Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Failure Of Progressivism

I know I know, another critique, but within critique are the solutions. You have to unpack what is not working and why in order to imagine what might be, and so... What we are witnessing today, from Europe to the Middle East into the Americas is the break down of systems built on the cherished notion of liberal democratic capitalism. At it's heart, the hegemonic ideology underpinning this system stressed the historic break from labor-capitol antagonism and conflict to a new administered, managed, frictionless system. In Europe this was expressed in the form of social democracy, a large interventionist welfare state that mediated in some neutral fashion between labor and capitol. It was the result of a victorious Labor Party expressing the will of powerful industrial, public and trade unions and a general will for modern, progressive planning combined with markets and finance capital. As we now recognize, this was a fragile arrangement which depended on mystifying certain class relations and a new form of colonization. Wealth was distributed from South to North and East to West while profits shrank and debt increased. This "crisis" provided the perfect opening for neo-liberal tendencies to take hold and the old resentments to resurface. Fascism, xenophobia, chauvinism, all find fertile ground as the system spirals downward. In the Middle East we see another form of the failure of "capitalist-liberal-democracy", expressed in the battle between secular and religious forces over interpretations of law, constitutional authority and government. This is exacerbated by a breakdown in the global labor market leaving a young, educated youth with no prospects and an under-class suffering from food shortages. Here debt is also the only thing that rises consistently. In the US we are witnessing the death throes of a labor movement which also thought it had a "grand bargain" with capital but now find they have no answer to globalization and the rise of the modern multi-national corporation. Labor, like all t6he other oppositional movements (peace, environment, human rights etc ) accepted the framework of capitalism and now find themselves impotent and neutered. Especially in these developed economies, debt is a juggernaut that is now consuming the mythical "middle-class", the most cherished of progressive concepts. The common thread linking these failures of progressive thought is the tenuous construction of the majority, of a "We the People" expressing a hegemonic unity around which to present demands. In the case of labor, there is no longer a worker or "class consciousness" as such. In the case of nationalism, there is no longer a respect for the minority, the "other" or pluralism as such. We are all customers now, We the Credit! This universal "estrangement" and alienation/atomization caused by modes of production, consumption and allocation can appear as a victory for capital, if one just looks at a snapshot. But History is far from over. Capital is amazingly adaptive and nimble but it is not God. It is more like The Great Oz.

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