Why Anarchism?

As a self identified anarchist I typically receive a great deal of skepticism when I tell people about my political inclinations. Conservatives and liberals are shocked and assume my politics is reducible to wanting a bloody free-for-all, while other leftists tend to challenge me more coherently in terms of leftist theory. I want to break down some of the basic misconceptions about anarchism that are pervasive among non-leftists and explain why I came to my conclusions regarding some disputes within the left.

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What Is Anarchism?

Anarchist thought has a long and remarkably diverse history. Since it is first and foremost a leftist ideology concerned with how to best carry out class struggle, I do not consider anarcho-capitalists to have a historically legitimate claim to the title. Furthermore, a very strong case can be made that capitalism and the state as we know it are inextricably linked, which makes anarcho-capitalism an oxymoron.

But then what do anarchists believe? The one thing most people know about anarchists is that they oppose the state. Where the debate immediately becomes more complicated is when one tries to define precisely what it means to be or have a state. Is a state merely a collection of people who collectively organize resources? If so, then most anarchist thought, excluding radical individualism, would actually endorse some form of a state. In fact, for most anarchists community and the collective are essential concepts.

Unlike  a voluntary commune, the state is a collective entity which uses violent coercion to control people, the use of space, and resources. It is the violently coercive nature of the state, and the inevitable injustices that produces, that anarchists object to. Chief among those injustices is the production of class, race, gender, and other hierarchical identities. From this perspective, the police are not the protectors of the community as such but rather the enforcers of numerous hierarchies. They exist to protect the interests of the rich, of white people, and of men, and are deployed against those who seek to undermine the system of domination that structures our society.

Similarly, the military serves this same function but externally: it is deployed to preserve global hierarchy between countries. Imperialism and domestic policing are two sides of the same coin of state function. Of course, these are not the only two functions of any state. However, they are both essential to the modern nation state as we know it, and as the funding allocation within states has demonstrated, economic stress can easily lead to the cutting of welfare programs but rarely leads to contractions of military and police spending.

What Happens After The State Is Abolished?

It is not uncommon for people to accept this critique of state power but then turn around and ask what is proposed to be done without the state. A key question that is often raised against anarchists is what to do about crime without a state and without prisons. The answer to this question is complicated and depends a great deal on who you ask. More radical individualists put their stock in self defense, but I do not find this terribly compelling (although I am not a radical individualist to begin with). On the other hand most community oriented anarchists suggest that the abolition of these hierarchies and the redistribution of resources on more democratic terms would eliminate categorically much of what we consider to be crime: drug crimes would cease to exist and theft would be radically de-incentivized. Those crimes which still occurred could then be handled by local communities through restorative justice.

This is a contentious issue within anarchist thought with some people, for example, suggesting that banishment from a community is a reasonable punishment for certain particularly heinous crimes while others contend that banishment is in fact approaching a death sentence in severity. If you are genuinely interested in exploring this topic, then there is a great deal of debate between anarchists that you can read on this topic. More broadly the answer to what happens after we abolish the state is equally contentious. Some anarchists suggest the creation of democratic bodies, others place their faith in the community as a decision making unit, and still others advocate for the abolition of all formal organization.

Personally, I find the question inherently flawed. Politics is the process of collective making, and as such to start from this point in that process and proscribe an end goal is not only foolish but immoral. But then, you might ask, then what is the point of believing any of this? Simply put, I approach anarchist theory not as a utopian philosophy but rather as a realist critique of politics which suggests not specifically what the ultimate end of politics should be but rather how we ought to go about politics. It is my view that the state serves as violently coercive mediator of political conflict between groups and that through dismantling state power we can carry out political dispute with less violence.

This leads to the seemingly age old question of what to do about the violent anarchy of statelessness. In fact, this question is not age old and can be traced back to specific thinkers. Thomas Hobbes popularized the notion of the stateless society as one which is engaged constantly in a war of “all against all.” However, Hobbes derived this conclusion not from the observation of stateless but from his experience living through the English Civil War. The English Civil War consisted of a rapidly escalating constitutional dispute between King and parliament that eventually lead a violent conflict over how state authority should be structured. This is in fact the opposite of what anarchists suggest we should do: a civil war of this nature is the result not of the abolition of state power but of its multiplication.

Hobbes notes in Leviathan that we can learn about how individuals treat one another by examining how states interact in the international sphere. States are always fighting one another for power and resources and remain in a sort of semi-war even while at peace. But there is little reason to assume that this applies equally to the individual in part because (most anarchists) do not claim the individual as the only significant theoretical unit. Rather, they understand the individual as necessarily entangled within a community: perhaps an unwilling but inevitable member of a collective.

On a basic level, the requirement of human children to undergo a long period of adolescence where they are incapable of providing for themselves eliminates the possibility of even thinking the individual by itself. Altruism and sacrificing oneself or one’s interests for the collective good are behaviors we see even in a capitalist world that conditions us all to be capitalist subjects: individuals out for our own interests. In fact, the anarchist would point out that we understand as human nature is rather the product of how capitalism informs our behavior. A change in political economy, therefore, requires and necessitates a change in humanity. In other words, we cannot predict what human nature will be understood as in a hypothetical future society without capitalism or the state.

Finally, as a non-utopian anarchist, I would contend that anarchist critique is still valuable even if we accept a priori that states as we know them will never be abolished altogether. Prison abolition, anti-imperialism, and other efforts to liberate people and communities from state violence remain worthy enterprises even if the state remains. As far as I am concerned, I will even support the expansion of state in such programs as national healthcare because they limit suffering and make it easier for people to resist the state insofar as it tries to control them.

Why Not Communism?

Communists and many anarchists share in common a belief that the abolition of capitalism and class structures are essential to any political program. Furthermore, they share in the conviction that the state ultimately must be abolished to achieve this aim. Where they differ is on how the state is related to class hierarchy and therefore how exactly it should be abolished. Both agree that the state as is in liberal capitalist countries supports class hierarchy.

However, communists maintain that the state can be captured by another class, the proletariat, and weaponized against the current dominant class. Following this destruction of the bourgeoisie, the state will set about addressing other forms of hierarchy and injustice until it inevitably withers away.

Anarchists are skeptical of this for both historical and theoretical reasons. In the case of the USSR, the local democratic councils which were supposed to eventually take the place of the centralized state were in fact subverted and made clearly subservient to central authority. Theoretically, anarchists would contend that the very existence of a state is predicated on, at the very least, a division between those with active positions within it and those without. A class of bureaucrats can turn out to be just as oppressive as a class of property owners if those bureaucrats have enough power.

Personally, I find this approach to class much more compelling because it posits class as a dynamic phenomena that can shift and reshape according to the specific power dynamics of a given time and place. One’s relationship to the means of production is but one aspect of class. And of course, class is not the only important hierarchy that the state maintains (although to be fair to communists, they also recognize this).

In Conclusion

I want to end by pointing out, once again, that anarchist thought is extremely diverse and that I am certain there are anarchists who vehemently disagree with aspects of what I have written here. I am not an anarchist in the abstract but one with specific commitments and positions I reject. I am not a radical individualist and so my views are very different from those of someone who does ascribe to that strain of thought. This piece is highly theoretical and doesn’t treat in detail any of the many arguments it touches on.

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Keeping It Loose and Some Context Surrounding the Saudi-Canada Spat

If I were to be honest I would be forced to admit the undeniable fact that I am a terrible blogger. I have made three posts in over a year on what I hoped would be a weekly blog. There are 20 drafts of posts sitting in my archives at various states of unfinished. These range from a sendoff of Obama that celebrates his many warcrimes to a review of Apocalypse Now Redux. None of these pieces will ever see the light of day because I am chronically incapable of finishing anything due to a mix of perfectionism and perpetual despair.

But that sounds awfully dull, so instead of being honest with myself and the world at large I’m going to soldier on, never admitting my mistakes. This is a brave new chapter in my blog: the phase where I completely relax my standards and just make a post a week regardless of length, quality, or even baseline coherence. You’re fucking welcome.

This story is weird enough that I couldn’t come up with a pithy section heading

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A screenshot I stole borrowed from Al Jazeera America of a Saudi non-profit threatening Canada with a hijacking based attack.

Earlier this week Infographic KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) launched this bomb of a Tweet at #Canada. This story is funny on several levels. Infographic KSA’s website describes the organization rather suspiciously as a “voluntary non-profit project.” Their website is filled with bizarre infographics explaining how Qatar is in the wrong for rejecting the terms Saudi Arabia has been trying to impose upon them since last year, a topic which deserves its own blogpost. This non-profit is at least state sanctioned, if not outright a propaganda outlet for the royal family.

At first glance, this now deleted Tweet appears to simply be in very poor taste. But the truth is a little more sinister. The obvious reference to a 9/11 style attack is much more menacing coming from the country that supplied 15 of the 19 hijackers and which bares significant responsibility for the proliferation of global Sunni extremism. The extremely murky relationship between Western arms exporting countries, Western intelligence agencies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Sunni jihadists is an important one to understand.

Maple Syrup and Blood

Saudi Arabia serves four important roles in its relationship with Western countries: 1) as a massive oil exporter, 2) as one of worlds the largest arms importers, 3) as a central pillar of the world financial system, and 4) as a local ally for Western intelligence. Saudi Arabia’s oil based economy is so well known as to have become proverbial, but their role as a weapons buyer is lower profile.

Just this year Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth over 11 billion USD. While the deal was originally negotiated under Canada’s previous Conservative government, Trudeau has unapologetically chosen to move forward with it despite the brutal war the KSA is currently waging in Yemen. Arms companies are not only important to Western economies but typically wield disproportionate political power. More technically, the arms industry is a key part of the political economy of many of the world’s richest and most powerful nations such as the US, Russia, and Great Britain.

Since weapons manufacturers are important and Saudi Arabia is second only to Indian in arms imports, the Kingdom is also very important to Western countries politically. It’s worth noting that India imports only 50% more in weapons than Saudi Arabia while having a population over 40 times as great. At the same time, Saudi Arabia can be a very temperamental ally: absolute monarchies always are.

The current spat between Canada and the Kingdom began when the Canadian Foreign Minister made a Tweet calling for the release of a Saudi activist and her brother from prison. The official response to this provocation (as the royal family sees it) was to expel the Canadian ambassador and recall thousands of students studying in Canada. If this response seems extreme then that’s both because it is and because the monarchy is extremely sensitive to any perceived challenges to their authority. Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and effective leader of Saudi Arabia has been testing the international influence of his country since coming to power with mixed success, and this spat fits into the general pattern. But that is a story for another day.

9/11, Saudi Arabia, and Redacted Documents

Until 2016, 28 pages of the official Congressional report on 9/11 were redacted. These pages, now released, include several possible connections between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi officials and intelligence officers. These leads were never investigated by the FBI or the CIA, and have been dismissed as inconclusive ever since. While we will probably never know whether the Saudi government was directly involved in 9/11, the US coverup of possible connections is significant.

Saudi Arabia has been an important US ally for the better part of a century and 9/11 only increased their importance. The US was willing to sweep under the rug even the possibility of Saudi involvement in 9/11 because, if the leads brought to light anything, it would have been damaging to US economic and strategic interests. At the same time, it was advantageous for the Bush White House to pin the blame on Saddam Hussein despite the fact that not even tenuous connections have ever been proved to exist between him and the hijacking.

This is not to say that Bush masterminded 9/11 with the help of the Saudis: the evidence for that claim has never surfaced. Rather, the point is to illustrate the importance of Saudi Arabia to US and to add context to Infographic KSA’s Tweet. Finally, the redacted 9/11 report demonstrates how willing Western states are to forgive and forget major Saudi transgressions in the interest of preserving a vital business partner and ally. It would not be surprising if the relationship between Canada and Saudi Arabia was quickly mended with the help of their mutual allies the US and Great Britain.

There is a lot more to discuss on the topic of recent events involving Saudi Arabia from the war against Yemen to the spat with Qatar and that is without diving into Saudi Arabia’s historical significance.

Why Cryptocurrencies Will Never Overtake Fiat Money (Not Boring, I Swear)

Bitcoin has been in the news incessantly for the last few years, primarily for several reasons: meteoric rises in value, dramatic falls in value, the many attempts to dox the creator of Bitcoin and harvest his super genius brain, and the fact that Bitcoin mining is now a massive environmental problem. Many people are now regretting not buying or mining Bitcoin early, and those who didn’t sell their Bitcoin at the height of its value are now wishing they hadn’t lost half of their extremely productive investment. A small number of people hold out hope that cryptocurrency will destroy state currency monopolies. Today I want to talk about why cryptocurrency revolutionaries are horribly misguided.

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Rare image of a freshly mined Bitcoin

Inflation, Growing Economies, and Monetary Policy

If you have discussed the price of college with anyone from a different generation, then you are familiar with the concept of inflation: an increase in prices over time that reduces the buying power of currency. To give an example of long term inflation, 1.00 USD in 1917 had the same buying power as 19.15 USD in 2017, meaning the relative value of a dollar has decreased by around 95% in one hundred years. While not the topic at hand, inflation is why the lack of wage growth (coupled with increasing productivity) in recent decades has led to such massive increases in wealth inequality.

One of the important effects of inflation is that encourages the continued circulation of currency. Held dollars will lose value over time whereas spent dollars can be redeemed for their current value, and currency invested in capital produce profits that potentially more than offset loses from inflation. Capitalist economies rely on inflation to carry out three key functions: 1) creating pressure for investments that will grow the economy, 2) encouraging immediate consumption, which also grows or sustains the economy, and 3) the constant redistribution of wealth from wage earners to capital owners.

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Originally, I was going to put one of those famous pictures of a German in the Weimar Republic paying for a bread loaf with a wheelbarrow filled with money, but it turned out that all of those images had restrictive copyright. I decided that the next best thing would be a picture of a dog licking its own balls, but it turns out all of those images are restrictively copyrighted as well, so here’s a picture of Colonel Gaddafi looking cross.

Much of economic policy is dedicated to the careful control of induced inflation because too much inflation reduces the relative value of a nation’s goods and capital in international trade. States control inflation by control of the money supply through two main mechanisms: printing currency and setting interest rates. By increasing the money supply the value of a currency will decrease relative to goods and services by the principle of supply and demand. The literal printing of money achieves this in the most straightforward manner. When a state lowers interest rates then, at least in theory, money becomes more accessible to people in the form of debt, thereby indirectly increasing the money supply.

Deflation, and Boring Section Titles

What might be less familiar is the related concept of deflation: the increase of a currency’s buying power over time. You probably haven’t heard of deflation because no modern states pursue deflation as a matter of monetary policy and, to the contrary, assiduously avoid it. Where inflation discourages the hoarding of currency because held currency is always losing value, deflation encourages it.

Since nation states are directed towards economic development, which is to say growth, deflation is a potentially mortal threat to their economic goals. If people are hoarding rather than spending money, then they are going to be consuming and investing less, but simultaneously sitting on ever increasing piles of wealth. The only way to sustain deflation over time is either for economic growth to consistently outpace the growth of the money supply, which is inherently unlikely due to the economically constrictive nature of deflation, or for the money supply to be actively shrinking.

From my radically anti-capitalist perspective, deflation is really bad because wage earners will still be forced to spend their money immediately in order to survive whereas the rich will continue to get richer by doing literally nothin with their money. This is one area where I cannot help but agree with capitalist economists, even though my reasons are not the same.

The Deflationary Strategy of Cryptocurrency

Turning now to cryptocurrencies we can examine how advocates expect to replace state controlled fiat currencies with them. States compel the creation of markets using whatever currency (or currencies) they wish by demanding the payment of taxes and fees in that currency. This creates universal demand for that currency in whatever territory a state can enforce control. It is through the implicit threat of violence that a state can compel everyone to adopt an inflationary currency which demands consumption and growth by not retaining value. The violent capacity of the state is what ensures that the currency loses value only slowly, rather than all at once.

Cryptocurrencies lack the ability to levy taxes and as such must find another mechanism to encourage the use of their currency. Almost all cryptocurrencies, most notably Bitcoin, use some sort of de facto strategy of deflation to achieve this goal. Bitcoin does this by making the mining of each subsequent Bitcoin more processing intensive than the last, to the point where Bitcoin mining, which used to be doable by people with home computers, is now almost exclusively carried out by massive server farms in China (hence the environmental issues with Bitcoin).

What this means is that early adopters could feasibly acquire substantial quantities of Bitcoin, keeping the value low due to relative abundance. Bitcoin has gained value essentially for no other reason than a mix of currency speculation and planned deflation. The circular human centipede of Bitcoin’s rising value begins with cryptocurrency boosters hyping up their pet pyramid scheme leading to speculators buying up Bitcoin and increasing its value, thereby setting off another round of hype. Because the value of Bitcoin is based on nothing but the confidence of currency speculators, it is extremely volatile and can rapidly lose value.

Cryptocurrencies which are inflationary will struggle to be adopted at all because early adopters will be in a situation where their currency is losing value and simultaneously they cannot spend it because it will either be entirely unrecognized or recognized as not being able to hold its value and therefore not being worth accepting. But deflationary currencies will never overtake inflationary fiat currencies as the basis of market exchange because their very nature discourages their use as currency since spending an appreciating currency now is a loss of future value.

It is a classic confidence game presented as a techno-social revolution against state control of currency. But what the overwhelmingly pro-market cryptocurrency crowd fails to understand is that markets and states are inextricable. Severing the state from the market so that it can be more free is like cutting your head off so that your body is free from carrying the extra weight.

What About Accelerationism?

Despite being an avowed anti-capitalist the arguments I have been making against cryptocurrencies have been centered on pointing out the problems they cause in market economies which raises the possibility that someone who opposes markets might support cryptocurrency as a form of accelerationism. Leaving aside more general critiques of accelerationism, I think that it is sufficient to point out that market instability, and particularly deflation, overwhelmingly hurts the least economically powerful, particularly in a globalized economy where many of the poorest do not even directly control their food supply.

Additionally, investment bubbles pyramid schemes eventually come crashing down and when they do the people who lose the least are the already wealthy who have a diversified portfolio of pyramid schemes investments. Those poor, but mostly middle class, people who end up riding the bubble to momentary, and almost entirely meaningless, wealth end up being crushed by the weight of their own desperate desire to ascend the capitalist ranks. While greed should not be treated as a virtue, we should be compassionate with those who, in their desperation and desire to escape the constant anxiety of economic lack, try to escape the grinding hell of capitalist necessity.

What the Fuck Is Happening In Britain? (A Guide to the 2017 General Election for Clueless Americans) Part 1: The Basics

You may be aware that a general election took place in Britain on the 8th of June and that it didn’t turn out how anyone expected. If you don’t know anything else about British politics or even if you were totally unaware that there was just an election in Britain, then you are in the right place.

What the Fuck is Parliament?

The modern British Parliament was founded at the beginning of the 19th century when the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were joined into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Spoiler alert: not everybody was entirely pleased by this development). Like United States Congress, parliament has two houses through which all legislation must pass: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. As the names imply, members of the House of Commons are elected by the people while members of the House of Lords acquire their seats through inheritance or appointment.

The House of Lords was originally superior in power but it turned out that most people didn’t want Nigel Foxstrangler or Alistair Habsburgjaw making laws just because their grandpapa bayoneted a French drummer boy during the Battle of Waterloo. Successive generations of liberal and socialist reformers have reduced the power of the House of Lords and have done away with most of the inherited seats.

In the early 20th century the Liberal Party pushed through a bill that took away from the House of Lords the ability to veto legislation: the aristocracy could only delay legislation, and for no more than a year. Around the same time control of government ministries became the sole responsibility of the House of Commons. And so, with minimal guillotine use, the British bourgeoisie slowly wrenched legislative power away from an increasingly pointless aristocracy.

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(Pictured: some non-British bourgeoisie seizing politic power from their aristocracy.)

What the Fuck is a Prime Minister?

Since presidential elections are among the most expensive and pointless national ordeals imaginable, the British did the smart thing and opted to keep their monarchy. This might seem bizarre to Americans for whom the concept of a monarch is synonymous with tyranny and incompatible with democracy. But the British have solved this problem by stripping their monarch of all but ceremonial power.  The Queen is instead kept busy opening Tescos and occasionally giving speeches that the ruling party writes for her.

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(Pictured: one of the boxes the Queen is stored in when she is not in use.)

So then who wields executive power if not an inbred monarch or a super wealthy president? Whichever party wins a majority of the seats in the House of Commons forms a government on behalf of the Queen with the party leader as Prime Minister (or PM). The PM is charged with appointing and leading a cabinet of senior ministers who will lead the various government departments of the UK. It is the cabinet collectively, not the PM, which wields executive power on behalf of the Queen.

Is a Hung Parliament as Sexy as it Sounds?

You may know that GE 2017 resulted in a ‘hung parliament’ and may be wondering what that means. Unfortunately the term refers neither to parliamentarians with large members nor the practice of collectively hanging all MPs. What it means is simply that no party achieved an outright majority within the House of Commons. Since the House of Commons has 650 seats and the largest party, the Conservatives (or Tories), won only 318, the UK currently has a hung parliament.

But Britain still needs a PM to appoint a cabinet and so there are three ways that one can emerge from a hung parliament. The first two possibilities both involve two or more parties with a collective majority of seats joining into a coalition together. This can either be a formal coalition which leads to a cabinet filled with members from all coalition members or an informal “confidence and supply” agreement where one or more smaller parties only agree to back a larger party on the budget and other key issues.

Finally, if neither arrangement can be reached, then another election is simply held. If you have just uncontrollably spat your drink onto your keyboard, then I apologize. But you read that correctly:  the British do not exclusively hold their elections on a cyclical basis. In fact, a general election can be held either as a result of the ruling government losing a no confidence vote or if a two-thirds majority of parliament votes for an election to be held. If an election isn’t called for five years, then one happens anyway.

So What The Fuck Happened?

The short version is that Theresa May, the leader of the Tories, had a small majority in parliament and called an election because she thought she could expand that majority. Labour, a leftwing party and the second largest party in the UK, was polling very badly. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was near universally regarded by the media to be too leftwing to do well in a general election, and the polls appeared to back this up.

But what happened instead was a Labour surge: they gained 31 seats when only months before they were predicted to lose 50 or more. The Conservatives lost their majority in parliament and are now scrambling to make a confidence and supply deal with the far right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland. Such a deal risks alienating moderate Tories who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

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(Pictured: Theresa May and Vladimir Putin trying to incinerate one another with their minds.)

There is another far more troubling repercussion of a deal with the DUP: it threatens the Good Friday Agreement, the bedrock of the peace in Northern Ireland. There is already an ongoing political crisis in Northern Ireland. In Part 2 we will take a shallow dive into the history of Ireland, by the end of which we all hopefully know enough to understand this paragraph.

The first two photos are from Wikipedia Commons, and the third is from the Kremlin’s website. All were found using free use filtered Google image search. I don’t actually know how to do photo credits: please don’t sue me.

The Rise of Trump: Populism in the US

The ability of the left to correctly understand and interpret the election of Donald Trump will determine how effective they are at responding to it. I write here in opposition to liberal interpretations which seek to blame voters for what must be understood as a failure of liberal ideology and liberal political practice. These interpretations seek to shift blame for Trump’s rise away from the liberal elites who created the conditions for Trump’s victory and towards both leftists and working class white people.

Populism In Republics

Populism broadly refers to political ideologies which describe two distinct bodies within society: the people and the ruling class. Populist ideologies further posit a class antagonism between these bodies which is played out in the realm of politics. This class antagonism stems from these two classes having distinct economic or social interests.

Both classical republics and liberal democracies have traditionally viewed populism with a mix of suspicion and fear. There are two main reasons for this fear. First, populism challenges the core principle of institutional neutrality that these forms of government rest their legitimacy on. Populism declares that the state has already been weaponized by the ruling class for the purposes of class conflict and that the people must seize this weapon and turn it on their oppressors.

The second reason members of the ruling class fear populism is because they fear a member or faction of the ruling class using populism in intra-class conflicts. Even in a classical republic, where the bulk of the population are politically disenfranchised, the people have some power by virtue of the overwhelming material force they collectively possess.

Both of these fears are legitimate. Since all republics are essentially oligarchical, class consciousness among the workers is a very real threat to the continuity of their economic and political institutions. And on the other hand, history provides several examples of ruling class populists using populism as a tool to gain or maintain power. Furthermore, the populism of Julius Caesar provides an example of how a republic may be destroyed by a personally ambitious member of the ruling class utilizing, among other political tools, populism.

Trump’s White Populism

All populist ideologies posit two classes, but the members of those classes can vary dramatically between ideologies. For example, communist populism identifies the proletariat as the people and the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie as the ruling class. In Trump’s populism ‘the people’ are white people and the ruling class is made up of the economic elite, politicians, and the neoliberal intelligentsia.

White people have experienced a recent increase in economic insecurity which has coincided with challenges to the cultural dominance of white conservatism. White people feel threatened by both of these coincident trends and, as a result, are open to the right wing claim that these two phenomena are directly related.

Trump tells white people that their economic woes are the result of free trade agreements, immigration, and to a lesser extent affirmative action. Furthermore, Trump flaunts and dismisses the cultural challenges to white male supremacy in the forms of political correctness, feminism, and identity politics in general. Finally, Trump argues that all of these common factors can in some way be traced back either to the schemes of the ruling class or their neglect.

The bipartisan ruling class opposition to Trump played into his populism perfectly. Politicians from across the aisle, most major media outlets, and respected thinkers from both major parties all publicly declared their opposition to Trump, hence signaling to Trump’s audience that they were in fact united as a class against both Trump and the white people he claimed to represent.


White Backlash Against A White Supremacist Intelligentsia


Many liberal commentators have been baffled by the degree to which Trump has been able to demonize the media, particularly because his main critique of it seems to be that it is too liberal. While the media may be substantially less liberal than the US is in general, it is substantially more liberal than many of the racially and ideologically segregated white communities Trump voters live in. While people of color are hugely underrepresented in the media, they occupy more prominent positions in the intelligentsia than they occupy in the lives of many white people. When white people in segregated areas do interact with people of color they are usually occupying subservient roles in the service industry.


Since white people experience near total social dominance in their day-to-day lives, even token representation of people of color within the intelligentsia is experienced as a challenge to that supremacy. Furthermore, it is experienced as a challenge from without and from above. In this way, an intelligentsia still dominated by white people and still more conservative than most Americans is perceived as a threat to the white supremacy that it ironically has such an important role in upholding.


That the intelligentsia generally support neoliberal policies like free-trade agreements helps to cement their status as part of the establishment and hence as supporters (if not members) of the ruling class. Furthermore, that there has been a recent increase in the diversity of race and gender among the visible political and economic elite has provided yet more evidence that the agenda of the elite is increasingly liberal.


White Perception and Reality


So far I have tried to capture what I believe to be the ideological moves made by Trump to craft an implicit populist theory and why they are compelling to white people. I firmly believe that ideologies are adopted by people largely based on their lived experience and hence their perception of reality. Ideologies must be anchored to something immediate and real to the believer before they can be convincing concerning matters outside of a believer’s lived experience. In the case of Trump’s populism I have argued those lived experiences are: 1) an increase in economic insecurity among white people and 2) a sense among white people that their cultural and social domination is being challenged.


Both of these experiences are real and rooted in reality: practically everyone outside the very wealthy has experienced an increase in economic insecurity since the Great Recession began, and the media is indeed liberal and diverse compared to the highly isolated environments many white people live their lives in. However, these experiences provide white people with an extremely incomplete picture of reality.


In reality, people of color have suffered disproportionately from the Great Recession (and were worse off to begin with). Free-trade agreements which undoubtedly hurt workers in the US have far greater consequences for those in the decolonized world. Not only do free-trade agreements enable horrific economic abuses outside the overdeveloped world, they also are often enforced violently.


And while the intelligentsia may be somewhat more racially diverse than it used to be, it is still systematically white supremacist. Mainstream liberal anti-racism–focused on increasing representation of people of color in positions of power and on punishing explicit white supremacy–has been largely ineffective at challenging systematic racism. Nevertheless, it has felt like a visible challenge to the social status of white people, particularly poorly educated white people who lack access to the more subtly coded white supremacy that liberals are so fond of. 


Reaping What He Sowed


Having looked at why white people found Trump’s populism compelling it is now time to turn to why Trump chose populism. The political benefits to Trump are obvious: his populism (barely) won him an election to the highest office in the most powerful country in the world that most commentators thought he had no chance of winning. Nothing could be more gratifying to a narcissist than proving so many experts and pundits wrong in such a public manner. Unlike with the many small failures of expertise and punditry, there is no option to simply ignore the fact that they were wrong in their predictions; they were too vocal and too adamant in making those predictions.


In addition to satisfying his own narcissism and securing a great deal of personal political power, Trump succeeded in winning a cultural victory within his own class. The bourgeoisie, or at least the politically and culturally prominent bourgeoisie, has generally maintained a pretense of decency and humility, at least in public. Trump wears his desire to dominate people, especially women, proudly on his sleeve. He is shameless in his cruelest judgements of others and even enjoys the attention he gets by confidently declaring on Twitter what others would say only in whispers.


Trump’s populism has served as tool in both his conflict for power within the ruling class and his conflict with the intelligentsia. The power and influence of the intelligentsia is built on the twin pillars of material access (granted by the bourgeoisie) and the neutrality and decency of their discourse. Trump’s attacks on ‘experts’ and his rejection of the basic rules of decency and neutrality of discourse which the ruling class uses to ground its legitimacy in much the same way that the ruling class uses institutional neutrality to defend its legitimacy.


The Liberal Response


Hillary Clinton’s campaign was defined by arrogance and incompetence on the strategic level, but no move was so arrogant or foolish as her attempt to counter Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan with the assertion that America is already great. Nothing could have more clearly confirmed her elitism and complete contempt towards the suffering of the oppressed. Everything is great only if you are part of the increasingly wealthy elite, like Clinton and the vast intelligentsia which gleefully supported her.


Rather than addressing the needs of the working class, or even recognizing their legitimacy, Clinton waged a campaign of ceaseless negativity and fear. Rather than offering people of color economic justice she offered them only the fear of what Donald Trump might inflict upon them and then used her campaign resources to get white Republicans out to vote instead of people of color. (White Republicans who, unsurprisingly, overwhelming voted against her.)


Clinton assured people that low unemployment means the economy is just fine, when in fact the low unemployment masks two facts: 1) more people than ever have given up even trying to find work and are therefore no longer counted among the unemployed and 2) an increasing number of the employed are working part-time or short-term jobs with no benefits and even less job security.


Commentators who point towards the relative affluence of Trump voters to dismiss his populism fail to understand that Trump is not appealing to the poor so much as the insecure. White people who already have money and social status are desperately afraid of losing it.  


What Is Left?


The DNC choosing to fight populism with elitism not only turned out to be a catastrophic failure, it also revealed how necessary populism is. There is a very real elite in our country, and it has very real economic and social interests that it has been fighting for at the expense of the majority since before our country won its independence. Trump’s white populism should be rejected not because it is populism but because it is white supremacist, patriarchal, classist populism which serves the white middle class at the expense of everyone else.


It is telling that the biggest post-election scandals (according to the intelligentsia) are Trump’s conflicts of interest and the incompetence of his transition effort and not the white supremacist violence his supporters are engaged in. Liberals are more concerned by the sacred neutrality of their institutions than they are with the material effects of Trump’s presidency. But these institutions were never neutral: they were built to support the class interests of the bourgeoisie.


The populist left must reject institutional neutrality and must not rely on the intelligentsia or bourgeoisie, who cannot be trusted. Obama’s presidency should serve to teach the left that it cannot trust populists from within the DNC: like Trump they are only using populism in their own struggle for power within the ruling class.


As the material conditions of the masses continue to decline we can be sure that the politics of the future will be populist. The greatest hope of the left rests on contesting which groups are part of the people and which are part of the elite. We can stop the right wing from splitting the working class by race only if we can create class consciousness and class solidarity.


Class Versus Identity


The conflict between class politics and identity politics is a creation of the liberal intelligentsia used to marginalize leftists. The liberal intelligentsia appropriated the language of intersectionality from the likes of bell hooks, (who was very explicit about the inextricable connections between capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy) and then used it to create a discourse all their own which focused on representation within the ruling class and intelligentsia.


Representation of marginalized people is good, but the liberal delusion that putting women, people of color, and queer people into positions of power within the state will somehow address systematic white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity is patently absurd. Class politics are the politics of a disproportionate number of people of marginalized identities.


That isn’t to say that a politics focused on class can’t also be white supremacist or patriarchal: it certainly can be. The white privilege or explicit bigotry of poor white people can lead them to supporting racist policies. But the way to stop working class white people from voting against the interests of the black and brown members of their class is to create class consciousness among them. This is supported by the fact that white workers who have held membership in a union are far less likely to support Republican candidates.


Stopping Fascism


For the first time in many decades, the dominance of liberalism as a political ideology is tenuous in the United States. Now is not the time to rally towards the right of center and support DNC candidates who will do little to nothing to protect the most vulnerable from fascism. Now is an opportunity to build a strong left wing in the US, in opposition both to the fascists who have gained power and to the liberals who defend capitalism. We must remember that liberalism is responsible for the rise of fascism–and we must oppose them both militantly.