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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Twenty Twenty-one: An Arresting Start



Another election cycle brings the US a new President, another Congress, and a new Federal administration. A cynic might see the changes as cosmetic, a mere opportunity for another collection of political operatives to grift, to peddle influence, and to accumulate power. Lobbyists favored by the Democratic Party will now have access to more elected officials and agency and bureau heads, while their Republican-favored counterparts must now work lower on the food chain until their turn comes up again. Campaign contributions will determine consulting contracts, the flow of government monies, and ceremonial appointments. Where some see corruption, others see opportunity.


Interlocked with the political elites eagerly filling the vast Federal establishment is an equally imposing infotainment industry seeking new dramas, new distractions to offset the loss of their political lightning rod, Donald Trump. Since the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and the further concentration and monopolization of the media, the major media networks have succeeded in turning “news” into partisan sensationalism-- cheap, shallow entertainment on the model of the innovative Fox platform. Today’s Walter Cronkite is an unhinged Tucker Carlson or a self-righteous Rachel Maddow, both mockeries of the far-less-blatantly slanted and outlandish journalism of the not-too-distant past.


It is no wonder that most people lack “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the media and even fewer show much confidence in Congress (Pew Research). It is no wonder that Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” resonated with so many people. 


At the same time, there is a palpable relief that Donald Trump’s four years of policy improvisation, emotional instability, and outbursts of racial and gender animosity are now coming to a close. The idea that a person of Trump’s impulsiveness and shallowness had a hand in US foreign and military policy would keep any sane person awake at night. Sadly, it escapes most pundits’ and politicians’ short memory that previous Presidents, like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, were equally, if not more, dangerous. 


Where Trump’s self-delusion as a master in dealmaking led him to seek rapprochement with some of the establishment’s designated enemies, he was invariably thwarted by the establishment’s fail-safe mechanisms. If the four years of Trump taught us nothing, it was that the rules of the game were carefully protected by the mechanisms long established by the capitalist ruling class to contain politics within a narrow range of action. Trump’s unorthodox  policies ran headlong into the firewall created by what Marx described as the “...committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” They were stalled, ignored, or subverted by the system’s defenders.


Four years ago, before the 2016 inauguration, James Comey of the FBI-- representing the capitalist Praetorian guard, the security agencies-- advised Trump that his behavior was and would be carefully scrutinized. He was to understand, as other newly elected Presidents had customarily learned from J. Edgar Hoover, that embarrassing information could be produced to discredit his tenure. The infamous Steele Dossier was meant to demonstrate the power of the Praetorian Guard, should Trump get out of line. Through sheer arrogance or ignorance, Trump defied the message and fired the messenger. Consequently, he battled the security services throughout his Presidency. 


Too often the center-left, the decaffeinated left, sided with the snoops, torturers, and killers of the security services in their ruthless campaign to get Trump-- a dangerous game of opportunism that surrenders the few remaining restraints on the police and judicial system. Those who can protect us from Trump will protect us from real social change with even more zeal.


But Trump is done. And the New Year marks a transition. Two early events stand out as possible omens for 2021. 


********

Political comedian Jimmy Dore’s call for House members to leverage their votes for or against Nancy Pelosi’s reelection to Speaker of the House created an intense debate on the left. Dore suggested that, given the tightness of the Speaker’s race, a few leftish House members could extract a promise to bring a long overdue vote on Medicare for All to the House Floor-- a modest proposal.


The weak-tea, Democratic Party-loving left shrieked hysterically: Jimmy Dore carries no weight; he is vulgar; he shows no deference to our sainted representatives; a vote would embarrass us, revealing our weakness; and so on… With Trump on the way out, why would anyone want to spoil our never-ending brunch by advocating political action? 


As with the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it is considered impolite to interrupt the celebration with messy questions about the road to genuine social change. Trust in our leaders...


Predictably, Democratic elected officials succeeded in ignoring the challenge presented by Dore. But unlike in 2008, a number of liberals with spine spoke up and insisted that the Dore strategy was defensible, even advisable. Instead of rolling over as they did so often during the Obama administration, some liberals argued the merits of Dore’s proposal, refusing to be distracted by irrelevancies. Maybe there is some small hope that social justice will not be smothered by the Democratic Party in the new year. One can only hope.


********

A remarkable event occurred on January 6. Some call it an attack, an insurrection, even a coup attempt. In fact, with a little necessary distance from the sensationalist media, it was none of these. The motley, largely unarmed characters who broke through a thin blue line to mill around the Capitol waving flags, taking selfies, and generally disrupting business were hardly the stuff of revolution. They were not storming the Bastille, but taking an unsanctioned, trashy tour of Versailles. 


The event began with an underwhelmingly attended rally that, if it had been organized by the left, would barely catch the attention of the media. A desperate, unhinged Trump, rocked by his intercepted plea to Georgia officials, the Democratic victory in Georgia, and the inevitability of his departure from the White House, made an incendiary speech urging the attendees to march on the Capitol.


No one disputes the fact that the Capitol Police force that they met was little more than a token, despite the hyperventilating claims of potential violence and the proximity of City police, and the National Guard in waiting. 


Undoubtedly, commentators are also correct in pointing to the collaboration of some of the Capitol Police in the incursion, but they seem less interested in why the other available forces were not deployed. The decisions to neither call for help nor extend it remain a far more significant question in the events of January 6. It is worth noting that the Capitol Police are under the oversight of the Congress and not the executive branch. Therefore, the speculation that Trump left the door open does not seem plausible. Instead, there is plausible evidence from an unlikely source-- The Washington Post-- of Senate and House machinations.


But we do know that this Trumpite incursion was met with nothing like the extreme measures visited upon anti-war and anti-racism demonstrations. Any veteran of DC actions would not recognize the tepid preparation and execution of the defense of the Capitol, since we were seldom allowed within blocks of the building no matter how many of us were present. And there were always more than enough of them!


So who was responsible for the near-invitation to penetrate the Capitol and the bizarre rock concert-like antics of the unorganized mob? Was this a staged Reichstag fire operation to force Trump into his final submission? 


Certainly a Cui Bono query would conclude that Trump and his army were the big losers. Though there was not even the remotest possibility that an actual coup could be staged or that the bizarre antics of January 6 would keep Trump in power, the press, the Democrats, and the corporate Republicans have profited from the fiasco. To a large extent, Trump has been tamed and his minions shamed, if not purged or arrested. A hundred or so House Trumpites and most of their Senate colleagues have jumped ship. 


We may never know if this is an Erdoğan-styled excuse to purge opposition forces, as he did in Turkey in 2016 or, perhaps, something even more sinister; but the net effect is to strengthen the center at the expense of the odious Trump. Given the vast experience and success that the US security services have in overseas regime change, it would not be too farfetched to suspect their deft hand somewhere in both the illegal recording of Trump’s phone call to officials in Georgia and the strange happenings on January 6.


********

Rummaging through some old papers, I ran across a column by the late Alexander Cockburn. Cockburn had one of the most sensitive BS detectors, as well as being an exceptional wordsmith. He likely inherited his BS sensitivity from his Communist father. Claud Cockburn was famous, among other things, for his comment: “Believe nothing until it has been officially denied.”


In his July 1, 1996 Beat the Devil column in The Nation, Cockburn decries the left’s-- specifically, labor’s-- slavish support for Bill Clinton and the Democrats for which they got nothing:


Start with the basis for any serious radical movement in this country, labor. In late March the AFL-CIO, stepping to a brighter future under its new president, John Sweeney, endorsed Clinton for re-election. In exchange, Clinton offered nothing, nor was anything extracted from him.


Commenting on a statement by “a supposed labor militant” that Clinton’s re-election is the most important project of labor in the past fifty years (a statement that we’ve heard repeated every election cycle), Cockburn defers to the magazine, Foreign Affairs, to “tell the stark truth”:


This journal of the Eastern elites mustered in the Council on Foreign Relations blazons an article… deriding Clinton’s “Hoover-like” attacks on big government. [The author] writes that “restrictive economic policies-- reduced deficits, reduced taxes, and the most exalted deity, low inflation-- have favored financial interests at the expense of workers and have created an international rentier class.” When Foreign Affairs lines up to the left of labor you know things are in poor shape.


Cockburn’s assessment of the Democratic Party rings as true today as it did twenty-four years ago. But, unfortunately, every generation must rediscover this truth for itself. Carter, Clinton, Obama, and now Biden conjure an abundance of hope, a groundswell of confidence, only to be dashed on the rocks of misplaced loyalty.


History repeats itself because too few bother to digest it.


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com







Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What We Said Then...

A few days after the 2016 US Presidential elections, the editorial board of Marxism-Leninism Today constructed an early, preliminary assessment of the widely unexpected Trump victory. We collected our impressions and distilled our thoughts and posted our first analysis on November 15, 2016.

The Meaning of the 2016 US Presidential Election stands up well as a first take on the events that had rocked the media on the morning of November 9, 2016. In fact, while going against the then-prevalent grain, it captures succinctly how such an unlikely, unworthy character could attain the highest office in the most powerful country in the history of the world. We suggested that:

...much of the liberal and left commentary has focused on President-elect Donald Trump, and the danger that his ascension to the White House portends.

 While that is a matter of great and serious concern, it should not overshadow the meaning of the election — what the election says about the two-party system and the mood of the electorate. Without a class analysis, without an understanding of what the vote expresses… future results will be even more disappointing.


Four years later, that forecast is not at all off the mark. We are, as Matt Taibbi noted recently, “...arriving where we might have four years ago…”-- with a Trumpian entr’acte. 

While the left within the Democratic Party has made notable gains with the public, its influence within the Party is no greater today. Bernie Sanders, a popular left icon, and others left of the party’s center worked diligently to elect Biden and the ticket, but they have garnered no concessions from the Democratic establishment. 

The Democratic Party, despite some electoral successes by its small progressive component, has lost further congressional ground in the interim election and in 2020, even with Biden’s close victory.

We noted in 2016 that Hillary Clinton was clearly the favored candidate of the ruling class: “It is important to note that nearly 85% of those super PAC contributions went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign… Nearly every major newspaper endorsed her. And Wikileaks revealed the widespread collusion between media figures and political operatives working in her favor. Like most of monopoly capital, most of the vast news and entertainment empires favored Hillary Clinton.”

“Among the big losers in the November 8 US federal elections were the commentators, the media, the electoral consultants, the pollsters, and the two major political parties.”

We saw Trump overcoming the Democratic Party advantage with his false promises of deep and radical change: “The Democrats lost because they refused to address the issues that mattered most to the electorate. By nearly twice the number of the next most popular trait, voters sought a candidate who ‘can bring needed change.’ Instead, Clinton offered experience and continuity.”

Alternatively, Trump postured as a faux-populist, intent on “draining the swamp” of cynicism, corruption, and apathy. We characterized Trump’s campaign as an exercise in right-wing populism, “...a contradictory ideology, combin[ing] attacks on socially oppressed groups with distorted forms of anti-elitism based on scapegoating. Trump’s populism represented an amalgam of white racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, isolationism, anti-intellectualism, American nationalism, nostalgia for a golden past (Make America Great Again!) and hostility to ‘establishment’ elites.”

We were careful to distinguish right-wing populism from home grown fascism, as so much of the left failed to do: “Though the Trump movement has certainly attracted fascistic elements of the so-called ‘alt-right’... and could conceivably morph in a fascist direction, as of now it lacks, except in embryonic form, most of the classic elements associated with fascism...”

“And of course, unlike Germany in the early 1930s… there is no existential political crisis in which the US ruling class feels threatened enough by revolution to turn away from normal bourgeois democratic methods of rule.”

We warned that “[I]t would be a mistake not to see the economic distress, frustration, and anti-elitist anger as the central force in the Democratic Party defeat. Many key, if not most, predominantly white, working class areas that abandoned the Democrats in 2016 backed Obama in 2008 and 2012. And they backed Obama, not necessarily from racial identity, but from a thirst for change. They voted for Trump — a corrupted, wind bag businessman — for the same reason.”

In the immediate wake of the election, the MLT collective anticipated that: “Democratic Party operatives are working feverishly to channel the anti-Trump sentiment into nothing more than a fresh campaign of uncritical support for Democrats… They assiduously avoid any remedies to the inequalities, declining living standards, and indebtedness that plague working people. Instead, they rail against Trump’s personal failings and vulgarity, but make no demands on his administration.”

This was to become the persistent theme of Democrats and the liberal media for the next four years. While anticipating distractions, we no doubt underestimated how the Democratic Party would obsess over bogus Russia connections and assorted conspiracies rather than address issues important to US citizens. Politics were reduced to reality-show drama, while urgent needs went unaddressed. Though Democratic officialdom and a compliant media tirelessly and tiresomely intrigued against and mocked the Trump administration, it became clear that, at the same time, they sought to delegitimize the 2016 election with charges of foreign collusion and domestic chicanery.

It is a bitter irony that questioning the 2016 election results served as a prelude to Trump’s own Quixotic campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the subsequent election results in 2020.

In summary, we sized up the 2016 election results as follows: “For the people, this election marks a further deterioration, a deepening crisis, of the US two-party system. The distance between the interests of the masses and the actions of elected public officials are, today, virtually unbridgeable. The working class loses again, as it would have if the Democratic Party candidate had won.”

And now a lackluster, center-right Democrat has eked out a narrow victory over a proven mediocrity, and we are, as Matt Taibbi put it, “arriving where we might have four years ago.”

We placed hope, perhaps somewhat misplaced, that while: “...after Clinton’s nomination, many were shepherded back into the Democratic Party fold by the Party’s cry of impending doom, still others saw clearly the corruption and corporate-complicity of the Democratic leadership. They recognized the impossibility of securing real change through the vehicle of the Democratic Party. They give hope to the emergence of a truly independent movement, one that understands the need to replace capitalism with people’s power — socialism. This election could well mark an important step in that direction.”

We remain hopeful that even more people will be drawn away from witting or unwitting obeisance to the Democratic Party. The lure of funding, the fear of being marginalized, the seduction of access to seats of power, and unbridled opportunism hold many within the party’s orbit. Yet more and more grow frustrated with the complacency and detachment of elected Democrats, an affliction that has historically infected even the party’s most progressive figures.

Nonetheless, we are encouraged by the growing interest and support our website has enjoyed, especially in the last few years.

The Force the Vote movement for shaming the Democratic leadership toward a floor vote on Medicare For All is a welcome, early, and healthy sign. Rising over a month before Biden’s inauguration, it shows that there exists a militant, independent left determined to be neither servile nor compliant, an encouraging omen for the future. In the face of resistance from weak-spined “progressive” Democrats, it has spurred some, even Bernie Sanders, to pledge to hold up the obscene military budget in order to secure spending on a more humane pandemic response. Still others now join the fight, seeking to leverage advanced, progressive issues against Speaker Pelosi-- the symbol, in the House of Representatives, of all that corporate ownership of the Democratic Party buys. These engagements portend other battles brewing in the coming year.

Four years after Marxism-Leninism Today’s early analysis of Trump’s ascension, it is satisfying to revisit the document. It shows the usefulness and sagacity of “a class analysis,” of the science of Marxism-Leninism over the fog of distortion spread by the capitalist scribes.

Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Is Trumpism Dead?

Donald Trump appeared large on the national political scene five years ago and soon he will be gone. Or will he?


Joseph Biden will take the Presidential Oath of Office on January 20 and assume the Presidency. Despite all the media noise about disrupting the election and mounting a coup, there was never any real danger of Trump holding onto the office. Certainly, anyone who followed Trump’s career would know that his exit will be a circus, likely ending with his leaving the White House to play golf a few days before the inauguration and never returning (there are reputable accounts that he is planning a rally to compete with the inauguration). That’s Trump.


The noise from the media and its enabling punditry was merely a distraction from the President-elect’s awful choices for posts in his administration. Extracting the last bit of Trump-fear, corporate Democrats and their loyal megaphones sought to divert the Party’s left from the shafting they were receiving from Biden’s team.


But the question lingers: have the liberals driven a stake into the evil heart of Trump or will he, or someone like him, rise again?


The answer depends, of course, on what constitutes Trumpism. Is it a vulgar, outlandish personality; a crude bullying of women and minorities; a pandering to the fringe right; or a set of dissident policies aimed at seducing the working class and re-energizing what looks to many to be a declining or, at least, challenged empire?


The simple answer is that Trumpism is all of the above. But the more interesting and useful response is that Trump is the product of the failures of a broken political system, disabled by corruption, corporate dominance, opportunism, and cynicism. Trump nested in the presidency because the two-party system offered no options that measured up to the demands of a growing share of the electorate. For millions, the disinvestment in manufacturing, the emigration of jobs, the immigration of cheap labor, the loss of community, a growing chasm between the government and the governed, value relativism, and a coarsened everyday life spoke to the desire for a political change of course.


We know this phenomenon from forty years ago, when another outlier won the Presidential election with a “...strange mixture of business conservatism, economic populism, militant chauvinism, and moral and religious traditionalism…” in the words of a collective of Soviet historians. Ronald Reagan, as these same historians recounted, promised to “put a stop to ‘the decline of America,’ strengthen its economy and military capability and ‘move the nation’ again… The Democrats were pictured as ‘the chief architects of our decline’ and the Republicans as the party of national revival…”-- an earlier version of “Make America Great Again.”


Contrary to the liberal denunciation of Trump as the “worst President in history,” his administration cannot hold a candle to the destruction wrought by this previous President. Reagan gutted social programs, empowered the extreme right, stirred racism, induced a deep recession, and exploded the size of the military budget. 


But he didn’t stop the decline in US living standards, overseeing the painful deindustrialization of the 1980s.


Since then, other politicians met growing dissatisfaction with promised change. No candidate in recent years capitalized on the sentiment for change more than Barack Obama. His mantras of “Change we can believe in” and “Yes we can” promised to satisfy this thirst for the new, after a devastating, unprecedented-in-our-lifetime economic collapse.  


Looking back, we see that that promise was unrealized, but a significant number of those seduced by it turned to Donald Trump in 2016. In fact, many see the shift of Obama’s voters to Trump as an important, if not decisive, element in Trump’s victory in several states.


Such an unusual ideological shift from Obama to Trump underscores the desperate search for an alternative to the two-party norm, a rejection of business-as-usual. Moreover, this anomaly further reflects the profound crisis festering as a result of the ruling class’s growing economic, social, and political distance from the people. Antonio Gramsci’s often-quoted comment in the Prison Notebooks seems singularly appropriate to 2020 US politics:


If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e. is no longer “leading” but only “dominant,” exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously, etc. The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this period a great deal of morbid symptoms appear. (p. 275-276, my emphasis)


While the ruling class may still “lead” in many ways, there is no question that decadence is setting in and we have seen “morbid symptoms” emerge more strikingly with the Trump administration.


But morbidity and its discontents are not features peculiar to the US political crisis. It clearly exhibits a pattern throughout the capitalist world: From Boris Johnson in the UK to Bolsonaro in Brazil, from Modi in India to Viktor Orbán in Hungary, from Duterte in the Philippines to Duda in Poland, popular dissatisfaction has birthed new political mutations professing few allegiances to the traditional political parties sharing power since World War II. 


If there is a recent template for this mutation, it might be found in the political rise of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Like Trump, he was a super-rich vulgarian with the appearance of a measure of independence from the traditional parties. He, too, offered the aura of change to an electorate anxious for relief from political malignancy. But Berlusconi’s reign, like Trump’s today, was a nightmarish opera buffa of hot air and bluster.


It should not go unnoticed by those who are celebrating Trump’s demise that, while Berlusconi is now gone from Italian politics, his legacy has brought even more disorder to the political stage: unelected governments, a popular, extreme right wing, xenophobic party and a party founded by a popular comedian-- a far more dangerous extremist, Matteo Salvini, and a far more ludicrous movement, the Five Star Movement.


Before beginning a love-fest with Trump’s successors, the US broad, unanchored left should consider the Italian precedent. Is the Biden government more than a caretaker before the next wave of “morbid symptoms”?


A Marxism-Leninism Today comrade has argued convincingly that Trump and his ilk should best be understood as right-wing populists, a faux-populism posturing to fill the void in countries suffering from an undeveloped left, a fractured left, an opportunist left or no left at all. Right-wing populism cynically trades on the dissatisfactions of populations neglected by traditional parties, but with no realistic leftwing recourse. The false promises, failures, corruption, and hypocrisies of the previously powerful social democratic left has cleared the space for reactionary faux-populism. 


The electoral successes of right-wing populism have prompted some in the Republican Party to envision their party as a haven for, even a future bastion for the working class. They hope to exploit the continued irrelevance of an ideologically backward, splintered, and defensive US left.


Republican prospects for 2022 and 2024 are in inverse proportion to how the Biden administration adopts left, pro-working class policies, a possibility that is very unlikely. In other words, it would not be surprising to see a clone of Trumpism make a strong return as a consequence of a hollow Biden Presidency.


Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto of the early immature stages of struggle by the working class:  


At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies… Thus, the whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie.


Exiting this backward stage is long overdue for the US working class. The widely expressed joy among liberals of a return to “normalcy” marks a victory for the bourgeois Democratic Party. We must recognize that defeating Trumpism in the 2020 election, though a worthwhile victory, is still a victory for bourgeois rule. Whether it is a final victory over rightwing populism is far from determined by Biden’s success.


A final defeat against Trumpism and its kind and the transcendence of business-as-usual politics are one and the same thing. A left anchored in Marxism-Leninism could spark the movement toward authentic working class politics. Only a left dedicated to advancing the cause of the working class over the interests of the bourgeoisie can drive a stake into Trumpism and its mutations once and for all.

Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com



Monday, November 30, 2020

Scorn for the 'Deplorables'



Hillbilly Elegies premiered November 24 on NETFLIX. I won’t be watching it.

Just as I refused to buy JD Vance’s New York Times best-selling book that the film is based upon, I refuse to support the arrogant defamation of the way of life and values of people living outside of the mansions and gated communities of privilege. Vance, growing up in a mill town in Ohio, no doubt knew some hardships and witnessed dysfunctionality. Who among us that grew up in working class neighborhoods in the Middle West didn’t see, and sometimes suffer, some hardship.

Vance’s book came out at a convenient time-- 2016-- when East and West Coast elites sought explanations for Donald Trump’s success in the Midwest. The corporate Democrats had long taken these Midwesterners for granted, Obama calling them gun-toting religious zealots and Hillary Clinton famously describing them as “deplorables.” It was left to a “survivor”-- JD Vance-- to expose the pathologies and missteps of these flawed creatures. Vance had-- himself-- found the grit to escape the working class ghetto of Middletown, Ohio and parlay an elite law school degree into the riches of high finance.

While he acknowledges the hardships, he congratulates himself and some others for what he sees as their ‘by-the-bootstraps’ success. Rather than seeing a quagmire too deep for all but the tallest boots to negotiate, Vance perceives character flaws-- a lack of self-discipline and ambition, as well as a propensity to make bad choices. Vance expects “people to hold themselves responsible for their own conduct and choices. ‘Those of us who weren’t given every advantage can make better choices, and those choices do have the power to affect our lives…’”

If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s probably because it echoes the smug, insensitive message often offered to Black people who are mired in poverty and neglect by the privileged.

I once wrote of Vance: “Feeding the stereotypes [of Midwestern workers], Vance exposes a dysfunctional childhood spared from ruin by an enlistment in the Marine Corps, a stint at Ohio State University, and a climb to the summit, Yale Law School. Looking down from the rarified air of Yale, he feels qualified to speak of ‘the anger and frustration of the white working class’ and the hunger to ‘have someone tell their story’.”

But the story he tells is one of blaming the victims for the violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide that followed in the wake of the historically unprecedented deindustrialization that swept the Midwest beginning in the late 1970s. Literally millions of decent industrial jobs were lost in this period as capital shifted from US production to expansion overseas. The fall of Eastern European socialism and the expanding Asian engagement with export production opened the spigots of low-wage labor, an attraction that capital could not and would not fail to exploit.

The effects of this shift devastated communities in the US, especially the Midwest.

Growing up in the Midwest before this demographic disaster, I lived on the edge of a small town bordering on corn and soybean fields. On my street and surrounding streets, every household depended on employment in a factory or mine. From the disabled miner on the corner that we called “Bootsaw” because of his unpronounceable Eastern European name, to the African American who lived on the street behind us who worked in the mines with my uncle who raised me, people knew each other by where they or their parents worked: the GM foundry, Hyster, Lauhoff, GE, and the mines. All of these could be and often were long term, if not lifelong, decent paying jobs with decent benefits. Children knew that if they were not struck with wanderlust, there would be a job available where their parent, relative, or friend worked.

All that changed.

Today, employment is limited to a penitentiary, a casino, retail chains, services, and a few small, specialty manufacturers. Where factories employing thousands dotted the landscape, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, and slot parlors are now ubiquitous. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, my hometown and its environs lost more population (percentage-wise) from 1990 to 2015 than any area in the US with over 50,000 population, except the Youngstown and Weirton/Steubenville areas (near where I live now).

Friends and relatives lament the rise in alcoholism, drug use, crime, and violence that were foreign to the area when we grew up. They search for explanations-- television, sex, poor parenting, etc.-- but seldom, if ever, blame the multi-national corporations that abandoned the Midwest for cheap labor elsewhere. Nor are there any local leaders making that connection.

Like the crack epidemic that struck Black neighborhoods in the same era and led to violence, criminalization, and mass incarceration, Midwestern towns and cities similarly suffered from the effects of what appear to be mysterious, insidious outside forces that destroyed whatever stability both groups formerly enjoyed. Politicians, pundits, and the powerful show no interest in probing those mysteries. They simply ignore them and continue to pay obeisance to their corporate supporters.

Rather than shedding light, JD Vance’s book (and the subsequent film) help to obfuscate and deflect from a catastrophe that shattered the lives of millions. Vance only serves to reinforce the class arrogance that forecloses solidarity with those suffering under the weight of capitalist oppression.

Likewise, Vance and his ilk are unhelpful in revealing the appeal of Trump in many of these former Democratic Party strongholds. They see no connection between the signs of desperation and hopelessness and the turn to an outlier, even an outlier as ridiculous as Donald Trump. Those harmed search in vain for a palliative within the empty two-party pantry. Even a snakeskin-oil salesman is appealing when no one else offers help.

Political operatives, the media, and think tanks absurdly assume that the casualties of deindustrialization, urban neglect, and austerity-- both Black and white-- have no other place to go, that they live with a vivid memory of and unshakeable loyalty to the Democratic Party of the New Deal and the Great Society. That’s not the Democratic Party of today. And that’s not a promising bet for the future.

If the celebration of Biden’s victory is founded upon a return to some mythical idea of normalcy, it will surely be short-lived. With nearly one in eight US citizens experiencing hunger over the Thanksgiving weekend, with jobless claims increasing and at levels unseen even in the 2007-2009 crisis, with 21% of small businesses closed, ‘normal’ is not in sight.

What is in sight is nearly six million people facing eviction in January and another 12 million renters in arrears (Census Bureau).

A pathetic, condescending rags-to-riches tale is of no solace to those betrayed by profit-obsessed capitalists.


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com

Friday, November 20, 2020

Tariff Follies

To its credit, the United Steelworkers union (USW) has lifted the living standards and working conditions of millions of workers. Birthed from the militant 1930s Steel Workers Organizing Committee and midwifed by hundreds of Communist and socialist organizers, the USW became a strong advocate of industrial unionism and one of the more progressive forces in US political life. 


But with the Cold War and the purging or repression of its most militant members, the USW abandoned the class-confrontation approach of its early years for a partnership with capital. In place of exercising the strength and power of a united membership, the union leadership chose a partnership approach, negotiating contracts based upon the notion that the worker and the boss had a common interest.


In the contest of the early Cold war, capital accepted some concessions to labor to guarantee US labor’s loyalty to US foreign policy objectives. In return for US labor leaders policing domestic radicalism in the workplace and for international collaboration in fighting Communism, the bosses tacitly agreed to accept wage and benefit growth commensurate with rising productivity. 


With the onset of the economic crisis in the 1970s and with the ruling class turning toward market fundamentalism, capital reneged on its part of the partnership, attacking labor with vengeance. The implicit partnership was dissolved by one side.


Unfortunately, the other side-- organized labor (in this case, the USW)-- clung to the partnership. Despite restructuring, downsizing, plant closures, and concession demands, the USW stood by the philosophy of cooperation, what their critics called “class collaboration.” 


Since we can remember, one expression of this affinity with corporate bosses has taken the form of seeking protection from foreign competitors. From inviting workers to sledgehammer Toyotas to advocating for steel tariffs, the USW leadership has maintained that what is good for steel corporations doing business in the USA is good for USW members


In recent years, the protectionist demand was at odds with the political mainstream, including the union’s putative ally, the Democratic Party. Since the rise of Thatcher/Carter/Reagan/Clintonism, unfettered free markets have been an ideological fixation of all the bourgeois parties and their policy makers, placing tariffs and other protectionist policies beyond the pale. 


But in 2016, the USW leadership found their savior. Donald Trump rudely arrived to occupy the White House. 


Moreover, he kept his promise in 2018 to impose restrictive tariffs on all the imported steel coming into the United States. Unfortunately for the USW and their bet on protectionism, the Trump tariffs failed to meet their expectations. As The Wall Street Journal reports: “With the expanded production, about 6,000 jobs were added to the U.S. steel industry’s workforce after tariffs started in 2018, according to the Census Bureau. By the end of 2019, though, those gains evaporated as steel demand and prices sank.” [my emphasis]


Authors Bob Tita and William Mauldin (Tariffs Didn’t Fuel Revival for American Steel, WSJ, 10-28-2020) add that: “Higher prices [initially] also made steel more expensive for manufacturers that buy it, leading to the loss of about 75,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs, according to a study released late last year by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.”


In addition, foreign steel makers secured punitive export tariffs in retaliation, further hurting domestic US manufacturing.


The lack of growth in demand for steel in the USA has forced domestic producers to seek exports of steel to markets outside the USA in search of profits, the same strategy practiced by the "foreign" competition. 


A major component of Trump's 2016 victorious campaign message which helped him secure votes in the Rust Belt was his promise of major investment to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs. It never got off the ground because it was based on the false notion that capitalists will invest in the public good. Things like fixing public schools, hospitals, water systems, pollution control, and building mass transit systems simply don't offer returns to investors even though they will provide for the public good, boost steel production, and create tens of thousands of steelworker jobs. 


 Instead, Trump, true to his real, big-business agenda, pushed a major tax cut that actually reduced the revenue available for any public investment. Rather than drain the swamp, Trump drained the public coffers and offered the syrup of "public private partnerships" that were supposed to entice capitalists to invest. They never did. 


Not to be outdone, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that the Republican-controlled legislature of Pennsylvania has now taken this phony concept to its practical conclusion which will result in the proposed tolling of many bridges in Pennsylvania as a way of making the "partnership" work to increase state revenues. Rather than tax the wealth of billionaires and corporations to obtain necessary revenues to rebuild in the public interest, we instead have tax cuts for the rich and privatization of necessary networks and services. 


Understandably, the US-based steel industry sought to garner greater market share through the tariff program. However, the USW leadership failed to acknowledge one of the more basic laws of capitalism: with tariff-induced prices soaring and foreign competition locked out, domestic capitalist enterprises were incentivized to engage in an orgy of expansion and production. As a result of this classic overproduction-induced crisis, prices collapsed and the industry withdrew, with layoffs and closed facilities. Prices for hot-rolled coiled sheet steel increased by nearly half to $920 a ton after the tariffs were imposed, but are now below their pre-tariff level. 


The advocates of tariffs as a remedy for layoffs and stagnant or declining wages and benefits forget that capitalism runs on profits and not sharing the wealth. The Communist, socialist, and other militant trade unionists who founded the union understood this truth. They sought a union that would fight the corporations for a greater portion of those profits for the workers. 


Today’s leadership of the USW mistakenly believes that workers will benefit if “our'' corporations are favored over “theirs.” They fantasize a world where foreigners are rapacious cheaters and US producers are inspired by the greater good. “Theirs” are driven by ruthless competition, while “ours” are committed to fairness and partnership. Lurking beneath the rhetoric is a not-too-subtle national chauvinism.


Surely, the experience with the Trump tariffs reveals that the protectionist approach not only slanders foreigners, but fails to protect domestic production, jobs, and compensation. Domestic producers, like their foreign counterparts, are ruled by the laws of motion of the capitalist system. Bust follows boom, whether it applies to a protected national market or a global unfettered market. 


The union's reliance on this cooperative approach with the steel corporations defangs it for the necessary independent political action program that could unite the membership and the general public in a fight for jobs and investment in decaying infrastructure. All research shows that this is a real path forward to create steel demand and union jobs. It's plain to see and many studies document that America's infrastructure is in horrible shape. Tariffs have not increased domestic demand for steel. The only way to increase domestic steel production is through a massive reinvestment program that not only rebuilds the decaying American infrastructure in the public interest but creates steelworker jobs.


Rather than casting their fate with their privately owned corporate rivals for the wealth created by the workers, unions should fight those rivals for a greater share. If they want to guarantee jobs, security, and compensation, they should struggle to eliminate the private corporations altogether. A real fighting union would be for public ownership of the steel industry.


Greg Godels  zzsblogml@gmail.com

Ed Grystar egrystar@aol.com


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

L’Affaire Greenwald

Alan: And you’re still working for Beaverbrook [Lord Beaverbrook, the most influential media owner of his time]?

Peter: Well, yes, I’m still working for the Beaver, if work’s the right word; don’t get me wrong, Alan-- I haven’t changed, working on the paper hasn’t really altered my outlook… Just because my name’s at the top of the column you mustn’t think that I had any connection with it… I’m working on the novel, you know. One day that novel’s going to come out and blast the lid off the whole filthy business-- name the names, show up Fleet Street [once the center of UK newspaper publishing] for what it really is… Of course if you are going to write a really accurate novel, you’ve got to join the people you are writing about… I am going through a sort of research period at the moment. There are about ten of us on the paper-- young, progressive liberal people who don’t believe a word of what we are writing… Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore, Beyond the Fringe, 1961


By any measure, Glenn Greenwald is an important journalist. He has won numerous awards, published best sellers, and enjoys a large following, particularly for someone taking unconventional positions.

Greenwald is a classic, but anachronistic Bill of Rights liberal, of the kind that embraced the famous saying falsely attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” While he embraces no particular ideology, partisan advocacy, or party affiliation, he has made a career as an attorney defending unpopular positions. That is, he is not afraid to swim against the tide.

He has been more than an annoyance to the government and powerful interests in the US, exposing the vast spying apparatus of the US security services, supporting whistleblowers, and pressing charges of hypocrisy against “liberal” pundits. Ironically, his call for fairness and consistency in journalistic practices has been met by hostility, even threats from many self-proclaimed liberals.

In more favorable times, Greenwald’s liberal idealism would be met with applause and support by his cohorts. His high school civics-like acclaim for freedom of the press, the right to free speech, and journalistic independence and fairness would earn him a warm embrace from one and all.

But these are not favorable times. The collapse of confidence in US institutions has produced a tidal wave of cynicism. The ascendency of opportunistic politicians, the ever-expanding influence of cash, and the consequent, persistent rightward drift of the political center has fostered dissatisfaction, bitterness, and anger.

The bankruptcy of the two-party system has further coarsened the political landscape, forcing choices between party hacks, corporate toadies and celebrity vulgarians. Thus, the debate over substance remains in a narrow range, while the hyperactive, sensationalist media inject rumor, hearsay, special pleading, conspiracy, and treachery into an already overheated electoral discourse.

Greenwald places his naive, but idealistic values of objective, independent, fair-minded journalism into this nasty cauldron of blind partisanship and hypocrisy.

So it comes as no surprise that his principles became entangled in this electoral season of back stabbing, baseless charge and hysterical countercharge, personal abuse, and fabulism.

Recent accounts-- notably first aired by the right-wing New York Post-- maintain that Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic candidate Joe Biden, was deeply involved in influence-peddling. The Post bases these allegations on e-mails from computers claimed to be left behind by Biden the younger. Claims that Hunter Biden traded on his dad’s position for personal gain and influence are not new. However, this revelation goes a step further, supposedly linking Hunter Biden’s corruption to his father.

Greenwald did not simply defend this story, though he went to some lengths poking holes in the weak defenses offered to the charges of corruption lodged against the Bidens. Instead, as he has done in the past, he scalded the media outlets that refused to cover this story-- investigate it, corroborate it, or disprove it. He charged self-censorship in support of Biden’s candidacy.

But the media outlet that he co-founded, The Intercept, refused to run Greenwald’s article about journalistic opportunism without editorial changes favorable to the Biden campaign. So, imbued with the spirit of Enlightenment liberalism, he again charged censorship and resigned from The Intercept.

Greenwald’s indignation, while admirable in many respects, betrays a substantial measure of credulity. One would think that his encounters with liberal fecklessness would, by now, temper his own self-righteousness.

Not so admirable has been the response of many of his colleagues, especially those on the “respectable, responsible” left.

Instead of rushing to his side in defense of free speech, freedom of the press, independence, etc., much of the soft-left-- those tied to the Democratic Party as the sole agent for change-- vociferously attacked Greenwald.

A new “antifascist” alliance, determined to defeat the bloviating, narcissistic creature birthed by the estrangement of the two parties from the people, has united everyone from the Bush-era torturers and war mongers, through the NSA spymasters, to the RussiaGaters and China-baiters. They, too, have aligned behind Biden at all costs, including at the expense of journalistic ethics and the truth.

Writers like Alan Macleod and Matt Taibbi have documented the shameful response of Greenwald’s former associates and allies.

As with Snowden, Assange, Manning, and other brave souls elevating truth above expediency, Greenwald risks official ostracization. But more tragically, the media warriors who brandish the Bill of Rights at every opportunity fail, again and again, to rise to its defense. They talk the game of fundamental human rights, but when their interests get in the way, they balk at their supposed universal application. That’s a nice way of saying that they are hypocrites.

If the right to a free press, the right to free speech is to mean anything, it must apply even when its content is controversial, even unpopular. That’s what “universal rights” mean. Without universality, “rights” are reduced to privileges, to be exercised when permitted. But the corporate monopoly of the press and other media have made the modern journalist a courtier for wealth and power. They remain silent when the many brave outliers like Phil Donohue, the Dixie Chicks, Seymour Hersh, or now Glenn Greenwald, are muzzled.


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com







Friday, October 30, 2020

Setting the Record Straight

 Since the end of the Cold War-- almost thirty years ago-- the neo-Cold Warriors have ruled the ideological battlefield, reconstructing, twisting, and distorting twentieth-century history. This has had an especially deleterious effect upon the non-Communist left, especially in the US and Europe. History that was once vigorously contested, has become the property of liberal historians bent on retelling events solely through the lens of bourgeois values and triumphant revisionism. To unfortunately great effect, far too much of today’s left has readily accepted this deceptive, often totally false picture. 


Therefore, it is refreshing, even exciting, to read two recent, related articles by philosopher Gabriel Rockhill appearing in Counterpunch. Both Liberalism and Fascism: Partners in Crime  (reposted on the sister site, Marxism-Leninism Today) and The U.S. Did Not Defeat Fascism in WWII, It Discretely Internationalized It, dismantle much of the edifice constructed by capitalist apologists, both left and right. The two articles appear sandwiched between two other related Rockhill articles posted a few days apart, in Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report


Rockhill’s contribution is important because it undercuts the many myths that fuel popular (mis-)understanding of fascism, a charged epithet that has been slung back and forth in the US electoral wars. In addition, he refutes the many influential canards about real-existing-socialism and the Communist parties that have become barriers to constructing a real-existing-socialism in the US, a socialism beyond polite reformism and utopian schemes.


On the question of fascism, Rockhill exposes two big lies:


●Lie #1 “...liberalism defeated fascism in World War II…”  


●Lie #2 “Fascism is the complete opposite of liberalism and liberalism is the essence of anti-fascism.” Any serious, honest student of history recognizes that the brunt of the war against European fascism was borne by the Soviet Union and the Communist-led resistance movements in the occupied countries, with their allies significantly joining the fight only after the Soviets alone were growing closer to defeating Nazism and liberating Europe in 1944.


Rockhill restores the historical record with the following facts:


●Truth #1  “...what fascism and liberalism share is their undying devotion to the capitalist world order...”


●Truth #2 Liberalism has waged a “long psychological campaign under the deceptive banner of ‘totalitarianism’” to equate fascism with Communism.


●Truth #3 “Nazi racial police state and colonial rampage… were modeled on the United States.”


●Truth #4 “...Western European fascism emerged within parliamentary democracies…” and not by overthrowing institutions. While it is important to affirm that Italian fascism and Nazism came through the front door, fascism has also been imposed violently (Franco, Pinochet). Moreover, European fascism also attempted to impose its will outside of parliament (March on Rome, Beer Hall putsch).


●Truth #5 “The capitalist state turned itself over [to the fascists and Nazis] without a fight.”


●Truth #6 The Social Democrats ”refused to form an eleventh-hour coalition with the communists against Nazism.”


●Truth #7 Communist Party leader Ernst Thaelmann “had argued that a vote for the conservative Field Marshal von Hindenburg amounted to a vote for Hitler and for war.” Contrary to wide-spread fantasies, both right and left, neither Communist reluctance to coalesce, nor treachery opened the door to Hitler (or to Mussolini). German Communists offered united action on many fronts and in different Länders. They were never able to overcome Social Democratic refusals, except from appeals to those below the leadership. The presidential choice between Thaelmann and von Hindenburg was the last opportunity to forestall Hitler, who von Hindenburg appointed Chancellor despite the NSDAP losing electoral support.


●Truth #8 “Capitalist states refused to form an antifascist coalition with the USSR.” I recount this sordid record of refusing to join the Soviet Union against fascism in some detail here.


●Truth #9 “Indeed, it was the fear of being left to confront Hitler alone which eventually drove Stalin… into the Stalin[sic]-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.” No diplomatic event has been so willfully misunderstood as has the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. To see a last-ditch survival maneuver as a betrayal of principle or of the working class is a mark of political opportunism or left-wing immaturity. The pact’s purpose was sensible and defensible. 


●Truth #10 It was not only the bourgeoisie and the large landowners who decisively backed Italian and German fascism, but also “the major corporations and banks whose headquarters were in Western bourgeois democracies…” like Ford, GM, Standard Oil of NJ, DuPont, etc.


●Truth #11 “...if liberalism allowed for the growth of European fascism, it is capitalism that drove this growth.” Lost in superficial, impressionistic accounts of fascism is the truth that fascism functions and is implemented when capitalism is under existential threat. In every instance, the threat to capitalism or the perceived threat to capitalism has generated the material support for fascism. When sufficient numbers of the ruling class are convinced that bourgeois democracy cannot contain the threat to capitalism, they unleash fascism.


●Truth #12 “It was above all the Red Army that defeated fascism in World War II, and it is communism-- not liberalism-- that constitutes the last bulwark against fascism… one cannot be truly antifascist without being anti-capitalist.” To be fair, many antifascists who were not anti-capitalist died fighting fascism. But there is no effectively antifascist ideology that is not anti-capitalist. Any such ideology supportive of capitalism fails to understand the roots of fascism and its function. 


●Truth #13 “In the reactionary political culture of the U.S., which has attempted to redefine the left as liberal, it is of the utmost importance to recognize that the primary opposition that has structured, and continues to organize, the modern world is the one between capitalism… and socialism.” This is, perhaps, Rockhill’s most important point, one that has been lost on many of those who have read and recommended Rockhill’s thoughtful essays. The lingering legacy of anti-Communist fundamentalism in the US blinds many to this truth, leaving US leftists bound to liberalism of one kind or another at the core of their “radical” visions.


From the sixties New Left to the Occupy advocates and the “democratic” socialists of today, radicals defer the socialism question, with the hope that liberal values will automatically generate a substitute socialism-of-the-heart.


Rockhill’s essays well retell the post-war collaboration of fascists and Nazis with the US intelligence services, the secret police that are today portrayed as warriors for democracy by the corporate media. The use of war criminals in the anti-Communist crusades, the corruption of many, if not most, of the Cold War intelligentsia by CIA funding, and the preparation of a vast, secret anti-Communist network-- right-wing “militias,” to use today’s language-- among US allies are exposed effectively and accurately by Rockhill. While these vile actions are documented by many academics, they must be retold again and again to counter liberal opinion-makers who conveniently ignore them.


Many of us familiar with the treachery of leading liberals in the McCarthy era draw a special glee from Rockhill’s scorching, incendiary attack on the hypocrisy of liberals and their collaboration with the forces of reaction. The sad state of US politics-- two-party perfidy, complacent, self-serving labor leadership, blindness to the criminality of US foreign policy-- flows directly from the cowardice or complicity of Cold War liberals. 


Yet it is also important to remember that many popular front liberals fought, resisted, and were repressed by McCarthyism, defied Cold War conformity, and paid with their careers. Many others were cowed into submission. It was, in black-listed writer, Dalton Trumbo’s words: the time of the toad. Of course, today, toadyism is again fashionable with the liberal petty-bourgeoisie.


We must remember that fascism is an historical phenomenon, bound by time, place, and circumstance. Just as many mistakenly saw the rise of Mussolini and Hitler as merely another instance of a nineteenth-century European conservative reaction (as did PCdI’s Bordiga and Gramsci in the early years of Italian fascism) and not a unique movement, some today simplistically see European and US right-wing populist reaction as an instance of twentieth-century fascism. Focusing on similarities often obscures critical differences. If nineteenth-century reaction was a response to the rise and threat of liberalism, twentieth-century reaction (fascism) was a response to the rise of the workers’ movement and the threat of Communism. The existential threat to capitalism explains its social and political extremism.


Today’s reactionary movements are responding to the impotency of social democracy and the demise of revolutionary socialism (Communism). Right-wing, demagogic populism rushes to fill the void. Trump, Orban, Johnson, Salvini, and others are opportunistically attempting to occupy the political space abdicated by liberal, social democratic, or Eurocommunist parties and trade on a deepening mass dissatisfaction with the liberal order. They hitch their dubious populism to traditional right-wing programs.


It is useful to distinguish between liberal ideology and individual liberals, liberal movements, and their parties. Sometimes when Rockhill relates liberalism to fascism he is not always clear on which he means. Liberal ideology may well be spent. It does not have the energy or relevance that it had in driving reform in the nineteenth century. But it is not “partners in crime” with fascism. It is a distinctly different ideology from fascism.


Liberals and their parties have assisted, even collaborated with fascism, especially in legitimizing it politically within a parliamentary setting. As Rockhill acknowledges, it is because they both share a commitment to preserving capitalism. Hence, they collaborate especially when capitalism is perceived as under siege by the revolutionary left.


As much as we may enjoy Rockhill impaling the increasingly smug and self-righteous liberal ideologues, we must acknowledge that most of the political left and center identify with liberalism in the US two-party system. But they do so because they believe they see few alternatives. That support is, therefore, thin.


We must battle the ideology, but win over the followers. Rockhill’s essays are a helpful tool in that effort.


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com