Seymour Melman and the New American Revolution: A Reconstructionist Alternative

By Jonathan Feldman


On December 30, 1917 Seymour Melman was born in New York City. The 100th anniversary of his birth helps bring his intellectual legacy into focus. Melman was the most significant reconstructionist thinker of the 20th Century, championing alternatives to militarism, capitalism, and social decay by advancing a systematic counter-planning program for disarmament and economic democracy. His legacy remains of critical importance because today the United States is currently a society in which the economic, political and cultural systems are spiraling into an abyss. Economic and social reconstruction is the idea that planned alternatives to the incumbent mechanisms for organizing economic, political and cultural power exist in alternative institutional designs and matching systems to extend these designs.

The economic realities are well-known, defined by an economic system in which the richest 1% of the population controlled 38.6% of the nation’s wealth in 2016 according to the Federal Reserve. The bottom 90% controlled only 22.8% of the wealth. This wealth concentration is well-known and is linked to financialization of the U.S. economy which is matched by deindustrialization and the decline of the “real economy.” Melman analyzed this problem tied to Wall Street hegemony and managerial attacks on worker’s power in his classic 1983 study Profits without Production. Here Melman illustrated how profits –and thus power—could be accumulated despite the decline of industrial work and manufacturing. In fact, the rise in administrative overheads associated with the over-extension of managerial power actually helped reduce both the competiveness and competence of U.S. firms.

In politics, the Republican Party has emerged as a Trojan Horse society, helping to defund the welfare state and advancing the aims of the predatory warfare state. The 2018 defense bill signed by President Trump allotted about $634 billion for core Pentagon operations and allotted an addition $66 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. More money was available for troops, jet fighters, ships and other weapons, even though there are millions of U.S. citizens living in poverty (40.6 million in 2016). Melman addressed the problem of the enduring post-war militarism of the U.S. in perhaps his most famous book, The Permanent War Economy, first published in 1974. The subheading of that book was “American Capitalism in Decline.” This economy emerged as way to consolidate the military largess bestowed on aerospace, communications, electronics and other war-serving industries, not to mention universities, military bases and associated institutions serving the military economy. This corporatist system, linking the state, corporations, trade unions and other actors was described by Melman in Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, a 1971 book which showed how the state was the top manager who used its procurement and managerial power to direct these various “sub-managements.”

In culture, we see the reign of post-truth politics, in which politicians knowingly lie in order to advance political objectives and ideology makes facts irrelevant. A report by David Leonhardt and colleagues in The New York Times found that “in his first 10 months, Trump told nearly six times as many falsehoods as Obama did during his entire presidency.” The problem, however, is that the underlying system of U.S. governance has been based on many bipartisan myths. Melman’s career was based on trying to uncover such myths.

One such myth embraced by both the Republican and Democratic Parties was the idea that military power can be used without any limits. In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to defeat guerilla operations in which the opposing military was embedded in civilian zones. Attacking such areas deflated the U.S. military’s legitimacy with the projection of military power undermining U.S. political power in the region being attacked. In Vietnam, the U.S. lost politically and a backlash against that war triggered a domestic revolt. In Iraq, the toppling of Hussein pushed Iraq into the Iranian orbit, a country which is nominally a principal adversary of U.S. elites. In Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to fight its longest war with thousands dead and “no end in sight.” When it comes to terrorism, Melman saw terrorist actions as tied to alienation, individuals cut off and remote from social integration. Clearly social inclusion could remedy such a situation, but economic decline and an absence of solidarity simply compounded terrorist threats (whatever the diverse origins).

Another key myth was the ability to organize and sustain a “post-industrial society.” A report in Industry Week (August 21, 2014) noted that between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. economy shed 33% of its manufacturing jobs (about 5.8 million), which represented a 42% decline when controlling for the increase in the workforce. After controlling for increased in the working-age population during this period, Germany lost only 11% of its manufacturing jobs. While scholars debate whether trade or automation and productivity is more significant in causing such job loss, automation in a nation state serving to protect the domestic organization of work will clearly preserve more manufacturing jobs than others. In fact, the integration of automation and cooperative workforces can preserve jobs, a point made by Melman in his last great work, After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy. Melman’s support for the domestic anchoring of jobs through proactive investments in civilian infrastructure including sustainable forms of alternative energy and mass transportation also belied the associated myths of globalization and free markets—both of which failed to automatically yield a proactive welfare state responsive to maintaining full and sustainable employment.

Alternatives to a Society Spiraling into Abyss


Melman believe in a revolution in thinking and acting centered on the reorganization of economic life and the nation’s security system. He believed the core alternative to economic decline was the democratic organization of workplaces. He favored the Mondragon Industrial Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain as the exemplary model for such an alternative. These cooperatives went beyond the small scale, and potentially vulnerable, stand-alone “socialism in one firm” model of local cooperative enterprise. Mondragon has networks diversified lines of businesses, not only creating a more resilient system in the face of reduced demand in particular sectors, but also promoting the potential for job ladders such that workers could be more easily transferred from one job to another when job loss struck. Mondragon combines a technical university, development bank and cooperatives in one integrated system.

Melman believed that both political and economic decline could be reversed by vastly scaling back the U.S. military budget which represented a gigantic opportunity cost to the national economy. The other side of the $1 trillion military budget was a vast development fund which Melman believed could be used to modernize the U.S.’s energy and transportation infrastructure and reinvest in other areas of economic decay self-evident in collapsing bridges, polluted waterways, and congested transit systems. He linked urban under-development and deficits in ecological remediation to wasteful military budgets.

The program for demilitarization required four key elements, outlined by Melman in The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion. First, he championed a comprehensive program for general and complete disarmament (GCD) in multi-lateral disarmament treaties of the sort favored by President John F. Kennedy and described in his famous June 10, 1963 American University address. Rather than have so-called “rogue states” disarm, all nations would coordinate their military budget and military power projection systems. In contrast to proliferation reduction strategies which beg the question as to why countries like North Korea would pursue nuclear weapons (to defend against a U.S. military attack). This was a program for not only nuclear but also conventional weapons reductions.

Second, disarmament treaties would be linked to a program of military budget reductions and alternative civilian investments. These reductions could pay for needed infrastructure improvements, including the need to rebuild mass transit and energy systems, a theme taken up by Brian D’Agostino and Jon Rynn in a series of studies. Alternative government investments in needed civilian areas could provide the alternative markets needed to help transition military-serving investments into more useful civilian activity.

Third, the conversion of military factories, bases, laboratories and affiliated institutions like universities could provide a way to recoup wasted resources and provide a security system for those threatened by military budget reductions. Conversion involved advanced planning and reorganizing workers, engineers, managers and technology. For example, at one point in the post-Vietnam War era, the Boeing-Vertol company (which made helicopters used in the Vietnam War) successfully produced subway cars used by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

Finally, disarmament would also have to provide for an alternative security system which would maintain security even during a period of declining global military spending. Melman supported a kind of international police force useful in peacekeeping and related missions. He recognized that the multi-year disarmament process would still leave in place defensive systems as more offensive systems were initially scaled back. Melman recognized that Britain’s unilateral disarmament campaigns were political fiascos which made the left an easy political prey to the political right. In contrast, the GCD approach still left room for comprehensive cutbacks without the political fallout associated with claims that states were left vulnerable to attack. Verification and inspection systems would insure that cuts could be made safety and any cheating could be detecting by states attempting to conceal weapons systems.

Ideology and the Power to Plan


Where did the power come from to demilitarize the economy and change the degenerate state? Melman believed that workers’ own self-organization through cooperatives provided an essential mechanism to create the primitive accumulation of economic power which would have a significant political spin-off effect. He believed that once cooperatives reached a certain scale they would act as a kind of lobbying system to redirect the political culture to more productive and sustainable pursuits as opposed to predatory, militaristic and ecocidal ones.

The biggest obstacle to economic and political democracy lay not in technical or economic barriers, however. In a series of studies published in the 1950s, like Dynamic Factors in Industrial Productivity and Decision-Making and Productivity, Melman showed how cooperative firms could actually be more productive and efficient than normal capitalist enterprises. One reason was that workers’ self-management lessened the need for costly managerial supervision. Another reason was that workers’ had direct knowledge of how to marshal and organize the shop floor, whereas managers’ knowledge was more remote and hence less operational. Workers learned by doing and had the knowledge to organize work, but an alienating system blocked such knowledge as workers were blocked from decision-making power even though workers was “responsible” for their work.

If workers could organize economic power on a grassroots level, so too could communities directly organize political power on a local level. Thus, Melman convened “The U.S. After the Cold War: Claiming the Peace Dividend,” a May 2, 1990 national town meeting in which dozens of cities rallied in face-to-face meetings to cut the military budget and invest in needed urban and ecological investments in a peace economy. Political democracy in this case was extended by a radio network broadcast over Pacifica and dozens of affiliated stations.

The key barrier to extending democracy lay in the educational system and social movements which had failed to embrace the legacy of self-management and economic democracy. Trade unions, while necessary for advancing workers’ interests, had become focused on narrow pay or social benefits schemes. They often divorced themselves from questions regarding how work was actually organized. Melman believed that peace movements, while opposing senseless wars, had “become safe for the Pentagon.” By being remote from the culture of production, they did not realize the simple fact that producing and selling weapons generates capital and power, thereby requiring more than a reactive protest system to Pentagon capital accumulation. In contrast, the founder of Mondragon, José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga, realized in the Nazi bombing campaign of the Spanish Republic that technology had become the source of ultimate power. The other side of Picasso’s Guernica was a system in which workers themselves could control technology for their own use, providing an alternative to capitalists and militarists monopoly over technological power.

Ultimately, through his prolific publishing career, activism with trade unions and the peace movement, and continuing dialogue with scholars and assorted intellectuals, Melman held out hope that critically informed knowledge could promote an alternative system for organizing power. Although he recognized how universities had become servants to both the Pentagon and Wall Street (and indulged in growing administrative overheads and extensions to their managerial control), Melman still clung to the belief in the power of the idea and alternative formulation to established wisdom. The Trump presidency has falsely marshalled the lessons of the U.S.’s economic and political decline. Today’s activists would be wise to embrace Melman’s ideas to fill the power vacuum in the wake of the administration’s legitimacy crisis and movement reactive malaise. “Resistance,” the movement’s hegemonic meme, is not reconstruction.


Jonathan Michael Feldman studied under Seymour Melman at Columbia University and worked with him to establish the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament in Washington, D.C. Feldman can be reached on Twitter @globalteachin.


En hyllning till John “Tito” Gerassi

Gerassi förklarade en gång att de radikala lider av två dilemman. Det första dilemmat består i att de antingen blir så absorberade av att skaffa sig makt att de sugs upp av systemet eller så gör de sig själva ofarliga genom att inte ha någon makt alls. Det andra dilemmat är att de blir så rädda för att sälja ut sig att de blir helt och hållet marginaliserade. Mellan det utspädda varumärket socialdemokrati och infantil vänsterism måste det finnas en tredje väg att gå.

Av Jonathan M. Feldman

Människor som vi tar för givna kan tas ifrån oss. Vissa av dem är hjältar, mentorer, referenspunkter. De är som solsystem för oss, vi cirkulerar runt dem eller de runt oss. De skapar ett slags bakgrund för oss att mäta världen mot, de hjälper oss att se var saker och ting är och hur vi kan hitta dem. Vi engagerar de här personerna. De engagerar oss. Det finns ett slags balans, till och med en logik, som vi kan använda oss av när vi tänker på det förflutna, nuet och framtiden. John Gerassi var för mig en sådan person. En mentor, vän och politisk kompass. Den sortens person som man inte alltid håller med trots att man vet att man oftast är den som har fel när man är oense. Ett slags profet som ofta sa och gjorde impopulära saker, nödvändiga saker. Han var karismatisk, utmanade sina studenter, men visade alltid respekt och vann över många som anammade hans syn på politiskt engagemang.

John Gerassi dog den 26 juli 2012 i New York. Han var en brygga för många av sina studenter och för de som kände honom mellan amerikansk radikalism å ena sidan och engagerad politik stöpt av vänsterintellektuella i Paris, latinamerikanska revolutionärer och 1960-talets afrikansk-amerikanska militanter å andra sidan. Han föddes i Paris den 12 juli 1931, mitt emot ett kafé där hans pappa Fernando Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre, konstnärerna André Breton, Marc Chagall och Joan Miró satt samlade. Han kom till USA med sina föräldrar 1940. För sina vänner var han känd som ”Tito” och hans karriär började som konstkritiker och journalist, senare blev han akademiker och aktivist, särskilt aktiv i rörelsen mot Vietnamkriget och rasismen i USA. Gerassi skrev för flera tidningar och publikationer, däribland The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Saturday Evening Post och The Guardian. Han var korrespondent för The New York Times och för Time Magazine där han vid tjugofyra års ålder blev den yngsta skribenten någonsin. Gerassi undervisade vid New York University, San Fransisco State University, The University of Paris (XII Vincennes), the JFK Institute of the Free University of Berlin, UC Irvine, Bard College och i slutet av sin akademiska karriär framförallt på Queens College. Gerassi stakade ut politiska positioner långt vänster om de flesta av sina kollegor. Hans sätt att resonera var djupt och filosofiskt, uppbackat av erfarenheter från ”the highs and lows” under efterkrigstiden.

Gerassi var utmanande och skrytsam, överdrev ibland, och naggade stundtals på fakta, men det borde inte tolkas som karaktärsbrister utan snarare som uttryck för det faktum att han tyckte om att leva på gränsen mellan konst och politik där allt var möjligt och där kreativiteten skapade sina egna fakta. Gerassi skrev pjäser och publicerade en politisk roman med titeln The Anarchronists. När Gerassis pappa blev general i det spanska inbördeskriget tvingades han lägga ner sina målarpenslar och bli en politisk man. Den här korsningen mellan konst och politik hjälpte Gerassi att förstå drivkraften bakom Sartres idé om politiskt engangemang.

Gerassi erkände att han hade ärvt sitt politiska medvetande av sina föräldrar. Hans pappa hade insisterat på att Gerassi skulle studera vid en fransk skola eftersom han såg att Gerassi höll på att glömma bort sin franska. På skolan sa Gerassi till en präst, Père Farine, att han ville bli katolik på grund av Dorothy Days arbete som katolik. Prästen presenterade Gerassi för Dorothy Day som skickade honom att arbeta på ett ”Friendship House” där han lärde känna Thomas Merton, förmodligen den viktigaste filosofen inom katolicismen. Gerassi beskrev den franska skolan som en vändpunkt där han blev politiskt aktiv. Trots att Gerassi själv inte var religiös beundrade han religiösa människor som Farine och Day därför att de kämpade för någonting: ”By putting themselves into a context larger than themselves, which in their case is a God, they are able to appeal to the general public.” Gerassis fransklärare insisterade på att han skulle söka till Columbia University och han blev antagen på grund av sina kunskaper om författare som Dostojevskij, Dos Passos och Faulkner. Att läsa Richard Wrights Black Boy (en självbiografi publicerad 1945), Dos Passos och Hemingway gjorde att Gerassi politiserades. Han förklarade att man kan inte läsa sådana författare och böcker och ”not have politics.”

Gerassi skrev och redigerade böcker om Sartre, Camilo Torres, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, om de amerikanska bombningarna i Vietnam, Latinamerika och om brotten som eliterna begår. Hans mest välkända bok The Great Fear in Latin America publicerades 1963 och handlade om imperialism och exploatering i Latinamerika. Boken ledde till han blev känd bland latinamerikanska och amerikanska vänsterkretsar. Gerassi var inte bara Jean-Paul Sartres “non-godson” utan han kom också genom sitt arbete som journalist i kontakt med en rad kända intellektuella, konstnärer och aktivister. På Londonkonferensen ”Dialectics of Liberation” var Gerassi en av talarna på en talarlista som innefattade personer som Stokely Carmichael, Paul Goodman, Allen Ginsburg, R. D. Laing, Herbert Marcuse och Paul Sweezy. Det var juli 1967, och Gerassi vara bara trettiosex år gammal.


Gerassi kastade sig in i kampen mot Vietnamkriget. Det var på många sätt hans avgörande ögonblick, hans personliga motsvarighet till Sartres kamp mot fascism, engagemang och la résistance française. Gerassi var flytande i engelska, franska och spanska och reste och upplevde stora delar av världen; gatorna i New York som tonåring, kaféerna i Paris med Sartre och Beauvoir, den latinamerikanska djungeln med revolutionärer, och London där han förde ett slags exiltillvaro (delvis som en reaktion på den våg av underkuvelse som följde antikrigsrörelsen).

Gerassi växte upp i centrum av den konstnärliga och politiska världen i Europa. Hans pappa, Fernando Gerassi, var en konstnär som härstammade från en av de judiska familjerna som drivits ut ur Spanien av inkvisitionen. Vid ett tillfälle sa Sartre att Fernando hade påverkat honom mer än någon annan levande man. Hans mamma hette Stepha Awkykowich, var av ukrainskt-polskt ursprung och nära vän till Simone de Beauvoir. Eftersom Gerassi växte upp i ett politiskt hem valde han till en början att distansera sig från politiken. Han förklarade att det var ett slags revolt mot en revolt. Men med en familj som var tätt knuten till kretsen runt Sartre, Beauvoir och Picasso var Gerassi aldrig långt bort från politiken.

På Columbia University gick Gerassi på föreläsningar av C. Wright Mills, den intellektuella föregångaren till The New Left (en bred politisk rörelse i USA under 60- och 70-talen). Liksom Sartre ansåg Mills att etik måste dominera politiken och inte rätta sig efter den. Det här etiska förhållningssättet krävde ett politiskt engagemang – ett engagemang för att bryta mot förtryckande normalitet, för att knyta band med andra, och för att överskrida individualism och passivitet.

Engagemang och motsägelser

Under en period av sitt liv levde Gerassi vad han själv ansåg vara ett normalt och borgerligt liv som definierades av hans äktenskap, hans välbetalda arbete på Newsweek magazine, en bekväm bostad, och en distans från det slags risker som existentiella radikaler anser göra livet meningsfullt. Enligt Sartre och Gerassi borde en ”man of action” riskera sådana förhållanden medan han engagerar sig i politiska rörelser som gör ett borgerligt liv svårt att upprätthålla. Gerassi sa att man måste döma individer utifrån hur de lever. Hur vi konsumerar och lever våra privata liv avslöjar trots allt mycket mer om oss än våra politiska engagemang. Men det finns givetvis undantag. Människor som lever motsägelsefulla liv, som omfamnar systemet samtidigt som de opponerar sig mot det. Hans mentor, Sartre, var symbolen för ett sådant motsägelsefullt liv. De här konstrasterna och motsägelserna förklarar hur medelklassen kunde leda revolutionära protester och därmed gå emot sin egen samhällsklass. Vissa levde luxuösa liv samtidigt som de protesterade mot det system som gjorde deras liv i överflöd möjligt.

Gerassis liv förändrades när Vietnamkriget började. Han kunde inte fortsätta att leva som han gjorde. Han åkte till Nordvietnam för att dokumentera de amerikanska krigsbrotten; bombningarna av skolor och sjukhus, napalmen som föll över vietnameser, den totala förödelsen av civila områden. Vid ett tillfälle gömde han sig medan amerikanska bomber föll omkring honom; sitt eget lands potentiella offer. Vietnam lämnade bestående intryck på Gerassi och han ville inte återvända till USA och fortsätta leva ett liv utan riktigt engagemang. Han blev betraktad som ledaren för ett studentuppror på San Franscisco State University. Under en demonstration skadades han av en polis och skadan skulle komma att bli livslång och resultera i hälsoproblem. Gerassi kände andra radikaler som bröt mot lagen och som fängslades. De såg hela tiden kontrasten mellan det normala livets rationalitet i irrationella och absurda tidevarv.

En sommar berättade Gerassi för mig att en ganska välkänd New Left intellektuell, känd för att predika mot vänsterns överflöd, hade kontaktat honom och frågat om han ville ansluta sig till The Weather Underground (en militant revolutionär vänstergrupp verksam under 60- och 70-talen) . ”Gör inte sånt”, sa Gerassi. ”Skriv bara istället. Du är mer effektiv på det sättet.” Det var ironiskt med tanke på hans inställning i andra sammanhang som verkat antyda att det måste finns ett val mellan den intellektuelles återhållsamma politik och den radikales intensiva politik. Det existentiella valet mellan politiskt engagemang och borgerlig normalitet hade utvecklats till något absurt.

Gerassi förklarade en gång att de radikala lider av två dilemman. Det första dilemmat består i att de antingen blir så absorberade av att skaffa sig makt att de sugs upp av systemet eller så gör de sig själva ofarliga genom att inte ha någon makt alls. Det andra dilemmat är att de blir så rädda för att sälja ut sig att de blir helt och hållet marginaliserade. Mellan det utspädda varumärket socialdemokrati och infantil vänsterism måste det finnas en tredje väg att gå.

Logik och känslor: mellan frihet och våld

DG Cooper skrev i en text om Sartre att ”our roles are always future structures. They are tasks to be carried out, traps to be avoided and so on.” Erich Fromm förklarade den politiska betydelsen av sådana roller i ”Disobedience as a Psychological Problem”:

The organization man has loss the capacity to disobey, he is not even aware of the fact that he obeys. At this point in history the capacity to doubt, to criticize, and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization.

Gerassi levde enligt den här principen. Han kämpade mot ett system som främjade våld, försämrade civila fri- och rättigheter, elitens växande dominans, och eskalerande militarism. Han reste till både Vietnam och Iran när USA var på väg att införa sanktioner mot båda länderna och det amerikanska justitiedepartementet varnade att de som bröt mot reseförbudet riskerade att få upp till tio års fängelse och 50,000$ i böter. Gerassis olydnad reflekterade ett sätt att leva och vara.

När Gerassi berättade varför Sartre valde honom till att skriva sin självbiografi skrev han:

I think Sartre chose me to write his biography because in his eyes, without sounding too arrogant, I was first of all a doer, a political activist, a philosophy student turned journalist and then ”militant” who thought about theory at his desk alone, and did his writing as a consequence of his praxis, as a consequence of analyzing the forces in battle in a world basically dominated by the rich and the rogues, by greed and guile.

Gerassi reagerade och agerade först, sedan analyserade han. Sartre förklarade vid ett tillfälle för en grupp av Gerassis studenter:

It’s always those who have power who say ’calm down, let’s talk rationally, let’s be sensible.’ It is always those with power that insist being emotional is being weak. In the home, the powerful are men. That’s why the best way for a housewife to argue against her calm, rational ’provider’ is to throw the plate of rice in his face.

Gerassi sa en gång något liknande: ”The liberal thinks only in terms of logic. The fascist only in terms of emotions.” Tricket var att på något sätt kunna göra både och: tänka i logik och känslor samtidigt. Gerassis kritiker ansåg att han agerade utan att tänka men genom känslomässig logik och empati fullföljde Gerassi handlingar som konformismens logik bedrägligt enkelt kan förvrida till något irrationellt. Gerassi bröt mot den liberala logiken på San Fransisco State University där han anslöt sig till studenter som utmanade en konformistisk rationalitet som berövat afroamerikanska studenter deras medborgerliga rättigheter och som rättfärdigade universitetets militära samarbeten.

Att kämpa mot systemet var alltid det första steget mot att undfly dess avhumaniserande rationalitet. Gerassi menade att ”the rationale for revolutions is usually not for anything but against something”. Här framträder behovet av både logik och känslor tydligt. Gerassi skriver: ”the spontaneous rejection of an established order or structure is first motivated by anger, frustration, injustice and/or inequality, which are all negative.” The New Left i USA var ett resultat av att medelklassen också hade börjat opponera sig mot systemet på samma sätt som marginaliserade grupper hade gjort långt innan. Gerassi skrev att efter 1950-talet visste Amerikas unga redan vilket slutet samhälle deras land hade blivit. De kände att systemet ville att de skulle bli lydiga och avhumaniserade kugghjul. Och människor inom The New Left upplevde att systemet kvävde dem. ”The air they must breathe”, skrev Gerassi, ”precisely because they are middle class was the air of ’not by bread alone’.” Det gjorde The New Lefts uppror till ett medelklassuppror men det gjorde det varken mindre äkta eller mindre seriöst. Några, som till skillnad från sina föräldrar inte var traumatiserade efter den stora depressionen, protesterade genom att dra sig ur systemet. Andra offrade sin samhällsstatus och prioriterade solidaritet framför de privilegium som deras samhällsklass medförde. Gerassi ansåg att det som hände i Oakland i oktober 1967 under Stop-the-Draft Week och under strejken på San Fransisco State University senare samma år var av särskild betydelse därför att båda händelserna demonstrerade en solidaritet mellan vita och svarta, där vita riskerade sina privilegium genom att protestera mot systemet med hjälp av ännu mer militanta aktioner än tidigare.

Gerassi skrev senare: ”Historically, progress has always come about through violence.” Han trodde att revolutioners och sociala rörelsers våld i regel var ett slags självförsvar, en reaktion på systemets våld. Ändå var det inte så enkelt. 1969 skrev Gerassi att ”New Left kids who are too impatient with the system and want to overthrow it […] destroy private property, hurt innocent bystanders, and even resort to sabotage and terrorism […] they were setting up new values which carry with them a basic disrespect not only for law and order, but also for the worth of individual men.” Flera år senare kritiserade han The New Left rörelsen för att ha varit passiv när Martin Luther King mördades: ”100 US cities on fire and every black community vented its rage. But the white movement stayed home, watching on TV. The black-white alliance which had emerged in Oakland and San Fransisco by students opposed to war and racism was destroyed.”

I maj 1970 sköts fyra vita studenter ihjäl av Ohio’s National Guard medan de demonstrerade fredligt mot att deras universitet understödde kriget. Deras död resulterade i ett klimat av rädsla. Några veckor senare, under en middag i Greenwich Village, sa Jerry Rubin (tidigare en nära vän till Gerassi): ”I’m going to quit. They’ve always been able to kill blacks. But now, Kent state shows they’re willing to kill whites to keep their power. I don’t want to die.”

Risktagande, mening och engagemang

Jag kom i kontakt med ”the politics of commitment” för första gången som ung student på Bard College. Det innebar utmaningar för mig som person men det var nödvändiga utmaningar. Nödvändigt svårt. Jag var ganska naiv och Gerassi skrev i en kommentar till en av mina första uppsatser att jag hade en tendens att tänka i klichéer. Att bryta sig loss från etablerade tankemönster var inte alltid så lätt.

Gerassi observerade att revolutionärer som Jesus, Martin Luther King och Malcolm X var marginaliserade, om inte ignorerade, medan de levde men blev glorifierade och placerade på piedestaler efter sin död. Att göra uppoffringar innebär att man kan förlöjligas, bli avvisad, marginaliserad, eller ännu värre – dödad. Men både Sartre och Gerassi menade att acceptera normalitet och spela död när man faktiskt är vid liv är att riskera att drabbas av ett slags äckel för sig själv och för världen, ett slags intighet som vi rationaliserar bort som normalt.

Finns det en väg ut? Gerassi blev allt mer cynisk inför möjligheterna till att förändra USA. Han såg utvecklingen, eller bristen på utveckling, under Obamas tid som president, hur civila fri- och rättigheter hela tiden begränsas, hur det militärindustriella komplexets makt och inflytande fortsätter växa. Gerassi ansåg att Occupy rörelsen i allt väsentligt hade dött. Han levde fortfarande när polisen i New York attackerade Occupy läger i Zuccotti Park. Gerassi hade personligen upplevt flera politiska cykler av förtryck och proteströrelser. Han hade sett samma saker upprepas tidigare, kanske hade han blivit trött på bakslagen som väntade bakom framgångarna.

Gerassi noterade att ett centralt organisatoriskt problem hos sociala rörelser som The New Left består i att de måste kunna balansera nödvändigt tillskansande av makt med de problem som maktcentralisering leder till. I en intervju sa han:

I guess the question for present and future revolutionaries is: how do you democratize a movement that is involved in the seizure of power where, by definition, power corrupts?

Aktiviströrelser måste kunna transformera sig till institutioner som fungerar mer effektivt än institutionerna som de vill bekämpa. Gerassi observerade att man inom The New Left associerade organisering med stalinism men han menade ändå att någon form av organisering var nödvändig därför att utan organisation ”we remain isolated and thus ineffective […] and without an organization we can be eliminated either by being bought or by being physically silenced.” Han motsatte sig den sortens centralisering som marxister och leninister propagerade för och trodde istället på att ledarnas uppgift är ”to convince the people to take part in the process, to realize that they are the process, to help instill consciousness.”

Gerassi trodde på utopiska alternativ och i likhet med Paul Goodman skissade han på förslag på hur samhället kan omorganiseras och rekonstrueras. Mycket av hans fokus upptogs av imperialism, revolution, förtryck, orättvisor men han motiverades också av idéer om hur ett alternativt samhälle skulle kunna se ut. Han inspirerades av vad Che Guevara skrivit i ”Man and Socialism in Cuba” där Guevara talade om att ”an ideological and cultural mechanism must be developed which will permit experimentation.” Gerassi ansåg att ett sådant experiment skulle innebära ”getting rid of all cars and planting trees in the middle of Fifth Avenue.”

Ett levande arv efter Gerassi är alla de studenter som han hade genom åren. När jag hade Gerassi som lärare hade han några år tidigare avslutat en serie djupgående intervjuer med Sartre. En betydande del av ”post-Sartre New Left” rörelsen har nu tynat bort. Men Gerassi importerade essentiella delar av den franska versionen av The New Left till USA och förde vidare Sartres idéer till en ny generation av studenter och aktivister på andra sidan Atlanten.

Sartre sa att vi bör döma tidevarvet utifrån människan och människan utifrån tidevarvet. Gerassis liv och hans sista bok Talking with Sartre ger oss ledtrådar till hur vi kan uppta ett intellektuellt och politiskt utrymme, ett engagerat tredje utrymme, som stärker demokratin. Det här utrymmet måste baseras på tron att individer kan göra skillnad, att liv inte endast definieras av ansiktslösa strukturer och byråkratier, att människor är fria att välja efter givna omständigheter. Nyckeln till frigörelse ligger i att veta och känna att sådana val existerar, och att valfriheten innebär utrymme för handling. Genom att kritiskt analysera samhället erbjöd Gerassi sådan kunskap och känsla till sina studenter och läsare. Genom att förklara ansvarets existentiella logik och genom att leva ett liv präglat av politiskt engagemang inspirerade han känslor som fortfarande kan leda till handling istället för passivitet. Vi behöver intellektuella hjältar, män och kvinnor, som väljer att utnyttja det engagerade tredje utrymmet för handling och som därigenom blir våra förebilder. En sådan person var Tito Gerassi. Han har inspirerat många och kampen fortsätter.

Beyond Brexit and Lexit


The idea that remaining within the EU will automatically provide benefits and resolve problems is a kind of magical thinking. It has ultimately proved dangerous with the evidence being the systematic rise of far Right parties, austerity, a limited system to save and integrate immigrants or prevent the wars or economic disasters which accelerated immigration. Nevertheless, citizens can mobilize nationally via their states and put pressure on the EU. If anything the Brexit vote clearly shows contingency vis-à-vis the European Union.

By Jonathan M. Feldman


The basic problems at hand are the following. First, part of Cosmopolitanism is associated with an anti-racist, pro-migration set of policies. Call that progressive or Left Cosmopolitanism. Second, part of Cosmopolitanism is associated with using migration, free movement of capital, and globalization to break the power of unions and reduce living standards. Call that reactionary or Right Cosmopolitanism. The two are related and partially overlap. In theory, a solidarity system would strengthen the former at the expense of the later, but these systems can’t come from traditional trade union approaches (other than organizing the unorganized) and don’t naturally or necessarily occur within the European Union Framework. Some elements of identity politics and new social movements are perfectly happy with the synergies between Left and Right Cosmopolitanism. They engage in bad faith.

Second, part of Nationalism is associated with racism, xenophobia and the embrace of national capitalism and capitalists. Call this Reactionary Nationalism. Third, part of Nationalism is associated with managed trade, regulations, industrial policy and using the state to control or limit capitalism, advanced public services and needs. Call this Progressive Nationalism. The two are related as even some far Right groups call for national controls over who controls and owns industry. Yet, a nationally-owned industry can sell out its workers just as well as a foreign-owned industry (sometimes the foreign-owned industry is better able to preserve jobs). Some elements of the so-called Trotskyite left engage in a de facto rhetorical alliance that profits from the synergies between Left and Right Nationalism. They too engage in bad faith.

The Political Scarcity of the Left versus Reconstruction


The limits of Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism as paradigms are self-evident, even as each potentially has progressive elements to them. The bad faith illustrated above is part of the problem. Each element of bad faith is based on the politics of scarcity in the political accumulation of capital (be it economic, political or media capital). What is needed is an agenda to support: a) solidarity, b) the disarmament and alternative foreign policy regimes that would limit wars, arms exports fueling them, and hence a fair share of migration, c) the promotion of a sustainable society based on coalitions linking labor, environmentalists, immigrants, the children or grand children of immigrants, peace groups, and some elements of socially responsible businesses, and the progressive elements of the welfare state among other parties, d) economic democracy, media democracy and political democracy based on the ensemble of power that links networks of cooperatives, citizens’ controlled banks, face to face deliberative and media networked forms in a kind of local political space that is integrated regionally, nationally, and internationally, and e) the progressive integration of consumption and production, in which cooperative forms of each sustain one another. Yet, remaining or exiting the EU does not automatically produce these.

The alternative agenda discussed above is what we mean by “Economic and Social Reconstruction.” It is an agenda that embraces economic reconstruction and new forms of democratic engagement based on the use of political organizing, media organizing, the use of a political canvassing system, study circles, and a series of new institutions be they cooperatives, peoples’ universities, alternative banks, consumption federations and multi-product firms making needed alternative energy and mass transportation systems. Reconstruction requires new spatial arrangements, alternative planning regimes and a political engagement with these.

A Plague on Both their Houses


Is Brexit automatically Social and Economic Reconstruction? No, it is not. It is a political platform which far Right groups can easily exploit resulting in a political vacuum generated by leaving the European Union, unless we are talking about the Scottish response which is not Brexit but Scotenter, the Scottish entry into the European Union on its own terms. Does this mean that nationalism is automatically bad? No, as I already indicated there are progressive elements to nationalism in the form of managed trade, (national) industrial policies and the like. The problem is that Brexit involves an unholy alliance between reactionary and progressive Nationalism that basically represents a faustian bargain. It is a faustian bargain because exiting the EU does not automatically promise wonderful things as the political and economic elites can just as well embrace neoliberalism within the EU as outside of it if there is no Social and Economic Reconstruction. Does this mean that leaving the EU does not provide theoretically advantages? No, it does not mean that. Yet, when you Brexit without Social and Economic Reconstruction you basically engage in magical thinking that in my opinion is dangerous, even as I respect elements of the Brexit position.

Is remaining within the European Union automatically Social and Economic Reconstruction? No it is not, it is a political platform dominated by transnational corporations, political elites and forces of neo-liberal capitalism. The idea that remaining within the EU will automatically provide benefits and resolve problems is a kind of magical thinking. It has ultimately proved dangerous with the evidence being the systematic rise of far Right parties, austerity, a limited system to save and integrate immigrants or prevent the wars or economic disasters which accelerated immigration. These wars were partially triggered by U.S. militarism but received some assistance from various EU nations (via arms exports, cooperation with NATO, or reactionary foreign policies that would likely exist with or without the EU).

As we can see, either side of this debate can engage in magical thinking. Either side can claim elements of logic to their side, but neither really can promote the high road for Europe or the global community.

Can we argue that the EU facilitates Social and Economic Reconstruction? There are some research programs within the EU that can do this, but in actuality the constraints placed on independent national state actions are highly problematic. There should be demands placed on the EU to make changes.

Can we argue that the EU cannot be reformed ever and is a dead weight on progressive social and economic alternatives? Can we argue that the EU blocks Social and Economic Reconstruction? There is some truth to this position perhaps, but it may confuse a discursive, political, economic and media space with the forces that control this space. Thus, assuming that an institution like the Democratic Party is always militarist, global capitalist, and the like when the Bernie Sanders campaign showed how to contest who controls that space reveals a kind of dialectical quality to such spaces. Yes, the EU was an elite project and the Democratic Party was not simply an elite project. Nevertheless, citizens can mobilize nationally via their states and put pressure on the EU. If anything the Brexit vote clearly shows contingency vis-à-vis the European Union. Please note this is not necessarily a progressive contingency, with the probability for that enhanced by Social and Economic Reconstruction. Also note that the Sanders campaign (or the Left in cooperation with it) could have done far more to promote Social and Economic Reconstruction as outlined here.

As exiting does not necessarily lead to Social and Economic Reconstruction and could very well empower the far Right (if it had not done this already), one can’t easily argue that remaining in the EU changes the balance of forces within the EU. Even if the elites want to keep the EU as their vehicle does not mean that it is impossible to create alternatives to that vehicle. If the Left really had its act together, pressed seriously for Social and Economic Reconstruction, and mobilized in a variety of ways and then failed to reform the EU, then it would make sense to promote a Lexit, a left-exit to the EU in which the Left dominated the discourse around exit and the creation of an alternative pan-European if not global network supporting Social and Economic Reconstruction. Yet, the Lexit forces of today skipped that stage, engaging in a kind of opportunistic alliance with the far Right. This opportunism was based on some reasoned arguments and a gloss over the failures of the British Left to systematically engage in Social and Economic Reconstruction.

The Detractors and Follow Up Analysis:

More Dead Ends?


I now apply the above ideas by reviewing just two articles related to this whole debate. Let us start with Elliot Murphy’s, “Another Tamriel is Possible: Brexit Proposals vs. Solutions” as published in Counterpunch. Murphy writes that “virtually the entire British political elite is in favour of remaining in the European Union. Aside from a handful of Tory careerists like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who see a disagreement with David Cameron’s leadership as a way to secure their own position within the party, the forces of reaction and business across the wingspan of British politics are flocking to support the EU.” I am not sure what Murphy’s point is here. The balance of the elite are also against forms of racism, does this make their position less valid? And, Cameron’s attack on London’s new mayor was a kind of racist attack, but hardly consistent with the EU’s line or hardly opposed by embracing the very forces aligned with Islamophobia.

Murphy writes “a vote to Leave would pull the EU in a considerably less neoliberal direction, likely benefiting other European countries – not to the mention the global South, in particular Africa, which has enjoyed a fundamentally exploitative relation with the EU since its inception.” I don’t see any evidence for this whatsoever. It is clear that the Brexit vote potentially pushes the EU in a progressive direction, but not necessarily so. Certainly, it is not so without Social and Economic Reconstruction, in any meaningful extent. Britain enjoyed a long history of imperialism and neocolonialism without the EU if Murphy cared to notice.

Murphy criticizes the AEiP movement as follows: “When Michael Chessum, a major organiser of the pro-Remain ‘Another Europe is Possible’ (AEiP) movement, is questioned about what concrete ‘changes’ he would like to see in EU, he simply dodges the question. Chessum’s behaviour generalises. To my knowledge, not a single supporter of Remain has presented a satisfying answer to the question of how we are supposed to go about reforming the EU.” The answer, however, is rather straightforward. One builds up structures and power outside the EU and applies pressure to the UK state and EU. If after trying to build up such structures and power, reform becomes impossible you have at least three options: a) demand concessions if you gain control over the UK state, b) exit if after gaining power or control over that state, you fail, c) use the base of power you accumulate through Social and Economic Reconstruction to strike the best deal with the EU possible, inside or outside the EU. So, the answer is relatively straight forward. Again, one can consider the endless possibilities associated with the New Economy Virtuous Cycle that usually exceed the imagination of the political left. When the Brexit folks embrace this agenda, then please let me know.

Murphy’s critique of Yanis Varoufakis, Ed Rooksby and trade union leaders in Britain all point to the same failure of imagination by both this group and Murphy himself. So, the failure of imagination is quite ubiquitous. Murphy may understand this as when he writes: “It is not as if another EU is inherently unreachable, but rather that without any posited, realistic steps to achieve it, the hopes of the Remain camp will quickly dissolve after June 23rd, no matter which side wins.” He continues, “Concrete solutions are lacking, then, as it is no good for the Left camp of Remain to simply point voters in the direction of Owen Jones columns and Caroline Lucas YouTube videos instead.”

Murphy continues, “the foundational pro-austerity, market liberalisation principles of the EU are established by the same treaties, which can be modified only by a unanimous agreement by all 28 member states.” This might be true but then we saw how Cameron was able to gain some concessions from the EU despite one state being up against a number of other EU states. What if it was not Cameron, but a Labour Party Prime Minister backed by a transnational social movement? Could he have gotten more concessions? Capitalism with or without the EU represents barriers. Leaving the EU does not eliminate capitalism or Neoliberalism, it just creates a different arena to fight within. But, the fight must be had and is not triggered or generated automatically by Brexit.

Let us now turn to Murphy’s analysis of Noam Chomsky’s arguments: “The Left Remain camp have also recently been galvanised by Noam Chomsky’s tenuous support for their cause, with Owen Jones and AEiP posting quotations of the professor’s brief statements on the matter. Chomsky’s reasons for supporting Remain are extremely weak and don’t stand up to much scrutiny. His reasoning is as follows: The racist Right is in favour of Leave, therefore we should Remain. But the racist Right is also in favour of Remain. Chomsky’s logic seems to be as follows: If P, therefore Q, so why not Z?” Here Murphy engages in bad faith. He does not understand that the discursive moment is largely tied to a right-wing anti-immigrant agenda tied to a reaction to austerity. They are linked. It does not matter that the number of voters supporting exit far outnumber the far Right voters. Why? Because the Far Right has triggered a larger discourse which mainstream parties, particularly on the Right, react to. The media embrace and legitimize large aspects of the Far Right discourse and that influences far more persons than the number of Far Right voters. This discourse is based on the coupling of anti-austerity with Brexit. This coupling is made possible by the failures of the Left as exploited by the Right. Brexit does not decouple anti-austerity and anti-racism. This is Chomsky’s larger argument which Murphy buries.

It is true that a racist and anti-immigrant vote is not the sole driver of the Brexit campaign and many hurt by austerity had what they felt to be good reasons for voting against the EU. Rather, as Billy Bragg explains, this was certainly true and just as true was the fact that the Far Right are net gainers from Brexit. The coupling of anti-austerity and racism is based on the “Socialism of Fools,” or more charitably a kind of false promise that a victory over austerity necessarily simply follows by beating the horse of Reactionary Cosmopolitanism.

Murphy continues by suggesting that Obama’s opposition to Brexit does not mean that a Brexit vote would leave Britain more subordinate to US power. Here again, his logic fails him. First, Obama and the U.S. military industrial complex are not quite the same thing. The former is less powerful than the latter. Obama’s whole election and administration accommodated this power. So, it may be that Obama wants the UK in the EU to bolster something economically (or US blocking a closer Chinese alliance with the UK that would also make the UK that more military dependent on the US) whereas the military industrial complex would gain from Brexit. Look at Germany, economically aligned with Russia on gas pipelines, military aligned with NATO. UK remains in NATO but is outside of EU in Brexit. So, Brexit could benefit the US militarily but not economically, with Obama himself being more concerned with the economic implications. In any case, it is something of an open question and Chomsky is not necessarily wrong.

Murphy correctly points out limitations to the EU: “State aid to declining industries, along with renationalisation, are not permitted by current EU laws (under directive 2012/34/EU), and any mildly progressive government which managed to get elected in 2020 would be hindered from the outset by the EU. Considerable reforms of the energy market would also be illegal under EU directives 2009/72EU and 2009/73/EU.” This is true, but in Sweden the government created a somewhat significant pharmaceutical R&D center for displaced technical workers from that sector and the EU did not block that. The EU did not block the wind energy cooperatives that exit in Sweden either. So, the EU is hardly blocking all the elements of a research-linked industrial policy or progressive aspects of energy policy. Thus, Murphy is correct to point these things out but can’t explain why the Danes who are in the EU have a vibrant wind production sector and thousands of green jobs, whereas UK green job production in some areas is less impressive. Rather, he selectively cherry picks the worst case arguments but leaves out the necessary counterfactual arguments.

Murphy continues to provide negative examples, but does not think them through logically. For example, he writes: “McDonnell’s plans for People’s Quantitative Easing? Outlawed by Article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.” Does the EU prevent a progressive bank like JAK bank in Sweden? No. Does the EU prevent the organization of millions of left voters to patronize and support this bank? No. Does the EU prevent unions from organizing their members to patronize JAK and use it as a bank to extend industrial cooperatives? No. Over and over, we see how the EU despite its great limitations becomes for Lexit or Murphy the fulcrum of all (or most) of the Left’s failures when it is the Left itself which is most to blame. Or, how Brexit was to be a necessary condition for success, but Brexit’s reactionary pitfalls are papered over.

Here is another Murphy argument: “The series of anti-trade union laws introduced in Britain over the past few decades? The EU has no qualms with these whatsoever, showing no interest in providing even modest forms of protection for workers.” Yes, but this simply shows how British Neoliberalism can thrive even without the EU, thank you very much! Murphy seems to acknowledge as much: “Given the sheer dominance of the traditional forces of international finance on both sides of the mainstream debate, talk of a Lexit or a Left Remain become highly misleading: There will be only a ‘Rexit’ or a right-dominated Remain – at least in the short term.” Murphy acknowledges Chomsky’s arguments later on (creating a puzzling inconsistency): “Brexit will likely boost the anti-immigrant Tory, UKIP and Labour base in the short term.” Nevertheless, he quickly runs over to magical thinking: “Yet over the coming years it will permit a future Labour-run Britain to implement mildly social democratic reforms much more easily, to be otherwise hindered by the EU’s strictures – that is, if Corbyn goes on the offensive and exploits the Tory’s weaknesses to a greater extent than he currently seems willing to do. A Corbyn-led Britain (or at least a Corbynite-influenced Labour Britain) outside the EU would be free from the direct influence of the European Central Bank, which is legally committed to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. Government aid to failing industries is barred…” What if the far Right is empowered at the expense of Lexit? How does Brexit politically empower Corbyn to do anything? There is no natural or logical connection here because this is thinking by non-sequitor.

Recent evidence suggests that Brexit led to divisions in the Labour Party, but only time will tell. Brexit encouraged a revolt in the Labour Party by what some consider the Tony Blair wing of the party, although others point to poll data that suggests that Labour gained at the expense of UKIP and the Conservatives. If UKIP and the Conservatives lost support because of a backlash against Brexit and/or the immediate economic fallout of Brexit, then greater Labour support for these reasons hardly bolsters the case for Brexit. A wave of racist incidents followed Brexit as documented by The Washington Post and The Guardian, which reveals far right opportunism but also the ways in which the discursive space is exploited even if UKIP’s poll numbers decreased. These shifts and turns in British politics might be explained by the lack of political understanding of what the European Union even is, even though voters for Brexit suffering from austerity certainly reacted to that.

We have reason to suspect the non-sequitor when Murphy later writes: “leaving the EU would by no means result in immediately significant changes or wins for the European Left.” The next sentence is telling, “but it would crucially open up an entirely different kind of debate from the one inevitably resulting from a Remain vote (especially given the bizarre fixation of the Remain campaigns – including AEiP – solely on the virtues of the EU, and not its considerable shortcomings). In addition, it would lead to the kind of debate in which leftists would no longer feel compelled to recycle myths about how David Cameron is somehow ‘better’ on immigration issues than Boris Johnson.” What is the problem with Murphy’s logic here? He confuses a discursive shift with the generation of an alternative media platform. Unlike the U.S., with its network of community and Pacifica or radical radio stations, the U.K. lacks any such equivalent. The BBC is under pressure from the Right, further constraining that space. The country is littered with reactionary tabloids. A few bright spots, like The Guardian and The Independent, are often outgunned in media power. Here we see clearly the magical thinking which conflates discursive openings with the hard work of Social and Economic Reconstruction.

Murphy still engages in the kind of bean counting approach to measuring the far Right’s power which I have already criticized. Let us look at one example: “The sight of Johnson trying to lead an increasingly fractured and rebellious party, forced into a number of substantial retreats, would be nothing less than a gift to the entirety of the UK Left.” Here is a confusion between individual politicians and personalities and the larger framework of far Right discursive power. As I stated, the far Right leverages power by its own numbers and by its effects on the other Right parties and (I can now add) by the politics of scarcity, i.e. the Left does not have a comprehensive integration policy for immigrants (linked to cooperatives, efficiency in skills trading and skills banks, facilitating self-organization and the like), and the role played by mass media. While Johnson himself might find problems in ruling the conservatives, that does not mitigate all these other advantages of the far Right. The Brexit victory will be leveraged effectively by a larger network of forces that is far larger than just one politician.

Murphy turns to arguments by Baroness Jenny Jones, a prominent Green Party member, in a Fabian Society essay, “A Fork in the Road.” She writes, “Personally, I fear [the EU] is unreformable…And latterly I’ve been horrified too by the deep influence of big business – corporate lobbyists outnumber NGO lobbyists by 15-1. What chance is there of tough progressive action on poverty or the environment.” This is a very important and interesting argument, but applied to Brexit, it leaves many questions unanswered.

First, does the Left in the UK do everything it could do to increase its political, economic, and media power leverage? No, it does not. It does not create a radical media space to challenge entrenched corporate interests. It does not link its consumptive power to generate cooperatives on the production side whose profits could be used to patronize this media.

Second, by failing to accumulate such power, it does not allow itself to advance a progressive agenda within the potential of its power accumulation trajectory inside or outside the EU.

Third, leaving the EU does not change the balance of power with big corporate lobbyists in any significant way. More tedious and specious mind-numbing logic. Murphy concludes, “a vote for Leave isn’t just a vote against the neoliberal forces of the Troika: It is also a vote against our own ruling classes.” No, it is a vote against the preferences of your ruling class, but it does not and will not defeat them; it will only displace the battles you have with them to new terrains, new terrains where you will lose the battle without Social and Economic Reconstruction.

Paul Mason and Brexit.2


Paul Mason wrote a kind of political obituary for the the UK’s links to the EU in “Britain is not a rainy, fascist island–here’s my plan for ProgrExit,” published in The Guardian. The gist of this article is that the gig is up, i.e. it’s too late to put the pieces together again of a now fragmented British romance with the EU. Mason writes, “We must prevent the Conservative Right using the Brexit negotiations to reshape Britain into a rule-free space for corporations; we need to take control of the process whereby the rights of the citizen are redefined against those of a newly sovereign state.” Mason calls for making the most of the fait accompli of exit: “we can and must fight to place social justice and democracy at the heart of the Brexit negotiations. I call this ProgrExit – progressive exit. It can be done, but only if all the progressive parties of Britain set aside some of what divides them and unite around a common objective.”

While Mason is clearly one of Britain’s most sophisticated analysts of political and economic affairs, there are a few questions one might want to ask about this article.

First, one can ask whether or not Mason understands the limits of majoritarian democracy. Mason writes, “Labour must clearly accept Brexit. There can be no second referendum, no legal sabotage effort. Labour has to become a party designed to deliver social justice outside the EU. It should, for the foreseeable future, abandon the objective of a return to EU membership. We are out, and must make the best of it.” If 48 percent opposed Brexit, the acceptance of the 52 percent who supported are hardly representative of all opinions. In Social and Economic Reconstruction the logic is not based on majorities but critical minorities who attempt to convince and influence majorities. Siding with 52 percent is hardly a sufficient response.

Second, while Mason is correct that the Left has to put its spin on things, we have an interesting situation in which the real winner is the far Right. After all, both the Conservative and Labour Party leaders opposed and UKIP embraced Brexit. Therefore, embracing Brexit objectively aligns one with UKIP’s agenda even as you scramble to come up with a Left response to UKIP. Rather than force something that UKIP has to respond to, the Left’s immediate thought is to react to what UKIP helped set into motion. This means that a Left response is going to partially be reactive, no matter how “proactive” it may seem in design or intentions.

Third, Mason calls for early elections, but here he appears to put the cart before the horse. I have already suggested that political mobilizations without media and economic mobilizations will always be limited affairs. Rather than get the Labour Party on a track to create and implement such comprehensive mobilizations, Mason wants to rush Labour into an election. I don’t understand the logic of such thinking at all. Labour could be organizing the public through town meetings and an ad hoc virtual town hall system of cities using the Internet and progressive media such as exists in the UK. He need not have an election to do this.

Fourth, Labour is in a bind if Brexit leads Scotland to leave the UK. Mason writes, “Labour – which cannot govern what is left of the UK alone, once Scotland leaves – should accede to [proportional representation].” If Scotland’s departure weakens the Left’s political power or possibilities of a political majority within the UK, I don’t see that the natural war of position” as being the electoral route. Rather, to repeat again and again, the natural war of position is in the organization of an alternative economic and media space as well as through a system of direct democracy. Does the UK even have a labor radio network like WINS, the U.S.-based radio network? How does the Left mobilizing for an election or putting a progressive spin on Brexit lead to the creation of such institutions? Answer, they don’t lead to this of necessity.

Finally, while Mason is correct that Scotland is on its way out of the UK or is likely to leave, the real questions for us should rather be the following (none of which Mason takes up): (a) If Scotland leaves the UK, can the new Scottish state create a progressive bank which is aligned with the cooperative banks of Mondragon and banks like JAK in Sweden? Could this bank be used to leverage the creation of cooperatives in Scotland and the balance of the UK? (b) If Scotland creates cooperatives that are part of large networks, could these federations start organizing sustainable industries and work in the areas abandoned by transnational capitalists in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? (c) Can Scotland create a Left broadcasting network similar in format to RT (Russian Television) or Al Jazeera which broadcasts progressive programming into the UK and competes with the BBC from the Left? Are we just going to view Scotland’s decisions as some sort of political variable and leave out all the important questions related to economic, banking, and media power?

Conclusions:  The Short-Term, Medium-Term and Long-Term Solutions are the Same


Brexit or Lexit, either way you slice it, we have a victory for the far Right and only a theoretical opportunity for the Left of the UK or Europe. The same magical thinking that always puts a progressive gloss on everything the EU does finds analogous thinking in the magical thinking that assumes that Brexit translates into a stunning defeat for Neoliberalism. Rather, Neoliberalism, simply can shift its attentions to ruling the UK without the EU. There is no substitute for the primitive accumulation of the economic, media and political capital necessary for Social and Economic Reconstruction. Remaining in the EU or exiting the EU does not automatically produce such power accumulation systems on behalf of democratic impulse, autonomy, and the creation of a sustainable society. The Right and Left each search for short cuts. The far Left is totally naive about their capacities and ability to control or manipulate the situation because their deconstructive discourse about the EU is largely divorced from a reconstructive discourse. The far Right have shown themselves clever in manipulating or setting the agenda for the mass media and large electoral blocks by marrying anti-austerity with racist xenophobia. The far Left may try to fantasize itself out of its objective alliance with this unholy marriage by projecting things that they hope they can do, but probably will never accomplish without a far more radical program that they themselves hardly (or ever) embrace.

In summary, staying in the EU or exiting it does not or did not produce the necessary outcomes in and of itself. The far Left commits a tactical error by aligning themselves objectively (but not subjectively) with the far Right. They can’t produce any meaningful anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, or anti-austerity agenda simply by leaving the EU. Either way you look at it (a radical alternative outside the EU or a reformed EU which accommodates reconstruction), you need reconstruction and the agenda outlined in this essay. And guess what? The Left fails over and over and over to give us the discourse we need, with a few notable exceptions.

Media och rekonstruktion

Reconstruction as a Solution to the Problems of Media Content and Form

I teorin skulle en politiker idag kunna titta på den ojämna fördelningen av makt mellan idéer och besluta sig för att stödja de idéer som är mest populära vid det givna tillfället. Kontrollsystemen som politiker hålls ansvariga genom blir svagare i ett samhälle som präglas av byråkrati och där fackföreningar och andra institutioner försvagats. Massmedia har till stor del  stöpts om i enlighet med rådande passiviserande mekanismer, det vill säga ett fåtal medieaktörer dikterar villkoren för en passiv massa. Men hur kan media användas för att demokratisera och förbättra samhället?

Av Jonathan M. Feldman,
översatt från engelska av Salvador Perez och Sanna Lind

Media är organiserat i en hierarki som en del kommunikationsteoretiker kallar en kommunikationskedja med publiken i botten, eliterna högst upp och journalisterna i mitten. Mediehierarkin manifesteras som tydligast under kriser och andra sorters nyhetshändelser som ger upphov till intensiv mediebevakning. I Sverige utgör dags- och kvällstidningarna en av de viktigaste informationskällorna för människor. År 1990 uppgav 87 procent att de läste en morgontidning minst tre dagar i veckan och 35 procent läste en kvällstidning minst tre dagar i veckan. År 2014 var dessa siffror nere på 58 respektive 10 procent. Under 2014 läste 38 procent en morgontidning på nätet och 27 procent läste en kvällstidning på samma sätt. SVT:s tittartid har minskat från 43 procent till 35 procent från 2002 till 2007. Under denna tidsperiod har också Sveriges Radios lyssnarandel minskat från 52 till 48 procent. År 2014 var SVT:s TV-tittare 35 procent i förhållande till TV4s andel på 30 procent. Under intensiva perioder av politiskt fokus kan SVT nå ungefär en miljon tittare, till exempel såg 949 000 på partiledardebatten den 6 oktober 2013 mellan 20.00 och 21.00.

Ubåtsjakten under 1980-talet utgör i likhet med politiska valvakor ett exempel på en period av intensiv mediebevakning. I det här fallet nådde det sin höjdpunkt då den sovjetiska ubåten U137 gick på grund vid marinbasen i Karlskrona år 1981. Den intensiva mediebevakningen ledde till en mer militärt präglad nyhetsrapportering och grundade sig i en logik som kopplade samman en aktuell händelse (ubåtar i svenska vatten), ett inramningssystem (framing system) med kontinuerliga expertutlåtanden i media. Delar av den här logiken kan förklaras på följande sätt:

“När händelser eller kriser av militär karaktär upptäcks finns det en institutionaliserad mekanism för att göra händelser till föremål för säkerhetspolitiskt intresse och sätta dem på dagordningen. Det är skälet till att upptäckten av utländsk ubåtsverksamhet omedelbart hamnade på agendan som ett ”nytt” militärt hot i fredstid under 1980-talet. Marinen och underrättelsetjänsten var redo, och gav snart en enorm mängd information om dessa aktiviteter; det rapporterades om att mer än 500 incidenter under 1980-talet sannolikt var ubåtskränkningar.” (Johan Eriksson, “Agendas, Threats, and Politics: Securitization in Sweden”, 1999)

Stycket berör dock inte den nyckelroll som en del politiker antog när de utnyttjade hoten för att realisera sina egna politiska ambitioner. De blev politiska entreprenörer; de försökte mobilisera den allmänna opinionen kring en offentlig fråga som de har mer eller mindre kunskap om. Ubåtsjakterna gynnade exempelvis de borgerliga partierna, särskilt Moderaterna, och för Carl Bildt innebar ubåtsjakterna ett politiskt genombrott.

Experter, politiker och journalister

Det akademiska systemet utbildar många journalister och aktivister i sociala rörelser och kan därmed bidra till att forma inramningssystemet på sikt medan experter, ofta med anknytning till akademin, ger information som flödar genom hela kommunikationskedjan. Media och politiska entreprenörer använder ofta selektivt experter som de anser vara legitima. Den avgörande roll som urvalet av experter kan spela illustreras av olika nyhetshändelser och hur expertens legitimitet formar inramningen av händelserna. Den svenska militäranalytikern Niklas Granholm som arbetar på FOI (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut) utgör ett intressant exempel. Under sommaren 2015 var Granholm det viktigaste inslaget i artikeln ”Ryska ubåtsövningen skickar tydlig signal” i Svenska Dagbladet. Granholm hävdade att Ryssland planerade en militärövning i Arktis med tre nya kärnstrategiska ubåtar som skulle sända ”en tydlig signal om att Ryssland är på väg mot nytt globalt inflytande.”

Den här inramningen är baserad på centrala aktörers olika uttalanden, och dessa aktörer består framförallt av militärexperter och politiska entreprenörer. Vi kan börja kartlägga processen genom att undersöka följande data. Först och främst var Granholm den enda källan i den tidigare citerade artikeln. För det andra visar en Google-sökning genomförd 17 oktober 2014 att kombinationen av ordet ubåt och Granholms namn ledde till 616 träffar medan ”Niklas Granholm” gav 2490 träffar. Med andra ord är sökningen ett tecken på att mycket av Granholms medienärvaro är knuten till diskussionen om ubåtar, närmare bestämt 24,7 procent av Google-träffarna. Det är inte förvånande eftersom 33,6 procent av hans närvaro är knuten till Ryssland. I själva verket är en betydande andel av medierepresentationen av olika anhängare eller motståndare till svensk utrikespolitik knuten till omnämnanden av Ryssland eller ubåtar (tabell 1 appendix i pdf-fil).

Tabell 1 (pdf) visar att vissa anti-Nato eller antimilitaristiska talespersoner har vad som skulle kunnas kallas för en rimlig grad av mediemakt, men nyckelrepresentanter som ordföranden för Svenska Freds och Skiljedomstolen hamnar i medieskuggan av representanter för utrikespolitiskt status quo. Tabell 1 visar tydligt att rollen som expert och politisk entreprenör vanligtvis innehas av samma person. Politiker, regeringsmedlemmar, kulturarbetare och aktivister måste i regel utgå ifrån samma inramning som porträtterar Ryssland som ett hot eller potentiellt hot. Det gör det mycket svårt att få utrymme till att formulera alternativa omvärldsanalyser som bygger på andra antaganden. Ibland har politiska entreprenörer som Hans Blix legitima meriter medan vi i andra fall förväntas anta att entreprenören har den nödvändiga expertisen. Värdet av en viss expertis är givetsvis relativt, men vissa politiska entreprenörer har djupare förståelse och mer kunskap om vissa frågor än andra.

Det bästa sättet att illustrera problemet är att undersöka i vilken utsträckning vissa termer associerade med en genomgripande syn på utrikesfrågor dyker upp i den offentliga eller akademiska diskursen. Av tabell 2 (appendix pdf) framgår att externa hot mot Sverige har mer representativ makt än en genomgripande utrikespolitik som skulle göra att Sverige verkade för avspänning. Till exempel har sökordet “förtroendebyggande åtgärder” och ”Ryssland” ungefär 9 000 träffar medan sökningar relaterade till Ryssland som hot har från 23 000 till 28 000 träffar. Tabell 2 visar också att Sveriges nära handelsförbindelser med Ryssland har mindre medierepresentation än Ryssland som potentiellt säkerhetspolitiskt hot. Den betydelse handeln med Ryssland har för svensk säkerhet nämns nästan aldrig i den akademiska diskursen.

Den nyckelroll som akademin spelar för att reproducera eller forma systemet kan inte förstås till fullo förrän vi undersöker hur legitimiteten hos flera institutioner har förändrats och att vissa institutioner förfogar över större förtroende hos allmänheten än andra (tabell 4 appendix pdf). Allmänheten har generellt inte stort förtroende för kvällstidningen Expressen och trots att förtroendet är större för regeringen och riksdagen har även det sjunkit de senaste fem åren. Allmänheten har däremot förhållandevis stort förtroende för svensk radio, tv, dagstidningen Dagens Nyheter och, allra mest, det högre utbildningssystemet. Allmänheten har inte bara större förtroende för dessa tre institutioner, nivån har även varit konstant över tid. Detta gäller trots att institutionerna bevisligen reproducerar en medieideologi som filtrerar bort det som utmanar status quo. Akademiska källor (representerade av Google Scholar) och andra källor (representerade av Google där träffar oftast drivs av återanvändningen av information från nyhetskällor) tenderar att underrepresentera en mer kritisk utrikes- och säkerhetspolitisk diskurs. I den akademiska diskursen får nyckeltermer relaterade till externa hot mer uppmärksamhet än hur Sverige skulle kunna minska internationella spänningar och militarism genom att reducera den egna vapenexporten eller genom att främja förtroendebyggande åtgärder. Märkligt nog negligeras handeln med Ryssland som en faktor som formar svensk utrikespolitik, och ryska hot behandlas utan större hänsyn till handelns förmildrande effekter. Även om Sveriges handel med Ryssland minskade under 2012 och 2013 var Ryssland Sveriges 13:e största exportmarknad och 7:e största importmarknad (år 2013). Det mest anmärkningsvärda är att Sverige är en av de tio största utländska direktinvesterarna i Ryssland. Enligt den ryska centralbanken var svenska direktinvesteringarna i Ryssland 15,8 miljarder dollar till och med den 1 januari 2013.

Möjligheterna till ett nytt medieutrymme

Det finns flera begränsningar i både de stora massmediernas makt och i sociala mediers alternativa legitimitet. Först och främst har digitaliseringen förändrat hur många som tar del av nyheter. Denna sorts förändring ändrar inte nödvändigtvis tidningars makt, men det förändrar var de hittar sin publik. För det andra rör sig de yngre tittarna bort från TV-formatet. Under 2014 la 57 procent av personer i åldrarna 16 till 65 sin tittartid på TV-formatet men i spannet 16 till 29 var siffran bara 36 procent. Mer generellt tittar allt färre på TV, särskilt i koncentrerad form. För det tredje har yngre personer mindre förtroende för vissa etablerade TV och radioinstitutioner än äldre, men de har fortfarande förtroende för annan etablerad media som SVT, SR och Dagens Nyheter (tabell 5 appendix pdf). För det fjärde har förtroendet för sociala medier bland unga, till skillnad från äldres (65-74 år) förtroende till samma medium, en tendens att sjunka snabbare än förtroendet för etablerade medier (tabell 6 pdf). En sannolik förklaring är de rapporter som briserade år 2014 om att tusentals konton associerade till Microsoft, Google, Facebook och Yahoo har fått sina data överlämnade till amerikanska myndigheter var sjätte månad som ett resultat av hemliga domstolsbeslut. Den amerikanska underrättelsetjänsten så kallade PRISM-program samlar upp data från mestadels icke-amerikanska internetkommunikationer.

Att unga potentiellt rör sig bort från de etablerade massmedierna och  sociala medierna öppnar upp möjligheterna för engagemang i en medieplattform som ännu inte existerar. Möjligheterna och begränsningarna med en ny medieplattform kan analyseras med hjälp av två medieteorier. Faserna i massmedier kan förstås genom att först uppmärksamma två av de senare faserna i utvecklingen av TV:n. I centrum-periferi-modellen finns det inte längre ett monopol för offentlig TV. I början av 1990-talet började en rad hybridkanaler dyka upp som erbjöd ”all-round-program” men som också liknade public service (TV4 till exempel). Dessa förändringar innebär att det nu är svårare att bibehålla en normativ programpolicy eftersom tittarna själva kan sätta ihop sina egna tablåer som mycket väl kan skilja sig från majoritetens. Dessa mynnar ut i skapandet av nischade program. Utöver det ser vi en guldålder för demografisk ”targeting” vilket innebär att kanaler nu lägger avsevärda ansträngningar på att identifiera stora homogena subgrupper bland tittarskarorna. Denna centrum-periferi-modell blev dominerande under 1990-talet, även om det fanns en betydande rörelse bort från centrum – i Sverige de fem stora: SVT1, SVT2, och de kommersiella kanalerna TV3, TV4 och Kanal 5.

En annan mediemodell är ”upplösningsmodellen” som utmärks av extrem fragmentisering. I detta skede har mediecentrum disintegrerat och tittande är spritt över en myriad av kanaler. Det finns inga kollektiva tittarmönster som kan ses i tid eller rum och tittare delar bara sina tittarupplevelser med andra sporadiskt. Denna modell förutspås vara på plats när ”digitaliseringen är fullt implementerad och det digitala multikanalsystemet är operativt och använt.” (Anna Edin, “Times Have Changed: On the Relationship Between Swedish Public Service Television and the Viewing Public”, 2015) Vid denna punkt i utvecklingen finns det inte längre en ”majoritetspublik”. Upplösningsmodellen ligger fortfarande i framtiden även om trenden mot fragmentisering redan är stark.

Problemet med prognoser av det här slaget är inte att de inte fullt ut skildrar troliga förändringar i leveransplattformar. Problemet är snarare att de inte skildrar potentialen i en tillbakagång till en tidigare modell där allmänheten sökte ett mer aktivt förhållande till att skapa innehåll och forma medienätverken. Sådana nätverk kan fylla det vakuum som skapats av fragmentiseringen. Därtill misslyckas dessa prognoser med att förklara populariteten hos en rad hårt mediebevakade event såsom välgörenhetsgalor eller Melodifestivalen. För det andra kan bakgrunden till möjligheterna och begränsningarna också delvis ses i politikens medialisering, ett koncept utvecklat av Jesper Strömbäck. Han har formulerat en teori i vilken media vinner makt mot både mellanmänskliga kommunikationer och politiker och därmed etablerar sig som ett agendasättande system relativt oberoende av båda. Media blir därmed mindre känsligt för politiker och politiker blir mer känsligt gentemot media. Vad som saknas i det här perspektivet är att det misslyckas med att förklara hur medieinstitutioner kan förlora legitimitet, hur face-to-face kommunikation kan kombineras, och hur legitimitet och idéers ursprung kan spela en viktig roll. Det är här som rekonstruktiv media kommer in i bilden.

Rekonstruktiv media

Idén bakom rekonstruktiv media är att media kan bli ett verktyg med vilket det är möjligt att omforma samhället genom demokratiska principer. Kontrollsystemen som politiker hålls ansvariga genom blir svagare i ett samhälle som präglas av byråkrati eller i ett politiskt system där fackföreningarna och andra institutioner försvagats. Även massmedia har byråkratiserats när den stöpts om i enlighet med rådande passiviserande mekanismer, det vill säga när ett fåtal medieaktörer dikterar villkoren för en passiv massa. Sociala medier som alternativ till denna modell kommer att nå en återvändsgränd på grund av flera faktorer som innefattar: användandet av mediekommunikation som ett substitut till face-to-face dialog, den potentiella innehållslösheten i sociala medier som ett återanvändningssystem för intellektuellt innehåll som utvecklats någon annanstans, och spridningen av kommunikation som ett potentiellt svagt svar på både politikers och medias koncentrerande makt.

Det rekonstruktiva alternativet kan förklaras på följande sätt: tyngdpunkten ligger på förhållandet mellan politiken (regeringen/staten), media och en mobiliserad grupp medborgare. Medan Strömbäck diskuterar vad som är eller inte är antingen politiskt eller drivet av media gör han inte skillnad mellan vad media förmedlar och organiserar och vad som förmedlas och organiseras av ett nätverk medborgare. I boken Communication Power skriver Manuel Castells att ”om du tänker annorlunda kommer kommunikationsnätverk fungera annorlunda under förutsättningen att inte bara du, men även jag och många andra väljer att bygga nätverken som omger våra liv.”

Det grundläggande problemet som illustreras ovan är separationen av kunskap och makt, där kunskap är djupgående analyser och idéer om omfattande problem och där makt är förmågan att stödja medvetenhet, förverkligande av idéer och implementering av reformer. Vi kan därför definiera det rekonstruktiva projektet på följande vis. Först och främst är innehållet i media lika viktigt som dess form. Studiecirklar kan spela en nyckelroll genom att analysera sociala problem och sedan presentera djupgående lösningar för allmänheten. I ovanstående exempel skulle det involvera att främja idéer som att skapa civila alternativ till vapentillverkning, skapa jobbstegar till kvalificerade jobb för marginaliserade grupper och att länka samman grön teknologi till kooperativ som tillverkar energisystem lokalt. Information genereras av grupper som använder media snarare än tvärtom, att media använder grupperna. Om man elektronisk länkar samman flera sådana grupper kan de utbyta idéer. Poängen med att ett sådant system är att det bygger på interaktion och delaktighet snarare än att några få aktörer förmedlar nyheter till en passiv publik. Idag väljer media att iscensätta idén med en gemenskap genom att sätta ett dussin människor som har de valt ut i en studio. Istället skulle media kunna användas för att länka samman grupper och människor som kommunicerar med varandra i realtid.

För det andra betyder inte oberoende från staten samma sak som att utnyttja det oberoendet för massmobilisering. Om en grupp som organiserar en händelse som de kan utforma och styra både vinner medias uppmärksamhet och organiserar sina egna medier för att koppla händelsen över flera utrymmen (definieras av båda platserna och distributionskanaler) blir media mer beroende av gräsrötternas mobilisering. Castells skriver: ”Det faktum att politiken i huvudsak utspelas i media betyder inte att andra faktorer […] inte är betydande för att avgöra resultatet av politiska tävlingar. Inte heller innebär det att media är makthavare […] de är en arena för maktackumulering.”

För det tredje, makten som styr vad media säger och gör är vanligtvis antingen politiker eller medieproducenter/ägare av mediekoncerner. När politiker anpassar sig till massmedia börjar media att styra innehållet. Det innebär att media inte längre reflekterar vad en politiker säger utan sätter själv agendan. Ett exempel på detta skulle kunna vara debatten om svensk utrikespolitik där det grundläggande antagandet om ett ryskt hot mot Sverige etablerats under veckor, månader och år av svensk nyhetsrapportering. Debatten är alltså upplagd från början och kan ofta begränsa utrymmet för vad en politiker kan säga. Som tabell 1 (appendix pdf) visar kan politiker, politiska entreprenörer eller intellektuella skilja sig åt i vilka idéer de förmedlar beroende på vilken diskurs de företräder. Men tabell 2 (appendix pdf) visar tydligt att det finns en ojämn utveckling och representation av idéer; vissa idéer anses vara bättre än andra idéer.

Alternativet till båda är utformandet av ett medborgarnätverk som drivs av en social rörelse. Det skulle kunna leda till att när en grupp politiker har större mediemakt och kontroll över information och beslutsfattande känner sig media tvunget att reproducera eller relatera till det.

Det behövs studier och analyser av vad staten, till skillnad från massmedia, reagerar på. En politiker skulle i teorin kunna titta på den ojämna fördelningen av makt mellan idéer och helt enkelt besluta sig för att stödja de idéer som är mest populära vid det givna tillfället. Med detta som bakgrund kan vi se Moderaternas senaste positionsändring i frågor som migration och tiggeri som ett möjligt svar på konkurrensen från Sverigedemokraterna. Alternativt kan vi se att allmänheten, på grund av en ojämn fördelning av makt mellan idéer, beslutar att stödja parti X som blir mycket populärt. När ett annat parti, säg Y, försöker tävla med X, betyder det att de enbart reagerar på politik eller media? Det rekonstruktiva alternativet utgår ifrån att det existerar en tredje möjlighet, det vill säga att en grupp kan förespråka och organisera sig runt och stödja idéer som finns längre ned i hierarkin men som är knutna till genomgripande lösningar.

Flera modeller visar hur det är möjligt att kombinera sociala medier med faktisk handling. Dessa modeller inkluderar exempelvis Occupy-rörelsen och arabiska våren, som byggde på mekanismer som Twitter och Facebook, och Global Teach-In den 25 april 2012 som byggde på kommunikation via e-post, en webbsida och interaktiv datorbaserad kommunikationsmjukvara. Problemet med Occupy-rörelsens horisontella karaktär visade sig vara ett ganska svagt inre pedagogiskt utbildningssystem. På grund av det började rörelsen att fokusera på taktiken att ockupera parker och andra offentliga platser istället för att formulera alternativ politik och upprätta nya institutioner.

Medieforskare utgår ifrån att allmänheten antingen är konsumenter av massmedia (som radio och TV) eller användare av sociala medier. Den tidigare tenderar att betona ägandestrukturer, beslutsfattningsbyråkratier och en organisationsform där innehållet är skapat av få men förmedlat till många. Den senare tenderar att betona den ytliga kontrollen användaren av sociala medier har över sitt eget Twitter eller Facebook-konto. Den senaste NSA-relaterade skandalen började ifrågasätta denna ytliga kontroll och det ledde till förlorad legitimitet. Problemet kvarstår dock att det är skillnaden mellan den förra och den senare typen av media som ofta leder till centraliserad kontra decentraliserad ytlighet. Det är givetvis möjligt att föra fram ”djupt” innehåll på nätet och sociala medier. Problemet är att det mest sofistikerade innehållet kräver förhållandevis sofistikerade mottagare. Dessa mottagare är ofta få till antalet och begränsade av den strukturella ytligheten i universitetssystemet och i de sociala rörelserna. Termen strukturell ytlighet innebär att aktörer som i teorin främjar upplysning egentligen gynnar ytlighet. Denna ytlighet uppstår genom en så kallad ersättningseffekt där en idé som låter radikal ersätter en som verkligen är radikal. Radikal betyder i sammanhanget något som angriper ett problems grundorsaker.

Gapet mellan intellektuella och genomgripande lösningar har dokumenterats av flera analytiker. De hävdar att det inte bara är tillräckligt att peka ut eliter eller etablissemanget som vilseledande. Istället kan den oppositionella vänstern själv vara inne på fel spår. Kort sagt dras många intellektuella till idéer högt upp i hierarkin. Detta fokus på populära koncept ger de intellektuella en följarskara, forskningsmedel, berömmelse, möten med politiker och så vidare. I ett sådant system avancerar den enskilde intellektuelles makt, men inte nödvändigtvis kunskap eller lösningar. Den klassiska brytningen mellan intellektuella och allmänheten analyserades av C. Wright Mills i The Sociological Imagination. Där argumenterar Mills för att intellektuella bör blottlägga strukturer snarare än att enbart redogöra för abstrakta idéer eller empiriskt drivna banaliteter. Alternativen kräver: (a) identifiering av orsakerna till problemen, (b) utveckling av djupgående lösningar och planer, (c) skapandet av maktmekanismer för att främja lösningarna med, och (d) nödvändiga kontrollsystem, väldesignad implementering, feedback-system och översikt.

Beyond Public Racism

Beyond Public Racism and Deconstruction

While the campaign launched by various activists against the SD posters in the subway was an important first step in trying to reform this society, there are limits to this initiative and its political language which are important to describe. The activists have to be given much credit for broadening the understanding of the limits of SL’s policies. Ultimately, this campaign was an important counter-reaction to the repressive tolerance of public racism, but a broader kind of discourse is needed to transform SL, challenge SD, and ultimately remake Swedish society.

By Jonathan M. Feldman


The racist and demagogic poster campaign aimed at Swedish tourists and centered in the Östermalm undergound station is part of a larger problem which is the repressive tolerance of Sweden’s political elite towards not only racism, but the inequality in media, political and economic power. Groups like the peace movement, anti-racist organizations, environmentalists and mass transportation advocates have less power. Even when these groups are granted access to the media, media representation proves insufficient for sufficiently accumulating power to address underlying problems. While parts of the elite have tried to represent a decent and fair Sweden, the actions of SL (Storstockholms Lokaltrafik) and its apologists reveal a rather indecent Sweden. SL is the transport agency running the greater Stockholm collective transportation system. The larger problem, however, is not just racism in Swedish society and inequality in the distribution of resources, but also the ideological system of repressive tolerance and displacement which also supports militarism and perpetuates myths about democracy and equity. Simply put, repression is tolerated and tolerance becomes perverse as the language of rights, lawyers and judiciaries is used to legitimate a system that cannot properly police its own racism.


While the recent campaign against the posters launched by various activists was an important first step in trying to reform this society, there are limits to this initiative and its political language which are important to describe. The activists have to be given much credit for broadening the understanding of the limits of SL’s policies and actively helping to challenge these policies and SD propaganda. Ultimately, this campaign was an important counter-reaction to the repressive tolerance of public racism, but a broader kind of discourse is needed to transform SL, challenge SD, and ultimately remake Swedish society.

This discourse involves an exposition of the links between Swedish mythology, militarism and racism, each tied to a concentration of media, political and economic power in the hands of the Swedish power elite. This elite sustains its power by filtering out larger realities and justifying itself in the name of established laws, democracy, free speech and sometimes even gender equality, even if that sometimes involves using women to help sell military products to developing nations. We also see that one key problem is that ethics takes the form of an investment in the mainstream corporate society which helps to regulate advertising, even when such corporate-financed regulators potentially find fault with SD’s campaign. The background issues show us how the political and cultural elites’ language of free speech, free commerce and openness is also tied to both militarist and racist cultures.

Even when an investment form of ethics (to be described below) is not applied, the Swedish legal system and politicians who help shape it have been largely ineffective in limiting the political trajectory of the racist far right or even continuing racist attacks. The impression one has is that the far right recedes when economic times are good and when the integration system works. Given new economic developments, expanded immigration and the limits of the current integration model, racism and xenophobia are on the rise. One key problem is the unemployment which contributes to SD’s vote share and power. The other is the absence of a discourse supporting policies that would link immigrants to higher qualified jobs, particularly for persons with immigrant backgrounds who don’t come to Sweden with advanced skills. The families of such persons also potentially risk marginalization, even if second generation Swedes can do better on the labor market. This discourse about integrating such new Swedes into the higher qualified labor market is not an important part of the immigration debate, existing only at the margins. Nor do we see a significant debate about de-industrialization and how that might affect the rise of both SD and the limits of economic equality. While newspapers like Dagens Nyheter have shown linkages between SD’s rise and layoffs from companies, they don’t really explain what could be done about this. If one wants to know why highly educated persons also support SD, one has to consider the logic of displacement explained below.

The Logic of Displacement


The political, economic and cultural elites of Sweden can be defined by: the top politicians, the heads of various agencies and their lieutenants, the heads of corporations and trade organizations, the leading newspapers of the country, the large mass media outlets, the dominant discourses in the university system, and a core group of spokespersons who repeatedly show up in public media commentary. There have been past investigations of this power structure and some have called for a new study of the power elite. In any case, the elite have created and sustained very powerful displacement systems vis-à-vis Sweden being: a) militaristic and b) racist. By “displacement” I mean a system which pushes something to the sidelines by emphasizing something else in its place, i.e. Sweden as anti-militaristic and anti-racist. I will use selected examples to illustrate a larger phenomena at work. It is true that these elites do not work in entirely the same way at the same time. There is no one homogeneous consensus that works that same way among all people at the same time. Nevertheless, clear patterns emerge in history regarding what can best be referred to as “sins of omission.” In an earlier study, I have thoroughly documented these sins when it comes to Swedish foreign policy.

Mainstream Society and Displacement


These displacements work in the following fashion. First, the mainstream society covers up its own dirty laundry by using the language of “objectivity,” law, bureaucratic procedures, and ignoring or aborting the language of morality, critical engagement, sociological principles concerning racism or militarism, or the historical legacy of a Sweden which partially tolerated its own indigenous Nazi movement and anti-Semitism or ties to German defense contractors (within limits). In the academic system, there is a refrain among many academics to strive for “objectivity” and to reveal various competing intellectual positions. This is partially desirable but usually what is ignored is the greater media and representational power of orthodox and liberal elite opinion. Also, pure objectivity is impossible as every choice to use a book, article or film in a course necessarily involves a point of view regarding what should be included and excluded and what the standard of objectivity is, e.g. does showing “both sides” assume that there are only two sides, when the number of different opinions is much greater than two factions, with great heterogeneity within the Left as well as Right. Another thing that is ignored is the soundbite culture that dilutes and marginalizes more complex arguments in the mass media.

Sometimes the worst aspects of racism and arms exports are addressed by half measures, or measures which limit but do not obliterate the cancer of anti-Semitism, racism, objectification of minority groups and militarism. The cancer then resurfaces and expands, particularly when it can be joined to the host of economic crises and scarcity politics or economic opportunism tied to profit making (see below). The language used by politicians to defend this system sometimes centers on law and procedures. Yet, these laws often reflect the accumulation of political power by persons who sweep problems under the rug. Or, in some cases the architecture of really existing laws turns out to be insufficient to address racist problems, hence it functions as a kind of alibi system. At different periods in its history, Jewish activists concerned with Nazis or anti-Semitic practices in Sweden have tried to put pressure on the country. Among such activists in places like the United States, or holocaust hunters in Israel, the repressive tolerance of Swedish elites is not accepted and often condemned. This phenomena is echoed in the fact that elite outlets like The New York Times are not bound by the moral and political code of Swedish nationalism, having their own American nationalist code to abide by. This shows up in the history of Times coverage of Sweden’s immigration and foreign policies.

Kristoffer Tamsons, the Chairman of the Traffic Committee of the Stockholm County Council, the group that is responsible for overseeing SL, argued: “when it comes to political advertising, it is our fundamental laws, the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, which controls what gets said and appear in public space.” These “fundamental laws” have sustained repressive tolerance, tied to a political system that continually substitutes law for moral judgments tied to any critical thinking. The failures of the Swedish legal system to irradicate anti-Semitism should be proof enough for the interested reader. These failures are not just evident in the problems of Jews in contemporary Malmö, but also extend to the history of Jews in 20th Century Sweden.

Sweden never accommodated the worst aspects of an indigenous Nazi presence, although it did create great leeway for various anti-Semitic activities. This is made clear in a study by Heléne Lööw, called “Incitement of Racial Hatred,” published in the Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Crimonology and Crime Prevention, Vol. 1, Issue 2: 2000: 109-129. When it came to anti-Semitism, “there was no legislation on the incitement of racial hatred during the period between the two world wars,” although anti-Semites, racists and National Socialists were “sentenced for calumny or disorderly conduct for what today would be considered as incitement of racial hatred” (Lööw, 2000: 109). The case of Einar Åberg, a well-known anti-Semite, illustrates how the legal system did not quite tolerate yet made possible his activities. In 1942, Åberg was prosecuted for anti-Semitic calumnies and utterance. The police court, however, rejected this prosecution, leading the prosecutor to appeal to the Stockholm Court of Appeal, which then “changed the sentence to a fine for disorderly conduct.” In the period between 1941 and 1945, Åberg “was sentenced on nine different occasions and fined for his anti-Semitic agitation” (Lööw, 2000: 110-111). Sweden was also not terribly cooperative of efforts to hunt down living Nazis during the period from 1986 to 2002. In sum, the system has a tendency to make adjustments but leaves the larger problems in place.

The ability to act against the posters in legal terms suffers because of a displacement system that limits the political cultural capital within the Swedish population. Because the racism found in the posters was based on coded language, the Justice Ministry decided after the protests that no laws were broken. Also, the Justice Ministry might want to ban political advertising by any organization whose origins are based on the concerted organizing activities of Nazis, but de-Nazification in Sweden did and does not involve a sufficiently deep educational process, e.g. aspects of Swedish culture that may have facilitated the rise of the Nazis in Sweden is considered less important than expositions on the Holocaust. Of course, education about the Holocaust and other genocidal actions is important, but education against the Holocaust has been used to displace other significant education related to Swedish actions, responsibilities, and the history of its far right.

When making proclamations about its advertising policy SL does not address the Nazi origins of SD, although its treatment of SD is consistent with the pattern of repressive tolerance documented by Lööw. The key forces which limit, resist or challenge the accompany system supporting repressive tolerance include scandals and direct action as well as long-term lobbying or social movement campaigns. For example, the Social Democratic government and Swedish parliament admirably called for limiting arms exports to dictatorships. This comes against the backdrop of scandals tarnishing Sweden’s reputation because of potential or actual weapons transfers to countries like China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. Here we have a victory, but what will be displaced is the problems caused by arm sales to countries like South Africa, a country with massive poverty and thus where arms sales represent an opportunity cost against equitable economic development.

Displacement and Swedish Social Movements


Second, even oppositional movements can directly (if sometimes unconsciously) engage in sins of omission even as they gain victories. Anti-racist and anti-militaristic movements exist on the margins, building on an historical legacy which can be seen in various ways, for example the anti-racist protest in Stockholm which took place August 4th against a series of political posters designed by the right-wing Swedish Democrats. The protest can be seen in the first photograph above, directed at the posters or political wall paper depicted in part in the second photograph. The protest aimed to challenge the normalization of racist opinions represented by these posters. The posters use coded language that make allusions to poor Roma who are forced by economic necessity to beg for money and food in more affluent European countries.

Amie Brammie Sey, one of the organizers of the protest, was quoted in Dagens Nyheter as follows: “We are many who reacted strongly against the new SD advertising in our underground, where beggars —who everyone knows are mainly Roma—are portrayed as parasites in our society. We turn towards the normalization of racism and wonder about where SL puts limits on these activities. It is completely incomprehensible.” The problem is that this normalization is comprehensible and this comprehension is what is displaced by elements of the Left’s own discourse. The comprehension is based on the larger logic of repressive tolerance and mainstream morality which conceals as much as it reveals as I will also demonstrate below. Thus, the Left has a language which sometimes in limited in its ability to describe what is actually happening.

This is a generalizable phenomenon. Social movements like the Swedish peace movement have focused on limiting arms sales to dictatorships as an important tactical argument. While they have noted the economic costs of arms sales to countries like South Africa, some of the peace movement’s rhetoric has not sufficiently addressed these costs. These costs are thereby displaced. A related issue is that by opposing arms exports to dictators and not saying much about civilian economic conversion of Swedish defense firms, the cutback in arms exports that the peace movement has proposed risks a backlash effect. As defense companies lose sales and fire workers, these companies and workers may mobilize against the political incumbents backing arms sales regulations. Or, the companies may simply expand their military operations in another country. With disarmament and economic conversion, such military commitments would be reduced. General and complete disarmament reduces all military markets, conversion creates new economic opportunities for firms and workers in the civilian market. The spread of militarism and possibilities for alternative civilian planning are thereby displaced by a narrow focus on ending Swedish arms exports to dictators.

What the Swedish peace movement and Swedish politicians making these reforms gain, the military industry workers and citizens in potential countries in which their state gets weapons from different suppliers potentially lose. Of course, the Swedish decision on arms exports is a victory, but the limits to the current design of educational campaigns prevent even further victories. In contrast, by understanding the language and logic of displacement, we can achieve more comprehensive victories.

Using Social Movements as Tools to Defend the Status Quo


Third, these marginalized movements concerned with racism and militarism are expropriated by the majority society as a kind of alibi. The alibi takes the form of propaganda to cover up or displace the mainstream society’s very own militarism, racism and attempts to normalize the far-right. This kind of substitution system where bad and good are equated (or can easily be substituted for one another) is part of the logic of equivalences spelled out long ago by Herbert Marcuse. The logic of equivalences treats all public opinion the same, whether it be liberal, fascist, racist, or anti-racist. Everything is treated as being the same, although the mainstream society tries to marginalize the most direct forms of fascism and racism, it clearly accepts its “softer” variants as demonstrated by SL’s granting space for SD’s continuing wave of propaganda campaigns. The Ministry of Justice’s recent decision also embraces soft forms of racism A very superficial notion of democracy and “free speech” guides politicians who find more complicated understandings of power, militarism and racism inconvenient to their larger agendas of staying in power by promoting the lowest moral common denominator. The far right in turn has skillfully used the electoral and mass media systems for its own ends.

Thus, while the Left often enters into even mainstream debates, outside of these debates its ability to frame the larger context in which such debates are understood by the mass public is limited. One reason for these limits is that the Left often uses a kind of insurrectionist rhetoric which the mass media has trained itself to filter out. While the Left could make more legitimate sounding argument about cooperatives and creation of new institutions, instead it bashes the existing system. It is not wrong on moral grounds to bash the system, but it is meaningless verbiage if meaningful institutional designs for alternatives does not accompany the bashing. Sometimes, as in the August 4th protest, the blunt rhetoric that the system is irrational, racist, etc. is warranted. Yet, the inability to use sustained economic power to create an alternative media framing system makes Left appearances in the mass media a double-edged sword. Until persons marginalized by ethnicity, gender, class or (most importantly) ideology are given their own autonomy (or greater representational power) in news programming, we can expect that the debates organized by the mass media which let the Left in will partially broaden the discourse while potentially narrowing the scope of proactive action. One piece of evidence for this position is that the far Left parties usually get far less than ten percent of the vote. The Collapse of the Swedish Left can be seen in an analysis of the share of total votes received by the Feminist, Green and Left parties combined as a proportion of the total votes received by the Swedish Democrats. What the data I have collected show is that the combined vote total of the three left parties went from 4459% of SD’s total in 1998 to only 122% in 2004. Is somebody asleep at the wheel? Yes. These statistics can be explained in part by the Left’s political language, with these limits also a part of Swedish political methodology (only the Left’s variant of the mythology). Many Left intellectuals who understand these realities respond by being depressed, not breaking the taboos within the Left, or simply try dance their way around a political mythology that provides at best incremental change.

The Displacement Cycle: From Repressive Tolerance to Clean Hands Branding


Let us first examine how the system works with respect to questions of militarism. The cycle of displacement begins with the elites playing first the card of repressive tolerance and that hand is played over and over until the scandals or political pressure produce a new synthesis. The new synthesis is clean hands branding which combines reform and Swedish nationalism, but does not question the control over economic decision making of the larger, global institutional base of militarism that is the alleged trigger for reforms.

In the case of the peace movement, the Left’s rhetoric about the limits to arms exports to dictatorships is used to justify the newly reformed status quo that may end up limiting such exports. This victory (associated in part with Left or peace movement discourse) will displace other questions of militarism, economic planning, and the concerns of victims of militarism tied to arms exports from other countries. Therefore, we have to both acknowledge the victory in a potential reform in Swedish arms exports policy and also the limits of this victory. Sweden emerges with cleaner hands, but the global system is continually defined by dirty hands. Sweden sets an example for the world, but the example is not one of how a country promotes the conversion of defense industries to civilian production. We see a kind of clean hands branding which leaves in place the larger institutional power of militarism.

With clean hands branding, we solve an immediate problem which is how Sweden or some other organization no longer engages in the most publicly illegitimate form of behavior that causes the public to become angry or causes the state/organization to lose legitimacy. Yet, while Sweden or the organization having their legitimacy threatened get their reputations partially restored, the larger problems are swept under the rug. In the case of the arms export crisis, the larger problem is global militarism and the need for national examples of how to take national military assets and convert them into civilian-serving pursuits. In the case of the racist SD poster campaign, the larger problem is SD’s growing political power and the foundations for that power. In each case, clean hands branding is a victory, but if the victory makes people complacent it is not a sufficient victory for addressing the larger problems. In one case, the Swedish state looks better but the dictators getting weapons get them from somewhere else. The larger problem is not solved. In the other case, the racist posters are swept clean and SL looks better, but the larger problem of institutionalized far right power accumulation is not solved.

The potentially new Swedish policy on arms exports and the removal of SD’s posters from the Östermalmstorg underground station are also victories which potentially form the basis for new victories. We saw the collapse of repressive tolerance and a fighting spirit among protestors to expose its bureaucratic champions. This collapse and spirit create positive precedents for further reforms and are not simply negative developments. I am not engaged here in a far left, nihilist analysis. Rather, I am trying to create a new political language that would promote more thorough or deeper political victories. I don’t believe actually existing political parties and social movements do a very good job in promoting this language. The reason is that critical intellectuals, political parties and social movements tend to be separated, in part for reasons specified by C. Wright Mills as well as because of the limits of what often passes as postmodern analysis. Mills not only pointed to the divide between intellectuals and sources of power. He also showed why the university system tended to produce intellectuals who were stuck in accepted or popular intellectual fashions or paradigms. Ironically, Michel Foucault himself examined displacement systems (although not like I have done), but this part of his work has not been extended.

Left activists and intellectuals are often limited in their ability to promote political innovations. There is a kind of implicit escalator clause within the Left such that if one says things the Left wants to hear, then it gets escalated. There must be a demand for an idea before there is a supply. The Left has its own definitions of popularity which often put style over substance, even or especially a radical brand which lacks a radical content. This emptying out is how capitalism colonizes the formal aspects of the left, such that a radical sounding language can have very little actual radical contents. There is a secondary gain from this manipulation of language, it follows the logic of popularity contests everywhere, i.e. there is nothing organically linking the Left to critical thinking. In contrast, the Left might figure out how to produce ideas for which there is not yet a demand, analogous to supply push innovations.

A Case Study in Media Displacement: The Microscope as Refraction

The Blow Up Analogy


Given the continuing crises associated with racism, the environment, the distribution of economic wealth, and militarism, a deeper understanding is needed regarding how social movements, the Left, the media and the Swedish power elite interact with one another. When things are put under the microscope, our very analysis of them can be misleading as various philosophies of science and Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up suggests. The media’s treatment of the anti-poster campaign is instructive. On August 4th, 2015, SVT’s leading news program broadcast at 9:00 pm, Aktuellt, burried the story in a short report, although the local Stockholm news goes far deeper. The webpage for the the program, accessed on August 5th, strangely portrays the campaign as if it is the lead story (see photo below). TV4, in contrast, led with the anti-poster protest and placed it higher on its media agenda. TV4 also showed footage of protestors tearing down posters. The journalistic routines focus clearly by putting the posters under the microscope and linking the protests to the posters (as seen in the photograph below). The larger questions about how the society allowed these events to transpire are usually never addressed. The problem of SD’s growing power advantage over the Left electorally is not addressed, nor how SVT’s relatively uncritical view of SD helps promote SD. Thus, SD, SL, the media, and to a certain extent the Left, all are complicit in the logic of displacement (with the Left the least guilty and often in the forefront of resisting the worst aspects of the displacement system). The image of the camera focused on the posters is the perfect metaphor for a media system that conceals as it reveals; this is the essence of the logic of displacement.

By August 5, Aktuellt did better and organized a debate on the poster campaign as part of its coverage. The debate raised important questions about who can afford to organize poster campaigns and whether the posters promoted racism. Yet, the larger questions of the long history of moral inversion that lies behind the poster campaign was not actually addressed. SD’s growing power in comparison to the Left was not addressed.

These debates rarely provide any historical context so that each new controversy that is debated seems like a new or ephemeral event. The mass media loves topicality and usually this love involves a repression of historical analysis. Unfortunately, the Left is often taken up by this same topicality love as it is partially shaped by the media spotlight. The anti-poster campaign is not exactly a campaign to eliminate the foundations of SD’s power, even if it is a good stepping stone for such a movement. Yet, this stepping stone will probably not function well unless the Left’s political language changes. The mass media will probably not assist this language transformation, although news outlets like Arbetaren, Etc., Ordfront, Sveriges Radio, and others could play such a role. If an intellectual argument is too complicated or profound, it rarely has a place on Swedish TV.

The Advertising Ombudsman: Morality as an Investment Process


On August 5th, SVT also provided coverage of the decision-making by the Advertising Ombudsman’s office called RO (Reklamombudsmannen), in which Elisabeth Trotzig is the ombudsman. According to the webpage, RO is “a self-regulatory organization founded by the industry.” The organization was established after politicians began to threaten the advertising industry with harsher laws concerning, for example, sexist advertising. RO is supported financially by various companies and Trotzig suggests on Aktuellt that the SD’s campaign could be considered problematic. She also said in 2010 that she hoped her agency would be “self-financed.” It is remarkable that an ombudsman’s office to regulate advertising is supported by funding from the very companies which in theory it should and could be regulating. The RO webpage states: “A well-functioning self-regulation requires that companies take responsibility for a high ethical standard in advertising. Reklamombudsmannen is funded on a voluntary basis through an annual fee from advertisers, advertising agencies and media.” The webpage also says: “Contribute to a high ethical standard…Any company can contribute to RO and the fee is related to the companies’ annual media spending, according to TNS SIFO’s advertising measurements. Minimum fee is SEK 10 000 and the maximum fee is 70 000 per year.” Ethics takes the form of an investment that clearly not everyone can afford. This kind of “self-policing” suggests a clear conflict of interest, e.g. how does the financing structure influence directly or indirectly who is hired to work for this organization? Yet, RO’s decisions are represented by Aktuellt as part of the legitimate institutions to consider when assessing how moral judgments are made with respect to political posters. The news program may have contained an implicit criticism of RO (that is hard to tell), but the key thing is who gets invited to the party. Clearly there is a need for a more enlightened and proactive version of RO.

SL’s commercial (capitalist) logic in granting advertising space to erstwhile Nazi groups is mirrored in moral policing that is backed by private investment monies. The anti-poster protest focused in part on the system of racism and the for-profit orientation of SL. This organization has used what should be public space to support a campaign organized by the Swedish Democrats against public begging and implicitly the Roma people living in Sweden. SD’s political support, however, is not simply based on racism, but also on failed economic policies of the established parties, something recognized by many of the speakers. Nevertheless, none of the August 4th protest speakers spelled out a comprehensive program for challenging SD. Instead, the synthesis or reaction to these racist posters (or wallpaper) was either to offer anti-racist chants or to tear them down, leaving in place the constellation of forces which allows SD to recruit members, accumulate funds, and further promote its political program. One exception is that some on August 4th spoke of legal challenges to these posters, but the SD poster campaign very much plays a role similar to the Confederate Flag in the United States, i.e. the posters are just the tip of the iceberg, albeit a rather offensive tip with a significant public display function.

Disrupt the System or Organize an Alternative Basis of Power?


The tearing down of the posters was a kind of victory against this display function which nevertheless sidestepped the larger challenges of: (a) forcing SL to directly revoke the posters on political (as opposed to technocratic security) grounds and (b) the legitimacy which these posters and SL’s repressive tolerance policy have conveyed on SD. This legitimacy was thereby left in tact by activists doing what was actually the responsibility of SL and the County Council which governs them. Incremental ad hoc actions against SL are also part of the logic of the Planka movement which attempts to defund the public transportation system through individual actions of refusal to pay for it. The basic idea of Planka is that public transportation is too expensive, so direct individualized attacks on the system are expected to transform it. Planka has tried to also broaden its outlook to promote alternative transportation modes, but they really should figure out how to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of actual transportation users instead of alienating many of them.

One of the speakers said the SL must be disrupted if they failed to revoke their racist policies. Here we have a key problem, i.e. what happens when an important public utility is hijacked by narrow public or private interests and suffers from an under-financing by the national government? Do we rebel against this entity or attempt to resocialize it? Resocialization involves deeper strategies of expanding popular control rather that rebelling against the control system.

The individualized or even collective rebellion against SL leaves in place the larger decision-making structures, ownership patterns and monopolies of service provision. This system is responsible for not just racist media projections but also systematic incompetence, e.g. it has been unable to properly organize the signalling system on the newest light rail line. Instead, we should turn SL into a cooperative owned by the state and its users and governed by academic experts, citizen elected representatives, cooperative owners, and administrators vetted by the public. Cooperative owners of a new SL must be given more power because the leading politicians who now supervise SL now are closely tied to Sweden’s automotive industrial complex. Shares in a new SL should be distributed relatively equally and controlled by a trust, so that no one user accumulates an ownership share that is too great and so that shares are not sold out to narrow, private interests. Users can accumulate shares in part based on deductions from their contributions to their own monthly SL cards.

It would have helped if the speakers at the demonstration made a comprehensive list of the names of the persons actually running SL or the politicians who are ultimately responsible for SL’s managers. As is typical of much Swedish so-called “hard left” rhetoric, the scale of focus is microscopic (posters) or macroscopic (capitalism, racism), with the meso level decision-making structures usually ignored. The larger framing system here represents a combination of syndicalism, the logic of absenteeism and consumer boycotts (exit options), which does not take aim at the local power structure (through voice) but merely attempts to sabotage it. Such exit options are one form of power, but will never lead to the systemic accumulation of power via elections, dominance of the airwaves and formation of companies.

The far right has made significant inroads into the first two means and what will this politics of exit accomplish when the far right begins to organize the economy locally as well? If SD manages to achieve 15 to 20 percent of the vote without directly organizing economic power, is it unreasonable to think that their organizing economic power will not get them an additional 10 percent or more of the vote? Does the Left have a strategy in response to SD’s political innovations, i.e. beyond reacting to their next move?

Of course, tearing down the posters was a rational response to a system of bureaucracy, repressive tolerance, and liberal objectivity which rationalizes away racist and repressive discourse in the name of “free speech,” commerce and “legal procedures.” This logic of legality, bureaucratic regulations, and free commerce is precisely the same approach used to rationalize away both arms exports to dictators and the larger phenomena of the Swedish military industrial complex. Thus, the problem at hand is much larger than racism, SL, or SD for that matter. Some of the speakers recognized the complicity of the larger parties, but the language of eliminating racism is partially a necessary but hardly a sufficient discourse for limiting the power of the larger institutions that actually project racism.

Yet, it should be noted that the politicians were put under pressure and began to discuss a possible rethink of their political advertising policy as a response to: a) the protest taking place on August 4th, and b) the collective movement to rip down the posters. Thus, disruption potentially works by putting pressure on bureaucrats who want to restore a continually changing version of what they define as “normalcy.” The metaphor of a wind up toy robot that propels forward and continues on its path until pushed in a new direction seems apt. Thus, the safety criteria the were used to end this specific poster campaign are very much linked to a robot that does not want to tip over although if blocked could simply propel itself somewhere else. We have a kind of robot psychology encased in flowery language about democracy which is marred by the larger system’s historical record of arms deals with German defense contractors, indigenous Nazis, and White Power music exported across the globe.

As SL does business with SD, whose origins lie in the Swedish Nazis, German militarism and pan-European racism, it is not difficult to understand that SL is itself part of this larger logic supervised and orchestrated by political, economic and cultural elites. The larger institutions that project racism are tied to the mass media, the educational system, the class of owners and job organizers, and the politics of scarcity in which immigrants and people of color are set up as the cause of contemporary economic difficulties. The Latin Kings in their song Krossa Rasismen (“Crush Racism”) have a line that goes: Latinos, araber, afrikaner och turkar i massmedia alltid utpekade som skurkar (“Latinos, Arabs, Africans and Turks are always depicted as villains in the media”).

Eliminating racism, like eliminating war, requires alternatives to the existing system. While many speakers spoke against capitalism, they hardly operationalized how they would eliminate capitalism, i.e. this kind of discourse amounts to a form of “name calling” and “deconstruction,” which in its worst forms (not necessarily present at the demonstration) effectively simplifies issues to get an expected affirmative response from an audience.

The demonstration also replicates a kind of hierarchical politics, which the Occupy Movement tried to move beyond by taking a protest moment and turning it into an ongoing teaching experience and space for democratic engagement. This hierarchy is a long-standing convention in the Swedish political Left and is hardly new or unique, although it is somewhat obsolete. The protest was effective, however, in galvanizing a counter-pole to mainstream society’s complacency with patently offensive, racist demagoguery so in this sense was a partial victory. Many of the speakers represented new Swedes, who are marginalized by some parts of the Swedish Left. The mass media in their coverage of the poster campaign did give such persons representational power, but only within the confines of statements related to the poster campaign. Much of the media did not reproduce the most radical sounding statements of the speakers at the protest; they were filtered out as being inconvenient for the dominant frame, i.e. a localized incident regarding SD’s posters and SL’s policies.

The educational (and parts of the racist monitoring) system promotes racism by treating it largely as an ethical breach or a problem of cultural attitudes. Even when academics discuss racism as part of a larger system of economic or political power, they rarely connect that representation of systemic power to ideas about organizing a counter-power. Such counter-power requires the design and promotion of new media, political and economic institutions. This in turn depends on reconstructionist and utopian thinking, not deconstructionist and dystopian critiques of the system as racist, capitalist or sexist, i.e. vocal complaints. Therefore, radical sounding language—like mass media reports—conceals as much as it reveals. As SD has more quickly accumulated power, the superficiality of the Left (while impolite to discuss in certain circles) represents a dangerous intellectual vacuum.

The Case of the Vietnam War, Swedish Militarism and the Plight of the Roma


Another way to understand the larger system of displacement is to examine Swedish cultural elites’ view of Sweden as a peace loving country. Exhibit A is an exchange of letters between a U.S. businessman who visited Sweden and reacted to its opposition to the U.S. genocidal venture in Vietnam. The next three photographs represent the letter of the businessman which appears in a museum exhibit currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm (summer 2015).

The most interesting part of this letter by Hendrik C. Gillebaard, President of the Holland Import Company, is not his ranting about “Swedish” anti-Americanism and his support for the tragic Vietnam War, but his argument that Sweden can not honestly face its own treatment of the Roma people, i.e. Swedes are hypocrites because they too are racists, not just Americans. The response of the Swedish Consulate General in Houston to Gillebaard’s letter is rather interesting. The Swedish official writes, “Virtually everybody in Sweden abhors war. Most Swedes are critical of the U.S. engagement in Vietnam.” His letter in response to Gillebaard is reproduced below.

The Swede’s letter is certainly accurate as a critique of most of Gillebaard’s aguments. Note the following key points, however. First, nothing is said about Sweden’s treatment of the Roma people. Second, Swedes’ formal opposition to the Vietnam war is addressed, but not Swedes’ support for the war in Vietnam. This took place in two ways. First, some Swedes actually served in Vietnam in support of the American side against the Vietnamese people. Second, Swedish weapons were used against the Vietnamese by Australians who got Swedish weapons after Sweden broke its own embargo. At one point, Sweden attempted to ban weapon sales to the U.S., but this did not prevent the Swedish military contribution to the forces fighting against Vietnamese liberation. While Olof Palme spoke against the Vietnam War in public demonstrations, this is not the only side of Swedish realities. Yet, this is the side of things many want to represent. In contrast, the Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström (whose artworks are now on display at the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art) shows in a piece not part of the current exhibit that Swedish realities are filled with contradictions. He exposes the myths of “Swedish neutrality” and reports on how radical journalists in Sweden have written about how Sweden cooperated with foreign spy agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. Fahlström has largely been forgotten or is largely unknown to the younger generations of Swedes, although one has to give credit to the Swedish Museum of Modern Art for trying to revive interest in this important artist. Fahlstöm’s work shows how the display function can be used to convey a richer intellectual content.

The Unfortunate Continuing Hegemony of New Left Ideology in the Swedish Left


We now come to one of the more controversial aspects of our story, at least controversial for parts of the Left. I have tried to show that SD growth is part of an emergency which the present Left trajectory cannot hope to stop. I have shown that the Left’s very language limits its ability to promote comprehensive change are reverse the power of SD. Yet, behind the Left’s discourse are Left institutions and political myths. While parts of the New Left embraced reconstruction, the dominant part of that movement settled for a rebellion against the system and favored deconstructionist rhetoric. There were currents in the New Left supporting cooperatives then and now, but the hegemonic New Left position became part of a trajectory linked to deconstruction, identity politics, resistance and rebellion.

The larger problem is that the dominant discourse of Fahlström’s era and that of today is one that seems to be defined by various closures. First, there are the reactionaries in the Swedish Democrats who correctly point to the failures of existing parties, but are unable to offer anything but a dumbed-down version of solutions through racist and demagogic scape-goating. They blame immigrants, refugees and poor Roma for European, Romanian and Swedish failure to properly absorb them. The money spent for just one JAS military fighter could be used to create business cooperatives for Roma that could be carried back to their home countries, but no leading politician has ever raised such an idea (at least in a way that would be noticed). The Left political parties which resist military spending increases don’t connect issues very well, somewhat obediently following the mass media’s preference for treating every problem as atomized and separate. I have already shown how trying to explain the connections by speaking about “capitalism” is not very useful because the Left does not have a language that shows how to limit, get rid of or even systematically reform capitalism.

Second, there is the mainstream society which refuses to offer a systematic economic alternative to the status quo defined by deindustrialization, globalization, and class polarization. This constellation has closed off opportunities for many Swedes even as it enriches others. The cultural elites don’t really challenge the larger economic system even if they champion the fight against the symptoms of these problems. To a certain extent, racism is a long standing problem in Sweden and can’t just be reduced to economic problems. Yet, the displacement of economic inequality and an inequality in economic power by a discourse of anti-racism is clearly and similarly problematic.

Third, there is the “loyal opposition” which opposes the first and second groups, but has usually been unable to speak the language of policy alternatives and social innovations. The constituency of the Feminist, Left and Green parties (together with supporters) is something on the order of one million persons, more than enough to build a movement and process to re-organize the Swedish economy on far more democratic lines. Instead, the discourse of the Left is often simply anti-racist or anti-capitalistic, but not sufficiently reconstructonist, i.e. it is not a discourse that operationalizes how to build new legal, media, economic and political institutions, but seemingly rebels against the far-right and repressive tolerant status quo. Rhetoric that bashes capitalism as an evil system amounts to a kind of Freudian “talking cure” or a kind of magical thinking in which saying words produces systemic transformations. This talking cure is only natural in a Left society in which cultural framing has gained ascendency over radical economic language. So-called “Marxists” and “Anarchists” who do not address the meso level of power discussed above, further contribute to the intellectual vacuum. They are politically innocuous even as they rant about capitalism and the like.

It is not a coincidence that those embracing what sounds like a radical position gain entry into the Left’s own version of a cultural elite, its own voices and celebrities whom we hear from over and over again, and who seem to have mis-educated or misled the new generation of activists. Among this group, the New Left and reincarnations of the political styles of previous Left protest groups seem hegemonic. One can debate the fine points about the advantages or disadvantages of the Feminist, Green, Left and Social Democratic Parties. However that debate ends, the most important fact is that SD is collectively kicking their ass in the electoral arena as seen in the data presented above.

The Left does not seem to understand that it has its own hegemonic, filtering and propaganda systems embracing a dysfunctional political mythology. If the New Left (the environmentalists, anti-racists and anti-sexists) challenged the Old Left (the Communists, Socialists and Social Democrats), is it any surprise that we need a new movement that challenges the New Left itself (or its legacy)? In many ways, the Swedish Left (like counterparts elsewhere) seems to resemble the movie scripts of V for Vendetta or Equilibrium, scripts in which there are “good guys” and “bad guys.”

The Left is tied to a version of Millenialism which seems to be a kind of recycled (yet in many ways inferior) copy of Christianity but framed with Socialist, Feminist or Anarchist logos in which operational interventions like: a) cooperatives, b) media accountability organizations, c) civilian conversion of defense firms, d) new budget priorities, e) industrial policy, f) cooperative or green public procurement, etc. are nowhere to be found. These alternatives are often unpopular in rhetorical discourse because no one knows about them, particularly in the younger generation. These discourses rarely have any peer buzz and can’t be tied to political fashions.

Fewer persons in the younger generation know about them because of the ways in which the university and academic system have marginalized the economic reconstructionist discourse. It is an intentional marginalization in which radical lite trumps a deeper understanding, creating an intellectual vacuum which the far right has been rather successful in filling (if power accumulation is the measure). I’m not saying that racism, the gender system, and capitalism are not promoting the very problems I analyze. Rather, I am saying that this intersectional approach (which usually leaves out militarism which is reduced to some other problem), is hardly sufficient for challenging SD or building counter-power. There are some movements tied to alternative banking and environmental transformation that go deeper, but they remain isolated from the mainstream Left discourse.

A kind of diluted or pseudo-anarchism which involves rhetorical bashing of the system (rebellion and revolutionary sounding rhetoric), actually displaces real, transformative if not revolutionary anarchism of the variety which once thrived in Spain. Perhaps this is the byproduct of a Left Party whose origins lie in the Communist Party and not the anarchist movement. Or a syndicalism centered on trade union power and not economic democracy defined by consumer and producer cooperatives. Or even the university which likes to label things rather than remake society. Or a reflex action against a mainstream stupidity among those who are emotionally satisfied and are perched at the highest rungs of the economic, political or cultural ladders. Or foundations and educational institutions that recycle intellectual conventions and support intellectual inbreeding.

This hegemony of the 1970s-era New Left, recycled by various left movements in Sweden (like the mirror copies in the United States), contributes to a now failed trajectory which continually recycles itself. The recycling is successful because the now dated and incomplete rhetoric of the past fits nicely as a deconstruction of the far right racist and/or mainstream repressive tolerant society. Unfortunately, just as the racists and mainstream repressive tolerant “silent majority” displace larger truths, so too does the “loyal opposition.” For example, reactive resistance and identity politics are no match for far-right ideologies that show connections among diverse issues, albeit in the completely wrong way.

This cultural and political log jam must be broken as the relative success of the far right exposes the political weakness and inabilities of this opposition. One promising development is criticisms of the Left Party’s anti-racist strategy as a failure by two activists in the party, Abe Bergegårdh and Anders Jarfjord. They diagnose the failure and try to ask deeper questions. One question which should of course be asked is how the “New Sweden” or Swedes with immigrant backgrounds can move beyond being just potential victims or champions of anti-racism, to constructors of a new set of institutions that would more fully democratize Sweden. At the rhetorical level, the loyal opposition supports a more fundamental conception of democracy, even if this conception is not very well articulated. The August 4th protest wisely asked us to rethink what actually existing democracy in Sweden really means. In terms of protest rhetoric, there were certain advances over the norm, despite the obvious limitations.

Who is Immediately Responsible? From the County Council to SL as a Prime Countractor to Nazi-Originating Parties and the U.S. Media-Military Industrial Complex


The politicians who are ultimately responsible for the advertising policy of SL are the members of the traffic committee of the Stockholm County Council (ordinarie ledamöter i trafiknämnden, Stockholms läns landsting). I have reproduced the list of these persons below, together with their contact details (see Appendix I below). At the very least a campaign should be organized to identify those supporting the policies permitting the current advertising policy of SL and then one should work towards the defeat of these candidates and their political parties. One should also direct protests against the political parties that sustain these advertising campaigns, rather than simply against SL. The Social Democratic Party at least has gone on record against these policies, although they still support the use of the public space for political advertisements. Given that these political advertisements offer very little useful information, my own view is that such political advertisements should be removed from the public space. As it is SL states that it can not treat the political parties differently in its advertising policy, so it should then treat them the same by keeping their superficial political discourse out of the mass transit system. This newer, alternative policy alternative was not supported by the Social Democrats in their critique of SL.

On August 5th, SL decided to stop SD’s poster campaign at the Östermalmstorg underground station for security reasons. These reasons were based on how those standing on the escalator dividers trying to take down the posters could hurt themselves or other passengers. Nevertheless, a report in Dagens Nyheter noted: “discussions are ongoing between the company Clear Channel who provide advertising space in the subway and the Sweden Democrats on the continuation of the ad campaign.” The Left Party also criticized SL’s advertising policies. SL said nothing about how its support for a poster campaign with a group linked to the Nazis might be bad for Swedish security.

The Clear Channel company, based in the United States, helped organize rallies in support of the disastrous Iraq war. As a report in The Guardian explained then: “They look like spontaneous expressions of pro-war sentiment, ‘patriotic rallies’ drawing crowds of tens of thousands across the American heartland. In a counterpoint to anti-war demonstrations, supporters of war in Iraq have descended on cities from Fort Wayne to Cleveland, and Atlanta to Philadelphia. They wave flags, messages of support for the troops – and also banners attacking liberals, excoriating the UN, and in one case, advising: ‘Bomb France Now.’ But many of the rallies, it turns out, have been organised and paid for by Clear Channel Inc—the country’s largest radio conglomerate, owning 1,200 stations—which is not only reporting on the war at the same time, but whose close links with President Bush stretch back to his earliest, much-criticised financial dealings as governor of Texas. The company has paid advertising costs and for the hire of musicians for the rallies.” In sum, SL which does business with these people is part of the extension of the profit-making system for the war culture.

The Clear Channel company and SL also get money from Electronic Arts, the company that promotes video games in which the user is invited to drop napalm on Vietnam. As a web announcement states clearly: “Grab your M-16, ready the Napalm, and prepare to enter some of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.” In other words, SL has entered into contracts with a key part of the U.S. media-military-industrial complex as well as making deals with a political party whose origins lie in Sweden’s indigenous Nazi movement. SL’s relationship with Clear Channel has been discussed in the media, with a focus on the former’s long-term commitment to the latter. An article in Dagens Media shows how the American media giant has corporate opponents or competitors within Sweden, i.e. the basis for an interesting alliance or dialogue.

SL’s public space is now used to embrace video games which basically support the Vietnam War, an irony which very few seem to notice, given Swedish elites’ previous identification with rhetorically opposing that war. If the public space were to convey useful information about politicians, then the mass media might contribute by vetting statements by politicians through a committee of academic experts, rather than simply allowing journalists to play the key role of ideological, ethical and political gatekeepers. In this role, the mass media have proven as incompetent as SL, as they have provided a sounding board for SD.

The broader Left might wake up, pool their money, and actually run intellectually-rich and deep advertisements as an alternative to the status quo. For example, could not large numbers of persons at the demonstration on August 4th have donated money towards an alternative poster campaign? Couldn’t this be easily accomplished by donations from the thousands of persons in attendance? Yes, but that idea is not part of the current political language of the loyal opposition. The dominant narrative is about the evils of SD, SL, capitalism, unfairness, justice, etc., but rarely about how to build tactics that create alternative means of projecting power.

Such alternative advertisements could call for a new governance system to run SL, to promote cooperatives and new media platforms that would challenge the cultural, economic and political elites with meso level reconstructive reforms. Or perhaps a poster campaign to support a new media accountability organization against racist and militarist advertising, i.e. a left alternative to the mainstream RO? Such truly radical ideas are actually far more subversive than Left complaints about capitalism and racism or the tokenistic appearances of the peace movement in the mainstream media itself.