With all the grim news from the US Supreme Court today, it’s easy to feel despairing. And there are certainly strong arguments to support a pessimistic view.
On the other hand, we’ve been here before many times before. Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem Say not the struggle naught availeth was written in 1849 the aftermath of the collapse of Chartism, a movement that demanded universal male suffrage, secret ballots and other democratic reforms. Clough himself spent 1848 in Italy during the “Year of Revolutions”, most of which were defeated within a few years. Yet, in the end, the Chartist demands were met*, and then surpassed through the struggle for women’s suffrage. The struggle for democracy in Europe as a whole has ebbed and flowed (it’s ebbing at the moment), but has so far been successful.
Coming to the US situation, even though the right has all the levers of power, they are still losing ground on lots of issues, both in terms of public support and in terms of actual outcomes
* Obamacare has survived, and there’s now rising support for a single-payer system.
* The Republican tax cuts are less popular than ever.
* Equal marriage is firmly established, and talk of a constitutional change to stop it has disappeared.
* Gun control, one of the few issues on which the right had gained popular support in the culture wars, is now back on the agenda
There are lots more examples both economic and cultural, including minimum wages, Confederate monuments, and the decline of for-profit education.
That’s not to say that we are necessarily on the winning side of history. It’s easy, for example, to imagine a scenario where the Republicans offset steadily declining support with steadily increasing voter suppression. And the strength of racist/xenophobic appeals to a formerly dominant group, on the way to becoming a minority, can never be underestimated.
On the other hand, if the existing support of the majority of the public translates into a Congressional (or at least House) majority in November and a progressive Democratic President and Senate in 2020, a right wing majority on the Supreme Court won’t be able to reverse trends like those I mentioned above.
* The only exception being the demand for annual Parliaments.
8 thoughts on “Say not the struggle naught availeth”
Sorry, Mr Quiggin. Your hyperlink markup has gone awry.
Thanks John, needed a little bucking up this morning.
The problems of the USA, and capitalist countries in general, run far deeper. Any premise of the type “Install Democrats and USA and the world will be better” is entirely false. As Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page write in their paper “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” “…economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Gilens and Page concluded that their results, “provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
There we have it; “Economic Elite Domination”. That is what we get under unfettered capitalism and capitalism ALWAYS tends to unfettered capitalism except during and after the emergencies of great depressions and wars. This is the precise lesson of the entire history of capitalism to date.
First, how does regulated capitalism arise? Capitalism unregulated tends to excessive concentrations of wealth (with the concomitant cruelty, exploitation and expropriation) and thence to socio-economic crises. These crises, if severe enough, induce economic depressions which in turn often induce wars. The push back against these events eventually produces regulated or re-regulated capitalism. Rebellious poor masses and especially rebellious poor masses in organized groups (organized labour, state armies or revolutionary armies) become the force which (temporarily) overthrows the movement to ever greater concentrations of capital (wealth).
De-mobilised soldiers of state armies have to be treated reasonably well and set up as relatively prosperous working class and middle class citizens. Capital, if it is wise, makes these pre-emptive concessions to any generation which has learned how to make war and learned about its great power in mobilised masses. This at least was true after WW2, the last time we had great citizen armies. (See note 1)
Why does regulated capitalism in turn always tend to unfettered capitalism? Piketty has demonstrated the beginnings of the mechanism, at least when growth has fallen below the rate of return on capital. Wealth accumulates with ever greater inequality and goes mostly to the 0.1%. This group then uses a portion of this wealth to advertise (propagandize) the preferred candidates of capital and to effectively buy all major political actors. The major parties become the bought operatives of capital. Laws are made entirely to suit capital and to attack workers and ordinary people. The masses have very little real power while they rely on voting for parties bought by capital. It becomes a political duopoly, a two-party, one-ideology system, run in cartel fashion by and for the capitalists.
Economic elite domination will continue to be the form of politics while capitalism continues to be the form of economics. Relatively brief (historically speaking) reverse movements can occur after we have major depressions or major wars. I scarcely need add that it is hardly good that we have to hope for depressions and wars to reverse the steady concentration of capitalist wealth and power. Only a radical departure from capitalism itself into a true socialist economy can offer any hope of a new form of politics.
Unfortunately, capitalism will have to break down catastrophically for there to be any fundamental change in modern politics. This catastrophic breakdown will occur almost certainly and it will occur due to environmental collapse and climate change. Socialists need to be ready at that point to implement a socialist and eventually environmentally sustainable system in a badly ecologically damaged world and to also prevent the rise of warlord-ism and barbarism. That’s the best case scenario and even that is going to be very grim.
Note 1: The elites will now work towards special forces armies backed by drones and robots. One of the intents will be to obviate the need ever again to create mass citizen armies. Mass citizen armies, when returning victorious, and even worse when returning defeated, have a tendency to turn on home elites if mass demands are not met. The elites have learned from history even if we haven’t. It’s about time we did learn from history. The first step is to actually understand what is going on.
Last time I looked most Yanks wanted some sort of gun control. They are willing republicans are not.
After the recent Supreme court decision this court is going backwards fast and Roberts has been shown up as the most political appointment since Black by FDR.
“Last time I looked most Yanks wanted some sort of gun control.”
Exactly. But the US is a country of Elite Domination, not of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. Therefore, the elite gets what it wants, which among other things is gun anarchy and huge prison populations. It’s not necessarily that the elite directly wants these things but that the things it wants then lead to these outcomes about which the Elites care not a jot.
The elite want everything for themselves and nothing for anyone else. Adam Smith called the elite the “masters of mankind.” They are the “principal architects” of government policy. They pursue their “vile maxim” which “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.”
Operating in this manner devolves into situations where broad society exhibits gun anarchy and vast prison populations. It’s not socioeconomically sustainable in the long run, to say nothing of ecological sustainability. The USA is heading for political and socioeconomic breakdown. The elite will try to start more wars to divert attention from domestic problems. Since the US is having more and more trouble projecting power abroad (it can’t win anything out there), it will probably pick a fight in the Americas.
probably pick a fight with the Americas?
been there—–still doing that.
Quiggin gets it and doesn’t want to depress the rest of us or himself with too grim a picture of how things really stand.
“..and capitalism ALWAYS tends to unfettered capitalism except during and after the emergencies of great depressions and wars.”
Never say never 😉 One black swan…
A “GFC” (lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=global-financial-crisis) beginning ten years ago (considered by many economists to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s – Wikipedia) granted the 1% a giant leg up in global political control and wealth concentration… continuing.
Many, and assorted relatives of that black swan not always global at a point in time but cumulatively engineered to be so:
Disaster capitalism, per Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”.