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US alt-right extremism is a logical consequence of mainstream neo-conservatism

In this first instalment of our Soundings series on critical terms, we look at the idea of ‘generation’, a term which has become highly prevalent within political discourse since the financial crisis.1 As with all the concepts in this series, the idea of generation is differently mobilised by different political actors. Right-wing thinkers use generation in a sense that can be traced back to Edmund Burke to mean the transmission of property and culture through time, while other commentators draw on meanings derived from Mannheim to refer to the experiences of particular cohorts at times of rapid political change. For activists on the left, it is important to distinguish between these different connotations of generation. The Burkean approach has regressive implications, for example in the justification of austerity as a way of protecting future generations from debt; and the Mannheimian understanding, although not as conservative, needs to be connected to an intersectional analysis that looks at other identity markers alongside those of age - such as class, race, gender and sexuality - so as to avoid flattening differences within cohorts and impeding solidarities between generations.

Trump is a particular type of reactionary American populist. The article tracks the history of American populism beginning with the formation of the People’s Party (also called the Populist Party) in 1891 as an agrarian movement based on anger of the Little Man against the western elite.


Sirio Canós Donnay, Marina Prentoulis, Jeremy Gilbert, Kevin Morgan

A discussion on what kinds of politics can create the best challenge to the right. The first contribution charts the successes and failures of the popular front policies of the 1930s, which were based on three key ingredients: narrative, organisation and the will to believe. The popular front narrative was based on the defining nature of the struggle of democracy against fascism; the organisation was largely provided by the Communist Party; the will to believe was more problematic, and poses the question of whether it is possible to construct a form of populism that does not involve costs that are scarcely less disastrous than those of fascism. The discussion then moves to parallels between the Popular Front in Spain and Syriza in Greece, both governmental alliances against a threat from the right. The question is posed of what kinds of alliances are acceptable in such situations, but there is also a discussion of how to construct a national popular politics: this is always something that emerges through a political process including the process of making alliances. Podemos is then discussed as a populist party that is actively seeking to construct a people – which for Podemos includes the act of constructing an enemy. Finally the discussion moves to a consideration of cross-class alliances, which are often seen as betrayals of the working class. One of the problems with this approach is that class structure is extremely complex, and it is difficult to read off what a pre-given class politics might consist of. It is also difficult to construct an alternative politics if factors other than class identification – for example nationalism – are discounted.

We are living in an era that can be defined as populist – and that includes both right- and left-wing populism. The populist era signals the end of the neoliberal era and is formed directly in response to it. Populism is strongly linked to the idea of sovereignty, the idea that a people should be in control of a territory and the way it is governed. This is in contrast to a globalised world with no boundaries and hence no forms of protection against global flows. Globally orientated liberal politics was formed in opposition to what its theorists saw as the statism and authoritarianism of the social democratic era. But liberalism is itself now being superseded. The idea of popular sovereignty has been foundational to the left, and the left today needs to embrace this part of its heritage and forge a left populism that is capable of defending people against global capital. If it does not do so, right-wing populism will prevail – a populism based on nationalism and ethnicity, opposed to the other, as opposed to a left populism based on equality and opposed to global capital.

Our new series, Soundings Critical Terms aims to explore and build on a range of theoretical resources that members of the editorial group have found helpful to their own understandings of politics. This article offers a framing statement for the series as whole, and makes a strong case for the place of conjunctural writing at the heart of the project. It looks at four key ways in which thinking conjuncturally can be of assistance to the left: as a means of analysis of periods of conjunctural crisis and contradiction; as an a priori necessity for effective political intervention; as a space open to bringing together longer trajectories of thought; and as an enabler of reflection on the shifting forces of socio-political histories. The aim is to begin to develop a rich toolkit of concepts, histories and understandings that enable us to think through what is possible, to determine the direction of future interventions, and to provide a space in which crucial differences and agreements within left activism can be explored.

There is currently a lot of frustration with the failures of liberal democracy, and a turn by some on the left towards a politics that eschews liberal democracy in favour of a radical politics based on ideas similar to those of communism. But a key lesson from the history of communism is that one of the main causes of its failure was its attitude towards democracy. In countries ruled by communist governments, the party was seen as embodying the working class and hence democracy, and all other standpoints were repressed. Waite analyses how the repressive structures of state communism arose, before going on to discuss ways in which Gramscian communists sought to rethink issues of democracy and to shape new communist oppositional practices within liberal democracies.

Part of the Soundings Futures series, the first part of this article is an assessment of the scale of regional inequalities in Britain and the failures of the orthodox policy initiatives that have been advanced to address them. The main weaknesses of successive policy shifts have been that: overall expenditure has simply been inadequate to the tackle the scale of the problem; any expenditure on regional aid has been vastly out-weighed by other forms of government expenditure which tend to favour the more economically advantaged parts of the country; regional problems have been attributed to underlying deficits in lagging regions rather than being understood in terms of unequal power relationships between regions, or more fundamental aspects of the centralised system of British political economy. The Northern Powerhouse model shares aspects of all these policy flaws. In response, the article sets out some elements of an alternative agenda, based upon a fundamental reshaping of the structure of economic governance. Measures proposed include: much greater real political decentralisation and new forms of regional governance; an industrial policy focused on job creation in industries that offer middle-level skilled jobs, such as manufacturing, construction and healthcare; a policy of inclusive growth - one that seeks growth that promotes good quality jobs and poverty reduction; a geographical shift in central government investment patterns and a relocation of good quality government jobs to the regions.

The September 2016 re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, with a renewed and increased mandate, was a significant political event, which should not be overshadowed by recent electoral successes by the populist right. On the contrary, these successes make it all the more important to understand the challenges facing the left.

An extensive critique of the market conception of health provision, combined with a vision for an alternative way of running the health service. The failure of market ‘reforms’ cannot be addressed by tinkering with new models of provision.


Marina Prentoulis, Roshi Naidoo, Danny Dorling, Ash Ghadiali, Teresa Piacentini, Richard Corbett, Cian O’Callaghan, Mary Gilmartin , Rooham Jamali , Nick Dearden

Winter 2016

Contributors discusses the European referendum form a number of different perspectives.

A personal account of key moments in the development of a black intellectual, and of the importance of the work of Stuart Hall in that development, told through ten ‘moments’.

We went to press the day after the referendum, which gave us little time for thinking about a response. This will be something we address in the next issue. In the mean time we hope that some of the articles in this issue offer ideas that can help us in the difficult days ahead.

Must regional integration be based on neoliberal competition?

A tribute to the work of geographer Doreen Massey, looking at her academic and political wrork, which were inextricably linked.

The Asian Youth Movements (AYMs) that emerged thirty years ago provide us with an example of the power of independent organisation and the possibility of fighting injustice and winning.

With the growth of #BlackLivesMatter, the widespread racism in US universities is once more being challenged.

The second of a new series of articles, Soundings Futures, which sets out to develop programmatic alternatives to the system of neoliberalism.