James Petras and the dying Cult of the Three Saints
James Petras has an article in which he tries to describe what he calls the rise of the non-leftist Left, The Rise of the Non Leftist Left
The Radical Reconfiguration of Southern European Politics.
By the non-leftist Left, Petras means the new players in Europeans politics, like SYRIZA and Podemos, who defy “traditional” Left politics. According to Petras, these new elements, “no longer are based on class conscious workers nor are they embedded in the class struggle. With the decline of unions in the advanced countries, he argues we are witnessing the emergence of a “middle class radicalism”. This middle class radicalism is accompanied on the Right, by escalating state repression instead of state economic intervention. The repressive intervention of the state aims to completely dismantle the social welfare programs that emerged immediately after World War II. The non-leftist Left that has emerged to resist this sort of state intervention advocates a horizontal-style but practices top down politics aimed at securing state power. On the Right, the fascists no longer pursue national autarky, but willingly strip their countries of national sovereignty.
I think Petras missed the opportunity to coin a useful term here. In place of “non-leftist Left”, I would have called it the neoliberal Left. Same letters could be used “NLL”, but “neoliberal Left” like its predecessor “social-fascism” more accurately describes what is taking place. The term, social-fascist, was self-explanatory: fascist economic policies advocated by the socialist parties of the Second International. In the same way, “neoliberal Left” describes the neoliberal policies of a rump collection of Third International political formations.
Neoliberalism as an exogenous event
Capital does not simply transform the old state handed to it from previous epochs, it shapes the opposition to that state as well. All of our social-fascist parties have become neoliberal parties and the Left opposition have morphed into SYRIZA and Podemos. There are, of course, parties that resist this trend like KKE and SWP, but they have degenerated into cults — namely, the Cult of the 3 Saints, (or four, five or six, depending on which variant of Third International cultism you prefer.)
Like the collapse of the Soviet Union in the East, the collapse of the fascist state in the West remains a mystery for Petras. Although claiming to be a Marxist and, therefore, a historical materialist, Petras does not seek the explanation for this latter collapse in the political-economy of the fascist state itself, but as an external imposition on the state:
“[The] imposition of severe cuts in wages, pensions and other social welfare programs by rightwing and social democratic governments”.
Austerity is not the state of society, it is not fascism, but a policy imposed on the democratic state by “rightwing and social democratic governments”. Yet, surprisingly, “traditional workplace based leftist parties have been unable to address and mobilize the people” to replace austerity with another policy.
And why is this?
“Union representation has declined precipitously, further weakening the presence of traditional leftist parties in factories.”
To be perfectly honest, Petras is arguing the working class itself has abandoned its own organizations and now supports neoliberalism. Of course he can’t admit this even to himself, but no one forced the working class into unions and created the parties these unions supported. The unions and the parties of the Second and Third Internationals were authentic creations of the working class. Now this same working class that once filled Europe with nightmares has abandoned its own weapons for the euro. As the European proletariat once rallied behind the banner of the three saints, it now rallies behind the currency of Merkel and Draghi.
Workers of the world get paid in euros
But here is the thing: The banner of the three saints always carried the words, “Worker of the world unite!”; and nowhere are workers more united in actuality than in the eurozone, where they all compete against each other in a single market in labor power. What this working class could never do on its own under the banner of the three saints, capital did under the currency of Merkel and Draghi. If the union of the working class, with its preoccupation on state power, could never get beyond the borders of the nation state, capital, in the words of James Petras, emptied this nation state of any meaning.
The proletariat was unable to raise itself to position of the ruling class in its own nation, so capital solved this problem by eviscerating the nation state. In any case, the existing state had to go — if not at the hands of the proletariat, then by the blind forces of capital’s own development. And how could the collapse of the existing state and the rise of the euro not lead to a “radical reconfiguration” of our very notion of Left?
Just as some Marxists of the 1930s sought to place blame for the rise of fascism not on capital itself, but on the middle class, so Petras and his ilk seek to place blame for the rise of the neo-liberal Left on the middle class, rather than capital. The neo-liberal Left, we are told, is composed of:
“The radicalized middle class [including] public employees, professionals and self-employed private contractors who aspire to, and until recently, experienced upward mobility but have now found their path blocked by the austerity programs imposed by rightwing , as well as, social democratic parties.”
Isn’t it cute how vanguardists explain away reality? If you imagine yourself as the only authentic representative of the proletariat, you must, of course, blame the proletariat’s own turn from you, their natural vanguard, as the product of the influence of an alien class consciousness. The proletariat’s own material fragmentation must be re-framed as the disorientation and fragmentation of the ‘middle class’. As always, this ‘middle class’ is dangerous and politically unstable, forcing society to once again make the perennial a choice between Socialism or Barbarism.
Barbarism comes home to roost
That choice thus never really vanishes — society never really chooses one or the other, but dithers over its option, like a consumer at WalMart trying to decide between 60 inch plasma televisions. As in the 1930s, when the crisis dissolved peasant labor and rendered their economic position obsolete, the middle class’s “deep-seated hostility to the authorities is rooted in the loss of their previous status as a result of the crisis.” It is motivated by nostalgia for the past, and a desire to restore the social welfare state.
If this is not the most bizarre case of psychological projection masquerading as historical materialist analysis, the term has no meaning. The characteristics Petras ascribes to the ‘middle class’ are nothing more than the characteristics of the proletariat itself. For the proletariat, the so-called Golden Age of the social welfare state has turned into the unending nightmare of Thatcherite austerity. In the new parties of the neo-liberal Left, the proletariat believes it has at last found the form to restore the golden age of fascism. This party, like the proletariat itself, doesn’t engage in class struggle nor does it even accept that classes exist or play a role in history.
But what is the golden age of fascism except the false narrative that the ‘national interest’ embraced all citizens regardless of class? Hence, for Lapavitsas, the small capitalist is as much a “progressive force” to be supported by state policy as the worker he exploits. The whole nation is a ‘debt colony’ forced under the domination of an ‘imperialist’ EU. Borrowing a page from Nazi propaganda of the 1930s, the radical Left even goes on and on about how Greece has been ‘humiliated’ by the European Union.
What sort of disgusting nonsense is this? It is a sign that barbarism has come home to roost, of course, and brought its narrative with it. In a page taken from post-war Africa, the neo-liberal Left, we are told, once in power, bowed to the dictates of their imperialist masters:
“Once in power the Syriza leaders never mobilized a single mass protest and never even threatened a general strike in the face of EU colonial dictates.”
State power? What state power?
Is this not a Left looking for a new voice and failing, because of its nostalgia for fascism, channeling the ghosts of past neocolonial struggles of the Third World? Greece is cast in the role of the ex-colony, who, having gained its formal independence from Europe, finds this formality to be empty of substance; a national flag, a parliament, a central bank, but all still under the control of the imperialists of the mother country, Germany.
“In the end, Syriza surrendered to the dictates of higher powers of the Troika [and] their Eurozone acolytes, but not until it had emptied the Greek Treasury. The leaders have combined the worst of all worlds: a bankrupt national economy, a ‘protesting’ but fundamentally colonial regime and a disenchanted electorate.”
Petras conflates cause and effect here: SYRIZA bends over to its overseas overlords not because it has sold out the national interests of Greece, but because the state, the ideal representative of the national interest, remains in name only. So it is with Podemos and Five-Star, who, Petras warns, “are ready to follow Syriza’s path of colonial subservience.” What is true for Greece, that its sovereignty is a mere formality, is just as true for Spain and Italy.
The collapse of the sovereignty of the existing state is not a defect or an accident. Engels had already predicted in 1880 the rise of the state and that this state, having assumed the role of national capitalist, would “topple over”. The problem is not that the long sought for state power of the democratic republic is now a mere formality, but that fucking Marxists can’t read.
I mean — really — Engels almost wrote his argument out in crayon so you dumb-ass Marxists could read it. How could you miss it? How is it possible to miss his prediction that the state would become the national capitalst and then it would topple over? All I can say is that I thank god the working class was never stupid enough to entrust you morons with managing society.
You have to have respect for the instincts of a class that recognizes its “vanguard” is too stupid to get a concept explained in a basic Marxist primer.