Marx and Lacan’s Perspectives on Economic Factors, Collective Consciousness and Political Developments in the United States

Workers in Arms, Mural, Coit Tower, Sam Francisco, CA, USA, January 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr.
Workers in Arms, Mural, Coit Tower, Sam Francisco, CA, USA, January 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr.

The article by Claudia Leeb, entitled “Mystified Consciousness: Rethinking the Rise of the Far Right with Marx and Lacan” and published in Open Cultural Studies on November 10, 2018, uses the theory of psychoanalysis to explain why white working-classes in the United States and elsewhere turned to the far right instead of forming an emancipatory proletariat to overthrow capitalism. It argues that not only economic but also psychological factors brought about the rise of the far right. In this way the article enriches the existing Marxist criticism of the fascist and neo-fascist movements with the analysis of subconscious drives that animate supporters of the far right.

A Blog Article by Izabella Penier.

According to psychoanalytic theorists, the subject (the human psyche) is split between the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious, which is a series of drives and forces most basic to each human being, is inaccessible and alien. We are what we are because of something that is unknown and missing. As a result, we desire to fill in the gap that makes us split, non-whole subjects. Since our desires cannot be satisfactorily fulfilled (the subconscious cannot be accessed and understood), we seek to replace the yawning gap at the centre of our identity in with something else. In fact, it is the unconscious, claim psychoanalysts, that propels us to fill what the subject feels is lacking in us.

According to Claudia Leeb’s article, the white working-class in the US embraces the ideology of far right to fulfil the unconscious yearning to become whole again. This ideology provides white working classes with fetishes or fantasies that can compensate for being split. These are the American Dreams of economic success, religion, hatred of ethnic minorities and disdain for women. The American Dream promises everybody in the neo-liberal capitalist society of the United States of America a possibility to achieve economic success if subjects work hard enough. Economic success can create an illusion of wholeness and the money fetish helps to erase the appearance of structural barriers of racial and class injustices. Citing Marx’s assertion that “The extent of the strength of money is my own strength” (Marx, “Nationalökonomie und Philosophie” 298), Leeb argues that money covers over the hole in the subject and compensates for the subject’s (mental and physical) weakness, so that he or she appears as whole and strong through the possession of money.

Religion, central for the ideology of the far right, is another fantasy that assuages the anxiety caused being incomplete with the promise of becoming complete in the afterlife. Suffering subjects in capitalist societies cherish an illusion of heavenly bliss to cope with such suffering. As such, religion is the “general basis of consolation and justification” for everything that is wrong in capitalism (Marx, “Contribution” 54). Although religion consoles subjects about the suffering produced by a wrong society, it, at the same time, justifies such society, which underlines the centrality of religion to keep the oppressed in their place.

The final far-right fantasy is that of being more whole than “the Other.” Far right produces views of sexual and racial minorities as inferior to uphold the illusion of the white working-class subjects as whole. By branding certain groups of people (Muslims, immigrants, women) as limited, and thus non-whole, the far right displaces the anxieties of the white (male) working classes on others which allows to them fulfil their desire to feel superior and thus whole again. In this way those most vulnerable groups in the American society — the raced and gendered working classes—pay the price for keeping the white male working classes in a dream-like state of complacency. The division of the working class into antagonistic camps has also the additional benefit of preventing the creation of an independent revolutionary proletariat.

These fetishes are reproduced through different platforms such as Breitbart News or Fox News, which have been a staunch supporter of the far right. They make white working-class followers whole despite the lingering feelings of anxiety that they are far from achieving the Dream. The white predominantly male working may be breathing polluted air, eating toxic food, doing dangerous factory jobs, but with the far-right fetishist ideology, they can at least dream about feeling “great again.”

Written by Izabella Penier

Edited by Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: Workers in Arms, Mural, Coit Tower, Sam Francisco, CA, USA, January 6, 2009 | © Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in OpenScience, 24/12/2018,

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