Against Left Economic Populism

 

by Brendan Cooney

 

The rise of Trumpism, and the global rise of proto-fascist movements, have triggered calls on the left for a renewed left politics which can offer an alternative to Trumpism and fascism. A common theme is the call for a new left economic populism, of which Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” may be the one of the most prominent examples in the US. This new left economic populism is not all that new. It is a romantic populism that harkens back to the “glory” days of American prosperity in the post-war boom of the mid-20th century, when the US had a relatively robust welfare state, wages rose, policy makers saw a big place for the state in the maintenance of capitalist growth and regulation of class conflict, the state invested in big infrastructure projects, and the US had a strong manufacturing base which employed many people.

The new left economic populism calls for a redistributionist politics which aims to decrease income inequality through progressive taxation, higher minimum wages and generous social welfare programs. It often calls for the state to guarantee universal free health care. It calls for regulation of financial capital. And it calls for the state to jump-start economic growth through massive social spending programs, especially infrastructure spending that favors green design.

This essay critiques some of the assumptions behind this economic form of left populism. Left populism can take on other dimensions outside of this economic form, but this essay’s content is restricted to a discussion of left economic populism. Read More

Trump, Le Pen, Neoliberalism: Mea Culpa from a Far-Left Sanders Supporter

 
by Prestyr John

 
Mea Culpa: I have been following Andrew Kliman’s frequent warnings that Trumpism—and now, the possible victory of Marine Le Pen and her National Front in the French elections—pose a far more serious danger than neoliberalism does. I tried for a long time to disprove this in my own head. I didn’t want it to be right, because it’s just hard to admit that what I’ve been arguing and working for during the past year and a half is just not working out.

In fact it was just plain wrong. Read More

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 …
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