Doug Ford’s right-wing populism emerged in relation to the material conditions of precariousness that had escalated in the years following the 2008 financial crisis. It tapped into the insecurities of working-class and middle-class voters generated through years of growing inequality, stagnant wages, declining unionization, and the deterioration of public services and institutions.
Invoking an old neoliberal trope, its solution to the crisis included measures that would make Ontario “open for business,” including employment standards reforms that undermined basic employment protections for workers in the province. While proclaiming intentions to protect “the people” from “the elite,” Ford’s populism served to sustain and enhance capitalist interests by legitimating legislation that undermines the security of an already precarious workforce.
To assume that this leads to progressive politics is wrong as much as the opposite (that working-class positions are inherently associated with far-right politics). This dichotomy ignores the constitutive split of the class: the same workers that demand recognition of their specificity as an existing ‘class’ of people (affirming their class position) may also call for the undermining of class divides through the redistribution of resources. This paradox of class identity is not to be resolved by those dedicated to class analysis as a pathway to a more equal society. But a deeper understanding of how it works, could make this way shorter.
For Du Bois, whites embrace racism not because they are imbued by a psychological predisposition nor because they’re grasping for a shred of psychological superiority. Rather, they embrace white supremacy because the threat of job displacement—and the economic hardship that implies—drives whites to pursue their economic interests in racialized terms.
The current moment of overlapping public health, social, economic, political, and environmental crises has shaken the world system. How we understand this moment and its relationship to short, medium, and long-term goals for transformative social change is more important than ever.