On Anti-Corporatism And Its Critique

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

This is a response to a number of recent statements in the blogosphere about “anti-corporatism,” the belief that what’s wrong with American politics is its domination by corporate power.  Here I argue that the divide between “Left” and “Right” is quite real — but on a wide variety of issues no traction will be gained unless we oppose neoliberalism, the political economy of choice for the corporate order.

(Crossposted at Orange)  

Jeffrey Feldman‘s quote of Glenn Greenwald defines the parameters of debate well:

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it’s the same thing:  a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else’s expense.  Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s.

The “anti-corporatist” suggestion, then, is that the conservative/liberal political divide is in some sense obsolete, and that we ought to think in terms of a corporate/ anti-corporate divide.  

However, thereisnospoon, writing yesterday, thinks he has a “way out.”  He argues:

As Feldman makes clear, the Right envisions a society in which no government can encompass a corporation, while the Left desires a society in which no Corporation can encompass or purchase a government.

But this doesn’t really do justice to either position.  The “Left” in this country takes a number of positions on a number of issues.  Keeping corporations out of government is not necessarily its highest, or even a very high, priority for the “Left,” although it certainly can be a priority.  Protecting the environment, protecting the consumer, educating children, feeding the hungry, securing peace, raising wages: those are “Left” priorities.

The “Right,” moreover, does not necessarily approve of corporate control of government either, as part of its general complaint against “big government.”  thereisnospoon’s main thesis is:

There is a Left.  There is a Right.  There is a battle royale, and it is not illusory.

But the truth of this statement depends to an important extent upon one’s perspective.  For most of us, the “Left” and the “Right” are real: the “Left” stands for freedom through personal self-discovery, prosperity through public activism amidst the benefits of social democracy, environmental protection, respect for difference, peace on Earth.  The “Right” comes at this with a tribal set of prohibitions upon “out-of-place” behavior, insistence upon “strong defense” internationally and “small government” domestically, and a trust that “laissez-faire capitalism” will settle relations between people and between people and nature.  Jeffrey Feldman expresses the popular perspective on the “Left”-“Right” divide in this fashion:

In the left pushes for a system where private business entities are kept separate from the state, whereas the right pushes for a system where private business interests are left unfettered by government.

But, remember, this is only one perspective upon the “Left”-“Right” divide: here I will call it the popular perspective because it is the perspective of “the people.”  

The political classes do not share that perspective.  For the political classes, “Left” and “Right” are two different public-relations stances, meant to placate voters of different political ideologies while keeping in power adherents to the ideological formation typically called the “Washington Consensus,” aka neoliberalism.  Neoliberalism is sold to the “Right” as “neoconservatism” and dolled up in the foreign-policy stances of the Project for a New American Century; Neoliberalism is sold to the “Left” through what I have here called “progressive ideology“: a study of the 2004 campaign of John Kerry would reveal a more exact contour for this particular strategy.  Neoliberal “leftists” are portrayed in the media as “fiscal conservatives and social liberals” with resumes which reveal an attachment to liberal causes.  Again the example of John Kerry: he has cred as an antiwar activist during Vietnam, and his wife is a prominent philanthropist.

Feldman’s characterization of corporatism as an important issue

One of Feldman’s presumptions about Glenn Greenwald’s argument is that the “Left”-“Right” distinction is (for Greenwald) a form of false consciousness, and that Greenwald’s argument makes implicit claims, including this one which he argues:

Implicit Claim 2: The Only People With Consciousness are those who See the Battle Against “Corporatism” as the True Political Landscape

According to Greenwald’s logic, those who no longer see the political landscape in terms of left vs. right, but not see it in terms of insider vs. outsider–they are the only people who are truly awake or conscious, meaning: they see reality for what it is, not for what the corporations and the ruling party want them to see.

“Left” and “Right” characterize real ideological differences.  These differences, however, are not expressed in the same way when they become differences in Federal-level policymaking: “Left” and “Right” become “Left” neoliberalism and “Right” neoliberalism.  The “Right” neoliberal Presidency, for instance, gave us Reagan and the two Bushes, the “Left” neoliberal Presidency gave us part of Carter, Clinton, and Obama (so far).  The former was worse in some ways, but this doesn’t take away from the unsavory content of the latter.  Meanwhile you have disturbing continuities between the two neoliberalisms, like the continuation of hemp prohibition, the pursuit of “deregulation” in the service of corporate profits, the depreciation of wages under the aegis of “free trade,” the continued exercise of the global US warfare state, and so on.

*****

Neoliberalism as an issue

Neoliberalism itself requires examination.  Eugene’s diary of yesterday glances upon it: I think we should go deeper.  I believe that most of what have been seeing in politics for the past thirty years is a playing-out of the dynamic established during the 1970s, when a vast surplus of capital (i.e. corporate power) creates a dynamic in which government progressively throws all of its traditional functions overboard in order to protect the profits on capital (or “the corporations”).  This was explained quite well in Harry Shutt’s 1998 book The Trouble With Capitalism.  Most importantly, Harry Shutt (yeah, see the link) explains why neoliberalism is the political economy of choice for the corporate order: corporations like the “free market” rhetoric because it allows them to keep wages down while enabling them to penetrate foreign markets.  The purpose of neoliberalism, then, needs to be kept in mind: neoliberalism is a facade for corporate ownership of government.  (David Harvey calls it “accumulation through dispossession.”)  

Shutt’s critique of neoliberalism becomes painfully terse on p. 87 of his masterwork, where he says:

…the weight of official opinion is stll clearly convinced that the primary duty of government in the global economy is to prop up corporate profits at all costs despite the demonstrable reality of a surplus supply of capital.  (87)

Thus the capitalist system in this era becomes self-devouring.  William K. Tabb expresses how this dynamic works in a paper prominently quoted in the Monthly Review:

In an article on “The Centrality of Finance,” in the August 2007 issue of the Journal of World-System Research, MR and MR Press author William K. Tabb writes:

Real global growth averaged 4.9 percent a year during the Golden Age of national Keynesianism (1950-1973). It was 3.4 percent between 1974 and 1979; 3.3 percent in the 1980s; and only 2.3 percent in the 1990s, the decade with the slowest growth since World War II.  The slowing of the real economy led investors to seek higher returns in financial speculation….[I]increased liquidity and lower costs of borrowing encouraged in turn further expansion of finance. The coincident trends of growing inequality and insecurity…and the spreading power of rapid financialization do not suggest a smooth continued expansion path for a society based on increased debt and growing leverage.

Thus as aggregate profit levels decline, on average, from decade to decade, corporations tend to invest more and more in 1) financial Ponzi schemes and 2) increasing dependency upon government largesse, which is what the anti-corporatists call “corporatism.”  That, then, should explain to you why we’re talking about “corporatism” right now.

Whither anti-corporatism?

The big question here is one of whether or not anti-corporatism is worth our time.  Eugene certainly thinks it is.  He argues:

If you want to defeat the right, we must defeat corporatism.

But what does “defeating corporatism” mean?  Eugene thinks it starts with a rejection of “1990s politics.”  Here he defines:

What I mean by “1990s politics” is the notion that progressives must abandon their own beliefs, desires, wants and needs, and sign on to a neoliberal, pro-corporate agenda that is inimical to them out of a deliberately misstated assessment of “political reality.”

So Eugene is correct and this is the point.  Progressives must reject neoliberalism if they wish to make the “Left”-“Right” opposition politically relevant for a range of issues.  And neoliberalism, then, is the system of political economy that the corporate order that the corporate order chooses.  Want action on health care?  I’m sure that CIGNA, Blue Cross and others can offer you a list of options, all of them expensive, but if you don’t want what’s on the list, you’ll have to fight the corporate order.  Want to end war?  Sorry, militarism makes a profit, so if you don’t like it you’ll have to fight the corporate order.  And so on.

There is an urgently needed political conversation, here and in the blogosphere in general, about what sort of system of political economy is to succeed neoliberalism.  It’s not going to stay this way forever — the corporations can only go so far in ripping off the planet and its people.  Eventually the political classes will get rid of neoliberalism, and replace it with some form of mercantilist practice, so that it can protect its corporate order while everything around it crumbles.  

Many people would like to see a return to the populist Keynesianism of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s.  Others do not think the situation is right, because the environment is “maxed out” on human intervention.  Minqi Li:

After centuries of global capitalist accumulation, the global environment is on the verge of collapse and there is no more ecological space for another major expansion of global capitalism.

Like I said, this is a conversation which urgently needs to happen.  But it’s never going to happen if, in Eugene’s words, we keep playing the game of 1990s politics — if we keep supporting the neoliberal policy package, through acquiescence if not actively.  I still have no idea what it means to “defeat corporatism” — but I do know that good things will happen if I oppose the corporate order.

29 comments

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  1. As Feldman makes clear, the Right envisions a society in which no government can encompass a corporation, while the Left desires a society in which no Corporation can encompass or purchase a government.

    Let leave aside whether the Left wants a mass private industry at all (It becomes clear he is talking about a very restricted definition of the present American Left in progressivism) and ask:

    Where does Corporate Welfare come in here?

    Does government encompass a corporation when it Bails them out? Or is just the effect of an industry or corporation encompassing the government? Simply the Corporation using one of its many levers. It seems the Right wing in their opposition to the bailout, has moved to the Left, strangely, by opposing the effects of industry encompassing the government.

    As an aside,

    I am fine with helping small new entrepreneurship, that is to say, I am not in favor of helping established business because it, as a business, has no obligation to help people. Helping someone become an entrepreneur, through loans or technical advice, seems worthwhile as it about helping a person.

    Although in the scheme of things I think the best way we can help these entrepreneurs is to break up market and trade monopolies of our corporations (ADM, Monsanto, GAP, Wallmart,) and bring in trade regulation that would tax the transport of all goods across far distances (To take into account of market manipulation and environmental costs.

    And Keynesianism could work but it would have to appear in a very radicalized form and go further than the New Deal ever went. As Dewey said at the time, we need a “radicalized liberalism” capable of dealing with the massive problems we see today, and that, I believe is what defined progressivism before Blogistan CW turned it into its neutered form – very close to a triangulating conservative neo-liberal, neo-con-lite, water carrier for the present Administration.  

  2. cassio, did you see that “eugene” also crossposted his piece at FDL (as Robert C.)? just if you want to re-code your link to him.

    • k9disc on December 29, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Civic humanism is generally taken as an equivalent or as a particular variant of republicanism, meaning a conception of politics in which government is in principle the common business of the citizens. The “city” provides the environment – a public space – for human fulfillment. If, on the one hand, the republic is contrasted to personal or authoritarian government it also differs from the liberal model, which sees society as a collection of atomistic individuals held together by common rules designed to allow them maximum freedom to follow their particular and varied values and interests.

    Perhaps we need to go back a bit further. The Enlightenment and Renaissance are a couple of similar periods of history to these times I think…

    Great link:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr

     

    • Inky99 on December 29, 2009 at 9:05 am

    that anyone who considers themselves a Democrat or to the left of Ronald Reagan would insist that being anti-corporate is somehow wrong.

    Yet there they are.  People who I once respected are now coming out and saying the most outrageous crap about how it’s wrong to be anti-corporatism.  

    How did I end up in this alternate reality?   Where’s the world I used to live in?

    When did so many people get so fucking brainwashed?

    • banger on December 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    First of all there is no division between economics and politcs they are one and the same though emphasize different things.

    Regardless of whether or not we oppose corporatism the neoliberal/neoconservative ruling-class is so entrenched and the system is so robust nothing can change it. It is like trying to assault a castle with one sling shot.

    The point I always try to make and few seem to pick up on is that the left has chosen a path of powerlessness. By that I mean that the essentials of political power are lost on the American left. The left has become a little role-playing game for over-educated dilettantes like me. We don’t understand that power comes from the ability to use force to pursue our agenda. The whole brouhaha about Jane Hamsher illustrates this. Jane did the only logical political thing she could do and that was to look for allies since the left was obviously thrown out of the current version of the Democratic Party. The left must make the Center-right pay and you make them pay by hurting them and their constituencies. That’s politics. If you don’t or can’t do that you have no business interesting yourself in politics except as a spectator sport (and it is a great one).

    So, create your own corporation — that’s my tactic. Why? Because from a legal point of view corporations have a major competitive advantage over citizens and any other type of organization. If you are going to play the game of politics you must pursue power and leverage what little power you have. If corporations are the entities that are required on the battlefield then it is corporations we must create. By “corporations” I include churches and non-profits.

    What we used to call “pig culture” is at war with us. We are food for them. To avoid being eaten we must band together because the future is neo-feudalism — that’s where this system is headed. Man of us are already in debt-peonage (like me).

    I want to emphasize that there is no way at all that the system can be attacked in the normal way. Elections are effectively rigged — the voting booth is just the last resort, they are rigged way before that. So to participate in election politics is, I believe, futile for a number of reason I won’t go into right now. Lobbying is absurd because we can not threaten the pols with anything because we have no power. So all the letters and calls do nothing other than make them pay more attention to PR. Believe it or not trying to make politicians ashamed of what theyare doing DOES NOT WORK. Oh, it may create a few cosmetic changes that look good (they are always minor) but that’s it. Pols know that, ultimately, they can be removed from office and, if required, killed by the system — depending on who they know and who they’ve offended.

    If the left does not organize itself into and effective fighting force then forget about change other than whatever disaster may befall us. Then we will get an even stricter police state and harder repression. We are really fucked.

    And I think some on the internet are beginning to grasp it.

  3. If we are to attempt to cut off the “snake’s head,” it starts with fighting corporatism.

    As I’ve mentioned before, there are any number of things that can be done.  Here is an article dealing with it:

    10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You, By Scott Thill, AlterNet. Posted December 19, 2009. Tired of getting pushed around by faceless big business? Here are 10 ways to push back!

    Creating Unions and backing them — unions were responsible for keeping salaries at the paces they should be.  The disparity between the rich and the poor has a direct correlation to the collapse and disregard for unions.

    Finding means to reinforce anti-trust laws (the Sherman Act).  Lack of enforcement of this law has enabled companies to become the huge conglomerates that they are.

    In terms of businesses, if we, individuals and small groups, were to create “green” businesses — it would be a win-win for all.  Already we’ve lost out on building windmills to the Chinese, and we most assuredly had the chance to create and manufacture them here.  There is an entrepreneurial guy, in Indiana (forgot the city), who is all set to set up business to assemble windmills (parts imported), has employees lined up, etc., he’s just waiting for the release of monies, bureaucratically being held up, so that he can proceed, as just one example.

    Fighting back corporatism is also one of one’s own conscience, much like “recycling” — there are those who recycle religiously and those who give it no thought.  So much of consumerism is spent on goods that are not actually needed — it’s just that commercialism created the “need.”

    ******

    The link you have for the Project for the New American Century, as you probably know, does not work.  The link was down a few years ago, then when back up and, now, finally, appears to be down and the domain being sold.  Even links to “statement of principles,” etc. no longer link to it.  I doubt seriously, however, that they (the PNAC) no longer have a site — probably just a new name that we haven’t found yet.  But here’s the Project for the Old American Century, which butts so much of the PNAC.

    And while searching all kinds of things, I came across this site:  American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Cheney being one of the Board of Trustees. You and others might wish to peruse the site, if you have not seen it!

     

  4. …Cass!  Reading you makes me feel like a need a remedial education in these subjects which I thought I knew fairly well.

    Thamks for the ongoing education!!!

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