My good friend Pen recently posted about the “real” Ron Paul. That would be the wingnut who would abolish Social Security, and who believes that the Civil War shouldn’t have been fought. He also apparently enjoys considerable support from those lingering white supremacists lurking on the fringes of respectability. Meanwhile, over in Digbyland, tristero offers a comparison between modern day Republican activists and the old John Birchers. Tristero says they’re the same folks — implying that good progressives should want no truck with such people. I herewith offer a different view.
As a matter of fact, this whole subject — appealing to the white working class — has been consuming my attention over the past couple of months. More accurately, appealing to the white working class is a part of a much larger restructuring of my thinking on the precise nature of current political conditions. I have concluded that the left badly needs clarity in its understanding of what is happening, and that such clarity will make possible a realignment — winning back the white working class folks who used to be part of the New Deal coalition. In fact, it might even be easier than you think.
First, we need to understand what’s going on, and that may be boiled down to one word: “globalization.” We are now, and have been, in an era of “post-modern politics.” “Modern” politics was centered on the nation-state, as indeed was the basic economic system we call “capitalism.” National capitalist economies of the so-called “core” nations spread over the world in a competition for control over colonies — where resources were exploited for the benefit of core nation elites. Gradually, since the end of World War II, capitalist elites have become internationalized — first among the “core nations” and now among elites in the formerly colonial periphery. A recent kos diary, for example, revealed that Saudi princes own a sizable chunk of stock in Murdoch’s Fox empire.
With a globalized capitalist elite comes a global economic order, enforced by a global political order. That global political order has one central requirement, namely, integration into the global economic order. The catch is that such integration must be on terms acceptable to the global capitalist elite — which winds up meaning, on terms dictated by the global capitalist elite. This is the great sin of such regimes as Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and of course, Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. Everybody asks why some authoritarian regimes like Saddam Hussein’s, must be “changed,” while others like the dictatorships still found in Central America or sub-Saharan Africa excite no particular concern. The reason is that some dictatorships benefit global corporate elites, while others do not. If Hugo Chavez permitted the continued exploitation of his nation’s oil wealth on terms dictated by international oil companies, no one would have the least concern for any “tyranny” found within his borders.
As for the American working class, In the “good old days” of American affluence — that would be the ’50′s and ’60′s — the traditional division of the world between the “core” and the “periphery” permitted US elites to spread the wealth to American wage earners. This is classic imperialist theory, where national elites essentially buy off their own working classes. As national elites have gradually fused into one international corporate elite, the basic deal between elites and certain preferred elements of the working class has broken down.
You should recognize this basic deal between corporate elites and certain privileged wage earners. It is the same basic deal that supported southern segregation, and the old south plantation economy, before that. Indeed, it is the basic paradigm for “racism” — which didn’t exist until the sixteenth century, when it was invented to justify enslaving, dispossessing and slaughtering the non-European inhabitants of colonized territory. The deal is simple. Help us oppress those other people, and we’ll cut you in for a little bigger piece of the pie.
Which brings us around to Ron Paul and the rest of the extreme right. Corporate elites have broken the deal — and if Ron Paul doesn’t know it discursively, he surely knows it intuitively. This is what elites do. They use you. They use you until they don’t need you. Then they throw you away. The American working class, in general, and the white working class in particular, have been thrown away. If they don’t understand the full theoretical explanation, they certainly understand the immediate reality.
Here is where it gets interesting. If you pay any attention to political analysis found among the most extreme elements of rightwing opinion, you will notice how strangely “leftist” a lot of it is. The “New World Order” is real — and I just described it for you. Indeed, the UN and other international institutions are part of it — but only part. The neocon project for “American” global hegemony would appear to be a counter-movement to the UN — presumably in favor of a reassertion of American “sovereignty.” That is an illusion. The American military-industrial complex is an arm of global capitalism, which disdains the UN and other international institutions not because they are “oppressive” but because they don’t support unequivocal domination of lesser nations by corporate elites. Those same elites fully support the erosion of national sovereignty when it suits them. Think the WTO and “free trade,” but not “immigration.” Free movement of goods and capital are good. Free movement of labor is bad — and politically useful to motivate American working class bigotry, among people who don’t understand the game. Explaining the game, specifically what the “New World Order” is, and how it functions, should be a fairly simple proposition. With clarity on the nature of the global corporate elite, vestigial political beliefs centered on racism and/or nationalism should gradually dissipate.
Here is the problem — the flip side of confusion over the nature of white working class “extremists.” That flip side of the misperception of such “extremists” as irredeemable enemies of social justice, likewise misperceives the boundless beneficence of so-called “liberals.” To understand why, however potentially leftist white working people may be, they viscerally dislike “liberals,” requires that we understand what a “liberal” is. Let us take the prototypical paradigm of a “liberal” in the popular imagination of the wingnuts. Consider Ted Kennedy.
Here is fact one about Ted Kennedy, or Ted Turner, or John Kerry, or any number of other “liberal” politicians. They are filthy fucking rich. John Kerry was a bonesman just like Dubya — a fact that did not go unnoticed among rightwing conspiracy theorists. Listen up, Skull and Bones is at the very heart of the global corporate elite. These are the “who you know” people who control access to the highest levels of finance capital, oh, and the government bureaucracies that serve the needs of finance capital. When John Kerry started running for office, who do you suppose bankrolled his effort. I’ll bet you a steak dinner that bonesmen make up a healthy contingent of his money men.
As for their political sensibilities, they have no particular interest in altering in any significant way, the basic functioing of the global corporate empire. They are precisely the kind of people who might have opposed the war in Iraq on practical grounds, but who have no principled objection to militarily invading nations who don’t want to play ball with the corporate elite. Once you understand this, the kabuki dance that is Washington politics, becomes much clearer. Leaving Iraq, thus creating a power vacuum into which Iran will step, is a disaster as far as global capital is concerned. They want Iran brought into the “community of nations” — read that, “under the control of global capital.” They do not want to see a rebellious, undisciplined actor like Iran expand its influence. Why? Other rebellious regimes — including guys like Hugo Chavez — might get the same idea.
None of that, however, explains Joe Sixpack’s disdain for “liberals.” If John Kerry and George W. Bush are fellow bonesmen, who’s basic support for the underlying corporate order are not very far apart, there must be another reason white working people dislike “liberals.” That reason is found at work. Fifty years ago, the corporate workplace was a heirarchy with white men on top. This includes the blue collar workplace, where even unions frequently supported racial discrimination.
Take a look at the conservative list of boogiemen, such as “radical feminists,” “minorities,” and of course, “immy-grants.” These are the people who have muscled in on the previously privileged position of white men in the work place. Notice something interesting, specifically, that the overall deterioration of the economic position of ALL working people has largely gone unnoticed. This is because of attention paid to competition among working people — who in the wake of recent social changes, have no sense of solidarity with other working people, but focus on their own individual position.
Which brings us back to where we started. The white working class has been “thrown away.” Specifically, corporations have embraced “liberalism” in the place working people are most likely to see it. They have become “equal opportunity” employers. They now hire “minorities,” illegal immigrants, and promote women to positions of management. They do this using the corporate-bureaucratic language — PR language — of “diversity.” In other words, they hire “minorities” and mouth what sounds like liberal platitudes to justify it. White working people conclude that “the liberals” have taken over their companies, when in fact, it is the same greedy bastards that always ran the place. “Diversity” turns out to be a nice excuse for “hiring people who work cheaper.” The fact that those “minorities” can do the job just as well as the formerly privileged white workers guarantees that the newly “enlightened” hiring practices of corporate elites are here to stay.
With that backdrop, we can better understand the political universe as perceived by the white working people who populate the extreme rightwing fringe. If you perceive a vast difference between “liberals” and corporate America, they don’t. Corporate America has become “liberal” it’s embrace of “equal opportunity,” “radical feminism” [which apparently means hiring and promoting more women], and the various “liberal” causes supported by estanblishment charities like the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, and others. It’s all “socialism,” which explains the curious rightwing belief that the New World Order — which is real enough — is “communist,” when in fact, it is most capitalist. In fact, the Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s make their living perpetuating this bizarro belief system, by demonizing “liberals,” even as they support the very corporate power structure that has huge dump on the American working class.
So . . . in the words of VI Lenin, “what is to be done?” Obviously, we can make no compromise with the bigotry, nativism, and general know-nothingism of the far right. But I don’t think we have to. I think that the far right who pay attention to folks like Ron Paul are perfectly capable of understanding the “New World Order” for what it is, namely, a global corporate empire that is now starting to treat them with the same ruthless brutality it has always shown the “brown people.” These people are not going to support “liberals,” in the sense that they are not going to support rich proponents of a more enlightened form of corporate serfdom. But they just might support an insurgency in favor of genuine democracy, self-government, and economic justice. All it will take is for the white working class to realize how badly it has been used, and whree its real interests lie.