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home1-columns-bg-optrefusefascism-orgLUMPENPROLETARIAT—On today’s edition of Against the Grain, Professor David McNally discussed Zombies, Vampires, and Global Capitalism in the context of America’s new low with the Electoral College overriding the American people to subject the world to Donald Trump’s absurd presidency. [1]  Listen (and/or download) here. [2]



[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Against the Grain]

againstthegrainscreen-shot-2013-11-27-at-4-39-27-pm-wbaiAGAINST THE GRAIN—[25 JAN 2017]  [MECA for Peace community announcement]  [KPFA station identification by Erica Bridgeman(sp?)]

[Against the Grain theme music]

“Today on Against the Grain, the left has traditionally been defined, in its most radical form, as a movement of the working class against capitalism.  What changed over the last, at least, half century?  Not only has the working class not been at the forefront of radical politics, but radical politics, itself, has waned.  Why have resistance movements become more sporadic?  And what lessons can be drawn from the past to re-energise left-wing collective action in the age of Trump?

“I’m Sasha Lilley.  I’ll be joined by political economist David McNally to talk about the past and future of radical class-based politics.  That’s after News Headlines with Mark Mericle.”  (c. 1:30)

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Mark Mericle) omitted by scribe] [3]  (c. 5:40)

SASHA LILLEY:  “From the studios of KPFA in Berkeley, California, this is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  I’m Sasha Lilley.

“The United States used to be the site of some of the most militant class struggle in the western world.  But, today, the working class is frequently seen as a conservative force.  Is there any truth to that characterisation, which dates back to the 1950s and ’60s?  How should we understand the general absence of class-based collective resistance during the last 40 years of neoliberalism?  Why has the left been able to mobilise people in large numbers on occasion, but not been able to translate those successes into sustained mass movements? [4]  And might that change under Donald Trump?

“To pick apart these huge questions, I am joined by David McNally.  He’s an activist, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto.  He’s the author of many books, most recently, Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires, and Global Capitalism.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I have been his editor.

“David, one of the pillars of Marxism is that the working class is a potentially revolutionary class, who can bring down capitalism.  But, since at least the 1960s, many on the left have given up on the working class as a revolutionary subject.  Why is that?”  (c. 7:14)

DR. DAVID MCNALLY:  “Well, I think, what’s interesting is that the reasons for this in the 1960s and the reasons today are quite distinct.  And what I mean by that is that in the 1960s, we had come through a period, beginning right after the Second World War, pretty much as soon as the war ended in 1945, where working class living standards in the industrial core heartlands of western capitalism rose persistently year after year after year, so that, by the time we got to the late 1960s, heading into the era of the New Left, that really blossoms in the late ’60s/early ’70s, the working class in the Global North seemed to be directly benefiting from capitalist growth and development.  Life seemed to be getting better, at least in material terms, in terms of their capacity to afford food and housing and creature comforts of life: automobiles, appliances, and so on.

“And, so, the idea became pretty widespread that in the global north the working class had a material interest in the preservation and expansion of capitalism.  And that raised big questions around the famous Marxian slogan that: The workers have nothing to lose but their chains.

“Interestingly, as virtually everyone, even in the mainstream will admit, working class living standards have not been rising over the last quarter century or more in the United States, Canada, etcetera.  In fact, for the majority of working class households, there has been a declining quality of life, in terms of the growing precarity of employment; the downward movement of wages and benefits; the erosion of union protections, as more and more work is non-union, not protected by collective agreements; and so on.  And, of course, this has led to all of the discussions as to what happens to the working class anger under conditions of economic and social decline.  (c. 9:49)

“So, it’s not that people are today arguing, I think, about a broad-based material interest in the system.  What people are rightly registering is that there has been a decline in organised working class opposition, that the retreat of unions, their massive social decline, and alongside that a political retreat of some of the historic parties associated with labour movements—whether it’s the Labour Party of Britain; or the Socialists and Communists in France; or our own New Democratic Party in Canada, where I live—these parties have all shifted dramatically to the right.  It becomes, at least, a fair debate in what sense they even remain working class parties. (c. 10:45)

“And, so, it is the political presence of a kind of working class opposition, which is now what the debate is about or ought to be about.  I think those who argue that working class people in the global north are clearly materially benefiting—and their lives are more stressed out, precarious—when there’s greater hardship, I think that argument is very weak.  But I think where the left must face up to a serious challenge is on this other side.  That is to say, a decline of an organised political presence, be it through unions or political parties, of a kind of working class oppositional politics. [5]

“Now, the one other point I would make in this regard is that we confront I think, today, a really challenging paradox, which is that although organised expressions of working class politics are in decline, they episodically flare up and manifest themselves.  And, or course, they do so with all kinds of contradictions.  But I don’t think that there’s any doubt, but that we ought to read the Bernie Sanders campaign phenomenon in the U.S. as an expression of a kind of searching for a last class-based oppositional politics.  And I say that fully aware of all of the contradictions of that campaign, having been associated with the Democratic Party and the like.  Nevertheless, I think as a broad-based political phenomenon we can see that there is—if I can put it in these terms—an aspiration without an outlet.  There’s a political aspiration, which simply has no sustained organisational expression.

“And, so, for me, that’s the real challenge at this point.  Not that workers have no interest in fundamental social transformation ‘cos I think we can make a very powerful case that they do.  I think the real challenge is to show that they have the capacity to do so.”  (c. 13:00)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Well, we’ll talk a lot more about the present and many of the issues, that you’re flagging as we go on.  But I just wanna stay for a moment with the history.  [snip]

[snip]  (c. 19:27)

On the importance of the role of cultural memory and a sustained culture of working class resistance

SASHA LILLEY:  “David McNally is my guest.  He’s a political economist, author of many books.  My name is Sasha Lilley.  You’re listening to Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.

“A moment of profound shift took place in the ’70s.  Preceding that, there had been decades of growth and the expansion of the working class affluence, that extended it to the working class, especially the white working class.  Obviously, the working class was, and is, very racially divided in the United States.

“And, then, in the 1970s, a crisis, a global crisis of capitalism and, then, the imposition of this new neoliberal order, this new way of structuring the economy, of transforming the way people lived and worked.  You started to touch on it.

“But I wonder if you can, um, talk more about how neoliberalism—the process of neoliberalism, which is often framed as class war from above, but actually it also is a bit more complex than that in terms of how it transforms people’s relationships with each other—how that transformed the working class.

“And you used the word decomposition.  What do you mean by that?”  (c. 20:40)

DR. DAVID MCNALLY:  “What I mean by that—and I’m borrowing a phrase from some Italian radicals here, even if I’m using it with my own sort of inflections—but what I mean by that is that every working class movement creates its own institutional forms, uh, cultural identities, including the music that informs the movement.  It builds what Alan Sears has called infrastructures of dissent by which he means the actual places where working class activists get together, meet, converse, discuss, educate one another, generalise solidarity.

[notes/transcription pending]

[snip]  (c. 59:59)

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.


[1]  Also see:

[2]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, this one-hour broadcast hosted by Sasha Lilley, Tuesday, 25 JAN 2017, 12:00 PST.

Broadcast notes from kpfa.org:

The left has traditionally been defined, in its most radical form, as a movement of the working class against capitalism.  What changed over the last half century?  Not only has the working class not been at the forefront of radical politics, but radical politics, itself, has waned.  Why have resistance movements become more sporadic?  And what lessons can be drawn from the past to re-energize left-wing collective action in the age of Trump?  Political economist David McNally talks about the past and future of radical class-based politics.

[3]  KPFA News Headlines (read by Mark Mericle):  Trump memes, etc; mainstream news headlines; University of California Governor’s Board meet regarding tuition hikes.

[4]  To find the answer to this question, it’s interesting (or suspect) that Sasha Lilley, an otherwise astute political observer, would overlook the arguments of someone like Dr. Ralph Nader, Dr. Jill Stein, or the millions of Americans, who have for years, for decades, rejected the two-party system, the two-party dictatorship, and called for the opening of the political process to alternative political parties beyond the political cartel of the Democrats and Republicans.

One might hope, albeit in vain, that Sasha Lilley would recall her conversations with Dr. Jodi Dean (Professor of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges), on the importance of reclaiming communism, or those of her Pacifica Radio colleague, Doug Henwood, on reclaiming the political party form.  If Sasha Lilley did so, she would find the answer to her own question in the political party form; she would find the very means, which her inquiries are ostensibly seeking, toward the kind of sustained, class-based collective resistance to capitalism and its adverse effects on American working class life.

[5]  Yes!  This is, indeed, a very serious problem.  Every mass mobilisation of liberal, progressive, and radical grievances becomes another squandered opportunity to mobilise all of that political energy and anger into sustained, class-based collective resistance.  As Dr. Jodi Dean acknowledged, the political party form is incredibly important in congealing working class political power towards an emancipatory politics.


[25 JAN 2017]

[Last modified at 09:52 PST on 2 FEB 2017]