24 June 2013

Keynesian Fordism: global political economy of a passive revolution

Antonio Gramsci

This is the second in a series of three texts retracing the historical roots of present-day economic institutions and class relations. The previous post examined the institutional crisis of American society in the Thirties. It characterized the New Deal as an arrested transformation of monopoly capitalism, in which attempts at egalitarian reform were blocked by interest groups operating through both major parties.

This text explores the rise of state capitalism during WWII. It shows how the redoubled technological and organizational capacity of the corporate state was able to generate a global political economy maintained by force of both money and arms, but also based on the new social compact that emerged from the depression and the war. To analyze this global political economy I’m going to use the concept of hegemony, as developed by Antonio Gramsci. I’ll extend that concept to international relations, following the lead of Robert Cox in his book Production, Power and World Order.

19 June 2013

Rand Paul’s route to victory and the transformation of the Republican Party

A path to the triumph of American reaction
Part 1 of 2 | Part 2

This is disturbing:
President Rand Paul: Watch out, he’s becoming a better politician every day

If Rand Paul were able to assemble an unlikely coalition of reactionaries and discontented youth, he would be in a position to win the presidency in 2016, fundamentally transform electoral politics in the United States, and bring down the corporate-state elite. There’s a lot of assumptions in that scenario, but it’s hard to imagine a bigger disaster for the country or the world if those assumptions prove well-founded.

09 June 2013

Culture as a Historical Problem, Part I: The Folk Tradition of the Classical Workers’ Movement

Solidarity forever, the union makes us strong!”
Ralph Chaplin/Traditional

We all shall die.”

I once heard a prominent leftist academic suggest that “the problem with the left today is that it has no soundtrack.” For whatever reason, that has stuck with me over the years, and this post is an initial attempt to understand why that might be so.

Skepticism is warranted. Of course it would be absurd to reduce the whole complex problem of the left’s dysfunctionality to the question of a shared culture. That’s certainly not the idea here. Instead, I’d like to pose a few questions that have to do with culture and radical politics, and hopefully set the stage for further reflection on the relationship between them in a way that throws light on our current predicament.

04 June 2013

What is an Institutional Crisis of Capitalism?

Lessons from the Thirties

How do corporations fit into society? And what happens when they don’t?

The answer to the second question is “an institutional crisis of capitalism” – like the one we’re currently experiencing.

An institutional crisis can be defined as a break in the continuity of social reproduction, which is never fulfilled by commercial relations alone, but always requires public intervention into the daily lives of citizens, through schooling, health care, policing, urban amenities and retirement provisions as well as multiple forms of regulation conditioning the activities of businesses. Every major crisis (of the kind that come around once every forty to fifty years) is marked by institutional breakdowns at various scales, whether local, national or international. Their severity interrupts capital accumulation itself: thus the crisis, including today's. Yet to understand the causes and outcomes of these breakdowns we also need to answer the first question, about the institutional “fit” that prevailed – for better or worse – in the decades preceding the turmoil. And that, in turn, entails gaining some understanding of the forces and social relations of production as they have evolved to maturity in each successive era of capitalist development.

02 June 2013

Training Rebranded: Internships and the Value of Work

Unless you are under 14 or have been living on a desert island for a few decades, you know what an internship is. But just in case, internships offer young people the opportunity to work for businesses and institutions for little or no monetary compensation to gain references and experience in the process. The modern internship system began in the ’60s and ’70s as a fast track into certain elite financial industries, but starting in the mid ’80s they appeared in other industries. Thirty years later they have become not just a prerequisite for future employment but a hoped-for opportunity for millions of enterprising youth searching for a way into a future desk job.

Decades ago they might have been a relatively benign educational opportunity nestled in the comfort of the Fordist economic system. Today internships represent economic trends that raise disturbing questions about the present and future of capitalism, especially with respect to training, experience, and the devaluation of labor.