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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Racism, Police Violence, and Capitalism

Donald Trump chastising governors and mayors over their response to the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd was perversely appropriate. While Trump is invoking the “law and order” mantra of racist politicians in his rant, the complicity of local and state authorities in police criminality cannot be denied. Police violence against African Americans is as old and persistent as the history of the first Africans brought to the New World as slaves.

Since nothing has changed in centuries, certainly mayors and governors have blood on their hands. Either they have acquiesced in police murders and lynchings or else they are powerless or too frightened to prevent them-- they only pretend to govern the police.

The lesson is further driven home when the police are not unleashed by governors and mayors upon the gun-toting, venom-spewing, right-wing rabble recently invading state and city seats of government.

How is this failure explained?

Under capitalism, the police, like the military and the security services, are direct agents of the ruling class, unmediated by popular control. All three, in their areas of responsibility, are the “legitimate” purveyors of violence and aim to own a monopoly on violence. As much as governments aspire to maintain and promote an image of consent, the three institutions are the coercive backstop to threats to elite rule. As governors and mayors come and go, they remain as watchdogs to unrest, messengers of the folly of resistance.

Historically, the nationally oppressed African American people have offered the greatest collective resistance to the US ruling class. Their former enslavement, their very limited enjoyment of basic bourgeois democratic norms, and their continued physical and economic segregation has given them every reason to struggle against, often leading in the struggle against, the injustices of the capitalist system. That tradition has placed African Americans in the cross-hairs of wealth and power and their trusted security apparatuses. It is, therefore, no surprise that the police wield their repressive powers so violently against Black people.

Of course that perspective-- the class-based understanding of racism-- never gets a hearing in the monopoly media. Instead, police murders are attributed to “bad apples,” poor training, misleadership, lack of Black police, lack of oversight, and the catch-all of “racism,” as though racism can be explained by simply invoking the charge of “racism.”

Yet all the well-intentioned reforms-- training, civilian review boards, screening, etc.-- have failed to stop police violence against Blacks.

Liberals are fond of studying police violence, especially when the reaction to police misconduct brings masses of people into action. The classic example of liberal response to Black rebellion was the 1968 Kerner Commission. While the Commission’s findings were among the first (and probably last) candid, official exposures of the economic base of Black disadvantage, little or nothing was done to rectify that disadvantage. The promising affirmative action programs offered at the time were effectively killed by 1976, disappearing from the Democratic Party program.

When the US ruling class refuses to address the plight of the disadvantaged majority of Blacks, the police also get the message of official neglect, of contempt. Blacks die from poverty, bad health care, inadequate infrastructure and poor services, pandemics, and, of course, police violence. The message sent by the police is: don’t resist wealth and power.

Sadly, most mainstream commentators opportunistically force the discussion of police violence into the two-party box, to frame it in the context of the forthcoming elections. Trump’s response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery is as crudely racist as his earlier full page New York Times ads condemning the five Black youths falsely convicted as the Central Park Five. One senses the same fear and hatred of Blacks as that of an unreconstructed, Southern segregationist like Orville Faubus or Strom Thurmond.

Biden, on the other hand, mouths the liberal platitudes that have been typical of Democratic Party politicians since Otto Kerner’s famous report: a robust denouncement, a call for change, and inaction. His supporters are either ignorant of or willfully ignoring his own role in fanning racist violence: attacking busing, supporting the militarization of the police, boosting mass incarceration.

One candidate represents the moonlight-and-magnolia racism of the segregated South and the other the more sophisticated Northern racism of malign “benign neglect.” Both are irrelevant to stemming police violence.

To see the ineffectiveness of corporate Democrats, one need only be reminded of Barack Obama’s response to police violence when a racist cop accosted a Black Ivy League academic on his own porch: have a beer with both of them.

Or, as Cornel West passionately insisted in a CNN interview: "We've tried black faces in high places... Too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to a militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture of celebrities, status, power, fame, all that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens."

West went on to describe the inadequate response of the Democratic Party to police violence: "You've got a neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party that is now in the driver's seat... because all they want to do is show more Black faces—show more Black faces. But oftentimes those Black faces are losing legitimacy, too—because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a Black president, a Black attorney general, and a Black director of Homeland Security, and they couldn't deliver. So when you talk about the masses of Black people—the precious poor and working-class black people, brown, red, yellow, whatever color—they're the ones left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless—then you get rebellion."

On The Hill.TV’s Rising, Nina Turner, a national co-chair of the Sanders campaign, astutely endorsed West’s comments as “poignant, right on time, as usual, an indictment of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.”

“Dr. West is making people very uncomfortable, especially the Democrats, and they should be uncomfortable... For me right now, this is not about your political affiliation, this is about right or wrong. Whether you have the commitment, the character, the clarity, the vision and the leadership to sacrifice something and to do the right thing on behalf of Black people in the United States of America.”

Leave it to Susan Rice, Obama confidant and former National Security Advisor, to take the ruling-class spin on the uprisings to laughable, ludicrous levels. In a CNN interview with the readily agreeable Wolf Blitzer, she finds Russia lurking behind the scenes to promote violence in the nationwide protests.

Alarmed by the unfettered power accumulated by the military and its affiliates, President Eisenhower, himself a participant at the highest levels, warned of the attendant dangers:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

Similarly, the “misplaced power” of the police threatens the lives and well-being of African Americans, the poor, and working people. Like the military and the security agencies, the role of the police cannot be separated from its central function of protecting wealth and privilege. It cannot be detached from the capitalist system.

The insurrections that are rising throughout the US are a remarkable sign of both the breadth and depth of anti-racist sentiment. They are inclusive in the best possible way. And they have frightened the Trumps, Cuomos, DeBlasios and the others charged with maintaining compliance with the system. The capitalist media is doing its best to shatter the hard-won unity against racism and against the police.

Insofar as the police are central to maintaining the legitimacy of capital, the rebellion is a rebellion against capitalism, whether its participants recognize it or not.

We must do everything to safeguard that unity and expose the source of racism and police violence: capitalism.

Greek Communist youth protesting racist US police murder outside the US embassy

Greg Godels

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Renewing Trust in a World on the Brink

Daniel J Edelman and Associates is the world’s largest public relations firm, by revenue. Like all PR firms, Edelman peddles its services to corporations, institutions, and individuals to burnish their commercial or public image. 

Indirectly, a good image will help generate more interest, more business, and, most importantly, more profits.

Edelman understands that the vital link between image and profits is the trust of the public. They are in a business that sells trust to their clients.

One of their marketing tools is the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, an international poll that purports to show potential customers the elements that inspire trust in various institutions (or, conversely, elements that diminish the trustworthiness of institutions). 

Now trust is an elusive, subjective concept, but for institutions embedded in the capitalist system appearances are as good as the real thing. 

Though the annual Trust Barometer is not meant as a political instrument, its findings often carry political import. For example, the 2020 “global trust-index,” a poll conducted worldwide between October 19 and November 18 of 2019, shows trust in key institutions-- NGOs, Business, Government, and Media-- declining in the US, firmly placing the US among the countries in the “distrusting” category. Perhaps surprisingly to the obsessive China-bashers now dominating the leadership of the two parties, the country scoring highest on the trust-index is China (PRC). There, unlike the US, Japan, Germany, Spain, UK, France, Ireland, South Africa, Italy, Australia, and Russia, those surveyed have trust, increasing trust, in their institutions, a fact hard to square with the media-generated picture of undemocratic repression.

On questions of inequality, the Edelman trust index divides the population into two categories: the masses (85%) and the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie (euphemistically and arrogantly, Edelman calls the upper classes the “informed public”). Not surprisingly, global elites are more trusting of their institutions on the matter of income inequality as opposed to the rest of us, by 14 index points. 

Here again, of all countries, the PRC shows the most trust that its institutions address inequality, though there is a large gap between the trust of the most well off and well-educated and the masses.

On the other hand, the masses in the US, its NATO allies, Japan, and Russia distrust their institutions on questions of inequality.

Globally, Edelman finds that elites trust 3 of the 4 key institutions: NGOs, Business, and the Media, but not Government. Certainly, this should be no surprise since the institutions serve the elites, but elites express an anti-government stance to justify tax cuts and privatization. The masses, on the other hand do not trust any of the key institutions surveyed by the PR firm (see below for a radical shift since the coronavirus).

Edelman finds that income inequality affects trust more than economic growth. That is, the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us weighs more heavily upon trust in institutions than in the past or with other factors.

Most developed countries, including the US, are pessimistic about economic prospects; and even more “worry about people like me losing the respect and dignity I once enjoyed in this country.” This result goes some way toward explaining the appeal of “Make America Great Again” and its counterparts outside the US.

Fifty-six percent of respondents agreed that “Capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world.” 

Seventy-seven per cent of respondents expressed a “sense of injustice” and seventy-six per cent had a “desire for change.” Only 18% agree that the system is “working for me.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “I do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges.” Is it any wonder that people are searching for leaders outside of the mainstream?

Trust After Covid?

To its credit, the Edelman firm took another look at trust after the global pandemic struck this winter and spring. The new conclusions were striking.

“[T]he public is relying on government to protect them in a manner not seen since World War II. Trust in government is not only up by double digits in six of 11 markets surveyed, it is the only institution trusted by the mass population (62 percent).”

“[R]espondents want government out front in all areas of the pandemic response: to provide economic relief (86 percent), to get the country back to normal (79 percent), to contain Covid-19 (73 percent), and to inform the public (72 percent).”

“The Spring Update shows that 67 percent of respondents believe that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice in the pandemic…”

“This pandemic has made me realize how big the gap in this country is between the rich and the working class, and something must be done to more fairly distribute our country’s wealth and prosperity.”
64% of respondents agree.

“Only 38 percent believe business is doing well or very well at putting people before profits.”

“Only 39 percent believe business is doing well or very well at protecting their employees' financial wellbeing and safeguarding their jobs.”

When the future of a public relations firm so inextricably tied to the fate of capitalism arrives at these dire conclusions, one can be certain that the conclusions are not twisted or spun to put lipstick on the capitalist pig. Indeed, the fact that one of the top cheerleaders for capital reports that over half of its respondents believe that global capitalism “does more harm than good” means that there is a ready audience for the message of socialism. The spring pandemic and the coincident economic collapse have only amplified the dissatisfaction with capitalism and the potential for a socialist resurgence.

We are in the first act of a global revolution; the objective conditions for radical change-- mass dissatisfaction, exploding inequality and immiseration, desperation-- are present and only intensifying. As in the early stages of other revolutionary moments, the subjective conditions are backward and undeveloped. Cynicism, nostalgia, reformist illusions, and utopianism have yet to give way to a united sentiment for radical change. Neither a scientific, nor historically grounded vision of socialism has taken deep root in the masses. There is every reason to believe that it will.

But the opportunity is not guaranteed. If it is not seized by a coherent, revitalized, and mature socialist movement, others will seize it, with unhappy outcomes. That is one of the many tragic lessons of the last century.

Greg Godels

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Better World is Possible

Capitalism is an amazingly resilient system. This is not meant as praise, but as an observation that Marxists have made again and again since Marx and Engels first foresaw capitalism’s demise. 

Its resilience lies not in its delivering the public goods, but in its ability to convince a critical mass of people that it does deliver and, when faced with an existential crisis, to stop at nothing to save the reign of capital. 

Of course earlier socio-economic systems had long runs as well. But it is a fool’s errand and decidedly un-Marxist to call the date of the “final” crisis. Unfortunately, far too many have foolishly made that call-- I have the books on my bookshelves to prove it.

What Marxists can do is check the pulse of the capitalist system, take an x-ray, and make a cautious diagnosis. I think everyone-- Marxist and non-Marxist alike-- would agree that today the system is ill, indeed, critically ill. Global capitalism is breathing heavily, and struggling to get out of bed. Maybe it’s because of the coronavirus, maybe it’s also from some serious pre-existing conditions.

Metaphor aside for a moment, capitalism is, at this time, declining rapidly. The usual numbers-- unemployment, GDP, investment, manufacturing activity, trade, etc.-- are all trending in ways unseen at least since the Great Depression. 

What is the prognosis?

The pollyannas of the capitalist class-- most capitalists, economists, politicians-- speak of a quick recovery. They see the crisis as beginning and ending with the rise and fall of Covid-19 infections. Once the coronavirus is conquered, they say, the global economy will pick itself up and, in time, continue briskly marching forward. This should, and does, sound like whistling past the graveyard. 

Liberals and social democrats-- the social-work left-- understand that great human damage is occurring; their sympathy for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the crisis’s victims is genuine and heartfelt; and they sense an opportunity to reform. However, for them, reform must accomplish two-- I would argue, contradictory-- tasks simultaneously: restore and repair the capitalist system and repair and restore the carnage inflicted upon people by this crisis. 

Sure, the respectable left rails against capitalism-- crony capitalism, disaster capitalism, pandemic capitalism, gender capitalism, Trump capitalism, “cancerous form of capitalism” (Michael Moore) or neo-liberal capitalism. But they don’t really mean capitalism itself. Rather, they reject what they consider aberrant capitalism, bad capitalism, capitalism off its otherwise benign rails. Instead, they desire a good capitalism: “human-centered capitalism” (Brookings), “accountable capitalism” (Elizabeth Warren), “capitalism for everyone” (Center for American Progress), “post-capitalism” (the science-fiction capitalism imagined by many academic leftists), or a host of other capitalisms tailored to the supposed greater good. 

The unstated truth is that the soft left, the reformist left does not connect the social ills of growing inequality, wealth concentration, increasing poverty, declining life expectancy, and social dysfunction directly to the intrinsic mechanism of capitalism. They believe that, with some tinkering, they can make the insatiable drive for profit, for accumulation, take a backseat to human needs.

It is an odd view; for centuries, through capitalism’s birth, growth, and maturation, this reformist program has not come close to any lasting success.

In the twenty-first century, with three devastating, life-crushing economic crises in twenty years, that prospect appears even dimmer.

Many in the US are entirely focused on the forthcoming Presidential election campaign. Do they think that the two-party electoral system-- finely honed over many decades to repel even moderate reformism-- will produce solutions equal to the tasks of this era? For young people, it is hopefully a learning experience; for older people, confidence in a favorable outcome is a disappointing measure of their cynicism, not their maturity. Could anyone believe that either Donald Trump or Joseph Biden (now joined with the execrable Laurence Summers) is able to tackle, for the good of the people, an economy now in free fall?

In the past, the reformist left relied upon the labor union hierarchies, the center-left political parties, and issue-oriented activist networks. But today, these groups are more and more compromised. The center-left parties are thoroughly “bourgeoisified”; corporate ownership-- once a dirty, little secret-- is now apparent to all. 

The labor union leadership has exchanged class confrontation for partnership with capital; in some embarrassing cases, they have mounted a stiffer defense of capitalism than the corporations, notably when attacking “foreign” competitors.

And far too many issue-groups have drunk from the poisoned chalice of foundation money. Understandably, there are desperate needs for funding, especially for a resource-starved left, but foundation money is a stealth assault on independent action.

The way forward lies in unleashing the potential of working people, freeing them from the institutional fetters imposed by bankrupt political parties, an ossified labor leadership, and ineffective NGOs.

While it is a daunting task, organizing the millions of unemployed workers promises to break from the inadequate tactics of the recent past. It was the Communist-led unemployment councils that sparked the peoples’ movement in The Great Depression. The marches on state capitals and Washington DC, the confrontation with assistance agencies and evicting officials, and relentless agitation pressed the authorities to reluctantly consider remedies to widespread human misery. Contrary to the “great man” mythology ascribed to Franklin Roosevelt, it was the militant action of the unemployed and other workers that constructed the popular base for New Deal reforms. Without that base demanding more, Roosevelt would have retreated. This time, even greater victories are possible.

Encouraging signs are rising that workers are seeking a new militancy to combat the ravages of capitalism. There is a thirst-- expressed especially among younger workers-- for new ways to organize and direct the anger emerging from the failures of the system to protect and support workers faced with a deadly virus. The callousness of many capitalist leaders toward the safety of health care workers, the rush to return enterprises to profit making despite endangering workers, and the failures to promptly and efficiently provide the resources necessary to combat and treat the virus have exposed the inhumanity of capitalism. Amazon workers, gig workers, the precariat, and other unorganized workers, now more than ever, see the need for collective action. Danger and idleness are great teachers.

Those with the lowest paying jobs, women, Blacks, and Latinos have been hit the hardest by the layoffs and are the most neglected by the politicians and those pretending to represent labor. Like in the era of the Great Depression, a resurgent, militant, and independent labor movement must appeal to those left out. Whether the movement follows the pattern established by the 1930s industrial movement, the CIO, or takes another form, it must not be shackled with moderation and class pacification. The objective need is there, the conditions are ripe; all that is needed is the will. 

As in the thirties, there is mass confusion, unfocused anger, nihilism. The divisions grow in number and grow deeper. The danger of the right coopting righteous indignation increases. Already, Trump and his international counterparts have exploited the frustration of the masses and the impotency of the center-left. 

The antidote to the appeal of the right is not hand-wringing or fear-mongering, but countering with alternatives. Communists in the thirties countered Father Coughlin, the Black Legions, and the many crackpots and demagogues with the power of organization and the inspiration of militant ideas. 

In the thirties, where a catalyst seized the initiative-- even a small catalyst like the US Communist Party-- working people were able to unite and force change on an obstinate ruling class. They were able to find their strength and a vision of a better world. Once recognized, the potential of working people knows no bounds. We must work to foster that recognition.

Our fight is not for unemployment insurance or social security. Those fights have been won, though the ruling class has chipped away at these gains from the day they were secured. Hopefully, our fight is for more, for everything, for socialism!

Greg Godels

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What to do When Your Party is a Serial Abuser?

A few weeks ago, the UK was rocked by a leaked report recounting the activities of top officials in the Labour Party. As Morning Star details (4-18-2020):

Pages upon pages of emails and texts expose in stark detail how some of the party’s most senior officials acted to sabotage the Jeremy Corbyn leadership, obstruct everything it tried to do, direct vile abuse at staff and activists perceived to be supportive of Corbyn and express contempt for the members whose fees paid their salaries.

Most shockingly of all for those who pounded the streets, knocked on doors and phone banked for Labour, the report exposes top staff working against election victory, running a secret campaign to protect rightwingers in safe seats at the expense of winnable marginals, voicing growing dismay as Labour in 2017 closed the gap with the Tories and reacting with fury when the party broke Theresa May’s majority.

The records of Labour officials expressing preference for a Tory victory to a Corbyn one show treachery to their party and its members, but loyalty to a capitalist system they are used to being part of running.

In an article in The Guardian (4-21-2020), John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor under Corbyn’s leadership, denounced the racism found in the report and directed at some of Corbyn’s closest associates by some of Labour’s top officials:

The alleged abuse of Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, three prominent black shadow ministers, was appalling and, as others have commented, betrayed a deeply worrying underlying strain of racism.

The leaked report, commissioned to report on alleged anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party, was unsurprisingly ignored by the US mainstream media.

Unsurprisingly, because it might conjure up memories of the Wikileaks revelations of Democratic Party leaders plotting against the Bernie Sanders primary campaign leading up to the 2016 election, the actions taken against Sanders caucus voters, the embarrassing resignation of the party leader in the wake of plotting, the leaking of debate questions to Sanders’ opponent in that primary season, and many other 2016 attempts to sabotage Sanders’ campaign. 

Of course, reporting the Labour Party’s undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership might also plant suspicions about Biden’s miraculous rising from the dead this year, the leaked misinformation about Sanders, the red-baiting, the slanders, and the seemingly orchestrated dog-and-pony show of a motley crew of candidates slicing and dicing the primary vote suddenly surrendering and endorsing Uncle Joe Biden. 

In other words, the complicit US media doesn’t want to give any ammunition to the suspicion that there may be a significant parallel in the ways that established “center-left” parties suppress any real left movement within their orbits. 

While the Labour Party has a claim to exist somewhat as a membership party, with its members or their organizations having some say in its leadership, the US Democratic Party can make no such claim; “membership” is simply a matter of registration, and party activism is largely limited to carrying out dictated electoral activity, fund raising, and voting. The days of visits from and discussions with ward or neighborhood leaders are long past. Today, the Democratic Party is more like a sports team than a political party: one can choose it, follow it, and support it, but only marginally influence it.  

But like the Labour Party, the Democratic Party pretends to be democratic while its leaders do all they can to stifle any democratic stirrings. Where insurgencies energize the typically most active, progressive, and earnest members, the leadership finds a way to undercut, underfund, or even engage in dirty tricks to derail their efforts. 

In the US, the McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and now Bernie Sanders campaigns are examples of serious, but failed attempts to inject left politics into a party determined to define itself through a brand of tepid social liberalism which is inoffensive to its corporate financial base. If there is a role for the Democratic Party to challenge corporate dominance, to reverse growing inequality, and to expand the social safety net, the leadership has yet to reveal it.

Much attention has been drawn to analyzing what Corbyn and Sanders did wrong, where their campaigns failed. The more important matter is how a candidate can overcome the barriers that are institutionally, systematically placed in front of her or him. How can a candidate ride a party to victory when the party’s leadership does not want the candidate to be successful? 

As Roger D. Harris explained in a recent thoughtful wrap-up of the Sanders phenomena in Popular Resistance

Sanders proved on one hand that a sizable potential constituency would support and fund a progressive agenda. On the other hand, the Democrats – who would rather risk four more years of Trump than back someone with a mild New Deal agenda – are the graveyard for such a movement. The Democratic Party is an instrument of class rule and not a democratic institution…

If your obsession in life is to defeat Trump, by all means hold your nose and vote for what you perceive as the lesser evil.

For the US left, the quadrennial question looms: do we put the Sanders campaign behind us and, paraphrasing Harris, hold our nose and vote for the candidate anointed by the Democratic Party and its corporate backers?

For some, it comes easy. They argue that Trump is such a repugnant figure that, should the Democrats offer a veteran of every corporate-friendly, socially reactionary current surfacing in the Democratic Party, one must still vote against Trump. As in the past, the revolutionary left, the Marxist-Leninist left, the socialist left could not make much of a difference, if it so desired. The serious anti-capitalist left lacks the influence to decisively affect the outcome of the US Presidential election in spite of Democratic operatives occasionally blaming their defeats on them. For the most part, the debate among Marxists over whether to support the pathetic Democratic Party candidate is a sterile one.

But leftists can begin to show the way from such an ugly option. The left can emphatically point to the futility of a lesser-of-two-evils strategy that stretches over the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan (and before) that has only seen the political center move inexorably rightward. 

They can insist that the defenders of the lesser-of-two-evils strategy explain how such a strategy could ever produce significant change. 

The left can explain that demagoguery prevails precisely when the options available to people hungry for change are meager. The Trumps, Johnsons, and their ilk arise when traditional party loyalties are taken for granted and when supporters are desperate for new answers.

Leftists can stress the role of consistent, principled, and unbending independent politics and, most importantly, how that independence can be expressed broadly, electorally and otherwise. Independence can not be conditional upon the electoral fate of politicians and parties that are hostile to left politics.

For many of us, that means encouraging and supporting third-party breakaways, electoral formations where the left is welcome. Of course it is understood that not everyone will agree. Some will argue that this moment is different.

In the spirit of respecting differences, it was still disappointing to see the recent open letter addressed to the youthful supporters of Sanders-- who the signatories called “the new new left.” Former leaders and members of the 1960s SDS-- with a cringe-worthy, patronizing tone-- warned ominously that failing to vote for Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party candidate, would be to hand the Presidency to a “protofascist.” 

Most would agree that ridding the political stage of Donald Trump is a good thing. Probably many will even accept replacing him with a corrupt, corporately-compromised, and regressive substitute like Joseph Biden. 

But it is disappointing that the retired SDSers make no demands on the Democrats, set no conditions for support, suggest no alternative actions in uncontested states, offer no program beyond the dismal electoral choice, and supply no vision for distraught Sanders backers.

This from the group advising the existing left movements in its founding statement in mid-1962 that: “An imperative task for these publicly disinherited groups... is to demand a Democratic Party responsible to their interests.” These then-young, idealistic radicals dared to make demands on the Democratic Party in the months before Barry Goldwater Jr. embarked on arguably the most right-wing, dangerous campaign for the US Presidency in modern history. 

Then, it seemed important to challenge a Democratic Party deaf to poverty, racism, and inequality. SDS sought to force “peace, civil rights, and urban needs” onto the political agenda, even in the face of a Republican challenger who openly argued for the use of nuclear weapons. 

Today’s self-described “veterans” of those long-past struggles now make a simple, unconditional demand: “we must work hard to elect [Biden].”

They ominously liken this moment to the late history of Weimar Germany immediately before Hitler’s ascension. Indeed, there are many parallels to today: a growing severe crisis of capitalism; a bankrupt political party with no answers to the crisis, yet commanding the allegiance of most workers; demagogues appealing to a disillusioned middle strata and a neglected working class. 

In the Weimar Republic, many people sought a broad “democratic” coalition in 1932 to reelect the militarist conservative Paul von Hindenburg-- a-lesser-of-two-evils-- to defeat Hitler’s Presidential candidacy. The Social Democrats, the counterpart of today’s Democratic Party, believed that their support of von Hindenburg would stop the greater-of-two-evils. Months later, von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor, giving him a grasp of power that he would never relinquish.

Trump is not Hitler, but a barren opposition-- an opposition ill-equipped to respond to the despair engulfing most people’s lives-- opens the door wide for the Trumps to walk through. As Weimar shows, a hollow appeal to unity at all costs may be insufficient, even ill-advised in the effort to close that door. 

The old SDSers and the other Democratic Party loyalists need to ask themselves if Joseph Biden’s Democratic Party has the vision to give hope to those suffering what may prove to be capitalism’s greatest crisis. With millions experiencing hardships unknown before, they want to vote for something, not just against Trump.  

One would have hoped that the “old new left” would have offered something more of substance in their lecture to those who understandably felt that the Sanders program was betrayed and derailed by the Democratic Party establishment. 

As the Sanders supporters consider their choices going forward, they might heed the conclusion drawn in the Morning Star article. Noting the sabotage of Corbyn’s leadership by many of the Labour Party’s officials, the author warned that “much of the left engaged in a futile effort to bury real differences and appease an irreconcilable enemy.

As long as we keep making such mistakes, we will keep losing.”  

Greg Godels 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Searching for Meaning in a Pandemic

Driven indoors by a deadly virus, most people, especially in the wealthier, advanced capitalist countries, are facing uncertainties unknown in their entire lives. The virus’s ruthless defiance of borders and all but the most privileged social cleavages has cast a shadow over expectations and prospects, while bringing the global economy to a near-standstill.

What can We Learn?

For those who have money and power, their interests come before the health and welfare of the rest of us. Most bourgeois politicians, top corporate executives, bankers, and billionaire investors are willing to risk the lives of the vulnerable to secure their own status and restart the capital accumulation process. Every day, we see anxious politicians lobbied by the agents of monopoly capital. They are ready to ignore the advice of academics and professionals who are experts in disease control and public health in order to send safely isolated workers back into danger. 

In the US, we have private health insurance and market-based health services rather than universal, equitable health care. The fact that the victims of the novel coronavirus could not be promptly diagnosed, triaged, and given care, the fact that response was so uneven, and the fact that health care providers had to compete for the scarce, but essential means to combat the virus demonstrates the tragic inadequacy of an industrial model relying on the market, profit, and the fetish of “efficiency.” Tens of thousands of lost lives expose this failure.

Where politicians in other countries have callously shrunk their national health services for political expediency, they, too, must answer for the unnecessary deaths of thousands.

We should learn that health industry administrators, faced with medical supply shortages and accelerating demand, are prepared to make life-and-death decisions based on protocols devised by so-called “bio-ethicists.” Rather than rallying behind victims’ families and health care workers, rather than seeking emergency powers to ramp up production or purchases, rather than mobilizing volunteers or lobbying for a more rational distribution of national resources, hospital administrations opt to choose which victims deserve to live.
Misnamed “bio-ethicists” compete to find the most “humane” way to select those for death. Some will remember the righteous indignation over “death panels” during the Obama-era healthcare debates. With real life-or-death decisions being taken, the anti-reform zealots are remarkably silent. 

The all-too-popular slogan “We are all in this together” has proven to be nonsense. Class and race remain the decisive factors in determining who wins and who loses. It’s not that Black, Latino, and poor people are selected as victims by the primitive infectious agent, but that social neglect, inequality, and discrimination renders them more vulnerable to the virus. The behavioral choices, access to information and prophylaxis, health care, conditions of shelter, transportation options, and general resources available to the disadvantaged determine that they will more likely be victims, suffer, and die. The media feign shock at numbers that reveal the vast overrepresentation of African American cases and deaths, as though racism, urban segregation, and poverty were already conquered.

Similarly, the media are astounded by the miles of backed-up cars clogging highways waiting for relief from food banks, as though food banks came into existence when the virus struck. Before the virus, the needy were expected to stand in line in shame for their modest handouts.

The virus has shown the privilege of celebrities, the ultra-rich, and the political stratum, who have secured tests and expedited, preferred attention to the dangers threatened by the virus. Forbes magazine documents how a “loophole” in the recovery act could allow up to 43,000 of the richest people in the US to enjoy a gift of up to $1.7 million while everyone else tries to pay their bills and live on a $1,200 stipend from the US Treasury.

The bottom feeders-- the scam artists, the predators on the elderly, the price gougers, the hoarders-- have come out in force to take advantage of fear. Despite unleashing these vermin in an era of deregulation and laissez faire, the government that spies on everyone shows no desire to stop the predation of a populace experiencing unprecedented insecurity.

The lessons learned in the last economic disaster go unheeded. Once again, the banks and monopoly capitalist firms are assured that their vulnerabilities and missteps will be publicly covered, even rewarded. The once detested excuse of “Too big to fail” has roared back with a vengeance. Despite the collapse of real economic activity, the equity markets have begun to recover and, shamefully, bounce back when new, unparalleled unemployment numbers are announced. Even The Wall Street Journal is compelled to notice “..a confounding reality: soaring share prices and a floundering economy” (4-17-2020). Investors know that relief for capitalism will always be in the wings, even if there is no bailout for the rest of us.

We should learn to scoff at talk of “recovery.” Since 2000, “recovery” has only meant that global financial institutions will manipulate interest rates, juggle questionable, inflated assets, and create new financial games of chance in order to put lipstick on an ugly capitalist pig. That corpulent pig-- stuffed with near-worthless financial junk-- has threatened to deflate for over twenty years. Only persistent manipulation by central banks has re-inflated the global monster. The “product” that economists and statisticians purport to measure is really bloated equity markets, debt-driven economic activity, and unhinged property values; all connection to reality-grounded value is long broken.

While this fictional “recovery” has been heralded, the circumstances of those who work for a living has stagnated or sunk (median household income in the US has risen by less than 4% since 2000), buoyed only by taking on more and more debt. The “desperation”  indicators-- like the inability of 40% of the people to sustain even a $400 unexpected bill-- are well documented. The coronavirus crisis has only brought into the spotlight the desperation that has followed in the wake of low wages, gig jobs, grinding healthcare costs, unaffordable housing, student-loan debt, and declining public services. For the vast majority, talk of a recovery is an insult.

Should we not ask why it is that the People's Republic of China has avoided the worst consequences of the virus, especially since they were the first to face its devastation? Could we learn how it is that the International Monetary Fund expects that the PRC economy is expected to grow this year, while the US is projected to decline by 5.9% and the EU by 7.5%? Could it be that its state-owned enterprises were able to respond quickly and decisively? Should we see the fact that the PRC banking sector is largely publicly owned and able to put the prompt and rational distribution of financial assets above profit-taking? Does it matter that the political leadership of the CPC-- the Chinese Communist Party-- is more responsible to the public than the soulless bourgeois parties of the West? Is it a coincidence that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam has accounted for no coronavirus deaths? These are ideas that never enter the conversation in the West.

What can We Expect?

As with the last major crisis over a decade ago, this crisis spawns numerous analyses and prognostications. Uncertainty breeds speculation and “experts” feel compelled to venture opinions. 

The truth is that even the experts remain baffled by the course of the coronavirus. Its behavior and the effectiveness of chaotic Western public policy are uncertainties at this stage, rendering the media blame-game meaningless, if not harmful. The exposure of the systemic weaknesses of capitalism in arresting a pandemic and serving the people is far more significant and immediate than the Trump-Biden horse race.

The state of the US economy is another matter. The nearly universal declining numbers do not lie. Nor does the immediate expectation of further decline. We also know that, in many ways, the economic collapse is unprecedented in the lifetime of almost everyone living today. 

In a short span, JPMorgan Chase forecast an annualized GDP drop of 25% and a rise in unemployment to 10%, only to revise their estimates to a 40% decline in GDP accompanied by 20% unemployment. Goldman Sachs projects that the downturn “will likely be four times worse than the financial crisis [of 2007-2009] and the U.S. will see its highest unemployment rate since World War II…” But the forecasts turn more pessimistic almost before the ink dries.

Ahead is a massive restructuring of global capitalism. Where it goes depends, of course, on subjective, political factors. But history teaches that the trajectory of capitalism, when experiencing a severe economic collapse, will generate a process of what Joseph Schumpeter, an apologist for capitalism, euphemistically called “a gale of creative destruction.” What that process produces, of course, could be deflected or shaped somewhat by political forces of right or left, but the prevailing tendency will be for stronger countries to shift their distress to weaker countries. The tendency will be for big capitals to smash or absorb smaller capitals, for concentration. The tendency will be to use unemployment and its accompanying pain to cheapen the cost of labor, to increase the rate of exploitation. The tendency will be to shift the balance of economic and political power further toward elites. In short, capital will attempt to restore its health by shifting its problems to the weak, destroying many and much in the process. 

Whether this trajectory is repeated as it was after the 2007-2009 crisis depends upon subjective factors-- today’s politics. 

Sterile debates, like the argument between the debt scolds (advocates of minimal government spending, austerity) and the new-age proponents of Modern Monetary Theory (the uncoupling of money expansion from a long-thought rigid relation to negative economic consequences like inflation), are not helpful today, though they are crowding other political options off the stage. 

The last 20 years of persistent, deeply rooted global deflationary pressure have left the zealots for balanced budgets and “moderate” debt with no argument. Central banks have injected trillions into economies with barely a hint of inflation resulting. Relatively extreme monetary inflation has barely contained the underlying deflation plaguing world economies. Thus, none of the near-hysterical inflation warnings proved justified.

The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents took this relatively limited experience of mounting debt and tepid inflation to demonstrate that MMT was more than a policy of limited application to a specific time and place, but a universal theory of money. In fact, it is a conditional theory, conditional upon very specific, historically determined conditions being met. 

In practice, MMT disconnects monetary policy from any objective standard of value (like gold, for example) and attaches it to the ultimate subjective standard, a fiat national currency. In as much as subjective confidence persists, MMT can persist. But a subjective standard-- because it is decoupled from objective value-- masks the underlying dynamics of the capitalist system; it distorts, rather than settles the chronic problems that plague the accumulation process. The massive bailouts of the last decade and of today appear to use central bank monetary activity to restore equity markets and financial institutions, but they merely isolate the rot and postpone a day of reckoning. The underlying problem remains unresolved, only to surface again, triggering another deflationary spiral, an unloading of “assets” without real value.

It would appear that bourgeois politics has found no other policy approach than austerity or MMT. Austerity, the prescription of the right and much of the center, has failed again and again, bringing countries like Greece to the brink of collapse.

And MMT-- applying a sling to a broken arm-- is the last gasp of the social democratic left, a panacea that promises to bring the best of all possible worlds: giving more to the needy without taking from the greedy. MMT sells an easy tactic that kicks the can of capitalist failure further down the road.

What is needed today is a radical solution to radical, unrivalled problems. 

Standing in the way of an effective approach is a wimpy, Nostalgia Left. 

For most of the trade union leadership, the dream is a return to the 1950s when the pesky Reds were subdued, the bosses allowed wages and benefits to track productivity in return for labor's cooperation with imperialism, and Blacks and women were not disrupting labor peace. 

The current centerpiece of the US Democratic Party-- financially secure, suburban social liberals-- long for a time before Trump when politics were courteous and the vast, growing economic inequalities were an unsightly, unfortunate, but tolerable blemish on the harmony of US civil society. 

Nearly all that remains of the old Democratic coalition, today ignored by the Democratic Party leadership, dreams of the era before Reagan, when Democrats actually gave a tepid voice to economic justice and worshipped at the altar of equal opportunity. Devoted to a fading memory of the New Deal, they place their hopes in a Democratic Party soul transplant. It’s not capitalism, but its ugly stepchild, neoliberalism, that they abhor. 

Too many of the aging radicals of the Old New Left were terrorized by McCarthyism, leading them to forage for something distant from Communism, to the left or right of real, existing Communism. Their search dashed, they have settled for a stale, visionless pragmatism. Their old 1960s antagonists would surely be amused at the irony. 

Thankfully, there are new generations of the left searching for big answers to the big problems of the moment. The last twenty years have shaped a less-than-promising future for millions of young people. And the spring of 2020 only promises far, far worse. To meet these challenges, one can hope that their journey takes more and more of them to revolutionary socialism, to the socialism of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, to the socialism that animated the working class movements for most of the last century and a half.

Greg Godels