136. Limitation (II)
We live in an age of populist revolt: when one revolt, such as the election of Donald Trump, stalls then another leaps up to take its place. This week, though perhaps it will soon be forgotten, the revolt stormed Wall Street; small-time investors, self-coordinated through Reddit, burned the hedge funds by buying stock in unfashionable companies—yesterday’s brick and mortar stores—like GameStop and AMC. The little man was, at last, about to make a killing: Mr. Smith had gone to Washington, and been kicked out by vested interests; now, he has gone to Wall Street instead.
The political left responded to the revolt with antipathy; why? Marx predicted that capitalism would lead, through competition, to the centralisation of businesses, and this was to be welcomed: capitalism, through its own processes, centralised capital into a form that could be taken over by the working class and run “rationally”. This was dialectical: allow maximum private competition between little businesses and, inevitably, this will turn into a few centralised businesses, and these businesses will turn into communism—the tendency of one extreme is to turn into its opposite. So, for example, Britain basically has five supermarket chains at the moment; the Marxist wants those to swallow each other until there are two, and then for the state to take over and run the centralised food distribution system capitalism established.
If this happens, all that occurs is North Korean-style sclerosis. Marxists do not think that markets are real; or, at least, not really important—but they are. And, in reality, those big centralised corporations are already partially fused with the state and, as in the case of the Wall Street hedge funds, are playing a rigged game that is not a particularly free market at all; perhaps it has more free enterprise than North Korea or Cuba, but it certainly has less than China—it is a matter of degree.
The GameStop revolt was an organic decentralised kulak movement mediated by a primitive form of online virtue or brotherhood; fortune favours the bold, “Send it to the Moon,” was the movement’s motto—that is pretty bold. If a few hundred people become millionaires out of it and a few thousand more make a tidy pile, then this is a reinvigoration of the market. By putting more kulaks back in play, events like GameStop, from the left’s perspective, prolong the capitalist system; it is a revitalisation of free markets and private property—it is a step away from centralised bureaucratic control.
The left is not interested in any one particular man “making it”; they are only interested in the class group “making it”, particularly through the authorised ideology: so events like the GameStop revolt cannot please them. GameStop does not fit the story. The cosy integration of government bureaucrats, regulations, and Wall Street does not perturb the left; they merely imagine that it could be expanded to a greater degree until there is no free market left at all. When they become the bureaucrats administering the committees, justice will have arrived—it is just that, for now, there are too many old-style Democrats on those committees. The populist revolt, by contrast, wants to burn the whole system down, since it is rigged, and make all the little men kings—or little kings, at least.
As Switzerland demonstrates, direct democracy and referenda are almost always rightist in effect. Democracy tends leftward at the mass level, because at this level it is captured by elite rhetoricians who manipulate the masses; but if the mob—particularly the more observant sections of the mob—are allowed to use their common sense and given direct access to the process, then the results are almost always towards the right. The problem that populist revolts face at the moment is that, as with Trump, whenever they punch a hole in the system, the system learns and then excludes them; thus Biden was squirmed into office by various nefarious fixes and the “democratic” app Robinhood shut down trading.