A Huge Victory for the Anglo Left – quick thoughts

Results are still coming in, but it looks like an astonishing result for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and perhaps the biggest win for the Anglo left since the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. This is another incredible turn of political events, begun last year with the unexpected vote for Brexit, Trump’s victory, the rise of Marine Le Pen, and now the success of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.  Some thoughts:

  1. The political uncertainty is linked completely to the decay of the old order, constructed by the Anglo-American alliance in the ruins of the Second World War and reconstructed by Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s. Rapid swings in politics – not really seen in the West since the late 60s/early 70s when the system first began to decline – are becoming almost normal in this era.
  2. At its heart is the terminal decline of the US regime of capital accumulation, which has created clear misery for the majority of the working class in the United States and the Western world. The economic reality is reflected in the resurgence of the Left – still mainly the social-democratic left – and the far Right.
  3. This was completely unthinkable even five years ago! Even a year ago! The rapid rise of Corbyn in the UK – let on the Labour leader ballot paper because he seemed no threat to the establishment and who was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters during and after an attempt by his own party members to overthrow him in a coup – has to be seen as an important bellweather for the Anglo Left. By this I mean it will have an impact across the English-speaking world at the very least, and very likely more. It means even in a first-past-the-post system, the Left now has a chance to articulate its message and win seats against liberal and conservative opposition.
  4. Corbyn and Labour ran on an anti-austerity, anti-interventionist program. It was not perfect by any means, but was farther to the Left than any large party has run in the English-speaking world in decades. Corbyn speaking frankly about British imperialist policy and blowback to it after the attacks in Manchester, and London, is a watershed moment.
  5. The electorate doesn’t seem to have wanted Brexit refought, but they took seriously what Brexit might look like under a Tory administration.
  6. UKIP voters seem to have deserted the Tories in droves and voted for Labour – which shows how the supposedly right-wing, xenophobic working class vote might be turned to the Left with the correct program.
  7. The biggest losers on the night besides the Tories are the Blairites (hopefully good riddance to JK Rowling’s obnoxious political Tweets) and the Lib Dems. Cleggmania is over! Both represented the triangulation only possible during a neoliberal era where the demands of capital and a good portion of the middle and upper-segment of the working class was willing to vote for those policies. No longer – and to the rubbish bin of history they go.
  8. I think this will have a remarkable impact, at least psychologically, on the chances of the Left elsewhere. What will happen in the UK will have to wait until the morning, and perhaps another election in the fall. Congratulations indeed all around, comrades!

From Russia (to Philly) With Love?

The hysteria behind the hack of DNC emails and subsequent leak to websites The Hill and Wikileaks is disturbing, as it is a clear sign of government-media collusion to spin away the damaging content of the leak by drumming up anti-Russian sentiment in the United States. There is no clear link between the documents and the Russian Intelligence Service (FSB) or its Military Intelligence (GRU) – but government contractors examining the email claim the purportedly sophisticated spy agency was clumsy enough to leave metadata implicating Russia all over the docu-dump. After the initial clamor about the dirty dealings of the DNC, the full-throated roar against Russian interference in US politics seems to be rather timely (though not timely enough for Debbie Wasserman-Schultz). Wikileaks (though apparently not The Hill) is now denounced as a patsy for Vladimir Putin.

If it seems rather odd that Russia – on the brink of open military cooperation between the United States and its forces in Syria – would choose this moment to embarrass the Democratic Party, you are not alone in thinking so. Risking diplomatic censure with a release of documents that do little to damage the election prospects of the Democratic Party other than cause consternation on the part of Sanders supporters (because honestly, who didn’t realize the DNC was rigging the game for Clinton) doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. It’s surely possible Russian agencies did this, but I would venture it’s also likely they didn’t, and Democratic partisans are using this to cover up the content of the emails and to stoke the fires of anti-Russian hysteria that could be used by a future President Clinton – as well as red-baiting Sanders supporters and smearing Trump supporters as anti-American (since he is supposedly pro-Russian).

Also conveniently forgotten in all this is the United States government has directed its intelligence agencies to spy on 193 countriesYou can, in fact, read this document for yourself: faa-fg-cert-2010-a-exhibit-f-foreign-power-list. Foreign Government Section 702 Certificate even allows for spying on foreign-based political organizations, i.e. political partiesEdward Snowden’s document release let us know the U.S. government spied on the now-president of Mexico when he was running for office and at least two-dozen other political leaders.

Just, y’know, something to consider when wondering what the media chooses to cover. Or not cover.

 

 

We Need A Mass Anti-War Movement

In the wake of the deaths in Nice, Jeffrey St. Clair points out:

“One of the primary elements missing from the world polity the past nine years—especially in the United States—is the antiwar movement.”

It’s maddening to be an anti-war activist in an era where the election of Barack Obama, who continued Dubya’s imperial wars, led to the shriveling up of the movement that had been millions strong from 2001-2008. There’s good research done by political scientists Heaney and Rojas that while the hard core of anti-war, anti-imperial activists were protesting US militarism, most of the protesters were simply Democrats upset that Bush was carrying out a war under a Republican banner.

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A strong anti-war movement would serve as an ideological counterweight to the rising tide of right-wing nationalism across Europe and the United States. Injecting historical context and contemporary criticism of  European and US imperial policies in the Middle East and North Africa is no small matter when millions who know nothing about this are groping around for answers and finding little but neo-authoritarian groups who provide them.

It would also provide a bulwark and breeding ground for domestic left-wing politics especially during times of great class struggle. Is it any wonder that a revolution was born in 1917 from the anti-war movement in Russia,  and the rise of the 1960s anti-war movement paralleled those for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights? Being able to see an holistic picture of how the state and ruling class order the world for their profit can only help the left’s growth.

It’s also a litmus test for how far the left has gone and has to go; not being able to criticize the imperialism of your own government – of the global hegemon – points to the immaturity of left forces. As a Marxist and Green, it was always clear that Bernie’s entry into the Democratic party would end with his capitulation, but it was especially so given his milquetoast critique of US foreign policy and refusal to define himself as robustly anti-imperial against the former Secretary of State. If you can’t do that against the living embodiment of US imperial power, your “left-wing”campaign for president is not serious.

We are reaching – I think – a point where the illusions of the old politics are being stripped away. Building a new mass anti-war movement is not only possible, it’s probable. Unlike last time, there cannot be any wavering on the need to put a fundamental critique of US hegemony at the center of the movement. To sacrifice this is to compromise the integrity of the movement itself in the hopes attracting only moderately committed members, something that was done in 2004. We cannot let it happen again or the left will continue to wander in a wilderness of its own making.

 

 

 

 

Corbyn, The Left, and Settling Accounts

The conflict between the left within the British Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, and the rest of the parliamentary party has exploded into open conflict. I would like to suggest that this is a potentially important moment for the British left. Perhaps it is also an important moment for the global left; it is certainly part of the structural unraveling of the “Third Way” neoliberal turn in social-democratic parties that the British Labour Party and the U.S. Democratic Party best exemplified from the early ’90s until today.

Details of how this fight occurred are readily apparent: the Labour left has been marginalized since the party fights during Thatcher’s reign. Corbyn was allowed on the ballot by fellow MP’s who saw no harm in it but who had misread the tea leaves of how the party membership felt after seven years of austerity budgets. He won in a landslide (59.5% of the vote). After decades of taking the left for granted, the neoliberals and careerists had been soundly thrashed, even though they are the majority of Labour electeds in Parliament.

Corbyn has ties to the socialist and union movements and seems to be a principled, fairly honest politician. Of course his principles are at odds with the majority of those in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP): antiwar, anti-austerity, Euroskeptic, and not a neoliberal. The no-confidence vote taken today by the PLP members shows clearly that the size of the left within the parliamentary party is small: Corbyn garnered 40 votes as opposed to 172 against (13 did not vote and 4 papers were spoilt). Fully 80% of Labour MP’s rejected Corbyn, even while the vast majority of the party voted for him in a landslide nine months ago. Nonetheless, Corbyn adamantly refuses to step down as leader in the face of what is a coup attempt.

This type of open fight has rarely occurred inside a social-democratic party at this level in the last 30 years, but it will become increasingly common as the world-system organized around US hegemony and its regional allies, born out of WWII, reaches its death-spiral. Within capitalism, and really within the long cycle/Kondratieff wave beginning in 1945, left-reformist parties like Labour played an important role in buttressing bourgeois control. During the first, productive phase of the long wave, parties like Labour were allowed entry into government provided they abandon any pretense to socialism. Their role in this era of expanding core industrial production was to represent the interests of a large labor aristocracy of organized workers who were happy with secure jobs and large welfare states; Labour and its sister parties kept the working class in check while allowing business to make huge profits in the industrial sector. Policies passed during this era of Keynesianism helped sustain the demand for goods that rebuilt the world-economy – and given that capitalism in the core still saw the possibility of increasing returns in productive capital until the early 1970s, Labour (and the Democrats) had a seat at the table as a left-guardian of the capitalist order.

The rise of financialization after the early 70’s saw a crisis of capital accumulation in core productive industries meant there was a decreasing role for social-democratic parties; the industrial working class was to be killed off along with industry. The pivot these parties made, Labour included, was to absorb the middle-class liberals who benefited from the new economy but demanded identity politics reforms, and to attract finance sector backers. Workers were an uneasy afterthought, in a weak position as the productive economy contracted and finance ballooned – but we should remember that parties have a logic of their own, and workers were a part of the reformist electoral coalition (they just weren’t really represented at any level beyond marginal lip-service).

This brings us back to Labour and Corbyn. This isn’t the first example of social-democratic disintegration as the party’s apparatus refuses to budge from neoliberal careerism: PASOK in Greece imploded, the PSOE in Spain has seen serious erosion of its base, and most other social-democratic parties are under increasing pressure from a re-energized left. It is, however, the first example of a high-profile fight in a core country with the possibility of a split. To now the fights have occurred in (semi)peripheral states.

The potential of sharpening the ideological contradictions and clarifying a left, anti-austerity (perhaps even socialist) platform purged of neoliberal holdovers is a distinct possibility given the structure of the world-system. It is likely to not to be the last debate in coming years as the system collapses into something else; the potential for a return of open class struggle in the electoral arena is possible as well.

That is why the left may win regardless of what happens to Corbyn and his bloc, if it is able to regroup and educate around the outcome. If Corbyn and his 20% of the PLP are backed by the Labour membership, the 80% of Labour MPs who do not back Corbyn (and who are not backed by the party members) may split and form their own, centrist party. They may fade into irrelevance as leftists stand for Labour seats instead, but at least the untenable situation will end and voters will have a clear ideological choice. If Corbyn loses the left could choose to exit the Labour Party once and for all, but taking a significant portion of the membership with it into a new coalition of the anti-austerity left – though this would require serious leadership to do and the willingness to suffer short-term electoral defeats.

I think we are very likely to look back on this fight as the first, and not the last, within the old reformist “big tent” left parties. It remains to be seen what the left, and the radical left, can do with the results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Left-Alternative to Brexit?

The global Left is adrift. Look no further than Thursday’s Brexit vote in the U.K.: the choice is between remaining within the European Union – a body specifically designed to empower the (Northern) European bourgeoisie and block moves to the left on a national or supra-national level, and returning power to the British ruling class and its Parliament. Neither outcome is a particularly inspiring one for the left;  even though there are strong signs that this is a being perceived referendum on neo-liberalism and the stagnant economy, it is the right that has capitalized and stirred popular fears of job loss due to increased immigration.

Another era saw dreams of a Socialist Federation of Europe, where a democratic federation aided equitable distribution of resources, jobs and wealth. Democratic planning by workers and citizens would replace the rule of banks, bondholders and bureaucrats. This revolutionary world seems far off.

Imagine if the European Left – the anti-austerity bloc that has arisen in the last half decade – produced a real program for a federation of states that chose to leave the European Union. Brexit from the EU could be campaigned for as the first step towards a new alliance specifically designed to bolster the working class, protect and expand social programs and move towards a democratically planned economic bloc.

I won’t hold my breath – the intellectual decay of the left is nowhere more apparent when the boundaries of acceptable thought in its most radical parties abut what exists, not what should exist.

 

 

France’s Burning Question

How to deal with the austerity measures we’ve been told are “necessary” by our governments? In the United States people deal with it by glumly accepting them or staging a few ineffectual rallies and protests.  Though, I suppose, many support the cuts against their own class interests at this point.  The French, however, have a different way of dealing with proposed cuts:

Hot times

Protests against austerity measures

The unions have brought out a million protesters over the last week in advance of a vote in Parliament to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and the broad majority of the French support the strikers! I don’t typically like to make comparisons in the level of political consciousness between countries, but in this case it’s very clear the French understand the ramifications of raising the retirement age – a hard won gain from the 1980s – won’t stop there.  Oil refinery workers have blockaded the refineries to prevent fuel from leaving, high school students have engaged in clashes with the police, and what amounts to a mass political strike has shut down the economy for the last six days.  I can’t even imagine that occurring here… in fact if it did occur here there would be far more bloodshed one the part of the police and right-wing paramilitary thugs.

The press is mostly discussing the possible impact on the Sarkozy presidency and the power of organized labor unions in France, since the unions are the ones, at this point, playing a lead role in the strikes.

Jérôme Sainte-Marie, head of political research for the French polling institute C.S.A., said, “We are in a situation where government and the unions are losing control, and if something serious happens, it will both weaken the unions and be a catastrophe for the government.”

Why not talk about how the implementation of austerity measures would be a catastrophe for the French working class? Or, how a mass strike that brought out five million, ten million, or more French protesters would serve to radicalize and politicize a debate that has, for now, been strictly on the terms of international finance capital? A century ago Rosa Luxemburg championed the mass strike as the best political education for the working class.

For now, the protests have been aimed at rolling back a very particular policy.  If government action were to spark a wider crisis, the entire austerity agenda might be called into question.  Successful protests and strikes have a habit of spreading confidence in mass action across national borders.  A victory in France might inspire similar action in Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain, etc.  Legions of people not organized into unions or political parties might flood the streets – and at this point in history the unorganized outnumber the organized – and radicalize a left that has been on the defensive for three decades.

 

Cuban Bureaucrats Take the Axe To The Working Class

Following Andrew Goldberg’s interview with Fidel in the Atlantic where Castro was quoted as saying the Cuban economy doesn’t work anymore, comes this news of the state cutting 500,000 “redundant” jobs and allowing the expansion of worker cooperatives and private business.  Even the Cuban Workers Confederation, the only legal trade union, got in on the act, stating

“Our state cannot and should not continue supporting businesses, production entities and services with inflated payrolls, and losses that hurt our economy are ultimately counterproductive, creating bad habits and distorting worker conduct.”

The change in party line, until recently committed to full employment, sounds much like something an American CEO would say or what most Democratic/Republican candidates mouth on a regular basis.  Or perhaps, from a bygone era, the volte-face of a Stalinist union (which, I suppose, the CWC is).    Still, this isn’t much different a policy than what we’ve seen happen in China or Vietnam: the bureaucrats slash public jobs and privatize businesses, then use their political connections to buy up the most efficient state industry.  The Cuban CP will clearly maintain political control, like its counterparts in Asia.

This  has a significant impact because Cuba was “our” communist nation, the only one in the Western Hemisphere, and because it has withstood a fifty-year economic embargo from the United States.  We loved to hate Fidel, and even after the USSR collapsed 19 years ago the Cubans bravely soldiered on without the privatization of state industries as in China and Vietnam.  Cuba has been seen as a model for nationalist and independence movements in Latin America especially, so of course the press would see this announcement as a waving of the white flag – our greatest hemispheric enemy announcing that “communism” doesn’t work.

The reality of the issue is, as always, more complex.  Soviet subsidies accounted for $4-$6 billion annually until 1991, a not insignificant amount of the island’s $65 billion GDP.  The US embargo has hamstrung the economy, as it impacts not just American businesses but also potentially foreign businesses which trade in Cuba and also wish to sell in the United States.  It’s roundly condemned by the United Nations – but of course the United States ignores the UN except when it benefits Washington. There’s a case to be made, however, that the embargo has kept the Fidel regime in power, and from making these cuts to services years ago.  A burgeoning trade with the US might have empowered a section of the bureaucracy to embrace capitalism far earlier and become a nascent bourgeoisie.

Cuba is also an island nation that we can at best classify as being included in the world’s economic periphery, albeit at the top.  Peripheral nations are mainly raw material/agricultural exporters, or the site of factories relocated from the core (“First World) of the world economy.  Cuba’s strategy was much like that of other Stalinist nations over the last 70-80 years: to take a mostly agricultural country and industrialize it, raising living standards for the masses.  This was typically done with a mercantalist strategy of the government dominating imports and exports (which also prevented the rise of an independent capitalist export sector).  In the USSR this was called the “government monopoly on foreign trade” and was the subject of heavy debate in the 1920s.  Still, it was a modern, post-capitalist version of 19th century debates in the US and Germany over high tariffs in order to protect domestic industry, except this time the industry was state-owned (ostensibly collectively) and undergoing “primitive socialist accumulation” to catch up to the more advanced capitalist nations.  Industry was built in order to reach a quantity of good produced (mostly industrial, not consumer) and employ the population – not necessarily efficiently.  The legacy, and irony,  of Stalinism, is that where it dominated it modernized and trained the economy, built infrastructure, and educated a workforce better than capitalism did for the rest of the post-colonial world, to the degree that businesses now site in Vietnam and China instead of other, poorer locales.

What should we expect from a peripheral nation’s economy when it is embargoed by the world’s economic hegemon and mostly cut off from outside investment for half a century? Clearly, even in the best of circumstances, other small Caribbean and Latin American nations have not really been able to lift their citizens out of grinding poverty – and that was almost never the goal of any government in Latin America outside of Cuba; they were, rather, happy enough to let a few get wealthy while the country was exploited by international corporations.  Cuba has fared better than most, with a high literacy rate and a very educated population, model organic farms and a political system independent of US control.  Still, there never was chance to build “socialism in one country” even in the USSR, let alone Cuba.

Cuba is facing a harsh economic reality, and the one-party dictatorship and bureaucracy that runs the island has only a few choices, none of them good.  It can open up major parts of its economy to private influence, something the announcement is clearly leading towards, let the better-placed bureaucrats cash-in, while the Cuban Communist Party retains political control.  This is the China/Vietnam model.  It can stagger on as it has, isolated and poor.  North Korea is our best remaining example of this course.

Or, it could democratize the political system while turning over the control of the economy to the working class and people of Cuba – something which is not bloody likely.  This is what the old Trotskyist sects call a “political revolution” by the working class, but I think it would require a thoroughgoing revolt against the entire modern bureaucratic way-of-life to succeed, and would not immediately increase the standard of living for working-class Cubans.  It might, in fact, get worse as they reassess the real economic situation, assign people jobs and create cooperatives that scrounge over the remaining resources.  They would need to “spread the revolution” in the old parlance of Marxism, or at least have another large benefactor (none would likely be forthcoming).

Raul, Fidel, and their coterie are anything but stupid, and they’re going to maintain their grip on power until forced out.  There are few choices for them short of relinquishing control to the workers (fat chance) or dissolving and turning government over to a nascent bourgeoisie (I think they’ve studied the USSR too well to let this happen).  So we’re probably left with these abysmal cuts in social services until something happens.  Perhaps the decay of the last bastions of the “Old Left” will allow for a new, non-hierarchical left to emerge.