By Dr Sophia Price, Head of Politics and International Relations at Leeds Beckett.
Marx’s adage ‘first as tragedy then as farce’ seems a fitting place to start on this bleak winter post-election morning. In Zizek’s (2009) book of the same name he notes Marx’s correction of Hegel’s idea “that history necessarily repeats itself”. “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy , the second time as farce” (Marx 1973 quoted in Zizek 2009). For Marx, this second comedic version would mark the “last phase of a world-historical form”.
Scanning social media this morning, there are a wide range of memes and posts that relate our present moment to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. The similarities are evident: the rise of extreme and violent social movements in the wake of international financial crisis and destabilising and polarising global forces. The tragedy of that moment is now matched by the absurdity of millionaire Donald Trump democratically elected as the antidote to elite power and working class disaffection. Some farce.
Of course the analysis of the shift to extreme, right wing politics (be it the election of Trump or the vote for Brexit) has to be located within the context of the global spread of neo-liberal capitalism in which free trade and the roll back of social protection and labour rights has intensified the competition between workers. In response the elective power of disaffected labour has proved decisive, and hailed as a protest against the forces of globalisation. However, paradoxically this is a protest vote for increasing the power of capital through the reduction of taxes, social provision and business legislation and a raft of other pro-business reforms.
It is important though that within this analysis we do not lose sight of the intersections of race, gender and class within these processes. Inequitable social relations based on race, gender, disability and sexuality are not the side show to capitalist class conflict, they are the arenas by which it is played out and mediated. This not only explains the recourse to racialised or gendered ‘others’ in both the US election and UK referendum campaigns, be they refugee ‘swarms’, ‘bad hombres’ or ‘nasty women’, but also the attractiveness of these narratives beyond blue collar workers facing the harsh realities of global competitiveness. Donald Trump was not elected in spite of his racism and sexism, he was elected because of it.
This is not a semantic difference. Those waking this morning wondering what is to be done, need to properly locate race and gender within the analysis of class relations and contemporary capitalism that have provoked these social changes, in order to be able to formulate a viable, progressive and inclusive alternative.
Sophia’s most recent publication is in the Roundtable Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.