Writer Thomas Frank explores populism - as an American left-wing tradition, a perpetual target of the political elite and the media class, and the only way left to accomplish progressive change for the people in a society ruled by capital for capital.
Thomas is author of the new book The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism from Metropolitan Books.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
So, I wanna talk about 3rd generation class consciousness. I feel like the 1st generation harnessed a lot of unrest coming out of the 18th century. When that generalized but violent irritation with royalty, aristocracy, and capitalism met class analysis, you had rebellions all over Europe by the middle of the 19th century, the kindling that ignited the Decembrists and finally Lenin and Trotsky.
I would include Mao, Tito, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist Party in Kerala – and add to it the anti- colonialist reds in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So, this is to say that we have still with us a lot of 1st generation attempts to address class inequality, albeit their primary instigators are no longer.
I’m lumping a lot into this 1st wave category. The three waves explanation is a taxonomy of convenience. No one will agree that there are three waves, or that they contain the phenomena I have crammed into them, but that’s fine. I have trimmed historical and conceptual clusters with Occam’s Razor and smashed them with Bozo’s Mallet to make of them an object capable of a certain brutish examination. But that’s okay. Quantum physicists do this to subatomic particles all the time, and everybody thinks they’re, like, super-geniuses.
The socialism in Western and Northern Europe has been hybridized with capitalism to various degrees, and with various degrees of success. In many ways it has led to improved lives for its working and middle classes, but its successes have diluted the urge for economic equality, and that dilution has allowed those societies to participate in contemporary global capitalism by claiming a lion’s share of the resources supposed to be held in common by the countries of the world, and those of the former colonies, who in turn suffer in attempting to appease the global market and finance, because that’s where the money is. In general, this hybrid socialism also allows abuses of various populations according to the interests of capital.
The 2nd wave of class consciousness was very much a product of the two World Wars, with growing workers’ power at the fore in capitalist countries. Unions, collectives, experiments with worker ownership were reactions to the underclasses’ refusal be among those made to live in desperation, especially when it had become so clear how much starvation... read more