Vote for Stein to Build the Left

 

If this election cycle in the United States has proven anything, it is the decay of the political system now firmly mirrors the decline of US military and economic hegemony. The crisis of American capitalism has two bookends: economic and political turmoil under Nixon in the early 1970s – solved for a time by neoliberalism – and the end that was hastened by Bush’s wars, now coming to a dénouement under the next presidential regime. American capitalism no longer hides its rottenness: the Clintons are openly corrupt and abetted by an entire institutional structure devoted to living off the continued easy access to capital, exploitative trade deals and hawkish military intervention promised by Hillary and Bill part deux, while Donald Trump is a clown of a politician seemingly chosen by the ruling class to ensure a Clinton victory through his own buffoonish behavior.

Where does this leave the radical Left in the United States?

Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, Green Party candidates for President and Vice-President, have articulated a political agenda open to anti-austerity, pro-working class policies. During the Green presidential convention, an organized socialist faction helped insert a section into the national platform endorsing economic democracy and anti-capitalism. Stein and Baraka were given unprecedented access for national Greens to the media, including an hour-long interview on CNN, where they were able to discuss Left policies and critiques openly. Even Ralph Nader was never granted this courtesy during his runs.

Yet the Left electorate is not coalescing around Stein (or any other candidate for that matter); she’s polling at between 2-5% nationally.

Lack of Left electoral strength during a time when the right is resurgent and the working class has begun to cry out for solutions to the permanent crisis of late capitalism can, to an extent, be blamed on the usual culprits: election laws meant to prevent growth of independent political movements, the large amounts of campaign cash needed to win offices, media hostility, and hereditary voting blocs that create ideological walls against exit from Democratic or Republican parties. The decline of the American industrial working class, partly a product of this long-cycle of accumulation’s turn to financialization for super-profits, but also clearly manufactured by the political establishment in both major parties in their drive to kill the strength of American labor unions, manifests itself in the lack of support for independent left alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans. The Sanders phenomenon pointed the way towards what could happen if a significant part of the left electorate bolted from the two parties – but that break was momentarily halted after Sanders tried to herd his supporters back into the Clinton camp.

If the radical electoral Left wants to begin reasserting itself as a political force in the United States, the Stein/Baraka Green Party ticket needs to receive 5% of the popular vote on Tuesday.

That result won’t reignite conscious political class struggle in the United States on its own. Rosa Luxemburg was quite correct a century ago that class struggle arises and peaks due to external shocks and tends to be pushed spontaneously into new forms by the masses of unorganized workers; we can’t yet know what that will look like for the United States. What the result would do is help with the dialectical counterpart of that spontaneity: a growth of an organized, potentially radical political party and a space for a radical culture of dissent to grow so that when spontaneous class struggle occurs, that organization can interact with and help guide the movement. This interplay of spontaneity and organization is the crucial dialectic that the Left here has been unable to fully understand or capture for the last half-century.

5% would mean that the Greens are entitled to millions in federal electoral funding, but this funding could go towards hiring organizers, staffers and funding campaigns at every level. A weakness of the party and the Left would turn to strength. Media would likely be forced to bring a Green or left representative on to discuss policy decisions made by the next presidential regime, and masses of potential supporters would be exposed to Left ideas regularly for the first time. Green ballot lines would allow the Left to run against the Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government. The next time real class struggle happens at any level, the Left would be more ready to build upon it, and might lay the groundwork for it with organizing on economic and political issues at those levels.

Karl Kautsky once observed that elections are “are a means to count ourselves and the enemy and they grant thereby a clear view of the relative strength of the classes and parties, their advance and their retreat.”[1] Kautsky’s flaws as a theorist notwithstanding, he is here correct to the extent we understand elections will never be a perfect means to count how powerful the Left is, or could be in a revolutionary moment. Parliamentary politics are not a perfect representation of the class struggle, nor could they be.  What they allow us is the possibility of examining the level of class-conscious electoral support parties may have and to build organizations and a political culture that could help guide the class struggle.

Conditions are ripe for a truly radical, anti-systemic movement – in fact they may be getting a bit rotten. The question for the Left is whether or not we will cast our votes to help build a space where radical politics can function and grow, bit by bit. I hope you will join me tomorrow in casting a vote for Jill Stein and then joining together in building a movement.

[1] Kautsky, Karl. The Social Revolution. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co, 1902. https://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1902/socrev/pt1-3.htm#s6

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.

 

 

NY Times Uses Dubious Logic To Support Fiscal Austerity Claims

The New York Times is possibly the most important news outlet in the world, especially for the American ruling class and specifically the financial sector,  which it has been tied to for at least a century.  So it should come as no surprise that an article entitled “Payback Time – Crisis Imperils Liberal Benefits Long Expected By Europeans” should appear, and with a message of belt-tightening and fiscal austerity.  The Times is on the side of the creditors, and the creditors are using the shock they largely created to rip apart gains made by the working class over the last hundred years.

It doesn’t make me sad or angry to find out the Times writes for creditors –  they are the ones that pay its advertising bills.  Rather, the dubious logic used by the authors makes me long for better journalists, or at least journalists with some critical reasoning skills.   For instance this:

According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.

Statistics like this have long been used in the United States by those who want to slash spending on Social Security.  The population is aging, we are told, and in the future there will be fewer workers-to-retirees.  Well, yes, but this is a dubious way to predict whether we will be able to afford future benefits based on current extrapolations.  What really matters is output and worker productivity.  For instance, in the United States, while there are now fewer workers per retiree, our productivity has increased 40%  since 1970.  In the third quarter of 2009 alone, productivity shot up 9.5%.  Of course, much of the growth in the last few decades was due to squeezing workers’ paychecks and the disappearance of jobs.

They do it again here:

With the retirement of the baby boomers, the number of pensioners will rise 47 percent in France between now and 2050, while the number under 60 will remain stagnant. The French call it “du baby boom au papy boom,” and the costs, if unchanged, are unsustainable. The French state pension system today is running a deficit of 11 billion euros, or about $13.8 billion; by 2050, it will be 103 billion euros, or $129.5 billion, about 2.6 percent of projected economic output.

The deficit of $13.8 billion is piddling compared to what France could raise if it so chose.  They currently spend $54.5 billion on the military, but of course our intrepid NY Times journalists never question where the money might come from except through fiscal austerity aimed at tightening the belts of the working masses.  Again, I focus on current statistics because no social scientist takes economic statistics projected 40 years out very seriously, or at least without extreme caveats.

What this should lead us to is to, of course, question our media, but also to ask why we are being sold a bill of goods about the impossibility of affording these social programs when there is plenty of wealth out there that simply isn’t being discussed.  Liberals who bemoan this fact never seem to see that it has nearly always been a consequence of a radical socialist or Marxist movement that allowed for alternatives to be discussed in the public sphere, and that is exactly what is currently lacking in the West.