Brexit, Trumpism, Sanders, and the Decrepit State of Capitalism: Against Political Determinism

by Michael Rectenwald

Published simultaneously in With Sober Senses and CLG News.


There’s a basic article of faith in leftist thought, held especially dearly by most among the U.S. left. It is so entrenched and so seldom challenged that it has attained the status of myth, an unquestioned origin story on par with the Book of Genesis, as the latter must have been regarded within Christendom during the Middle Ages.

The myth goes like this: During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two arch right-wing and highly potent politicians, rose to power in their respective nations, the U.S. and the U.K. They thereafter began to institute what was for the vast majority a vile and destructive political and economic scheme: “neoliberalism.” Previous to the instalment of this neoliberal scheme, the working class had experienced relative economic improvement, and capitalists seemed happy too (as if we care). But suddenly, and seemingly without cause (although the failure of Keynesianism was apparent in the unprecedented stagflation of the 1970s), these evil political twins, prompted by wizards who formalized the approach, introduced the nefarious ideology of neoliberalism to the world. As cruel and heartless representatives of the capitalist class (which, indeed, they were), they and their supporters caused the Fall from the supposed Paradise of Keynesian reformism that had preceded them. In this mythological version of reality, neoliberalism is understood merely as a set of essentially unwarranted and unusually brutal policies, an ideological and political formation that was hatched in the brains of evil masterminds conspiring in right-wing think tanks, concocted to dupe and punish the vast majority for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

This narrative sounds cartoonish or religious in character, but only because it is – not because I have made it so. It is a typical leftist personification of world-historical forces in lieu of an actual analysis within political economy. It amounts to what I have elsewhere called “political reductionism,” which is similar to what Andrew Kliman has referred to as “political determinism.” Kliman describes political determinism as such: “They [Keynesians and social democrats] think that the capitalists [and/or their political representatives] control capitalism––not the other way around––so that the system can become something it’s not once different people with different priorities assume control of it.” Thus, if only such people as Reagan and Thatcher had never been elected, or better yet, had never been born …
Read More

Post-Work: Zombie Social Democracy with a Human Face?

by Andrew Kliman, author of The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (Pluto Books, 2012) and Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (Lexington Books, 2007).

This article was originally published in New Left Project, on Sept. 13, 2013

The vision of a “post-work” society––one in which the fruits of technological progress take the form of reduced work-time rather than more consumer goods and services––has recently enjoyed a measure of renewed interest and support in parts of the left. There’s the essay by John Quiggin, a social-democratic Keynesian economist and author of Zombie Economics; articles by Peter Frase and Chris Maisano in Jacobin magazine; and, from a somewhat different perspective, David Graeber‘s recent thoughts on “bullshit jobs”. Read More

Video: The Incoherence of “Transitional Society”

The Incoherence of “Transitional Society” as a Marxian Concept

 by Andrew Kliman


Kliman gave this talk to the Workers’ and Punks’ University May Day School in Llubljana, Slovenia, on April 27, 2013. The text of the talk is published below. The video, which includes the hour-long discussion that followed the talk, is here.

* * * * *

First, a comment on the title of this talk. Titles have to be short, so I’ve used the phrase “Marxian concept,” but that’s ambiguous. What I mean is, “of Marx, in the context of Marx’s thought.” I’m not saying that proponents of the concept of a “transitional society” can’t be Marxists. The question of who is and isn’t a Marxist doesn’t interest me.

I want to thank Workers’ and Punks’ University for inviting me here, and for all of your work to the May Day School possible. And I want to thank you for publishing “Two Peas in a Pod,” a critique of positions on the Eurozone crisis put forward by Costas Lapavitsas and Michel Husson that Anne Jaclard and I wrote. We are pleased that people in Greece, to whom we sent the English version, liked it so much that they immediately translated and published it in Greek. So perhaps it may contribute a bit to the fightback there against the efforts to solve the crisis on the backs of working people. Read More