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How long is the end of history?

Connor Harney

Platypus Review 144 | March 2022

Book review: Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, and Philip Cunliffe, The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2021).

Twilight of the eternal present

SHORTLY BEFORE JANUARY 2020, I began work on a longform essay I called “Ending the Eternal Present.”[1] There, I outlined the intertwined political, economic, and cultural forces that helped make our own moment. Through the slow crackup of the postwar labor compact over the course of the late 1950s and the 1960s, accelerated by the crisis of the 1970s, neoliberalism was born, first as an economic response, and later, as political consensus. Our neon nostalgia for the 1980s may make it difficult to see in hindsight the stagnation and malaise of the decade, but the appearance of cocaine-fueled hedonism hid the rot at the center of the new order. Built on faulty foundations of financialization, the dynamic euphoria of the decade was more the product of what Steve Fraser calls “autocannibalism,” or the process by which capital loots itself, leaving nothing, not even the copper wire, behind.[2] Though Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gecko’s infamous motto, “greed is good,” might imply otherwise, this speculative frenzy was not purely the product of avarice, but rather the needs of a capitalist system in crisis. Declining profitability marked the return of “the rigors of a survivalist competition” that produced “a kind of economic brinkmanship.”[3] The dead hand of capital’s logic meant that calculated risks (and some not so calculated) became the order of the day, no matter the stakes, and in spite of slowly creating a financial system too big to fail.

How did the working class meet capital’s voracious appetite as it ate itself? If capital is indeed, as Marx wrote, “dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor,” then the rusted-out factories that dotted much of the industrial geography of the advanced capitalist world stood as a testament to the fact that not only did capital feast on the living labor of the working class, it also played with its food.[4] The crumbling infrastructure built by the hands of their parents and grandparents, a chilling reminder of how one-sided the postwar compact had truly been — providing comfort and stability only as long as it was convenient to the requirements of capital accumulation. At the same time, the “Age of Acquiescence” was not as quiet as the name might imply, nor did the working class go without a fight. As some historians and sociologists have documented, the rank-and-file revolt against capital and the union bureaucracy during the “long 1970s,” represented an important hinge point for the labor movement.[5] Inspired in part by the politics of the New Left, the economics of stagflation, and the new social movements of the era, this insurgency inside the labor movement pushed to fulfill a dream deferred in the immediate postwar years.[6] That is, the democratization of their organizations in hopes that they could wrest control of industry from capital by taking over more and more of the commanding heights of industry.

Two important moments marked the end of this dream until it emerged again in the 1970s: first, the passage of Taft-Hartley in 1947 after the massive strike wave of 1945–46, and second, the Treaty of Detroit in 1950, which signaled the union leadership’s willingness to accept more bread and butter in exchange for dropping concerns over democracy in the workplace. As Mike Davis has written, the latter turning point formalized the collective bargaining regime that lasted until the Reagan years, which, on the one hand “conceded the permanence of union representation,” and on the other, affirmed “the inviolability of managerial prerogatives.”[7] Put more bluntly by David Montgomery: “the New Deal reform which initially offered substantial (if limited) benefits to the struggle for workers’ control has evolved into a restrictive quagmire, from which working people are now striving to escape [in the 1970s].”[8] Unfortunately, the rank-and-file revolt was unable to lead the way out of this blind alley. The affluence that conditioned the compact between labor and capital gave way to malaise at the very moment that workers sought to change the terms of the agreement. As more and more workers previously excluded by the New Deal’s system of collective bargaining sought representation by knocking on labor’s door, the more apparent the weakness of that arrangement became.[9]

Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836)

How long is the end of history?

I set up this historical political economic model, not to deny the value of the contemporary analysis of roughly the last 30 years (this writer’s lifetime) in The End of the End of History. But if we are to take Fukuyama’s framework seriously, as the writers clearly do, and we take the end of history to mean the triumph of liberalism through “the total exhaustion of viable alternatives,” then we should as he did watch “the flow of events over the past decade or so”[10] — that is, the 1970s and 1980s, when political possibility outside of capitalist realism seemed to disappear past the horizon line. Nor, as the authors point out, was Fukuyama reveling in the end of history as some of his contemporaries were. Indeed, as a romantic conservative, he lamented the passage of history as “a very sad time” that marked the end of “worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination,” replaced by technocratic rule that would shrink political questions to a struggle around the margins of the markets and consumer demand.[11] A reality that did not sit well with someone like Fukuyama, who was not only “ambivalent” toward the society that had emerged in the postwar years, but predicted that “the very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.”[12] The End of the End of History begins with this basic outline of the end of history for readers not familiar with the concept. The authors then proceed to explicate the politics, or more precisely, the post-politics of the end of history, counterposing them to the anti-political impulse best exemplified by populist movements of the Left and the Right that have emerged along with history’s slow resuscitation.

By limiting themselves to this recent past, they miss an opportunity to look at the conditions that brought about history’s end. It is important to emphasize as they do that the end of history is not marked by finality. More clearly, the path of history is not linear, but in fact, following “Hegel’s real insight,” a spiral: in that, “no order founded on human freedom can be ossified; all ends of history end, all modern political orders are eventually remade” (34). The authors qualify that the crack up of any political regime is by no means automatic. Not only that, but conscious efforts to change the world are often fraught because they require “a comprehensive vision of universal emancipation” along with a willingness to enact that program — repercussions be damned (34). What none of that tells us is why we should mark this particular end of history at 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. Why should collapse signal the end, when, for the most part, actually existing socialism had long been stagnating by the time the Berlin Wall actually fell? Official Communism’s collapse announced the end of the defensive holding pattern that existed at least from 1919 forward. Though some of the efforts at reform within the Soviet Union were well-intentioned, they failed to overcome the problem of isolation from the advanced capitalist world without a return of capitalism itself. But what of the prospects for an alternative to capitalism in the West? So-called liberal democracy could only triumph with the terrific trouncing of any and all radical alternatives, from the most militant strains of social democracy on down. The hard-won gains of past social movements eroded in the acid of a hegemonic neoliberalism after balking in the face of capitalist counterrevolution in the 1970s and 1980s. By the end of the Cold War, what was left of the Left was various sectarian organizations and cultural affinity groups that had long since been unmoored from the conditions that had created them. For all these reasons, I view the period under examination in The End of the End of History as a continuation of the long-term decline of not only radical alternatives to capitalism, but of capitalism writ large.

Fordism as neoliberalism’s cradle

The failure of capitalism to provide more than a temporary fix to the crises that emerged over the course of the long 1970s has proved to be a Gordian knot since then. That is why I insist so emphatically on grappling not just with the political questions, but also with the underlying economic ones as well — a point I will pick up on more later. Returning to The End of the End of History, the bookprovides an important insight into the politics of neoliberalism. If neoliberalism was an attempt to restore capital’s profitability through privatization, deregulation, and the creation of new markets by fiat, then the practical politics of neoliberalism is that of technocratic management. In other words, it was not about removing economic questions from the political arena, but rather that capitalism’s preponderant hegemony turned those questions of form to kind. Debates about what kind of economic system to pursue ceased to matter, and instead became about what kind of capitalism politicians would help create in the name of their constituency. In this context, economic policy simply becomes the application of technical knowledge to create and optimize markets so that they work for whichever stakeholders are involved. However, the roots of this tendency go back further than the neoliberal turn. Indeed, while many on the Left look back favorably on the New Deal period, and for many reasons, rightfully so, the struggle over the shape of reform, whether the United States would be an industrial democracy or a paternalistic welfare state, was won by forces in favor of the latter and not the former.

Even today, many who hoped that the Biden administration would mean a return at the very least to the politics of the Fordist era failed to see the straight line between a certain kind of Keynesianism and the ruling neoliberal orthodoxy. Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein provides an excellent framework for understanding the differences in Keynesian economics.[13] According to Lichtenstein, two dominant strains emerged over the course of the Great Depression; both sought to use the levers of the state to stimulate economic activity, but differed on how to do so. One was through social spending and the democratization of certain sectors of the American economy, driven by the corporate power of the labor movement. While the other, favored by business (though only certain segments and only ever somewhat favored), used financial incentives to lubricate commercial activity. However, as the collective bargaining system was formalized over the course of the 1940s and labor’s congressional coalition failed to build a stronger social safety net, including a national healthcare system, the more radical demands for the commanding heights fell away. In the process a two-tiered welfare state was created, one for unionized workers and one for everyone else, at the same time reinforcing the commercial tendency within Keynesianism, prioritizing countercyclical spending and temporary tax cuts over more robust social spending.[14] With their organizations weakened by the structure of collective bargaining in the postwar years and political horizons effectively diminished by 1948, the consumers’ republic was the perfect salve to disillusioned workers — consumption as political participation meshed neatly with the COLA agreements won through their earlier militancy.[15] For those given to this answer to the political question, their interest in workplace democracy faded from memory, while those who kept the flame alive believed mass politics of production to be increasingly outside their grasp. Instead, politics was carried out by self-selected elites steeped in the art of fine-tuning the economic machinery needed to maintain mass consumption.

Looked at in this light, the golden age does not shine as brightly as it does from those who advocate a return to the politics of postwar social democracy. While not quite “foreclosed,” even at their peak, working-class politics was circumscribed by the structure of the compact between labor and capital to enough of an extent that I think that the post-political label applies (50–51).[16] Indeed, if post-politics, is “a form of government that tries to foreclose political contestation by emphasizing consensus, eradicating ideology and ruling through managerial technocracy,” then there is no doubt that politics of the postwar labor peace fit under that rubric (45). The lines demarcating acceptable political debate were clear. Socialism had lost outside of the Iron Curtain: the mixed economy had won the day. Supposedly merging the bureaucratic efficiency of socialist economic planning with the technological dynamism and consumer freedom of capitalism, somehow this form of monopoly capitalism had smoothed out the rough edges that had made capitalism so prone to crisis in the past, leaving behind only what was best about the capitalist system. Or at least that’s how the story went. Anything outside of this narrow consensus was seen as an anachronistic holdover from the past, not yet swept away by the tide of history. Either that, or radical politics were seen as unrealistically idealistic and utopian. Ironically, these same charges are now leveled at those that seek either a return to postwar politics or a more radical socialist alternative.

Ford assembly line in Dagenham, England (1931)

But beneath the surface of the postwar façade, cracks appeared that would ultimately bring the Fordist arrangement of that era to an end. As historian Tom Sugrue has shown with the example of Detroit, “the rusting of the Rust Belt” began long before the interlocking crises of the 1970s made them apparent.[17] While the 1950s is often thought of as the golden age of capitalism for the developed world, this prosperity was not as far reaching as is often imagined. It is certainly true that when compared to our own moment working people’s slice of the pie was bigger. However, it is also true that the affluence of the affluent society was not shared by everyone. A combination of segregation in housing and employment left the city vulnerable to capital flight as white Detroiters fled increasingly to the suburbs — their jobs safe until automation and outsourcing cast them into the ranks of the reserve army of labor as well. Those left inside the city proper were left to fight over the scraps of what had once been the “arsenal of democracy.”

Rather than soberly face diminishing expectations, many chose to write off the Rightward turn in American politics simply as racial backlash to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s. That a certain racial animus animates American politics is such an incontrovertible truth that it is barely worth commenting on, but “backlash” fails to adequately capture what has happened in American society since the 1970s. If anything, the Civil Rights revolution was a limited one. Indeed, the Great Society, the central policy achievements of those seeking to universalize national prosperity through expanding the welfare state, “failed because it did too little, not too much, to overcome racial segregation, economic subordination, and the obstacles to self-determination in urban black communities.”[18] Suffering from the same limitations as its New Deal predecessor, and without the threat of the same level of crisis, the War on Poverty and other liberal welfare programs of the 1960s were if anything even more of a top-down affair — seeing welfare recipients not as active political subjects, but as economic dependents. Looked at from this perspective, it should be no surprise that as funds for social programs dried up the only thing left to deal with the “culture of poverty” in American cities was the repressive apparatus of the state.[19] At the same time that the War on Poverty turned into the War on Drugs, even older social obligations of the state to the working class receded to be replaced by subsidies to important segments of the economy like real estate and finance. The problem of debt arose in direct relation to the shifting orientation of state intervention in the economy. Rather than provide goods and services directly, the state would back debt to encourage borrowing, ensuring continued consumer commerce while at the same time spurring the creation of new financial instruments.[20] Encumbered by debt and faced with an uncertain future, it should be no surprise that the politics of resentment took the form of a taxpayers’ revolt. In the end, the death of New Deal liberalism proved the dead end of ethnic pluralist politics. With unprecedented economic growth there had been enough to redistribute while maintaining corporate profits. Stagnation changed the equation, revealing what had always been true, that the gains of the postwar economy had not been shared equally among working people. Not only that, but the logic of ethnic pluralism left workers to fight amongst each other to maintain or grow their slice of the pie at the expense of one another rather than together against capital.

Ebbs and flows at history’s end

What I’ve just described should seem very familiar: economic crisis, liberal cultural elitism, populist resentment, along with Left failure and conservative cooptation characterize our own moment as much as they do the end of the postwar era. Looked at as a historical cycle, or more appropriately in this case, a loop, the value of the political analysis offered in the End of the End of History becomes more apparent. Stretching back the scope of time under scrutiny, as I have, adds more urgency to the task that the authors take up in navigating the maze of politics that may lead out of the eternal present. If we have lived it before we can live it again. What has been the response to the collapse of capital’s current political regime? According to Hochuli, Hoare, and Cunliffe, the liberal establishment response has been one of generalized “hysteria and catastrophism” which they call NOBS (Neoliberal Order Breakdown Syndrome), brought on by their inability “to accept, explain, or respond to political change” (60). For this establishment, the Right-wing populist moment, as exemplified by Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States and Brexit in the UK, appeared as if barbarians were suddenly at the gates, setting their sights on storming the gates of all the sacred institutions of liberal democracy. That such a movement might arise organically in response to the ruling regime was out of the question. Instead, they attributed the rise of right populism to foreign conspiracies, trash TV, and racial resentment — anything to avoid pointing the finger at themselves. Whether a refusal to grasp their own “waning influence” or obfuscation as political theater, these explanations absolve them of responsibility, justifying their “chosen course of (in)action” (72–73).

Moving from this interrogation of the response to the return of politics, the authors look to understand the various forms of anti-politics that have so shaken the status quo from its slumber. The authors put forth seven forms of anti-politics: post-political and authoritarian anti-corruption politics, horizontalist, revolutionist, and defeatist Left anti-politics, along with Left and Right populism from above. For Hochuli, Hoare, and Cunliffe, anti-corruption politics is demobilizing in both of its guises. In the post-political sense, it is not the form of government and its ruling institutions that are the problem, but instead it is the people in charge of them. Cleansed of the bad actors, the right experts can right the ship again. But this is not the only way that anti-politics activates the masses in order to demobilize them. If the state itself is seen as irreparably broken, sucking even well-meaning reformers into the swamp of corruption, politics qua politics becomes the problem. In this way, anti-corruption movements declare “that there can be no good government,” foreclosing the “possibility of faithful political representation” and denying the possibility of “legitimate political authority” (83). This politics against the state lends itself to authoritarian cooptation, as the strongman promise to drain the swamp offers a transition out of the post-political status quo through the same politics as spectator sport. Overlapping with the political pessimism of the second form of anti-corruption politics, is the horizontalism of the 2010s, which “were above all about participation without representation” (91). It was this version of anti-politics that first introduced me to the Left more broadly during the Occupy moment, and I agree wholeheartedly that in many ways those kinds of politics were more about assuaging the consciences of those participating in protests by providing the appearance of “doing something” (92). This politics-as-collective-therapy failed to generate long-lasting organizations because the point was not to take power, but rather to change the world by waking the people still asleep from their slumber — spectacle, not the state, was their aim.

Horizontalism’s failure caused a crisis of faith on the Left toward this position on political power. Those that embraced Left populism hoped to overcome horizontalism’s aversion to representation by tying their hopes to new formal organizations or reform movements within existing parties, be it the creation of Podemos in Spain or Jeremy Corbyn’s insurgency within the Labor Party. While populism dominated Left politics in the 2010s, a minority with their own aims on state power sought to rekindle a revolutionary flame. Drawn to the 19th and early-20th century conception of revolution as the insurrectionary encircling of the state, revolutionists of this kind conceive of change as only possible through an immediate rupture between past and present. Hochuli, Hoare, and Cunliffe are quick to point out that it is not their desire for revolution that is the problem, but their failure to revise their conception of revolution for 21st century conditions.[21] For them, a sober assessment of our own moment shows that “low levels of even basic trade union militancy, let alone revolutionary movements, mean the horizon of revolution has drifted from view. The challenge today is to be neither naïve or cynical” (95). This means not simply pinning all hopes on a parliamentary road to socialism, nor to succumb to a Left defeatism that believes that the cards are so stacked against socialists that what is to be done is absolutely nothing. Cynicism of this kind lends itself to its own kind of magical thinking, either clinging to a vulgar generational-as-class politics or to a racial reductionism that hopes that changing demographics will lead to victory for the Left.

All of these various forms of anti-politics under consideration have one thing in common. They all grappled with the question of how to fill “the void where ‘the people’ should be” in our hollowed out political systems (115). However, none have been able to manage to achieve long-term, sustained participation from the people they want to reinvigorate the political system. Why is that? According to the authors, the problem has been the class character of these movements. Rather than represent the proletariat, the tribunes of the people that have helmed these movements have come primarily from the professional managerial class (PMC). It is in its seizing on this category where I find the most to quibble with The End of the End of History. While they correctly point out that the PMC has effectively become an “epithet to criticize better-off progressives,” who have instrumentalized identity politics in service of narcissistic ends, they still pick up the concept — attempting to return it to the meaning given to it by Barbara and John Ehrenreich in the 1970s (127). But therein lies the problem. From its origin, “PMC” has been incoherent as a category for class analysis. Made up of a wide assortment of occupations including “managers, academics, teachers, administrators, technical workers, cultural producers, doctors, lawyers, etc.” (importantly, the authors leave out nurses, originally included by the Ehrenreichs), the PMC “is not a class properly speaking,” in that “it does not have a structurally antagonistic relationship to either capital or labor” (128). Their neutrality supposedly allows them to choose sides in the class struggle. Here is the rub. The authors go on to say that this position as a class of neutral arbiters is a matter of appearance, and that the PMC do indeed have unacknowledged “class interests” that they hide behind a veneer of “disinterested expertise” (130). Is what the PMC category describes an independent class with its own interest or is it something else?[22] My short answer is that the PMC is not a class, but instead that the category serves a political function, as the authors acknowledge. More importantly, the debate over the current class composition of Left politics is typically a cover for the inability of those involved to pose new answers to the question of why the working class tends toward inactivity on the political stage.[23]

Still from Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis (1993)

Conclusion

Despite this point of contention, I do agree with Hochuli, Hoare, and Cunliffe’s argument if the Left fails to garner working-class support. Indeed, should the Left prove unsuccessful in rooting itself more firmly among workers across the entire economy (not just public-sector workers and what remains of the unionized workforce), they will continue to promote “a ‘progressive’ agenda without challenging capital.” Relegated to the “far-left flank of capital” in the realm of politics, socialists will find it difficult to resist the gravitational pull of the progressive wing of “institutional center-left parties” (146). This turn would leave the Left facing national conservatism and right populism in a minoritarian position, in which it will need to continue to rely on important urban centers as the middle ground is ceded Rightward everywhere else. If the future of Rightwing politics in this scenario is the nation state as fortress, then the Left will have to remain content with their “rebel cities” (149). However, none of this is new. What makes this moment unique is not that we haven’t been here before. As I’ve tried to show, the death throes of neoliberalism echo the breakup of the New Deal order over the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, what is so noteworthy of our own time is that choosing to remain in stasis seems more and more impossible. The contradictions of capitalism that have been kept in check since the 1930s will be resolved one way or another: socialism or barbarism. While there are plenty of reasons for this to provoke an overwhelming sense of despair, there is a glimmer of hope in the working-class revolt that has emerged in response to the pandemic. Though still too early to tell, it is not impossible that we are witnessing the stirrings of a new labor movement in this sporadic self-activity. Should socialists among them figure out how to channel this new militancy, it could mean a new dawn for Left politics. |P


[1] Connor Harney, “Ending the Eternal Present: A Historical Materialist Account of the 1970s,” Cosmonaut, October 17, 2020, available online at <https://cosmonautmag.com/2020/10/ending-the-eternal-present-a-historical-materialist-account-of-the-1970s/>.

[2] Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015). I would qualify this description of autocannibalism by saying that this process that helped hollow out the American heartland did not just pad the pockets of financial speculators, hedge-fund managers, along with executives and top-level corporate managers. The now liquid assets flowed from the developed to the developing world in order to keep labor costs down by producing in the developing world, at the same time preserving order at home through the proliferation of cheap goods.

[3] Ibid., 244

[4] Karl Marx, Capital: Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 342.

[5] Two of the quintessential accounts are Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010) and Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s, eds. Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow (New York: Verso, 2010). For a periodization of the “long 1970s,” see Bruce Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2002).

[6] A classic account of the fight for workers’ control, particularly over which postwar automation would take is David F. Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Automation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

[7] Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics & Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class, 5th ed. (New York: Verso, 1999), 52.

[8] David Montgomery, Worker’s Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Struggle, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 167.

[9] Lane Windham, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of New Economic Divide (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Windham looks at NLRB elections data to show that the number of organizing drives actually increased in the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly among jobs and professions that employed more women and people of color, and especially in the Sunbelt South. That is, those that were left out of the New Deal in the first place.

[10] Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?,” The National Interest, no. 16 (Summer 1989): 3–18.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Nelson Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era,” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980, ed. Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 122–52.

[14] For anyone interested in the implications of the Keynesian origins of neoliberal fiscal and monetary policy see Aaron Benanav, Automation and the Future of Work (New York: Verso, 2020) along with my review of it: Connor Harney, “Post-Scarcity without a Fully-Automated World,” Cosmonaut, April 7, 2021, available online at <https://cosmonautmag.com/2021/04/post-scarcity-without-a-fully-automated-world/>.

[15] COLA refers to “cost-of-living adjustment.” For further elaboration on the concept of the consumers’ republic, see Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

[16] The authors characterize the politics of this period as one of “social-democratic tedium” as opposed to post-politics of the “liberal-democratic End of History.”

[17] Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 6.

[18] Thomas F. Jackson, “The State, the Movement, and the Urban Poor: The War on Poverty and Political Mobilization in the 1960s,” in The “Underclass” Debate: Views from History, ed. Michael B. Katz (Princeton University Press, 1993), 406.

[19] Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

[20] Louis Hyman provides a good account of this (though I disagree with his conclusion that the contradictions of capitalism can be managed perpetually for the good of “the people” should democracy flourish. the whole history of the last century gives lie to this) in Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[21] Though these were not cited, the authors’ arguments here are very similar to those put forth by Christopher Lasch in the essays “Populism, Socialism, and McGovernism” and “Is Revolution Obsolete?,” in World of Nations: Reflections on American History, Politics, and Culture (New York: Knopf, 1973).

[22] I’ve been grappling with the question of class among white-collar professionals and technical workers in my own historical research. Though, I’ve yet to fully address it, for now I think the responses that both Erik Olin Wright and Stanley Aronowitz provided to the Ehrenreichs at the time should suffice. Wright emphasized the contradictory location of those between capital and labor given the complexity of the division of labor in a modern economy. For example, one’s role might functionally predispose them ideologically toward the bourgeoisie, but economically their position places them closer to the working class. He specifically uses the example of teachers whose official role is to assimilate their students into the norms of bourgeois society, but their employment situation means that, like other workers, they have nothing to sell but their ability to work. See Erik Olin Wright, “Intellectuals and the Class Structure of Capitalist Society” in Between Capital and Labor: The Professional Managerial Class, ed. Pat Walker (Boston: South End Press, 1979). Aronowitz contends that the professional and managerial components of the PMC should be taken separately, and importantly that they are not a class, but a stratum in-between. The managerial component represents a stratum dependent on capital that is ideologically opposed to certain forms of social relation under capitalism, but not capitalism as an economic system. Whereas his view of professionals is fairly in alignment with Wright, seeing them in a contradictory location that is “part of the apparatus of control,” but also “to the extent that knowledge has become the main productive force in late capitalism, their work is transformed into mental labor.” See Stanley Aronowitz, “The Professional-Managerial Class or Middle Strata,” in Between Labor and Capital.

[23] This is by no means to say that all that matters is formal participation in electoral politics. The upsurge in labor militancy over the last year proves the power that workers can wield in the economic realm, particularly if that activity were to become more organized over time.