In The New York Times Sunday Review of May 19, 2019, the columnist Roger Cohen published a column entitled "Steve Bannon is a Fan of Italy's Donald Trump ." In it he describes what is going politically in Italy, as "populism" grows in popularity. It should be pointed out that "populism" in politics generally means politicians who appeal directly "to the people" with their ideas, rather than having them mediated through an organized party, with a platform, a history, and etc. The term was originally applied to the progressive political movements in the United States that developed in the United States, beginning in the late 19th century. At the time it was typified by William Jennings Bryan , who, while a Democrat (and was the party's nominee three times), appealed more directly to the electorate rather than going through the Party and its platform.
In our time, the word is more loosely applied to right-wing/reactionary politicians, around the globe, who appear to address issues of workers and members of the petit bourgeoisie who have been left behind by rampant, rampaging, globalist, neo-liberal capitalism. But since they are right-wing, they of course never deal with the underlying contradictions of capitalism which have left so many workers in the advanced capitalist countries behind. Rather they appeal to prejudice, resentment, and often outright racism, explaining away what is happening with "jobs and the economy" by blaming it all on "the other." But since they do this directly, rather than through their (always right-wing) parties, they get defined as "populists."
Of course, Trump is the master of this strategy, with his televised rallies, his occasional carefully guided TV interviews, and his constant Twitter onslaught. His true policies (which he hardly ever speaks about directly) are of course designed to benefit the rich, the large corporations, the military-industrial complex, and fossil-fuel-petrochemical industry, and etc. But he can make believe, very effectively for the white working class and petit bourgeoisie, that he is "for them," even though he really is not. And many of his supporters are, for very good reason, angry about what has happened and is happening to them. And so, Trump's anger, rage often ---whether he really is so often out-of-control or is a master of faking it --- works brilliantly for his audience.
In the United States, blame game "populism" is of course represented by Trump's multi-colored racism (if I may use that term) aimed at African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and immigrants generally (legal and illegal --- the latter drawn in for decades by low-pay employers in tough industries like agriculture). In the countries of Western Europe, it is often aimed at immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
Steve Bannon, having been banished (for unknown reasons --- perhaps he was just too smart for Trump), is now running around Europe helping to stir up and maintain right-wing "populism." Bannon is a big fan of the current leader of the movement in Italy, one Matteo Salvini. He is also an ally of the current leading Le Pen in France, Marine, the just-dumped Deputy Prime Minister in Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache (a former [if there is such a thing] Neo-Nazi,) and of course the proto-typical modern European Rightist, Trump's good buddy Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. (Interestingly enough, Orban started out in politics as a socialist, just as did one of his role models, Benito Mussolini, who, for some of Salvini's supporters, is a role model as well.)
So, what do all of these movements have in common, besides their racist, anti-immigrant, sometimes anti-Semitic, flavoring. Well, they all are the product of the success of modern capitalism, in its own terms, and in terms of its primary political objectives. For, coming into the 21st century it has managed to more or less destroy the institutions which, in the post-World War II 20 th century, to some extent helped to keep the working classes afloat and moving forward in economic terms: the left-wing political parties and the trade unions. I have written on this history before, and the rest of this column consists of an excerpt from that one.
The vulture labyrinth: the capitalism and its consequences and Ndzumb (2016) - Celestino Mudaulane (1972)
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Capitalism has two major goals: to produce profits for the capitalists (owners) from the trading and manufacturing processes as well as enabling them to accumulate additional amounts of capital. "Profit" is defined as an excess value beyond the value of the plant, raw materials, and labor required to produce the particular product. To do this, the capitalists employ workers who by their work add value to the plant, equipment, and raw materials supplied by the capitalists. The profits thus come from the value added (known in Marxist terms as "surplus value") by the workers which are not returned to them in the form of wages and benefits.
Throughout the history of
capitalism, the owners and the workers have been in a constant struggle over
the share of the surplus value produced by the workers that actually goes back
to them. In Marxist terms, that conflict forms part of what is known as "class
struggle." The other part is over the control of the governmental
apparatus that controls the operation of the economic system in which the means
of production operate and are operated. Lenin defined this governmental
apparatus in summary terms as "the State." The economic controllers
of the State are known as the "ruling class." Under capitalism, that
is, of course, the capitalists, the owners of the means of production.
Beginning in the 19th century, in the industrialized countries, workers began organizing themselves politically (through political parties) and economically (through trade unions) to attempt to gain a larger share, over time, of the surplus value that their labor produced, as well as some level of control over the organs of state power. It happens, when one looks back at the history of the 20th century that there were periods of time in the several major capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America in which, through the bourgeois democratic process as defined by the ruling class, at least some workers got at least some reasonable share of the surplus value they produced. These times corresponded with, varying from country to country, their political and economic strength.
But with certain exceptions here and there, capitalists have never been much on sharing. Take the United States and Great Britain. In the former, after the rise in the political and economic power of the working class (through the rise of the industrial trade unions in the 1930s in response to The Great Depression), with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, and in Great Britain with the later advent to power of Margaret Thatcher and her wing of the Conservative Party, capitalists generally have been on a campaign to destroy/undermine to the extent possible the power of their respective trade union movements and of their pro-labor political parties. In most of the major capitalist countries, in some cases due to the corruption of labor unions, and then the neoliberalism of the formerly traditional liberal parties, the political institutions that to some extent at least represented the interests of the working class have virtually disappeared.
In the U.S., in addition to the union-busting Taft Hartley Act, one can point specifically to the "right-to-work" state laws which since the 1950s have played a major role in destroying the trade union movement; direct attacks on trade unions like what Reagan did to the Air Traffic Controllers Union shortly after his election in 1980 (and the ATCU had supported him during the 1980 election), and the neo-liberal export of capital, promoted by both Reagan and Bill Clinton (mimicked by Tony Blair in the United Kingdom) which destroyed (and still is destroying) so much manufacturing in the United States and the United Kingdom. Which brings us to the 21st century.
Capitalism, in its own terms, has been hugely successful. Indeed, in this century, with the further development of globalization, it has triumphed around the world. As the union and political strength of the workers in the old industrialized countries has declined while the availability of cheap labor in the industrializing countries has become ever more wide-spread, profits have risen ever-higher. At the same time, the concentration of both income and wealth has become ever more tightly controlled by those at the top-end of the economic scale.
Thus, in the 21st century, the problems experienced by most national working classes have been exacerbated. But, with no place to go on the Left many workers have been wooed over to support the Right, both with false promises of governmental programs in their interest plus strong appeals to various forms of racism and xenophobia. A prime example is the Trumpite U.S. Because there is no effective Left alternative--- even of the capitalist sort --- in the U.S., through the use of wide-open racism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and mysogny, Trump has been able to appeal to a chunk of the white working class in the United States which is indeed being squeezed evermore tightly by the triumph of the capitalists, as epitomized by none other than Donald J. Trump himself and his marvelously effective Republican propaganda machine, led as it has been since the 1990s by Fox"News."
When leaders like Trump, and those in the European countries that are going in the same direction, can effectively mobilize hatred of "the other," as well as make obviously false promises of "draining the swamp" (see the membership of his cabinet) and "making Washington work for you" (see the massive Republican Income Upwards Re-Distribution Act of 2017), in the absence of any effective Left, a certain proportion of the workers are going to gravitate to their message. This is one thing that Trump got absolutely right. You can fool some of the people all of the time.
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