I think Prof. Richard D. Wolff is onto something. In a recent piece for Counterpunch ("Trump and Saving Capitalism", March 6) Wolff compares and contrasts Donald Trump with Mussolini and Hitler. Although centred on the US case, I think Wolff's ideas are relevant to other developed countries, including Australia.
The merit in Wolff's piece is not so much its originality: plenty of what he says, valuable as it is, isn't new. His analysis of the rise of Trump, for example, is closely related to Thomas Frank's own ideas (see "Don't let Establishment Opportunists ruin the Resistance Movement", March 9, The Guardian). Both authors' views are mutually complementary.
For both, the Democratic Clintonite establishment deserted a substantial part of the Democratic Party's constituency.
To this, Wolff ads that said establishment managed to undermine Bernie Sanders' past nomination, which aimed to somewhat restore that link. The Republican establishment, he argues, failed to undermine Trump's.
Frank, on the other hand, emphasises that establishment Dems (or their "New Labour" toadies) are trying to hijack the current anti-Trumpian Resistance. He argues that the recent "Against Populism, the Center Must Hold" (March 3, NYTimes) by the irredeemable Tony Blair, "the British face of Clintonism", is a "pathetic" example of that. Blair absolves his Yank abettors (and himself) and uses "his audience's horror at the Trump phenomenon as an excuse to urge them into battle against, yes, the left". Blair's bright idea is to double down on the same ideology that led to Trumpism: after all, nothing better than failed ideas to succeed a second time around.
That's where Wolff's article adds new and astonishingly accurate insight:
"Mussolini and Hitler … stressed the economic crisis, inequalities, etc., sympathized openly with capitalism's victims, and blamed the establishment political parties. They asked voters to empower them instead, as great leaders. They would then fix a broken, inadequate 'rigged system serving others' by subordinating it to 'the nation.' Their empowerment would make the system 'once again' serve rather than abuse that nation. They wrapped themselves in their respective flags and all the other trappings of nationalism to underscore their game.
"Capitalism was not, per se, the problem; it needed only to be repositioned to serve the nation. As has happened repeatedly in capitalism's history, its crisis moments were overcome by deflecting popular anger into more or less hysterical nationalism.
"This capitalist history Trump now repeats."The proof of Wolff's pudding is in the tasting. These are just two real comments among several I found from real people critical of Wolff's article:
"Capitalism isn't the cause (…)"In Wolff's words: "Capitalism was not, per se, the problem …"
"The problem doesn't seem to be capitalism but the form of capitalism. Reagan brought in neoliberalism and changed the country from industrial capitalism to finance capitalism and every president since has followed that lead."In Wolff's words: "… it needed only to be repositioned to serve the nation". It's only a matter of rebranding.
Don't get me wrong, it's not these two guys' fault if the irony was lost on them. After all, as Wolff himself added a little later:
"Both Hitler's and Trump's commitments to saving the capitalist employer/employee structure are all the more absolute because they are simply assumed, beyond question, barely conscious. No alternative organization of production is thinkable."That applies equally well to those Hitler and Trump duped.
What Wolff and Frank left out of their pictures is that Keynesian Social Democracy and Fascism share both the goal of saving capitalism from itself through "reform" and a common enemy: Marxist socialism
You see, it turns out both MRW and GLH are left-leaning defenders of the good capitalism (industrial capitalism), as opposed to its equal opportunity evil twin, financial capitalism. They are Keynesian social democrats. In the case of Nazism, the analysis is this: the good German industrialists, like the Krupps, versus the evil Jewish, no longer equal opportunity, bankers, like the Rothschilds.
Clintonism/Blairism may excel at shameless opportunism, as Frank says, but it has no monopoly over it. Nor is Trumpism the only demagogic movement around.
The Resistance may have more problems than Wolff and Frank imagine.