Unbecoming American: At Election Time

What is Left? Of useful political language, that is?

2024 is a year full of elections. For what they are worth they also present a display of the wealth and poverty of language with which active and passive electorates are confined, at least to the extent there is any serious effort to relate the utterances incidental to the process with the lived reality such elections ostensibly reflect. As I have argued elsewhere and repeatedly the limits to rationality in social management have long ago been breached. Although the meaning of political language is no more immanent than any other language, elections may be understood as an exercise in at least temporary stabilization of the response to the terms and concepts used and abused in all the colour bands of the spectrum of organized interest representation.

In the course of little more than a century the attempts to aggregate popular demands within the channels of conflict resolution have led to the abolition of class-oriented and programmatic political parties. The last of these survived in the colonial/ neo-colonial environments of Central and South America until they were defeated in the last decade of the 20th century. Despite the preservation of conventional labels inherited from the French Revolution, the range of political ideologies available has been reduced to the West’s universal values of neo-liberalism. Liberalism and conservatism also mutated into forms that would be barely recognizable to those whose tracts laid the theoretical basis for these positions. This did not happen overnight. Nor was it a natural phenomenon. Counter-insurgency complemented by the infiltration and manipulation of the standard bearers of nationalism and socialism in Latin America ultimately subdued those few attempts to restore class and programmatic politics after 1945.

Of course there was also violent counter-insurgency waged (e.g., Gladio) by the covert operators of the State (and its owners) in the US and throughout the territories where Anglo-American power was projected, mainly through NATO and in the western peninsula of Eurasia also through its civil department the European Economic Community or European Union. By the time the official socialist states associated with the Soviet Union were defeated and transformed into Western vassals, the leadership—such as it was—of ostensibly left-leaning political organizations had been decapitated and or replaced by academically credentialed professionals indebted to corporate funding. Before the European Management Forum/ World Economic Forum initiated its cadre program, numerous transatlantic entities such as the German Marshall Fund, Fulbright and Rhodes Scholarships and other lesser-known programs recruited and indoctrinated the predecessors to today’s “global leaders”. Funds channelled through parastatal agencies, NGOs and corporate tax dodges promoted generations of scholars, journalists, teachers and bureaucrats enabling them to march through the institutions with competitive advantage over those with sincere political convictions.

Anyone paying attention to this process could see that parallel to this transfer of “leadership” academic literature and the publications of the so-called quality press were reshaping the language of post-war mass movements, turning activism into grant-funded research. Beneath the banner of postmodernism in the Anglo-American dominated humanities and social sciences the principles of empirical Marxist analysis were subsumed by a theological form of scholarship even more dogmatic than the much-maligned work of the state institutes for Marxism-Leninism in the so-called Soviet bloc. While the latter were explicitly responsible for regulating the application of core Marxist texts to state ideology, the sacerdotal caste of the postmodernist cult preached the dissolution of explicit state action in social management. Nationalism, racial equality, feminism and socialism itself were relegated to the dustbin of archaic ideologies for social formations that had been dissolved or rendered obsolete by the alleged maturity of identity-based humanism. Possessive individualism, both metaphoric and literal, emerged as the driving force behind the sublimation of citizenship and the exaltation of consumerism as its apogee. Social movements arising from resistance to centuries of Western domination were redefined as mere aggregates of individual ambitions that the new freedom would inevitably manifest. Hence fundamental changes in productive relations and the distribution of political power over whole classes of people were abandoned in favour of enhanced personal opportunities to participate in the pillage by the prevailing system of embedded power. The appointment of a single member of a previously oppressed or subordinated class was interpreted as a sign that the class was no longer the target of the domination against which it had arose in resistance. Class ceased to exist as a meaningful category of human interest. A myriad of excuses were provided to show that there was neither a society nor a power structure in control of it.

In the 1980s the academy-based political cadre, supported by covertly funded career tracks began redesigning all of the systemic criticism that had characterized liberation struggles in anticipation of the radically individualized mass media that would soon dominate the political and economic space contested by all those who, perhaps naively, expected that the United Nations Charter would guarantee their liberation and an end to “non-self-governing territories”. Then just as industrialization provided the means by which chattel slavery could be abandoned, the onset of digitalization began to render organized industrial workforces redundant, depriving them of their practical tools of asserting control over the means of production and the media for social organization necessary to convert that into social power. By the time formal decolonization had increased the membership in the United Nations from 51 in 1951 to 194 in 2024, the capacity of nation-states to develop and protect their citizens had been thoroughly undermined by the absolute corporate control over the intergovernmental body and its agencies. Instead of local industrialization and internal development augmented by fair trade, the blue flag with its wreath encircled polar projection of Earth not only represented the corporate ideal of its founders. It became the banner of a global public-private partnership for the monopoly in the traffic of labour, money, information and with blue helmets armed force.

This was enhanced by the redesign of human development. Instead of the liberation of peoples from centuries of exploitation, the vast majority of the world’s population became de-territorialized. Social development was translated into a mere aggregate of individual enrichment or impoverishment, subject to a global “free” market governed by corporate management on behalf of finance capital. Moreover this postmodern political economy was subjected to the neo-Malthusian strategy of competitive advantage by which nations were converted into warehouses for latent resources to be traded or bunkered according to the exigencies of discounted cash flows. The humanist democratic governance principles imperfectly asserted in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and expanded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were abandoned. Instead they were proclaimed as absorbed in the corporate governance doctrines formalized and propagated by the Anglo-American capitalist theocracy, housed in the leading Business faculties at mainly American universities and non-governmental organizations. It is perhaps no accident that the technology for surrogate childbirth—once highly controversial—was perfected at the same time as NGOs through “civil society” usurped citizenship for whole classes of disenfranchised persons.

As I have argued elsewhere, the political economy of surplus allocation associated with classical economics, e.g. Adam Smith, was transformed into the neo-classical analysis of scarcity at the same time that chattel slavery was abolished in the 1880s. Postmodernism expanded this doctrine to denounce human social development at the end of the Second World War. Instead the value of human society and collective development was reclassified in the global accounting regulations as a threat to an abstract planetary welfare. That planetary welfare, currently promoted in various forms such as Climate Change dogma or DIE (diversity, inclusion, equity) doctrine, is merely a euphemism for the ascendency of finance capital and its neo-feudal oligarchy. Applied to the human race, natural reproduction and economic activity in lived human communities are unacceptable costs, which the management of the global private-public partnership must reduce if the rate of profit and the magnification of centralized power are to be sustained. In cost accounting terms, every human being, excepting the caste of oligarchs and their retainers, is a unit cost that had to be eliminated if the capitalist enterprise is to remain sustainable.

The human development indices cease to reflect increases in the level of nutrition, education, healthy live births and sufficient living conditions in the places real human beings actually inhabit. The preservation of wildlife, whether plant or animal, is only important for sustaining the class of those who claim to own everything. The intergovernmental regime, discretely appropriated and managed by international corporations through their postmodern cadre, measure human development by success in reducing the number of exhaling lungs and depriving those still allowed to breath of the energy resources required to feed, clothe, house and otherwise carry on meaningful lives.

Not satisfied with crushing national independence and development efforts worldwide, local autonomy is to be subverted by means of a pseudo-healthcare regime that grants carte blanche to pharmaments manufacturers and other branches of the armed forces to incarcerate indefinitely or even to poison the population wherever cyclical mayhem and destruction leaves survivors.

In order to preserve the veneer of coherence with the ideals espoused in the UN Charter, the social structures of historical communities are aggressively deprived of their material base. Here “civil society” performs a chimeric function facilitating the current manifestation of global parasitism. Just like the keyboard attached to a computer imitates the function of the manual typewriter, the hyper-individualism embedded in the NGO surrogate pronounces social values of the obsolete modernist humanism while driving computational processes created and controlled by the software and ultimately the hardware of the new feudal estate.

Within this constellation the terms “left”, “right” and “centre” have retained nothing of their original associations. They are entirely inadequate to describe the positions, program, loyalties, or motives of the bureaucratic-sacerdotal class still recruited to perform electoral charades. While those who still go to the polls may try to discern what words are really meant in the storm of gestures and synthetic sound bites, they can be sure that the solution to the riddle their vote has offered is wrong. They may see the hand waving or grimace as an allusion to a tradition they value. They may interpret the high-minded slogan escaping through the lips of some young LSE graduate or a legacy party functionary as a sign that their interest in a decent life and future are supported. They may paint one clown with a red nose and the other with a blue, green or brown one. Yet by the end of the performance, the clowns will remain and they, the audience, will be swept away like so many empty popcorn bags or cold drink cups on the ground. It is a truism that whenever there is some accident or mishap in the midst of a circus performance—they send in the clowns. Unfortunately on the eve of great destruction there are no laughing matters.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is also the author of Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..