Tag Archives: politics and ideology in marxist theory

LePage, race, and what this is all about

Trigger warning: racism, Nazism

If you haven’t watched this detailed recap of the on-going contentions against Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine), please do. While laying out all of these racist statements is in and of itself useful, what stood out to me most in the whole set is what Rachel Maddow’s guest Bill Nemitz said-

“What nobody seems to be able to get their head around is this fixation on race. I mean, if, yes, Maine like many other states has a real problem with this inflow of drugs into our state, and there’s unanimity on that, that we need to do something about it. What people can’t figure out is why whenever he raises this problem, he has to overlay this issue of race on to it, rather than just address the fact that we have to stop the drugs.”

In a nutshell, what has left many confused is the way that a rational, reasonable discussion about social problems caused by drug trafficking and abuse has been transformed by LePage into rants about race.

The reality of drugs in Maine is a problem for security and public health, independent of the race of the sellers, consumers, and others affected by the availability of drugs. But that understanding is of that in and of itself as an issue. The presumption here is that in LePage’s mind this issue is in and of itself relevant, rather than a potential opportunity to raise his reading of a manifestation of a broader political reality – one that is about race.

That’s a concept that might, to those not used to reading certain historical pieces, seem strange, but if you have read up on some branches of anti-fascist criticism, you may have run across a similarly confused assessment. Here’s Ernesto Laclau on page 121 of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (published in 1977):

[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

Like much of Laclau’s work, it can be difficult to decipher this tidbit, but in essence the exact same transformation as that of today’s Governor LePage played out under the Weimar Republic. A set of messy yet interrelated issues – the Versailles Treaty, inflation of the Reichsmark, French and Belgian occupations of the Rhineland – were not really addressed by the Nazis so much as subsumed into their politics within which race was an inescapable foundation. What could have been subjects in and of themselves became vehicles for discussing the primary issue for Nazis under their worldview: the topic of race.

Ausstellung "Der ewige Jude"(A 1937 Nazi poster describing Jewish people as having “typical external features”.)

What does it say that a remarkably similar dynamic to one of the Nazis’ has cropped up in, of all places, Maine? It’s easy to very this as another piece of evidence to sew into the broader debate about whether the Republican Party under Donald Trump is veering into fascism. That’s too easy though. This is a public official elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. His racist comments on this particular issue began before the Iowa Caucuses and before eleven of the seventeen major candidates in the Republican primary had dropped out.

Perhaps this says less about LePage or Trump as individuals than it does about the Republican Party nationally.

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