We are thrilled to present the very first Superstructure episode rereleased with a brand new transcript, brought to you by the generous effort of friend-of-the-show, Mike Lewis.
Framed by a cold open from Chapo Trap House’s recent Bernie retrospective, hosts Will Beaman and Maxximilian Seijo inaugurate the Superstructure podcast with a discussion of the failures of a reified left wing imagination. To chart a path forward for an MMT-informed leftist praxis, they critique reductive castigations of spectacle, damaging affirmations of scarcity and zero-sum politics as well as a burgeoning ‘anti-woke’ left-right coalition.
Transcript: Mike Lewis
Link to our Patreon: www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure
Superstructure: Critique After Bernie Transcript
Amber A’Lee Frost 00:00
You’re trying to convince people that the media is just a bunch of fucking spectacle and to ignore and not let them psych you out.
Will Menaker 00:08
Well, I mean, but that didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen here either.
Amber A’Lee Frost 00:10
No it didn’t happen. But it didn’t happen here either. But you know what, that’s going to have to be the thing that we do. Like, sorry it didn’t happen last time. Sorry it didn’t happen this time. But that’s the thing. Yes, it didn’t work that time. It didn’t work this other time. But that is the challenge. It’s going to be hard. And we’re not going to succeed at it most of the time. But, you keep doing it.
Will Menaker 00:27
Oh, the question I just have is, who are we talking to? Are we talking to like—and let’s talk about America specifically—clearly, an absolute majority of Democratic primary voters, the people who vote in democratic primaries, if they didn’t believe what the mainstream media was saying about Bernie, they took the message from it that he was unelectable. In either way, he was not an option for them no matter what he said. And then there’s the other group of people who we were hoping to get; the people who are not taking their cues from the media, either by believing what they say or taking their attitude toward Sanders as, like an indication of his viability. And not enough of them were reached to be mobilized to vote for him. So where? Because your rhetorical attitude is going to be different depending on which group of people you’re talking to.
Amber A’Lee Frost 01:23
Yeah, obviously. But…
Will Menaker 01:26
So I guess the question is which one, which group of people is the one that maybe in retrospect, should have been addressed more explicitly with a specific message? Or in the future should be?
Amber A’Lee Frost 01:38
I think the latter, just because, and I’m not saying this is a moral position, just because I think they’re the bigger group of people.
Will Menaker 01:45
Right, but we’ve seen that even though they’re a bigger group, they are harder to reach.
Amber A’Lee Frost 01:48
Well, we’re trying for a harder task.
Will Menaker 01:51
Amber A’Lee Frost 01:51
We’re doing something hard.
Will Menaker 01:53
Amber A’Lee Frost 01:53
No one wants to hear that. Like, you’re going to fail like nine times out of ten. Because this is very hard.
Will Menaker 01:57
People do want to have…they need some sort of I mean…Yeah, they might know they’re gonna fail, but they need to know that they could win.
Amber A’Lee Frost 02:03
Well, I’m telling you: we can win.
Will Menaker 02:07
Alright, but I guess … how do you get to the people who have decided that politics is not real for a good reason? Who saw the Sanders campaign and were completely unmoved by any part of it.
Amber A’Lee Frost 02:21
I don’t have like that kind of alchemy.
Maxx Seijo 02:27
Will, what did we just listen to?
Will Beaman 02:31
So that was Chapo Trap House reflecting on Bernie dropping out of the race.
Maxx Seijo 02:37
“Reflecting” might not be the right word.
Will Beaman 02:39
Basically, reiterating everything that they believed before the race is probably a little bit more accurate. This stood out to me as a kind of paradigmatic example of what a lot of the reactions from Marxist left that I’ve been seeing have been. It’s just they disagree, but there is consensus on a kind of a hopelessness, and Amber just kind of takes a different, you know, attitude towards that, which is basically that leftists need to just toughen up and keep going.
Maxx Seijo 02:57
It’s interesting, because I think what you said just there sort of crystallizes, you know, pun intended, perhaps crystallizes the why we’re talking to each other right now, which is that it seems like the guiding response to Bernie’s loss, you know, if we can call it that, has been hopelessness and a real inability to articulate a theoretical and political path forward for the left in the US that isn’t a sort of retrenchment or reduction of its scale and aspirations.
Will Beaman 03:54
Maxx Seijo 03:54
And on Superstructure, you know, which, I suppose we could take a bit to explain the title as well. We reject that vision, and we think that it’s one which, because politics never stops, it’s one which will actually condition and produce a set of outcomes that are radical but quite destructive.
Will Beaman 04:22
Right. The name Superstructure: it’s something that for Marxists, I think, probably immediately sounds like a huge self-own, but that’s kind of why we’re doing it because I feel like what’s guiding this response is the idea that ideas are the problem, or they’re a distraction. And the media is basically it’s a distraction that you need to ignore. Yeah, right. And everything that isn’t a grind basically is a spectacle. And this is actually something that goes pretty deep into the core of Marxism, which really is this skepticism of ideas, of thought, of communication, of everything that is not this sort of class struggle by sheer numbers and force that there’s no way around it except, you know, having exponentially increasing our, you know, number of people that we have phone banking and things like that. And, you know, none of those things are wrong or bad to do necessarily, but it does create this reaction to what I think should be looked at as an ideological loss, as well as a literal loss. It creates a reaction to it that’s sort of like, well, that was our one chance after these 30 year cycles where the left gets a chance to win, basically, by doing the same thing. And if there are lessons that they want to take away from it, they’re are going to be you know, kind of slight adjustments. No new theory creation is on the table. And Maxx, you and I come from, you know, different backgrounds a little bit, but we’re in the same milieu which is, you know, Modern Monetary Theory. And basically the idea that this is a new paradigm that actually opens up a lot of new, a lot of new political opportunities that we wouldn’t see before.
Maxx Seijo 06:28
The spectacle. Another way of putting it is it opens the left to alchemy, right? It opens the left to a sort of magical thinking, but I don’t use that in its reductive, like negative terms. I think it opens the left to the possibility of creating things out of thin air, which is what money, right, is and it’s a political creation throughout. And so yeah, it’s interesting to hear and to have so clearly encapsulated in the discussions around Bernie’s loss, this sort of, “well, you know, we’re gonna lose, and we’re gonna lose most of the time. But we need to ignore the spectacle, and we need to keep…”
Will Beaman 07:17
Maxx Seijo 07:17
I mean, it’s essentially, I mean, it deconstructs itself, right? The reason why we lose is because we ignore the spectacle. We’re trying to reject alchemy, and if we think of it along those terms, and if we think about, you know, the ability to actually exert political power over the spectacle, and to actually reject the very concept of the spectacle in the first place, which is what I mean, we could easily call this podcast The Spectacle as well as, you know, rather than Superstructure, which is to say…
Will Beaman 08:00
Maybe we should, we haven’t released this yet. Yeah.
Maxx Seijo 08:03
Which is to say, ultimately, that the new paradigm has to be, we have to be immanent, right? And I’m normally someone who in my work, in my thinking, rejects philosophical immanence. But, the left lacks a real immanence to the spectacle, and to the “superstructure” is that it assumes the solutions, this sort of utopian aspirations, or even just pragmatic aspirations of a left political project, is about getting outside of money, getting outside of the social relations that we all share and participate in on a daily level. We have to just ignore the media. We have to, you know, we have to ignore all that stuff and go to the place where power rises from, right? And this is, like, on the other end, a sort of critique of this sort of philosophical category of immanence, which would posit that they’re reducing it down, the source of being as such is not just the material, but it sort of reduces down to this sort of fundamental level with which power rises up, right?
Will Beaman 09:30
Maxx Seijo 09:30
Ground up. And everything else on top is pure domination. It’s bile politics. It’s all these things, and we can talk more about that at length, but I think it’s important to frame what we see this podcast being as an intervention into the realm of praxis and what a left political praxis means for the aesthetic level, at the economic level, at the level of struggle to say that we ignore our leverage, and the capacity to build just, inclusive structures, social structures at our own peril, because we can’t ultimately get outside of them. Right? I mean, that’s the sort of the lamenting history of critical theory is, we can’t get outside them, so we have to work through them. And it’s one thing to pay homage to, well, we can try to work through them, or to set up these like binaries of electoralism versus immediate class struggle, but ultimately, electoralism, or a media class struggle. It’s all political. And it’s all inside the structures of society as such, and so strategically, we have to work with ideas, and we have to work with material struggle. They have to be linked and strategically leveraged. And so what Chapo and the sort of Chapo–Jacobin-left lens has done is set up this imagination that Bernie was it because Bernie leveraged our only theoretical apparatus to its nth degree, and it failed.
Will Beaman 11:39
Maxx Seijo 11:39
What is there to do now?
Will Beaman 11:40
Yeah, and the failure, basically, it takes the form of, you know, like a sand castle getting knocked over or something, you know? Like it, it really is, like, we have to start all over, you know, with this kind of building this like Katamari ball of working class power, that the reason that, you know, they use visuals, like, you know, “Rising” and, you know, “bottom up” and these things is because there are appeals to, you know, to physics and things that don’t involve ideas.
Maxx Seijo 12:12
Will Beaman 12:13
You know, ideas, the reason that they think ideas are spectacle is because they believe that power, essentially, is totally immanent, and the ideas are secondary, you know, like, whoever’s the biggest guy on the block is gonna get to decide what all the ideas are, and then we’re all going to be kind of consuming them or something. But until we kind of, you know, take over through this mindless and demoralizing thing that we try again every three decades when there’s an opening.
Maxx Seijo 12:36
Yeah yeah. Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s also important to say, like, we’re not Hegelians. We’re not trying to retrench and say, well, ya know, we reject materialism and blah, blah, blah…I think another way to put this, which is to say that, if Marx wanted to keep the dialectic, and essentially keep the idea of universal particularity, what we’re trying to do is to take what materialism is, and sync with how the material and the idea, constitute and mutually constitute one another. Which is sort of in the spirit of Marx, right? It’s in the spirit of Marx, but it’s important to say that, fundamentally speaking, there’s a anti teleological core to this project that we share, and obviously, we’re not in any way the sort of origins of this. But there’s some…
Will Beaman 13:58
Yeah, and by anti teleological, you mean that we’re against the idea of a predestined path that we’re on a gravitational drift toward.
Maxx Seijo 14:10
That’s right, right?
Will Beaman 14:11
And a way that erases the kind of conscious world-making that we do through, you know, not literally just through coming up with ideas, anybody can come up with an idea, but it is nevertheless ideas that tell people what, ideas that condition what people believe is materially possible.
Maxx Seijo 14:32
Will Beaman 14:32
And so the ideas are organizing the material world. Ideas in a certain sense, you know, once they’re established and become going concerns that are, you know, reproduced along with the rest of society, you have something where, what Marxists believe is the superstructure: this kind of passive reflection of our material circumstances. You know, some of those things should constitute the base, as well. The superstructure is the base. I guess is another way of putting it.
Maxx Seijo 15:08
The superstructure is the base and you know, unless we realize that and invert that structure. I mean, and again, we’re being perhaps a bit cheekily immanent here. We might even reject binary as such, but until we leverage political agency through an ideological formation as a process of political creation on all fronts, right? On all fronts. We won’t have a cohesive and universal project. Right? I mean, that’s been the left’s fracturing problem since the beginning. But I think we’ve opined on this enough, and, you know, it could be useful then to go into a few examples of how this sort of idea is manifesting that this one that we’re critiquing that is sort of encapsulated in that Chapo clip throughout other facets of the sort of dominant left media structure.
Will Beaman 16:18
Yeah. So part of what I wanted to do is survey the landscape a little bit, just because it seems like we’re at a breaking point now where they feel like “okay, the left have lost, we need to look around ourselves materially and see, you know, who’s there that we can build a coalition with.” You know, being real politic and pragmatic, and all of that kind of thing. And what you end up with basically is well, it’s all the Trump people, right? Like, it’s, you know, and maybe not literally diehard MAGA people, but there is an idea that to the extent that it’s successful to rail against identity politics and “wokeness”, then that’s something that the left should do if it wants to be relevant, because that’s just kind of how everybody is thinking already. And I don’t think that there’s really a better example of that right now. The most advanced case of this sickness I guess, I would say is Rising, the show on Youtube from The Hill TV; seems to have tapped into a lot of like The Young Turks audience, some Bernie people, some conservatives, but mostly it’s like a Crossfire-esque show that has a “left wing populist” and “right wing populist” debating for a mostly pro-Bernie audience that is basically being warmed up to the idea that the real, necessary discourse in order for the left to have any power is going to be debating in good faith with “right wing populism.”
Maxx Seijo 18:02
Who hosts that show again?
Will Beaman 18:04
So Krystal Ball is a former MSNBC person. She is the left populist, the right populist is Saagar Enjeti who is a former Daily Caller person. The Daily Caller is the media outlet that Tucker Carlson founded. They’ve had a couple of official crossovers with Tucker Carlson now where Krystal will go on Tucker’s show and kind of do like, you know, “I’m just at my wit’s end with the bad parts of the left.” And then they’ll you know, kind of commiserate on, you know, the anti identity politics or hating corporate democrats or something like that. And, yeah, I mean, it’s just, you know, you can hear the basic structure of what Saagar says, a lot representing right wing populism, you know, is this sort of idea of economics being about trade-offs, and that mapping onto something like immigration where you can’t let migrants into the country because they’ll drive down wages and harm the working class. And then of course, there’s a long history of leftist kind of flirtations with this sort of idea.
Maxx Seijo 19:28
It’s important to say that Bernie is not outside of this, right? Bernie is also culpable on these terms, too.
Will Beaman 19:33
Yeah right, completely. Yeah, he said open borders was a Koch brothers proposal, you know, blah, blah, blah. And to the extent that Bernie is better on it, it’s because he stakes the entire claim that it’s possible to have open or almost open borders during times when it is possible, because we’re just doing so well economically that it’s not going to be like, you know, a big loss for us. So Jacobin had a review of their show, which I think just kind of encapsulates what I’m concerned the kind of institutional left’s reaction is going to be to these kind of flirtations with with Red-Brownism. So he, the reviewer talks first about Krystal, you know, then about Saagar. He had nothing but good things to say about Krystal. And then Saagar, he says: “Repeatedly [Saagar] warns us that the ‘electoral failure of the American left will be economic progressives kowtowing to woke identitarians.’ I agree with him — but what’s maybe more important is that I agree because (like Saagar, I suspect) I want the Left to win. Is Enjeti a secret Bernie-bro receiving late-night directives from Jeff Weaver in undisclosed DC parking garages?” You know, and then goes, “I think not” but you can’t figure out why this guy who keeps you know, sprinkling in that he’s a Republican who used to work for Tucker Carlson is sounding a lot like a Marxist to him. And it’s, it’s bad. And then later in the review, he says, talking about Krystal Ball again, and the consensus between them: “Ball’s arms-length relationship with “socialism” might have something to do with one area where she and Saagar agree most — not on markets nor the role of government, but on the invidiousness of identity politics. Unlike many millennial left wingers…” Notice the word ‘millennial’ is always used as a modifier…
Maxx Seijo 20:41
Will Beaman 20:52
… to go by that, you know, these are university students. Yeah, their children, basically, they’re superstructure. “Ball is completely uninterested in identitarian pandering. She loathes it. And part of Rising’s successful formula is that the hosts reject the “woke” culture-war approach to politics that so many on the…” oh god…”is that so many on the young, hip Brooklyn-by-Oakland left mistake for politics.”
Maxx Seijo 22:06
Brooklyn-by-Oakland is one of the most heinous…Ughhhh
Will Beaman 22:09
Yeah, I mean, it’s brutal. It’s also just really funny whenever Jacobin, you know, kind of does. It’s just you can just feel the self-loathing.
Maxx Seijo 22:19
Yeah the Cosmopolitan. We are the Cosmopolitan elites. Like, that’s the ooo…yikes.
Will Beaman 22:24
Yeah, we have to check ourselves that we’re not, that our globalist roots aren’t gonna betray the working class.
Maxx Seijo 22:32
It’s so funny, because this actually reminds me and it’s something that the left spent so long making fun of is this, like, this really reminds me of the sort of JD Vance kind of Hillbilly Elegy in reverse, right? So after 2016, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party really thought, “Oh, well, we haven’t been listening to these, you know, these white working class voters in Pennsylvania and in Michigan, and in Ohio, and we have to go on the ground. And we have to give them a voice.” Right? “We have to look at them with nuance, and really take into consideration why they hate Black and brown people so much.” And, you know, obviously like this is all not to say that we shouldn’t take everyone into consideration, and that symptoms and racism isn’t filtered through an entire social structure of scarcity and ideology that can be addressed at its roots. Right? Which is not–that’s not what that is. It’s about naturalizing and reifying the ideological and economic “realities” that a left political movement has to address.
Will Beaman 23:18
Maxx Seijo 23:53
And to say that “Oh, okay, the Brooklyn and Oakland, left woke identity…”
Will Beaman 24:02
Maxx Seijo 24:03
Brooklyn-by-Oakland – excuse me for not paying homage to the literary sophistication. The Brooklyn-by-Oakland elite, the Brooklyn-by-Oakland sort of woke identitarian left needs to take a backseat like I don’t know, I mean, it’s one of those things that as you’re suggesting, if The Daily Caller and Jacobin are agreeing, and if you really can’t see why that’s a problem, I really, that’s a bad sign. And it comes down to this question of the spectacle and ignoring the superstructure and ignoring identity politics, and the alchemy associated with a non-class base, reductively class-based vision, what dependence and what inclusion and what a sort of unified or universalist lens brings. Because the moment we start reducing to class, we start excluding.
Will Beaman 25:19
Right, and they have a way that they talk about identity itself, even though they believe that identity is bullshit, they also seem to believe that it is scarce and that you need to protect the identities of everybody that you need in order to win. And therefore, you know, you shouldn’t alienate them with woke identity politics, and, you know, blah, blah, blah. And, of course, it all comes back to, you know, denying the ability to just like, they deny that you can create money and give it to people to you know, build something new, they, they similarly deny that you can paint a new picture of the world that includes everybody, you know, and there’s a connection, you know, between the fact that they think that, that the world and everything in our lives is a scarce thing that we’re fighting over. And that therefore we all need to make make sacrifices for each other’s interests, which are opposed to each other. But ideally, you know, there’s like some kind of a happy medium that we could find. And the idea that politics itself is just kind of redistribution through either, you know, the dispersion between wages and salaries at the point of production, or through taxation, basically. There’s just no discussion on the left about building a new world, it’s just fighting over the world that has already been created solely on the terms of people who had no intention of including everyone.
Maxx Seijo 27:02
Yeah, it’s such a great lens to think through it. I mean, one gets this sense that, like, the majority of the last sort of five years of US politics has been a debate over whether we should be taxing whiteness, to pay for, you know, a space for Blackness, or taxing Blackness to pay for a space for whiteness. And, obviously, we need to shatter that entire structure. And I think, you know, something that probably is going to come up on this show, as we move on more is gender and the question of, really the malleability of identity forms, and how that actually can be mapped back on to economic formulations, in a non-zero sum way. And I don’t want to get too far ahead, but that’s just a sort of signpost for listeners to think about what we can expect on this show. And I think now would perhaps be a good time to move to another example of this sort of thinking.
Will Beaman 28:07
Yeah, so it’s not even just the Marxist left. I mean, don’t get me wrong, like it is the Marxist left. You know, you have other podcasts like Red Scare, you know, that just had Steve Bannon on. You know, things like that, but even among people who are, you know, interested in fiscal policy as something that’s constructive, and not just redistributive, it’s, you still get this refrain that is basically this kind of the same sound finance logic, you know, that they’re applying to just culture and identity instead. So I wanted to read something from a really big Twitter thread that Thomas Fazi had a couple of months ago now. I think this was right after the big labor wipe out when, you know, kind of similar to what’s happening in the US, you know, what was happening there is you have basically a bunch of Marxists who had kind of dug their heels in on defending zero sum terms. And actually, before I even get into Thomas Fazi, I guess I should set it up with an article that James Medway wrote. James is a policy adviser to John McDonnell.
Maxx Seijo 29:29
Former policy adviser John McDonnell.
Will Beaman 29:31
Former policy adviser
Maxx Seijo 29:32
Shadow Chancellor for Corbyn’s opposition.
Will Beaman 29:36
Right. Yeah, and so I won’t read the whole thing, but there is a section that starts literally with “the economy is a zero sum game.” “The economy is a zero sum game. This is the starting point. Understanding this was critical to the success of the 2017 Manifesto. Failing to understand it was critical to the failure of 2019. The economy has grown weekly since 2008. Real wages have not, and public services have disintegrated. An economy that behaves like this in which some people get richer, but most very visibly not, is one in which the broad promise of growth is broken down. Many people perceive the economy to be, broadly speaking, a racket in which a minority at the top are doing well at the expense of others. And they are broadly speaking, correct.” So we have growth in this finite world, but for some reason, we’re getting all this economic growth, and we’re still, you know, just producing this shit world. So what he then gets to is where we would just be like, okay, well, maybe we should talk about growth differently in a way that’s, you know, inclusive, he says, “To see the economy like this is to see it as a zero-sum game whose brutal logic is this: I can only do better if somebody else does worse. If I want to be better off, someone else must be worse off. The political logic that follows from this is equally simple: to talk about winners, you first have to talk about losers. You will get a license to describe the new world you want to build if you first describe, to be blunt, how it will be paid for.” Which is basically like, you know, you only get to talk about the new world that you want to see if you put as a disclaimer that we’re really just moving things around in the old world and not building anything new.
Maxx Seijo 31:30
And it’s so just mind bogglingly, like, upsetting about this is the fact that this is how Nancy Pelosi views the world.
Will Beaman 31:39
Maxx Seijo 31:40
This is the Nancy Pelosi vision of the world. That’s why you need PAYGO. Right? I mean, it’s so interesting to think about it in these terms. Because how do you then go to an electorate and say: we want to, for example, build houses for the homeless, and just do that, and give people who are “rough sleepers”, as it’s called in the UK, a place, a space to live.
Will Beaman 32:24
Yeah, in order to talk about that, you have to first say whose space you’re taking away.
Maxx Seijo 32:29
Will Beaman 32:29
So you have to tie the existence of homeless people to parasitism.
Maxx Seijo 32:36
Will Beaman 32:37
The non-existence of someone else.
Maxx Seijo 32:39
And we have the space!
Will Beaman 32:40
Maxx Seijo 32:41
We have the space! I mean, isn’t that obvious? And so, it’s one of those, you know, I mean, I think there’s gonna be a sort of theme, which is just: I am angry. I am angry about the world and about these naturalizations of scarcity, and that’s gonna come out because you know, what? The left, you know, sure, the right, they’re reactionary, they’re racist, they’d much rather kill half the earth than cede any ground and have to be defeated. But the left is reifying that worldview. And that is deeply, deeply upsetting for anyone who believes any sense of universal justice and universal inclusion.
Will Beaman 33:30
Maxx Seijo 33:31
And it’s one of those things that played out in the Labour election, and, you know, there’s a way in which, to be nuanced about it, it’s sort of understandable, you know. You tell a precarious polity that someone has to lose. Someone has to lose. Of course, they’re going to think that it’s them. Right? And these are people like, and that’s not to say that the polity as such, are this sort of middle class, white cosmopolitans, right? I think we even saw this playing out in Biden’s popularity in the South, and I’d be interested to bring on more perspectives on this, but there’s a lot to lose. Even for people who are marginalized, people have a lot to lose, and to tell them that we can’t do anything better, unless we lose.
Will Beaman 34:29
Right. Or that you’re not really going to lose because there’s this global financial elite that actually has all of the money. It’s very easy then for that to, you know, obviously it begs the question of why aren’t we retrenching into nationalism, and national identity?
Maxx Seijo 34:47
Will Beaman 34:48
If the core of all people can more or less be okay, which is what the left is basically arguing, then, we’re supposed to still be giving things up to external actors? Like the whole thing is, yeah, and it just paves the way for people to critique the Meadway position on the ground, basically correctly pointing out that it’s weak.
Maxx Seijo 35:20
Will Beaman 35:21
But in a way that affirms some sense of expansion, but only on the terms of the Nation. And one big example of this that we saw is this guy, Thomas Fazi, who is, you know, a prominent MMT-adjacent person. I think he would definitely identify himself as MMT, but we want to be clear that there’s a distinction that we’re drawing here which is basically: if you accept that money is boundless and abstractly mediated creation of society is boundless, then you can’t keep talking about everybody’s place in the world, as if it’s not also, you know, like that also turns on whether or not we’re choosing to use our boundless potential to give everybody space in the world. And Fazi is a really good example of somebody who, you know, kind of mobilizes the rhetoric of, you know, the government could just deficit spend, but we’ve had that ability taken from us by the EU, which is, of course, true, in a sense. But the narrative that comes out of it, basically, is that we’ve been alienated from our own sovereignty by the global elite, and what we need to do is unlock the power of the nation-state, but realize, then—and this was kind of his sleight of hand—realize then that the nation-state is dependent on a culturally-fixed subject, if that makes sense.
Maxx Seijo 37:16
And territorialized, as well.
Will Beaman 37:17
Right. Yeah. So in this Twitter thread, he says, “The woke left likes to vilify the nation-state, but all the major social, economic and political advancements of the past centuries were achieved through the institutions of the democratic nation-state, not through international, multilateral or supranational institutions.” Which, you know, I mean, there’s, I’m pretty sure I can think of some examples of internationalist movements and internationally-coordinated.
Maxx Seijo 37:48
No, no, no: we’re just gonna, we’ll pass right through that one.
Will Beaman 37:52
Yeah, actually, let’s just skip over that counterfactual. “Furthermore, modern concepts of “natural identity” of national identity…” You see a little Freudian slip, there.
Maxx Seijo 38:04
Will Beaman 38:05
“…are incredibly ‘progressive,’ based as they are on transcending individual particularities – sex, race, biology, religion, etc. – to create cultural-political identities based on participation, equality, citizenship, representation.” I just I love how kind of paradoxical this little line is, you know, that we’re transcending individual particularities in order to create a universalism that’s exclusive.
Maxx Seijo 38:35
Yeah, well, it’s just yeah, it’s an individual identity-particular social relation. That’s what the nation is. You critique a internationalist vision that seeks to sort of take these given forms, which are ambivalent these nation-states, and sort of create some sort of universalist project in order to transcend them in order to just round down that same logic as a mode of justifying the exclusion which you ultimately want to conduct. And it’s so funny to me, and this also comes back down to the sort of Meadway, like, essentially he’s teeing up fascism here.
Will Beaman 39:22
Maxx Seijo 39:23
Which is to say that you’re not going to out-exclude the right. You’re not going to out-scarcity the right. I’m sorry.
Will Beaman 39:34
Right. Because they’re the ones who believe in Manifest Destiny and believe that you should take maximally in a zero sum situation. So of course they’re going to be the ones who are making a more compelling vision than your fully-costed.
Maxx Seijo 39:48
Yeah. Fully-costed, fully-automated luxury communism. I mean, I’m sure there’s many ways to metaphorically like render this just complete absurdity of this vision. I mean, essentially what the left has been trying to do is walk on to the field, right? And Meadway talks about, you know, the economy as a zero sum game, and it’s to accept that this thing called the economy is this sort of thing, right? Not a social relation that we have agency at varying levels of the process over. And to then say, “Okay, well, we’re gonna play your game on your your field. We’re gonna play your scarcity struggle game, and on your terms, and we’re going to try and beat you where you have the advantage and the upper hand. Because, yeah, sure we have these morals that they hamper us. They make us strategically less effective. They make us worse at the game.”
Will Beaman 40:59
Right. Which is such a repeating trope that you hear in all the postmortems about Bernie.
Maxx Seijo 41:05
Yep. We’re worse. We’re not as we’re not as ruthless, right?
Will Beaman 41:09
Maxx Seijo 41:10
Chapo has gone on about this about Hillary Clinton, just how ruthless she is. “We’re not as ruthless. We can’t win this game. We lose most of the time because we don’t have the alchemy that the right does.” But you know what that alchemy that the right has is? It’s the full embodiment of the commitment to scarcity that the left is just is dabbling with and hoping that it can, you know, have a little exclusion as a treat. Instead of rejecting the logic of exclusion in the first place, and really taking on a non-zero sum vision that calls into question—it really calls into question. This is unsettling. And I understand how unsettling this is. The fact that all of these forms—what constitutes the economy, what constitutes growth, what constitutes identity—these are malleable; these are up for debate; these are not biological forms.
Will Beaman 42:06
Yeah. Well, I would stop you there and continue reading from Fazi because he actually has a theory of national biology that I want to get into.
Maxx Seijo 42:18
Will Beaman 42:19
Yeah, he says, “While national identity is, of course, constantly evolving, the pace of the change is everything.When the national community perceives the pace of change to be too fast (for example a too-rapid inflow of immigrants with very different cultural and social norms), it naturally, instinctively…” like white blood cell, no I’m just kidding. “…instinctively reacts against the breakdown of social cohesion. To equate this with racism is absurd.” Yeah, and in case any of us were thinking about racism, for some reason, while he said that.
Maxx Seijo 42:55
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no. Famously “borders,” they’re good for the left! They’re good for, you know, communities of color. You know, it’s funny that there’s one thing like, we’ve been shit-talking a lot of the sort of established left, but there is a segment of the American left that has a sort of nuanced understanding. And, you know, and most importantly, a historical understanding of…
Will Beaman 43:08
Maxx Seijo 43:30
…the forces that have been at play here. And I’m thinking as well of the likes of, you know, some like Daniel Denvir, who hosts The Dig podcast. In his book about how the American border and the struggle for not only immigrant rights, but also indigenous rights as a sort of function of, of borders, and territorialization has been the crux of the left’s fight for justice. And it’s been the crux of the right’s project. And you mentioned Manifest Destiny, and I also think Greg Grandin despite a lot of problems that I have.
Will Beaman 44:09
Future friend of the show, Greg Grandin. Yeah.
Maxx Seijo 44:11
Future friend of the show, Greg Grandin. A lot of the problems I have with his framing, also, like historically captures this is that, you know, Fazi is not your friend. Blue Labour is not your friend. Amber A’Lee Frost. Red Scare. They’re not your friend. Right? These are people who represent a segment of “the left” that will capitulate to The Daily Caller. They will. They will sacrifice. They will make pragmatic sacrifices.
Will Beaman 44:48
Maxx Seijo 44:48
In order to “attain power”. And you know, historically speaking, you know, if you look to the Weimar example, if you look to other examples, this is a sort of mode that has not turned out to be one that forwards the inclusive vision of what the left needs to represent and what we will posit—this sort of non-zero sum MMT-inflected ideological project—needs to represent.
Will Beaman 45:21
Yeah, I mean, it’s just put simply, it’s a lot easier to defend your humanity if it’s not on zero sum terms, you know? If it’s not on the terms of I have a right to exist even though that’s going to bring down wages a little bit. You know, which is, it’s the position that really good people on the left, and you know, the reason why I strongly identify with the left even with people who I don’t think are MMTers yet is because I think that we do, nevertheless share values. And I just think that MMT is, you know, you need that non-zero sum vision in order to realize them, and in order to not just be plunged into a huge kind of pessimism, you know? And you saw that kind of like, when we opened with the with the Chapo clip, you know, I mean, Matt Chrisman was just extremely, extremely pessimistic. You know, Amber was in the acceptance stage of grieving already and was ready to move on to newer and better anti-woke alliances.
Maxx Seijo 46:31
Will Beaman 46:31
Yeah, coalitions. Right. Yeah, just another good member of my coalition that I need to win.
Maxx Seijo 46:36
Yeah, and it’s funny, because this is a sort of nice way to actually think about what came of Bernie’s campaign that was actually quite, quite inspiring, which was. And I think, the impulses are there too, even within Chapo Like, there’s a lot of things that they talked about, and did that was, that was really moving. And important. But the Brooklyn rally with AOC, when Bernie said to, you know, look around to your left and right, and really see the shared humanity of everyone, it really foregrounds the fact that, you know, I’m sure people look to their left, and they look to their right, and there were people in the top 5% of the tax bracket.
Will Beaman 47:23
Maxx Seijo 47:24
I mean, which is not to say that people in the top 5% of the tax bracket aren’t privileged in some sense, or don’t have more power or don’t have far too much power over the political process. That’s not the point. The point is, is that you don’t need their money. We don’t need their money.
Will Beaman 47:41
Yeah. We shouldn’t be hearing from that “Are you willing to pay higher taxes for somebody that is different from you,” you know, or something.
Maxx Seijo 47:49
Right! And that’s not what Bernie was saying either.
Will Beaman 47:52
Maxx Seijo 47:52
Right, then that’s important. And that’s one of the things that, you know, which is why Bernie is so important for the left. But it’s one thing to say “Bernie is all we have and ever have. And his ideas are all we have are all we’ll ever have.” And it’s another thing altogether to say, “There are kernels of a path here. We need to hone in them. We need to develop them. We need to build a cohesive vision out of them and leverage every site of power we have over the political process along the way.”
Will Beaman 48:35
Yeah, I mean, it’s profoundly pessimistic to look at this situation where because Bernie lost, even though we are now completely throwing paying for Coronavirus relief out the window, the first time we’ve done that for anything, like ever in decades, you know.
Maxx Seijo 48:59
Except for wars.
Will Beaman 49:00
Right. Yeah, except on the terms of, you know, righteous exclusion that we’re gonna need to do.
Maxx Seijo 49:06
Wall Street, wars, righteous exclusion.
Will Beaman 49:06
Yeah. But no, like, this really is the first time in a while that, like, there is an ideological paradigm shift. And, you know, I mean, there’s Ross Douthat was just on on The Daily, you know, the other day. Ross Douthat, The New York Times columnist…
Maxx Seijo 49:20
Yeah. You have to listen to that? I’m sorry, Will.
Will Beaman 49:27
Yeah, well, you know, living at home during the summer has its perks. And then it’s not so perks. But yeah, I mean, even he was saying he thinks that, you know, now social democracy is on the table, more or less. So he’s more optimistic than the left is.
Maxx Seijo 49:46
Ugggh. I mean, we could critique even what his conception of social democracy is, but I think…
Will Beaman 49:53
Yeah, to the extent that he wasn’t lamenting it, it’s probably because it was just like some kind of a Herrenvolk like. You know, Scandinavia, for white people.
Maxx Seijo 50:04
We can have a little bit of Scandinavian racism as a treat.
Will Beaman 50:08
Yeah. So like, I just want to cap off the reading from from Fazi with, you know what, what, what it all leads up to for him. “This is not an argument against the evolution of national identity. It is an argument for respecting a national community’s right to have a say in the pace and form that such evolution takes. To ignore the latter is, quite simply, political suicide.” I just I love the use of the word suicide here because it just…
Maxx Seijo 50:39
Will Beaman 50:42
It just completely gets across that creation is not an option: if things change, it’s because we’re dead.
Maxx Seijo 50:48
Will Beaman 50:49
Maxx Seijo 50:49
It’s only a death drive.
Will Beaman 50:50
Maxx Seijo 50:51
That’s all there is.
Will Beaman 50:51
So he says “We are now in a position to offer a different explanation of “social conservatism”: this is simply society’s self-defence against those factors – internal or external – that are perceived as threatening its members’ need for community, belonging, rootedness and identity.”
Maxx Seijo 51:09
Signed Carl Schmitt.
Will Beaman 51:10
Yeah, I mean, that is just like, holy shit, the math is off.
Maxx Seijo 51:14
Will Beaman 51:15
Yeah, I don’t know how you have internal, setting aside the problematic external thing, but like the fact that they’re internal, you know, that there are people who are internal to our society who really are external to it, because they’re not part of the program. You know, it’s the nationalist conception of the Marxist idea of what the economy is, you know, which is, you know, this is the material world the way that it is, you know, this is the material political body the way that it is.
Maxx Seijo 51:47
Will Beaman 51:47
And all we can do really is…
Maxx Seijo 51:51
Will Beaman 51:52
Yeah! Very, very slowly improve things, but not too quickly. And it’s really interesting also, that this is basically how Krystal Ball will talk about anti-racism or transgender issues or anything like that, you know, where she will kind of say, you know, “of course, I’m on your side, you know, on this one leftists, but you have to understand that these things are going to take time.” She talks about, you know, managed progressivism in the same way that that people like Fazi are talking about managed migration, as well as manage progressivism.
Maxx Seijo 52:28
Yeah. And I mean, we’ve been going for a little while here, but I do think as we’re sort of starting to wrap up this first episode and think about the way we move forward, it’s important to say that at some level, right, we here are wholehearted proponents of a non-zero sum material vision for the left. But at the level of ideas, this is not a view that should be tolerated.
Will Beaman 53:04
Yeah, we’re not interested in a debate with Krystal Ball.
Maxx Seijo 53:07
No, we’re not. We’re not interested in debate. She represents a reactionary anti-left trend. And that’s a trend that has to be stamped out. And we have to win that debate. And so it’s important to say, like, non-zero sum is not a sort of participation trophy for all the competing intellectual approaches to left wing progress. No, no, no, no, don’t confuse the fact that we allow a space for all people, for all life to flourish, and we demand that space, as allowing a space for ideas that…
Will Beaman 53:55
That are predicated on the opposite of that.
Maxx Seijo 53:57
That are predicated on the opposite of that.
Will Beaman 53:59
Maxx Seijo 54:00
And that is the central gambit, I think, of this podcast. And ultimately, I think that the rise of the MMT project, and the MMT movement or things like the Modern Money Network, has been through the insistence on that non-zero sum vision as a matter, not just of a sort of intellectual fancy or we would like it to be this way, but as a matter of the technical facts. A matter of the technical operations themselves. And that’s the vision.
Will Beaman 54:01
Maxx Seijo 54:01
I think this is a pretty good place to leave it, as well.