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Re: <nettime> alex van der bellen wins austrian presidentials!!!
Brian Holmes on Tue, 24 May 2016 23:58:16 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> alex van der bellen wins austrian presidentials!!!


I am glad that the Austrians did not swing to the far right. Before the next cliffhanger happens, let's think together about what to do in the future. It seems to me that the European left has to face at least two things. The first is the ongoing collapse of the classical Marxist analysis based on the agency of proletarians. Forget it, those are not the right terms, and what they ignore and cover up are the integration of much of the former industrial working classes and peasantry into a persistent system of state guarantees and subsidies, along with the preponderance of highly precarious service jobs among very diverse populations, for whom race matters because it is inextricably part of class (even for poor whites, btw). The second, equally important thing to be faced is the de facto support of much of the middle-class left for neoliberalism and its free-trade imperatives incarnated by the really existing European Union, with its vast supply of technocratic jobs in the service of globalizing capital. Can the left be pro-European without supporting the neoliberal EU? If so, how? It's an existential question.

In the US we had a corporate hard right political bloc that used nationalism and covert racism to assemble majority votes for elite ends (the Reagan-Bush formula). They were so powerful and so convincing to the technocratic middle classes that the center-left followed their economic and social policies (Clintonian globalization). The result was war, authoritarianism, the unleashing of the oil-extraction gang all over the national territory, and such an improverishment and disempowerment of working and lower- (or former) middle-class strata that we got not one but two populisms: on the right (Trump) and the left (Bernie). Trump is horrible and depressing but Bernie's really interesting. The left populism that Chantal Mouffe calls for has at least begun to articulate itself in the US. Comparable things are going on in Greece, Spain, Portugal and the UK, so all is not lost. But the Clinton-Blair-Hollande style faux-left is still in the ascendancy.

To go deeper into this, check out the following (from the New School "Public Seminar" blog in NYC), which calls upon but also interrogates Mouffe and Laclau's positions:

"The role of populism is precisely, in Laclau's view, to unify a myriad of unsatisfied popular demands in an 'equivalential chain' constructed around one of them, which becomes hegemonic without deleting the particularity of the other demands. In so doing, populism can overcome the main difficulty of standard theories about democratic representation: their tendency to consider "the will of the 'people' as something that was constituted before representation."

"This is precisely what Bernie Sanders is trying to do these days: his constant appeal to economic equality contains a lot more than a single request to raise taxes on top income percentiles. Functioning as a synecdoche, as a part referring to the whole, it also encompasses serious concerns for racial and gender justice, questions relating to environmental and intergeneration fairness, proposals for increasing the political participation and influence of ordinary Americans, the refusal of a neoimperialistic geopolitics, and much more.

[btw, check it out: https://berniesanders.com/issues]

"Sanders is clearly a populist, but in a way that challenges both Mueller's and Laclau's understandings of the notion. Indeed, as the former maintains, Sanders has a moral understanding of politics, partly based on an opposition between the pure and the corrupt. At the same time, similar to several other populist figures on the left (e.g., Pablo Iglesias), he encourages extended confrontation and deliberation as well as "the actual input and continuous influence by citizens divided amongst themselves." Just to make an example, and even if he has still a lot of things to learn about minority rights, he let activists of Black Lives Matter interrupt some of his political meetings and listened to their opinions and demands. His entire campaign in based on a sort of grassroots movement raising notable amounts of funds by collecting a number of small donations.

"... To use the jargon of political theorists, Sanders is creating a political dichotomy without defining the other side as enemy by nature: his communicative style implicitly questions the assumption Chantal Mouffe presented in The Return of the Political (1993) that "to construct a 'we' it must be distinguished from the 'them', and that means establishing a frontier, defining an 'enemy'" (p. 69) — an idea that has clearly affected Laclau's own position. The senator from Vermont is a populist who talks about issues and constantly avoids getting personal even in television debates. His strenuous opposition to privilege and oligarchy is inspired not by a generic hatred, but by a realistic understanding of the actual political situation. We have a desperate need of a populism such as this if we want American democracy to be rescued."

***

I gotta say I agree with the last line. I suspect it applies to Europe as much as the US. The word "desperate" is serious. All of this can end very badly if a new, racially diverse, inclusive, non-polarizing populism is not coupled to a serious rethink of the rights, privilegess and responsibilities of the middle classes.

anyway, bravo Austria!

--Brian

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