Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Thoughts On The Power of Capital and The Course of Party Politics
The 2016 election season grinds on, and in keeping with the mode of the last two-and-a-half decades, the bourgeois media deport themselves like Tiger Beat for ugly rich people.
Dominated by personalities, mainly Donald Trump’s with an occasional riff on Hillary Clinton’s likability, they exert themselves only as hard as needed to produce content (and consent) without asking questions. Capital being capital, the rate of return on what our society has nostalgically come to think of as “real journalism” is lower than ever. The circus of marketable vulgarity is what we deserve and what we get.
Occasionally I’ll hear an NPR type ask what happened to real journalism, the kind that focused on serious issues presented with a decent regard for the facts. I try to keep a straight face since I’m a polite revolutionary socialist, but among us chickens we know it was all a myth, the product of privately owned outlets where presenters with sober expressions reported on the battles of different factions of capital, carefully avoiding any explicit revelation of their nature. The journalistic front of eminence and professionalism was shield and sword to keep the national discussion within acceptable bounds.
So it is with our major parties, both of them relying on the stupidity and vulgarity of our culture to narrow a discussion that is not intended to be anything but a program to channel and obfuscate. Where they concern the ruling class, the purposes of journalism and politics both are never to uncover, but to manage.
On the surface it seems odd that the Democrats’ and Republicans’ ever-declining membership numbers and internal crises have done nothing to weaken the two party lock on the levers of power. As with journalism (since both journalism and politics are functions of capital), the real story lies beneath not just the top layer of brightly colored political sewage, but under the next layer down, the fondly curated memory of a political culture that never existed. Breathless reports of civil war in the Republican party and “Bernie or Bust” in the Democratic party can do nothing to mask a fundamental truth about our TV show democracy and the latest episode the writers are calling the 2016 election: the struggle in both parties is, as ever, about who controls Capital.
It doesn’t matter that Republican establishment politicians are being stalked by the monster they created. They will acclimate or die politically, slain by Trump’s middle aged and elderly white dupes. Either way, the Republican party lives on, changed only in the respect that the capital-serving machinery has been re-tooled. Capitalists change political partners, pick new marks in the poker game, find new ways to redirect the public’s attention from their thievery and mass murder, but whatever the outcome, Capital remains.
For Democrats, only the outward terms of the struggle are similar: an outsider with populist tendencies stands at the gate, ready to take power from a morally bankrupt establishment and, in theory, place it in the hands of “the people”. But here, the challenger could not rely on the Democratic rank and file’s disdain for normal politicians to serve him, and he came late to a party that was planned and paid for by the only relevant Democratic faction. Unlike Republican politicians, who have reason to believe Republican malcontents will follow through on their anger with actual votes, the Clintonite establishment feels confident that, once disposed of in the primaries, Democrats hungering for a return to New Deal principles will either fall into line as always or find themselves replaced by voters on the rightward margin who can be convinced that Donald Trump is the greater evil. This is why the Democratic establishment consistently holds the party’s “left” in contempt: the left almost always punks, and when it doesn’t, for every vote the party loses on the left, crass triangulation gains it at least one vote on the right.
To the majority, this election appears to be one of great turmoil and uncertainty. One contestant promises to protect the pro-capital status quo by redrawing political boundaries to include at least the middle 51%, blowing off the ineffectual left and smiling rightward to welcome potential refugees from the ranks of nervous business Republicans. The other operates by upending conventional political discourse, prioritizing the anxieties of elderly and middle-aged whites, and re-positioning the goals of the commercial republic allegedly to favor the white working class.
For our real rulers, it’s a very different story, one where either outcome protects and extends the influence of capital while at worst having to rely on the deep state to keep the winner within bounds. There will still be competition among factions of the ruling class, there will still be relative winners and losers among them, but the commanding heights of power in the political parties will remain in capital’s hands.
How will they maintain this power? It’s very simple.
We’ve heard much about how declining party identification and the growth of independents points to the morbidity of the traditional parties.
How can they survive with Republican party identification at 26% and Democratic party ID at 30%? At the current rate, it won’t be long until a majority of the electorate rejects both parties.
Also, please note that these figures are from 2014, before the emergence of the most unpopular pair of major party candidates in political memory, only one of whom, I hasten to add, has a critique of the widely unpopular political establishment.
Unlike many who question the prospects of the ever-shrinking Democratic and Republican parties to keep their hold on power, I see their future through the lens of capital and its influence: popularity doesn’t matter, power matters. Unless there is a massive and militant shift in American political culture, the two parties and their capital-distilled elites will continue to control the nominating process, numbers be damned. Shrinking party membership simply means fewer cooks in the kitchen to spoil the capitalist broth.
Until there is a constitutional method of dislodging self-perpetuating party elites who have a lock on the nominating rules, there is no motivation for these captured institutions to change, save successful independent candidates who refuse to join either party, followed by the prospect of more such candidates whose pro-people stands scare pro-capital party apparatuses into fundamental change.
As Chomsky noted: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....” Of course that includes limiting the electoral choices available to us. Shrinking political party membership will empower capital-oriented party elites, possibly for decades as a smaller and smaller sliver of the population determines our ever-narrowing range of possibilities.
The sole alternative I can see is a real revolution.
Cross posted here.