Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Question of Hierarchy

The Question of Hierarchy
By Brenan Daniels
This is a recent email interview I did with Hampton Institute founder and Social Economics Dept. Chair, Colin Jenkins on the nature and problems with hierarchical structures, which he discusses in his article entitled Deconstructing Hierarchies: On the Paradox of Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power.

1. Some people would argue that hierarchies are needed as people aren't really capable of leading themselves or that if they did, we wouldn't have a stable modern society. What is your response to that?

First, I would ask where this “stable modern society” is? And I would question this definition of “stability.” For a majority of the world’s population, life is incredibly unstable. For many, life is dire. Even in a so-called “advanced” society like the US, tens of millions of people suffer from homelessness, food insecurity, joblessness, a lack of reliable and affordable healthcare, and with no means to feed and clothe their children. Tens of millions must rely on government assistance. Tens of millions do not receive adequate education. Tens of millions live paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t pay their bills. And millions are terrorized by police forces and government agents in their own neighborhoods. Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, if any, and studies have estimated that more than half of all working Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless. And even those who appear to be getting by just fine are actually buried in debt, with credit card debt averaging $16,000 per household, mortgage and car payments that are barely doable, and student loan debt averaging at $49,000 per borrower, many of whom are in no position to ever pay that back. Our collective existence, despite a general appearance of comfort, is extremely fragile. And this economic reality doesn’t even begin to touch on the compounded social realities lived by historically marginalized sections of the working class – people of color, women, immigrants, etc… The US is a ticking time bomb on the verge of exploding at any moment. Stability is a mirage.
Second, the idea that “people aren’t capable of leading themselves” stems from a need to maintain fundamentally unequal societies where a very small percentage of the population controls most of the wealth and power. This has become part of the dominant ideology of most of the modern world. When a very small percentage of a particular population controls everything, there must be various ways to justify and enforce this control.
One way is through brute force or the threat of such force, which the modern nation-state holds a monopoly on. This is accomplished through the mere construction of a criminal justice system that has laws and ways of enforcing those laws. Over time, these laws become equated with some vague form of morality that is not questioned by most. You see the effects of this everywhere. For instance, when people try to condemn political struggles for doing things that are “illegal,” they have subconsciously bought into the idea that written laws which have been drawn up by millionaire politicians, who are directly influenced by billionaires, should be revered as some sort of moral code. In reality, many of these laws are constructed to keep our extremely unequal society intact, and are directly tied to protecting those who own this illegitimate wealth and power. They are designed to keep most of us powerless and stuck in our increasingly precarious lives. Under such a society, a person who does not have access to food for themselves or their family is punished for taking food. A person who is homeless is punished for squatting in an abandoned building. A person who does not have medical care is punished (financially, if not criminally) for seeking medical attention. So on and so on… and all of this takes place in a very strict hierarchical arrangement where the appearance of “stability” remains at the forefront. It’s an inherently unjust arrangement for so many, and the threat of force is constantly held over our heads to maintain this fa├žade of stability.
Another way to justify and enforce this control is through what Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci referred to as “cultural hegemony,” or dominant culture. Ruling classes throughout history have relied on both formal and informal channels to mold a dominant culture (ideology) that supports their rule. This can be established through a formal education system, through media sources, through organized religion and churches, etc… Under capitalism, this doesn’t have to be done in a conspiratorial kind of way because the basic inequities stemming from the economic system create a sociopolitical structure that mimics and protects these inequities through social, cultural, political, and “legal” avenues. One of the results of this is a widespread, conditioned belief that we are not capable of caring for ourselves, our families, and our communities; and thus need so-called “extraordinary” people to do this for us. It is a lie.

2. In a social sense, why do you think that social hierarchies and larger societal norms still reign when we don't seem to need them anymore? (Social norms were important in the early days of humanity as if one wasn't part of the group, they often wouldn't survive, but now it is rather easy to flourish alone or find people who you link with.)
I think social hierarchies still exist because they are a natural extension from the more tangible/structural economic hierarchy. The dominant culture in this type of society needs such social norms. The Marxist theory of base and superstructure is useful in this regard, and I think I get into some of this in the piece. A materialist conception of history tells us that society is constructed on an economic base, or is based on the modes of production, because it is this fundamental arrangement that ultimately determines how people fulfill their basic needs. Everything else builds off of that arrangement. In a capitalist system, a large majority of the population is forced to rely on wage labor. This is an incredibly fragile and unstable existence because we are at the complete mercy of a privileged minority that we are forced to rely on to fulfill even our most basic needs. This is why Frederick Douglass recognized that a “slavery of wages [is] only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery.” Hence, Marx’s focus on exploitation and alienation. This structural oppression created by capitalism explains the need for a Welfare State, because societal unrest would be inevitable without the state supplementing these inherent and widespread inequities.
So, according to this analysis, there is a superstructure that builds from this unequal base, and this includes social, cultural, and political realities. Naturally, the superstructure mimics the base, while it also helps to maintain it. In doing so, these corollary developments tend to take on the same characteristics as the base, which, as already noted, consists of a high degree of alienation and exploitation. This basically means that social systems stemming from an inherently exploitative base tend to become exploitative themselves. One of the best examples of this is white supremacy, which is an artificial system of valuing human worth based on skin color. White supremacy is a modern cultural phenomenon that extends throughout the superstructure in both overt and undetected or insidious ways.  And it is a valuable tool used by the capitalist/ruling class to create division within the working-class majority. Other cultural phenomena like patriarchy and homophobia work the same way. These things easily catch on within the working class because they are a source of empowerment for an otherwise powerless group. We’re all economically disenfranchised, but poor and working-class white men can still grasp on to whiteness, “manliness,” misogyny, and homophobia as sources of power and social dominance. You see this psyche develop not only in white people, but also throughout the working class. Some black men, despite their own intense structural oppression, will become misogynistic or homophobic as a source of empowerment. A particular immigrant community will dehumanize another immigrant community as a source of empowerment. American workers across the board will target and dehumanize immigrants. So on and so on. What we’re seeing here is the formation of social hierarchies within the working class, all of which mimic the hierarchy created by the economic base. Tragically, this perceived power over others within the working class is easily accessible, and it’s a cheap and toxic source of empowerment. But it is a good thing for the capitalist class… as it keeps working-class angst within its own ranks and directed away from the real culprits – the rich. It’s the ultimate distraction.
On a related note, these social hierarchies are worthy of examination to all of us who oppose the capitalist system. When we look at developments within the superstructure, we can strategize and build liberation movements that will ultimately break them down, which will in turn allow us to build a formidable resistance against the economic base. This is why intersectionality is crucial. But intersectionality only works if it is based in a fundamentally anti-capitalist orientation. Because if we don’t approach this with the ultimate goal of attacking and destroying the economic base, it won’t matter in the end. We’ll find ourselves in the same position, only under a multi-cultural, multi-sex, non-gender-descript boot, as opposed to a “white, cisgender, male” boot. And this is the pitfall that identity politics fall into. Capitalism has the ability to accommodate these types of political movements by simply allowing individuals from hyper-marginalized sections of the working class to assume positions of power within these hierarchies. This approach is only about assimilation; and because of this, it only demands that that the power structure become more inclusive, not that the power structure be eliminated. Capitalism can and will easily appease this kind of tokenism without changing its inherently authoritative and exploitative structure.

3. People seem to be (at least somewhat) against hierarchy, from having an intense dislike of their bosses to wanting a level playing field. Why do we not see more people moving away or speaking out against hierarchy? So many times, it seems that the very people at the bottom are the ones who argue in favor of it.
Yes, definitely. This is a form of cognitive dissonance that we all experience from time to time, and I reflect on it briefly in the piece: “…organizations are often able to stoke a cognitive dissonance among its workforce, which simultaneously puts forth a healthy dose of faith in the ‘team approach’ by day while complaining about the incompetent and overbearing bosses by night.”
This particular line refers to the contradictions we feel in the workplace. The daytime mentality is one that is a product of constant conditioning, which tells us that hierarchies are needed, that we are naturally dependent on bosses, and that we would be lost without them. The nighttime mentality is more natural and will creep into our heads at times, causing us to question everything we’re conditioned to believe during the day. Daily interactions with bosses often plant the seed for these realizations, as we recognize their incompetence or at the very least their lack of exceptionalism. This will inevitably bring us to consider that maybe we don’t need them, maybe we are just as (if not more) competent, that there really is no meritocracy, and that if they happened to suddenly disappear one day they probably wouldn’t be missed.
This is, of course, true. We don’t need them. But the conditioning that we are subjected to in most aspects of our lives tells us otherwise, and this makes it difficult for many to realize that truth. To consider the very notion of “supervision” and “management” as anything but insulting is truly amazing, when you think about it, yet most struggle with this dissonance. And understandably so, since the conditioning is intense and begins at such a young age. This reminds me of the notion of “bullshit jobs” that David Graeber has talked about in length, and is in the process of writing a book about. His angle is more focused on working-class jobs throughout the system, but I think this same line of thinking can be applied to jobs that fill the hierarchy just for the sake of filling the hierarchy.
In addition to this conditioning, there is also a mentality that becomes fairly prevalent among those who exist on the lower end of the hierarchy, and it speaks to the old adage, “if you can’t beat em, join em.” It is the mentality that creates the toadies for bullies, that creates house slaves for the master, etc… it forms whenever someone has been psychologically beaten into submission. These are the folks who have given themselves completely to the system, to the powers, to their bosses and overseers because, quite frankly, they simply have no fight in them, no self-esteem, and no dignity left. They are the first to dish the dirt to the bosses, the first to scab during a strike, the first to call the police on their neighbor, the first to serve the powerful with whatever is needed, and always at the sake of their class peers on the lower end of the hierarchy. These folks will always argue in favor of hierarchy, despite their lowly position in it, because they’ve decided that it’s easier to accept it, support it, and invest in it, rather than fight it. And, in many respects, they’re right. Fighting power isn’t easy. It often has disastrous personal consequences for those who partake in it. As the Russian anarchist Sergey Nechayez wrote in the opening of his famous Catechism of a Revolutionary, “The revolutionary is a doomed man.” There is a lot of truth to this.

4. How do people reinforce hierarchy in their everyday lives and how can they fight back against it?
I think basic daily human interactions reinforce these hierarchies. There is an ongoing debate within the Left about the power and usefulness of language. This debate is intimately connected with things like “privilege discourse,” “political correctness,” “call-out culture,” and identity politics. Many leftists who are loyal to materialist analysis, and who spend a lot of time railing against post-new left discourse, minimize the importance of language. Many younger leftists, who are more inclined to intersectionality or who enter the Left through a lens of identity politics, place a premium on policing language. While I realize the dangers that are associated with this type of “post-new left discourse” (primarily when it is not based in anti-capitalism), I also agree that there is something to language and how it reinforces the hierarchies that we are ultimately seeking to bring down.
Dominant vernacular is rooted in dominant culture, no? If we are to believe in historical materialism and the reciprocal relationship between the base and superstructure, then it seems consistent to also believe that all of the societal norms that development within this cultural hegemony stem from this same base. Because of this, language tends to be misogynistic, homophobic, white supremacist, and classist. This is reflected in media, Hollywood, advertisement, talk radio, and sports, and as well as in our daily interactions with one another.
It can be very subtle. Using the n-word reinforces white supremacy. Using the f-word reinforces homophobia. Claiming that someone has “no class” reinforces bourgeois culture. Using the term “white trash” reinforces white supremacy by implying that “trash” is defaulted as being non-white. Calling women “hoes” and “whores,” while at the same time basing their human value in attractiveness or sexuality, reinforces patriarchy. Praising someone as being “like a boss” reinforces capitalist hierarchy. Worshipping celebrities reinforces a capitalist culture that determines human value based in wealth, or the lack thereof. Being absorbed in consumerism reinforces a culture that determines human value on the brand of clothing or shoes one is wearing, or the kind of car they drive, or the house they live in.  These types of things quite literally place varying degrees of value on human lives, thus reinforcing various forms of social hierarchy. And something as simple as language, or the ways in which we interact with one another, emboldens the power structure(s) that we as leftists seek to destroy.

5. In what ways do you see hierarchy expanding or intensifying now that the US has moved to a 'service economy,' apparently in which there will be an increase in hierarchical authority, compared to when the US was a manufacturing nation? How has the dismantling of unions aided (as of current) or helped to dissuade (in the past) workplace hierarchy?
I am not sure the service economy will necessarily expand or intensify hierarchical arrangements in any structural sense. But you’re right in suggesting that a move away from an industrial/manufacturing economy has made workers more vulnerable and powerless within these hierarchies. Service-sector work is much more precarious, is typically low-wage with very few benefits, and often does not include any kind of healthcare coverage or retirement plan. And the service-sector environment leaves workers on a virtual island, in that it doesn’t offer the same potential for collectivization as the traditional shop floor once did. Without collectivization, workers are basically powerless.
The dismantling of unions went hand in hand with the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. Since the neoliberal revolution that was ushered in by Reagan, the share of workers who belong to unions in the private sector has fallen from 34 percent to 7 percent. I believe 1 in 3 public sector workers are still in unions. Overall though, union membership has plummeted in the US, which is a very bad thing for the working class. Under capitalism, our only leverage against capital is either (1) the government, or (2) labor unions. The government is now owned by capital, and thus acts solely in its interest. So that’s effectively out of the equation. And unions have not only eroded, but many that have endured have taken on a corporate hierarchical structure themselves, where union executives are often completely out of touch with membership. Union leaders tend to be in bed with corporate politicians, an arrangement that is contradictory to the purpose of unions.
We see this contradictory nature when unions routinely endorse corporate Democrats who represent capital. We see it when unions agree to no-strike clauses. We see it when so-called leadership gives concession after concession, year after year, until there’s virtually nothing left to bargain for. And we see it in this bureaucratic, corporatized union culture of today, where demands have been replaced by requests.  Unions will often take reactionary stands that defy international and universal solidarity. We saw this recently with the AFL-CIO endorsing the Dakota Access Pipeline. You see it with police unions or prison employee unions, all of which side with capital and the social hierarchies that extend from capital, ultimately oppressing large sectors of the working class.
With the erosion of authentic labor unions, we’ve become much more vulnerable to these extreme hierarchies as a whole. And without these types of unions, workers simply have no chance against the powerful interests of capital. So, yes, the degrees to which we are smothered by these hierarchies will only intensify in this environment, especially if we continue to place our hopes in the government, politicians, and corporatized labor unions.

6. How does your argument regarding hierarchy creating a lack of trust square with this modern idea that work places need to be 'open areas' so that people can 'bond?'
That’s a good question. We read a lot about this new-age sort of workplace organization stemming from Silicon Valley, Google, Apple, etc… This idea that workplaces should be more carefree, less constrained. I’ve read about such experiments where workers can take naps, bring their pets to work, have access to fun activities directly in the workplace. And when you look at workplace organization in some European countries, you see that many companies have attempted to do away with traditional hierarchical structures to make workers feel more “at home” in a relaxed environment.
The fact that companies are experimenting with these ‘open areas’ confirms, at the very least, that they are aware of the archaic and inhumane nature of traditional hierarchical workplaces. This move also reflects some studies that have been done regarding productivity, which have suggested that workers are more productive in environments that are less constrictive, and that workers typically are only productive for a few hours a day. So, if anything, it’s an attempt by companies to adjust with the times and do away with old forms of organization.
Unfortunately, attempts like these only tend to create more internal contradictions to capitalism. Attempting to mask the inherent nature of capitalism only goes so far. And the “open-office model” that Google became known for is not really an effort to make hierarchical structures more horizontal. It is concerned only with literal workspace, not with the ways in which the hierarchy operates on a structural level. And while it may appear to be benevolent on the surface, it often has more insidious motives. A 2014 WaPo article by Lindsey Kaufman touched on some of these issues, pointing out that “these new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs,” and that “bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on employees,” with less physical barriers obstructing them. Studies cited in the article suggested that these open-office experiments were not beneficial to workers, at least from the workers’ point of view. A study found that many workers are “frustrated by distractions” and lack of privacy, both sound and visual. And workers reported that these new floor plans did not ease interactions with colleagues, as intended, because this was never viewed as a problem to begin with.
With these results in mind, it seems such attempts have been a failure. And it makes you wonder why they were attempted in the first place. Was it really to create a “friendlier” atmosphere, or was it rooted in something more sinister? Understanding the way capitalism operates, it’s safe to assume the latter. Either way, despite the motivations, the capitalist structure still remains – which means that most workers are creating massive amounts of wealth for executives and shareholders in exchange for wages and salaries that do not equal their contribution. If they make enough to lead comfortable lives, they may be more willing to overlook this structural exploitation. But it still exists. Bosses still remain, and workers are still treated as commodities, no matter how glossed over the physical workplace appears. There are still those who make more, in many cases a whole lot more, for doing much less (the pursuit of “money and idleness” that I referenced in the piece). And some who rake in large amounts of money for doing absolutely nothing, and without even stepping foot in the workplace. That is the fundamental nature of both capitalism and hierarchies. No amount of makeup can change this.

7. What is your take on the literature and ideas surrounding employee relationship management? What do you think is the actual idea around it on a structural level?

This type of literature is designed to address the inequities by essentially covering them up as best as possible. Their purpose is two-fold:  to teach bosses how to get the most from their workers; and to get workers to buy into a “team approach” that convinces them they’re vested in the mission in some way. This is accomplished basically through propaganda, or a conscious effort to downplay the coercive nature of this relationship. On the one end it provides bosses, supervisors, and managers with tools and tactics rooted in persuasion, to get workers to think, behave, and perceive themselves in a way that is detached as far from reality as possible. Since human beings don’t typically react well to being treated and used as tools, to be manipulated, prodded, directed, etc.

So this type of literature is designed to give bosses ways to obstruct this reality. To interact with their workers in ways that mask the coercive power they wield over them. And they tend to be very successful in doing this… so much so that many workers truly believe they are vested in the businesses they work for, or at the very least will rep that business in a positive way to friends and family, if only to mask their shitty realities to themselves. A shitty reality that basically amounts to us spending most of our waking hours in a place we do not want to be in, doing something we would rather not be doing, so we can get a paycheck every few weeks, so we can pay our bills, so we can scrape out a living for another few weeks. For most of us, it’s a never-ending cycle that we’ll never escape. It’s a miserable, inhumane existence where life is lived a week at a time, or two weeks at a time, essentially from one paycheck to the next. And the best we can hope for is to stay afloat until the next paycheck, so we can start over again. And to add insult to injury, we’re told that we “should feel lucky to even have a job.” That’s the world capitalism brings us.

So this workplace literature, and the management tactics that come from it, plays into the cognitive dissonance that I mentioned earlier. On a structural level, the idea is merely to keep things churning by creating alternative realities that workers can be proud of. To use the plantation analogy, it really is a way to instill the house-slave mentality in each and every one of us. It won’t work for some, but it works well enough for most. Even those struck with this cognitive dissonance will often lean toward that which makes them feel vested, secure, proud, respected, appreciated, etc… even though these feeling are not consistent with reality. It is a form of coping for many, and corporate literature will certainly exploit that and drill it home. And we as workers, stuck in our miserable realities, will often accept it if it helps us cope. Because we need that paycheck.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Horrors of the Fantasyland

The Horrors of the Fantasyland

By Brenan Daniels

We are living in a deeply society steeped in fantasy, to the point where it is in many ways a nightmare, but worse as the horrors are real. It is devoid of any empathy, compassion, and we are not only destroying the society, but we are also slowly killing ourselves.

During this most recent election, two wretched candidates were fostered upon us. One that has shown their hatred for anyone who is different (different in this case meaning not an able-bodied white male), who is unintelligible, and wants to wage a class war on the poor and vulnerable, while increasing the security state.

The other candidate, while not bigoted, wanted to continue to exact same policies that led us to this current situation where the wealth divide widens more and more. She was also as much of, if not moreso, a war hawk than her Republican counterpart, actively pushing for actions that could result in a confrontation with Russia.

The policies of the current President have harmed and are going to harm a number of people, including those who voted for him. However, his supporters back these policies, under the illusion that they will somehow benefit, whether it be in the form of well paying jobs or that people who they perceive to threaten the country will be gone. What is currently being enacted, however, will aid in their own destruction, but they hold on to this idea as it is all they have left, having been victims of parasitic corporations that have gotten blood from the people and have moved on to the next prey.

The Democrats, however, are themselves under a spell that the Russians are somehow involved in Trump’s election and that is why Clinton lost, when that has been said to be untrue by a number of people and most recently those who were in the Clinton camp. Yet, each group believes they are correct and engages in dehumanization or degradation, such as calling people Trumpanzees.

Strangely enough, though, while Clinton and Trump supporters may be at each other’s throats, they both seem to hold the same idea: that if ‘their candidate’ had been elected (or now that ‘their candidate’ is in office in the case of Trump supporters), that things will be fine. Both groups see the situation mainly, if not entirely through rose-colored glasses while ignoring the reality of what is happening or very well could have happened with regards to Clinton.

Furthermore, society seems to have a massive disconnect with reality in the realm of economics. The majority of people still support capitalism, when it is that very system that has aided in their past and present suffering, as can be seen in everything from the 2008 financial crash to the ‘free trade’ agreements that are still on the table, such as the Trade In Services Agreement to the privatization of education. Many have a positive view of the economy, however, 95% of new jobs under Obama were part time or contract. On top of that, even though the country hates Congress, yet they still elect the same politicians, most of whom are millionaires and want to enact the very policies that will harm their constituents. It is here that we reach a different level of fantasy, where those in charge are living in a fantasyland. Paul Ryan and others in Congress are attempting to get Obamacare repealed even though millions would lose coverage, including those who backed Trump. At a higher level, we have the current Secretary of State who seems to be pushing for a war with North Korea when the American people themselves don’t want another war.

So why does any of this matter? Why should anyone care? This is important as it is a major sign of a society in decline. When the power structures, but more importantly the people, are disassociated from the reality of what is actually occurring to them, it means that the society may soon no longer be able to function. However, it also shows that when reality does finally set in, not just economically and politically but also environmentally, the much worse as people will be scrambling to create alternatives and generally attempt to survive. The fantasyland matters as it act as a pacifier of sorts, it is the very thing that is hindering us from radically transforming our society from a culture of narcissism and death to a culture of love and life.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Striking While The Iron Is Hot: Trump and the Anifa Resistance

Striking While The Iron Is Hot: Trump and the Anifa Resistance

By Brenan Daniels

This is a recent interview I did with JA, an admin of the Facebook page Anarchist Memes where we discuss Trump, his ascendancy to the Presidency, and how people can resist him and the fascist elements are are growing.

1. Regarding Trump’s ascendance to the Presidency, many argued that he would never make it. Seeing his rhetoric and proposed policies at the very beginning, what were your initial thoughts? Do you think that his tapping into social and economic unrest was purposeful on some level?

I thought that Trump was too unpolished and goofy, to beat a career politician of Clinton's caliber. It seemed to me at the time that his ascendency to RNC nominee was the result of in-fighting and disarray within the GOP. I never imagined he'd win the presidential election.

I don't think that anything Trump does is particularly strategic on his part. Even when it is apparent he's trying to stick to a narrative, he still seems to go off-script, and delve in to bizarre and perverse tangents. I think the man is totally untethered to objective reality.

2. There are those who would argue that in some ways a Trump win is impressive seeing as how the media and a large amount of The Establishment was against him. What are your thoughts on this?

I think he is popular for the same reasons right-wing, racist, proto-fascist demagogues are ever popular. Namely, the combination of socio-economic despair and a chauvinistic dominant culture. My intuition is that, those who are deeply invested in the narratives and affirmations of the dominant culture, resolve the emotional and cognitive dissonance of their socioeconomic predicament within the culture as well as dissent against it...by going deeper in to their nationalist fairytales and faulting scapegoats and/or lack-of-purity/faith as to explain the present conditions.

Trump's utter stupidity, incredulity and narcissism allowed him to say and declare things that a more strategic and refined politician would-not. I think this allowed him to out-flank his opponents in the GOP and DNC alike. Likewise, the media seemed either unaware or unconcerned that its tittering responses to Trump, amplified his popularity.

3. Currently it seems that Trump is hitting the ground running by doing a number of things such as the recent Muslim ban, proposing that the US leave the United Nations, and reinstating a ban on US funding overseas, to the glee of many of his supporters. However, there are those who are expressing dismay over other policies such as a freeze on government employee hiring and salaries. What do you think will happen if/when people realize that many of Trump’s policies are going to hurt them? Will we see an increase in violence against marginalized communities?

I think it's decidedly possible that the white-reactionary milieu will react violently if/when their economic conditions are negatively impacted by Trumps policies. Some certainly will. But the flip-side of that, the only possible silver-lining to any of this depravity and cruelty, is that the shock of trumps failures on the reactionary white working class, may bump them out of their racist, right-wing stupor. I think it’s incumbent on radicals to strike while things are amorphous and strange, and try to capitalize on the shocks that do come. 

4. What would you make of the liberal’s reaction to Trump? There are some who argue that this is an opportunity to push them further to the left, but on a personal level, I have some doubts about that seeing as how they supported Clinton, who seemingly wanted to push us into a war with Russia.

I think it's a mixed-bag. I think some liberals have been bumped ever-so-slightly to the left, become disillusioned with the DNC, with their patriotism, with capitalism etc. I think there are also liberals who are looking for an excuse, a scapegoat, someone or something to blame for the ascension of Trump. I've interacted with both types. Some who have shown an interest in radical philosophy and explanations where before there was a lack of interest...and I've also met some who have tried to blame Sanders or everyone to the left of Clinton for the outcome of the election.

5. Seeing the rise of the far right in Europe and finally it coming to the US, how would you say that Trump fits into a larger global context of elements of the Western world embracing far right fascistic (and actual fascist) politics?

I think what is happening in the US is a similar phenomenon to what we've seen and is happening in Europe. Where economic stagnation or depression generate a resultant lashing out by those enamored with the dominant culture's narratives and mythology...as well as anyone else critical of that mythology.

6. Given the recent J20 protests and the black bloc actions, what should anarchists do now that we are in a Trump presidency, someone who many would argue is close to, if not entirely, a fascist?

I think the most useful and necessary and impactful thing radicals can do is join an organization – and start organizing. As well, I think radicals needs to make a concerted effort to try and organize, radicalize, and bring-in working class and rural white people – as tempting as it is to just write-off anyone who is even the slightest bit reactionary (and I wouldn't blame anyone who does), I think work needs to be done to change these people's minds – to help them find another path materially and ideologically.

7. Seeing as how I have used the term fascism and fascist in the last two questions, where can people go to get a solid understanding of fascism, both historically and modern day as it seems that it is a word that can be misapplied.

There's a ton of literature out there, people just need to reach out and grab it. They can go to the source, like Mussolini or Jose Antonio to even out their understanding of Nazism – or to any number of books comparing and contrasting the various strains in fascism. As well, there is anti-fascist literature which also gives great insight in to what fascism is and how fascists behave (AK press just released “Confronting Fascism” for free in eBook form, and I know M. Testa's "Militant Fascism" is available in pdf form for free on the internet).

That said, I think people's impulse to use the label is usually generally correct – in that the people they're assigning the label to exhibit (generally) the basic features of fascism...even if not in an explicitly ideological or intentional way.

8. In what way(s) can people be organized today to support antifascism and push for change beyond the ballot box, including those who lack time/funds due to personal situations?

Join an organization(s) and just do something – anything one can – for that organization(s)...and try not to fall in to complacency after an absence from involvement. Being broke, having kids, work, social life, health issues etc. all invariably inhibit our ability to maintain commitments to organizations we'd like to be involved in and the tendency to stay-away after an absence is common. Try to remember, that our participation is needed, and wanted, and beneficial.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Working Class, The Election and Trump

The Working Class, The Election, and Trump: An Interview with Sean Posey

Given the talk of the role of the white working class in the recent election I decided to do an interview with Hampton's Urban Issues Chair Sean Posey on the white working class, seeing as how he is from such an area. In it, we discuss the media, the Democratic Party's relation to the white working class, and end with what the left can do from here. 
1. There is constant talk of how the Democrats lost the white working class. What do you think of this narrative? It seems especially strange when the media rarely if ever brings up the working class and especially the white working class.

It's true. As the New York Times put it, "In the end, the bastions of industrial-era Democratic strength among white working-class voters fell to Mr. Trump." Basically, voters in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania allowed Trump to breech Clinton's "blue wall" and win the election.

But yes, it's interesting that working class voters-white working class voters, anyway-were a significant part of the media's presidential coverage for the first time in many years. The media's focus on the white working class is predominately because of Trump and the kind of campaign he chose to run.

Trump honed in on what he called "forgotten Americans," largely working class people in "flyover country," as it's often derisively called. Somehow Trump understood the enormous malaise that exists in wide swaths of America where local economies-and cultures-have disintegrated. He tapped a vein of populist rage and channeled it back into his campaign. It seemingly took everyone by surprise, especially the media and the political elite.

It's important to remember how concentrated the media is now-mostly on the coasts around Washington, New York City, Boston, places like that. So it comes as no surprise that many journalists are deeply puzzled by Trump's rise. It's far less surprising to those of us rooted in what you might call "Trump Country."

Although poorly covered by the media, white working class support buoyed Obama in 2008 and 2012. As the New York Times put it, Obama's "key support often came in the places where you would least expect it. He did better than John Kerry and Al Gore among white voters across the Northern United States, despite exit poll results to the contrary. Over all, 34 percent of Mr. Obama's voters were whites without a college degree - larger in number than black voters, Hispanic voters or well-educated whites."

2. There are those that argue that those who voted for Trump are all racists/sexists? Now, it would be foolish to say that racism and sexism didn't play a role, however, how true would you say these accusations are, being from an area that voted for Trump?

As you mention, it's foolish to discount the importance of race-and racial appeals-along with sexism. However, those who attempt to reduce Trump's win to matters of race and gender alone are kidding themselves. Whites actually lost a net total of 700,000 jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession-the only racial/ethnic group to experience such losses. White workers aged 25 to 54 lost nearly 6.5 million jobs during those nine years, while Asian, Latino and black workers in the same age bracket gained millions of jobs.

And there are now almost nine million more jobs than in November 2007.

According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, during the primary, Trump won 89 of the 100 counties most affected by trade with China. And most disturbingly, life expectancy for whites, predominately in the working class, is actually declining. There's nothing similar in the West to compare it to. It's no wonder that so many found Trump's appeals, which aside from race, centered on trade, jobs, national and cultural renewal.

My home state of Ohio suffered immensely after China's entry into the WTO; that's in addition to the deindustrialization that began in the 1970s. The inability or unwillingness of the Democrats to address the pain of the "hollowed out American Heartland," as I call it, brought them disaster on November 8. Trump won HALF the union vote in Ohio. That's unprecedented for a Republican candidate.
3. Some would say that those who voted for Trump are getting exactly what they deserve, as they voted Republican. While understandable, isn't that line of thinking a bit of a problem seeing as how these very same people didn't really have any other options besides Republicans or neoliberal Democrats, both of which would have damned them?

Those who say that Trump voters get what they deserve are actually feeding into the Trump movement. It's important to understand where many of these people are coming from. Now, I'm not talking about the Alt-Right or the Klan elements, but I'd clearly place them in the minority. If we write off a huge chunk of the working class, how are we ever going to build a movement of working people?

In his book, Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? Thomas Franks dissects the decades-long movement of the Democrats into the neoliberal camp. The Democratic Party is America's left party; it's why the party exists. Yet Democrats increasingly represent a tiny fraction of Americans, not the top 1 percent, but the top 10 percent. Unions, industrial workers, service workers, etc., have no place left to turn. Many ran to Trump's campaign. Condemning those voters as completely stupid or as a "basket of deplorables" will simply give us eight years of Donald Trump. Liberals would do much better by looking in the mirror.
4. There seems to be something of a stereotype of poor whites who voted for Trump as these dumb, backwards people who can't figure out their own interests, which doesn't seem true, as Washington Post reported in November that people voted for Trump as they saw him as vital to securing their economic interests . Seeing as how you are from an area that voted for Trump, how would you characterize the people there?

The Washington Post article you mentioned gets to the heart of it. Obama actually carried Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin-twice. The idea that Hillary couldn't win these states is pretty laughable. Trump is the first Republican candidate in 30 years to be really competitive here in Ohio's Mahoning Valley, and he became competitive by running a populist campaign. By contrast, Clinton couldn't even elucidate a reason why she wanted to be president, other than the fact that she wanted to be president. The deindustrialized communities of the Rust Belt voted for disruption. Why? They've clearly gained little from the status quo. Perhaps the Democrats should listen…
5. What are your thoughts on the attempt by Jill Stein and others to engage in a vote recount or try to pressure the electoral college to vote for Clinton?

Stein's recount effort proved to be a waste of time and resources. It represents one of several misguided efforts (such as the attempt to influence electoral voters to defy Trump) to derail the Trump Train. I see it as one more effort to avoid building a real movement for change. Say what you want about the right, but they understand how to organize and influence power. Liberals and progressives? Not so much.

6. There is large amounts of anger and frustration at the election of Trump, however, it seems to be being put into marching and backing other Democratic candidates, some of whom such as Bernie Sanders, have said they would work with Trump. Why do you think that people are still pushing for the same old solutions, when those clearly have not worked?

The left is badly fractured and demoralized. The failure of the Democratic Party and the failure of movements such as Occupy have left many on the left confused and bewildered. For decades, communism served as the one great unifier for many leftist movements, but communism is dead. No coherent competing philosophy has emerged to counter capitalism and neoliberalism. You can see this in Europe where nationalism and right-wing populism are on the rise. The left across the West is perplexed about how to deal with it.

What is to be done? No one seems to know at this point, and we don't have time much time left to figure it out.