The transition from Obama to Trump has been nothing if not a culture shock. From a president whose election was a watershed moment in the struggle against racism, the United States lurched to a successor who openly aligns with racial prejudice. When you combine that with Trump’s views on gender relations, the country seems to have taken a massive leap backwards in public culture.
The 2016 election reminds us that it would be folly to become complacent about the gains against social oppression in this country and elsewhere. But while it is important to confront the persistence of these practices, it is also crucial not to understand them as having a life of their own, independent of the broader social and economic environment.
In our opening essay, Touré Reed presents a searching analysis of race in America, which not only embeds it in the wider political economy, but also overturns some of the emerging orthodoxies around its dynamics. Much like the highly influential argument of Ta-Nahisi Coates, Reed roundly rejects the idea that Obama’s election launched the United States into a post-racial era. Indeed, he argues that Obama himself gave sanction to some of the most odious racialized tropes of our times. But Reed also engages Coates’s own work, criticizing his projection of a transhistorical “white supremacy” as the root cause of social domination. Even more, Reed presents a careful criticism of Coates’s strategy for tackling racial inequalities, in particular, his advocacy of reparations.
So, too, in a wide-ranging interview, the historian Stephanie Coontz notes the extraordinary changes in family dynamics over the past two generations. She observes that some of the deepest shifts toward gender-egalitarian attitudes have occurred among married men, long considered the chief obstacle to gender equality. This is no doubt because men have had to adjust to the greater power that women have recently acquired. Their entrance into the labor force has decreased their dependence on their husbands, providing women greater leverage within the family. However, as Coontz notes, in the United States we might be approaching a limit to how far these changes can proceed without substantial increases in social supports for working-class families.
This issue of Catalyst also continues the debate on left strategy. In the third issue of Catalyst, David Calnitsky made a powerful case for the pursuit of universal basic income (UBI). In this issue, Alex Gourevitch and Lucas Stanczyk question both the practicability and the desirability of UBI. They suggest that any workable version of UBI will probably be too meager to achieve its stated goals, and that, if the Left can muster the political muscle it will take to win it, there are far more effective reforms that could be achieved. Relatedly, Marc Botenga and Cédric Durand continue our debate on the European Union. Both Botenga and Durand agree that, in its current form, the EU is a neoliberal institution. But Botenga cautions against a return to nationalism as a way out, which in the short run will only play into the hands of the far right, and in the longer run is impracticable. Durand turns the table on Botenga, arguing that calls for a progressive EU are pipe dreams. The point, he says, is not to exit and revert to economic nationalism, but to leverage exit to engineer a reintegration on newer and more propitious terms.
Whatever the prospects of the Left might be in Europe, they seem to have reached their nadir in Turkey. Over the past two decades, Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party has not only instituted a neoliberal economic regime, but has shifted Turkey’s political culture in an authoritarian and Islamist direction. Ümit Akçay examines the blend of populism and neoliberal economics institutionalized by Erdoğan, and suggests that one of the main features of this model is that it has muted interclass political conflict while exacerbating political contestation within the elite. The result is a stabilization of the class character of the Turkish state, while continually generating conflicts within ruling circles.
Collectively, the articles in this issue point to the Left’s dilemma. There is no doubt that the austerity turn the Western elites took after the 2008 recession has backfired for them. It has thrown up a cluster of insurgent forces in Europe and the United States, some from the Left and many from the Right. But socialists don’t yet have anything approaching a clear vision of how to approach the challenge. There is not yet a “left” strategy for Europe, nor a settled agenda for redistributive reform, nor a clear approach to social oppression. In many ways, socialists are less clear on these issues than they were during the 1930s. The debates we are hosting in this and in upcoming issues of the journal, will, we hope, contribute to a new political agenda.