Peoples' movements and protests




We must stop supporting the campaigns of the charity bourgeoisie



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By Jan Wiklund



The governing principle for the ruling class of the developed countries is now to claim to protect the particularly “vulnerable”. The liberal faction claims to protect i.a. women, gays and ethnic minorities against nasty fascists. The right-wing populist faction claims to protect the ethnically pure natives against nasty Muslims. And so on. What they have in common is that they leave alone the global financial market forces, which threaten us all with chaos.

The person who states this is Peter Ramsay in the article Vulnerability as Ideology, in the British online newspaper Northern Star, named after the Chartists’ newspaper in the 19th century.

During the welfare era, the guiding principle was to protect everyone from the fluctuations of the global market, says Ramsay. It was this principle that the labor movement and its allies managed to push through against the business community during the Second World War. But that principle failed, for two reasons.

On the one hand, the individual capitalists were always against the majority being protected. As Michal Kalecki noted already in 1942, a threat of misery must constantly hang over the worker in order for him to work properly and do as the boss says. However, the capitalists had to keep a good face for a while, and the fact was that things went well anyway. The era of the welfare state was the most economically successful that capitalism has experienced -- even the final phase, the 70s, fared better than anything that has followed.

On the other, the labor movement lost much of its bargaining power because of the market fluctuations that were still left unaccounted for – the ability to ship production sites overseas, to Asia, while closing down those where the base of the labor movement worked.

However, a ruling class must always have some sort of fig leaf to justify its power, its means of coercion and its privileges. Otherwise, it encounters opposition and even risks bad conscience.

What has been honored is the old philosophy of charity: We rich are so caring, competent and not least moral that you must give us the power, and not complain about all the coercion we direct at you. A current example here, where poor Ukraine is used as a bat against trade union demands.

Or as Ramsay says:

Whatever the levels of frustration and cynicism with the political class, as long as citizens see each other as the problem rather than the solution to their problems, the governing class will be safe from challenge. In this way it is specifically ideological work that is done by the promotion of vulnerability: the interests of the governing class in the division of the majority of the population against itself reappears as the interests of all in state protection.

Where domestic policies of fear and vulnerability keep the population afraid and divided, a foreign policy grounded in the same rationale of protecting the vulnerable plays the specific ideological role of providing Western elites’ with a sense of moral purpose, and then representing their particular need as the interests of a fictional global community. Since the Yugoslav civil wars and their aftermath, Western military intervention is always to protect the vulnerable from a dictator or a genocidal campaign of terror.

This relapse into charitable thinking would not need to be a major problem. Already August Strindberg could without much trouble shoot to pieces the pretensions of the charity bourgeoisie, and the Founding Father of the Swedish Social Democrats August Palm built most of his image on the same thing.

The problem is that so many of those who claim to be against “the system” appeal to the same kind of argument: that one must first protect these particularly vulnerable Victims against the Evil Ones. Moral positioning instead of interest politics. Or

- It is only a part that is affected, not the global majority
- The problem is that someone is Evil, not that there are structural flaws
- The solution lies in oppression and coercion, not in correcting the structural flaws
- The one who can do something is the global government, to which one must therefore appeal for preferential treatment, not the global majority itself.

How silly it can get is described in this article from the Occupy Wall Street movement. You probably have other examples of how small groups fight each other to portray themselves as particularly vulnerable, to fight over the crumbs from the rich man’s table, thus hindering larger initiatives.

Ramsay states that this has to end. What is needed is a politics that takes hold of what unites the majority (including the particularly vulnerable) instead of pitting its different parts against each other.

Otherwise, the majority will constantly lose.

Published by Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: