Brooklyn-based Doug Henwood has been among the few articulate voices on what Perry Anderson likes to call “the vanquished left.” Doug has been publishing an irreplaceable newsletter, Left Business Observer, which examines politics and economics with a scientific rigor and without the moral exhortations or hyperbolic spasms of his contemporaries, since 1986. He also hosts Behind the News, a syndicated weekly radio program that features economic commentary and interviews with activists, journalists and academics.
Interview by Bhaskar Sunkara. Some excerpts:
BS: Accumulation and its discontents: is there a specifically Marxist understanding of the current economic crisis that you subscribe to?
DH: Mine, of course, which is that the bourgeoisie launched a successful war on a troublesome working class in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That assault – wage-cutting, speedup, deregulation, outsourcing, union-busting, cutbacks in the welfare state, all the familiar stuff gathered under the name of neoliberalism – created a problem for a system dependent on high levels of mass consumption both to maintain aggregate demand and to secure its political legitimacy… That model seemed to hit a wall in the recent economic crisis, but there’s no real recognition of that fact, and no new model for accumulation.
BS: The populist Main Street, Wall Street dichotomy is all the rage these days. What to make of it?
DH: Mixed bag.. Workers are paid less than the value of what they produce, that kind of labor generates profits for capital that are the ultimate roots of the games that finance plays. I’m old-fashioned enough to call it exploitation. Since populism depends on a bogus notion of a “fair” profit, and just disdains unfairly high returns, there’s little room for a class-based understanding of accumulation through unpaid labor.
BS: Put much stock into the notion of left regroupment?
DH: I’m not really sure what it means. I know what the words mean, of course, but I don’t see how anything in the present terrain could be improved by better mixing and matching.
BS: You mean unify the sects and you just end up with a slightly bigger sect, the size of like the SWP in the United Kingdom, the same problems and not a truly “revived” left?
DH: Yes. Exactly that. That whole party model still seems stuck on trying to replicate the success of the Bolsheviks, which is a doomed cause in a rich country in 2010. I’m not at all opposed to building left parties – quite the contrary – but the very word “regroupment” suggests an unhealthy allegiance to a dead model.