One of the strengths of going beyond liberalism is the ability to learn from writers on the Left without becoming leftist. Inability to appreciate this point is one one of the reasons why conservatism in the United States has failed; it fell into the trap of either rejecting the legitimate insights of leftist political theory, or the other trap of conservatives becoming leftists themselves by accepting entire paradigms, rather than simply appropriating singular concepts. This article will take one concept from Marx and explain its validity, its applicability to neoreaction, and how the failure to understand this concept doomed conservatism from the start. This concept is class solidarity.
Class is a central idea in all political theory. Taken in its broadest conception, class merely illustrates a group within society which organizes itself for collective action on the basis of shared interests. It is the body created by political and social cleavages. In most complex societies, there are many classes, and individuals may feel mixed loyalties; the term for this is a society of cross-cutting cleavages, wherein social classes are not clearly organized, or pillarized, into easily separated columns. Class is a nested concept, as one can certainly see smaller classes which operate independently within the broader categories which are commonly used. For example, within the working class, agricultural labor acts differently from skilled manufacturing labor, which acts differently from unskilled service labor. The old rentier bourgeoisie are certainly not acting collectively with the managerial bureaucratic class.
The vast majority of liberal and Marxist writers discuss class in terms of shared interest. Despite the caricature of Marx which one gets from popular pseudo-theory, even Marx does not argue that a monolithic working class exists in his day, as he recognizes the distinctions between bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, the industrial proletariat, skilled labor, the agricultural laborer, and the lumpenproletariat.
It was Marx’s claim, rather, that the forces of dialectical materialism would lead to the point where the laboring classes would ultimately see their shared interests and combine into the Revolutionary Movement, though his works are full of references to the distinct roles and perspectives of the various classes, and how each of them would merge into the revolutionary proletariat. Since all of these groups would inevitably see their good in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, according to Marx, their combination was part of the path of history.
What Marx offers are two levels of class organization; the first level is that of socioeconomic class, wherein ones place in the productive order defines one’s class. The second level is ideological, as the worker who finds his interests served by revolution becomes a communist; this is the famous base and superstructure. The class of communists is based on adherence to a doctrine which the individual perceives will serve his socioeconomic interests.
Modern socialists, however, managed to strip the economic determinism from Marx and realize the potential of class warfare in the creation of non-economic identitarian classes. From ethnic to sexual identities, the modern Left has made these the primary drivers of perceived interests, such that rather than socioeconomics, these modern identities form the “base” from which interest arises. Whether a person is wealthy or poor, labor or manager, what is most important for determining one’s class interests are sexual orientation or racial group. A gay farm laborer and a gay corporate executive understand their collective interest through homosexuality, not through their distinct economic stations. Homosexuality is primary and functions as the vehicle through which one finds his interests served by becoming a progressive. One can say the same thing with regards to African Americans, Hispanics, or single women.
It is not just the Left that functions in this way, but also the mainline conservative movement. Given that most right-wing identities are illegal or highly disadvantaging in modern society, conservatives have various ideological proxies for the classes that comprise their base. White rural labor is often called “cultural conservatives,” white petit bourgeoisie and technocrats go by “fiscal conservatives,” and those who are part of the military-contractor economy, also known as the “archipelago of bases” are referred to as “national defense conservatives.”
These three classes should sound familiar, as they make up the famous three-sided alliance of fusionist conservatism.These three classes, under their contrived ideological monikers, were united by a shared interest in the mid-20th century: opposition to communism. When conservative writers refer to the “base,” they are referring to the fact that the conservative movement, like all other ideological groupings, functions as a meta-class comprising numerous socioeconomic and identitarian classes beneath them.
This is where modern thinkers failed to learn from Marx; these constructed meta-classes are far more fragile than modern liberals understand because they only adopted half of Marx’s formula. Early fusionist conservatives often cited shared interests and the complimentary nature of the goals of the three classes within the conservative movement. So long as the fear of communism was the overwhelming driver of conservatism, this was enough. Marx, however, describes a second requirement for a stable class structure: shared fate.
Shared interests mean that when one person prospers, the others prosper, as well. If two men will both prosper when the stock market goes up, they have incentive to work together. It is also possible, however, that the first man will prosper regardless of whether the market will increase or decrease, while the second man will only prosper when the market goes up. In this case, Man 1 has incentive to work with Man 2 to increase the price of stocks, but may also choose to defect and help lower the price because he will suffer no negative consequences from defection. Man 2, on the other hand, cannot defect against Man 1 because to do so would be to harm his own prospects.
Marx illustrates this concept in his description of skilled labor and the risk that liberalization offered to the communist movement. Communism required solidarity among the working classes, that they might unite and overthrow the bourgeoisie. The welfare state and reformist socialism posed a risk to that goal, however, by creating incentive for skilled labor to defect against the proletariat. Rising wages and benefits could be achieved by skilled labor if they cooperated with the capitalist system and voted for reformist labor candidates, thus permitting them to prosper without any benefits for the unskilled working classes. This is why the vast majority of political theorists place social democracy in the category of a liberal, rather than socialist, ideology. Since under social democracy the skilled working class and the industrial proletariat lack a shared fate, in the sense that the outcomes for one do not necessarily correspond to the outcomes for the other, Marx labels reform-minded socialists as bourgeois tools and enemies of the revolution.
Fusionist conservatives share this feature; there is no shared fate between the three classes within the conservative umbrella. Certainly, it is hypothetically possible for social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and national defense conservatives to advance an agenda which suits all of their interests. Nevertheless, national defense conservatives have no incentive to actually do so, as they can achieve the same benefits by straddling the middle and triangulating support between left-leaning Republicans like GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham and right-leaning Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill.
Likewise, the election of Trump demonstrates that the interests of blue collar rural whites need not be served by an alliance with white collar whites, and that a platform which appeals to the interests of rural America can be pursued without the yellow-and-black bowties of groups like Heritage and Cato. In short, the unraveling of American conservatism was inevitable once the Soviet Union fell. When the threat of communism was gone, American conservatives had no sense of shared fate, which is why it is a fundamentally unstable coalition.
What should those on the reactionary right derive from this example? First, the Trichotomy is not a stable basis for the formation of a reactionary class. The Trike serves to show from where reactionaries emerge, but techno-commercialism, ethnonationalism, and traditionalism do not have the characteristics of a solidarity-building system. Reaction in a broad sense is spurred by opposition to progressivism, just as conservatism was linked by a common fear of communism.
The Trichotomy is a genealogy, and nothing more, to a potentially successful reactionary movement of any type. This statement is not novel, and has been uttered by many others, but it is important enough to deserve reiteration. Reaction requires a new “base” from which to form class identity and derive interest-narratives. Any attempt at reaction must offer a new perspective which realigns identity and perceived class structure in a way that favors Restoration instead of progressivism. Marx is correct about how classes function, but modern liberals are correct that class can be manufactured, just as homosexual and feminist identity were manufactured in the 20th Century.
Secondly, given that the goal of neoreaction is the replacement of the ruling class, attention needs to be paid to the characteristics of this class. There are numerous proposals about everything from a techno-corporate oligarchy to military dictatorship, but every potential answer to the problem of modern democracy has to ask itself, “who will be the ruling class?” If that answer does not conform to the rules of class function, and fail Marx’s test, neoreaction will follow in the collapse of fusionist conservatism.
It is well to acknowledge that we have many elites: military, aristocratic, royal, corporate, and managerial alike. It is natural to want to combine the strengths of many elites into a grand system which assures the stability of the regime. If your ruling class is not stable, however, your regime cannot be stable. If your ruling class is a military-corporate elite, what are the shared interests of those two classes? How do they share a common fate? Under what circumstances will one be incentivized to defect on the other? Is one class a mere puppet of the other? If so, why are they included in the ruling class, and what are the consequences of awarding status to a class of people who lack real power?
These questions are the core of any attempt to articulate a political theory for the 21st Century.