Changes in “public opinion” [la «opinión»] are never all that innocent. “Public opinion” is a well-oiled industry which produces, under the conditions of state capitalism, “national unity” through the ostensible “diversity” of a thousand false debates.
A couple of years ago, big media outlets like the Washington Post began to notice that there was a significant change in the political attitude of young Americans. A survey conducted by Harvard University that polled people between the ages 18 and 29 found that 51% of them “rejected capitalism” and 33% supported “socialist” ideas. In November 2017, coinciding with the first anniversary of Trump’s electoral triumph, another study, sponsored by an American “anticommunist” organization, claimed that 44% of young Americans would prefer to live in a “socialist or communist” country. The Anglo-Saxon press reported with great excitement how Bernie Sanders was making an entire generation fall in love with the dreaded “S-word,” while Jacobin became the trendy magazine.
The 2016 presidential election in the US revealed the dichotomy that exists between two possible strategies for the American bourgeoisie. On the one hand, the sector of the American bourgeoisie traditionally “in charge” of the state, which is linked to big finance capital and offshore manufacturing, is committed to maintaining multilateralism as the form of global hegemony. But on the other hand, the sector of the bourgeoisie oriented towards the domestic market along with the regional petite bourgeoisie threw in their lot with protectionism as a means of recovering social and territorial cohesion in a battered and increasingly decomposed society. If the first group was reflected in the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and, with slightly less clarity, Ted Cruz; the second was openly identified with Trump among the Republican candidates, and Sanders among the Democratic candidates.
Linked to the less powerful sector of the American bourgeoisie, with the media apparatus set against them, neither of them hesitated to appeal openly to the discontent of the working class in the face of increasing immiseration. They thus broke with the taboo that had prevailed since the second half of the 1980s, which forbade one to so much as mention class or use the term “capitalism.” Sanders joined with the demand for a $15 minimum wage, one of the first sparks of an offensive spirit [combatividad] among the working class, even under overwhelming institutional control, whereas Trump promised the “return” of the well-paid manufacturing jobs “lost” to offshoring (which resulted from what he described as “bad trade deals”).
Trump’s unambiguous xenophobia stood out as he promised to end competition for wages between native and migrant workers.
In these last two years, the protectionist tendency, which strongly favored the trade war, has firmly established itself within the Republican party. The “globalist” fraction of the Democrats, on the other hand, placed all their hopes of getting back into power in the political and legal harassment of Trump. But impeachment on the basis of Trump’s collusion with Russia seems unlikely before a president who always knows how to “one-up” them. And the Supreme Court vacancy is bound to lead them into an electoral battle in which they don’t have a prayer.
Amidst all of this, a former assistant to Bernie Sanders runs against one of the high priests of Clintonism in the district that covers the Bronx and Queens, promising “a New York that works for all of us.” She proceeds to win. The public construction of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the “giant-slayer,” according to the New York Times — begins almost immediately. The narrative goes global soon after. Il Corriere, an Italian daily newspaper, presents her as “the Puerto Rican woman that makes the Democratic Party tremble.” The BBC published an article whose headline reads: “Millennial beats veteran Democrat.” All the identitarian elements the globalizing “Clintonite” faction had placed their bets on to mount an assault against Trump — from the #MeToo movement and the “Women’s March,” to singing the praises of “millennials” and “Hispanic minorities” — turn against them, going #WithHer (Ocasio-Cortez) because she is both those things. Furthermore, she adds another central element: describing herself as a “working-class New Yorker,” running on the slogan “people before profits,” saying “it’s time for one of us.”
The liberal left becomes “socialist”?
Appealing to workers completely changed the game in 2016. As Steve Bannon said in a famous interview, “if the Left focuses on race and [gender] identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” He was right, just as Sanders’ and Trump’s pollsters had been: the electoral mobilization of workers around a discourse that linked, in both cases, nationalism and the situation of the working class, would have probably delivered the victory to the Democrats if they had just gone with the old Senator instead of Clinton. The most obvious interpretation of this “socialist turn” of the bourgeois American Left is that the Democratic Party machine itself is willing to “move to the Left” and speak once again on behalf of the working class in order to regain power. In other words: the rules of the game have changed and whoever does not address workers as such has no chance of winning electoral support. The mobilizations of teachers this year point to a growing, although still nascent, combativeness of workers, so it is unlikely that the trend will diminish, but, in fact, will gain further strength.
The bottom line is that the asymmetric protectionism of the United States is working for American capital, at least for time being, and gives it the means by which to sustain the illusion that progress is being made, or could be made, towards greater social cohesion — unemployment is at 4.1% and average salaries are up 0.3% in just nine months, a total increase of 2.9% in a single year. Trump’s promise to increase workers’ incomes while simultaneously lowering taxes on the rich appears to have come true. That it has been necessary, in order to accomplish this, to start a trade war with a new and permanent military threat, which has brought us closer than ever before to war, matters little for a sector of the capitalist class that feels reinvigorated due to the growth in domestic consumption and which begins to believe, as Trump reassures them, that it will be able to “beat” China. In essence, the protectionist wing of the American bourgeoisie has achieved dominance over the political apparatus and through it gives rise to a left-wing current.
Major European media outlets have quickly joined the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bandwagon. They warn about a fundamental “change” in public opinion worldwide, comparing Trumpism with the phenomenon of European identitarianism. They are not innocent either, nor do they even bother to hide it anymore. They see in her a “success story” with which to encourage the left-wing of capital to change their discourse and re-establish a link to the working class.
In the United States as well as Europe, two parallel phenomena are taking place as a consequence of the systemic crisis of capitalism. On the one hand, we are facing a real global revolt of the petite bourgeoisie that takes forms ranging from the rejection of science and industrialization to the most stale identitarianism, in addition to regional separatism. On the other hand, the continuous and systematic impoverishment of the workers begins to produce sparks here and there of a precarious but promising development of working-class combativeness. The political apparatus of the bourgeoisie throughout the world has had trouble adjusting to this new reality. From Germany to Chile, from Britain to Spain, from Italy to Mexico, from South Africa to Argentina, the bourgeoisie is going through tremendous difficulties integrating the centrifugal forces of a petite bourgeoisie that is as rebellious as it is impotent, and to contain within the nationalist frame those workers whose every act of resistance causes the whole system to tremble and paralyzes its preparations for war.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may well turn out to be a “flash in the pan,” as the saying goes, but the interest that her primary victory has generated reflects the extent to which the main political contradiction of our day worries capital: in order to contain the petite bourgeoisie in revolt, it is forced to invoke a working class whose very existence it denies.
Nuevo Curso (Spain)
June 28, 2018