Letter From Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

I have read the articles of Insurgent Notes #14 on the electoral victory of Trump to help me understand what happened. The common thread running through the various articles, moreover, raises further suggestions and new questions. It occurs to me that in this case, as in electoral processes generally, there is a backdrop of the crisis of democracy, as the system of political representation of capital. In fact, the level of abstention is indicative of a practical detachment from the system of representation, without that being necessarily a “conscious” or politically active abstention. The president was elected by 19 percent of the voters and without an absolute majority of popular votes. On the other hand, the exercise of voting is one more act of consumption: there is a strong component of frivolity manifest in the swing vote, which changes in response to extremely superficial arguments. The chauvinism supporting a possible protectionist and productivist turn for US industry (e.g., the reopening of coal mines) is, politically and electorally speaking, profitable, but at what cost to the United States economy as a whole? The maintenance of mining operations and of small manufacture on a competitive (cost-effective) basis must be achieved with subsidies from the state. Unlike the industrial reconversion of the southern European countries, where the economic costs of closures and the liquidation of productive sectors are the responsibility of structural funds from the European Union, in the case of the USA, where will the funds come from? From new taxes? I find it an exaggeration to say that the vote for Trump was anti-establishment. It was rather pro-establishment in a populist form. In my opinion (with parallels to what happens in Spain and in Europe generally) and, returning once more to the frivolity of voting, perhaps it is rather that the vote in the current capitalist democratic system is dictated by mass stupidity induced by ideological contamination, and for eminently emotional and unreflective reasons. On this point, I see a difference from the recent past of workers voting in industrial society where, in spite of the democratic fetishism, a certain “class consciousness,” with all its limitations, traditionally gave its support to the left wing of capital (Social Democrats and Leninists). There, at least, there were those who were “ours” and those who were “theirs,” even if merely in form.

I think that today, in the USA, as in Europe, that feature of class identity is more mystified and more difficult to find; it is much more diffuse. Precisely because the proletariat, as one of the IN authors points out, is multi-dimensional and much more segmented in its real conditions of existence than in previous phases of capitalism, we can understand the alliances of segments of the proletariat with the dominant class against other segments of the proletariat (migrants, workers from “emerging” countries, women, youth, etc.). The real difficulties of composition and solidarity in the proletarian population are due precisely to the fact that the process of proletarianization creates differentiated and stratified realities, in keeping with the current structure of production and realization of capital. Hence the recombination of forces that one of the articles proposes is more a statement of intention than a practical possibility, if one does not recognize that the class struggle also takes place inside the proletarian population as well.

Frankly the invocation of self-defense, even armed, by one of the authors is shocking to me, though for the traditional American system this is somewhat mainstream, since the United States constitution guarantees the right to carry and use weapons for self-defense, something unthinkable in Europe. One wonders, indeed, what would have happened in 1936 in Spain if workers had had the access to firearms that American citizens have. In any case, from my point of view, the importance of personal weapons in the American political debate is one more indicator of a society trapped in paranoia.

The infection of the proletariat by the ideology of security, of the family and the American dream, is related to that alignment of segments of the proletariat with the ruling class. It is, if you will, a kind of trade-off, the acceptance of a certain amount of exploitation in exchange for security and stability in a way of life both subordinate but “privileged” with respect to other segments of the world’s proletarian population, and within the country itself. I think that in our analysis we have to contemplate the variable of “voluntary servitude” to help us to understand, among other things, the paradoxes of the 30 percent of the Hispanic voters—or of the miners—voting for Trump (which reminds me of the broad social consensus for Nazism and fascism).


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