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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stern Advice to the Left from the House of Lords

A sense of humor is essential to balance the humbuggery of much of the political commentary that surfaces today. “Astonishment” is the best word for a recent “provocative discussion” (Say No to Protectionism) posted on the Political Affairs website and authored by Peter Mandelson--“Lord Mandelson” to his UK peers. In the past, Political Affairs was the source of timely, informative articles that expressed the views of advocates of the Marxist-Leninist perspective, authors like Jacques Duclos, Palmiro Togliatti, William Z. Foster, Henry Winston, Herbert Aptheker, Paul Robeson, and many other committed Communists.

But today Political Affairs embraces a far wider spectrum of opinion including now, for undoubtedly the first time, a “lord” from the prestigious UK House of Lords, Lord Peter Mandelson. Unlike Foster, Winston, and Robeson, Mandelson has established his credentials by championing the “third way”, a position to the right of traditional social democratic doctrine.

Mandelson, a pal of George Bush’s subservient buddy, Tony Blair, argued that the UK Labour Party should transform into a market-friendly, classless party located somewhere in the narrow political space occupied by the US two-party farce.

While advocating the vacuous, yet successful ideological fakery of Tony Blair,
he managed to cash in on the new opportunities afforded by the “third way”. Undeterred by the media scandals—the multiple resignations from government positions forced by shaky financial dealings—Mandelson persevered with his personal program. Like his US counterparts in governing, he managed to accumulate a fortune and achieve a tainted celebrity.

Mandelson’s subservience to capital has earned him—besides a “lordship”—a consultancy firm, an advisory position with the banking firm, Lazard Freres, and participation in the elite Bilderberg conference: all dubiously supportive of his leftist credentials.

Though Mandelson’s career has been tarnished by opportunistic changes of heart, charges of corruption, and political expediency, those facts do not necessarily diminish his argument. In other words, it doesn’t follow that Mandelson is wrong simply because he is a scoundrel.

So what does Mandelson have to say?

Put bluntly, Mandelson offers a simple, lordly scold to the Left: Say “no” to protectionism; say “yes” to globalization. In his words, “The most important focus for the left should be on equipping people to live in an uncertain economic world, not shutting that world out.”

But let us be clear: in the tortured language of modern day media punditry, Mandelson isn’t scolding the traditional Left of Marx, Lenin, or even the Left of Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich, as the editor of Political Affairs might want us believe. Instead, Mandelson means the tepid, slippery left of Barack Obama and Francois Hollande, the Left defined by its ever-so-slight distance from the Center and its merely rhetorical commitment to common folks. One might better call it the “corporate Left” for its refusal to decouple any popular reform from the promotion of corporate interests. That is, Obama and Hollande are really “third way” Left poseurs like Mandelson’s pal, Tony Blair. Hollande, the Presidential candidate of France’s misnamed Socialist Party, says as much in a recent interview in the UK Guardian ( where he heaps lavish praise upon Blair as well as associating himself with Obama’s policies.

While monopoly capital has little to fear from these third-wayers, Mandelson knows that in the heat of both Obama and Hollande’s electoral campaigns, they may well reach deep into their bags of campaign tricks and pull out a calculated populist promise to be tossed to the masses. His concern is that some may take them at their word and actually expect a mild rebuke to the corporate agenda.

For Mandelson, the great fear is that his ideological compatriots might back away from a fully enthusiastic commitment to “globalization”. Now “globalization” is one of those unfortunate and lazy terms that rise to the surface of popular discourse while masking more than it reveals. For decades, talk of free trade, the sins of protectionism, and the enhancement of international competitiveness have been a cover for the exploitation of labor markets. In the end, all the speeches, legislation, and agreements have been constructed to allow capital to flow freely and easily to centers of cheap labor—no more, no less.

It should be obvious that regions, countries, sections, and cities differ vastly in terms of resources, infrastructure, technologies, and capital. But the one element that they all share, the one element that can flexibly change to meet competition, is the cost of labor-power; workers can always be convinced or forced to work for less. A country or region cannot compete globally in the energy market if it has no energy resources, but any country can choose to compete by offering cheaper labor for production or services. Thus, behind all the promised benefits of globalization lies a profit-driven motive: cheap labor. Of course capitalists are not concerned that this process inevitably results in a wage-death spiral.

The big lie proffered by Mandelson and his ilk is that global, unfettered competition can produce a world of winners. Yes, even the most apathetic sports fan knows that competition is about winners and losers; someone loses when someone else wins. Perhaps when David Ricardo wrote nearly two centuries ago about countries enjoying relative advantages, the idea of winning some competitions and losing others made some sense. But in today’s world of huge trans-national monopoly enterprises rushing from one low wage area, then to another, the ancient argument dissolves. Only a fool does not see this. And Mandelson is no fool.

He writes that: “The banking crisis discredited certain kinds of financial capitalism and financial regulation and not capitalism in general…we still have to have faith in the basic model of an open and competitive economy.”

And faith is all that Mandelson offers. Only a “lord” in the church of market fundamentalism could disconnect the financially-triggered crisis from the trajectory of global capitalism. Vast wealth and income inequalities, spawned in large part by the “globalization” so dear to Mandelson’s heart, generated a vast ocean of capital seeking investment opportunities. Capitalists found a haven for this enormous glut of surplus value in the banks and other financial institutions, a haven promising strong returns through speculative ventures. Of course this was not a random series of events, but another logical step in the evolution of monopoly capitalism driven by the insatiable thirst for profit.

If over four years of global economic turmoil, four years of mass unemployment and declining living standards, does not “discredit… capitalism in general”, one wonders what would. With even conservative institutions like the IMF and the OECD projecting 5 to 10 more years of pain and suffering in Europe, one wonders what stands behind Mandelson’s vote of confidence.

Perhaps Lord Mandelson’s advice to the left will advance his career and earn him the prestigious knighthood. Certainly he has served the ruling class well.

Zoltan Zigedy