Law and Order: Make Marxism Great Again

As he accepted his nom­i­na­tion at the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion, Don­ald Trump declared him­self “the law and order can­di­date,” promis­ing that “safety will be restored” by his pres­i­dency. The next day, a dis­tressed Wash­ing­ton Post declared Trump “a unique threat to democ­racy.“1

But mem­o­ries inside the Belt­way are far too shortevery moment in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics appears as an excep­tion to the rule. It was not long ago that the lib­eral-left in the United States saw George W. Bush as a turn of the sys­tem towards a satanic monar­chy, inau­gu­rat­ing an age of sur­veil­lance, inequal­ity, and war. Barack Obama, in con­trast, pro­vided an excep­tional moment of hope: a charm­ing, eru­dite, and cos­mopoli­tan leader to calmly guide us to even lower cir­cles of sur­veil­lance, inequal­ity, and war.

Now the elec­tion sea­son pits the hawk­ish super­vi­sor of Obama’s mil­i­tary strat­egy against an unhinged bil­lion­aire sociopath with a shrewd mind for mar­ket­ing. Amer­i­can lib­er­als, scan­dal­ized by Trump’s invec­tive, advanced the self-ful­fill­ing prophecy that a left-wing pop­ulist would never be able to defeat him – and at the Demo­c­ra­tic National Con­ven­tion, Bernie Sanders him­self defied Wik­ileaks and his own sup­port­ers to pave the way for a can­di­date whose pub­lic per­cep­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by cor­rup­tion, secrecy, and oppor­tunism. While a Trump pres­i­dency is not impos­si­ble, in this topsy-turvy elec­tion it has turned out to be fool­ish to make pre­dic­tions. It seems fair, how­ever, to ask a ques­tion that is being ignored or sup­pressed: if eight years of Bill Clin­ton gave us George W. Bush, and eight years of Obama gave us Trump, what would eight years of Hillary Clin­ton give us?

Help­fully, Trump has given us a clue. By reviv­ing the slo­gans of Rea­gan and Nixon, and pre­sent­ing his can­di­dacy as a reac­tion to social con­flict sur­round­ing racist police vio­lence, he has made his lin­eage all too clear. While the Amer­i­can Left has yet to come to terms with the sequence that runs from Nixon, to Rea­gan, to Bush, to Trump, the Jamaican-born British intel­lec­tual Stu­art Hall devoted a large por­tion of his career to grap­pling with the sim­i­larly unset­tling rise of Mar­garet Thatcher, in the con­text of a debate among the British left that antic­i­pates the Amer­i­can present.2 “What the coun­try needs,” said Thatcher dur­ing her 1979 cam­paign, “is less tax and more law and order.” For Hall, the suc­cess of this slo­gan was far from sur­pris­ing. A year before Thatcher took office, he was engaged in research­ing the social cli­mate in which her rhetoric could take hold of the pub­lic mind – and it cen­tered on the “moral panic” sur­round­ing mug­ging.

Crisis and Coercion

The first edi­tor of New Left Review, Stu­art Hall was appointed direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Cul­tural Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Birm­ing­ham in the late six­ties, by its founder Richard Hog­gart. Along with col­leagues at the Cen­tre, he pub­lished Polic­ing the Cri­sis: Mug­ging, the State, and Law and Order in 1978. It is an almost unbe­liev­ably wide-rang­ing book: empir­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tions of mug­ging and analy­ses of media rep­re­sen­ta­tions are inter­spersed with the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tions on the ide­ol­ogy of empiri­cism, the prob­lem of the Eng­lish aris­toc­racy, and Marx’s account of Bona­partism; the his­tory of post­war British cap­i­tal­ism is recounted with care­ful atten­tion to Elvis, mods and rock­ers, and Desmond Dekker. But per­haps what is even more bewil­der­ing than its blur­ring of gen­res and its exhaus­tive detail in cap­tur­ing the 1970s is the star­tlingly con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ter of its analy­sis and the social phe­nom­ena it describes.

While this study was, at first glance, focused on media rep­re­sen­ta­tions of crime, this was in fact a com­po­nent of a broader analy­sis of the decline of British social democ­racy and the fad­ing of the fabled “post­war con­sen­sus” that had pre­vailed since 1945, when the Labour Party formed the major­ity gov­ern­ment. To cap­ture the 1970s moment Polic­ing the Cri­sis traced the unique form of social demo­c­ra­tic hege­mony estab­lished in 1945, when “the state con­sid­er­ably expanded its over-all func­tion of man­ag­ing crises and super­in­tend­ing the ‘gen­eral con­di­tions’ of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and accu­mu­la­tion, and of defend­ing the rate of profit.”3 British social democ­racy took over fail­ing indus­tries, employed a large pro­por­tion of labor, reg­u­lated demand and employ­ment, assumed respon­si­bil­ity for social wel­fare, expanded edu­ca­tion to meet the require­ments of tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment, increased its involve­ment in media com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and worked to har­mo­nize inter­na­tional trade. The post­war sta­bi­liza­tion of cap­i­tal­ism did not fun­da­men­tally alter the rela­tions of the eco­nomic sys­tem, but it was able to build a wel­fare state on the basis of this “period of unpar­al­leled pro­duc­tive growth,” and it con­sol­i­dated par­lia­men­tary democ­racy on the basis of the “aug­mented role of the state in eco­nomic affairs.”4

But the British par­tic­i­pa­tion in the global post­war boom con­tained impor­tant weak­nesses, caused by the debil­i­tat­ing effects of the impe­rial legacy and a creaky indus­trial infra­struc­ture resis­tant to inno­va­tion. The inter­ven­tion­ist state pro­gres­sively encoun­tered sharp­en­ing inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, fluc­tu­a­tions in the profit rate, increas­ing cycli­cal insta­bil­ity, and grow­ing infla­tion.5 Yet the Labour Party had painted itself into a cor­ner, with “no alter­na­tive strat­egy for man­ag­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis.” Its com­mit­ment to main­tain­ing the struc­tures of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, lim­it­ing itself to the read­just­ment of dis­tri­b­u­tion on the basis of pro­duc­tive growth, meant that it had to pro­tect the con­di­tions of accu­mu­la­tion at all costs. Thus its cen­tral goal was to expand pro­duc­tiv­ity: “to make labour more pro­duc­tive – which, in con­di­tions of low invest­ment, meant rais­ing the rate of the exploita­tion of labour.” But the unfa­vor­able eco­nomic con­di­tions were not the only obsta­cle to the task of pre­serv­ing the exist­ing order. The state would also have to con­front “a strong, though often cor­po­rate, work­ing class with ris­ing mate­rial expec­ta­tions, tough tra­di­tions of bar­gain­ing, resis­tance and strug­gle.” As a con­se­quence, “each cri­sis of the sys­tem has, pro­gres­sively, taken the overt form of a cri­sis in the man­age­ment of the state, a cri­sis of hege­mony.6

In other words, the state ended up “man­ag­ing cap­i­tal where cap­i­tal could no longer suc­cess­fully man­age itself,” which meant “ draw­ing the eco­nomic class strug­gle increas­ingly on to its own ter­rain … a more overt and direct effort by the state to man­age the polit­i­cal class strug­gle.” The state increas­ingly played the role of strik­ing “bar­gains” with the work­ing class, to give it a “stake” in the sys­tem through the medi­a­tion of the orga­nized labor move­ment, whose insti­tu­tions had “pro­gres­sively been incor­po­rated into the man­age­ment of the econ­omy as one of its major cor­po­rate sup­ports.” This meant reg­u­lat­ing an uneasy bal­ance between con­ces­sions and restraints, ori­ented towards sup­port­ing capital’s growth and sta­bil­ity in the long term. Social democ­racy there­fore had the func­tion of “har­mon­i­sa­tion of inter­ests,” the “paci­fi­ca­tion and har­mon­i­sa­tion of class strug­gle.”7

In such a con­text, in which work­ing-class strug­gles seemed to con­front the state directly, pre­serv­ing con­sent as the pri­mary mech­a­nism of demo­c­ra­tic rule became a cen­tral prob­lem – the increas­ing state use of media, its atten­tion to shap­ing cul­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tions and inter­ven­ing in the mean­ings they con­structed, was directed towards shap­ing and trans­form­ing a “con­sen­sus on val­ues.8 Dur­ing a cri­sis of hege­mony, such con­sen­sus could not be taken for granted; the cri­sis con­sti­tuted “a moment of pro­found rup­ture in the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic life of a soci­ety, an accu­mu­la­tion of con­tra­dic­tions… when the whole basis of polit­i­cal lead­er­ship and cul­tural author­ity becomes exposed and con­tested.9

Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ments also par­tic­i­pated in the post­war man­age­ment of con­sen­sus, which oper­ated on broadly the same mech­a­nisms despite the alter­nat­ing elec­toral for­tunes of the par­ties. But at the end of the 1960s British soci­ety was already expe­ri­enc­ing moral pan­ics, sur­round­ing youth cul­ture and immi­gra­tion. A wide range of phe­nom­ena, from protest and coun­ter­cul­ture to per­mis­sive­ness and crime came to be pre­sented as part of a sin­gle, over­whelm­ing threat to the foun­da­tions of the social order. The con­ser­v­a­tive ter­mi­na­tion of the post­war con­sen­sus pro­vided a dis­tinct response to this cul­tural upheaval with its empha­sis on “law and order” and the restora­tion of author­ity, paving the way for new ide­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions.10

How­ever, such a shift in the bal­ance of forces was not due only to the ‘60s coun­ter­cul­ture. The “tran­si­tion from this tight­en­ing of con­trol at the end of the 1960s into the full repres­sive ‘clo­sure’ of 1970,” which gave way to the “law-and-order soci­ety” and rede­fined the field of social con­flict, was in fact dri­ven by “the re-entry to the his­tor­i­cal stage of the class strug­gle in a vis­i­ble, open, and esca­lat­ing form”:

A soci­ety career­ing off the rails through “per­mis­sive­ness,” “par­tic­i­pa­tion,” and “protest” into “the alter­na­tive soci­ety” and “anar­chy” is one thing. It is quite another moment when the work­ing class once again takes the offen­sive in a mood of active mil­i­tancy. To say “takes the offen­sive” might sug­gest that, for a time, it was absent from the rela­tions of force, resis­tance, and con­sent in the soci­ety. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. But the form which the class strug­gle assumed in the period of Labourism was dif­fer­ent from the form it begins to assume – to assume again – as we enter the 1970s. The attempt by a social-demo­c­ra­tic gov­ern­ment to man­age the state through an organ­ised ver­sion of con­sen­sus is finally exhausted and bank­rupted between 1964 and 1970, so, grad­u­ally, the class strug­gle comes more and more into the open, assumes a more man­i­fest pres­ence. This devel­op­ment is elec­tri­fy­ing. One of its con­se­quences is to trans­late a strug­gle which is emerg­ing at the level of civil soci­ety and its super­struc­tural insti­tu­tions (prin­ci­pally the form of the cri­sis dur­ing the period up to and imme­di­ately after our “1968”) directly on to the ter­rain of cap­i­tal and labour, and thus – in the era of organ­ised late cap­i­tal­ism – on to the ter­rain of the state.11

The ter­rain of the state itself was being recom­posed: the process of cri­sis man­age­ment required “a recom­po­si­tion of the whole state appa­ra­tus and of rela­tions between the dif­fer­ent branches of the state, and between the state itself and civil soci­ety.” But since the state had directly involved itself in the pro­duc­tive sys­tem and the medi­a­tion of class strug­gle, “the recom­po­si­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist state is also, and inevitably, the recom­po­si­tion ‘from above’ of the work­ing class.”12

The incomes poli­cies of the 1970s, which tried to man­age infla­tion by trad­ing lower wage increases for a con­straint on ris­ing prices, rep­re­sented an attempt “to exer­cise and enforce restraint over wages and the work­ing class by con­sent,” by “win­ning the unions to full col­lab­o­ra­tion with the state in dis­ci­plin­ing the work­ing class.”13 But this project failed, in part because of the intran­si­gence of the rank and file and “the mas­sive shift of the locus of class con­flict in indus­try from management/union dis­putes to management/shop-floor dis­putes.” Rank and file mil­i­tancy and shopfloor orga­ni­za­tion dis­placed the nego­ti­at­ing table:

Far from fol­low­ing their lead­ers into the arms of the state, or – as some vari­ants of the “afflu­ent-worker the­sis” pre­dicted – sim­ply dis­ap­pear­ing off the face of the earth into the mid­dle classes, the rank-and-file work­ers in indus­try found another point of antag­o­nism with the struc­ture of cap­i­tal­ist man­age­ment and threw up around it a for­mi­da­ble, flex­i­ble and mil­i­tant defen­sive organ­i­sa­tion. Local con­di­tions could be exploited and local advan­tages taken best in large-scale fac­tory work, espe­cially in engi­neer­ing, where, as a result of the com­plex divi­sions of labour, a stop­page of ten men in one sec­tion could bring the whole assem­bly line to a grind­ing halt. This vul­ner­a­bil­ity of large-scale indus­try was increased under con­di­tions of full or near-full employ­ment with a short­age of skilled labour.14

Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­ogy played an impor­tant role in the state response to this threat. The 1970 “law-and-order” cam­paign had legit­i­mated the state’s resort to the use of repres­sion as cri­sis man­age­ment, a “rou­tin­i­sa­tion of con­trol” which made polic­ing seem “nor­mal, nat­u­ral, and thus right and inevitable.” This cam­paign had a less obvi­ous advan­tage: it lent legit­i­macy to the state’s ini­tia­tive “to dis­ci­pline, restrain and coerce, to bring, also within the frame­work of law and order, not only demon­stra­tors, crim­i­nals, squat­ters and dope addicts, but the solid ranks of the work­ing class itself. This recal­ci­trant class – or at least its dis­or­derly minori­ties – had also to be har­nessed to ‘order.’”15

Unen­cum­bered with the tie to orga­nized labor, the Con­ser­v­a­tives were ones capa­ble of break­ing ground in the shift of the legal frame­work towards lim­it­ing trade union power with the 1971 Indus­trial Rela­tions Act. They were able to appeal to “national unity,” to call to “restore author­ity to gov­ern­ment,” pro­vid­ing a pos­i­tive corol­lary to the neg­a­tive theme of “law and order.”16 Even when the Act was repealed under the Labour gov­ern­ment which fol­lowed, with its cen­trist “Social Con­tracts,” its effect had already been imprinted onto the land­scape of the class strug­gle. The cri­sis, then, rep­re­sented a deep struc­tural shift in the char­ac­ter of the post­war cap­i­tal­ist state. The Con­ser­v­a­tive inter­lude in the cri­sis of social democ­racy

marked the con­clu­sion of a crit­i­cal inter­nal shift in the nature of the bal­ance or equi­lib­rium on which con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ist state power is founded. And, though the basic stro­phe of change may derive from a deeper level of the struc­ture, this dif­fer­ence – between a masked and a more open form of repres­sive regime – arises most acutely at the level of the polit­i­cal class strug­gle itself. The growth of polit­i­cal dis­sent, from the mid-1960s onwards, then the resump­tion of a more mil­i­tant form of work­ing-class polit­i­cal strug­gle at the turn of the decade, cou­pled with the per­va­sive weak­ness of the British eco­nomic base, have made it impos­si­ble, for a time, to man­age the cri­sis, polit­i­cally, with­out an esca­la­tion in the use and forms of repres­sive state power.17

This shift would become deci­sive, and the elec­tion of Thatcher as Leader of the Oppo­si­tion in 1975 rep­re­sented the move­ment of the rad­i­cal right from the mar­gins to the cen­ter, build­ing on the ide­ol­ogy of law and order to advance a strat­egy of break­ing from the post­war con­sen­sus.

This strat­egy would take cen­ter stage as social-demo­c­ra­tic cri­sis man­age­ment came up against an unavoid­able impasse in the course of the 1970s. It was a process

man­aged by a gov­ern­ment which is silently pray­ing that it can effect the trans­fer of the cri­sis to the work­ing class with­out arous­ing mass polit­i­cal resis­tance, and thus cre­ate that mirage of British social demo­c­ra­tic gov­ern­ments – “favourable invest­ment con­di­tions.” If it cuts too fast, the unions will be forced to bolt the ‘social con­tract,’ and destroy social democracy’s frag­ile social and polit­i­cal base; if it does not cut fast and hard, the inter­na­tional bankers will sim­ply cut their credit short. If it raises taxes, the mid­dle classes – now in a state of irri­ta­ble, Thatcher-like arousal – will either emi­grate en masse or begin, Chilean-style, to rat­tle their pres­sure-cooker lids; if it does not tax, the last rem­nants of the wel­fare state – and with them any hope of buy­ing work­ing-class com­pli­ance – will dis­ap­pear. Britain in the 1970s is a coun­try for whose cri­sis there are no viable cap­i­tal­ist solu­tions left, and where, as yet, there is no polit­i­cal base for an alter­na­tive social­ist strat­egy. It is a nation locked in a deadly stale­mate: a state of unstop­pable cap­i­tal­ist decline.18

But alongside the social demo­c­ra­tic attempt to incor­po­rate the work­ing class “junior part­ners in the man­age­ment of cri­sis” was the growth of divi­sions inter­nal to the class, the effects of sec­tion­al­ism, economism, syn­di­cal­ism, and reformism.19 This sit­u­a­tion did not amount to a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­junc­ture; far from it, it her­alded “the com­ing of ‘iron times.’” Class dom­i­na­tion would take on new modes, reg­is­tered prin­ci­pally in “a tilt in the oper­a­tion of the state away from con­sent towards the pole of coer­cion.”20 The moral panic over mug­ging, then, was “one of the forms of appear­ance of a more deep-seated his­tor­i­cal cri­sis”; it played an impor­tant role in the state’s sta­bi­liza­tion. The per­cep­tion of a rise in crime was “one of the prin­ci­pal forms of ide­o­log­i­cal con­scious­ness by means of which a ‘silent major­ity’ is won over to the sup­port of increas­ingly coer­cive mea­sures on the part of the state, and lends its legit­i­macy to a ‘more than usual’ exer­cise of con­trol.”21

Race and Recomposition

Media rep­re­sen­ta­tions of mug­ging raised another prob­lem for under­stand­ing the field of social con­flict of the 1970s. There was an unmis­tak­able asso­ci­a­tion of crime with black youth. How could this social fig­ure be under­stood polit­i­cally, both to explain its tar­get­ing by polic­ing and its own agency? Police had been engaged in “con­trol­ling and con­tain­ing” the black pop­u­la­tion since the early 1970s, but after 1974 the dynam­ics grew deeper. The cuts in wel­fare, edu­ca­tion, and social sup­port hit the black pop­u­la­tions con­cen­trated in the inner city the hard­est. What’s more, part of the effect of the upheaval of the 1960s had been to intro­duce a new sen­si­bil­ity of resis­tance in the inner city, and what now emerged was an explo­sive sit­u­a­tion: “a sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion, already mobilised in terms of black con­scious­ness, was now also the sec­tor most exposed to the accel­er­at­ing pace of the eco­nomic reces­sion.” The con­se­quence was “noth­ing less than the syn­chro­ni­sa­tion of the race and the class aspects of the cri­sis”: “Polic­ing the blacks threat­ened to mesh with the prob­lem of polic­ing the poor and polic­ing the unem­ployed: all three were con­cen­trated in pre­cisely the same urban areas.”22 Polic­ing the blacks became “syn­ony­mous with the wider prob­lem of polic­ing the cri­sis.23

To study the speci­fici­ties of the race prob­lem required some nuance. The black pop­u­la­tion also par­tic­i­pated in indus­trial labor; there was a “grow­ing indus­trial mil­i­tancy amongst black work­ers,” and they were in fact more likely to par­tic­i­pate in unions than their white coun­ter­parts.24 They played a cen­tral role in the desta­bi­liz­ing class strug­gles of the period: “In many of the key indus­trial dis­putes which ‘cre­ate’ the cri­sis – in the motor indus­try, for exam­ple – black and white work­ers have been involved in a com­mon strug­gle.” Nev­er­the­less, black work­ers were dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in unskilled and semi-skilled labor, and bore the brunt of deskilling and lay­offs. The effect of shift­ing ide­o­log­i­cal para­me­ters in the cri­sis of hege­mony meant that these divi­sions could play a destruc­tive polit­i­cal role:

Although the black and white poor find them­selves, objec­tively, in the same posi­tion, they inhabit a world ide­o­log­i­cally so struc­tured that each can be made to provide the other with its neg­a­tive ref­er­ence group, the “man­i­fest cause” of each other’s ill-for­tune. As eco­nomic cir­cum­stances tighten, so the com­pet­i­tive strug­gle between work­ers is increased, and a com­pe­ti­tion struc­tured in terms of race or colour dis­tinc­tions has a great deal of mileage. It is pre­cisely on this nerve that the National Front is play­ing at the moment, with con­sid­er­able effect. So the cri­sis of the work­ing class is repro­duced, once again, through the struc­tural mech­a­nisms of racism, as a cri­sis within and between the work­ing classes.25

Part of this inter­nal cri­sis was the growth of unem­ploy­ment, and the chal­lenge it posed to work­ing-class orga­ni­za­tion. In every­day expe­ri­ence, unem­ploy­ment was closely tied up with race. Due to its “struc­tural posi­tion in the labor force” at a time of eco­nomic reces­sion, the black work­force – “espe­cially young black school-leavers, seek­ing employ­ment for the first time” – now appeared to be some­thing like an “ eth­ni­cally dis­tinct class frac­tion – the one most exposed to the winds of unem­ploy­ment.”26 It was “a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tor of the grow­ing army of the unwaged, and one vul­ner­a­ble to accel­er­at­ing social pau­peri­sa­tion.”27 This amounted to noth­ing less than a use of the reces­sion “to drive through a major recom­po­si­tion of black labour by cap­i­tal itself.” Under­stand­ing the posi­tion of black work­ers meant going beyond “the imme­di­ate con­tin­gen­cies of ‘dis­crim­i­na­tion’” to “a struc­tural fea­ture of mod­ern cap­i­tal, and the piv­otal role which black labour now plays in the metrop­o­les of cap­i­tal in a major phase of its recom­po­si­tion.”28

The dif­fi­cult task was to under­stand what kind of agency this recom­po­si­tion con­tained. As black youth were increas­ingly incor­po­rated into the unem­ployed reserve army of labor, there could be no ques­tion that their objec­tive posi­tion was dete­ri­o­rat­ing; but “the dynamic fac­tor is the change in the way this objec­tive process is col­lec­tively under­stood and resisted.” Within the com­mon expe­ri­ence of unem­ploy­ment, Polic­ing the Cri­sis sug­gested, “the social con­tent and polit­i­cal mean­ing of ‘workless­ness’ is being thor­oughly trans­formed from inside.” Mil­i­tancy among black youth was com­ing not from shopfloor social­iza­tion, but from this trans­for­ma­tion of workless­ness.29 Draw­ing on the jour­nal Race Today, which included fig­ures influ­enced by C.L.R. James like Dar­cus Howe, Far­rukh Dhondy, and Lin­ton Kwesi John­son, the authors iden­ti­fied emerg­ing polit­i­cal ten­den­cies within the black com­mu­nity. The new polit­i­cal dynamism was

pred­i­cated on the auton­omy and self-activ­ity of black groups in strug­gle; and it iden­ti­fies the most sig­nif­i­cant theme of this strug­gle as the grow­ing “refusal to work” of the black unem­ployed. The high lev­els of youth­ful black unem­ploy­ment are here rein­ter­preted as part of a con­scious polit­i­cal “refusal to work.” This refusal to work is cru­cial, since it strikes at cap­i­tal. It means that this sec­tor of the class refuses to enter com­pe­ti­tion with those already in pro­duc­tive work. Hence it refuses the tra­di­tional role of the “reserve army of labour” – i.e. as an instru­ment which can be used to break or under­mine the bar­gain­ing power of those still in work.30

In a tan­ta­liz­ing pas­sage the authors note that this “analy­sis of the posi­tion of blacks is quite close to that elab­o­rated by a major cur­rent in con­tem­po­rary Ital­ian Marx­ist the­ory (what is some­times called ‘the Ital­ian School’).” Mem­bers of the “Ital­ian School” cited in a foot­note include Mario Tronti, Ser­gio Bologna, Fer­ruc­cio Gam­bino, Sil­via Fed­erici, and Mario Mon­tano (the lat­ter two under their pseu­do­nym “Guido Baldi”). The sum­mary of this Ital­ian account of the cur­rent stage of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment moves very quickly, reflect­ing the scant avail­abil­ity of sources at the time, but it leads to an orig­i­nal devel­op­ment of the method­ol­ogy:

The recom­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal has there­fore, in turn, “recom­posed” the work­ing class… This “pro­duc­tive” recom­po­si­tion of the class also involves a polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion – the old reflexes and organ­i­sa­tions of class strug­gle belong­ing to an ear­lier phase being dis­man­tled, and class strug­gle tend­ing to gen­er­ate new forms of mil­i­tant resis­tance directly against the exploita­tion of the new labour process… it can be seen at once how this analy­sis can be extended to illu­mi­nate the speci­fic posi­tion of black labour (and other migrant “labours”) in the “advanced” sec­tors of mod­ern British indus­try; but also how other forms of “direct resis­tance” – like the refusal to work – can assume a quite dif­fer­ent mean­ing and strate­gic posi­tion, as forms of class strug­gle, not of a mar­ginal but of piv­otal sec­tions of the work­ing class.31

The polit­i­cal agency of the wage­less, then, lay in the forms of self-help it gen­er­ated, from “hus­tling” to the ver­nac­u­lar cul­tures of mutual sup­port, draw­ing on the Caribbean legacy that migrants car­ried with them. While there was no nec­es­sary polit­i­cal con­tent to hus­tling, the Amer­i­can exam­ples of Mal­colm X and George Jack­son indi­cated its poten­tial to be the site of devel­op­ment for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice. Wage­less­ness was rede­fined on the streets “as a pos­i­tive rather than as a pas­sive form of strug­gle; as belong­ing to a major­ity rather than a ‘mar­ginal’ work­ing-class expe­ri­ence, a posi­tion thor­oughly filled out and ampli­fied, cul­tur­ally and ide­o­log­i­cally, and there­fore capa­ble of pro­vid­ing the base of a viable class strat­egy.”32 This took on a guid­ing impor­tance for a broad class strug­gle, since “migrant work­ers now form the per­ma­nent basis of the mod­ern indus­trial reserve army.33

Fur­ther­more, since the work­ing class in gen­eral was con­fronting grow­ing unem­ploy­ment, just as the costs of the cri­sis were being imposed upon it by the state, these new forms of con­tes­ta­tion took on a cru­cial sig­nif­i­cance. Ear­lier reform vic­to­ries were being “dras­ti­cally eroded and reversed,” and the polit­i­cal power of the work­ing class and its orga­ni­za­tions were chal­lenged by an “author­i­tar­ian con­sen­sus.” As this dynamic of ero­sion and onslaught con­tin­ued within the cri­sis, the prac­tices of polic­ing and the media rep­re­sen­ta­tions of crime took on a cen­tral impor­tance for work­ing-class pol­i­tics, pos­ing “the most mas­sive and crit­i­cal prob­lems of strat­egy and strug­gles”: “how to pre­vent a size­able sec­tion of the class from being more or less per­ma­nently crim­i­nalised.34 Iden­ti­fy­ing the new agen­cies of resis­tance by the black unem­ployed and find­ing a way to join them to the broader class strug­gle could serve as a basis for respond­ing to the author­i­tar­ian con­sen­sus, which threat­ened the work­ing class as a whole.

This analy­sis, how­ever, came up against a poten­tial limit. Wage­less­ness, and “the forms of polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tion and ide­o­log­i­cal con­scious­ness which arises or could arise from its base,” could be under­stood in two ways. One inter­pre­ta­tion saw “wage­less­ness” and its autonomous forms of repro­duc­tion, includ­ing crime, as a form of the mass worker’s refusal to work. But a con­trary inter­pre­ta­tion took on a dis­turbing salience as the reces­sion deep­ened. It was start­ing to become inescapably clear that “those blacks, in larger num­bers, who are ‘refus­ing work’ are mak­ing a virtue of neces­sity; there is hardly any work left for young black school-leavers to refuse. As large as is the sec­tion who have just found it pos­si­ble to sur­vive through the hus­tling life of the street, the num­bers of blacks who would take work if they were offered it is larger.35

No clear solu­tion was avail­able for this dilemma; while exist­ing the­o­ries of the lumpen­pro­le­tariat pro­vided use­ful insights, the deploy­ment of this class cat­e­gory in colo­nial Africa by the likes of Fanon did not map onto the con­di­tions of the advanced cap­i­tal­ist metrop­o­lis as clearly as the likes of the Black Pan­ther Party implied. This “dif­fi­cult prob­lem of analy­sis” had “per­ti­nent effects at the level of devel­op­ing a the­o­ret­i­cally informed polit­i­cal prac­tice and strat­egy”; nev­er­the­less, the authors of Polic­ing the Cri­sis con­fessed that they had “delib­er­ately refrained from enter­ing directly into this ques­tion, because it is a mat­ter which we believe must be resolved in strug­gle, rather than on paper.”36

Turn­ing instead to the the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem of race, it is here that Polic­ing the Cri­sis presents the famous slo­gan: “Race is the modal­ity in which class is lived.”37 In the con­text of the author­i­tar­ian con­sen­sus this was not a sec­tional phe­nom­e­non – it was a real­ity which “has con­se­quences for the whole class, whose rela­tion to their con­di­tions of exis­tence is now trans­formed by race.”38 But for black mem­bers of the work­ing class in par­tic­u­lar, it was pri­mar­ily through the expe­ri­ence of “race” that they could “ come to a con­scious­ness of their struc­tured sub­or­di­na­tion”: “It is through the modal­ity of race that blacks com­pre­hend, han­dle and then begin to resist the exploita­tion which is an objec­tive fea­ture of their class sit­u­a­tion.”39

The ten­sion between the “con­se­quences for the whole class” and the speci­fic expe­ri­ence of the black work­ing class could not be eas­ily resolved. There was an extent to which the strat­egy of street crime could be under­stood as a “sec­tional strug­gle,” much like the white trade union strug­gles which excluded the black unem­ployed. Both were nec­es­sary defen­sive strug­gles, but the gap left between the autonomous activ­ity of each class sec­tor was quickly filled by cap­i­tal, con­verted into divi­sion by racism:

Cap­i­tal repro­duces the class as a whole, struc­tured by race. It dom­i­nates the divided class, in part, through those inter­nal divi­sions which have “racism” as one of their effects. It con­tains and dis­ables the rep­re­sen­ta­tive class organ­i­sa­tions by con­fin­ing them, in part, to strate­gies and strug­gles which are race-speci­fic, which do not sur­mount its lim­its, its bar­ri­ers. Through race, it con­tin­ues to defeat the attempts to con­struct, at the polit­i­cal level, organ­i­sa­tions which do in fact ade­quately rep­re­sent the class as a whole – that is, which rep­re­sent it against cap­i­tal­ism, against racism.40

But this was another prob­lem which could not be resolved on paper. It reflected the fact that “there is, as yet, no active pol­i­tics, no form of organ­ised strug­gle, and no strat­egy which is able ade­quately and deci­sively to inter­vene in the quasi-rebel­lion of the black wage­less such as would be capa­ble of bring­ing about that break in the cur­rent false appro­pri­a­tions of oppres­sion through crime.” Only a new form of orga­nized strug­gle could effect the “crit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the crim­i­nalised con­scious­ness into some­thing more sus­tained and thor­ough-going in a polit­i­cal sense,” and this con­sti­tuted “a pow­er­ful reminder that we should not mis­take a proto-polit­i­cal con­scious­ness for organ­ised polit­i­cal class strug­gle and prac­tice.” The absence of such an active pol­i­tics posed “a nec­es­sary warn­ing about any strat­egy which is based sim­ply on favour­ing cur­rent modes of resis­tance, in the hope that, in and of them­selves, by nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion rather than by break and trans­for­ma­tion, they could become, spon­ta­neously, another thing.”41

An Exceptional Form of State?

To under­stand the devel­op­ment from Polic­ing the Cri­sis to the analy­sis of Thatch­erism, we should pay atten­tion to the dia­logue the book enters into with Nicos Poulantzas’s State, Power, Social­ism, which appeared the same year. Poulantzas, who appar­ently kept good track of devel­op­ments on the British Left, read Polic­ing the Cri­sis, not­ing that the authors “did not seri­ously dis­cuss the new form of state.42 Con­versely, Polic­ing the Cri­sis had already indi­cated that that “Poulantzas… whose writ­ings have greatly stim­u­lated and informed our work, some­times appears to go to the… extreme and vir­tu­ally absorb every­thing which is not part of the ‘eco­nomic anatomy’ of cap­i­tal­ism into the ter­rain of the state. This blurs and obscures key dis­tinc­tions which need to be retained.”43

Part of the dif­fi­culty Poulantzas detected, we may spec­u­late, may have been with Polic­ing the Cri­sis ’s descrip­tion of British soci­ety as tend­ing towards an “excep­tional state,” a term he reserved for fas­cism and mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. This is indeed a ter­mi­no­log­i­cal limit in their con­cep­tion, though they take pains to empha­size that the cri­sis of hege­mony they describe “does not entail a sus­pen­sion of the ‘nor­mal’ exer­cise of state power,” and there­fore is not “a fully excep­tional form of the state”: “It is bet­ter under­stood as – to put it para­dox­i­cally – an ‘excep­tional’ moment’ in the ‘nor­mal’ form of the late cap­i­tal­ist state.” This “excep­tional moment” was char­ac­ter­ized by “the increased reliance on coer­cive mech­a­nisms and appa­ra­tuses already avail­able within the nor­mal reper­toire of state power, and the pow­er­ful orches­tra­tion, in sup­port of this tilt of the bal­ance towards the coer­cive pole, of an author­i­tar­ian con­sen­sus.”44

How­ever, Poulantzas also devoted the bulk of his book to under­stand­ing the changes in the char­ac­ter of the state in response to the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis: the emer­gence of “author­i­tar­ian sta­tism,” defined as “inten­si­fied state con­trol over every sphere of socio­economic life com­bined with rad­i­cal decline of the insti­tu­tions of polit­i­cal democ­racy and with dra­co­nian and mul­ti­form cur­tail­ment of so-called ‘for­mal’ lib­er­ties.”45 While empha­siz­ing that fas­cism, mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, and Bona­partism con­sti­tuted “ excep­tional forms of State,” Poulantzas noted that the forms of democ­racy itself are by no means guar­an­teed.46 In this regard he reframed the clas­si­cal ques­tion of the form of the bour­geois state, which had once been posed by Pashukanis:

why, in gen­eral, does the bour­geoisie seek to main­tain its dom­i­na­tion by hav­ing recourse pre­cisely to the national-pop­u­lar State – to the mod­ern rep­re­sen­ta­tive State with all its char­ac­ter­is­tic insti­tu­tions? For it is far from self-evi­dent that the bour­geoisie would have cho­sen this par­tic­u­lar form if it had been able to tai­lor a State to its require­ments. While the bour­geoisie con­tin­ues to derive many ben­e­fits from such a state, it is by no means always con­tented with it, any more than it was in the past.47

Those study­ing the con­tem­po­rary state had to reckon with “impor­tant changes in democ­racy”: “greater exclu­sion of the masses from the cen­tres of polit­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing; widen­ing of the dis­tance between cit­i­zens and the state appa­ra­tus, just when the State is invad­ing the life of soci­ety as a whole; an unprece­dented degree of state cen­tral­ism; increased attempts to reg­i­ment the masses through ‘par­tic­i­pa­tion’ schemes.” In other words, an over­all “sharp­en­ing of the author­i­tar­ian char­ac­ter of polit­i­cal mech­a­nisms.”48

Such changes had to be under­stood in the con­text of “the polit­i­cal cri­sis and the cri­sis of the State.”49 While the eco­nomic cri­sis of the late 1970s was assuredly “not a pass­ing phe­nom­e­non but, in many respects, a struc­tural cri­sis,” this did not mean that the polit­i­cal or state cri­sis could be reduced to it, in the man­ner of the clas­si­cal notions of the decay and death-agony of cap­i­tal­ism, accord­ing to which the state was in cri­sis sim­ply “by virtue of being the last pos­si­ble state form before the nec­es­sary advent of social­ism.”50 Instead, while ground­ing the analy­sis in the per­ma­nent and recur­ring char­ac­ter of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis, polit­i­cal cri­sis and state cri­sis had to be sit­u­ated in a con­junc­ture char­ac­ter­ized by the con­den­sa­tion of par­tic­u­lar con­tra­dic­tions within the exist­ing insti­tu­tions of the state. Author­i­tar­ian sta­tism took form within this con­junc­ture, respond­ing to the ele­ments of cri­sis, but it did not have the excep­tional char­ac­ter of fas­cism – it rep­re­sented a new “nor­mal” func­tion­ing of the state.

Alongside the con­junc­tural response of polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions to the cri­sis, there was also a “con­sid­er­able shift in class rela­tions.” Its imme­di­ate man­i­fes­ta­tion was the deep­en­ing of inequal­ity, inten­si­fied exploita­tion, rest­ing on “more com­plex and dis­guised forms such as speed-up, higher labour pro­duc­tiv­ity, and degra­da­tion of liv­ing con­di­tions.” Post­war pros­per­ity gave way to “eco­nomic cri­sis, infla­tion and above all unem­ploy­ment (the spec­tac­u­lar increase of which seems to be a struc­tural fea­ture of the cur­rent phase),” all of which “helped to decom­pose a rel­a­tive con­sen­sus based on growth and social well-being.”

On the one hand, these devel­op­ments “stim­u­lated a rise and politi­ciza­tion of strug­gle expressed in the new demands and forms of strug­gle of the Euro­pean work­ers’ move­ment.” On the other hand, new demands went beyond the work­ers’ move­ment: “this gen­eral process does not stop with the work­ing class: the phase of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion known as accel­er­ated indus­tri­al­iza­tion has led to mas­sive inequal­ity affect­ing cer­tain broad cat­e­gories of the pop­u­la­tion: old peo­ple, the youth, women.” As a result, “con­flicts more closely bound up with the ide­o­log­i­cal cri­sis appear as both the origin and the effect of a new pop­u­lar aware­ness con­cern­ing ques­tions that are now no longer ‘sec­ondary’ fronts – wit­ness, in this regard, the stu­dent move­ment, the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment and the eco­log­i­cal move­ment.”51

This pro­lif­er­a­tion of class fig­ures, fronts, and lines of strug­gle formed part of the open­ing that author­i­tar­ian sta­tism para­dox­i­cally pro­vided. In fact, “author­i­tar­ian sta­tism is itself par­tially respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing new forms of pop­u­lar strug­gle.” The reac­tion to author­i­tar­ian sta­tism was marked by “the emer­gence of strug­gles that have in view the exer­cise of direct, rank-and-file democ­racy.” These strug­gles advanced “a char­ac­ter­is­tic anti-sta­tism,” and were inclined to “express them­selves in the mush­room­ing of self-man­age­ment cen­tres and net­works of direct inter­ven­tion by the masses in the deci­sions which affect them.” Poulantzas iden­ti­fied two strate­gic effects of these strug­gles: first, even though they were “located ‘at a dis­tance’ from the State,” they had “major dis­lo­ca­tory effects within the State itself”; sec­ond, they pre­vented author­i­tar­ian sta­tism from enclos­ing the masses the masses in its “dis­ci­pli­nary web,” or inte­grat­ing them into its “author­i­tar­ian cir­cuits,” instead pro­vok­ing a “gen­eral insis­tence on the need for direct, rank-and-file democ­racy – a ver­i­ta­ble explo­sion of demo­c­ra­tic demands.”52

Organization and Disorganization

The most famous themes of State, Power, Social­ism, which develop con­cepts intro­duced in Classes in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism and Cri­sis of the Dic­ta­tor­ships, have to be under­stood in the con­text of the con­junc­tural and strate­gic analy­sis traced above. Poulantzas sought to elab­o­rate on an under­stand­ing of the state which could respond to the exist­ing strate­gic field, lead­ing him to define it as “the speci­fic mate­rial con­den­sa­tion of a rela­tion­ship of forces among classes and class frac­tions.”53 Because of Poulantzas’s close asso­ci­a­tion with strat­egy of fus­ing pop­u­lar and rep­re­sen­ta­tive power, what is most widely remem­bered about this def­i­n­i­tion is the extent to which it empha­sizes that class strug­gle reaches within the state itself:

pop­u­lar strug­gles tra­verse the State from top to bot­tom and in a mode quite other than pen­e­tra­tion of an intrin­sic entity from the out­side. If polit­i­cal strug­gles bear­ing on the State tra­verse its appa­ra­tuses, this is because they are already inscribed in that state frame­work whose strate­gic con­fig­u­ra­tion they map out. Of course, pop­u­lar strug­gles, and power in gen­eral, stretch far beyond the State: but inso­far as they are gen­uinely polit­i­cal, they are not really exter­nal to the State.

How­ever, the masses main­tained their pres­ence in the state “with­out that ever hav­ing changed any­thing of its hard core” – that is, the pres­ence of the pop­u­lar classes in the state did not mean, as Euro­com­mu­nist par­ties of gov­ern­ment main­tained, that the pop­u­lar classes could hold power in the state. Hold­ing power was impos­si­ble “because of the very mate­rial struc­ture of the State, com­pris­ing as it does inter­nal mech­a­nisms of repro­duc­tion of the dom­i­na­tion-sub­or­di­na­tion rela­tion­ship: this struc­ture does indeed retain the dom­i­nated classes within itself, but it retains them pre­cisely as dom­i­nated classes.”54 The polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion of the bour­geoisie, then, was “ inscribed in the insti­tu­tional struc­ture of the state,” and this was nec­es­sary for under­stand­ing its form. Affirm­ing that “the class strug­gle has pri­macy over appa­ra­tuses,” Poulantzas nev­er­the­less argued that “it is not out­side, or prior to, the State that the bour­geoisie is estab­lished as the dom­i­nant class: the State is not erected to suit its con­ve­nience, and nor does it func­tion as a mere appendage of bour­geois dom­i­na­tion.”55

This was the nec­es­sary limit on the action of left gov­ern­ments. Even if a left gov­ern­ment were to bring some branches of the state under its con­trol, this would not nec­es­sar­ily result in a real shift in power. The bourgeoisie’s dom­i­nance could be trans­posed from one appa­ra­tus to another, reor­ga­niz­ing the cen­tral­ized unity of the state, since “the State is not a mono­lithic bloc, but a strate­gic field.”56

In other words, the pri­mary pur­pose of Poulantzas’s argu­ment that the state is a con­den­sa­tion of forces was not in any sense a sim­plis­tic defense of social­ist par­tic­i­pa­tion in the state. It was in fact, prior to this, a the­o­riza­tion of the rela­tion­ship between the com­po­nents of the dom­i­nant bloc. In Poulantzas’s cru­cial for­mu­la­tion:

With regard to the dom­i­nant classes, and par­tic­u­larly the bour­geoisie, the State’s prin­ci­pal role is one of orga­ni­za­tion. It rep­re­sents and orga­nizes the dom­i­nant class or classes; or, more pre­cisely, it rep­re­sents and orga­nizes the long-term polit­i­cal inter­est of a power bloc, which is com­posed of sev­eral bour­geois class frac­tions… and which some­times embraces dom­i­nant classes issu­ing from other modes of pro­duc­tion that are present in the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion.57

By con­sti­tut­ing the polit­i­cal unity of the dom­i­nant classes, the State thereby estab­lished them as dom­i­nant, an orga­ni­za­tional process which extended through the “total­ity of its appa­ra­tuses,” includ­ing the mil­i­tary and police. It was pre­cisely the “con­tra­dic­tions among the dom­i­nant classes and frac­tions” which made it “nec­es­sary for the unity of the bloc to be orga­nized by the State”: “As the mate­rial con­den­sa­tion of a con­tra­dic­tory rela­tion­ship, the State does not at all orga­nize the unity of the power bloc from the out­side, by resolv­ing class con­tra­dic­tions at a dis­tance. On the con­trary, how­ever para­dox­i­cal it may seem, the play of these con­tra­dic­tions within the State’s mate­ri­al­ity alone makes pos­si­ble the State’s orga­ni­za­tional role.”58

Impor­tantly, the state’s rela­tion to the dom­i­nated classes did not only con­sist in its tra­ver­sal by their strug­gles. First and fore­most, the state appa­ra­tuses would “con­se­crate and repro­duce hege­mony by bring­ing the power bloc and cer­tain dom­i­nated classes into a (vari­able) game of pro­vi­sional com­pro­mises.” They were able to “orga­nize-unify the power bloc by per­ma­nently dis­or­ga­niz­ing – divid­ing the dom­i­nated classes, polar­iz­ing them towards the power bloc, and short-cir­cuit­ing their own polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions.”59

These two themes regard­ing orga­ni­za­tion should be empha­sized in the strongest sense. In keep­ing with our over­ar­ch­ing frame­work, we could char­ac­ter­ize this the­o­ret­i­cal field as the class com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal, inter­preted from two direc­tions.60 The first is the dynamic char­ac­ter of the power of the cap­i­tal­ist class, which has to adapt to the require­ments of man­ag­ing  cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion and repro­duc­ing dom­i­na­tion. The state-form, which shifts in the 20th cen­tury from wel­fare-state cor­po­ratism and inter­ven­tion­ism to neolib­er­al­ism and retrench­ment, is much more than an expres­sion of the logic of cap­i­tal; it is a his­tor­i­cal form that responds to the shifts in class forces with processes of orga­ni­za­tion. The sec­ond is the specif­i­cally cap­i­tal­ist polit­i­cal  recom­po­si­tion of the work­ing class, which has his­tor­i­cally func­tioned as a strat­egy of assault or pre-emp­tive strike on the devel­op­ment of work­ing-class power: the state as the dis orga­nizer of the dom­i­nated classes.

The orga­ni­za­tional-dis­or­ga­ni­za­tional regime that Poulantzas called author­i­tar­ian sta­tism is now gen­er­ally described as “neolib­er­al­ism.” In its sci­en­tific capac­ity the term describes the state-dri­ven process of cri­sis man­age­ment, which func­tioned to over­come the con­tra­dic­tions of the post­war “Golden Age” and sweep away the exist­ing bar­ri­ers to accu­mu­la­tion. Regret­tably, this rather pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion too often gives way to a kind of weak phe­nom­e­nol­ogy, which reduces the cap­i­tal­ist rev­o­lu­tion from above, the tur­bu­lent and uneven processes of cri­sis man­age­ment and restruc­tur­ing, to the way we feel when we look at Face­book. Such impres­sion­is­tic sketches of flows and frag­men­ta­tion can hardly account for the harsh author­i­tar­i­an­ism of the law-and-order soci­ety which facil­i­tated the tran­si­tion, nor the resort to the tra­di­tional cul­tural val­ues of fam­ily, church, and nation. To under­stand the con­tra­dic­tory coher­ence of this new rul­ing-class strat­egy, fur­ther con­cep­tual devel­op­ment would be required.61

Authoritarian Consensus

As early as 1969 Ralph Miliband had hinted at the devel­op­ment of an author­i­tar­ian con­sen­sus, end­ing The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety with a descrip­tion of a cer­tain dialec­tic between reform and repres­sion. The state meets social pres­sure with reform, but can never go the full way; “as reform reveals itself inca­pable of sub­du­ing pres­sure and protest, so does the empha­sis shift towards repres­sion, coer­cion, police power, law and order.” But repres­sion also engen­ders oppo­si­tion, and “along that road that lies the tran­si­tion from ‘bour­geois democ­racy’ to con­ser­v­a­tive author­i­tar­i­an­ism.”62

This did not nec­es­sar­ily mean fas­cism. In fact, Miliband’s exam­ple came from the Left: “Wherever they have been given the chance, social-demo­c­ra­tic lead­ers have eagerly bent them­selves to the admin­is­tra­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist state: but that admin­is­tra­tion increas­ingly requires the strength­en­ing of the cap­i­tal­ist state, to which pur­pose, from a con­ser­v­a­tive point of view, these lead­ers have made a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion.” Such a strength­en­ing of the state, how­ever, had left social democ­racy with “an increased vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the blan­d­ish­ments of the Right… the path is made smoother for would-be pop­u­lar sav­iours, whose extreme con­ser­vatism is care­fully con­cealed beneath a dem­a­gogic rhetoric of national renewal and social redemp­tion, gar­nished, wherever suit­able, with an appeal to racial and any other kind of prof­itable prej­u­dice.”63 Miliband con­cluded that the “social­ist move­ment has reached such a com­mand­ing posi­tion,” that “it may be too late for the forces of con­ser­vatism to take up the author­i­tar­ian option with any real chance of suc­cess.”64

For Hall, Thatcher was an exam­ple of authoritarianism’s remark­able suc­cess. The analy­sis begun in Polic­ing the Cri­sis deep­ened when Hall read State, Power Social­ism. The con­cept of “author­i­tar­ian sta­tism” seemed to pow­er­fully cap­ture the trans­for­ma­tions in state power inter­nal to the cri­sis of hege­mony. But sev­eral things were left out. Polic­ing the Cri­sis had shown how social democracy’s man­age­ment of the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis had engen­dered con­tra­dic­tions which pro­vided a space for new right-wing strate­gies, and how pop­u­lar con­sent to author­ity was com­ing to be secured by new kinds of ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle. What was now emerg­ing was an anti-sta­tist strat­egy of the Right – or rather, one which rep­re­sented itself as anti-sta­tist to mobi­lize con­sent, while pur­su­ing a highly state-cen­tral­ist approach to gov­er­nance. And this strat­egy func­tioned by har­ness­ing pop­u­lar dis­con­tent and neu­tral­iz­ing oppo­si­tion, mak­ing use of some ele­ments of pop­u­lar opin­ion to fash­ion a new kind of con­sent.65 Hall drew on the early the­o­ries of pop­ulism pre­sented by Ernesto Laclau, which cap­tured how the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “the peo­ple” was a process of ide­o­log­i­cal con­tes­ta­tion over tra­di­tion, to gen­er­ate the new, seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory term “author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism” – which con­structs a “peo­ple” it then absorbs under the direc­tion of a polit­i­cal lead­er­ship.66

Pub­lished in 1979 in Marx­ism Today, the the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal of the Com­mu­nist Party of Great Britain, months before Thatcher’s elec­tion as Prime Min­is­ter, Hall’s “The Great Mov­ing Right Show” tried to explain the rise of the Right with the use of this con­cept. He empha­sized that its roots lay in the “con­tra­dic­tion within social democ­racy,” which had “effec­tively dis­or­ga­nized the Left and the work­ing class response to the cri­sis.” Syn­the­siz­ing the dynam­ics that had been reviewed his­tor­i­cally in Polic­ing the Cri­sis, Hall explained that the con­tra­dic­tion began with social democracy’s efforts at gain­ing elec­toral power, which required it to “max­i­mize its claims as the polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the inter­ests of the work­ing class and orga­nized labour,” capa­ble of “mas­ter­ing the cri­sis” and “defend­ing – within the con­straints imposed by reces­sion – work­ing class inter­ests.” This was not “a homo­ge­neous polit­i­cal entity but a com­plex polit­i­cal for­ma­tion,” not an expres­sion of the work­ing class within gov­ern­ment, but “the prin­ci­pal means of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the class.” “Rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” as a polit­i­cal func­tion in par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, “has to be under­stood as an active and for­ma­tive rela­tion­ship,” which “orga­nizes the class, con­sti­tut­ing it as a polit­i­cal force – a social demo­c­ra­tic polit­i­cal force – in the same moment as it is con­sti­tuted.”67

But once social democ­racy enters gov­ern­ment, it is “com­mit­ted to find­ing solu­tions to the cri­sis which are capa­ble of win­ning sup­port from key sec­tions of cap­i­tal, since its solu­tions are framed within those lim­its.” This requires it to use its “indis­sol­uble link” with the lead­er­ships of the trade unions “not to advance but to dis­ci­pline the class and orga­ni­za­tions it rep­re­sents.”68 This func­tion revolves around the state, and social democ­racy must hold to “a neu­tral and benev­o­lent inter­pre­ta­tion of the role of the state as incar­na­tor of the national inter­est above the class strug­gle.” It equates the expan­sion of the state with social­ism, “with­out ref­er­ence to the mobi­liza­tion of effec­tive demo­c­ra­tic power at the pop­u­lar level,” and uses the enlarged inter­ven­tion­ist appa­ra­tus of the state to “man­age the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis on behalf of cap­i­tal.” The state ends up “inscribed through every fea­ture and aspect of social life”: “Social democ­racy has no alter­na­tive viable strat­egy, espe­cially for ‘big’ cap­i­tal (and ‘big’ cap­i­tal has no viable alter­na­tive strat­egy for itself) which does not involve mas­sive state sup­port.”69

This is the back­drop for the rad­i­cal Right, which oper­ates in the same space as social democ­racy and exploits its con­tra­dic­tions. It “takes the ele­ments which are already con­structed into place, dis­man­tles them, recon­sti­tutes them into a new logic, and artic­u­lates the space in a new way, polar­iz­ing it to the Right.”70 It is able to appeal to the mis­trust of sta­tism, to the frus­tra­tion with the social-demo­c­ra­tic man­age­ment of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis, by advanc­ing a seem­ingly anti-sta­tist neolib­eral agenda. Thatch­erism tar­geted col­lec­tivist val­ues, but also the very real sta­tism that had plagued Labour from the begin­ning – it took advan­tage of the dis­tance the reformist lead­er­ship had main­tained from its rank and file, and demon­strated the very real irrec­on­cil­abil­ity between col­lec­tivist val­ues and the task of man­ag­ing the cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis.

The remark­able achieve­ment of Thatch­erism was its abil­ity to tie the abstract eco­nomic philoso­phies of Aus­trian lib­er­al­ism to pop­u­lar sen­ti­ments regard­ing “nation, fam­ily, duty, author­ity, stan­dards, self-reliance,” pow­er­ful ide­o­log­i­cal motors in the con­text of the polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion for law and order.71 What “pop­ulism” explained was the Right’s “pop­u­lar suc­cess in neu­tral­iz­ing the con­tra­dic­tion between peo­ple and the state/power bloc and win­ning pop­u­lar inter­pel­la­tions so deci­sively for the Right.” But this pop­ulist ide­o­log­i­cal maneu­ver could not be reduced to a mere trick – in fact, it oper­ated on “gen­uine con­tra­dic­tions,” with “a ratio­nal and mate­rial core”: “Its suc­cess and effec­tiv­ity does not lie in its capac­ity to dupe unsus­pect­ing folk but in the way it addresses real prob­lems, real and lived expe­ri­ences, real con­tra­dic­tions – and yet is able to rep­re­sent them within a logic of dis­course which pulls them sys­tem­at­i­cally into line with poli­cies and class strate­gies of the Right.”72

Let us now pick up a dropped stitch. We could say that by mod­i­fy­ing “author­i­tar­ian sta­tism” to “author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism,” Hall sup­ple­mented Poulantzas’s notion of the state as the orga­nizer of the dom­i­nant classes and dis­or­ga­nizer of the sub­or­di­nate classes. Hall showed that the state also orga­nized the sub­or­di­nated, and the role of this orga­ni­za­tion is to pre­clude the self-orga­ni­za­tion of the sub­or­di­nate classes into an agent antag­o­nis­tic to the social order. Author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism went beyond the strat­egy of “pro­vi­sional com­pro­mise” and incor­po­ra­tion, pro­ceed­ing towards an open antag­o­nism.73 Dur­ing the period of cap­i­tal­ist pros­per­ity the orga­ni­za­tional tasks of the state could be adopted by the par­ties of labor. Hall’s analy­sis of Thatch­erism showed how, in the cri­sis of hege­mony, these tasks fell to the Right – even the social-demo­c­ra­tic form of inte­gra­tion became unac­cept­able, and had to be erad­i­cated and pre­vented.

Revisionism and Retreat

“The Great Mov­ing Right Show” was a path­break­ing essay, which intro­duced an argu­ment elab­o­rated in sev­eral other arti­cles, many in Marx­ism Today – Hall, devoted to inter­ven­ing in “com­mon sense,” tended to scat­ter his writ­ing into semi-pop­u­lar arti­cles. The dra­matic recep­tion they received at the time had to do, of course, with the dra­matic elec­toral rise of the Right, form­ing the cut­ting edge of a new neolib­eral project and draw­ing the elec­toral sup­port of for­mer Labour vot­ers. But it also had to do with the over­all direc­tion taken by Marx­ism Today, with Mar­tin Jacques as edi­tor.

It was, all things con­sid­ered, an unusual and far-reach­ing project, with the visual style of a com­mer­cial mag­a­zine, and cov­er­age of pop­u­lar cul­ture which sought to inter­vene in the con­scious­ness of con­sumer soci­ety – pro­vok­ing the out­rage of Miliband’s com­rade John Sav­ille, who care­fully and dis­dain­fully doc­u­mented the pages  the jour­nal devoted to fash­ion.74 How­ever, per­haps the most influ­en­tial cri­tique was pre­sented by Miliband him­self in “The New Revi­sion­ism in Britain,” pub­lished in New Left Review in 1985. This “new revi­sion­ism,” Miliband argued, was a rep­e­ti­tion of the first wave rep­re­sented by Hugh Gaitskell – he had already used the term in Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism.75

At the cen­ter was the debate over the strate­gic ques­tions faced by the Labour Party, which Miliband did not think were ade­quately cap­tured by the­o­ries of author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism. He reminded the reader that the decline in work­ing-class elec­toral sup­port for the Labour Party had been a trend since 1951, result­ing from its own con­tra­dic­tions. Of course, as we have doc­u­mented above, Hall had care­fully ana­lyzed this phe­nom­e­non and in fact made it the basis of his the­ory of Thatch­erism. But for Miliband, Hall still waf­fled on the ques­tion, decry­ing the leadership’s sus­pi­cion of the “self-acti­va­tion of the work­ing class,” yet con­stantly phras­ing his analy­sis in terms of the pos­si­bil­ity of the party’s “renewal,” even if he was skep­ti­cal that it would take place.76

These strate­gic debates are tan­gled into a ter­mi­no­log­i­cal knot, due largely to the bewil­der­ing non-map­pa­bil­ity of the var­i­ous terms of abuse. While Miliband was pre­sum­ably argu­ing against the British equiv­a­lent of “Euro­com­mu­nism” – a dif­fi­cult com­par­ison to make, given the very dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tional, polit­i­cal, and demo­graphic his­to­ries of the Com­mu­nist Party of Great Britain and the Labour Party, in com­par­ison to the com­mu­nist par­ties of Con­ti­nen­tal Europe – he was still being crit­i­cized for this very ten­dency him­self. Alex Call­ini­cos wrote in a 1985 issue of Inter­na­tional Social­ism that Miliband’s “admirable” cri­tique “fails fully to grasp the polit­i­cal logic of the Euro­com­mu­nists’ argu­ments,” because he shared their “cen­tral strate­gic con­cept, that of a ‘broad alliance’ as the pre­con­di­tion of an even­tual over­throw of cap­i­tal.” Call­ini­cos argued that the fail­ure of attempts to reform the Labour Party from within had clearly demon­strated “the need for an inde­pen­dent rev­o­lu­tion­ary party.” Since, for Call­ini­cos, this already existed in the form of the Social­ist Work­ers’ Party, there was no need to inquire into the struc­tural lim­its imposed on the devel­op­ment of such a party.77

It is not self-evi­dent that we can today con­flate the diverse the­o­ret­i­cal strands of the period – the turn to postruc­tural­ism, the empha­sis on ide­ol­ogy and cul­ture, the new social move­ments, all of which con­tinue to pro­voke clenched teeth among cer­tain Marx­ists – with the polit­i­cal direc­tions taken by some par­tic­i­pants. This polem­i­cal approach, exem­pli­fied at the time by Ellen Meiksins Wood’s The Retreat from Class, obscured the het­ero­gene­ity of all sides of the debate. The the­o­ret­i­cal ten­den­cies rep­re­sented in Marx­ism Today, after all, emerged in an unusual con­stel­la­tion ini­ti­ated by the obser­va­tions of Eric Hob­s­bawm – hardly a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of post­struc­tural­ism and iden­tity pol­i­tics – on the many changes in the com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class.78

But what cer­tainly seems true in ret­ro­spect is that the Marx­ism Today ten­dency met the con­junc­ture it had the acute­ness to iden­tify with a weak pro­gram, grounded in democ­ra­ti­za­tion, polit­i­cal alliances, and cul­tural coun­ter-hege­mony. Hall’s role in that polit­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion was espe­cially unclear, as Wood notes with frus­tra­tion in Retreat from Class. He did not, as Hob­s­bawm def­i­nitely did, sup­port the shift of Labour to the right led by Neil Kin­nock; he crit­i­cized both Kinnock’s anti-demo­c­ra­tic maneu­ver­ing in the party and his dis­mis­sive atti­tude towards fem­i­nism. But he did repeat vague and poten­tially reformist slo­gans about form­ing “broad alliances” which would pur­sue “mod­est objec­tives,” and he par­tic­i­pated in divi­sive rhetoric about the “hard” or “fun­da­men­tal­ist” left, which in many ways sim­ply mir­rored its target’s dis­mis­sive atti­tude toward the new social move­ments.79

Miliband’s pri­mary con­cern, how­ever, was to refute the new revi­sion­ist ten­dency to reject “class pol­i­tics,” under­stood as “the insis­tence on the ‘pri­macy’ of orga­nized labour in the chal­lenge to cap­i­tal­ist power and the task of cre­at­ing a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent social order.” Miliband defended this pri­macy: “no other group, move­ment or force in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety is remotely capa­ble of mount­ing as effec­tive and for­mi­da­ble a chal­lenge to the exist­ing struc­tures of power and priv­i­lege as it is in the power of orga­nized labour to mount.”80

There were two angles on which this pri­macy had to be defended, the first relat­ing to changes in the pro­duc­tion process and the social land­scape of the advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries; André Gorz’s Farewell to the Work­ing Class was named as an influ­en­tial “revi­sion­ist” pre­cur­sor. Miliband accepted that “the work­ing class has expe­ri­enced in recent years an accel­er­ated process of recom­po­si­tion, with a decline of the tra­di­tional indus­trial sec­tors and a con­sid­er­able fur­ther growth of the white-col­lar, dis­tri­b­u­tion, ser­vice and tech­ni­cal sec­tors” – but he did not accept that this meant that the clas­si­cal coor­di­nates of social­ist pol­i­tics should change.81 After all, wage-earn­ers con­tin­ued to com­pose the largest part of the pop­u­la­tion of the advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries, and were still capa­ble of devel­op­ing a social­ist con­scious­ness.

The sec­ond chal­lenge was that of the new social move­ments. Miliband started with the very reminder that “the work­ing class includes very large num­bers of peo­ple who are also mem­bers of ‘new social move­ments,’ or who are part of the con­stituency which these move­ments seek to reach.” But he also argued that it would be a mis­take for these peo­ple to under­stand their expe­ri­ences of oppres­sion through their iden­ti­ties. In fact, the cat­e­gory of “class pol­i­tics” encom­passed the new social move­ments, since orga­nized labor did not fight for its own “econ­o­mistic and “cor­po­rate” ends, “but for the whole work­ing class and many beyond it.” Though such a strug­gle “requires a sys­tem of pop­u­lar alliances,” Miliband main­tained that “it is only the orga­nized work­ing class which can form the basis of that sys­tem.”82

Left unan­swered, how­ever, was how the work­ing class would be orga­nized, and this ques­tion looms behind both of the debates. As Robin Black­burn has recently reflected, “1985 marked the begin­ning of nearly three decades of class demo­bi­liza­tion and demor­al­iza­tion,” and Miliband “under­es­ti­mated the effects of a far-reach­ing global recom­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal and labour as the cen­tury drew to its close.”83 His dis­cus­sion of the new social move­ments remained spec­u­la­tive, with­out seri­ous inves­ti­ga­tion of the ques­tions they raised about the char­ac­ter of work­ing-class pol­i­tics. In con­trast, Hall’s own analy­sis of race as a “modal­ity” through which black work­ers became aware of their class posi­tion was based on an analy­sis of the com­po­si­tion of the black work­ing class, the his­tory of migrant cul­ture, and the polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions of black strug­gles – and he was able to build upon this to iden­tify poten­tial forms of polit­i­cal activ­ity which had gen­eral rel­e­vance for the class, since racism was part of the way labor­ing pop­u­la­tions were struc­tured by cap­i­tal.

All of this was play­ing out quite directly in the polit­i­cal con­junc­ture, with the expe­ri­ence of the 1984-85 min­ers’ strike. The fierce­ness of this strug­gle made any dis­cus­sion emo­tion­ally charged. Hall had been highly crit­i­cal before the strike – of the intense hard­ship and risk implied by strik­ing dur­ing a period of aus­ter­ity and indus­trial decline, and the unde­mo­c­ra­tic deci­sion to strike with­out a bal­lot. He went on to crit­i­cize the “famil­ial and mas­culin­ist” mobi­liza­tion of the min­ers, “‘as men’ who have a duty to stand up and fight.” The class-pol­i­tics fram­ing of the move­ment, lodged in a speci­fic class iden­tity, had kept the min­ers’ strike from “gen­er­al­iz­ing into a wider social strug­gle.”84

Aspects of this analy­sis were prob­a­bly true. But it pro­voked under­stand­able deri­sion from Miliband. It came at a time when many, espe­cially those affil­i­ated with Marx­ism Today, were asso­ci­at­ing the strike with a stub­born and anti­quated “hard left.” Of course, it is not that the term is com­pletely with­out ref­er­ent; any­one who has par­tic­i­pate in a social move­ments has encoun­tered those who appoint them­selves “as keeper of left con­sciences, as polit­i­cal guar­an­tor, as the lit­mus test of ortho­doxy.”85 But in ret­ro­spect, employed against those who defended trade unions in the con­text of over­whelm­ing cap­i­tal­ist assault, this epi­thet strikes the wrong note.

On the other hand, Miliband’s own argu­ment dis­missed any of the sub­stan­tive issues these cri­tiques did raise. Accord­ing to Michael Newman’s biog­ra­phy, he was crit­i­cized for this by his wife Mar­ion Kozaks, who thought the New Revi­sion­ism arti­cle “over­stated the pri­macy of class and failed to attach suf­fi­cient weight to social move­ments, view­ing them as divi­sive rather than as poten­tial allies for class based move­ments – as, for exam­ple, in women’s groups sup­port­ing the min­ers.”86 Such unex­pected lines of alliance have recently been dra­ma­tized in the film Pride, which shows the fundrais­ing efforts of Les­bians and Gays Sup­port the Min­ers, a ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity returned by the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Welsh miner groups at the 1985 Lon­don Pride march, and the National Union of Minework­ers’ deci­sive sup­port for a suc­cess­ful Labour Party res­o­lu­tion in favor of LGBT rights.87 As Doreen Massey and Hilary Wain­wright wrote, in their com­men­tary on fem­i­nist strike sup­port groups, “it is not a ques­tion of either indus­trial action or the new social move­ments, nor is it one of just adding the two together… New insti­tu­tions can be built through which ‘class pol­i­tics’ can be seen as more than sim­ply indus­trial mil­i­tancy plus par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”88 It was the urgency of such new insti­tu­tions, and the dif­fi­culty of con­struct­ing them, that under­lay Hall’s pes­simism:

The strike was thus doomed to be fought and lost as an old rather than as a new form of pol­i­tics. To those of us who felt this from very early on, it was dou­bly unbear­able because – in the sol­i­dar­ity it dis­played, the gigan­tic lev­els of sup­port it engen­dered, the unpar­al­leled involve­ment of the women in the min­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the fem­i­nist pres­ence in the strike, the break­ing down of bar­ri­ers between dif­fer­ent social inter­ests which it pre­saged – the min­ers’ strike was in fact instinc­tu­ally with the pol­i­tics of the new, it was a major engage­ment with Thatch­erism which should have marked the tran­si­tion to the pol­i­tics of the present and future, but which was fought and lost, impris­oned in the cat­e­gories and strate­gies of the past.89

But if each side of the debate had a point, it is not clear that any par­tic­i­pant under­stood what the cat­a­strophic defeat of the min­ers’ strike truly rep­re­sented. Despite Hall’s account of the pow­er­ful effects of author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism, his the­ory did not seem to antic­i­pate how dras­ti­cally this defeat would change the field, and how total it would be. It has not been ade­quately appre­ci­ated that this moment has to be under­stood as a defeat for the new social move­ments as well. While Rain­bow Coali­tions, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, and iden­tity pol­i­tics would live on, they came to indi­cate their grow­ing detach­ment from the orga­ni­za­tional form of grass­roots, mil­i­tant move­ments which could form anti-sys­temic alliances.

Moving On

In order to accu­rately under­stand lim­its of these posi­tions, we will have to start by see­ing what light they shed on their his­tor­i­cal moment. Crit­ics tended to attrib­ute to Hall the view that Thatch­erism had wide­spread sup­port, which some, includ­ing Miliband, argued was a mis­taken inter­pre­ta­tion of the real­ity that Labour had alien­ated its own elec­toral bloc. But this was not really the point. As he and Mar­tin Jacques wrote in the intro­duc­tion to The Pol­i­tics of Thatch­erism, “though Thatch­erism has proved to be an effec­tive, pop­ulist force, it con­tin­ues to be a minor­ity one. The divi­sions of the left enhance its appear­ance of pop­u­lar­ity, unity and coher­ence.” How­ever, “Thatch­erism is not finally to be judged in elec­toral terms – impor­tant as these moments of mobi­liza­tion are in the polit­i­cal process. Rather, it should be judged in terms of its suc­cess or fail­ure in dis­or­ga­niz­ing the labour move­ment and pro­gres­sive forces, in shift­ing the terms of polit­i­cal debate, in reor­ga­niz­ing the polit­i­cal ter­rain and in chang­ing the bal­ance of polit­i­cal forces in favor of cap­i­tal and the right.”90

We empha­size here the orga­ni­za­tional angle of this argu­ment, with atten­tion to three fea­tures: the con­tra­dic­tions of social democ­racy, the strate­gic rela­tion to the new social move­ments, and the destruc­tion of work­ing-class orga­ni­za­tion.

  1. The con­tra­dic­tions of social democ­racy. It was impos­si­ble for con­tem­po­rary move­ments to advance a return to post­war social democ­racy, or to use its meth­ods. There is, even now, a ten­dency among social democ­rats to believe “that there’s a lit­tle bit of lee­way left in the old, eco­nomic-cor­po­rate, incre­men­tal, Key­ne­sian game” – to think that we could “go back to a lit­tle smidgeon of Key­ne­sian­ism here, a lit­tle bit more of the wel­fare state there, a lit­tle bit of the old Fabian thing.” Even while reject­ing “a cat­a­clysmic vision of the future,” Hall insisted that the “option is now closed. It’s exhausted. Nobody believes in it any­more. Its mate­rial con­di­tions have dis­ap­peared.”91 The rea­sons for this were not just the neolib­eral restruc­tur­ing that author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism had pushed through; they were also the per­sis­tence of the con­tra­dic­tions inter­nal to social democ­racy, whose sta­tism and bureau­cratism offered no way for­ward, and ulti­mately “became a strat­egy by which a gov­ern­ment ‘of’ the work­ing peo­ple polices and dis­ci­plines the work­ing class,” in the inter­est of “restor­ing the con­di­tions of expanded accu­mu­la­tion.”92 This was far more than a sec­tar­ian or aca­d­e­mic dis­pute – there were seri­ous polit­i­cal con­se­quences to adher­ence to illu­sions about social democ­racy. A bureau­cratic party work­ing towards par­lia­men­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion in the state could only be seen as a “less effi­cient or con­vinc­ing man­ager of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis,” and would thereby yield the ground to the Right.93 It was not an ade­quate basis for social­ist orga­ni­za­tion and could not advance an effec­tive pro­gram.
  2. The strate­gic rela­tion to the new social move­ments. The “remak­ing” of the work­ing class of the advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries tak­ing place in the 20th cen­tury was as pro­found as the one which first cre­ated the labor move­ment, and it was “trans­form­ing the mate­rial basis, the occu­pa­tional bound­aries, the gen­der and eth­nic com­po­si­tion, the polit­i­cal cul­tures and the social imagery of ‘class.’”94 While a tra­di­tion­al­ist sec­tion of the Left con­sid­ered these fac­tors to be sec­ondary, author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism did not. It exploited the frag­men­ta­tion and anx­i­ety pro­voked by cri­sis, and was able to deploy racist anti-immi­grant sen­ti­ments and tra­di­tion­al­ist ideas about gen­der and fam­ily struc­tures, in a com­plex com­bi­na­tion with the entre­pre­neurial sub­ject of neolib­er­al­ism, and thereby met the chal­lenge of the new social move­ments: “The new social forces and move­ments, which have put a set of pro­found new ques­tions on the polit­i­cal agenda, have not been ade­quately com­bined with an older style of class pol­i­tics. Nor, for the most part, have they been allowed to have a suf­fi­ciently trans­for­ma­tory impact on the tra­di­tional orga­ni­za­tions and pro­grams of the left. This is the kind of mis­take which Thatch­erism, with its atten­tion to the cen­tral­ity of women’s domes­tic role, the polic­ing of black com­mu­ni­ties and the frontal engage­ment with the peace move­ment, has not com­mit­ted.”95 Such an analy­sis did not amount to an attempt to “deny the per­ti­nence of class rela­tions”; the point was “to rec­og­nize the chang­ing class com­po­si­tion of our soci­ety.”96
  3. The destruc­tion of work­ing-class orga­ni­za­tion. A major fac­tor in the “his­toric dis­lo­ca­tion of social­ism and the left is the recom­po­si­tion of the work­ing classes of modem indus­trial soci­eties,” and this dis­lo­ca­tion was felt at the level of exist­ing work­ing class’s orga­ni­za­tions.97 In the con­text of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis, author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism “coin­cided with and exploited these longer-term ten­den­cies” and advanced a suc­cess­ful strat­egy to break these orga­ni­za­tions.98 Social­ists had been held back by “a too auto­matic con­cep­tion of class, which failed to rec­og­nize how the cap­i­tal­ist labour process divided, frag­mented and seg­mented the labour force at the same time as it pro­vided the poten­tial con­di­tions of its polit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion.”99 But in truth there could never be “ the given unity of the work­ing class” which a social­ist pro­gram could sim­ply reflect: “There have always been the divi­sions and frac­tur­ings we would expect under an advanced cap­i­tal­ist divi­sion of labour. Under­ly­ing these are cer­tain shared con­di­tions of exploita­tion and of social and com­mu­nity life which provide the con­tra­dic­tory raw mate­ri­als from which the com­plex unity of a class could pos­si­bly be con­structed; and out of which a social­ist pol­i­tics could be forged but of which there was never any guar­an­tee.”100 A social­ist strat­egy unaware of this would be inca­pable of deal­ing with the “frag­men­ta­tion of the ear­lier class iden­ti­ties.” The real­ity was that “class for­ma­tion and class rela­tions were being pro­foundly rev­o­lu­tion­ized and trans­formed; you couldn’t have a social­ist pol­i­tics unless it was actu­ally rooted in those trans­for­ma­tions. And if social­ism couldn’t root itself there, hor­ror of hor­rors, the right could root itself there, and bloody well has.”101 Respond­ing to the new polit­i­cal con­junc­ture would not be an auto­matic pro­gres­sion: “The unity of skilled and unskilled, of employed and unem­ployed, of whites and blacks, of men and women, of the new pub­lic sec­tors with the tra­di­tional pri­vate sec­tor strug­gles will not be ‘given’ by cir­cum­stances.”102 Hall noted that “the process of recom­po­si­tion and restruc­tur­ing of the work­ing class is nei­ther even or uni­form.”103 These uneven processes of recom­po­si­tion “frag­ment the class cul­ture of the party as a polit­i­cal for­ma­tion. They give rise to new con­stituen­cies, new demands. They gen­er­ate new ten­sions and demand new forms of orga­ni­za­tion, chang­ing the social infra­struc­ture of Labour pol­i­tics.”104 Defeat­ing Thatch­erism could not con­sist of a “defen­sive gath­er­ing of forces around the old strate­gies”; it required “the con­struc­tion of a new polit­i­cal force, the build­ing of a new net­work of alliances.”105

The unan­swered ques­tion was what this new polit­i­cal force would look like. But despite this coun­ter­fac­tual spec­u­la­tion, Trot­sky­ist crit­ics were not wrong to say that Marx­ism Today and Miliband shared a com­mon prob­lem­atic, and that this extended in many respects to those who pushed for reform within the Labour Party. The oppo­si­tional ten­dency is rep­re­sented above all by Tony Benn, who grew quite close to Miliband in these years. His legacy of demo­c­ra­tic social­ist trans­for­ma­tion has been car­ried on by his acolyte Jeremy Cor­byn, whose main antag­o­nists, some­how, are Ralph Miliband’s sons Ed and David, and Benn himself’s son Hilary Benn. It may have to be left to the Vir­gils and Homers of the 22nd Cen­tury to under­stand this phe­nom­e­non.

Hall and Benn had debated each other at the Left Alive con­fer­ence in 1984. Read­ing their state­ments today, there is a sense in which it is hard to see how things got so polar­ized, since after all Benn was actu­ally pur­su­ing the basis for Hall’s project: the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the Labour Party against its sta­tism and bureau­cratic degen­er­a­tion. Yet if there was in fact a com­mon project hid­den by the more vis­i­ble terms of the debate, it was not des­tined to be a suc­cess­ful one. In this regard Hall’s pes­simistic assess­ment of the bal­ance of forces seems to have been more cor­rect than Benn’s opti­mism about the prospects for “social­ism in our time.”106 Indeed, Hall had iden­ti­fied a prob­lem that would only grow more acute:

The labour move­ment is going to have to change the nature of its organ­i­sa­tion, the nature of its hier­ar­chies and its cul­ture in order to reflect more accu­rately the actual range of forces and expe­ri­ences which con­sti­tute “the Left.” Until this inter­nal trans­for­ma­tion in the labour move­ment occurs you will not have an instru­ment that is capa­ble of gen­er­al­is­ing the strug­gle for social­ism to the work­ing class on all the sites on which exploita­tion occurs, and indeed expand­ing it to the soci­ety as a whole.107

How­ever, Hall’s own strate­gic hori­zon also fell within the clas­sic dis­or­der of Eng­lish pol­i­tics, the inabil­ity to think pol­i­tics out­side the Labour Party. His pro­pos­als of coun­ter­ing the strate­gies of Thatch­erism with a new, social­ist hege­monic project, one which took ide­ol­ogy seri­ously and engaged the grounds of race and gen­der with­out con­sign­ing them to sec­ondary sta­tus, tended to abruptly turn back, at the last min­ute, before seri­ously propos­ing a totally new orga­ni­za­tional form for an anti-cap­i­tal­ist project. The lines of alliance were so deeply mixed up that despite occa­sional crit­i­cal remarks, he was unable to launch a deep cri­tique of the trends toward neolib­er­al­iza­tion of Labour rep­re­sented by Neil Kin­nock. The right wing of the Labour Party suc­ceeded in rep­re­sent­ing itself as the only mod­ern­iz­ing force, the only force inter­ested in aban­don­ing sta­tist social democ­racy and using media rep­re­sen­ta­tions to renew the party’s image. In truth it was the most anti-demo­c­ra­tic and bureau­cratic ele­ment in the party, and its media strat­egy was almost entirely an out­growth of its will­ing­ness to com­pletely capit­u­late to Thatcher’s pol­icy agenda. A deeper struc­tural cri­tique of Labour did not seem to be forth­com­ing. Benn stands out as an unusual fig­ure among politi­cians, for his prin­ci­pled com­mit­ment to egal­i­tar­i­an­ism and democ­racy; but this is pre­cisely why his attempt to reform a Labour Party com­posed of more ordi­nary politi­cians, whose ide­o­log­i­cal lim­its Miliband had painstak­ingly exposed so many years ago, seems to have had lim­ited prospects.108

While Hall’s pes­simism led to a more accu­rate assess­ment of the bal­ance of forces, it para­dox­i­cally did not appre­ci­ate the extent of the lim­its this defeat imposed. His inter­ven­tions had assumed the con­text of a mass, insti­tu­tional left – even if it was a social-demo­c­ra­tic one in cri­sis. But as social democ­racy accom­mo­dated itself to neolib­er­al­ism and Thatch­erism destroyed the remain­ing alter­na­tives, what remained of the social­ist project was left pow­er­less. This is the con­text for some of the bizarre strate­gic assess­ments which would fol­low, for exam­ple in an arti­cle writ­ten with Mar­tin Jacques in which Hall described Band Aid – the group of celebri­ties who assem­bled to croon “Do They Know It’s Christ­mas” – as “one of the great pop­u­lar move­ments of our time.”109

Here pes­simism had inverted itself into an extreme opti­mism, which would be most clearly man­i­fested in Marx­ism Today ’s announce­ment of “New Times” in 1988.110 This was rep­re­sented as a shift away from study­ing Thatch­erism towards the­o­riz­ing “the world,” but such a turn meant los­ing the pre­cise focus that had been required by the ear­lier, more dis­crete object of analy­sis. Many of the con­tri­bu­tions now read like a litany of tire­some ‘90s clichés, which may once have felt lib­er­at­ing, but grew pro­gres­sively dis­tant from a pol­i­tics of lib­er­a­tion. There was cer­tainly merit in try­ing to seri­ously grap­ple with the social change brought about by credit cards and MTV, but “New Times” ended up alto­gether too total­iz­ing, con­sis­tent with many expres­sions of peri­odiz­ing over­reach which some­times sur­round the term “post-Fordism,” los­ing the con­junc­tural char­ac­ter of the early work and its empha­sis on forces, blocs, and strate­gies. Too pre­oc­cu­pied with crit­i­ciz­ing the rest of the Left as old-fash­ioned, its weak pro­pos­als of new pro­gres­sive alliances ran the risk of giv­ing old kinds of reformism new (though admit­tedly more fash­ion­able) cloth­ing.

In the con­text of the legacy of the clas­si­cal orga­ni­za­tions of the labor move­ment, New Times pushed the bound­aries to think “in terms of the con­struc­tion of polit­i­cal posi­tions through and across dif­fer­ence.”111 But as the con­junc­tural orga­ni­za­tional ques­tions posed by the new social move­ments were dis­placed by the themes of iden­tity and democ­racy, the anti-sys­temic char­ac­ter of their pol­i­tics came to be neu­tral­ized and absorbed. In the period that Hall entered in the 1990s, the strate­gic hori­zon seemed to have closed, and with it the prospects for social­ist trans­for­ma­tion faded from view. No cul­tural strat­egy emerged that was suc­cess­ful in defeat­ing neolib­er­al­ism, and the recom­po­si­tion of social sub­jects opened as many new prob­lems as it seemed to sug­gest new pos­si­bil­i­ties.112 Within these new frame­works new social move­ments no longer posed the ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion. Instead, they became the impe­tus for a new prin­ci­ple of rad­i­cal democ­racy – indeed, in the new writ­ings of Ernesto Laclau with Chan­tal Mouffe, this was social­ist strat­egy. The ten­sion between the mate­ri­al­ist inves­ti­ga­tion of orga­ni­za­tional forms and the eth­i­cal dis­course on democ­racy had been largely decided in favor of the lat­ter, with a the­o­ret­i­cally inno­vated lan­guage. Hall had been an astute critic of Laclau and Mouffe, but his own empha­sis on democ­racy veered in a sim­i­lar direc­tion.113

Miliband’s Social­ism for a Scep­ti­cal Age, his last book, writ­ten and pub­lished in 1994, was an appro­pri­ate mir­ror image for New Times, and was just as much an effect of cri­sis of the left brought about by defeat and restruc­tur­ing. He sought to defend demo­c­ra­tic and egal­i­tar­ian val­ues, con­tin­u­ing his insis­tence on the defense of “bour­geois free­doms” against rhetoric of “smash­ing” the state and pro­le­tar­ian dic­ta­tor­ship, and repeat­ing the case for a com­bi­na­tion of direct and rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy.114 He went as far as to describe the pos­si­ble “mech­a­nisms” of a demo­c­ra­tic social­ist state, which would reg­u­late and inter­vene in a “mixed econ­omy” (here echo­ing some of the more unfor­tu­nate for­mu­la­tions of Hall): “Mar­kets would have a def­i­nite place in a pre­dom­i­nantly social­ized econ­omy,” he wrote, but they “would not be the ulti­mate deter­mi­nant of eco­nomic life.”115 There is often an astound­ing level of detail; we are told that “adver­tis­ing would cer­tainly not be abol­ished in a social­ist soci­ety; but it would be greatly reduced and would lose its fran­tic and biased char­ac­ter. This would cut costs con­sid­er­ably and would also be of great ben­e­fit to cul­tures now sat­u­rated with low-grade com­mer­cial pro­pa­ganda.”116

The strat­egy Miliband now endorsed had been dras­ti­cally scaled back: “the best that the Left can hope for in the rel­e­vant future in advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries (and for that mat­ter else­where as well) is the strength­en­ing of left reformism as a cur­rent of thought and pol­icy in social demo­c­ra­tic par­ties.” He admit­ted that even with these restricted goals, “the out­look for left reformism is at present rather weak.”117 It was a tes­ta­ment to the bleak­ness of the sit­u­a­tion that these state­ments came from the author of Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism, who had in the late ’70s urged the left to “move on” from the Labour party.

Despite the sev­ere lim­i­ta­tions for social­ism, Miliband con­tin­ued to argue that the new social move­ments were inad­e­quate, since the trans­for­ma­tions they aimed at “would not… fun­da­men­tally alter the exist­ing struc­tures of cap­i­tal­ist power.” Fem­i­nism could only “effect a cer­tain fem­i­niza­tion of those struc­tures”; black move­ments might “seek an end to the dis­crim­i­na­tion which a white soci­ety exer­cises against black peo­ple, but their cri­tique of that soci­ety tends to be nar­rowly focused on this aspect of it.”118 No won­der, then that these move­ments ended up embrac­ing “post-mod­ernist stric­tures against ‘uni­ver­sal­ism.’”119

How­ever, his review of sce­nar­ios in which gen­uinely uni­ver­sal­ist left par­ties won the “major­ity of votes” was also a somber one.120 While a rep­e­ti­tion of Chile seemed unlikely in advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries, the more salient exam­ple was that of Mit­ter­rand in France. After a year of gen­uine reform, Mit­ter­rand “found him­self faced with a dete­ri­o­rat­ing bal­ance of pay­ments” and opted for aus­ter­ity and retrench­ment.121 How­ever, it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine an alter­na­tive path. It had to be admit­ted, accord­ing to Miliband, that “the nation­al­iza­tion at a stroke of the main means of eco­nomic activ­ity” was an impos­si­bil­ity, com­pa­ra­ble to “smash­ing the state.” It was more real­is­tic to imag­ine that “the gov­ern­ment would con­tinue, for a cer­tain period of time, to oper­ate in the con­text of an econ­omy in which cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise played a major role.” This would mean, “among other things, allow­ing firms an ade­quate rate of profit, and indeed help­ing them to achieve it.”122

On the other hand, Miliband insisted that “a social­ist gov­ern­ment… would be absolutely deter­mined from the start to make a real improve­ment in the con­di­tions of life of the great major­ity,” by refus­ing aus­ter­ity.123 It is not clear in Miliband’s account how these two goals would be rec­on­ciled. The only solu­tion is the greater clar­ity of the social­ist gov­ern­ment in its goals, and the “dual power” pres­sure from below which would come from grass­roots move­ments: “A close part­ner­ship would need to be forged between gov­ern­ment and activists, of a kind that would repli­cate the part­ner­ship, referred to ear­lier, between gov­ern­ment and busi­ness.”124 Here, how­ever, a stronger empha­sis was placed on the state side of the dual­ity than in his ear­lier writ­ings: “a strong exec­u­tive power is an absolutely essen­tial, though not a suf­fi­cient, con­di­tion for the gov­ern­ment to sur­vive at all, and for it to do what it is com­mit­ted to do… A strong exec­u­tive power would be essen­tial if a social­ist gov­ern­ment was to endure and make pro­gress.”125

Despite his ear­lier oppo­si­tion to the “New Revi­sion­ism,” it is really not clear that Miliband’s approach led him to an actual polit­i­cal alter­na­tive to “New Times.” His model of dual power required rad­i­cal grass­roots pres­sure, but the whole his­tor­i­cal record, illu­mi­nated in Miliband’s own work, demon­strated that scaled-back reformist par­ties are hardly inclined towards cul­ti­vat­ing the move­ments that exert this kind of pres­sure. Newman’s biog­ra­phy sug­gests that Miliband’s mod­er­ated views “might have been rein­forced by his sons’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in Labour Party pol­icy-mak­ing.” In revis­ing Social­ism for a Scep­ti­cal Age Miliband had to some extent incor­po­rated feed­back from his sons, though he resisted their sug­ges­tions that he reduce ref­er­ences to 1917 and Marx­ism.126 David Miliband had already served on Neil Kinnock’s staff and would go on to become Tony Blair’s pol­icy adviser the year the book was pub­lished, con­tribut­ing to the pro­gram that would win Blair the elec­tion in 1997.

The mis­ad­ven­tures of the Miliband name notwith­stand­ing, it is Hall who is now fre­quently accused of paving the way for New Labour. This some­what mis­states the dynam­ics at work; it was Thatch­erism that paved the way for New Labour, and Hall was one of the peo­ple who described Thatcherism’s mode of oper­a­tion with the great­est clar­ity.127 We have no rea­son to doubt that Miliband would have vig­or­ously crit­i­cized the dra­matic swing to the right engi­neered by Blair, if he had lived to see it. Hall, for his part, exco­ri­ated Blair in a one-time revival of Marx­ism Today in 1997 (it had ended in 1991), with an arti­cle called “The Great Mov­ing Nowhere Show.” While he doc­u­mented the capit­u­la­tions of New Labour to neolib­er­al­ism, and the new social sub­jects it man­i­fested (“Eco­nomic Man or as s/he came to be called, The Enter­pris­ing Sub­ject and the Sov­er­eign Con­sumer”), he did not present a polit­i­cal analy­sis of the phe­nom­e­non com­pa­ra­ble to his account of Thatch­erism.128

Of course, Blair was fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Bill Clin­ton, whose pres­i­dency not only brought NAFTA, the Crime Bill, and the Wel­fare Reform Bill, but was also embed­ded in a cul­tural style, dri­ven by focus groups and image con­sul­tants, that played on the diver­sity of the new times, lead­ing Toni Mor­rison to famously com­ment that Clin­ton was “the first black pres­i­dent.” A term beyond “author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism” will prob­a­bly be needed to describe this phe­nom­e­non, which showed, on the one hand, that the hege­monic strat­egy of the right was so suc­cess­ful as to absorb the puta­tive left, and facil­i­tate the con­sol­i­da­tion of eco­nomic inequal­ity and the fur­ther roll­back of reforms con­densed in the state; and on the other hand, that plu­ral­ism, the cel­e­bra­tion of the pop­u­lar media, and the turn to youth cul­ture did not nec­es­sar­ily con­sti­tute, in the absence of viable rev­o­lu­tion­ary mobi­liza­tion, an oppo­si­tional force – as the grass­roots cam­paigns for the actual first black pres­i­dent have since amply demon­strated.129

It is pre­cisely on the stymied devel­op­ment of an antag­o­nis­tic agent that the dis­cus­sion of cul­ture and ide­ol­ogy must be sit­u­ated – not as an expla­na­tion for the com­plex mech­a­nisms of shifts in elec­toral pol­i­tics. Long after Thatcher and Rea­gan an indus­try of com­men­ta­tors asks why work­ing-class Amer­i­cans vote against their “inter­ests,” invit­ing us to pit Kansas against Con­necti­cut, red state against blue state. But it is in fact in the decom­po­si­tion and dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the work­ing class that we must seek an expla­na­tion for the rise of the Right – not in con­scious­ness, false or oth­er­wise. The empir­i­cal evi­dence shows that the U.S. work­ing class, mea­sured by income, has a con­sis­tent vot­ing pref­er­ence for the Democ­rats, and this holds true even if we restrict our data to the white work­ing class. But con­trary to the mar­ket logic of “inter­ests,” this vot­ing prac­tice has never actu­ally increased work­ing-class power, and so the inde­ter­mi­nate ether of Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion ends up sub­or­di­nated to the orga­ni­za­tional power of right-wing van­guards.130 Whether author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism has changed people’s ideas is a poorly framed ques­tion. Its role in the neolib­eral trans­for­ma­tion was to attack the pos­si­bil­ity of strate­gic alliances between the new social move­ments and orga­ni­za­tion at the point of pro­duc­tion. Tra­di­tion­al­ist ide­olo­gies of fam­ily, church, and nation were a pre-emp­tive strike against the poten­tial polit­i­cal bar­rier to accu­mu­la­tion that these lines of alliance could impose from below.

What the co-opta­tion of the new social move­ments by New Labour and iden­tity pol­i­tics really demon­strates is that it was not enough to say that the exist­ing left orga­ni­za­tions needed to renew and ren­o­vate their approach to ide­ol­ogy, cul­ture, iden­tity, desire, and sub­jec­tiv­ity. The real­ity was that a recom­posed work­ing class needed new forms of orga­ni­za­tion ade­quate to its recom­po­si­tion. The seem­ingly inescapable temp­ta­tion to cling to exist­ing mod­els of orga­ni­za­tion per­haps expressed this need in an inverted form. In the end nei­ther Miliband nor Hall was able to over­come the idea of work­ing within, or in close rela­tion to, the Labour party.

One of Hall’s last writ­ings – in a tes­ta­ment to his cre­ativ­ity and com­mit­ment to the study of pop­u­lar “com­mon sense,” an analy­sis writ­ten with Alan O’Shea of com­ments on the web­site of The Sun – urged the Labour Party to take “a more coura­geous, inno­v­a­tive, ‘educa­tive’ and path-break­ing strate­gic approach” in order to gain ground.131 It is hard to imag­ine what he expected Labour to achieve if it did gain ground, after sev­eral decades of con­sis­tent dis­ap­point­ment. While it may have seemed as though Miliband had dis­sected the ide­ol­ogy of Labourism just as the New Left was emerg­ing, the cadaver man­aged to put itself back together.

Bewil­dered by New Times and Skep­ti­cal Ages, the Left is far too caught up in petty squab­bles, on the one side an ahis­tor­i­cal absorp­tion in spec­tac­u­lar pos­tures of undi­rected rebel­lion and iden­ti­tar­ian nar­cis­sism, and on the other, a stodgy and unat­trac­tive ortho­doxy. The art of pol­i­tics is nowhere to be found – except, per­haps on the deliri­ous right, a real­ity that Hall also described:

I remem­ber the moment in the 1979 elec­tion when Mr Callaghan, on his last polit­i­cal legs, so to speak, said with real aston­ish­ment about the offen­sive of Mrs Thatcher, “She means to tear soci­ety up by the roots.” This was an unthink­able idea in the social demo­c­ra­tic vocab­u­lary: a rad­i­cal attack on the sta­tus quo. The truth is that, tra­di­tion­al­ist ideas, the ideas of social and moral respectabil­ity, have pen­e­trated so deep inside social­ist con­scious­ness that it is quite com­mon to find peo­ple com­mit­ted to a rad­i­cal polit­i­cal pro­gramme, under­pinned by wholly tra­di­tional feel­ings and sen­ti­ments.132

Our dis­ori­en­ta­tion has pre­vented us from car­ry­ing out the urgent task Hall pre­sciently laid out: to under­stand “how dif­fer­ent forces come together, con­junc­turally, to cre­ate the new ter­rain on which a dif­fer­ent pol­i­tics must form up.”133 It is up to us to invent a dif­fer­ent pol­i­tics – or Don­ald Trump will be the only one doing it.

  1. Wash­ing­ton Post, July 22, 2016. 

  2. See Asad Haider, “Bern­stein in Seat­tle: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Democ­racy and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Sub­ject,” View­point Mag­a­zine (May 2016). 

  3. Stu­art Hall et al., Polic­ing the Cri­sis: Mug­ging, the State and Law and Order (Bas­ingstoke: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2013), 210. 

  4. Ibid., 224. 

  5. Ibid., 229, 258–59. 

  6. Ibid., 211. 

  7. Ibid., 232–33. 

  8. Ibid., 212. 

  9. Ibid., 214. 

  10. Ibid., 243. 

  11. Ibid., 256. 

  12. Ibid., 257. 

  13. Ibid., 260. 

  14. Ibid., 262. 

  15. Ibid., 273. 

  16. Ibid. 

  17. Ibid., 298. 

  18. Ibid., 302–03. 

  19. Ibid., 311–12. 

  20. Ibid., 214. 

  21. Ibid., 218. 

  22. Ibid., 325. 

  23. Ibid., 326. 

  24. Ibid., 325. 

  25. Ibid., 333. 

  26. Ibid., 325. 

  27. Ibid., 332. 

  28. Ibid., 337. 

  29. Ibid., 349. 

  30. Ibid., 363. 

  31. Ibid., 365. 

  32. Ibid., 371. 

  33. Ibid., 373. 

  34. Ibid., 382. 

  35. Ibid., 383. 

  36. Ibid., 386. 

  37. Ibid. 

  38. Ibid., 387. 

  39. Ibid., 340. 

  40. Ibid., 387. 

  41. Ibid., 389. 

  42. Read­ing notes pro­vided by Christine Buci-Glucks­mann, cited in Bob Jes­sop et al., Thatch­erism: A Tale of Two Nations (Cam­bridge, UK: Black­well Pub, 1989), 111. 

  43. Hall et al., Polic­ing the Cri­sis, 216. 

  44. Ibid., 214. They elab­o­rate later on this his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment: “The 1971 period thus allows us to see, in minia­ture, the dialec­ti­cal move­ment by which the ‘law-and-order’ panic becomes fully insti­tu­tion­alised as an ‘excep­tional’ form of the state. For con­ve­nience sake, we can con­dense this move­ment into three closely con­nected phases: first, the over­whelm­ing ten­dency of the state to move in the direc­tion of the law (the sheer com­pre­hen­sive­ness of the sup­port­ing leg­isla­tive activ­ity in this period, all of it cul­mi­nat­ing in a tight­en­ing of legal sanc­tions, is stag­ger­ing); sec­ond, the mobil­i­sa­tion, and the extended, rou­tine employ­ment of the law-enforce­ment agen­cies in the exer­cise of ‘infor­mal’ con­trol; the third and cul­mi­nat­ing point is the ten­dency of all issues to con­verge, ide­o­log­i­cally, at the ‘vio­lence’ thresh­old” (282). 

  45. Poulantzas, State, Power, Social­ism, trans. Patrick Camiller (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1978), 203–04. 

  46. Ibid., 74. 

  47. Ibid., 12. 

  48. Ibid., 238. 

  49. Ibid., 205. 

  50. Ibid., 208–09. 

  51. Ibid., 211. 

  52. Ibid., 246–47. 

  53. Ibid., 129. 

  54. Ibid. 

  55. Ibid., 125–26. 

  56. Ibid., 138. 

  57. Ibid., 127. Sim­i­lar ter­mi­nol­ogy is employed, from a very dif­fer­ent van­tage point, in Göran Ther­born, What Does the Rul­ing Class Do When It Rules?: State Appa­ra­tuses and State Power Under Feu­dal­ism, Cap­i­tal­ism and Social­ism (Lon­don: Verso, 1980). 

  58. Poulantzas, State, Power, Social­ism, 133. Inter­est­ingly, Miliband had writ­ten: “it is the state upon which has fal­len the prime respon­si­bil­ity for the orga­ni­za­tion of reform.” Miliband, Marx­ism and Pol­i­tics, (Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1977), 87. 

  59. Poulantzas, State, Power, Social­ism, 140. 

  60. Thanks to Gigi Rog­gero for sug­gest­ing this con­cept in con­ver­sa­tion.  

  61. On neolib­er­al­ism, see the sum­mary of Leo Pan­itch and Sam Gindin: “The com­mon ten­dency to ana­lyze these devel­op­ments in terms of the key tenets of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy as artic­u­lated by Rea­gan or Thatcher, or for that mat­ter by Mil­ton Fried­man or Alan Greenspan, is a clas­sic case of fail­ing to see the wood for the trees. It misses the con­ti­nu­ities between their pre­scrip­tions for free mar­kets and the long-term goals already artic­u­lated by the Amer­i­can state at the time of the relaunch­ing of global cap­i­tal­ism in the post­war era. And it fails to reg­is­ter the grow­ing con­tra­dic­tions within the post­war class com­pro­mise, as the real­iza­tion of near full employ­ment and grow­ing social expen­di­tures took place alongside rapidly increas­ing com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and ever-deep­en­ing cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions. Neolib­er­al­ism involved not only the restruc­tur­ing of insti­tu­tions to ensure that the anti-infla­tion para­me­ter was enforced, but also the removal of bar­ri­ers to com­pe­ti­tion in all mar­kets, and espe­cially in the labor mar­ket. Break­ing the infla­tion­ary spi­ral involved, above all, dis­ci­plin­ing labor. By accom­plish­ing this, it secured the con­fi­dence of indus­trial as well as finan­cial cap­i­tal. Despite the Rea­gan­ite rhetoric in which neolib­eral prac­tices were enveloped (“gov­ern­ment is not the solu­tion, gov­ern­ment is the prob­lem”), it was the state that was the key actor. The mech­a­nisms of neolib­er­al­ism – under­stood in terms of the expan­sion and deep­en­ing of mar­kets and com­pet­i­tive pres­sures – may have been eco­nomic, but neolib­er­al­ism was essen­tially a polit­i­cal response to the demo­c­ra­tic gains that had been pre­vi­ously achieved by work­ing classes and which had become, from capital’s per­spec­tive, bar­ri­ers to accu­mu­la­tion. It was only on the most styl­ized and super­fi­cial read­ing that the state could be seen to have with­drawn. Neolib­eral prac­tices did not entail insti­tu­tional retreat so much as the expan­sion and con­sol­i­da­tion of the net­works of insti­tu­tional link­ages to an already glob­al­iz­ing cap­i­tal­ism.” The Mak­ing of Global Cap­i­tal­ism (New York: Verso, 2012), 14-15. Despite the great suc­cess of this book, this basic point does not seem to have been widely absorbed. 

  62. Ibid., 271–72. 

  63. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 273–74. 

  64. Ibid., 276. 

  65. Stu­art Hall, “Author­i­tar­ian Pop­ulism: A Reply,” New Left Review I, no. 151 (June 1985): 117–18; Poulantzas, “Inter­view with Stu­art Hall and Alan Hunt,” 199–200; Stu­art Hall, “Nicos Poulantzas: ‘State, Power, Social­ism,’” New Left Review I, no. 119 (Feb­ru­ary 1980): 68. For a more com­plete the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion of “author­i­tar­ian pop­ulism” see “Pop­u­lar-Demo­c­ra­tic vs. Author­i­tar­ian Pop­ulism: Two Ways of ‘Tak­ing Democ­racy Seri­ously’” in Stu­art Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatch­erism and the Cri­sis of the Left (Lon­don ; New York: Verso Books, 1988). 

  66. Ernesto Laclau, Pol­i­tics and Ide­ol­ogy in Marx­ist The­ory: Cap­i­tal­ism, Fas­cism, Pop­ulism (Lon­don: Verso, 1977). 

  67. Stu­art Hall, “The Great Mov­ing Right Show,” Marx­ism Today, Jan­u­ary 1979: 16. 

  68. Ibid., 17. 

  69. Ibid., 18; see also the more elab­o­rated ver­sion in The Hard Road to Renewal, 50–51. 

  70. Hall, “The Great Mov­ing Right Show,” 16. 

  71. Ibid., 17, 18; for a detailed account of the resort to “tra­di­tion” see “Pop­u­lar-Demo­c­ra­tic” in The Hard Road to Renewal, 144–46. 

  72. Hall, “The Great Mov­ing Right Show,” 20. 

  73. Poulantzas, State, Power, Social­ism, 140. 

  74. John Sav­ille, “Marx­ism Today: An Anatomy,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 26, no. 26 (March 18, 1990). 

  75. Ralph Miliband, “The New Revi­sion­ism in Britain,” New Left Review I, no. 150 (April 1985): 6; Miliband, Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism, 332. 

  76. Miliband, “The New Revi­sion­ism in Britain,” 207; See “The Cri­sis of Labour” and “Blue Elec­tion, Elec­tion Blues” in Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal. 

  77. Alex Call­ini­cos, “The Pol­i­tics of Marx­ism Today,” Inter­na­tional Social­ism 2, no. 29 (Sum­mer 1985). 

  78. Eric Hob­s­bawm, “The For­ward March of Labour Halted?,” in The For­ward March of Labour Halted?, ed. Mar­tin Jacques and Fran­cis Mul­h­ern (New Left Books in asso­ci­a­tion with Marx­ism today, 1981). 

  79. Stu­art Hall and Mar­tin Jacques, eds., “Intro­duc­tion,” in The Pol­i­tics of Thatch­erism (Lon­don: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd, 1983). 

  80. Miliband, “The New Revi­sion­ism in Britain.” 

  81. Ibid. 

  82. Ibid., 26. 

  83. Robin Black­burn, “Stu­art Hall, 1932–2014,” New Left Review II, no. 86 (April 2014): 75–93. 

  84. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 203, 204. 

  85. Ibid., 241. Note that Hall is not refer­ring to the min­ers here. 

  86. New­man, Ralph Miliband And The Pol­i­tics Of The New Left, 285–86. 

  87. It is often glib to crit­i­cize com­mer­cial films for his­tor­i­cal inac­cu­racy when they do so much to raise aware­ness of the his­tory of pop­u­lar move­ments. One per­ti­nent crit­i­cism of Pride, how­ever, is the extent to which, by show­ing the for­ma­tion of Les­bians and Gays Sup­port the Min­ers to be a spon­ta­neous act, it under­states the com­plex orga­ni­za­tional net­works at work. This his­tory is traced in the excel­lent arti­cle by Diar­maid Kel­li­her, “Sol­i­dar­ity and Sex­u­al­ity: Les­bians and Gays Sup­port the Min­ers 1984–5,” His­tory Work­shop Jour­nal 77, no. 1 (April 1, 2014): 240–62. 

  88. Doreen Massey and Hilary Wain­wright, “Beyond the Coal­fields,” in Dig­ging Deeper: Issues in the Min­ers’ Strike, ed. Huw Beynon (Verso, 1985), 168. 

  89. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 205. 

  90. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 15, 13. 

  91. Stu­art Hall, “Gram­sci and Us,” Marx­ism Today, June 1987: 21. 

  92. Stu­art Hall, “The Bat­tle for Social­ist Ideas in the 1980s,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 19, no. 19 (March 18, 1982): 10. 

  93. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 14. 

  94. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 5. 

  95. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 14. 

  96. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 200. 

  97. Ibid., 246. 

  98. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 14. 

  99. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 246. 

  100. Ibid., 201. 

  101. The Oxford Uni­ver­sity Social­ist Dis­cus­sion Group, Out of Apa­thy: Voices of the New Left 30 Years On (Lon­don: Verso, 1989) 104. 

  102. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 15. 

  103. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 247. 

  104. Ibid., 208. 

  105. Hall and Jacques, “Intro­duc­tion,” 16. 

  106. Tony Benn, “Who Dares Wins,” Marx­ism Today, Jan­u­ary 1985: 15. 

  107. Stu­art Hall, “Faith, Hope, or Clar­ity,” Marx­ism Today, Jan­u­ary 1985: 19. 

  108. On the theme of democ­ra­ti­za­tion, see Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 171. 

  109. Ibid., 251. 

  110. See the intro­duc­tion to Stu­art Hall and Mar­tin Jacques, eds., New Times: The Chang­ing Face of Pol­i­tics in the 1990s (Lon­don: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd, 1989), and espe­cially the excerpts from the “Man­i­festo for New Times.” 

  111. Out of Apa­thy, 152. 

  112. Hall quite clearly acknowl­edged this prob­lem along the way; see Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 281; and more recently, “Liv­ing with Dif­fer­ence,” Sound­ings, no. 37 (Win­ter 2007). 

  113. Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 10–11; “On Post­mod­ernism and Artic­u­la­tion,” in Stu­art Hall: Crit­i­cal Dia­logues in Cul­tural Stud­ies, eds. Kuan-Hsing Chen and David Mor­ley (Lon­don; New York: Rout­ledge, 1996), 145–49. I have com­mented on the con­cep­tual short­com­ings of “democ­racy” in “Bern­stein in Seat­tle: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Democ­racy and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Sub­ject (Part 2).” 

  114. Ralph Miliband, Social­ism for a Scep­ti­cal Age (Lon­don; New York: Verso, 1994), 72, 74, 89. 

  115. Ibid., 117. Miliband’s case for a com­bi­na­tion of pub­lic own­er­ship and “a siz­able pri­vately owned sec­tor” (110) is laid out in the fourth chap­ter; for Hall’s for­mu­la­tions see Hall, The Hard Road to Renewal, 230, 279. 

  116. Miliband, Social­ism for a Scep­ti­cal Age, 124. 

  117. Ibid., 148. 

  118. Ibid., 140. 

  119. Ibid., 141. 

  120. Ibid., 159. 

  121. Ibid., 166. 

  122. Ibid., 175. 

  123. Ibid., 181. 

  124. Ibid., 184. 

  125. Ibid., 186. 

  126. New­man, Ralph Miliband And The Pol­i­tics Of The New Left, 331. New­man con­vinc­ingly dis­pels the rhetoric some­times heard on today’s Left that Miliband’s sons have betrayed his her­itage; see 339–40. 

  127. But see Hall, “Liv­ing with Dif­fer­ence” for a frank acknowl­edge­ment of the way his insis­tence on the polit­i­cal intel­li­gence of Thatch­erism seemed, at times, to pass over into cel­e­bra­tion. 

  128. Stu­art Hall, “The Great Mov­ing Nowhere Show,” Marx­ism Today, Decem­ber 1998: 11; this kind of analy­sis is extended and updated in Stu­art Hall, “The Neo-Lib­eral Rev­o­lu­tion,” Cul­tural Stud­ies 25, no. 6 (Novem­ber 1, 2011): 705–28. 

  129. The highly ambigu­ous rela­tion of the Obama reelec­tion to pub­lic atti­tudes sur­round­ing eco­nomic inequal­ity has been doc­u­mented by Larry Bar­tels, “The Class War Gets Per­sonal: Inequal­ity as a Polit­i­cal Issue in the 2012 Elec­tion,” 2013. 

  130. See Larry M. Bar­tels, “Who’s Bit­ter Now?” New York Times, April 17, 2008, and the two ver­sions of “What’s the Mat­ter with What’s the Mat­ter With Kansas?”, the first (2005) avail­able on his web­site and the sec­ond pub­lished in the Quar­terly Jour­nal of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, 2006, 1: 201–26; and Andrew Gel­man, “Eco­nomic Divi­sions and Polit­i­cal Polar­iza­tion in Red and Blue Amer­ica,” Path­ways (Sum­mer 2011): 3–6. Main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence is locked in a sta­tis­ti­cal stale­mate between the inter­pre­ta­tions called “party sort­ing” and “polar­iza­tion” – the first claim­ing that the so-called cul­ture wars are restricted to polit­i­cal elites, who then force oth­er­wise mod­er­ate vot­ers to line up on either side, the sec­ond argu­ing for a foun­da­tion of real pop­u­lar divi­sions dri­ven by race and reli­gion. The polar­iza­tion per­spec­tive has been defended by Alan I. Abramow­itz, “How race and reli­gion have polar­ized Amer­i­can vot­ers,” Wash­ing­ton Post, Jan­u­ary 20, 2014; for a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of how these schol­arly debates play out in pol­icy dis­cus­sions, see Mor­ris P. Fior­ina, “America’s Miss­ing Mod­er­ates: Hid­ing in Plain Sight,” The Amer­i­can Inter­est 8, no. 4 (Feb­ru­ary 12, 2013), and the ensu­ing debate with Abramow­itz, “Polar­ized or Sorted? Just What’s Wrong With Our Pol­i­tics, Any­way?,” The Amer­i­can Inter­est, March 11, 2013. This entire debate is based on the some­what stu­pe­fy­ing assump­tion that a left pole exists in U.S. pol­i­tics in the first place. In light of the exten­sive research demon­strat­ing that pol­icy-mak­ing is entirely con­trolled by elites, and that the mate­ri­ally influ­en­tial views of the very rich – the top 1%, and espe­cially the top 0.1% – are far to the right of those of the gen­eral pub­lic, it is hard to see the polar­iza­tion per­spec­tive as much more than the anx­i­ety of a less afflu­ent lib­eral minor­ity, con­cen­trated among jour­nal­ists and aca­d­e­mics. See Ben­jamin I. Page, Larry M. Bar­tels, and Jason Sea­wright, “Democ­racy and the Pol­icy Pref­er­ences of Wealthy Amer­i­cans,” Per­spec­tives on Pol­i­tics 11, no. 1 (March 2013): 51-73. 

  131. Stu­art Hall and Alan O’Shea, “Com­mon-Sense Neolib­er­al­ism,” Sound­ings 55, no. 55 (Decem­ber 13, 2013): 18. 

  132. Hall, “Bat­tle for Social­ist Ideas,” 17. 

  133. Hall, “Gram­sci and Us,” 16. 

Author of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, and an activist in UAW 2865.