Perspectives for socialists in 2024: An interview with David McNally

Tempest cover Dave McNally

First published at Tempest.

The Tempest Collective Editorial Board recently sat down with David McNally to discuss current geopolitical dynamics, economic fault lines, and labor struggles—and perspectives for socialists in 2024. David McNally specializes in the history and political economy of capitalism. He teaches in the Department of History at the University of Houston and is the author, among other books of, Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance, Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism, and Blood and Money: War, Slavery, Finance, and Empire.

Tempest Collective: We are interested in your take on the current global economic situation, particularly the economic cycle, the response to the 2007–09 crisis, the post-COVID period, and the coming home to roost of the “easy money” moment. What’s your perspective on the current moment? How close are we to a global recession?

David McNally: Those of us who grasp that the global crisis of 2007–09 was a turning point in the evolution of the global economy were proved right. But I think almost all of us (certainly myself) underestimated the degree to which the ruling classes would make an incredibly sharp pivot towards Keynesian-style stimulus and that all of their neoliberal nostrums against deficit spending would fly out the window when they saw a potential meltdown of the global financial system.

It’s always worth reminding ourselves that all seven major Wall Street banks faced collapse in 2008–09 and that there was genuine trauma in ruling-class circles about whether they could pull off an immediate rescue. Once that happened, I think the best commentators understood that neoliberalism was really fundamentally about a realignment of class power and much less about a hard ideological commitment to never running deficits and never going into debt. In other words, to preserve the existing configuration of class power that characterized neoliberalism (based on weakened unions, depleted social movements, and restored profitability), they would inject unprecedented amounts of stimulus into the system, and they would run enormous deficits to make this happen.

While stabilizing the system, stimulus policies also essentially offset capitalism’s inbuilt restorative mechanisms. Classically, the system has used deep recessions to purge the least efficient capitals from the economy and therefore open up the road to a new wave of restructuring, technological innovation, managerial reorganizations, and much larger concentrations of capital that enable a new boom.

We have not seen a new boom. What we did see, however, was a concerted effort by central banks around the world to block the shift into a full-scale depression, which they did avert. This needs to be acknowledged. But one of the issues that then arises is the contradiction of having stopped a recession (and a very deep one) by blocking capitalism’s restructuring mechanism. They have failed to purge the least efficient capitals from the system.

Most commentators agree that a significant number of corporations in the Global North are so-called zombie firms. That is to say, they’re not actually profitable. But when money was effectively free from central banks, they could borrow to stay alive. They could take out loans at 1.5 percent and relend at 3.5 percent, and therefore show financial profits even if their core businesses were not making money.

So, we have not seen the deep and prolonged restructuring that the United States saw in the early 1980s when steel plants, automobile factories, electrical goods, rubber, and parts plants went bankrupt on a large scale. There was very significant technological restructuring in that period which then enabled the neoliberal expansion to take place for the next 20 or 25 years.

We haven’t seen that kind of restructuring in the aftermath of the crisis of 2008–09. Instead what we have now is a capitalism that has dodged a huge bullet but did so at a cost to its own dynamism. But now, central banks have jacked up interest rates in order to bring down inflation, which is what we have seen for the last 18 to 24 months.

Having done that, we need to then ask ourselves what has this produced? They jacked up interest rates because what they feared most was not inflation in the abstract. Rather, what they feared was wage inflation. They feared that there would be a wave of strikes and unionizing efforts to catch up with what workers had lost under price inflation.

If inflation is at 6, 8, and 10 percent a year (particularly in foodstuffs, gas prices, rents), and if workers feel any enhanced bargaining power, they’re going to push to make up that gap. That was the pattern particularly of the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s when there was a rising strike wave, particularly throughout the Western countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  and the Global North but also in critical parts of the Global South.

So, the ruling classes were very worried about the so-called low unemployment figures and the problem of the “quit rate,” where workers feel sufficiently confident to leave low wage jobs in search of other work. They were concerned that this had created a sense among working-class people, even in the United States, that they could bargain with employers individually, leaving a low wage job for another slightly better one. But what troubled them the most was that workers might bargain—and act—collectively. They understood there was a new wave of unionization at Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, and beyond, particularly among young workers. They also knew that they might face a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike down the road in the United States, as in the event they did.

The Federal Reserve Board was positioning itself for this. If you read the Fed’s reports, they’re incredibly honest that what concerned them the most was the “sticky” employment rate. They wanted to bring the employment rate down—in other words, bring the unemployment rate up to create a greater sense of insecurity and to essentially inhibit the wave of union drives and strikes that was clearly in play.

The so-called war on inflation was a preemptive assault against a wage explosion that would have been driven by unionization and a much larger wave of strikes than we’ve seen, even though we’ve seen a not insignificant one, in Britain, France, India, Argentina, the United States, and so on.

But as they drove up interest rates, they created a predicament, which is that more and more of those zombie companies are now deeply precarious. The bankruptcy rate for corporations has started to rise, but they’ve not yet seen a huge purging of the system, because they’ve avoided a deep recession. If demand falls off, then the most vulnerable firms are in huge trouble. The financial system will face growing challenges due to bad loans.

But more than this, the driving up of interest rates has displaced the crisis onto the Global South. We’re once again in a situation where there are probably 50 or so countries in the Global South that are at risk of debt default, resulting from a simple inability to pay because they’ve now had to renew the 2 percent they initially paid in financing loans at 5 and 6 percent instead. The only option outside of debt repudiation is a further move down the road of catastrophic cuts to health care, education, fuel subsidies, and so on.

Over the next year we may see a variety of revolts in parts of the Global South, from places like Nigeria to Pakistan, where debt burdens are becoming so unsustainable that either reaction to huge austerity programs will produce social upheaval or countries will essentially have to go into debt default and in all probability negotiate draconian agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other global lenders.

This is a class warfare from above led by central banks that has been disguised as an anti-inflationary war. It has put the most vulnerable sections of the global economy under a very dire threat of debt crisis. This scenario will be in play over the next 12 months in a very dramatic way.

Of course, all of this then means as well that the dominant imperial powers will intensify their jockeying for supremacy. It is often forgotten that part of what imperialism is about is deflecting the effects of the global crisis from one block to another. A good part of U.S. strategy is precisely about deflecting the crisis toward China, Russia, and those in their orbit.

Today inter-imperial conflict is intensifying. The long, grinding war in Ukraine is an expression of that. Although founded upon a legitimate resistance by the Ukrainian people to foreign occupation, the war is also overlaid with an inter-imperial conflict.

Among Marxists there is a classic understanding that you can have a war which is multilayered, in which a variety of different antagonisms coexist. What we’re seeing in Ukraine is an inter-imperial rivalry overlying a colonial-style war of Russia against the Ukrainian people.

This is indicative of growing fractures in the global system. It’s easy to forget that the neoliberal game plan was integration of China into the world capitalist order. Western ruling classes pursued that quite vigorously for a quarter century. That has now significantly wound down because of the effects of the 2007–09 crisis.

We’ve moved from integration to disintegration. We’ve moved from cooperation to rivalry.

Do you think that the U.S. ruling class, represented in the central bank, has been successful, considering they were driven centrally by the question of wage inflation and the labor market? We still have a very hot labor market. It’s not clear that they’ve successfully suppressed wages. The seeds of labor militancy continue. And with regards to the question of inter-imperial rivalry generally, the crisis in China has meant that there’s been a retreat from the Belt and Road Initiative, a retreat from its efforts to extend alternative debt offerings. That may, as we saw in Sri Lanka, compound the debt dynamic.

Regarding the United States, I think what’s so interesting is that they have brought down the core inflation numbers. But I don’t think they have significantly dented the mood of combativity among working-class people, particularly among young workers in large multiracial urban settings.

One of the ironies of this moment is that the proliferation of political conflicts, most critically Palestine, actually will feed back into workplaces, especially among young workers. I was speaking with Kim Moody recently about how young activists and organizers in the late 1960s and 1970s brought Vietnam back into the workplace. The mood of defiance toward the ruling class over the Vietnam War was part of the radicalization of a young layer of workers in the workplace.

I think the global justice movement for Palestine is going to play out that way. Millions of young workers are completely disconnected from the ruling class over Palestine. It puts them in an oppositional spirit and creates a pattern similar to what Rosa Luxemburg described about the interplay of political and economic dynamics. In this scenario, even if one level of struggle starts to subside a little bit, the other dimension (in this case, the political) will have a feedback effect and nourish new kinds of economic disputes, confrontations, organizing campaigns, and so on. We’re not in a mass strike wave, of course, but there is an invigorated combativity.

I think they’ve singularly failed to stop the overall oppositional sense among young workers in particular within workplaces. While I’m emphasizing young workers, because there’s a locus of defiance there, labor unrest can very quickly take off among an older layer of workers as we saw in the UAW strike, for all of its unevenness.

I’m living and working in Texas these days. We had GM plants and auto parts plants on strike in Texas with very solid picket lines. That’s telling us something. Labor defiance continues even outside the centers of young worker organizing I was talking about. So, I don’t think that the ruling class has succeeded in dampening oppositional attitudes among workers.

In terms of China, there is what you might call a reconsolidation of an imperial bloc strategy. In addition to moves toward greater protection by both the U.S. and Chinese states, there is also a retreat from some efforts to incorporate other states. When growth rates were high, when China was leading the world in rates of investment and growth in output, its rulers could afford to experiment with a number of initiatives to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Now, as their growth rates are tumbling, it’s not clear whether China is going to avoid a major crisis in the property sector. There’s a huge overaccumulation in the housing sector in China, which has not yet shaken out, and it is unclear if they can contain that. This doesn’t mean the ruling class in China is going to retreat towards a kind of autarkic isolationism. But it is consolidating, retrenching, and reprioritizing investment policies outside of China. This isn’t purely economic. It is also deciding which geopolitical and military investments are worthwhile and which ones ought to be shelved.

The Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, is really being throttled back. One way to think about the Chinese ruling class is to think about the conflict that’s being waged largely between Biden Democrats, on the one hand, and Republicans, on the other, about the degree of global military, diplomatic, and foreign policy spending that’s appropriate. Biden is still pushing hard for major U. S. spending designed to ensure global hegemony, but a whole layer of the Republicans, influenced by Trump’s kind of semi-isolationism, wants a retrenchment.

This has played out largely between two parties in Congress in the United States. But in China it has played out inside the one ruling party. In other words, they’ve got different currents and factions, and they’re trying to resolve their differences right now. I think they are retrenching but they’re not going to move backward on increased military spending. I don’t think they’re going to back off in their tacit support for Putin in Ukraine. They’re not going to back off over Taiwan.

But they are reconsidering within their own ruling circle what they see as extravagant foreign initiatives. That fits with the U.S. pattern overall also. When there’s a single ruling party, as in China, the shifts occur without much open debate of the sort that we’re seeing inside the U.S. ruling class.

I think that the axis of U.S.-China rivalry is not only going to continue throughout this period, but it’s going to remain very sharp. We saw the beginnings of the pivot from integration to rivalry after the 2007–09 crisis, but it has really sharpened since 2016.

To what extent do you believe the imperial blocs are entrenched? Do you think Russia is more committed, perhaps by necessity, to an autarkic model because it’s under such pressure? To what extent is Russia an independent actor in light of its attempt to assert regional power via Ukraine, its threats to Finland, and so on? To what extent do you see Russia as answerable to the Chinese?

I think we need a much deeper analysis of the internal dynamism within imperial blocs. We have a tendency to think that one state dictates, but I think it’s much more complex than that. The junior partners within an imperial bloc can at times exercise a more significant degree of autonomy than we often imagine. They are not writing the script. That’s not how global power works. But the dominant power within the bloc has to accommodate other powers.

An imperial bloc involves regional powers that have their own aspirations. The dominant power needs their regional influence and often has to accept actions that are not fully in their own interests. For example, China is not moving troops into Eastern Europe any more than the U.S. military is going to move 100,000 troops into Gaza and occupied Palestine. But they are enabling sub-imperial powers to do so.

Regional powers that need the umbrella of the larger imperialist power exercise a lot of autonomy themselves, particularly at this moment. Right now, Putin cannot afford to back down on Ukraine. That’s a simple reality. Defeat in Ukraine is the end of the line for Putin and his section of the ruling class. They remember what happened when Russia lost a war with Japan in 1905 and how it cracked open Czarism and opened up the floodgates of the 1905 revolution. They remember the lessons of the First World War: all the losing belligerents were shaken by working-class upheavals involving soldiers and sailors on a very large scale.

Putin needs to persist in Ukraine. China needs the alliance with Putin’s Russia because Putin is the containment strategy for NATO. Without Putin, China’s rulers fear NATO will sweep across Eastern Europe. So, Putin gets a lot of leash from the Chinese state to pursue a war with Ukraine that does not offer a lot to China itself.

I would argue that there are elements of these dynamics in play in the Middle East. There’s no question that Israel is utterly reliant on foreign and particularly military aid from the United States. It needs the United States’s global authority with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for its long-term plans. So, it’s reliant on the U.S. government. But the United States wants territorial influence and to prevent anti-imperialist upheavals in the region. At the same time, it prefers to limit its own direct interventions. Better to let regional proxies do the dirty work. So, the likes of Saudi Arabia and Israel—especially Israel—are given a lot of rope to do what they deem necessary. The United States may try to constrain its allied states in the region, to influence and pressure them. But since it needs these powers as regional police forces for empire, it gives them a lot of room to maneuver. This is the long-standing Kissinger Doctrine after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

We need to recognize that imperial blocs are dynamic and that the junior parties within a bloc can exercise very significant regional autonomy while carrying out strategies that often are not identical with those of the larger patron that dominates the bloc.

I think there was a period of time when China hoped for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine. They thought it was in their overall best interests to be seen as a power that could actually bring about a settlement. When they couldn’t do this, they decided to live with an ongoing war.

I think the United States genuinely wants a less destructive pulverization of the people of Gaza right now. I don’t think they’re going to get it. They probably know that, and are going to live with that. Those tensions are going to continue.

The interesting thing is there are no hegemonic powers that have the kind of influence within their blocs that Russia and the United States had in 1948. They don’t dominate in the same way. So we’re going to see tensions that are sometimes even much more overt inside the blocs, although this doesn’t mean the blocs are going to fly apart.

Regarding the Middle East, certainly one sees the tensions you are talking about play out between Iran and Saudi Arabia. There are independent assertions of power by the Gulf states. There’s been a commitment over the last few U.S. administrations, and perhaps further, to strengthening regional stability and normalization of relations with Israel, most importantly with Saudi Arabia. That appears to have been part of the motivation for the October 7 attacks and appears to have at least momentarily impacted that process. What’s your assessment of what October 7 has meant for that dynamic—or is it too early to say?

It’s too early to say. We’re in the middle of it. There are still an awful lot of factors that could come into play. We should not underestimate what it would mean to have a mass global Palestine solidarity movement capable of the kind and level of mobilization that the anti–Vietnam War movement had over years.

We’re not there yet. But should we get there, it then becomes an independent factor in drawing up a kind of balance sheet. Such a mass movement could become a very important factor.

I don’t believe it’s the case that everything that happened around October 7 was dictated by the regional and global dynamics. They were a factor, no doubt a significant one, but we need to understand the ways in which Hamas confronted a dilemma that earlier confronted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Many folks have been rightly reading Tareq Baconi’s book on Hamas recently, but let’s remember the title, Hamas Contained. Baconi sketched a scenario in which Hamas ran the risk of becoming a rump administrative power in Gaza, contained by the occupation and essentially administering local austerity. It wasn’t yet in the situation in which Yasser Arafat of the PLO had found himself, literally in a compound and surrounded by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But Hamas understood that risk.

If you cannot pose as a force of resistance to the occupation of Palestinian lands, over time you become an administrator of the occupation. I think that was a large part of what happened on October 7, an attempt to restore the idea of resistance.

Now, I take it for granted that Hamas does not represent the politics of Palestinian liberation to which we aspire. Hamas’s politics, political strategies, and ideological formation are foreign to those of the revolutionary socialist left. It does not represent authentic resistance, but it is a genuine force and it had to do something.

In terms of the regional context, Saudi Arabia in particular was being reconciled to the status quo. Saudi Arabia was moving toward a U.S.-driven accommodation with Israel because of Iran. It fears Iran as a destabilizing force hostile to the power of the Gulf states in the region.

But ultimately we need to understand that the Israeli state has demonstrated that it has no interest in negotiating with any representatives of the Palestinian people. Recently, Netanyahu has said bluntly and overtly that he is completely opposed to any kind of parcellized and fractionated Palestinian state. To suggest that the objectives of the Oslo peace process are some huge risk to the Zionist project is borderline crazy. The Oslo Accords were a victory for the United States and Israel. Nevertheless, the dominant ideology of the Israeli right sees in them excessive concessions to Palestinians.

As much as the regional dynamics matter in generating the events of October 7, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that so long as there is no movement toward any kind of even semi-reasonable Palestinian sovereignty, there’s going to be resistance. Regrettably that resistance won’t always take shape in the way that the socialist left would like. But it’s going to happen one way or the other.

What is your perspective on the state of resistance and movement internationally? It has been wonderful to see the Palestine movement in the United States reemerge at this moment. When one travels internationally, one gets that sense that people are looking at the movement in the U.S. and see its importance, especially because of the role of the U.S. government vis-à-vis Israel. Since the initiation of the  Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) in 2005, the Palestine movement has consistently faced outright hostility. Now it faces repression, and a more extreme form of McCarthyism than we’ve seen in this country for decades. What’s your assessment of the evolution of the Palestine movement, its political contours, and the challenges it is facing?

The wave of McCarthyite attacks on campuses, in Hollywood, and other places that we’ve seen is ominous, but it will not hold. That doesn’t mean they are not dangerous. But I believe that the repression overcompensates for ideological weakness. Israel and the United States confront a legitimation crisis over Palestine. There are ingredients of a Vietnam moment right now, a series of elements that could create a huge social rupture in the U.S. and beyond.

Symptomatically, you see them in very straightforward ways. Let’s start with the scale of the mobilization. I’ve been going to demonstrations for more than 50 years. In November of last year, I attended the largest of my life. I walked with at least 600,000 people in London on the Palestine solidarity march. Some of the organizers are saying it was 800,000. I’ve never marched with 600,000 people before in my life. That alone tells us something.

Scores of President Biden’s staffers have picketed the White House wearing masks and protesting U.S. support for the war on Gaza. Employees of the World Food Program have written to their boss, a U.S. hand-picked political hack, protesting the war on Gaza. BBC journalists have written an open letter denouncing their own broadcasting corporation for its bias against Palestinians.

We’re only two months into the war. There are major unions, like the auto workers and postal workers in the United States, coming out for a ceasefire. It took five or six years with Vietnam to get a major union to come out against the war in Vietnam. All of this speaks to an enormous fracture in the hegemony of Zionism.

This is one of the reasons why the pro-Israel forces are so enraged right now. Among other things, they know they’re losing the support of Jewish youth. And the role of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has been huge in this regard. What we’re witnessing is a generational break of the sort that we saw with Vietnam.

You’ve literally got millions of young people who are completely opposed to their own government’s position. As previously noted, this break is being reflected even at fairly high institutional levels: the White House with Biden staffers, the State Department, and the World Food Program. These are big breaks and they’re happening much earlier than they did with Vietnam. Part of the reason for this is the campaigning Palestine solidarity activists have done for years building the BDS campaign, campus-based Students for Justice in Palestine organizations, and others.

We have seen a kind of incremental shift that is now accelerating in the context of a genocide. This is a huge problem for the ruling class. Biden is using a word now that the New York Times tried to ban 30 years ago when Thomas Friedman (of all people) inserted the word “indiscriminate” into a New York Times report on the bombing of Lebanon. The editors struck out the word “indiscriminate.” They wouldn’t let that into the paper. Now Biden is using the term.

This is because they’re reading the polls and they know they’re losing young people and Arab-Americans in particular. I believe that if anything costs Biden re-election, it will be Palestine. The loss of youth and the loss of Arab-Americans is really going to hit them hard.

We should remember that the 1968 Chicago protests were at the Democratic National Convention. Social movements were mobilizing against a Democratic Party president who was leading an imperial war in Vietnam. At least initially and unknowingly, the Biden Democrats have reactivated these dynamics with their support for genocide in Gaza. And now they’re starting to get some intimation of what they’ve unleashed. The problem that they face is that when both major political parties are completely out of step with where millions of young people stand on war, it creates a huge social and political space. Social movements essentially filled that vacuum in the 1960s and early 1970s.

But the social movements that we have at the moment are not yet adequate to the task. We’re going to need many more mass organizing formations. And if this movement continues—we don’t know that it will—I think it’s possible that we’re in for multi-year social mobilization around Palestine. Internal documents indicate the Israeli War Cabinet wants another year in Gaza. They may not get this but they are openly discussing the expulsion of two and a quarter million people into the Sinai Peninsula or even south Lebanon. Whatever happens, we are looking at a wave of disease epidemics hitting Gaza in the coming months. When you destroy the water system and the health care infrastructure, that’s what’s going to happen.

So, we could be in for a much longer period of global Palestine solidarity mobilization. If that’s true, then we need to think about what social movement organizing looked like over a period of years as with the Civil Rights Movement, for instance. While it’s true that Dr. Martin Luther King still occupied a very significant position on the national stage in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King and the SCLC did not lead on the ground by the mid-1960s. It was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that started to drive youth activism, the Freedom Summer, voter registration campaigns, and so on. Students for a Democratic Society exploded in growth. Both were civil rights and anti–Vietnam War organizing fulcrums. The initiative then shifted for a period of time to the Congress on Racial Equality, which became absolutely central to organizing.

In other words, the movement is required to reinvent organizational forms as it proceeds. We should not assume that the current organizing structures are set in stone. At some point, if this movement grows, then some kind of large framework that brings together unions, faith organizations, student groups, dissident scholars, and social movement organizers into new organizational rubrics will become possible–and necessary.

I’ve noticed this already in Toronto. Initially, much of the organizing for Palestine solidarity work was essentially being driven by one youth organization in Toronto. But quickly there emerged a working coalition of unions, migrant justice organizations, campus-based organizations, faith organizations, and groups of artists. As a result, the demonstrations in Toronto grew from 5,000 to 50,000 because this new organizing framework came together. Now, there are problems here, particularly because union leaderships often like to control things from backrooms.

That’s going to be the challenge. Can we, in the coming months, start to envision, strategize about, and contribute to new and more broad-based campaigning type structures and organizing frameworks? If we can, there’s potentially a movement of millions to be built in a country like the United States.

Key ingredients are already there in a country like Britain. As I said, I marched with 600,000 or more in London. Enormous marches happened in Manchester and Glasgow and elsewhere in the country on the same day. We’re back, potentially, into that level of antiwar organizing.

Although I think there are huge challenges because of how depleted our infrastructures of dissent are after decades of neoliberalism, we also need to remind ourselves that the movements that rebuilt a Left in the 1960s in the United States were coming out of McCarthyism. They were coming out of the crushing of a previous Left. So, it’s possible to rebuild and to reinvent, but that’s going to be the challenge.

I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing the difficulties. They’re real. But I also don’t want people to underestimate the opportunities of the moment for a mass scale organizing like we saw in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) moment of the George Floyd uprising. Of course, it was too short-lived for new mass organizations to develop on a large scale.

The struggle in Palestine may not be deflected like the BLM uprising was, in part because the Democratic Party pulled the plug on the BLM uprising. Barack Obama spoke to LeBron James and encouraged basketball players to put an end to the athlete strikes. They wanted no more workplace stoppages for fear those would hurt Biden’s presidential campaign. They secured an end to the strikes in exchange for promising that basketball arenas would be used as voter registration sites.

The Democrats can’t do this now over the issue of Palestine. They can’t send Obama or Biden or any Democrat in to kill the movement right now. The stakes during a genocide are too high. One of the strategic discussions that we’re going to need over the next few months on the Left in the United States is how we can begin to create broader frameworks for Palestine solidarity and mobilization. The opportunities are there.

The moment of the Democratic Party being discredited is happening at the same time as the far right is resurgent internationally and nationally. The discrediting and weakening of the support for Biden actually predates October 7 and the Democrats’ naked support for genocide. But the far right in many ways has been able to present itself as a counter hegemonic power to answer the problem of the establishment, “the swamp.” This isn’t just Trump but also Javier Milei in Argentina. The far right everywhere is presenting themselves this way—and the Left in many ways is not.

You’re absolutely right to emphasize this. The political initiative, particularly in the electoral arena, has been with the Right, and in some cases, frighteningly, with the Far Right. For any of us on the socialist Left to underestimate this would be disastrous. Because what they’re trying to do, and in some cases are having a reasonable degree of success at doing, is to displace working-class anger away from the employing class toward socially oppressed layers of the working class.

This is a dynamic that we’re familiar with. We can go back to great writings from the 1970s like Policing the Crisis by Stuart Hall, with a number of coauthors, which essentially said to us, “Listen, they are repackaging the economic crisis of capitalism as a crisis of personal safety and policing. They are targeting people of color as the cause of social crisis. And if we don’t have a counter to that, we’re in trouble.”

Part of the problem was that older forms of class solidarity were being eroded. In some cases, they were being smashed institutionally. And we always have to remind ourselves that neoliberalism depended on inflicting a series of defeats on working-class organizations.

Margaret Thatcher in Britain knew that the National Union of Mine Workers had to be defeated in the interests of neoliberalism. If you were going to break a politics of working-class solidarity, the miners had to be crushed. In Bolivia, the neoliberals knew it was the tin miners, perhaps the most militant union in South America. In 1985, thousands of them on a march were taken on by the army and beaten.

On a less dramatic scale, but still as socially significant, was the breaking of the air traffic controllers strike by Ronald Reagan in the United States. Once the organizations and unions that provide the institutional foundation of working-class solidarity are destroyed or massively depleted, then people will tend to fall back on individual survival strategies unless another form of organization on the Left can fill the vacuum. And that induces competition and rivalry, rather than cooperation and solidarity.

The far right continues to capitalize on that fact. Their message is: If you want an individual survival strategy, then we’re going to elevate you above those “lesser” types who have been getting handouts from the liberal elites in the form of affirmative action, diversity, equity, and inclusion, social welfare programs, softness on crime, and so on.

This problem is going to persist until the rebuilding of working-class organizations on a significant scale pulls large numbers of working-class people back into collective projects and collective organizational forms.

Palestine solidarity struggle can feed into workplaces, as I’ve said. Large social movements can play an extremely important role. Even though they don’t have the workplace-based endurance that unions do, they create new collective solidarities. They become a breeding ground for new political identities. The idea that mass action can get results feeds into other forms of organizing, such as community-based and workplace organizing.

As socialists, we need to be trying to work with all of those little green shoots that have emerged in terms of workplace and union organizing. They’re incredibly important to cultivate, but we also need to be very cognizant of the openings for much larger scale social mobilizations because these will pull in young workers and workers of color in particular.

If we can build a real grassroots mass-based Palestine solidarity campaign against the war on Gaza right now, it will percolate. It doesn’t mean that the Right will disappear electorally, but one of the key things that we’ve got to grasp strategically for the Left is that the electoral arena is less propitious for us than it is for the Right. The electoral arena suits the Right better because they’re not trying to break the institutions of capitalist power. It suits us the least because the Left overwhelmingly is forced to accommodate when it gets inside the machinery of the state, even its elected structures.

Of course, you can create huge counterweights if you’ve got mass social movements, so I’m not saying never contest power within the electoral arena. But one of the things we’ve seen is that unless Left elected representatives are anchored to mass social movements, which exert a pull away from electoralism, they accommodate—and this is terrible for us.

Right now the electoral advances of the Right need to be countered in every way possible. But if we want to stop the attack on reproductive rights in the United States, for example, we should not focus on getting Democrats elected. Instead we need to rebuild a mass based reproductive choice movement. That’s what we’ve seen elsewhere, and it’ll be the case in the United States, just as it was in the 1970s, in terms of winning on reproductive rights.

Mass social movements create a different kind of politics. They teach people that politics doesn’t have to be submitting to the Clintons of the world. We’re never going to win over working-class people if that’s what we project to them as the alternative—that a bunch of technocratic elites like Biden and company, who have been lifelong political hacks in a Democratic Party machinery, represent your future.

We’re not getting anywhere and we’re ultimately losing politically in those terms. The real question for us is creating a mass counterbalance and political life that prefigures a different kind of politics, a different kind of organizing, and a different kind of struggle.

That will inevitably produce electoral spinoffs. For instance, think of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party or the Peace and Freedom Party associated with the Black Panther Party in California. There will be electoral spinoffs, but right now the one overwhelming priority is creating a Left force in politics to counter the Right. Ultimately, we need mass Left movements to do that. We’ve got to get back to street, community, and workplace mobilization as the key. There’s an opening right now around justice for Palestine. I hope we don’t squander it.