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Grange poster depicting the independent, industrious farmer as the keystone figure in society.

Producerism, sometimes referred to as "producer radicalism," is an ideology of populist economic nationalism which holds that the productive forces of society - the ordinary worker, the small businessman, and the entrepreneur, are being held back by parasitical elements at both the top and bottom of the social stratum.

General position[edit | edit source]

Producerism sees society's strength "drained from both ends," from the top by the machinations of globalized financial capital and the large, politically-connected corporations which together conspire to restrict free enterprise, avoid taxes and destroy the fortunes of the honest businessman, and from the bottom by members of the underclass whose reliance on welfare and government benefits drains the treasury. Critics of producerism see this analysis of the political economy as easily leading to Anti-Semitic and/or Racist conclusions, as Jews are often associated with finance and other minorities with the abuse of public generosity (Canovan, Kazin, Stock, Postone, Payne, Berlet & Lyons). But most supporters of producerism do not identify as racist or antisemitic, and denounce such charges as ad hominem attacks. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Despite this, anti-immigration rhetoric is central to modern Producerism (Kazin, Berlet & Lyons). Immigrants are viewed as a threat to the prosperity of the middle class, a drain on social services, and as a vanguard of globalization that threatens to destroy national identities.

In the United States, Producerists are distrustful of both major political parties. The Republican Party is rejected for its support of corrupt Big Business and the Democratic Party for its advocacy of the unproductive poor (Kazin, Stock, Berlet & Lyons).

The Reform Party of the United States of America is seen by many as the only organized party that furthers the Producerist cause [How to reference and link to summary or text].

Populist producerism (and anti-immigrant policies) are also seen in the rhetoric of LePen in France, Haider in Austria, and similar dissident politicians across Europe (Betz & Immerfall, Betz).

Producerism is sympathetic to the idea that labor is an end in itself, inherently ennobling, and thus should be protected at least to some extent from the chaotic forces of consumer choice and market competition. In some Commonwealth of Nations countries, this position is used as an abstract definition of Producerism, which is then held as the opposite of an abstract consumerism, the position that the free choice of the consumer should dictate the economic activity of a society. In other parts of the world, especially the United States, such a clear-cut definition is not feasible.

A Debated History, and an uncertain present[edit | edit source]

Some hold that American Producerism has its roots in the populist politics of Andrew Jackson and in the tariffs and protections of Henry Clay's American System, even though these two figures were political rivals. Others look even further back in history, to the farmers' rebellions of the post-colonial period and the Presidency of Jefferson, who has been described as originating or at least adopting the rhetoric of producerism while enacting policies antithetical towards it, namely unregulated trade and the expansion of slavery.

Early Producerism, if it can be called such, was abolitionist not on moral grounds but because slaves depressed the wages of free working men. Thus its sentiment was not to grant blacks rights and citizenship but rather to send them back to Africa or grant them an independent nation in the tropics. The racism that some see as inherent in Producerism perhaps has its genesis here - in the perception of not only the Plantation Economy but the "Negro" himself as a threat to the prosperity of the independent white worker or small businessman. In the 1840s and 1850s, this economic, as opposed to ethical, abolitionism found expression in the nativist Know-Nothing Party, which has been cited as the ancestor of modern Producerism.

While such theories remain speculative, most historians would agree that by the time of the Gilded Age and the candidacy of William Jennings Bryan Producerist currents are clearly visible in American society. Bryan's synthesis of leftist economic programs with religious fundamentalism has had a lasting, perhaps defining, influence on the ideology. Also in that era, the National Labor Reform Party and its successor the Greenback-Labor Party have been described as part of a Producerist tendency.

Despite its long historical legacy, the idea of Producerism as a defined political position outside of the common left-right axis only began to attract serious interest in the 1980s, when the dual concerns of foreign competition and domestic decay began to radicalize culturally conventional Americans, attracting the interest (and concern) of academia, which then sought out the roots of the phenomenon in 19th-century Populism or even 18th-century rural unrest.

Even at the present time there are very few politicians and commentators who define themselves as Producerist or anti-Producerist, and among those in the general public who would be sympathetic to a Producerist program or political party only a vanishingly small percentage are even aware of the term. This low level of ideological consciousness results, at least in part, from the fact that almost by definition Producerism lacks advocates at the elite level, and as a consequence it has not been able to summon the intellectual forces necessary to codify and propagate its tenents. Furthermore, Producerism has no primordial icon, no Marx or Adam Smith to rally around and give the movement a solid identity.

Therefore it is difficult to say exactly what Producerism is beyond the broad themes of nationalism, protectionism, and opposition to the welfare state and immigration. Some historians use the term as a synonym for the right wing or rural elements of a form of populism peculiar to late 19th-century America, and as a result do not consider any modern or non-American movements as Producerist. Others, however, define Producerism as a thoroughly recent position that arose in numerous Western countries in reaction to the combined stresses of the liberal Big Government trend that followed the Second World War and the globalization of recent decades, while recognizing that it drew on earlier sentiments.

Relation to other ideologies[edit | edit source]

As an attempt to place it within a broader framework of economic ideologies, Producerism can be viewed as a form of middle-class militancy feeding off a "dual-edged resentment" against both rich and poor. Like Marxism, it subscribes to the labor theory of value and supports a narrative of exploitation between the classes, but there is a crucial difference between the two systems: Producerists believe that it is the middle class, not the proletariat, which generates the surplus value that is then expropriated by parasitic elements (executive class). Also, while Marx viewed capital as a monolithic interest, Producerists distinguish between productive domestic industrial capital that serves the national interest and speculative, idle financial capital that holds no patriotic loyalties and is international in nature.

There are points of contact between Producerism and fascism as well: Producerism is closely associated with highly nationalistic populist right-wing movements championing the traditional values of the "common man" against a morally corrupt and traitorous elite. This had lead in some instances to the adoption of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and forms of white racial nationalism.

Like fascism, producerism supports strong State intervention in the economy as necessary to preserve national strength and identity. However, Producerism, especially in its American incarnation, generally holds to an idealization of the "rugged individual" and a sense of freedom and self-determination that would pose problems in any attempt to graft it onto fascism or communism.

Position on religion and social issues[edit | edit source]

Although primarily economic in emphasis, Producerism has a perspective on social issues as well, namely that the traditional values of the middle class are the only true national values, and these are to be defended on one side against the corruption of decadent inherited wealth and on the other from the dangerous apathy and sloth it sees as being the inevitable consequents of dependency on the welfare state. Therefore, Producerists tend to be patriotic but intensely distrustful of the State, which they believe to be under the control of forces hostile to the nation, and sympathetic towards conservative Christianity, seen as a defender against both the moral degeneracy of the poor and the rapaciousness of unbridled capitalism.

Some have pointed out a similarity between Producerism and certain Christian End Times narratives that prophesy "Betrayal in high places and a population drifting into laziness and sin," and the Producerist emphasis on the inherent value of hard work is of course directly related to the Protestant work ethic. However, it would be a mistake to equate Producerism with a religious worldview. Its emphasis on economics, labor and class distinctions embues it with a materialism not entirely compatible with a purely religious outlook.

Split attitutes towards both unions and business[edit | edit source]

Producerists will tend to support skilled-craft trade unions, as organizations of "ordinary men" creating goods beneficial to society, but oppose left-wing, revolutionary unions or those that claim to speak for the lower ranks of society in general. National, industrial corporations, that is, those that produce tangible goods in domestic facilities, are looked upon favorably, while international, globalized companies that engage in outsourcing, "sending jobs abroad" or those that earn their profits from the abstract financial world are treated with hostility in Producerist circles. This disposition is sometimes referred to as "business nationalism." High tariffs and protectionist policies are regarded as not only beneficial to workers, but essential to the long-term survival of the domestic economy.

The domestic innovators and patriotic industrialists such as Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca and Sam Walton are the heroes in this view of the business world, while the cost-cutting CEOs and unaccountable financiers are the villains. Free trade is held to be a conspiracy either of a foreign nation or nations secretly aligned against the Producerist's country, or a plot by shadowy "internationalist" elements. This latter strain of thought is more associated with Anti-Semitic and conspiracist thinking than the former. As an example, for moderate American Producerists, the threat is China. For the extremists, it is Israel and the Freemasons.

Disputing the "Producerist" label[edit | edit source]

While it does exist as a widespread if rarely commented-upon political position, it must be noted that often "Producerism" is simply an epithet used by Left-wing groups to disparage rival forms of economic dissent.

Figures who have been called Producerist or associated with Producerism, although they may not use the term to describe themselves, include Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. Some have associated Producerism with the wider phenomenon of the Radical Middle, but such comparisons remain controversial. In general, it can be said that the average Producerist tends more towards nationalism, conspiracist thinking and anti-globalization than does the typical member of the Radical Middle.

Perhaps a more salient distinction is this: The Radical Middle is of the opinion that "government doesn't work" and must be overhauled, that is, government is well-intentioned but dysfunctional. Producerism believes government as currently constituted is ill-intentioned but quite functional - actively advancing the interests of international capital and the servile underclass it manipulates for the votes it needs to stay in power.

References[edit | edit source]

Producerism and conspiracism and middle being squeezed, (Canovan 1981, 54-55; Kazin 1995, 35-36, 52-54, 143-144; Stock 1996, 15-86; Berlet and Lyons 2000, 4-6). Producerist white supremacy and the attack on Blacks after The Civil War (Kantrowitz 2000, 4-6, 109-114, 153). Producerist antisemitism and German Nazi ideology (Payne 1995, 52-53; Postone 1986).

  • Berlet, C., and M. N. Lyons. 2000. Right-wing populism in America: Too close for comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Betz, H-G. 1994. Radical Right-wing Populism in Western Europe. Betz, H-G., and S. Immerfall, (eds.). 1998. The New Politics of the Right.

  • Canovan, M. 1981. Populism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Kantrowitz, S. 2000. Ben Tillman & the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.
  • Kazin, M. 1995. The populist persuasion: An American history. New York: Basic Books.
  • Laclau, E. 1977. Politics and ideology in Marxist theory: Capitalism, fascism, populism. London: NLB / Atlantic Highlands Humanities Press.
  • Payne, S. G. 1995. A History of Fascism, 1914-45. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Postone, M. 1986. Anti-Semitism and National Socialism. In Germans & Jews since the Holocaust: The changing situation in West Germany, ed. A. Rabinbach and J. Zipes, 302–14. New York: Homes & Meier.
  • Stock, C. M. 1996. Rural radicals: Righteous rage in the American grain. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]




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