Slate Star Codex joins the class co-option project

Right populists, the Post Left, and libertarians are all playing the same game.

At the end of last year, I warned that

while the two parties of capital remain overwhelmingly hostile towards Marxist thought, they have nevertheless gained a marginal stake in pandering — at least superficially — to voters who are sympathetic to it. This is why we have what socialists often call “sheepdog media”… For obvious historical and cultural reasons, we still do not have a similar industry of Republican sheepdogs… [but eventually] the US’s chronically pinched Marxists are going to have a fight on our hands.

The notion of Republicans trying to co-opt Marxist language was a little too much for some readers to swallow. Today, however, Scott Alexander made it crystal clear that this is precisely the move that is on the way in a new post. The whole thing is worth reading if you have the time, but since it’s about 12,000 words long (seriously) I’ll just hit the highlights. First the paraphrase, then the quote.

We all know this is a Marxist term, but let’s start using it.

So here's my recommendation: use the word "class"…Yeah, yeah, "class" sounds Marxist, class warfare and all that, you're supposed to be against that kind of thing, right?

Most people think of this as an economic term, but let’s use it to refer to culture.

Economic class warfare is Marxist, but here in the US class… is also about culture. You’re already doing class warfare…do it openly, while using the words “class” and “classism.”

Let’s talk about “class” to make overtly capitalist, anti-Marxist arguments.

It could appeal to Republicans who are in it for the capitalism (including the rich donors). You would argue that capitalism is the system that lets people succeed regardless of class; even the most uncouth and uneducated person can strike it rich if they work hard and make good deals.

We can even use ‘upper-class’ to refer to poor people, and argue that some billionaires are not upper-class!

Teachers, social workers, and starving college students may be poor, but can still be upper-class. Pilots, plumbers, and lumber barons are well-off, but not upper-class. Donald Trump is a billionaire, but still recognizably not upper class. The upper class is a cultural phenomenon.

Hell, you can use this to advance all of the usual Republican talking points! Yes, I know this is cynical.

So here's my platform for a Republican platform centered around fighting classism…All The Usual Republican Talking Points…Probably this will be a cynical political ploy.


How much more explicit can these people be? Well, a lot more. As Mark Ames wrote nearly a decade ago in a classic article that every socialist should absolutely read, libertarians (like Alexander) are indeed completely self-conscious cynics in their game of co-option. All the way back in 1977, Moshe Kroy was saying the same stuff:

This article may seem somewhat cynical and opportunistic…The point is that you can use tricks—and you'd better, if you really want libertarianism to have a fighting chance…[if you explain] to a communist that libertarianism is for pure capitalism, you will fail. The words you use will turn them off…

In another article Ames dug up called How To Get Coverts Left & Right: Political Cross-Dressing Is The Answer, author Michael Emerling is even more explicit: “For the libertarian, political cross-dressing means using…left-wing terms and reasons to support the free market.”

More than 40 years later, the right is still playing the same games. The idea of centrists, Republicans, and even hardline libertarians adopting Marxist terminology and arguments in order to derail socialism and shore up capitalist ideology might seem audacious to some people, but if you haven’t noticed the right using audacious rhetoric before, you haven’t been paying attention.