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Friday, February 26, 2021

Is the New Normal the Old Normal?

One month after President Biden’s inauguration, a crushing sense of déjà vu is settling in, an unsettling feeling that we have seen this all before. 


Key campaign issues that Biden stood by are now diluted, postponed, or simply neglected. The fate of once urgent issues like the minimum wage, student loan debt, immigrant rights, health care reform, etc. now seem less pressing, more subject to study, deliberation, bipartisanship, or revision. 


Democratic Party politicians are taking their priorities from the headlines: squeezing the last bit of Trump-distraction from a trial with no prospect of victory and scrutinizing a silly stock market prank billed as a rebellion against the rich and powerful.


Without Trump, the media is returning to the old, trusted practices of celebrity fetish and ‘gotcha’ politics-- Lady GaGa’s stolen dogs. 


Meanwhile, intense Democratic Party fundraising shamelessly continues with the last election barely settled.


While the Trump administration policies remain largely intact, there seems to be less outrage boiling. Things take time, we are told (except for bombing, killing, and maiming in Syria). The patronizing rebuke of impatience issues from Biden supporters. 


Where have we seen this before?


Recall the euphoria that sprung forth a little over twelve years ago with the defeat of John McCain and the election of Barack Obama. Liberals and the soft-headed left took the event as singular. One lefty famously wrote in a fit of gross exaggeration:


"...hundreds of millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility."


In this space, I responded incredulously: “Hundreds of millions? Literally? A dramatic milestone? Of course, there were not hundreds of millions even voting, nearly half of which voted against Obama! And ‘dramatic milestones’ should be reserved for truly world shaking events like the Civil War, The Great Depression, and possibly the economic catastrophe now looming. This dramatic overstatement is precisely the kind of puffery that contributes to isolating the left from working people.”


But this unhinged faith in “a new period of hope and possibility” was not uncommon, though seldom so wildly exuberant. Zealotry for Obama ranged across the Democratic Party, infecting the “progressive” left even more deeply.


A month before Obama’s inauguration, disenchantment began to set in, as his cabinet and staff took shape and some policy positions became clear. 


I reminded readers of a statement once made by popular liberal columnist, Walter Lippmann, in response to a similar idolatry of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Franklin D. Roosevelt is an amiable man with many philanthropic impulses, but he is not the dangerous enemy of anything. He is too eager to please.... Franklin D. Roosevelt is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege.” And what was attributed to him-- historically progressive and significant New Deal legislation-- was largely the result of pressure from mass movements of workers, farmers, the unemployed, African Americans (who got little), and small business people. 


And that proved to make all the difference. 


After the election, instead of holding Obama to the meager “progressive” agenda on which he campaigned and demanding even more, “the leadership of the broad left - much of the peace movement, liberals, environmental social justice activists, etc. - surrendered their critical judgment, independence, and influence to a blind trust in a fictitious movement for change. In the history of social change in the US, every real advance was spurred by independent organization and struggle unhampered by the niceties of bourgeois politics. From the Abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights movement, from the Populist movement to the Great Society, from the Anti-imperialist League to the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the initiative for change sprung from committed, independent activists who defied the caution and inertia of elected officials.


Even with a supermajority in the Senate and a majority in the House, Obama showed the “caution and inertia of elected officials.” And the euphoric left went to sleep, the antiwar movement waned, and labor leaders delighted in their access to White House social events. The fiction that social change can come from dangling the carrot of support and trust in front of Democratic Party elected officials failed the left once again. 


After two years, and the loss of the Senate supermajority and the House majority, Obama’s administration lost the initiative with little accomplished. 


Writing in December of 2010, I recalled an article that I posted in the fall of 2008 suggesting that Obama’s presidency might “reprise” the disappointing Carter term. I then asked the pertinent question: “The promise of 1976 was squandered by the Carter Administration. Will the opportunities for change afforded by Republican failure be wasted again in 2008?


With the honeymoon over, the truth about the Obama administration became clear, and is even more clear today, that the answer is a resounding “yes!” -- another lost opportunity.


Will the opportunities afforded by the defeat of the odious Trump administration be wasted also? Will the Biden administration turn liberals and those tied umbilically to the Democrats against advocating for any real change? Will the “responsible, practical” left entrust change to a Party with a history of betrayal? Will Biden follow Obama, Clinton, and Carter-- 20 of the last 46 years of presidential administrations-- down the rat hole of unfulfilled promises?


Today, with the left shackled to foundation grants, NGOs, and think tanks, as well as lacking the will to escape the gravity of the Democratic Party, the prospect of a truly independent political movement grows dimmer.


Yet the need for independence has never been greater!


As the crises of US capitalism mount, the argument for moderation and compromise becomes the argument for surrender. If it seems daunting to build a militant, independent left, surely it is even more frustrating to invest time and energy into an immovable instrument of capital, an institution that has shown, for most of our lifetimes, to be capable of only serving the interests of ruling elites, unless prodded by a determined, independent, militant movement.


Trump is gone, but Trumpism will return, if we fail to overcome the inertia of a lifetime of Democratic Party betrayal of meaningful reform.


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com


Saturday, February 6, 2021

Games People Play


Our corporate media has been in a frenzy. The unprecedented January 6 assault on the Capitol in Washington, DC has conjured widespread interpretation and unbridled speculation. Conspiracy theories abound, from fascist coup attempts to murderous assassination attempts against our beloved leaders. Whatever its actual meaning, it has long since become a gambit in the political games played in the two-party casino, a move shaped by the advantage thought to be gained by our high-stakes politicians.

Speaking of casinos, the new year has brought us a different high-stakes game playing out dramatically in the stock market. The last few weeks have seen an escalation in the war between some financial hedge funds-- private investment clubs for “sophisticated” investors (big money!), utilizing arcane, complex strategies and exotic investment instruments-- and a gaggle of day traders organized to act in concert through popular internet discussion sites.

Hedge funds are like the gambler who enjoys both the benefits of having a larger stake and a greater insight in the game; the hedge fund manager/gambler can shape the direction of the game as well as predict its course. With the growth of hedge funds in the 1990s, participation in a prominent hedge fund became a mark of exclusivity and prestige for the very rich.

Because they digest market information better and faster, hedge funds accelerate the accumulation of capital in the hands of the very rich, greatly increasing inequality. Their market advantages make them appear to represent less risk, but the competition between them for the favors of institutional investors often leads them to risky ventures. Their “private” status largely keeps regulators off of their backs.

Until recently, these big players have had their way in financial markets.

Other innovations have produced new players in the stock market. The introduction of impersonal internet companies that facilitate individual stock purchases without fees have enabled a renegade cabal of new day traders (estimates range from 6 million to 20 million) who communicate with each other about stock purchases over forums like WallStreetBets.

Despite the fact that the battle between short-selling hedge funds and rebel investors has only been noticed by the sensation-seeking mainstream media in recent weeks, the conditions for its escalation have long been noticed by the financial press. I wrote in late September 2020:

Some would be surprised to learn that in the modern era, individual investors-- day traders and the like-- only account for roughly one in ten trades. The rest are made up by institutional investors, funds, etc. But, in 2020, the number of trades by individual investors has doubled, accounting for about 20% of equity market action.

With social media tipsters and discussion boards, the born-again investors have accounted for many stock valuations that puzzle and concern wiser investors. Tesla, for example, has gained 438% this year, establishing the maverick car company as the highest valued auto company in the world and the eighth largest corporation in the US by market value.

Fed by social media gossip, investors jacked up share prices of Eastman Kodak by as much as 614% before losing most of the gains! This kind of euphoria-driven investment has mature investors and advisors shaking in their boots.

While few outside of Wall Street noticed this phenomenon, it nearly sank some prominent hedge funds that specialize in a particular form of options purchases-- the opportunity to sell a stock short. 

Hedge funds like Melvin Capital Management typically purchase an option to surrender a stock to a buyer at a set price. Convinced that the stock price will fall in the negotiated time frame, they hope to buy the stock at a lower price to exercise their option, pocketing the difference between what they committed and what they actually paid (for a remarkably short, but clear explanation of this process, see this article in FightBack!NEWS).

Short-selling hedge funds function like financial sharks-- they exploit market weaknesses and turmoil to manufacture a financial advantage at the expense of wounded corporate enterprises like GameStop, AMC Entertainment, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, BlackBerry, and others. Smelling blood in the water, they use their strategy to extract profit from the decline of the stocks of these companies, repeating their short selling until they drive the share prices to oblivion.

These hedge funds were akin to the financial vultures who profited by driving the cost of debt of European countries, like Greece, into the stratosphere after 2009.

But a strange thing happened in January.

Organized around the common goal of making money and utilizing the reach of social media, a substantial group of day traders pooled their collective power (a lesson for the tame US labor movement) to pillage the short-sellers. With the verve of sports fanatics, internet cheerleaders like newly-born celebrity investor Keith Gill fomented an uprising against short-sellers to buoy the prices of the targets of the short-selling vultures, especially a company called GameStop.

Consequently, GameStop shares rose 1600%. Another company’s-- AMC Entertainment-- share prices advanced 301.2% in one day, January 27!

Short-sellers, betting on share-price collapses by these damaged companies, were hammered by the increases engineered by the renegade day traders. They made money, but some hedge funds lost a lot of money. It is estimated that one hedge fund, Melvin Capital Investments, lost 53% on its investments in January from the collective action of day traders. On GameStop alone, hedge funds lost nearly $25 billion at one point in January.

The mainstream media pounced on the “battle” between day traders and hedge funds, projecting a David-versus-Goliath story. Congress members reacted predictably, some siding with David, some with Goliath.

When the no-fee trading platforms supporting the day-trading rebels stopped trading on the key stocks, odd-bedfellow politicians Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reacted indignantly. AOC-- the master tweeter of the celebrity-left-- saw an injustice in denying the “heroic” retail traders from buying shares, “while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit.” This might appear to some to be an odd concern for a self-avowed “socialist.”

Multi-billionaire Elon Musk joined Cruz and AOC in sympathy with the upstart investors, tweeting “Get Shorty” to his 40 million followers. Of course it is worth noting that these same investors have created a frenzy of buying behind his company, Tesla, making him the world’s richest person.

Despite the popular, media-driven narrative of good rebels versus rapacious hedge funds, the truth is that this dust-up has very little to do with the fate of working people in the US. Capturing even sectors of the US left, the quaint story of an army of amateurs bringing down powerful hedge fund managers spread far and wide. Some saw the events as a populist rising, an exaggeration in the same league as the hysterics decrying a coup attempt on January 6.

Behind the facade of righteous anger directed at the flesh-eating hedge funds was individual lust for easy money corralled into a surprising market force and targeting a small, but vulnerable corner of finance capital. Portraying this as a populist rebellion, as an assault on the forces of economic tyranny is… simply absurd.

With Toto pulling the curtain back from Oz’s wizard, one finds a couple of relatively small-time fund managers who “sowed seed for frenzy” over GameStop, according to The Wall Street Journal. Both made millions off of sparking what is being sold as a rebellion.

And then there is Citadel Securities, the trading firm owned by a billionaire hedge fund manager and the largest player in facilitating retail stock trades. Citadel, more than any other company, supports the trades of the fee-less brokerages that attract the day-trading crowd. Accordingly, it makes vast sums from the explosion of new retail investors who collectively exploit the short-sellers.

At the same time, Citadel helped bail out a victim of the day-trading frenzy, participating in a $2.75 billion loan to Melvin Capital Management. Talk about working both sides of the street!

As The Wall Street Journal prominently noted (February 4, 2021), hedge funders Richard Mashaal and Brian Gonick jumped on the GameStop mania in September, cashing out at $700 million and making a hedge fund, Sunvest Management LLC, one of the big winners.

There is little heroics in this farce, and little justice.

In any case, forces within finance capital smashed GameStop on Monday, February 1, with the stock dropping 100 points and losing over 30% of its value. On Tuesday, another devastating blow was delivered. Game over for the GameStop rebellion.

We learn from this farce that there is no "peoples’ capitalism."

We learn that the stock market is, today, divorced from the real economy (though it cannot remain divorced forever). In fact, it is currently functioning as a casino for the wealthy, almost wealthy, and wannabe wealthy.

We learn that the stock market operates apart from the interest of working people and can offer no solace for those working for a living. And if we study history, we learn that investment mania, like that making headlines today, generally precedes a serious crisis. The similarity with the lead-up to the Dotcom bubble is uncanny.

Less than a month into the post-Trump era, with the Republican Party divided and the Democratic Party scrambling to separate from its weak-tea campaign promises, the corporate media is busy searching for a reality TV replacement for Trump’s antics. They have tried to transform an over-the-top tailgate by Trump’s camp followers into a coup attempt in DC.

And now they have sought to raise a mischievous, self-serving financial maneuver into a populist attack on the bastions of wealth and power, a media story akin to promoting a pick-up basketball game at the YMCA during the NBA finals.

Both stories serve as distractions from the destruction and insecurity faced by those who work for a living, by those distant from the rulers nested in Washington, DC and the financiers and their admirers tied to Wall Street.

Facing joblessness, eviction, foreclosure, and a broken, ineffective health care system unable to deliver hundreds of thousands of US citizens from a death sentence, the public needs more than an entertaining, sensationalist narrative.

In the shadows of these media circuses lurks the real story, a story of a politico-economic system bringing misery and despair to millions of US citizens, corrupting US politics, denying a solution to a wrenching health care disaster, and spurring inequality. Dare I say the word that eludes the corporate media?

Capitalism.

Now that would be a story worth telling.

Greg Godels
zzsblogml@gmail.com


Thursday, January 28, 2021

It’s Now Biden’s Cold War

 

Biden’s first week or so in office proved eventful. He began to aggressively undo much of what Trump undid of the Obama Presidency. In essence, he is returning US politics to 2016. For those who longed only for the exit of Trump and a return to what they saw as the comforting past, the Biden victory is cause for celebration.


For those who want an answer to a raging pandemic that has taken more US lives than World War II, for those who fear for the future of the millions newly unemployed by the pandemic, for those millions in arrears on their rent and eventually facing eviction, and for the nearly three million households forced into forbearance on their mortgage payments, there is little yet to celebrate.


Despite the formal changing of the guard, the distance between the haves and have-nots in the US continues to grow. And more and more working people are impressed into the army of the have-nots. The catastrophic pandemic year has further brought mass insecurity and fear, prompting a strong pullback in consumer spending over the last three months.


It is doubtful that 2016 answers will solve 2021 problems. 


Biden’s Obama redo is not absolute, however. There are elements-- arguably, some of the worst elements-- of Trump’s policies that the new administration plans to keep. For example, Biden will continue, even intensify Trump’s xenophobic “Buy American” campaign. 


Biden shows no stomach for undoing Trump’s encouragement of Israeli apartheid and aggression.  


In addition, the Biden team seems inclined to continue Trump’s war-by-sanctions emphasis. Where Obama waged war by surrogates and drones, Trump, and apparently now Biden, enforced US policy through-- equally destructive, but seemingly less depraved-- economic and political sanctions. Biden has not indicated that he will remove or loosen the noose that the US maintains around the economies of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Cuba, or other states defying our leaders.


To his credit, Biden has shown a desire to extend the important START treaty with Russia, a treaty limiting nuclear weapons. This is a big deal.


At the same time, Biden has shown a frightening escalation of belligerency against the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). Hostility toward the PRC took a leap in the Obama administration with his euphemistically named “Pivot to Asia,” which redirected military attention to the PRC.


In his inimitable fashion, Trump further stoked this hostility, following up with massive tariffs and punitive sanctions. With a subservient media, popular approval of the PRC sank dramatically.


Now, Biden has promised to get tougher on the PRC, an ominous and dangerous threat against the world’s second or third greatest military power.


It takes only a glance at recent history and at the relevant economic data to understand the source of the hysterical reaction to the PRC on the part of the US ruling class. The economic collapse of 2007-2009 nearly brought down the US and European economies, while the PRC barely faltered; quick stimulative action restored a vibrant Chinese economy. In fact, it could be argued that the Chinese ‘bounce’ was a necessary, if not sufficient condition of the global recovery.


A little over a decade later, with a raging worldwide pandemic, the global economy is again in a deep funk, with the PRC economy showing resilience and growth. In both cases and in the interim period, the Chinese economy has made remarkable gains against its Western rivals (PRC consumer spending has grown by 171.2% since 2010, compared to 35.2% growth in the US).


Since 2016, the PRC share of global GDP has risen from 14.2% to 16.8%, while the US share has dropped slightly to 22.2%. And in the pandemic year, Chinese GDP grew by 2.3% against a global economic performance estimated to drop by 4.3% and a US GDP sliding by 3.6%. As the PRC economy gains, one can understand the frustration in US ruling circles as they witness a rival growing in strength and global influence.


Despite the aggressive tariff policy of the Trump administration, Chinese exports (and imports) expanded dramatically in late 2020. Exports grew by 21.1% in November and 18.1% in December over the prior year, assuring the PRC an even bigger slice of global trade.


But, perhaps, the most alarming statistic for US policy makers reveals that the PRC has, for the first time, passed the US in new foreign direct investment. While the US has accumulated far more foreign direct investment, the new data show that investors now look at the PRC as a better haven for profit taking than the US. This surely sends a shock wave through the US capitalist class. 


It is not alleged Chinese human rights violations, Chinese income inequality, Chinese belligerency or aggressiveness that drives US hostility, but the PRC’s challenge to US economic and political hegemony. With global economies so intertwined and with a growing dependence on Chinese supplies and Chinese domestic demand, foreign obeisance to US capitalism is threatened. The US cannot so easily dictate the foreign policy of others nor force open the doors for US capitalism. Put simply, the PRC presents a growing challenge to US imperialism.


History shows that rivalries and challenges to imperialist powers create the conditions for war; all of the great wars of the era of monopoly capitalism began as wars over markets, resources, capital expansion, and capital penetration. From the wars of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, through two world wars and wars of national liberation, to NATO’s encirclement of Russia and the US “Pivot to Asia,” all major wars and warlike confrontations are imperialist wars. 


The fact that both US political parties concur on policy toward the PRC (and Russia) only underscores the degree of danger posed by US aggressiveness. The consensus extends to the media which failed to force even a minimal discussion of policy toward the PRC into the Presidential debates or their election coverage. 


Sadly, with the election of Biden, much of the left and the New York Times-addicted liberal set may return to their slumbers as they did during the Obama administration, entrusting foreign policy to their elected leaders. 


This will be a tragic mistake.


We desperately need a mass anti-war movement-- vigilant and independent-- to stave off the dangerous machinations of US imperialism and its death-dealing war machine.  


Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com 



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