is one of the most interesting accounts of the Tea Party movement in the United States thus far. Its main interpretive concept is that the Tea Party represents the rational defence of the interests of local "white notables", particularly in the South and West. (Indeed, I blogged on the Southern origins of the New Right
some years back). But I just raise it because there are a few points prompted by the discussion.
1) Inter-capitalist competition, fractionalisation and stratification
. In my research for the Against Austerity
book, I had a look into the Tea Party successes in the November 2010 mid-term elections, and particularly at what was behind Scott Walker's success. It struck me that the sectors of capital backing him were not mostly these billionaire capitalist leaders like the Koch Brothers but largely small-to-medium sized healthcare professionals, and medium-to-large size enterprises in the FIRE sector - you know, real estate spivs, insurance companies and so on. Of course, once the fight for Wisconsin was on, he did attract some more significant support, from Fox News, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (a traditionally right-wing business front
). But by and large, the support for Republican hit men came from local elites not from the dominant international corporations and not from the upper levels of finance capital which wield most influence in DC. There is a sort of permanent 'austerity' built into the genetic code of neoliberalism, and this appears to be what the major banks and businesses want. The shock-doctrine austerity of the Republican Right, the Tea Party, on the other hand, is something quite different and more likely to be rooted in the drive firms with tight profit margins to reduce tax burdens and open business opportunities within the state, while simultaneously resisting a series of 'threats' (such as Obamacare). Of course, this can't be reduced to different fractions and strata of capital - America has a larger middle class than most capitalist formations, and a significant sector of its working class is amenable to racist politics. But within the Tea Party coalition, it is these capitalist interests which are hegemonic.
2) Divisions within the state apparatuses. Local elites are mobilising effectively to gain control of strategic state apparatuses. They have little chance of claiming the executive, and would likely be encircled on all sides if they did; they aren't likely to claim the upper legislature, the Senate; they can gain a foothold in the lower legislature and make a lot of noise. But their forces are most powerfully concentrated in local state apparatuses - governors, mayors, state senators, and so on. This reminds us of the way political struggles are concentrated in the state. 'The state' is nothing in and of itself; nothing but a particular material condensation of the balance of class and political forces (the materials having been collected and condensed not just in one particular conjuncture but over epochs). It is therefore fissiparous, divided as much as the dominant classes and fractions are divided; divided as much as the social formation itself is divided. Poulantzas maintained that one could see a certain political order of dominance in the relations between state apparatuses, such that the locus of dominance at a particular moment - always partially malleable - would be the site at which the hegemonic fraction's power is most concentrated (the federal executive in this case), while subordinate fractions would be able to concentrate their forces within other subordinate apparatuses (the lower federal legislature, the local senates and governors etc). To a great extent even these successes have come through the development of cleavages in the rival Obama coalition, which was essentially a pact between the working class and the upper levels of the bourgeoisie. The Tea Party was able to occupy the spaces vacated as 'Obamamania' subsided, but did not hold them for 2012. Outside of a far graver political crisis than at present - please don't start on that DC shutdown - it is difficulty to see these subordinate class forces displacing the hegemonic class forces within the state.
3) Ideology and rationality. Lind's analysis insists, against liberal snobbery, that the Tea Party is not stupid or irrational. Rather, whether it's filibustering, privatization or local disenfranchisement, he claims that Tea Partiers are acting rationally in defence of certain material interests. I think this needs to be refined. It is quite correct to reject the simple notion that austerity policies are thick. But there is no pristine space outside of ideology, where interests are constituted apart from representational strategies, and where the horizons of possible action are not at least partially determined by the prevailing ideas, the balance of ideological forces. For example, it may be questioned just how much of a threat Obamacare is to the 'white notables' of Texas. Certainly, some firms might stand to lose money, but this is mediated by ideology: that is, it is connotatively linked in a chain-of-equivalents to a whole series of issues from the bank bailouts to stimulus spending to unions etc. These are all linked, somehow, to the threatened revival of a social coalition behind a moderate tax-and-spend liberalism which the Tea Partiers call, with perfect Hayekian inflection, 'socialism'. To this extent, there is no way in which a pure self-interest is being defended when Ted Cruz filibusters against Obamacare: the process is necessarily saturated in ideology. It's just that this is also true of the strategies opted for by the power bloc in DC, and it is an inescapable component of political action. The mistake is to counterpose ideology and instrumental reasoning when it is clear that the American Right has never done this.