Over the past few weeks, Steve Bannon, the Goldman Sachs banker turned hard right political operative, has been making the rounds on the lecture and interview circuit of Western Europe and Canada. His tour included a speech at the Oxford Union in England and a Munk Debate broadcast on the Cable Public Affairs Channel out of Ottawa opposing mainstream neocon David Frum. His appearances have come simultaneously with Errol Morris’s new film starring Bannon, American Dharma.
Bannon is a cunning, cynical political operative who conceptually understands theories of cultural studies and building political hegemony, fields that until recently were considered the realm of unsuccessful academic Marxists who were never able to turn their ideas into viable projects outside the lecture hall. He understands full well how to build a cultural current in alignment with his political philosophy and action plan. Unfortunately, it seems the group that will succeed in such efforts will be the right — white nationalists, hardcore evangelicals, and the most reactionary elements of the financial sector — as opposed to the left.
Rhetorically, Bannon’s strategy is admittedly fascinating, even if one is left deeply disturbed by the implications of that strategy.
First, he creates a space of plausible deniability between himself and the grassroots white nationalists of the alt-right.
In interviews like this one, he claims that the Bannon theory of “economic nationalism” is neutral with regards to the broad spectrum of identity demographics while disavowing Neo-Nazis and other white nationalists.
Second, he makes mincemeat out of establishment neoconservatives and Republicans. At his recent Munk Debate performance Bannon mopped the floor with David Frum, the George W. Bush lackey and all-around gasbag. Just look at this excerpt from his opening statement — something that could have been spoken by an articulate, well-read democratic socialist.
Now look at Frum trying (and failing miserably, or as I call it, Frumbling) to condemn the violence sown in the wake of Bannon’s project. His flaccid rebuttal is made worse by the fact that Frum is a complete scoundrel and war criminal who coined the term “Axis of Evil” and whose political career furthered the policies that led to the Great Recession.
Third, Bannon’s homely, Salt of the Earth approach causes people to let their guard down. He sounds like a guy you would drink a beer with.
But throughout his talks peppered with dog whistles and buzzwords: “radical jihadi Islam” and “Judeo-Christian West” and “Cultural Marxism.” Here’s a short clip from his Oxford speech where he lays out a very manipulative accounting of the Trump program. Here he sandwiches an honest analysis of global free trade deals (NAFTA, TPP, et al) between two rancid slices of chauvinism.
In practical terms, Bannon disavows fascism while parroting its talking points.
Here below is a case study of his time at Breitbart. I took these screenshots from July 20, 2013, a year into his tenure, using the Wayback Machine. At the time George Zimmerman had just been found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American youth who he gunned down a year earlier.
All of these individuals and groups were known for combining a brand of economic populism with various forms of white supremacist politics. Evola, for example, was the whacked-out ideological godfather of European fascism in the 1920s, while Pat Buchanan and paleoconservatives combined a retro-isolationist ideology with far-right policies around sex and social mores.
For those who are still unclear, this is Bannon in 2015 amongst his writing staff at Breitbart when Joshua Green was writing a profile of him for Bloomberg Business Week.
Bannon may seem marginalized these days, or at least that is what liberal publications are saying at the moment. But he has mounted a project, based around the shifting of cultural paradigms, that will probably define American politics for the next generation.
He’s seeking to impact the way people think not only about politics but about our society in general. And he does this by speaking to the material circumstances that are making Euro-American working people miserable. But as the great Jon Jeter points out, Bannon is proposing that white ethno-nationalism can provide a working class revolt without the attendant proletarian revolution.
Back in the 1930s, the Soviet Union defined fascism “as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” With former Goldman Sachs banker Bannon at the helm of this project, we find, unfortunately, that this definition is horribly alive, but hopefully not viable.