The turn away from class politics was perhaps the most defining shift in the neoliberal era’s political culture, and we will be reaping its bitter fruit for years to come.
There are few better examples of this change than the Left in India, and its complement, the rise of the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party as the most potent political force on the subcontinent. Where India’s political culture once revolved around secular and progressive forces, it is now almost completely mired in the language of religion and ethnicity. In this issue, Achin Vanaik examines this transformation and the ascent of the BJP in a searching review of Christophe Jaffrelot’s important new book, Modi’s India.
Of course, the epicenter of the turn away from class politics has been the United States, and there is no sphere in which it is more evident than in discussions of race. It is now a virtual orthodoxy among progressives that racial domination is unmoored from economic processes, and any attempt to locate it in material inequality is vigorously denounced. Jeff Goodwin returns to a classic analysis of racial domination, W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, and shows that this great work was a relentless, penetrating account of the economic foundations of black subordination — the unraveling of postbellum Reconstruction was not because of an unchanging, unyielding racist ethos in the white population but was driven by economic forces, from both above and below. As Goodwin shows, the book is not only a classic study of revolution and counterrevolution, it embodies the very approach that many race theorists insist cannot comprehend the oppression of black Americans.
The work of Michel Foucault played a central role in displacing the political economy that Du Bois practiced. In their recent book, The Last Man Takes LSD: Foucault and the End of Revolution, Mitchell Dean and Daniel Zamora show in some detail how both Foucault’s work and the man himself were oddly comfortable with the turn to neoliberalism. In a lively review of their book, Bryan D. Palmer commends the authors for their lucid critique and warns that the highly individualized, inward turn of the Foucauldian opus offers little for overturning the neoliberal hegemony.
While Vanaik and Goodwin seek to understand the decline of class politics, René Rojas examines its surprising revival in Chile. Rojas shows that the recent election of Gabriel Boric as president is a departure from other progressive victories in Latin America in the recent past. Not only is Boric riding the crest of a massive popular upsurge, but it’s one in which strategically placed workers have played a central role. So while the pink tide was hamstrung by its reliance on a social base that had little economic leverage, Boric can draw upon a base that wields considerable influence. And on the other side, Chilean capital is not only somewhat disorganized but economically weakened, giving Boric an opening to push through a new accumulation model — if he can manage his coalition.
While optimism is warranted in the Chilean case, things are much bleaker in Yemen. Like much of the surrounding region, Yemen seemed poised a decade ago to benefit from the Arab Spring; but like its compatriots, Yemen’s spring turned to a winter rather rapidly as it descended once again into violence and external intervention. As we go to press, an uneasy peace has been brokered by the United Nations. In an interview with Daniel Finn, Helen Lackner examines the roots of the Yemeni conflict and the prospects for a lasting settlement.
Finally, Herman Rosenfeld presents a critique of Matt Vidal’s measured endorsement of lean production in the previous Catalyst issue. Rosenfeld sees no reason to accept Vidal’s description of lean management as a potentially neutral model of labor coordination. In response, he suggests that the road to labor’s revitalization still goes through the traditional routes of independent union power and an adversarial stance toward management.