[lbo-talk] Workers of Europe unite, you've only Euro chains to lose

Wojtek S wsoko52 at gmail.com
Thu Dec 22 07:54:21 PST 2011

Marv: "The social democratic and trade union leaders, for their part, especially since globalization and tech change eroded the power of the organized working class, view the relationship of forces as adverse, fear the bond markets, and are consequently reluctant to mobilize their followers in any deep and sustained confrontation with international capital.

Perhaps racism plays a part amongst trade union followers of the right-wing parties in France, Italy, Hungary, Austria, etc., but I don't think this is true of the majority. The trade unions are more racially and ethnically heterogeneous than they used to be."

[WS:] I think that a far more important factor behind this trend is that the public discourse is dominated by neoliberalism and there seems no viable alternative to it. Unions and socialist and social democratic parties are run by professionals trained in neoliberal economic and policy thinking and seem to tacitly accept its major tenets, even if grudgingly. Even the critique of neoliberalism focuses on its evils, which has the unfortunate effect of conceding a superior power and position to neoliberalism while revealing righteous indignation cum powerlessness of those who criticize this power. However, there seems no *plausible and practical* alternative way to run economy and society, at least in the political discourse of the Global North. What OWS offered was nice but impractical and unrealistic, even in the eyes of the supporters. The Global South seems to offer some alternatives shrouded in religion or ethnic identities - but these do not have a universal, international appeal as Communism once had.

One reason for this neoliberal hegemony in public discourse is the shortage of what Gramsci called "organic intellectuals of the working class." This is linked to the fact that educational institutions, especially universities have a near monopoly for creating what passes for knowledge in modern society. Contrast this with the times of, say, the First International when considerable body of social and economic knowledge was generated outside the university system, by the likes of Marx, Engels and kindred activists with direct links to labor and labor organizations and movements. Universities, by contrast, create the "organic intellectuals" of the intellectual commodity manufacturers whose interests are more closely aligned with those of other commodity manufactures than with those who toil for them. Harvey alludes to this in his "Brief history of neoliberalism." This is not to say that there is no dissent within the university system, but that dissent is limited to narrow niches of sociology or lit-crit departments and it lacks any outreach beyond these niches.

This neoliberal hegemony of the public discourse in the Global North is not irreversible, of course, but methinks it will take at least a generation to develop organic intellectuals of the working class - provided that a coherent concept of working class interests is established in popular consciousness. For the time being it appears that Islamism is the only alternative to neoliberalism that has some public traction and some teeth. Yoshie F. and a few other disgruntled grunts seem to fall for it, but I do not think there will be many buyers in the Global North.


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