Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The capitalist class on its own would not be able to so completely hegemonise the ideological scene, even with the collapse of the USSR. Its main allies have been segments of the middle class, which in every country is the largest social base for neoliberalism. Enthusiastically supportive of the essential co-ordinates of the neoliberal roadmap, but disappointed by the mainstream right and its insistence on polarising the working class, these segments swung sometimes decisively behind Third Way-style candidates in the 1990s. The conservative parties still tended to talk in the language of national sovereignty, whereas they were persuaded of the need for straightforward American tutelage (even if their strategy for neoliberalism involved appeals to European monetary union as an 'alternative' to America). Without the empire and with the labour movement defeated, the appeal to petit-bourgeois nationalism was seen as comical. And in a period of relative capitalist recovery (what was variously and fatuously referred to as the 'goldilocks economy' or the 'new economic paradigm'), they could even afford some concessions. The price paid by Third Way parties for accepting the fair weather support of this social class was the internal erosion of their base, something New Labour leaders in particular were perfectly complacent about. This has meant a recomposition in the passive and active support for those parties, which have become disproportionately male, white, middle class and professional. They have come to embody a new set of interests, a process underway long before Rupert Murdoch offered his endorsement.
This particular neoliberal 'left' was already fully signed up to American dominance and a thousand year reich of liberal capitalism. There would be no more putches, since there wasn't a combative working class to suppress - indeed, many members of this class seem to have persuaded themselves that the working class no longer existed, even as they had to pay their cleaners a new minimum wage. Instead, the United States would democratise - prudently, of course, but without hesitation. They would overthrow authoritarian populists and ideological relics of the Cold War and intervene in crisis situations. They would help strengthen government capacities and enable states to negotiate their way through this 'globalisation' business. They might be a little selfish and hypocritical, perhaps even downright bounders from time to time - but have you seen the alternative?
That class was solidly behind the attacks on Yugoslavia, applauded "British steel" in Sierra Leone, and were even uneasily supportive of the bombing of Afghanistan. They entered into passive compact with that section of the working class that tends to reflexively support the military. That compact broke down over Iraq: the disgusting legacy of sanctions reminded people of America's grotesque indifference to Iraqis; because of 9/11, real questions about US power were being asked; the Israeli incursions into Palestine became an issue of real significance, perhaps for the first time, and so Zionism - usually a means by which people have moved to the right - was deligitimised; and it was far from easy to raise militarist hysteria over such a humdrum 'challenge' as Iraq. Some of the most pro-American commentators across the world were unconvinced by the case for attacking Iraq, and as a result were forced to reconcile what was happening with their idolatry of the stars and stripes (hence the Bush demonology, almost as popular in some conservative quarters as in the liberal papers). Many of those who supported the war later recanted. Perfectly content with neoliberalism and the Clintonite imperial strategies they saw as being congruent with that, a large part of this class was appalled by Bush's polarising rhetoric and failure to see the world in the many shades of grey that they perceived. The middle class neoliberals had split: one segment pushed to the left, and another pushed into coalitions with the hard right.
For if 9/11 appeared to raise the stakes and force concentration on hitherto neglected issues, it and various attacks since, also raised a massive wave of racism, which parties of the right have benefited from. At the start of this year, 26 OECD countries were governed by parties of the right. The remainder of the pro-war left has one answer to this, given its fanatical insistence on staying the course: capitulate. Whether bandying more or less explicit endorsements of fascism by Sam Harris, complaining about the 'neglect' of the white working class (as per Margaret Hodge), or moaning about an alleged threat to free speech and Enlightenment values from 'Muslim leaders' (who are held responsible for separating Muslim voters from their natural political allegiances, stirring up anger and so on), the only question is to what extent one gives in.
In Britain, the likelihood is that David Cameron's Tories, having adopted the cynosures of the centre-left, will regain a large number of former Blair voters, disillusioned in the Bush-Blair axis but certainly not ready to abandon the macro-economic consensus, even though Cameron himself is careful to stick to strict orthodoxy on Iraq and Israel. They will see off the Liberal Democrats to some extent, but the latter too will mop up disaffected middle-class Blairites. Some will go to the Greens, perhaps a few to Respect, but an even larger bloc will remain unaligned for the time being. The 'pro-war left' will be the husk that remains.