The Marxist conception of the division between mental and manual labor is a critical yet unrecognized aspect of contemporary political struggles. Departing from this novel argument, Michael Bray traces the conceptual and socio-political history of this labor division and emphasizes how the forms of control and organization articulated by that division in practices of production, democracy, racialization, and financialization are becoming increasingly important. Critiquing the left for its tendency to side implicitly with the powers of mental labor, Michael Bray shows that comprehending and challenging those powers is a pivotal task for anti-capitalist politics today.
Oriented, descriptively, by recent liberal definitions of populism, this essay pursues a historical-materialist definition that grounds populist antagonisms in class struggles as 'crystallised' in the capitalist state. A critical assessment of Laclau's early equation of populism and socialism inaugurates the reading of Poulantzas's relational account of class and state as a nascent framework for a theory of populism, centred on the state and its ideological crystallisation of individualisation, the mental/manual-labour division and the 'people-nation'. This framework is then expanded to articulate the political-economic core of populist antagonisms, the specific character of 'neoliberal populism' today, and the potential, in relation to theories of 'popular politics' and a 'communist people', that left-wing populism might hold as a process of new political productions of class. This reading provides for a more expansive account of such movements' potentials, beyond a threat to or correction of pre-determined democratic or Marxist schemas.