LEFT’ AND ‘RIGHT’
Every now and then, in the course of history, movements emerge that challenge the leadership of those who politically represent the different fractions of the dominant sectors of society, and will be willing to take on that representation in their place. They are generically known as ‘extreme right’ or, simply, ‘ultra-right’ or even ‘hard right’ movements, although, not infrequently, they are often referred to as such, many of them based on analogies that are generally anachronistic.
In the works of the classics there is no reference or mention whatsoever of these movements. There is nothing to suggest even the existence of an ‘extreme’ right. There is not even any reference to what is commonly known as the ‘right’. Nor, for that matter, are there any references to the word ‘left’, a concept which, together with the former, was coined in France at the National Assembly of 1789, when the more conservative sectors of society took their seats to the right of the president of the Assembly, and the more radical ones to the left. From then on, both expressions (‘left’ and ‘right’) have been used discreetly in the political ambit by many people and organisations, although mainly by the press, a fact that shows the extraordinary power of the dissemination of certain expressions that become cultural by the force of repetition. But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ have no theoretical value whatsoever, although some philosophers, such as Norberto Bobbio, have sought to assign them a rather undeserved importance 1.
IMPORTANCE OF THIS TAXONOMY
The concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’ serve for it to make reference to the ideas that certain people have regarding the solution of certain social problems. In a global way. That is to say, to describe generalities (nomotheticisms); but they are insufficient for it to make a more profound analysis. If reference were to be made to the different fractions of the dominant sectors that carry out their reforms, they turn out to be inappropriate words, imprecise dichotomies, which only highlight the spatial location of people, as if the place where these people stand (‘locus standi’) could identify their respective intellectual convictions. In short, they do not deal with the content of the ideas, nor do they reveal the role of a certain behaviour within a society, let alone the character of the class to which the subject under study belongs, but only indicate what the person or persons who use them want to suggest or indicate. It follows that the word ‘extreme’ (‘ultra’ or ‘dura’) only increases the lack of precision in the description of a phenomenon which is presumed to be known and which in truth is not. It is no different with the expression ‘progressivism’, which is intended to avoid the use of the word ‘left’.
It would be useless, with the use of these same terms, to try to describe not only the class structure of a society but also the mechanism of its functioning; neither the social extraction nor the interests that a certain social group defends or puts at stake, nor to try to construct a convenient policy of alliances. Even less, still less, to try to explain why at certain moments this ‘extreme right’ emerges and what it represents. So, the riddles abound and one can even choose from among them the one that best suits one’s needs.
We believe that the phenomenon of the ‘extreme right’ – without prejudice to its undeniable link with the social movements that are active abroad – is nothing but another manifestation of the bloody dispute that is being waged between the various fractions of the ruling classes to impose themselves hegemonically on each other, in their eagerness to capture more effectively, for all of them, the surplus value produced by the proletariat. This statement leads us to make direct reference to the class structure of a society in order to understand when this dispute manifests itself and why the common people begin to call it ‘extreme right’.
SOCIAL CLASSES IN THE ROTATION OF CAPITAL
In the capitalist mode of production, societies appear divided into two large social segments: on the one hand, the sector that owns the means of production, which it must set in motion to generate ‘capital’ and which, for historical reasons, is called the ‘bourgeoisie’, and the sector that owns its bodily energy, which, in order to survive, must sell it to this other social segment and which, for the same reason, is called the ‘proletariat’. This function is not accidental: when the ‘proletarian’ incorporates his work force into the productive process, he adds, at the same time, value to the object produced, generating capital.
Consequently, production generates capital through the incorporation of human work. For this to happen, it is necessary that a repetitive process takes place in which the raw material used has to be transformed into ‘merchandise’ to be sold, and converted into ‘money’ that will be used, again, to acquire raw material; then, with that element, to elaborate a new product, transform it into merchandise and sell it to acquire with the result of the sale, again, raw material and so on.
This is the phenomenon called ‘capital rotation’.
The rotation of capital specialises its actors and, at the same time, perfects their functions: some begin to dedicate themselves to production and are therefore called industrialists; others dedicate themselves to selling the finished product (‘merchandise’) and become merchants; and finally, another group finds it convenient to manage the money produced and becomes bankers (financiers). But this separation is not merely theoretical; on the contrary, it entails tremendous contradictions, because the interests behind these activities do not coincide but, on the contrary, are openly opposed to each other, which is why the disputes, mainly between bankers and industrialists, often take on a violent character.
On the other hand, the workers also specialise and improve their skills: they become industrial, commercial and banking workers.
SOCIAL DIVISION AND DOMINATION
The above-mentioned division prevents the ruling class from behaving as a ruling class and thus from exercising effective domination. And the capitalist mode of production is a mode of domination. For this reason, these social sectors must resolve this contradiction: they must dominate the social whole in the best possible way. And since they are segmented into industrialists, merchants and bankers, as imposed by the rotation of capital, they unite again around a new form of organisation, which is therefore called the ‘Power Bloc’. This structure will be in charge of exercising domination over the whole of society.
Up to this point, however, the interests of the factions of the dominant sectors have not altered and continue to be at odds with each other. This problem must be solved and a solution must be found to enable them to exercise domination over the whole. Especially between industrialists and bankers, who are the factions with the most divergent interests, since trade generally lags behind these disputes in order to subordinate itself to whoever comes up with a solution that resolves the disputes. The Bloc in Power offers a solution: both fractions can exercise hegemony within the same structure by virtue of a kind of alternation that will be exercised depending on who will propose a more efficient way of accumulating the surplus value to be extracted from the workers. That way of accumulating will be called a ‘model’ and will have to be recomposed or replaced as soon as it begins to show signs of exhaustion. Only in this way will it be possible to maintain social control.
EXHAUSTION OF FORMS OF ACCUMULATION
The forms of accumulation are not eternal. Like everything in nature, they go through a cycle of existence: they are born, live and die. They are not unlike living things.
One of the first researchers to notice this phenomenon was the Soviet statistician Nikolai Kondratiev who, on the basis of the regularity of the registers he had compiled, was able to establish periods of crisis in the evolution of the capitalist mode of production, which took two different forms: one, with short periods of no less than five years and no more than ten; and the other, with periods of approximately thirty to fifty years. These periods were known as ‘short waves’ and ‘long waves’, respectively. In later years, these studies were of great interest to Joseph Alois Schumpeter, who referred to them in several of his writings2 . Guillermo Rocafort, professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication of the European University, referring to these events, recalled: “As if it were a roller coaster, going up and down (…) Schumpeter refers to economic cycles that have their origin in both technological and financial innovations that provoke moments of great boom, after which there is stabilisation and then a depression or recession 3”.
In Latin America, the Brazilian researcher Theotonio Dos Santos was likewise an enthusiastic defender of the long and short-wave theory of the capitalist system. An interesting part of his work on the subject can be found in the digital journal ‘Nueva Sociedad’ 4.
AN INTERESTING COINCIDENCE
It is interesting to note that the cyclical functioning of the economy has a perfect correlation with the political function of society, which, when the end of a cycle comes to an end, fuels the debate on whether or not it is necessary to innovate in the application of the model by means of greater or lesser state intervention in economic activity. For this reason, it is common to hear some political representatives of the dominant sectors argue heatedly about whether ‘more state’ or, on the contrary, ‘less state’ is required. As we have pointed out in previous work, it is customary in law classrooms to call these periods ‘Gendarme State’ and ‘Interventionist State’.
What is most interesting about these cycles, however, is their striking similarity to those discovered by Kondratiev and which prompted the Belgian treatise writer Ernst Ezra Mandel to write about the extraordinary importance of long waves 5 . It is therefore comforting to know that, recently, two researchers at Oxford University 6 have also carried out studies in the same direction.
Our conclusion is that economic cycles mark the decline of the form of accumulation which, at some point in the history of a social formation, has been imposed by the hegemonic fraction of the Bloc in Power, its unavoidable exhaustion, and, therefore, the need to introduce cuts or readjustments to it, to study what these cuts or readjustments will be or to indicate what will be, in short, the new form to be implemented after the current one has been completely abrogated.
Since the forms of accumulation are imposed when the hegemony of the bloc in power has remained in the hands of one of the fractions of the class or classes or class fractions that dominate society as a whole, and this has shown itself to be coming to an end, the respective political representations of these sectors come into conflict. Then, the one that appears contradicting the leadership that its counterpart had been leading up to that moment, is called ‘extreme right’ (or ‘ultra-right’), simply because it poses itself as an opposition to the one that still exercises hegemony.
Consequently, our idea is that the so-called ‘extreme right’ does not exist. It is an invention of the mainstream media and of sectors that have little inclination to properly investigate the occurrence of such phenomena and that, for this reason, resort to expressions that are easy to use but of dubious application. In our opinion, we repeat, this is a phenomenon in which the exhaustion of the form of accumulation has become present, announcing the need for a change or correction of it which, not being resolved in a timely and adequate manner, causes the innumerable contradictions of the different fractions of the ruling class to acquire ever greater virulence in the dispute for hegemony its interior of the Bloc in Power.
In the same way, it is this phenomenon that explains, in the face of such a crisis, the emergence of political organisations that rush to claim to represent the various fractions of the dominant classes in society. But beware: the emergence of these new actors is not always present to support what is new. On the contrary, many of them are often present to defend what is disappearing.
This is the case in Chile with the emergence of the so-called Republican party, one of the many manifestations of this phenomenon that becomes notorious when the form of accumulation shows clear signs of exhaustion and demands to be modified or abolished. The conservative forces can also manifest themselves as if they represented something new: bad memory is not just the preserve of the amnesiacs.
The Republican Party, to put it more bluntly, is the most reliable expression of a model that is fading, fading away, being abandoned in all parts of the world, and yet still makes the natural political representation of one of the dominant classes and class fractions waver in its validity.
Neo-liberalism’ – ‘social market economy’, ‘Washington consensus’, ‘monetarism’ – seems to be coming to an end. It has never been applied in its entirety by the United States but, as has been the permanent custom of that nation, demands its full application in other nations; nor has it been applied by European nations. For the same reason, some of its ‘excellent advantages’ have begun to be displaced and replaced by others, and the hope of a more efficient re-industrialisation threatens the ‘industry’ of finance. But not just any re-industrialisation. If the development of the arms industry seems to come first and foremost, this development is not as it has been so far, but involves the incorporation of the most modern and up-to-date technology. This is similar to what is required in the space ambit. The new industry keeps pace with the development of the productive forces, because it is not a return to the past but a new way of facing the future.
There is, therefore, no ‘extreme right’, ‘hard right’ or ‘ultra-right’ that is present today in the various social formations of the planet – including Chile’s – but simply a rearrangement in the alternation exercised by the different fractions of the ruling class in their undisguised eagerness to lead the power bloc and, consequently, society as a whole. In other words, the demand made by that fraction of the class of the buyers of force or capacity for work, subordinated until then, to claim for itself the right to hegemonise the leadership of the Power Bloc either by imposing modifications to the current model or, failing that, to replace it with a more efficient one. This is worth remembering.
1 The book by the Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio, who was also a prominent politician, is called, precisely, ‘Left and Right’.
2 We recommend Joseph Schumpeter’s “The Theory of Economic Development” and “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”.
3 Rodriguez, Margarita: “Joseph Schumpeter, the man who predicted the end of capitalism and is key to understanding today’s economy”, BBC News World, 27 June 2020. Bold is from the original.
4 From Theotonio Dos Santos, we recommend his most important work in which he develops the so-called ‘dependency theory’ and which is entitled ‘Imperialism and Dependency’.
5 See the document by Claudio Katz “Ernest Mandel and the theory of long waves”, published on INTERNET by Mundo Siglo XXI.
6 See Chris Freeman and Francisco Louçä’s ‘As time goes by’ published by Oxford University Press in 2001.