Search This Blog

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Scandalize my Name…

For the owners, publishers, and editors of the The New York Review of Books anti-Communism is still alive. The periodical occupies a unique, indispensable role in fostering and sustaining Cold War myths and legends.

The New York Review of Books has embraced rabid anti-Communism since its opportunistic birth in the midst of a newspaper strike. Founded by a cabal of virulent anti-Communists with identifiable links to the CIA through The Paris Review and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, NYRB maintains the posture of the popular intellectual journal for academics, high-brow book clubbers, and coffee shop leftists for over half a century. Seldom would an issue go by without an earnest petition signed by intellectual celebrities pointing to human rights concerns in some far-off land that was coincidentally (perhaps?) also in the crosshairs of the US State Department. To be sure, the NYRB would muster a measure of indignation over the most egregious US adventures, particularly when they threatened to blemish the US image as the New Jerusalem.

Even with the Cold War behind us, the NYRB maintains an active stable of virulent anti-Soviet writers, partly to hustle its back list of Cold War classics and obscure “dissident” scribblers, partly to pre-empt any serious anti-capitalist thought that might emerge shorn of Red-dread.

Paul Robeson on Trial

In a recent essay/book review (The Emperor Robeson, 2-08-18), the NYRB brought its Red-chopping hatchet to the legacy of Paul Robeson in a piece transparently ill-motivated and poisonous.

Paul Robeson was nothing if not an exceptional, courageous political figure who galvanized US racial and political affairs in mid-century. Yet NYRB assigned Simon Callow, a UK theater personality, to the writing task despite the fact that he reveals in an interview cited in Wikipedia that “I'm not really an activist, although I am aware that there are some political acts one can do that actually make a difference…” And his essay bears out this confession along with his embarrassing ignorance of US history and the dynamics of US politics.

Callow begins his essay seemingly determined to prove his inadequacy to the task: “When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence… His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers…” He then goes on at some length, heaping praise on Robeson. Then suddenly at “some point in the 1960s, he faded from our view…”

Whether Callow’s impressions are reflective of the UK experience is irrelevant. Surely, the important truth, the relevant fact, is that in Robeson’s country-- the US-- he was, throughout that time, a veritable non-person, the victim of a merciless witch hunt. To fail to acknowledge the fact that Robeson and his work were virtually unknown, were erased by the thought police, underscores Callow’s unfitness to discuss Robeson’s career. Indeed, members of the crowd that sought, at that time, to put lipstick on the ugly pig of racism and anti-Communism were soon to found the NYRB.

To say, as Callow does, that before the Cold War Robeson was “...lionized on both sides of the Atlantic...” is to display an unbelievable ignorance of the racial divide in the US. Robeson’s unequalled command of and success at multiple disciplines failed to spare him the indignities and inequalities that befell all African Americans in that era of US apartheid.

As for the post-World War II Red-scare, Callow simply ignores it as if it never occurred. Never mind the harassment, the surveillance, the denied careers, the confiscated passports, and the HUAC subpoenas that Robeson, like thousands of others, suffered from a hysterical, vicious anti-Communist witch hunt. For Callow, Robeson’s problems spring from a meeting granted by then President Truman in which Robeson had the audacity to make demands on his government. “From that moment on…” Callow tells us, “...the government moved to discredit Robeson at every turn…”

What a deft, nimble way to skirt the suffocating, life-denying effects of an entire era of unbridled racism and anti-Communism.

And, from Callow’s myopic perspective, Robeson’s campaign for peace and Cold War sanity resulted in “...universal approbation turned overnight into nearly universal condemnation.” For Callow, standing for peace against the tide of mindless conformity and mass panic is not the mark of courage and integrity, but a tragic career move.

In contrast to Paul Robeson’s life-long defiance of unjust power, Callow attributes a different approach to Robeson’s father, William: “But the lesson was clear: the only way out of poverty and humiliation was hard, hard work-- working harder than any white man would have to, to achieve a comparable result.” One waits futilely to read that this reality is precisely what son, Paul, was trying to correct.

Like so many of today’s belated, measured “admirers” of Paul Robeson, Callow cannot resist delving into Robeson’s sexual proclivities, an interest which bears relevance that frankly escapes me. Similarly, Callow raises the matter of Robeson’s mental health and his withdrawal from public life.

Rather than considering the toll that decades of selfless struggle and tenacious resistance might have taken on Robeson’s body and mind, as it did countless other victims of the Red Scare, Callow contrives different explanations. “Robeson, it is clear, knew that his dream was just that: that the reality was otherwise. But he had to maintain his faith, otherwise what else was there?” So, for Callow, Robeson’s bad faith was responsible for mental issues and ill health. It was not a medical condition, the emotional stress of racism, or the repression of his political views that explain his decline. Instead, it was the consequences of bad politics.

Paraphrasing the author of a book on Robeson that Callow favors, he speculates that Robeson’s physical and mental decline “may have directly stemmed from the desperate requests from Robeson’s Russian friends to help them get out of the nightmarish world they found themselves in.” We are asked to believe that a man who resisted every temptation of success, defied the racial insults of his time, and steadfastly defended his commitment to socialism was brought to his knees by anti-Soviet media rumors? Certainly, there is no evidence for this outlandish claim.

Again, using author Jeff Sparrow (No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson) as his mouthpiece, Callow reveals his “problem” with Robeson: “...Robeson’s endorsement of Stalin and Stalin’s successors, his refusal to acknowledge what had been done in Stalin’s name, is the tragedy of his life.” In other words, like Budd Schulberg’s fictional snitch in On the Waterfront, if Robeson had only denounced his class, ratted on his friends, and bent to authority, he could have been a “contender” for the respect of liberals and the blessings of bourgeois success. But since he didn’t, his life was “a pitiful spectacle.”

Thankfully, there are still many who draw inspiration from the “pitiful spectacle” of Paul Robeson’s extraordinary life.

One Who Does

As if misunderstanding Robeson were not enough, Callow attacks a prominent scholar who does understand Robeson’s legacy. In contrast with his fawning review of the Sparrow book (“as different as chalk and cheese”), Callow demeans the contribution of one of the most gifted and thorough chroniclers of the page in history that included the life of Robeson. As a historian, Gerald Horne’s prodigious work stretches across books on such politically engaged Robeson contemporaries as WEB DuBois, Ben Davis, Ferdinand Smith, William Patterson, Shirley Graham DuBois, and John Howard Lawson. His writings explore the blacklist and The Civil Rights Congress, both keys to understanding Robeson and his time. In most cases, they represent the definitive histories of the subject.

But Callow prefers the shallow Sparrow account that substitutes the overused literary devices of “in search of../searching for...” to mask its limited scholarly ambition.

Callow is baffled by Horne’s Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary. Horne’s insistence that Robeson was a ‘revolutionary’ makes Callow apoplectic (“ after page…”). But if Robeson was not an authentic, modern US revolutionary, then who was?

Callow cannot find a “clear picture of Robeson’s personality” in the Horne account, a conclusion that probably should not trouble Horne who seems more interested in history rather than psychology.

Callow’s sensibilities are especially offended by Horne’s depiction of the odious Winston Churchill, the man many believe to share responsibility for the WWI blood bath at Gallipoli and the two million deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943. It seems that Horne’s words for the short, chubby, Champagne and Cognac-loving prima donna-- “pudgy, cigar-chomping, alcohol-guzzling Tory” -- struck Callow’s ears as “vulgar.”

But Callow spews his own venomous insults: Horne’s book lacks “...articulate analysis, his account is numbing and bewildering in equal measure, like being addressed from a dysfunctional megaphone…”

Horne’s concluding endorsement of the relevance of Marx and Engels famous slogan-- Workers of the World, Unite! --really brings Callow’s rancor to a boil: “I’m sorry to break it to Mr. Horne, but he doesn’t. And it isn’t.”

We surely know which side of the barricades Simon Callow has chosen.

The Legacy

The legacy of Paul Robeson has been maintained for the four decades since his death by his comrades and allies of the left, principally the Communist left. Most of those who worked and fought alongside of him have also passed away. Yet a small, but dedicated group of a few academics and more political activists have continued to tell his story and defend his values against a torrent of hostility or a wall of silence. Through the decades, he has been forced out of the mainstream-- the history books and popular culture.

Of course, he was not alone in suffering anonymity for his Communist politics. Another giant who was brought down by Cold War Lilliputians, denigrated by hollow mediocrities, was African American Communist, Claudia Jones. Until recently, her powerful thinking on race, women’s rights, and socialism could only be found by those willing to search dusty corners of used book stores.

Perhaps no one promised to live and further Robeson’s legacy than the young writer Lorraine Hansberry, celebrated before her tragic death for her popular play, A Raisin in the Sun. Her work with Robeson and WEB DuBois on the paper, Freedom, brought her politics further in line with theirs: militant anti-racist, anti-imperialist, pro-socialist, Communist.

Forgotten by those who wish to portray her as a mere cultural critic, she famously called out Robert Kennedy’s elitist, patronizing posture in a meeting with Black civil rights leaders as enthusiastically recalled by James Baldwin.

Ignored by those who would like to see her as simply another civil rights reformer, her speech at a Monthly Review fundraiser, shortly before her death, resounds with revolutionary fervor:

If the present Negro revolt is to turn into a revolution, become sophisticated in the most advanced ideas abroad in the world, a leadership which will have had exposure to the great ideas and movements of our time, a Negro leadership which can throw off the blindness of parochialism and bathe the aspirations of the Negro people in the realism of the twentieth century, a leadership which has no illusion about the nature of our oppression and will no longer hesitate to condemn, not only the results of that oppression, but also the true and inescapable cause of it—which of course is the present organization of American society.

Today, there is a renewed interest in Robeson, Claudia Jones, and Lorraine Hansberry. Articles, books, and documentaries are appearing or are in the works. Some are offering ‘new’ perspectives on the lives of these extraordinary people, exploring aspects of their lives that show that their humanity perhaps reached further than previously thought. Yes, they were Communists, but they were not just Communists. Indeed, they belong to the world.

However, it would be a great tragedy if they were denied their conviction that capitalism-- the present organization of American society, in Hansberry’s words-- represented the foundation of other oppressions. It would be criminally dishonest if there were no acknowledgement that they were made enemies of the state precisely because they embraced socialism. For an African American, in racist, Cold War mid-century USA, the decision to embrace Communism was not taken lightly or frivolously. Robeson, Jones, and Hansberry knew exactly what that commitment meant to the forces of repression. And they risked it. They should be looked upon as people’s champions for their courage.

New researchers are welcome to explore other dimensions of the lives of these unbending fighters for social justice. But their authentic legacies are needed now more than ever.

Greg Godels

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

No Confidence!

The big losers in the recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist confidence polling (January 08-10-2018) are Congress, the two parties, and the media. Based on the poll, most people in the US have “not very much” or “no confidence” in the legislative body, corporate news and entertainment, or the Democratic or Republican parties. In fact, over two-thirds of those surveyed lack confidence in the media and nearly three-fourths show little or no confidence in Congress!

In light of these numbers, one can only wonder when the pitchforks are coming out. Clearly, dissatisfaction with major US institutions extends very broadly. Yet these results are not new. Nearly a decade ago, a similar Gallup poll showed that only 11% of respondents had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 2014 showed that both parties earned a decidedly more negative than a positive image. That same poll put the approval rate for Congress at 12%.

Those pundits and political operatives who discount the depth of dissatisfaction and disregard the festering anger in the US are doomed to misread the meaning of past and most-recent elections. The mainstream media mock Trump’s “fake news” charges while blithely ignoring the negative sentiments of the population toward the news industry. Don’t media elites see that “lack of confidence” is, in fact, a scathing indictment of their own collective performance in delivering the truth?

Failure to recognize the widespread disdain for core US political institutions hinders the understanding that Trumpism is not merely a malignant political alternative, but the consequence of a long history of malignant political alternatives; Trump isn't the cause of the problem, he's the result of the problem. As much as Trump disgusts with his vulgarity, he openly expresses thoughts shared by other powerful people who voice them only behind the walls of their mansions or private clubs. As much as Trump attacks the living standards of working people and degrades their safety net, he stands at the end of a relentless, unrelieved half-century of assault on the gains won in the New Deal era. As much as Trump has embraced belligerence and aggression in his foreign policy, he has only belatedly and somewhat reluctantly fallen in line with the imperialist agenda crafted and executed by his predecessors in the post-Soviet era.

He has Defense Secretary ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to remind him of the agenda. The Wall Street Journal tells us (January 19, 2018) that Trump recently proposed to call off joint ROK/US military exercises as a pacifying gesture to Kim Jung Un. Mattis stepped in and purportedly flattered him with “Your instincts are absolutely correct,” while cajoling him into betraying those same instincts and going forward with the exercises. Incredibly, Mattis is the figure that many liberals cite as the restraining force in the Trump White House.

Making America Great Again” is the mark of an empire facing increasingly effective threats from imperialist rivals as well as anti-imperialist resistance. While the dream of a Pax Americana imposed on the world is now discredited, Trumpism clings to the illusion that robust, blustery nationalism is the answer to an increasingly fruitless globalism.

Last year, in his lengthy, candid valedictory interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine, one will find many hints of Obama’s lost confidence in the aggressive reordering of the world that he inherited and that was represented in his administration by Clinton, Rice, Power, and Rhodes. Mattis and General Kelly play that same role of sabre-rattlers and war-instigators in the Trump administration despite the popular caricature of them as wise counsel to a wild man.

With Trump, the missionary mask, so long a feature of US imperialism, is cast off. The “humanitarian, human rights” pose used so skillfully by Clinton and Obama’s war makers is of little interest to Trump and his consort. Any renegade thoughts Trump may have of exercising his self-proclaimed “deal” skills or imagined “charm” in negotiating with rivals are quickly squashed by the two pillars of militarism (Mattis and Kelly) within the Trump administration.

In better times, one could count on a sizeable segment of activist liberals to stand with the anti-imperialist left against US militarism and aggression. But, today, they have been mesmerized by a phantasmagoric anti-Russia campaign framed to distract attention away from real issues and the chronically flawed democratic process.

Apart from the demonstrated thinness of liberal principles, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll explains exactly why RussiaGate could gain traction despite a lack of evidence. Behind the hysteria are two institutions that retain a great deal of misplaced confidence with the public: the FBI and the military. And behind that confidence is a glorifying and romanticizing of the two in popular culture, especially since the onset of the Mission Impossible-like War on Terror. Network and cable television feature drama of attractive, upright, and diligent FBI agents standing between the US public and chaos, night after night. Similarly, the military enjoys a heroic stature nourished by the media, the entertainment industry, and the chicken-hawk elites whose children never see the enlistment office.

Glenn Greenwald clarifies the self-deception lurking behind this cult of self-righteousness, while speaking in Santa Fe recently: “Every time Trump says or does something that is xenophobic, or bigoted, or militaristic, or threatening, people always say, ‘This is not what America is about,’... I always react to that by saying, ‘It’s not?’”

The RussiaGate mania is now runaway paranoia, perfectly suited to turn the populace from its real problems. Democratic Party operatives have crossed over to insanity, detecting Russia behind the announced candidacy of Chelsea Manning for US Senate. Neera Tanden, prominent head of the Center for American Progress, smelled a Kremlin plot behind Manning running against a corporate Democratic Senator. It may be a long wait for the soft left and the identity Democrats to render support to the heroic Manning. But then they wouldn’t comprehend the real heroism of serving jail time for exposing US war atrocities.

Emboldened by its success in fabricating RussiaGate from nothing, the FBI has turned its scrutiny on the People's Republic of China. Our intrepid spy hunters are casting their vigilance on Rupert Murdoch’s ex-trophy wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent DC socialite. According to “sources” friendly to The Wall Street Journal, Ms Murdoch lobbied for a Chinese garden funded by the PRC at the National Arboretum. The FBI explained that the Arboretum was less than 5 miles from the White House and the Capitol. And, if that were not enough, the plan included a 70-foot tower that the FBI feared might be used for surveillance!

As if the Chinese could not rent a room in a six- or seven-story building in downtown DC to further their nefarious plot without spending $100 million on a Chinese garden.

So, we have a prominent figure who might have lobbied for a project that might have served PRC intelligence purposes by constructing a 70-foot tower that might have a surveillance purpose. But this twisted conspiracy tale goes further-- Ms Murdoch socialized with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner! The FBI has a picture of them together! Of course, that is the point of this inane exercise: meddling in US politics. Let’s see if deranged liberals buy this, too.

And we have the NBC story that reports that a CIA agent who retired in 2007 has been arrested for collaborating with the PRC. But there is a hitch: “U.S. officials told NBC News they don't believe Lee ever will be charged as a spy, in part because they don't have all the proof they might need, and in part because they would not want to air the evidence they do have in a public courtroom.” A careful read of the NBC article might lead one to believe that the CIA is embarrassed because their PRC counterparts broke the secret communication system that the CIA used to communicate with their covert agents. One might further surmise that Jerry Chun Shing Lee is the patsy for this failure. But the uncritical, trusting media report the damaging charge even though sources admit that “...they don't have all the proof they might need…” A fine example of a responsible press in the age of Trump!

As the US empire undergoes further and further stress, more and more dysfunction, the search for scapegoats and distractions will only intensify, and the barbarism of apocalyptical conflict will grow even more probable.

It is not enough to take a small step or two back from the brink, as liberals and the compromised left would like. Delivering a world two steps from catastrophe is a feckless award to future generations.

An angry, disappointed public that has lost confidence in its institutions is searching for a new, more promising road forward. Isn’t it the time to bring the promise of democracy and social justice embedded in socialism before the US public?

Greg Godels

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking Back

The year 2017 was not entirely a bad one in the US. We learned that, despite the fact that we have no serious, mass party for socialism, millions of US citizens have a favorable, positive view of socialism. Actually, we first learned that fact from a Gallup poll in mid-2016. To the surprise of many and the alarm of others, Gallup found that over half of 18-29 year olds had a favorable view of socialism. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll discovered a year later that over half of every age group thought that “To help people, government should do more.” This result is perhaps an even more significant finding since it provides some meaning to what people want when they endorse socialism, as well as what they want even with their fear of the word “socialism.” In that poll, nearly two-thirds of 18-29 year olds agreed with the statement.

The fact that interest in “socialism” is growing dramatically though there is no mass socialist or communist party is a paradoxical reflection on US political life (though not only that of the US). Part of the reason for this paradox, of course, is the enormous effort that US elites, corporations, academic institutions, security services, media, and politicians have made to intensely demonize all but the most benign expressions of socialist thought and organization.

But much blame must be shared by our own left, which has been shattered into a thousand sects, cults, and tendencies and cowed into submission from fear of red-baiting. The Cold War anti-Communist mentality remains deeply embedded in the generations that preceded the more open-minded millennials. Anything-but-Communism (ABC) constitutes an attitude that promotes “respectable” socialisms like utopian cooperatives, socialism through the backdoor of the Democratic Party, trickle-down socialism, armchair academic socialism, socialism of the soul, and a host of socialisms that dissolve into tepid reformism or socialism over the horizon. No wonder the ruling class sleeps well at night.

Death to the NFL!

Another change that came into sharp relief in 2017 was the persistent loss of fan support for professional football. In 2016, TV viewership dropped by 8%. And last year, TV numbers dropped another 9.7%, a precipitous two-year decline!

Given that professional football represents almost everything that is wrong with the US and combines all of the elements, from other sports, that are socially harmful, I would like to think that the NFL decline is inversely proportional to the growth of interest in socialism.

The NFL transmits violence and bullying to our youth. It celebrates the victory of power over weakness, without any respect for compassion, pity, fair play, or empathy. The business-posing-as-a-sport pillages municipal and regional coffers for stadia and amenities while paying little or no taxes. The teams glorify militarism and the cult of the hero. The owners are super wealthy, including a nasty group of right-wing racists. And Black gladiators risk limb and life to fill the owners’ coffers.

It’s no wonder that no other country shows a serious interest in an NFL franchise.

Of course, we must credit the disgusting blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick for some of the decline in interest.

Let’s hope that a similar disconnect from Dr. Phil, celebrity-worship, British royalty, and zombies will bring further interest in socialism in 2018.

2017 was not Pro-Life

For the first time since the early 1960s (before Medicare and Medicaid), life expectancy in the US dropped for two consecutive years. The head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention attributes the drop to the increase in opioid use, a phenomenon that correlates pretty closely with desperation, poverty, and alienation.

A year ago, when The New York Times reported the 2016 decrease, its sources were puzzled. Yes, they saw the increase in deaths from opioid abuse, but eight out of the top ten causes of death were also up, as was the infant mortality rate. The Times discovered a more revealing datum, a finding that cut to the heart of the matter: a Brookings Institute study found that a man in the lowest 10% of incomes born in 1950 will live fourteen years less than his counterpart with earnings in the top 10%.


Clearly, the Obama jewel, the ACA, has done less than nothing to address this great cause of premature death.

And yet the chief battle of 2017 was a semi-successful struggle waged by the leaders of Labor, the Democratic Party, and a host of “progressive” organizations to save this bloated, corporate-friendly, drug company-sponsored, bureaucratically bewildering sham of a healthcare program.

How far we have fallen!

Deplore the Deplorables

Certainly 2017, like the run-up to the 2016 election, was the climax of willful blindness to the plight of vast numbers of the working class and the working poor in the small towns and cities outside of the major metropolises. Hillary Clinton famously stubbed her presumptive Presidential toe on this neglect when she characterized the group as “deplorables.” For petty bourgeois liberals, a best-selling book gave sustenance to their elitist contempt for the decimated working class in the US heartland. Venture capitalist J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of his early years, hit the top of The New York Times best-seller list in both 2016 and 2017. Vance, telling a modern-day Horatio Alger story, titillated the burghers with his tales of abuse, failed character, and backwardness. Vance paints the deplorables as, indeed, deplorable.

A Fordham University professor published a scholarly rejoinder to Hillbilly Elegy at the end of 2017. Based on extensive research and historical backgrounding, Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia tells a story of capitalist exploitation, neglect, and political chicanery that refutes the blame-the-victim anecdotes of Vance. Author Steven Stoll offers context and nuance, compassion and respect, where Vance projects arrogant contempt. Given its unlikely appeal to jaded liberals, Ramp Hollow will likely not make the best-sellers list.

...the First Time as Tragedy, the Second Time as Farce

It is impossible to leave 2017 without reflecting on the new Red-less “Red Scare.” The old Red scare was a mid-century ruling class reign of terror in response to the Soviet victory over fascism and its painfully won respect with the world’s millions. The perceived threat of socialism ascendant brought a hysterical panic in the bastions of capitalism. A tragic, ruthless clampdown followed.

The farcical RussiaGate of 2017 reignites the old Russia fears, but this time against a capitalist rival. The perpetrators of this giant scam count on the public’s faulty memory and mass confusion of a Cold War adversary with the current government of Russia. To any disinterested follower of recent Russian history, Russia looks like a junior version of the US, with similar great power aspirations, hopes of imperial penetration of new markets, and rampant militarism. History teaches, for those not contemptuous of history, that these tendencies are features of every developed capitalist state. Similarly, Russian “democracy” more and more resembles its US counterpart which is dominated by wealthy, powerful elites and sustained by a gutless, fawning media.

We can, however, rejoice that Russian interests often conflict with the most belligerent, arrogant policies of US elites (Syria, for example) in ways that neutralize or forestall US aggression. But only a fool would mistake checking the US internationally with embodying the cause of anti-imperialism.

But vilifying Russia is useful. For US ruling elites, portraying Russia as an enemy prepares the public for confrontations to come. Much as the Maine debacle of 1898 set the stage in the US for a war for Spain’s colonies, the endless tales of Russian intrigue and mischief justify the saber-rattling and aggressive sanctions that follow.

The Democratic Party and the media eagerly join this project for their own purposes. RussiaGate has revitalized cable news and breathed life back into the print media and the news services. Sensationalized stories and fear-mongering are the stock-in-trade of the modern entertainment-oriented monopoly media.

Of course, RussiaGate is tailor-made for a political party suffering huge electoral setbacks despite overwhelming resources, especially if it can link its loss to external factors like Russian interference. The Democrats-- ideologically hollow-- have pulled every trick to link Russia to the sitting Republican President, Donald Trump. Unwilling to project a peoples’ program, the Democrats intend to win the 2018 interim elections by simply attacking Trump and his vaporous Russia connections. For the Democrats, Trump’s propensity towards arrogance, outrageousness, and lies is the gift that keeps on giving. They plan to run on Trump and Trump alone, nothing substantial.  

While most people find their living standards stagnant or sinking, and while climate change, rising inequality, racism, and foreign killing go ignored in the corporate media, the RussiaGate theatrics dominate the news.

RussiaGate does serve as a reminder of the thinness of liberal commitment to ‘liberal’ values. In the Red Scare era, liberal devotion to the Bill of Rights collapsed like a house of cards in the face of the McCarthyite onslaught. Today, liberals are leading the charge in an assault on fair play, due process, and the rules of evidence. Innuendo, anonymous sources, and hearsay form the tissue that supports the daily Russia insanity. And the glorification of the odious-- the FBI, CIA, and NSA-- is shameless.

The fact that the celebrated Mueller investigation has produced nothing substantial beyond an obvious fact-- Israel meddles in our elections-- should calm the unhinged. But it doesn’t. The Democrats need both Trump and Russia at least until the November elections.

May we all survive 2018!

Greg Godels

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Economic Nationalism: What it Means

In the throes of the 2007-2008 economic collapse, I projected that the global economy would be irrevocably and qualitatively marred by the unfolding events. I foresaw a shift in the structure of international relations, a shift away from the so-called “globalization” interlude. Writing in November of 2008:

The economic crisis has reversed the post-Soviet process of international integration – so-called "globalization." As with the Great Depression, the economic crisis strikes different economies in different ways. Despite efforts to integrate the world economies, the international division of labor and the differing levels of development foreclose a unified solution to economic distress. The weak efforts at joint action, the conferences, the summits, etc. cannot succeed simply because every nation has different interests and problems, a condition that will only become more acute as the crisis mounts.

A crisis of the severity of 2007-2008 understandably challenges some earlier verities, but more importantly, it renders some economic roads now impassable. My view was that the era of completely open, free, and secure international exchange fueling dramatic growth in trade was not a new stage of capitalism-- as many wished to argue-- but a phase created by politically contingent factors and spurred by the intensified international competition of the last thirty years of the twentieth century. Moreover, that phase-- unhelpfully called “globalization”-- was both fortuitous and disastrous for the fate of capitalism. I elaborated on this further in April of 2009:

To simplify greatly, a healthy, expanding capitalist order tends to promote intervals of global cooperation – enforced by a hegemonic power – and trade expansion, while a wounded, shrinking capitalist order tends towards autarky and economic nationalism. The Great Depression was a clear example of heightened nationalism and economic self-absorption. Most commentators acknowledge this fact, but attribute it to the predilections of national leaders. It was said that Roosevelt “sabotaged” the London Economic Conference, for example. Earlier, he said: “Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound economy.” It is my contention, and I believe essential to a Marxist understanding, that Roosevelt’s reaction was an expression of the logic of capitalism under stress; the structural development that led to intense nationalism throughout Europe, especially in Germany and Italy, and ultimately to war.

The stress of the 2007-2008 economic collapse created “centrifugal forces,” forces pulling apart the institutions, the regulations, and the commitment to an open, unified, and universal global marketplace. In its place would come a growing national partisanship, a commitment to winning-against-adversaries, rather than partnership. This process of “de-globalizing,” of going it alone would gain against both the process and ideology of economic integration.

I believe these projections have been borne out. My February, 2017 article New Developments in Political Economy: The Demise of “Globalization”, makes the case that the trade internationalism of the post-Soviet era is in profound decline. Moreover, emergent and growing nationalism enjoys its vitality from the reaction to the failure of the global order. Events in the months since the article appear only to underscore that claim.

Rising Economic Nationalism

President Trump has substantially called the World Trade Organization (WTO) irrelevant to US trade policies. But skepticism about the WTO precedes his political rise as a nationalist. The once heralded WTO Doha (Doha Development Agenda) was mired in dispute and ineffectiveness from its inception in 2001 and especially after 2008. The annual number of WTO trade disputes has more than doubled since 2008 even though trade growth has been tepid (below global GDP growth for the last 3 years), a sure sign of growing protectionist sentiments. The recent December 10-13 meeting of the WTO was largely a failure. “The trade body’s 164 members didn’t reach full consensus on any of the major objectives it had set itself before the meeting,” in the words of Bloomberg’s Bryce Baschuk and Charlie Devereux, with the EU blaming failure on “destructive behavior by several large countries.”

But the European Union (EU) is itself enduring a burst of economic nationalism. While the popular press and liberal pundits stress the role of xenophobia in Brexit, the economic ills that fueled the growth of nationalism in the UK vote against EU membership are largely neglected. Also, the breadth of the rejection of open market policies throughout the EU are largely missed.

A recent The Wall Street Journal article (12-14-17) affirms my projections made in 2008 and 2009 for the EU:

The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a drop in trade between EU countries, with little rebound since beyond precrisis levels. As Europe’s swoon dragged on, many politicians strove to prop up their economies with fixes that prioritized domestic markets over the EU. (The EU, a Disciple of Free Trade, is Erecting Barriers)

The WSJ author, Valentina Pop, choses the example of Emmanuel Macron, the new French President, to highlight the trend in the EU. Macron ran for office as a passionate advocate for Europeanism and free markets. Nonetheless, he nationalized a shipyard to block its purchase by an Italian firm, he supports limiting foreign employment, and he “gutted” dairy imports from EU countries. Further evidence for the retreat from border-free markets and the embrace of nationalism comes from the growth of trade barriers: legal actions against violators of the EU market openness more than tripled last year.

Earlier this year, the European commission moved legally against Romania and Hungary and, in June, against Poland over economic disputes.

Nothing shows the fraying of the one-global-market consensus and the turn to economic nationalism more than the dispute escalating between the US and Canada and waged though their corporate surrogates, Bombardier and Boeing. Boeing lodged a complaint against Canadian aircraft firm Bombardier with the US Commerce Department. With typical US arrogance, Commerce slapped a 300% tariff on Bombardier planes sold in the US.

Indignantly, the Canadian government cancelled its plan to purchase $5.2 billion of new Boeing fighters to supplement its existing Boeing fighter jets. Instead, it will accept bids in 2019 for a purchase of 88 new fighters, but with the pointed caveat that any bidder causing injury to Canada’s interests would be disadvantaged, a not very subtle slap at Boeing.

Further, as Canada grows increasingly unhappy with renegotiations over NAFTA, the government has turned to the People's Republic of China (PRC) to craft an alternative free-trade agreement (Canadian merchandise exports to the PRC have more than doubled since 2007). Clearly, one of history’s oldest and most intimate trading partnerships is under increasing stress from economic nationalism.

Elsewhere, I have demonstrated the qualitative changes in global energy markets, along with the dramatic intensification of competition and associated hostilities. The shifting energy alliances, the swings in market share, and the political instabilities that are commonplace have spurred the turn to economic nationalism.

What does it Mean?

The hasty conclusion that expansion of global markets along with universal homage to a new global community constituted an irreversible change in capitalist relations is now thoroughly discredited by the realities of imperialist aggression and economic crisis. In fact, the “globalization” moment coincided with the vast inclusion of new economies – the former socialist community – and the absolute hegemony of a capitalist power – the US. History has known other moments, but theorists – including many on the left – were too awed by capitalist triumphalism, drawn to knee jerk anti-Communism, and desirous of facile answers to recognize this continuity with the logic of state-monopoly capitalism. Well before World War I, a similar moment occurred with the massive expansion of markets under the global hegemony of the British Empire, a period followed by economic decline spurring extreme nationalism.

As I stress in the above passage, written in 2009, the normal course of global economic relations in the era of state monopoly capitalism is intense competition, pressure on profitability, accumulation crises, rising nationalism, and conflict. This is the norm in the age of imperialism. This is the logic of late capitalism.

Appearances may suggest to some a different narrative-- enduring prosperity in the mid-twentieth century, peace guaranteed by economic internationalism at the turn of the new century-- but the reality is different, far different. Reality is imposed by crisis. And the upheaval of 2007-2008 exposed the reality of fierce competition and national self-interest.

For some, the rise of nationalism is strictly a political phenomenon anchored in demagogy and ignorance; they see no linkage with the course of capitalism. But the economic base for this phenomenon cannot be denied. Liberal markets produced the crisis and the resulting human suffering sparked a political response.

And ruling classes, faced with pressure on profits from increasingly desperate and cut-throat competition in the unprecedented slow-growth recovery, are inexorably driven towards economic nationalism. While economic nationalism is a natural fit with the far right’s ultra-patriotism, it attracts centrist forces as well. Elements of the US trade union movement and Democratic industrial state politicians have warmed to economic nationalism since the days of bashing Japanese imports. Liberal Senators like Sherrod Brown have quietly worked with President Trump around overturning trade deals like NAFTA-- “strange bedfellows” in the words of The Wall Street Journal.

We do not have to press the parallel too hard to recognize that the economic nationalism of today threatens to spark disastrous wars, as did the rabid economic nationalism of the European powers in the prelude to World War I (and World War II). As in both eras, hostility and tensions are smoldering. And as in that era, war promises to follow, with devastation well beyond the comprehension of a complacent, self-absorbed population. The threat of general war, nuclear war, is possibly greater than any time in my lifetime, excepting the early Cold War years of General Curtis “Dr. Strangelove” LeMay and the US nuclear monopoly.

While extreme right nationalism is a serious political danger, the rise of economic nationalism, a growing policy consensus with capitalist rulers, threatens the very existence of millions, if not the planet.

Greg Godels

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

Some fifty years ago, ruling elites throughout the capitalist world settled into their overstuffed chairs and poured drinks to celebrate victory over the aspirations for independence held dear by formerly colonial peoples. In one case-- Ghana-- a popular leader, a venerated leader of African independence and African unity-- was deposed in a 1966 coup sponsored by foreign powers and carried out by national traitors. In the other case-- Guyana-- the most popular political party for decades, the most determined advocate for independence, was subverted and defeated in the rigged elections prior to the 1966 granting of formal independence.

Both Ghana and Guyana were long subjected to colonial rule, Ghana as part of Britain’s African colonial possessions and Guyana as part of the British empire’s Caribbean colonies. As pressures for independence mounted after the Second World War, both countries spawned dedicated and diligent leaders who had earned the trust of the people. Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Cheddi Jagan and his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had led their respective country’s fight for independence from the beginning, suffering imprisonment, threats, and trials.

Nkrumah and Jagan shared another characteristic as well, a characteristic that made them the pressing target of imperialism: a vision of social development outside of the confinement of capitalism. They knew that centuries of capitalist exploitation proved that escaping colonial domination would require a parallel break with capitalism and its institutions. In fact, Nkrumah wrote a pioneering work on the inevitable economic subjugation of newly liberated peoples who chose to continue on the capitalist road, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Kwame Nkrumah’s work was both brilliant in its application of Marxism and prescient in anticipating the lingering dependency of the former colonies that choose to remain tangled in the capitalist web.

Dark Days in Ghana

In his 1968 book (Dark Days in Ghana) recounting the circumstances of the coup, Nkrumah noted that many forces were arrayed against his programs from the day of formal independence in 1957. Nonetheless, he and his party were able to implement initiatives to rapidly bring social, cultural, and educational achievements to a high level. By 1961, technical and secondary school enrollment had increased 437.8% and university students 478.8% from pre-independence. In the same period, hospital beds had increased 159.9% and doctors and dentists by 220.5%. Roads increased around 50%, telephones 245.2%, and electrical power generated 38.4%. Ghana had achieved the highest per capita standard of living and highest literacy rate in Africa. And Ghana’s Seven Year Plan was to create a dramatic increase in industry, building upon the increased electrification flowing from the country’s massive Volta dam project.

But Ghana could only move forward if it escaped the raw material trap that nearly all former colonies suffered as the legacy of colonialism and dependency. For Cuba, it was sugar cane, for Chile it was copper, for Guyana, it was bauxite, and for Ghana it was cocoa. Today, of course in Venezuela it is oil. In every case, the colony existed in the past only as a supplier of inexpensive raw materials for the industries of the European colonizers.

In the late 1950s the international price of cocoa rose inordinately. Nkrumah’s party shrewdly taxed the growers to utilize the surplus for social advancement, stabilizing the cost of food and other consumer goods, and supporting the diversification of the Ghanaian economy. But by 1965 the price had collapsed, thus fueling the popular discontent sparked by the enemies of socialism. Raw material prices in the international market became a weapon against socialist development. The parallel with modern day Venezuela, the collapse of oil prices, and the escalation of opposition on all fronts cannot be missed. The economic hardships in Ghana were skillfully transformed into violence. In Nkrumah’s words:

An all-out offensive is being waged against the progressive, independent states. Where the more subtle methods of economic pressure and political subversion have failed to achieve the desired result, there has been a resort to violence in order to promote a change of regime and prepare the way for the establishment of a puppet government.

In addition to manipulating the price of cocoa exports (and Ghana’s import prices of finished goods necessary for industrialization), “..imperialism withheld investment and credit guarantees from potential investors, put pressure on existing providers of credit to the Ghanaian economy, and negated applications for loans made by Ghana to American-dominated financial institutions such as the I.M.F.”

By way of self-criticism, Nkrumah reflects:

We expected opposition to our development plans from the relics of the old “opposition”, from the Anglophile intellectuals and professional elite, and of course from neo-colonists… What we did not perhaps anticipate sufficiently was the backsliding of some of our own party members… who for reasons of personal ambition, and because they only paid lip-service to socialism, sought to destroy the Party.

Corruption proved to be a major problem in Ghana, as it does in every former colony, every emerging nation. The lack of robust democratic institutions-- denied by colonial and neo-colonial domination-- inevitably produces a corrosive contempt for the common good. Nor do the colonial masters leave proper mechanisms for reining in corruption after they reluctantly accepted independence. Countries like Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina that choose the path of national independence are plagued by this conundrum.

Of course, it is the security services of the imperialist countries that plant the seeds of reaction, nourish the seeds, and organize the harvest. In Ghana, they stirred secessionist sentiments of people in Ashanti, Togoland, and the Northern region. Previously, they had used the secessionist forces in Katanga to destabilize Congo and overthrow the patriot Patrice Lumumba. In our time, ethnic and religious differences were stoked in the former Yugoslavia and throughout the Middle East, including Iraq, Libya, and Syria to destabilize independent governments.

And the monopoly media in the capitalist countries unified around the joint themes that Nkrumah was an unpopular “dictator” and his government was entirely too close to the socialist countries, particularly the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the coup, a sham event was contrived to demonstrate Nkrumah’s unpopularity.

Much publicity was given in the imperialist press and on T.V., to the pulling down of the statue of myself in front of the National Assembly building in Accra. It was made to appear as angry crowds had torn the statue from its pedestal...But it was not for nothing that no photographs could be produced to show the actual pulling down of the statue… In fact when the statue was pulled down… no unauthorized person was allowed into the area. All those who were there at the time were those brought in by the military… Even the jubilant imperialist press evidently saw nothing strange in publishing photographs of bewildered toddlers, tears running down their checks sitting on a headless statue, while the same imperialist press extolled what it described as a “most popular coup”.

One cannot miss the parallel, thirty-seven years later, with the contrived, but dramatic overturning of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, a staged media extravaganza engineered by US authorities to demonstrate Saddam’s unpopularity.

In retrospect, Nkrumah asserts:

In fact, the fault was that, from the very circumstances in which we found ourselves, we were unable to introduce more “dangerous ideas”... What went wrong in Ghana was not that we attempted to have friendly relations with the countries of the socialist world but that we maintained too friendly relations with the countries of the western bloc.

The champions of national independence, especially the advocates for socialism need to heed this lesson, embracing those “dangerous ideas” that drive the revolutionary process forward, strengthening the hand of the revolutionaries and weakening the hand of the opposition. Backtracking and accommodation are not options.

The West on Trial

If Nkrumah’s Ghana is an example of the engineered coup sponsored by imperialism and its toadies, if the 1966 coup is a repeat of Iran in 1953 and a precursor of Chile in 1973, then the rigged election in Guyana was the prototype for the so-called “color revolutions” sponsored by the US and its allies in the period since the demise of European socialism.

As the leading figure in the post-war independence struggle of what was then the colony known as British Guiana, Cheddi Jagan soon realized that aspirations for independence were thwarted not only by the British administration, but more decisively by the US government. After his party’s sweeping victory in the 1953 House of Assembly elections, the British sent troops and suspended the colonial constitution out of hysterical fear of a Marxist takeover.

Writing in his post-mortem account, The West on Trial: The Fight for Guyana’s Freedom, Jagan noted: “…the main cause, I believe, for the suspension of our constitution was pressure from the government of the United States… We were not surprised, therefore that the US government gave its blessing to the British gunboat diplomacy… Ostensibly, the United States was urging the colonial powers to grant independence to colonial territories. But in reality, the independence was nothing more than the nominal transfer of powers to those who either conformed or showed signs of conforming to US policies.”

From the 1961 elections, where Jagan’s PPP won its third consecutive election, gaining 20 of 35 seats, until formal independence on May 26, 1966, the US poured millions of dollars into every imaginable plan to erode the popular support of the PPP. The opposition promised huge investments and loans that would be forthcoming with a pro-capitalist government. The opposition boycotted or refused to collaborate with any and all development programs or social measures, including a budget.

The capitalist media echoed the opposition with a shrill anti-Communist campaign. “All of this was written at a time when it is alleged that we had destroyed the freedom of the press! We did not own our own daily newspaper to counter the distortions and lies of the press. This is a problem which confronts all national governments interested in change,” Jagan remarked.

Violence was sparked and fanned by the opposition, loudly labelling the PPP “authoritarian.” Racialism between African-origin and Indian-origin Guyanese was stoked. The US labor movement’s infamous AIFLD (a collaboration with the CIA) fomented strikes built upon lies and distortions.

Well-connected US columnist Drew Pearson, writing in March of 1964 explained the US involvement:

The United States permitted Cuba to go Communist purely through default and diplomatic bungling. The problem now is to look ahead and make sure we don’t make the same mistake again… in British Guiana, President Kennedy, having been badly burnt in the Bay of Pigs operations, did look ahead.

Though it was not published at the time, this was the secret reason why Kennedy took his trip to England in the summer of 1963… [It was] only because of Kennedy’s haunting worry that British Guiana would get its independence in July, 1963, and set up another Communist government under the guidance of Fidel Castro.

…[T]he main thing they agreed on was that the British would refuse to grant independence to Guiana because of the general strike against pro-Communist Prime Minister, Cheddi Jagan.

The strike was secretly inspired by a combination of US Central Intelligence money and British intelligence. [A]nother Communist government at the bottom of the one-time American lake has been temporarily stopped.

Pearson acknowledges the massive and determined campaign of destabilization that culminated in a US-sponsored coalition of US-friendly parties edging out the PPP in a calculated, delayed independence. The orchestrated campaign of rumor, lies, and promises was whipped into a powerful counterforce to a popular, independent government. In this regard, Guyana was not different from the many so-called “color revolutions” that are brought to a boil by heavily foreign-funded, non-government organizations. The Defunct AIFLD has been supplanted by Solidarity Center, USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Republican and Democratic Institutes, and myriad other acronymic NGOs that serve US foreign policy in a government-funded, surreptitiously government-funded, or privately funded fashion. Their footprints are all over Georgia, Ukraine, and a host of other countries targeted by US foreign policy.

Lessons from the Past

It should be crystal clear that there is nothing new in the meddling of the US and its allies (and other imperialist centers) in the trajectory of smaller, less powerful countries; neo-colonialism and imperialism are the dominant forms of late monopoly capitalism. Nkrumah details twenty interventions in the affairs of African states alone between December 1962 and March 1967. From the Greek war of national liberation in the aftermath of the Nazi defeat to the latest CIA move, the latest sanction, the latest military threat, the US, in particular, has been promoting and forcing dependency at the expense of the national sovereignty of the peoples.

But lessons can be drawn from the long, difficult struggle for national independence, a history of great sacrifice, fierce and selfless battle, but treachery as well. Nkrumah was right: The only absolute guarantee of national independence is to break the chains to capitalism, to choose the path to socialism. Among the best examples of success are the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), Cuba, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), all small nations defying the most lethal power ever assembled. When faced with the full brunt of imperialist aggression, the three governments found resolve from their faith in working people, their confidence that working people would unite and fight for a clear, radical vision of social justice, and their refusal to retreat even an inch from principle.

Moreover, borrowing Nkrumah’s words, it is necessary to embrace and press “dangerous ideas,” most necessarily, the idea of command of the state by the agents of change; independence is not possible with the enemies of independence nested in the state.

Nkrumah prefaced his book with excerpts from a letter to him from Richard Wright, the expatriate US author. Wright’s complex, often contradictory relations with progressive movements did not deter him from writing with a feverish intensity:

I say to you publicly and frankly. The burden of suffering that must be borne, impose it upon one generation!  ...Be merciful by being stern! If I lived under your regime, I’d ask for this hardness, this coldness…

Make no mistake, Kwame, they are going to come at you with words about democracy; you are going to be pinned to the wall and warned about decency; plump-faced men will mumble academic phrases about “sound” development; men of the cloth will speak unctuously of values and standards; in short, a barrage of concentrated arguments will be hurled at you to persuade you to temper the pace and drive of your movement…

And as you launch your bold programmes, as you call on your people for sacrifices, you can be confident that there are free men beyond the continent of Africa who see deeply enough into life to know and understand what you must do, what you must impose…

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Greg Godels