader of the Workers’ Party,  Partido dos Trabalhadores(PT) an organisation launched as democratic socialist, with internal democracy and tendencies. Lula da Silva , who went from shoeshine boy to President. He is a democratic socialist and states, “I don’t consider myself a populist I consider myself a leader who dared to govern with the people, who was no afraid” of the people. In this reformist vein Lula created his social programmes, such the family grants, the Bolsas Familias. If Lula’s party has had is share of corruption scandals, he personally had power snatched away by the an openly biased state and judiciary following the Operação Lava Jato. Brazil is now governed by the right wing, extreme right-wing, populist Jair Bolsonaro, recent victories in court cases and his good showing in polls indicate that he may make a strong electoral comeback.

.Populista goes into the achievements of Bolivian indigenous leader, Evo Morales, another remarkable leader, whose first language is Aymara. His ideology, Grant outlines, draws on this heritage, ‘Kataymism’ an indigenous culture, mixed with European pacifism and ecology, and a Guevarist image of the Two Bolivias, “international neoliberal v. exploited nationals’ whites v. Indians, oligarchs v. subalterns; global models v. local experience.” One of Morales’ key measures, the renegotiation of foreign energy (gas and oil) contacts, reflect this outlook Social reform efforts, breaking down the ‘apartheid’ between the “crillios” of European descent, and the peasants and indigenous population run with their grain. Morales made mistakes, the proposed TIPINIS highway driving through indigenous areas which was vigorously resisted, and ended up on an autocratic pathway, self-cocooned by his own councillors, and seeking refuge in “hollow socialist rhetoric”.

Left Populism?

The ideas and policies of Morales can be compared to left populism, pitting the People, el Pueblo, against the European owners of natural resources, 500 years of struggle against the “oligarchy” But Morales did not believe that they were ‘enemies’ that excluded each other. He did not pose as a Caudillo, strongman, who would stamp out his opponents. The president came from the self-organised assemblies of peasant workers (‘cocaleros’, after the coca leaf), by definition accustomed to both action and negotiation. His political party the Moviemento al socialismo (MAS), is said to have a ” bottom-up, decentralised structure, with regional and local branches having a large amount of input on party decision”. Adjustments had to be made, a “plurinational state” created by consent, backed by “overwhelming popular support.”

The personal qualities of the President aside you can’t help thinking that Bolivian history played a major role in injecting caution into the MAS project. Since independence from Spain Bolivia has seen 190 coups, attempted coups and revolutions. The forced “resignation” of Morales in 2019 under charges of terrorism” was widely seen at the 191st.

These are epic histories and biographies. The chapters on Raphael Correda’s authoritarian rule in Ecuador and the sordid tale of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua paint pictures on a smaller scale. Correda, described as a “populist”, “a tragedy replete with treachery, sedition and corruption”. The latter the grave-digger of Third-Worldist hopes with a wife and Vice-President, Rosario Murillo, a blend of “Lady Macbeth and Dick Cheney.. Cuba comes across as an exhausted model, its repressions aide, “The island is dysfunctional in the extreme but doesn’t suffer from the violence or extreme poverty seen elsewhere in Latin America.” Why people continue to consider Cuba as a beacon of hope is a mystery. …

In an Epilogue Populista states “In that extraordinary unprecedented line-up of left-wing leaders at the start of the twenty first century the urgent needs of el pueblo were fulfilled for a time.” The cost, outlined in its pages, was great. The “permanent campaigns” of charismatic chiefs peter out, are revived, lift spirits, and, in the case of Venezuela many would say, have caused lasting damage. Brazil and Bolivia remain the focus of wider hopes, but as Grant indicates, did not fit like a glove, if at all, into the “populista” mould and above all the leadership of a Caudillo.

Laclau and the ‘Political Logic of Populism’.

Populism, Ernesto Laclau argued, is a “political logic”. Grant cites the late Argentinian theorist and professor discourse studies at Essex University that it presents itself as “subversive” of the existing order and the starting point of a new one. There are heavy layers of emotion, ‘affects’ attacked to political leaders who can articulate the democratic demands of the people. These can be mobilised by populists of the right or left against the ‘enemy’, globalisers, metropolitan elites, capitalist oligarchs, neoliberals. What is right and what is left are, on this account, constructed ‘relationally’ and ‘discursively’, they have no fixed meaning.

It has been suggested that the reasoning behind the academic’s approach can be traced to his early years on the Argentinean Left. This was faced with the issue of how to engage with Peronism: specifically, how to develop a leftist project that could win mass support in an era when the working class remained linked to a Peronist political identity. 

Laclau’s founding political experience was in the early sixties in a group that called itself the National Left party, (From Marxist to Post-Marxist Populism: Ernesto Laclau’s Trajectory within the National Left and Beyond. Omar Acha 2019) Without going into the small group politics of the organisation founded by figures such as Jorge Abelardo Ramos the “critical support” given by the  Partido Socialista de la Izquierda Nacional (PSIN) to populist leader Juan Domingo Perón and ‘Peronism’ stands out. In semi-colonial countries (Argentina and the rest of South America) the national tasks of the bourgeoisie had be carried out by the working class – no doubt with the PSI indicating what they might be.

Acha’s description of the PSIN as an “appendage” of Peronism can be applied to those who saw, like Laclau, Chavism as a renewed “Latin American populism.” A theoretical justification for the Socialism of the 21st Century that accepts and justifies the idea that “an entire political movement” can be “built on the shoulders of one man” is beyond implausible faced with the results Populista lists in sad detail. Only those practised in “disconnection from reality” can ignore this. The Marxist principle that emancipation comes from the people, the workers, themselves, not from populist leaders, stands in sharp contrast to the populist experience brilliantly narrated and analysed in Will Grant’s riveting book.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 8, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Friends and Enemies: what remains of British ‘left populism’?

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Nationalism and Right-Wing Populism across Europe. A brief overview

“The problem with the populist strategy, for the left, is that it’s neither left nor a winning strategy.” – Left-wing populism. A legacy of defeat: Interview with Éric Fassin. 2018.

This deepening of democracy resonates particularly with the spirit of Momentum, which proposes and seeks to build links with the social movements. This explains the central place given to the struggle against all of the forms of domination and discrimination, from economic relations to other domains like feminist, anti-racist and LGBTQ+ struggles.

It is the articulation of these struggles alongside other forms of domination which stands at the heart if Corbyn’s strategy, and thus qualifies it as a “populism of the left”. The objective is to establish a chain of equivalence between different democratic struggles across British society and to transform the Labour Party into a large popular movement capable of articulating a new hegemony.

From Chantal Mouffe: “Corbyn represents the implementation of a left populist strategy. 2018.

A comprehensive balance-sheet of what was known as ‘left populism’ has yet to be drawn up. This book lays down some markers, from a stand, not uncritically, in favour of left populism, Left Populism in Europe Lessons from Jeremy Corbyn to Podemos Marina Prentoulis 2021 . This, which includes reflections on Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, is being published this autumn, Le populisme de gauche sociologie de la France insoumise (LFI ) Manuel CERVERA-MARZAL. One would also include an update on the coalition between Podemos, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the resignation of their leading figure, Pablo Iglesias, who has now retired from politics.

Marina Prentoulis (Left populism: learning from the past, preparing for the future) argues, “What populism of all kinds does – in its right and left wing versions – is create a ‘people’ out of this process of coming together which pits itself against the established elites. At this initial point the political content of the movement is raw material that can turn out to have a left or right wing orientation. It is there to be taken in one direction by a figure like Donald Trump, or another by the Spanish populist left party, Podemos.”

In contrast to Mouffe, and with the advantage of a time distance, she states, “For example, the Labour party – I don’t think that it has ever managed to create ‘a people’ in the way right wing populism did around Brexit.” What Corbynism did, she argues, is draw a new generation of left wing people into activity within Labour and then use their energy to fight in very traditional party terms against the right. It was not the social movement which populist theory sees as the first step in severing the emotional identification with the established order.”

Prentoulis says in defence of the left populist strategy and way of approaching politics, “As democracy seeks to get a grip on the situation once again, identities are as much in the mix as social class, and populism allows us to think through some of the dilemmas of what is inevitably a more fluid and volatile situation.”

This, theoretical and political critique, has been published on the Verso site. It, to say the least, denies the coherence of the founding theorist of left-populism Ernesto Laclau. It is a frontal attack on the “political logic” of left populism in the form theorised by Laclau and Mouffe:

Against populist reason: Ernesto Laclau’s blind alleys

(August 2021)

“Populism,” as a political concept, gained mainstream traction over the 2010s as the neoliberal consensus broke down internationally. But what is populist theory and what is its relationship to the twentieth-century Marxist thought from which it developed? In this piece, Stathis Kouvélakis offers a critical examination of the political logic of Ernesto Laclau’s theory of populism.

Stathis Kouvélakis writes for Contretemps, the French review founded by the 4th International Philosopher, Daniel Bensaïd He has produced a rigorous critique of best known left-wing theorist of populism, Ernesto Laclau. one can focus on this point. He argues, rightly in this Blog’s view, that the theory of populism developed by the late Laclau and extended in the new millennium to cover the L’eft populisms’ of La France insoumise, PODEMOS and Jeremy Corbyn is fundamentally flawed. An attempt at “a general phenomenology of the political constitution of group identities” it is overlain with a political strategy for “radical democratic politics” that fails to offer a left wing, let alone Marxist anchor.

In this context, “Populism’” is ” understood as the generic process of constitution of the subject-people of politics”,

What historical examples back this narrative up? Or as the writer puts it, “what does the contribution of the hegemonic process amount to? It rests in fact on the construction of a cleavage between ‘popular subject’ and ‘enemy’..” As Kouvélakis points out, “To take up the examples cited by Laclau himself, what made the Chartist discourse a populist discourse was the fact that it opposed to the body of ‘real producers’ (workers, craftsmen, self-employed) a minority of ‘idlers and parasites’, who monopolised wealth and appropriated the state through restricted suffrage.”

Like many cases in Laclau’s work this is an analysis of an analysis, in this case of the conclusions of Gareth Stedman Jones’ brilliant, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History, 1832–1982, 1983). One could add that Jones shows the words “working class” did not mean, or have the same social references, in 19th century Britain as they do today.

Kouvélakis makes the fundamental point: populism ais not socialism.

Similarly, the discourse of the American ‘progressives’ at the end of the nineteenth century, or of the Peronist movement, a humbled common people to minorities of ‘monopolists’, ‘oligarchies’ seen as monstrous growths on a national body that was fundamentally healthy. The watchwords of contemporary ‘populisms’ do not innovate much, pitting ‘people’ against ‘‘castes’ or ‘oligarchies’; even, in contemporary versions of fascism, against ‘globalised elites’ and ‘migratory submersion’ – to quote just two of Marine Le Pen’s favourite targets.

Behind this is the ambiguity of the ‘democratic demand’, the idea that the people is the subject of democracy (rather than say, the electorate, that is those who actually can vote) can ‘issue’ such calls. He also asks, in contrast to the ‘constitution’ the ‘people’ moments of disintegration, or indeed – one adds – the split of a country into different ‘peoples’ as in the UK and Spain. Where do the more-borders nationalists SNP and the Catalan independence parties, fit into the spectrum of populism? What, equally, of the issue of political “confusionnisme” which this Blog discussed a couple of days ago – Philippe Coffrey talks of “zones of intersection” between left and right populism? Finally the failure of left populism to build its own ‘people’ cannot be theoretically explained away but needs empirical research.

The France based Kouvélakis like Éric Fassin, professeur de sociologie  at a Paris University, must be all too aware of the inability of French left populism (LFI) to make a breakthrough, and the electoral strength of the national populist Front National, now Rassemblement National, normally classed on the far-right. Mélenchon is at present between 11% and 13% support for his 2020 Presidential bid.

Coming from the radical, perhaps Leninist, left, and using the arms of very abstract conceptualisation against Laclau who was a master producer of such discourse, this is the conclusion,

This apparently paradoxical recourse to a social ‘ontology’ that is as trivial as it is incompatible with populist reason can only be understood as an attempt to attribute content, an appearance of concreteness, to categories that have sunk into a bad abstraction. By a final ironic twist, it is a kind of ‘spectral Marxism’ of a particularly evolutionary and historicist variant – in other words, a ‘vulgar’ Marxism in the precise sense in which Marx described as ‘vulgar’ the political economy that succeeded the ‘classics’ (Smith, Ricardo), which comes to haunt a ‘post-Marxism’ determined to liquidate the very idea of revolution.

One does not have to sympathise with “revolution”, a master-signifier if ever there was one, or with the authors’ wider ‘revolutionary’ politics, to agree with some of the critical points Kouvélakis makes. To summarise rather brutally, he indicates just how slippery Laclau, and by extension Mouffe can be. Or, to put it differently, a lot of words tending towards little political change from the left.

As the “populist moment” on the left passes into history one trait remains. Populism of all brands, Laclau asserted, “rests in fact on the construction of a cleavage between ‘popular subject’ and ‘enemy’. Chantal Mouffe’s writings explore in luxuriant detail the concept, which originates in the works of the pro-Nazi German jurist Carl Schmitt (he may have first appeared in her, The Return of the Political. 1993. For Schmitt the carving out of a division between Friend and Enemy is foundational moment in politics. Mouffe attempts to revise Schmitt’s friend/enemy-distinction (The Concept of the Political 1932, English edition 2007) and carve out a theory of agonistic pluralism. 

Yet as can be seen, if Laclau is right, and many suspect he has a point about this as a feature of populism, this trait does not disappear by just adding a dose of pluralism, and accepting the ‘agonistic’ principle, “a practice of democratic engagement that destabilises appeals to authoritative identities and fixed universal principles. It is surely fundamentally anti-pluralist for all that can try to wish the intolerance away.

It is hard to accept that Labour – contrast Corbyn with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, compare a mass democratic party with a ‘movement’ (LFI) built around a ‘charismatic’ chief – was ever populist. Labour politicians do not rail against elites, oligarchies or entrenched political castes. If there was a trace of a cult behind some Corbyn admirers it largely extended to admiring, happy words and feelings, and not a lot further. No doubt one could speculate on the influence within Labour of “libidinal investment at work in national – or regional – forms of identification.”(For a Left  Populism. Chantal Mouffe.  2018).

And yet…… a section of the alt-left media, some of the Corbyn levée, and the anti-Corbyn lot braying for purges, at present having the screaming hab-dabs, seem caught up in defining the Friends and, above all, Enemies….

Written by Andrew Coates

September 7, 2021 at 1:51 pm

Chantal Mouffe Calls for Labour to Revive Failed ‘Left Populism’ as ‘Green New Deal’.

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Image result for chantal mouffe jean luc melenchon

Mouffe Advising M. 6,31%.

In the  1990s Chantal Mouffe was an avid reader of Carl Schmitt. In her take on the German theorist of the fundamental political antagonism between Friend and Enemy, had to become a democratic clash of opinions. (The Return of the Political. 1993.) In the Democratic Paradox (2000) she argued that the “agonistic practice of valuing and sustaining dissent in the democratic process as a more important goal than  consensus.”

Many writers before her, such as Bernard Crick (In Defence of Politics (1962, and five subsequent editions, the last in 2002) and Claude Lefort  (L’Invention démocratique. Les Limites de la domination totalitaire. 1981) expressed (often without needing words like ‘agonistic) through reading Machiavelli, and the history of the left’s relationship to democracy, have argued for the importance of free debate, disagreement, and rows. The French writer, Jacques Rancière has made something of a career out of arguing for the importance of “disagreement” and dissensus (Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy 1998. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. 2010).

Mouffe’s writing was by contrast aimed at a highly abstract set of liberal writers, such as John Rawls, and Jürgen Habermas, who argued for a liberalism based on an “overlapping consensus” (Rawls, Political Liberalism, 1993), or rational consensus “discourse ethics” bases on an ideal agreements (Habermas). It was an academic intervention in a series of related debates.

Since those days Mouffe has, it is said,  begun to engage in real politics.

The book, “In conversation with Íñigo Errejón Podemos: In the Name of the People (trans. Sirio Canos),  2017 had a wider readership than her books, or those of her late partner, Ernesto Laclau, on the way populism could be seen both as a way of “constructing the people” and upsetting the (alleged) political consensus of Western societies.

Since those days left populist parties have tried to put into practice the principle of ‘post class politics’ that ‘federate the people’ against the elite, the casta, the oligarchy – the permanently floating signifier of that the populist ‘revolt’ is said to be against.

In their best known form, in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), and Podemos, they have reached an impasse.

In France, after getting only 6,3% of the vote in this year’s European elections, LFI faced a major crisis. Some talked of the death of left-wing populism (Le « populisme de gauche » est mort ! June 2019).

The vote of Podemos has declined. They no longer appear an unstoppable force that would replace the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE. Podemos has also split with Mouffe’s friend, Errejón, forming a new party Más País, that is predicted to win seats in the coming elections, and split the left vote further.

Más País, is betting heavily on a version of the Green New Deal. This worth remembering in looking at the Mouffe article that appeared yesterday.

Centrist politics will not defeat Boris Johnson’s rightwing populism

Mouffe repeats her old support for ‘agonistic’ politics.

….fear of populism reveals something troubling about how we currently understand democratic politics. What most people seem to find shocking about Johnson’s strategy is that it involves an “us v them” confrontation – as if democratic politics could avoid conflict between irreconcilable political projects.

But,

Since Thucydides and Machiavelli, we have known that politics involves conflict and antagonism and that it has, by definition, a partisan character. In politics, therefore, we are always dealing with an opposition between “us” and “them” – which means it will always be necessary to draw a political frontier between the two sides.

The post-Marxist theorist repeats the well-worn description of a world in which politics apparently had frozen for decades, from the protests against globalisation, to countless elections, rivalries, changes of government,  to the Arab Spring interspersed.

After decades of “post-politics”, during which citizens were deprived of a voice in the way they were governed – under the pretence there was no alternative – we are now living through a populist moment. Political frontiers that were said to have vanished are now being reinstated, in the name of recovering democracy and popular sovereignty.

She claims that the vote for Brexit was a protest against “post-politics”, although few can recall anything particularly beyond politics’ about the rule of the Conservative-Liberal Coalition dominated by political manoeuvering on a grand scale.

Perhaps people protested against those government’s austerity because of the effects this has on their lives.

But the answer seems to like in the idea that a vote for Brexit was tied up with demands for “Popular sovereignty and democracy”. But was the the anti-EU vote about a real loss of sovereignty and democracy  or the result of a campaign that articulated frustrations on a range of issues (not least immigration) into an “imaginary construction of a nation” under threat from the EU?

Mouffe does not say. Nor does she offer the slightest idea of what “real” popular sovereignty is, putting somebones on the ghostly concept that has floated around politics for over two centuries.

She notes that  “by articulating anti-austerity and anti-establishment sentiments with a nationalistic flavour” they gained support.

By blaming the EU for the deterioration of social and political conditions in the UK, Brexit became a hegemonic signifier – one around which a new “people”, identified as leavers, has coalesced. These are the “people” Johnson pretends to represent and whose will he accuses parliament of disregarding.

Yet many people, given the closeness of the Referendum vote, did not agree.

Why should they have to “understand” people. Why should they listen to Mouffe lecturing them that they should “not demonise all Brexiters as deplorables, or dismiss them for being unable to recognise the intellectual and moral superiority of the European project.”

Either it’s right to argue for Remain – in a strategy of transforming the EU – or it is not.

That is dissensus.

The article offers no answer, or rather one that avoids the issue.

In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, the way to answer the rightwing populist offensive is the construction of another “people” – through the articulation of a project that can link together various demands against the status quo. A project in which both leavers and remainers could feel that they have a voice and that their concerns are taken into account. One signifier for such a project could be a Green New Deal – which articulates multiple environmental and economic struggles around a demand for equality and social justice.

To be sure, such an “us” will never include everybody. It does, of course, require a “them” and the drawing of a political frontier. But we can have a frontier that makes democracy more radical – one that pits the people against the oligarchy, and the many against the few.

That is to plunge into a rusty tool box.

Left wing populist parties have failed to ‘construct’ the people. Targeting the shifting signifiers of the elite has not worked.

As Cédric Durand et Razmig Keucheyan argued, after the defeat of LFI in France, at its best,

L’opposition entre les 1% et les 99% permet peut-être de déclencher un mouvement politique et de l’incarner dans un leader, mais l’empêche de s’inscrire dans la durée.

The opposition between the 1% and the 99%  allows perhaps a political movement to get off the ground and to incarnate it in a leader, but it prevents its long term estbalishment.

There are, they note, fundamental conflicts of interests inside the “people”.

One stands us,  the ‘deplorables’ who back brexit include many, many, people who backed it out of xenophobia.

Understanding them is not just a pleasant sounding word, a wink to the wise, as Mouffe suggests.

It can become part of a left populist strategy.

In Germany, many consider, left populism, with its belief in the “people” “elite” conflict has opened the space to the red-brown politics of national populism.

Pop-Up Populism: The Failure of Left-Wing Nationalism in Germany

Aufstehen’s leaders insisted that their movement was not defined by its opposition to migrants. But they consistently cast migrants as either pawns in the game of finance capital or as the phony poster children of misguided urban idealists.

Theorists of left populism like to argue that “the people” needs an adversary against which it can define itself. Who was “the adversary” for Aufstehen? It was an eclectic group. At its head was Merkel’s government, followed by the forces of what they called “Goldman Sachs capitalism.” Arrayed behind them were a less typical crew for the left: an alliance of migrants (some of whom were suspect followers of “hate preachers of radicalized Islam”) and the naïve leftists who loved them. Together, they played the role of useful idiots for a ruling class intent on driving down wages by swamping the remains of the welfare state.

Against this union of elites and outsiders, Aufstehen offered “the realistic left” a middle approach that distinguished between “forced” and “economic” migration—lest all “competitors for scarce resources at the bottom of society” be given access to the German labor market and social welfare benefits. “If the core concern of leftist politics is to represent the disadvantaged,” Wagenknecht explained, “then the no-borders position is the opposite of being on the left.”

One see how populist rhetoric develops further in this recent interview on the red-brown site Spiked.

Nationalism is the search for a new solidarity’

Red Tory Phillip Blond on Boris, Brexit and the ‘post-liberal’ future.

 I think that what is happening is that nationalism has become a new principle of solidarity. Nationalism is the unifying principle between the vision of ‘Global Britain’ and those people who are demanding solidarity because they’re experiencing insecurity in terms of the care of their parents, the care of the children, and their own situation. There is fundamental realignment going on.

The Green New Deal is not the magic potion to make everybody forget about Brexit and ignore this realignment.

The fight against this nationalist “solidarity”, the rich man at his Brexit castle the poor man at his gate, and for the internationalist anti-Brexit cause, continues.

We need less understanding and more argument, till we have won our case through democratic means.

**********

More reading: 

There are two articles in the latest Historical Materialism which point to further theoretical and practical problems about Left Populism.

Editorial Perspective: Is a ‘Left Populism’ Possible? Panagiotis Sotiris

In contrast to the proposals to think radical and emancipatory politics in terms of a left-populist strategy, we have attempted to present an alternative theorisation based on the dialectical contradictions and dynamics of the contemporary conditions of the subaltern in relation to the possibility to rethink the people, in an anticapitalist, post-national and decolonial way as the people-to-come, the people of the emergence of a new historical bloc. This requires not discursive constructions and rhetorical inventions but a new practice of politics, a new collective elaboration and experimentation for a potential hegemony of the subaltern, in a process that aims to fully unleash the potential of the subaltern for self-government.

Research Article: From the Demise of Social Democracy to the ‘End of Capitalism’  The Intellectual Trajectory of Wolfgang Streeck Jerome Roos

Streeck’s account ends up stripping foreign workers of their status as fellow workers, treating class in narrowly national terms and throwing up a stark divide between the interests of ‘indigenous’ workers on the one hand, and the interests of migrants and refugees on the other. Taken together, these two moves do not only end up obscuring the common interests shared by these groups (in higher wages and increased public spending on education, healthcare and social housing, for instance); they also reinforce a narrative that considers migrants and refugees as mere extensions of the class interests of international capital – and, as such, an existential threat to the integrity of the European welfare state. In the process, Streeck ends up lending legitimacy to the ‘national-populist’ view that immigration, by exerting downward pressure on wages and placing unbearable strains on national welfare systems, constitutes a direct threat to the interests of ‘indigenous’ workers.111 This is a potentially dangerous claim for which there is no convincing evidence. Indeed, research on Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States has demonstrated that in all of these countries immigrants actually bring in more in taxes than they take out in benefits, meaning immigrants, on the whole, far from undermining the integrity of the Western welfare state, actively fund its redistributive policies.112 Moreover, as Tansel and Turner point out with respect to Streeck’s unsubstantiated claims about immigration lowering wages:

… comprehensive reviews on the subject suggest that ‘there is still little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages’ in the UK. Coupled with the findings of a state-of-the-art research project on asylum seekers which concluded that ‘no clear correlation [exists] between access to the labour market and the number of asylum applications a country received’, it is clear that ‘economic’ arguments against immigration and accepting refugees should be examined under extreme scrutiny.113

And yet, ever since the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 and the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump in 2016, immigration policy has increasingly become the stick with which Streeck continues to flog the dead horse of the cosmopolitan centre-left. In a 2017 essay for the Danish Centre for Welfare Studies, he even goes so far as to hold immigrant children – as opposed to government cutbacks on education spending – responsible for crowding public schools (so that ‘“white” parents … will find ways to send their children to schools where they learn the national language properly’), just as he construes immigration as a leading cause of urban segregation, contributing to ‘“white flight” from areas where immigrants cluster’, instead of seeing immigrant neighbourhoods as ethnically diverse working-class communities in their own right, which are often on the front-line of the financialisation-driven process of gentrification and among the first to suffer from austerity.114 Elsewhere, in a recent contribution to the social-democratic journal Juncture, he takes the argument even further, directly reproducing the Islamophobic trope that ‘mass migration’ leads to terrorism:

..

 

Again, as with the notion that immigration lowers wages and welfare provisions, there is little empirical evidence for the claim that it leads to greater terrorist violence. Indeed, notwithstanding a number of high-profile, high-mortality attacks in recent years (most notably those in France in 2015 and 2016), the moving average of victims from terrorist violence in Western Europe decreased sharply during the supposed era of ‘open borders’ since the 1990s compared to the bloody autumn days of Streeck’s idealised welfare state in the 1970s.116 Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Europe continue to be committed not by immigrants or refugees with religious-fundamentalist motives, but by European citizens with ethno-nationalist or separatist motives.117

Beyond the liberty he takes with the facts, however, the real irony is that Streeck’s own analysis as laid out in How Will Capitalism End? is characterised precisely by such a ‘lack of any vision of a practically possible progressive future’ that he attributes here to immigrant ‘primitive rebels’. Moreover, it seems to be his own incapacity to imagine a feasible egalitarian alternative beyond the current ‘post-capitalist’ interregnum that is now driving Streeck to join a growing chorus of disillusioned social democrats in responding to the neoliberal pressures on what remains of the European welfare state by jealously guarding its last-remaining crumbs from the claims made upon it by migrant workers and their families. It is a development that has, on occasion, seen Streeck’s views on immigration and refugee policy veer dangerously close to the welfare chauvinism of the nationalist right.118