A new leftist narrative is required

Anti-Trump protest in Chicago, January 2017. Rick Majewski/Press Association. All rights reserved.Houssam Hamade (HH): Ms. Fraser, where did
the left go wrong? Did we focus too much on the politics of personal
emancipation and too little on social justice at large, “too much pink,
too little red”, as parts of the leftist German party “Die Linke” put it?*

Nancy Fraser (NF): Yes and no. The problem
isn’t the struggle for feminism, LGBTQ-rights and against racism, but the
separation of this struggle from the struggle for social justice.

HH: A separated struggle which you refer to as
“progressive neoliberalism”…

NF: Yes. For around the last three decades,
neoliberal forces in the United States have aligned themselves with
progressive powers and their struggle for emancipation and diversity. Neoliberalism,
in other words, borrowed its progressive charisma from the progressives. It was
the same forces, namely the Clintons, who signed over the US economy to Goldman
Sachs and who ruthlessly pushed through neoliberal globalization. Neoliberalism, in other words, borrowed its progressive
charisma from the progressives.

HH: What happened under these conditions to the
traditional social movements, the trade unions and industrial workers?

NF: The trade unions were more or less
destroyed: the so-called “rust belt” was abandoned. Having once been a bastion
of social democracy it is now a stronghold for Trump-supporters. Clinton’s
politics and that of his followers, Obama included, downgraded the life of the
vast majority, particularly the lives of the industrial workers. This attack
was precisely conducted under the ”borrowed” mask of progressiveness.

HH: But we should not conclude from this that
standing up for emancipation and diversity is wrong?

NF: No, on the contrary. The problem lies in
the coalition with neoliberalism. During this period of time there has been an
ongoing debate about diversity and empowerment. Liberal individualism has replaced
what was an anti-hierarchical, class-conscious and egalitarian notion of
emancipation. A “winner-take-all”-hierarchy was promoted instead, one that enabled
some “outstandingly talented” women or gays to rise through the glass ceiling.
At the same time the majority of people had to live their lives out in the
basement. Liberal individualism has replaced what
was an anti-hierarchical, class-conscious and egalitarian notion of
emancipation.

HH: So "progressive neoliberalism"
pretends to be progressive, but actually promotes a devaluation of the lives of
millions and millions of people?

NF: Yes, and this has played into the hands
of Trump’s reactionary populism. He seemed to come along with a plausible alternative.
Finally, someone who would stand up for the ones who are left behind. And with
the departure of Sanders, the only choice that was available to people was
between the progressive neoliberalism of
Clinton and a reactionary populism. An impossible choice.

HH: How does this apply to Germany? Ex-Chancellor
Gerhard Schröder also dismantled social rights and distorted
social democracy…

NF: In the US, the pattern is a stark one.
In France too, with the choice between Macron and Le Pen, we find a choice
between progressive neoliberalism and reactionary populism. The same applies to
Germany today, but it is a softer version.

HH: What can we do?

NF: We have to offer a new, left-wing
narrative. A seriously egalitarian social movement has to ally itself with the
abandoned working class. It has to explain why the struggles for emancipation
and social equality belong together. I have committed myself for example to a feminism
of the 99 per cent, which explicitly opposes "glass ceiling
feminism".

We are fighting for the (female and male)
workers as well as migrants and those who slave away on unpaid care work. This
fight can only be fought together. The progressive populism of Bernie Sanders
provides a positive example of how to do this.

HH: I don’t find the concept of the 99 per cent
satisfactory. Not all rich people are evil nor are all poor people good. The 99
per cent also includes many racists. And the problem lies not only in the
personal misbehavior of the elites but in the structure of the capitalist
system.

NF: You're right: the concept of the 99
percent is not the last word. I too prefer class politics. The difference
between the progressive populism of Sanders and the reactionary populism of
Trump is, however, that Sanders does not construct scapegoats. Trump blames Mexicans
and Muslims. He addresses real grievances, but pursues a completely wrong
analysis. The difference between the progressive
populism of Sanders and the reactionary populism of Trump is, however, that
Sanders does not construct scapegoats.

Sanders combines the struggle for social justice
with the struggle for minority rights. This works astonishingly well. He also
does not portray "the rich" as evil per se. Instead he rightly attacks
structural causes and those who manipulate economic policy to their advantage.

HH: But how can we bring people on board who
currently hold reactionary positions? These people are not our allies,
but our opponents.

NF: Perhaps a more precise analysis is
helpful. Trump’s voters consist of about three blocks. Most are the
traditional voters for the Republicans. They elected Trump while – in many cases –
holding their noses. Then there are the "alt-right" people,
right-wing extremists, who in my opinion make up only a small part of his
electorate. The third part consists also of former trade union members. Here,
we don’t find committed racist sentiment, even if there is a certain existing tendency
there. These people are reachable.

HH: So we should talk?

NF: The important thing is not to start with
the assumption that they all are racists. This is the way for the Left to promote its own
certain failure. We can only achieve our goals on the basis of respect. The
left has to show that it has a narrative to offer, which grasps the concerns
that are voiced and expresses them. We can only
achieve our goals on the basis of respect.

HH: You seem confident that this could work.

NF: I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic.
Today many things are possible. The hegemony is shattered, a little like it was
in the 1960s. The resistance against Trump is powerful. An anecdote will
illustrate this rather well. Trump, by tradition, was going to throw the first ball
in the opening game of the Major Baseball League. He was, however, advised
against this, since it was probable that he would be booed. Impressive left-wing
coalitions are forming. People of all ages are politicized.

A progressive populism like that of Sanders
can reach those people. However, this new left needs to make some changes. It
needs to become a solidary leftwing, that fights for social equality and at the
same time for emancipation and diversity.

This article originally appeared
in German in TAZ on May 2, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *