Saturday, September 12, 2009

Politics and class

Even if power is intrinsic to every relation, "politics" under capitalism is a role assigned specifically to the state: it is the pursuit of state power by competing groups. In keeping with this technical definition, everything outside the realm of government cannot be "politics," but something else -- "economics," "culture," "science," and so on.

Interpreting the world through the prism of "politics" means seeing things from the vantage point of the political classes. This is the simplest explanation as to why "politics" is an alienating subject for most people, since it proceeds from the self-interested assumptions of a specialized class, not the experiences of ordinary Americans.

As Marx might note, seeing the world through a "political" lens, narrowly defined, produces advantages and disadvantages which are themselves political in the broader sense of the term. For one thing, it preferences the class interests of politicians over the class interests of, say, people who work for a living. These are two totally different groups, with distinct interests; and it's worth noting that they have completely different relations to the employer class, which gives generously to one while taking away from the other -- in fact, for the very purpose of taking away from the other. Under such a scenario, working people are at a huge disadvantage to the extent that their concerns are framed by the prerogatives of a hostile class.

If we interpret this weekend's march on Washington as a "conservative" event, we foreclose the possibility of seeing it as a working class event which has been sponsored by corporate advocates. By and large, these are working people with grievances stemming from economic hardship, who feel that government is too large and unresponsive, and otherwise fails to represent them. They have been organized to confront Obama on behalf of the same corporate concerns that pay Glenn Beck's salary and own his network. They articulate a general dissatisfaction with government in addressing their needs, then carp about "socialism" -- perhaps the natural enemy of the pro-business entertainer; not so much the average American trying to find a job.

From a class perspective, the interests of working people deserve to be consolidated and advanced by working people as a class. This means that people without work or without health care, or anyone vulnerable in this regard, have more important things in common than who they vote for, what God they worship, or whether or not they would have an abortion. After all, one does not go bankrupt and lose their home owing to their party affiliation, but thanks to a different set of relations entirely.

This is an argument that needs to be presented to people suffering from economic problems. It is also a counterargument that can easily undermine the irrationality of corporate populism, were activists inclined to break with the priorities of the Democratic Party in favor of their own.


Saman Mohammadi said...

Good points.

There were a lot of confused passions, and uninformed claims in that march on Washington, which is very disturbing, but I still think it is a positive development in the political landscape, if it gets to be directed by independent and visionary leaders instead of demagogues in the pocket of corporate titans.

But it is scary. Let's not forget that Nazism was a national and religious phenomenon, largely made up of the working classes and unemployed, who got screwed in the end because Hitler was loyal to the industrial and business giants in Germany, who propped him up.

But I don't see the march yesterday as a working class event, chiefly because the participants were not screaming "give us jobs." These folks want government totally out of their lives, so it is not conservative either. Nazism promised breads and jobs, highway constructions, and a renewal of the land. So far, this doesn't look like a fascist event either. It is still too early to tell. But history is being made, there is no doubt about that.

JRB said...

As you suggest, the working class can either be organized around their own interests, or somebody else's.

What's happening now is they are being organized around somebody else's. That is scary, for all the reasons you mention.

Nonsense can masquerade as a "movement" only as long as there's money behind it and no one's around to make a better argument. At least the German communists tried!

Saman Mohammadi said...

Yeah, I agree, the effort must be made to educate and lead these people. But the progressives on the Left are not trying. The only minority willing enough to direct this mass of stupidity are the Ron Paul click/Alex Jones tribe, who detest both the republicans and the democrats, and have real integrity.

If Ron Paul and Ralph Nader, two independent politicians, extend hands once again as they did during the 08 election, and form a new third party, then that could drown out this Dick Armey constituency, which has yet to become a movement. The time is ticking, though, because these people are committed and serious. Some of these are the same old christian fascists who are itching for 2010 and 2012, and the Democratic party is serving nothing but meat to them. It is completely scary, because I had no idea these people could be mobilized this quickly. And the German communist had balls, there is no comparable force in America yet. But it is there, independents are the majority in most states, and they could be mobilized just as greatly. These confused republicans are not as influential as they think they are.

Jenny said...

Alex Jones? Really? Despite her numerous beliefs in conspiracy theories, I'd perfer a Nader/ Mckinney team up.

d.mantis said...

I agree that they are being organized around someone else's interests. However, for the most part these are people with middle to upper-middle-class incomes that have not seen quite as hard a time as the middle to lower working class.

Therefore, they have insurance, 401k, minivan and suburban home...screw the reform and government be damned!

While explaining simple common interests of the 'working class' would probably make sense to them, they are much more eager to blame the curretn demagogue. That is what they can get excited and organized about...not unfortunately 'real issues'.

cemmcs said...

Do we really know what socio-economic group they are comprised of?

d.mantis said...

Perhaps I am guilty of overrepresenting the sample I saw first hand. The protest held in my fair city was one of the largest that inevitably represented a sample locally rather than nationally.

Nevertheless, my point was to highlight that certain people would rather get very excited about placing blame and reveling in anger rather than honestly studying why we are in the situation we are in.

I agree with Truth Excavator that it was not a working class event. Yet, these people seemed of the working class, just focused to another's interests, hence all the smoke and no fire.

Cüneyt said...

Of course, we should investigate who these people are (not as a means of destroying them and gathering intelligence, but as a means to understanding them and where they come from), but the fact is, whoever marched, a lot of working class people support corporate interests, for one party or the other. This is an excellent post. This almost makes me believe in the people again.

d.mantis said...

While the marchers have many common interests with the working class, the bridge between them and a movement by the working class may be too large.

The Beck's, Hannity's and O'Reilly's (read: corporate sponsers) have perfected the game of divide and conquer. The only chance is to provide a movement that is louder than the lunatics.
Unfortunately, it must be louder than the mainstream liberal (read: corporate sponsors again) lunatics as well.

It may end up that the only thing mainstream liberals and the 912ers would come together on is to attack this working class movement.

JRB said...

Isn't there a more persuasive argument to be made on the subject of "oligarchy," etc., than whatever Glenn Beck comes up with?

I've always maintained that this is a resource war, and that is the only reason Beck "makes sense" to anyone: he has a platform to address them, in the absence of anything else.

The point of having a "left" in this country would be to establish "something else": an argument that would contextualize people's problems in a rational way. Also, people willing to deliver it.

Of course, this assumes we think the people left wanting for lack of anything else are worth fighting for, which many party-minded progressives do not.

d.mantis said...

Agreed. But I think Beck's draw is not only the resources he employs but the psychotic bullshit as well.

He cries on TeeVee and gets real close to the camera. He is worried about the direction of the country. Basically, he wraps everything up in a nice package. Every important "values voter" sponsered issue is a talking point in his attack on socialism, communism etc.

The followers I have spoken to do not need to know what they think on any particular issue, they can simply support HIM and his rhetoric.

Fuck party-minded progressives. These people are worth it. But I think the only way to reach them is with an earnest and extremely focused push based on one or two issues like labor, healthcare or ending the corporate ownership of government.

Other issues must be discarded to focus a new coalition of working class people that for too long have been divided to fight amongst themselves for corporate interests.

Did this make any sense...I am unsure.

JRB said...

Beck may be charismatic in his own way. But so are lots of people -- including those with a much firmer grasp of who the "elite" really are, and just how much "freedom" we enjoy when we step foot on their property or elect those from their ranks into public office.