Zero Squared #73: Brexit and the Rise of the Right

Andrew Kliman, author of Reclaiming Marx’s Capital and The Failure of Capitalist Production returns this week to discuss the Brexit and the rise of the far right.

What might be unique about this discussion is that we start out by agreeing that, one way or another, the Brexit vote needs to be tied in to the economic crisis of 2007 and the Eurozone crisis that followed.

The big announcement this week is that a Zero Books membership site is in development. Our new line of interview books “Advancing Conversations” will be made available as audiobooks, we will offer workshops on critical theory, politics, and economics through the site, and we also introduce a member’s only podcast.

If you’re a fan of Zero Books please consider signing up for our monthly newsletter at the Zero Books website and find out about upcoming titles like Daniel Coffeen’s Reading the Way of Things, Jeff Bursey’s Centring the Margins and Eliot Fintushel’s Zen City. If you are a regular listener to the podcast I’d encourage you to follow us on Facebook and to consider leaving a review of the show on iTunes.

The music in this episode includes an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven as performed by the Vitamin String Quartet as well as sound clips from Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. You’ll also hear a short excerpt from Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. The music you’re listening to right now is the Django Rock Band covering Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh but in just in a moment you’ll be listening to Andrew Kliman and I discuss Brexit and the danger of a Left/Right Convergence.

Man, I suggest re-listening to that and trying to follow the logic if this conversation didn’t generate any embarrassment. Kliman’s issue boils down to basically the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach, but it doesn’t even reach that (low) level of principle. Rather than the lesser of two evils *of a proposal*, it’s the lesser *guilt-by-association*: don’t vote on the issue, vote based on the opposite of how the fringe people you really hate/fear are going to vote, lest you get to see them happy about the result.

So Corbyn, Graeber, Hudson, and the left generally should have been more enthusiastically for staying in the EU regardless of their actually preferring to leave. Because some people on the right also dislike the EU for other reasons. The enemy of my enemy (remain vote) is my friend. That is such a weak sell.

Doug’s response to that: “part of what we need to accomplish to fight off the right is to get rank-and-file people interested in thinking for themselves and thinking as deeply as they can. And maybe where to start is being critical of these thought-leaders.” Really, so not voting your actual principles and instead falling back on some tired strategic voting is ‘thinking for yourself’?

Doug said: “at the moment the left’s position has to be to hold back the right”. That is literally what these college kids think they’re doing by calling everyone racist & fascist, and painting swastikas & hitler-moustaches on signs that they think they disagree with. And it just makes things worse because many people think those kids are ‘the left’.

Kliman then announces that in principle he would never vote for Clinton and has always loathed her. Right after shitting on people who aren’t going to do everything possible to defeat Trump. Then says that voting is pointless, especially for a 3rd party. “It’s going to be a terrible disaster if Trump wins. Whatever little you can do in the ballot box to stop that, then yeah, you gotta stop that.” So everyone gets served up a helping of hypocritical judgement here…

Finally the suggestion is raised that Trump be “stopped on the ground”. That maybe people should rush Trump in large enough numbers that they can take the stage from him, without looking like losers by getting stopped by the cops. But after realizing how authoritarian that sounded, we get an immediate softener: “I mean, I’m for a debate, I’m not for stopping him from speaking…”

I’d keep workshopping these ideas before sticking with them…

1 Jul 2016, 7:24pm
by douglaslain



Thanks for responding to the podcast. I basically agree with you that we need to “keep workshopping.” If there is a solid strength in this episode it has to do with neoliberalism and anti-market sentiment.

I don’t think either Professor Kliman or Doug are completely out of line in their concern for a possible Trump Presidency. While I don’t agree with the meat-headed Liberal establishment who seem to revel in making hyperbolic comparisons of Trump to ghoulish figures like Adolf Hitler and Mussolini I still think “the Don” poses a serious problem if he gets elected into office. He may not be an actual fascist, but he sure as hell seems to like courting them.

To me I think a more accurate set of analogies to Donald Trump are diet-authoritarians like Erdogan of Turkey, Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, and Putin of Russia; loud obnoxious demagogues who like to openly court the most reactionary figures in their respective societies. For Netenyahu he courts thuggish figures like Avigdor Lieberman and theocratic hooligans from the Shas Party; for Putin it’s former National Bolsheviks and Eurasianist slime like Aleksandr Dugin whose neo-fascist political philosophy, some say, inform Putin’s actions when it comes to Russian foreign policy. I believe a Donald Trump presidency would resemble regimes and administrations such as these and I think it isn’t at all unreasonable to want to avert such outcomes. Do we want the US to end up like a Russia or Israel or Turkey, whose populations have been fed a steady diet of nationalism, xenophobia, and imperialistic chauvinism for nearly a generation? That’s a situation the left definitely needs to avoid.If the left thinks its hard to reach working class people now lets see how they like it when the US starts to resemble a Russia or Turkey.

mike: what leads you to think that Trump is more similar to Putin than say, Berlusconi? To me he seems like the latter. I expect 4 years of Trump would be an embarrassment, but not any serious issue of the US devolving into israel/russia/whatever.

Gus: okay, maybe I was overstating my case with Russia as it always had a history of authoritarianism. Plus after the fall of the USSR it doesn’t seem like that totalitarian state apparatus that developed throughout the cold was ever really dismantled. And yes I’ve heard similar comparisons made to Berlisconi. That might be a more cool headed reading of this whole Trump phenomenon. But I think the analogy still holds with countries like Israel were its political trajectory has been moving more and more to the right over the last couple of decades. I maybe overreacting a bit but I see parallels between Trump and the xenophobic turns in the US public and what has been happening in places like Israel. But who knows, maybe I’m just being paranoid or something. We live some really confusing times. I never would’ve thought in a million years that the Brits would seriously opt leave the EU. It seems like in this day and age things might go this way or the other.

workshops, Trump, voting, xenophobia, economics… at some point someone is going to have to do something. How do you “talk” about that?

Looking forward to the membership thing, Doug. Have bought way more books since you became el jefe.

Yeah what I definitely understand is seeing some Trump *supporters* in rally videos, and some fringe ‘leave’ voters in the UK who are espousing obvious reprehensible shit, and wanting to see those people lose. But I think that’s an emotional response that is worth pushing back on.

It’s the same as the meme like “sure we know 52% of the voters aren’t racist. But we don’t want the actual few racists to think 52% of the population agrees with them, so we should have voted stay”. That is so childish and shortsighted.

dmf: Nice podcast link, that is more aligned with what I heard about the coup against Corbyn. Kliman in this show seemed to be falling for that trap of just taking the stunt-pulling MPs at their word.

Here was a rally last week in immediate support of Corbyn. I think these are supposedly the people not thinking for themselves, and the thought-leaders they need to get away from…

doug: thanks for the shows & keep up the good work. Just thought this one was a big miss IMO

If I had said what “gus” says I said, his complaints would be legitimate. But I didn’t. (Except some of the non-xrazy parts.)

Much easier to attack a straw man than my actual words, I guess.

The key point that those on the “left” who enabled UKIP’s victory have to come to accept is that they DID enable a UKIP victory. That’s clear from the Labour Party’s capitulation:

The UK public voted on whether they preferred to stay in the EU or leave the EU. They didn’t vote UKIP into power, or vote on a national identity of pro-xenophobia vs. anti-xenophobia. If you want to characterize the vote for Leave in some way like that, that’s on you; maybe you can get something useful out of that framing. A lot of the liberal class happens to like that framing as well. To me, it’s a weak, reductive, emotional argument. As for strawmen, that’s why I suggested relistening to it and trying to follow the logic to see if you still stand by it.

I did not follow Kliman’s critique of neoliberalism at all. I think the term is finally gaining some currency in mainstream society to describe capital’s obliteration of labor since the late 1970s. That seems like a pretty good place to be. Just claiming “but the issue is capitalism!” is unhelpful. Yes, ultimately, that’s the issue, but it will take the rise of a labor-left first before we get to any “post-capitalism” conversations. Please, make coherent arguments next time instead of crapping on a broad left-wing movement that is trying to climb our way out of, yes, neoliberalized capitalism.


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