Marx, the Tea Party, and class analysis

Posted: 1 October 2011 in Uncategorized
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Anthony Gregory is right: Karl Marx didn’t invent class analysis. In fact, Marx admitted exactly that, in his 5 March 1852 letter to J. Weydemeyer:

And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Gregory claims a different tradition of class analysis, which stems from classical liberalism and informs contemporary right-wing libertarianism:

Modern libertarians, as heirs to classical liberalism, have attempted to reclaim the original vision—while still, like the Marxists, “following the money” to see how the state provides monopoly benefits and direct subsidies to corporate interests. Radical libertarian class analysis maintains the classical liberal focus on the taxing state as the chief enemy, while agreeing with leftists on many particulars of how big businesses—especially the banking industry and defense contractors—use the state to line their pockets at the expense of the people.

What is interesting about Gregory’s form of class analysis is that he turns it on contemporary Republicans and the Tea Party, which in his view threaten to do what “conservatives have been doing since the fifties”:

In order to enhance the popularity of their cause, they pretend to be the ideology of low-taxes and decreased spending, espousing the many benefits of austere government. Then, as soon as they are in power, they quickly forget all about the ideals of small government and focus on what really matters to them: nationalism, war, and doling out the spoils of political victory to their friends.

From the perspective of Marxian class analysis, both right-wing libertarianism and the Republican Tea Party movement miss the mark. But, to the extent that they represent important strains within American political culture, they should not be dismissed too quickly. For example, the radical libertarian critique of the capitalist state (such as the idea that “the financial industry has been in cahoots with the American empire since the dawn of the Progressive Era and how other corporate interests have long instigated U.S. military action to open up markets on their behalf”) as well as the Tea Party’s populist rhetoric (which “opposes Wall Street bailouts, corporate cronyism, and the national political elite”) can be appropriated as elements of a left-wing critique of the conditions and consequences of the current crises in capitalism.

Marxian class analysis represents a significant contribution to the project of criticizing the existing order. But it can only be joined to an effective political movement if and when it recognizes other critical strains within U.S. political culture. Some dimensions of right-wing libertarianism and the Tea Party revolt may represent some of those potentially fruitful undercurrents.

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