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Thursday, May 9, 2024

Are We Having an Election in November?

With an important US presidential election-- we are told-- only months away, but one posing two repugnant, disheartening choices, it may be a good time to explore where we are and how we got here.

What we can agree is that most of us, when asked, believe that things are going badly: an October, 2023 AP-NORC poll finds that 78% of those polled responded that “the country is going in the wrong direction;” a January Morning Consult poll concludes that less than a third of those responding “say the country is headed in the right direction; a recent Harvard Kennedy school poll says that less than 10 % of youth 18 to 29 believe that the US is “generally headed in the right direction” and so on with NBC, ABC, Pew, etc. polls. We could quarrel over the exact numbers expressing dissatisfaction, but all polls point to a nation decidedly unhappy with our direction.

Of course, there is room to debate exactly what people mean by the “wrong direction.” They may mean in regard to their own current situation or that of their family or friends; they may mean their sense of security; they may mean their own or others’ prospects. Or they may mean that “society” is heading the wrong way culturally, politically, or economically. No doubt respondents to the various polls have complex, even contradictory reasons for losing confidence in the US trajectory. Moreover, one cannot discount the influence of monopoly media reportage and commentary in constructing the sense of dissatisfaction.

It is fair to say, however, that most people believe that our future will be determined by political outcomes. Whether or not they have confidence in the political system-- polls say they don’t-- they do, in fact, rely on campaigning and elections to determine the future course of the country. Most US citizens have not yet chosen or do not know of other political courses of action beyond voting or indifference.

A fixture of our political system is the two-party monopoly. While it is not unlawful or completely uncommon that there be other parties, tradition, entry-demands, financing, chicanery, and even violence have worked to deny third-party movements access or ensure their lack of success. Popular sentiment is denied by Republican and Democratic leaders and functionaries and those others invested in the two-party system who control the rules of the game. A fall, 2023 Gallup poll finds that “Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults currently agree with the statement that the Republican and Democratic parties do ‘such a poor job’ of representing the American people that ‘a third major party is needed.’” For a poll-based summary of US voters’ overall negativity, see this Pew article.

So ahead of a November election, we face two poles: one represented by a self-styled nationalist-populist promising to “Make America Great Again,” while weighted down with a sordid, vulgar, and elitist history; and the other represented by a corporate Democrat once known as the “senator from MBNA” (the infamous credit card company) for his cozy relationship with the credit card industry, a reliable friend of wealth and power, and a history of supporting legislation hostile to the interests of Black people.

This is where we have arrived.

Do the two-parties offer answers to the negativism expressed in polls?

I don’t see it. 

The Republican Party remains a corporate party wedded first and foremost to the interests of capital. It has a relatively independent wing that is able and willing to force its own cultural and social agenda on the entire party. Parts of that wing recognize that the self-proclaimed “party of labor” -- the Democratic Party-- has long failed to deliver anything of deep or lasting value to working people. Elements of this wing have-- in the twenty-first century-- constructed a faux-populist image to attract working people, with some success. Variations of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” had been used earlier by Reagan and the Clintons to entice workers’ votes.

Trump and others have attracted angry voters with their vocal disdain for the “establishment,” elite arrogance, East Coast condescension, and US leaders’ general superciliousness. While “draining the swamp” is a worthy goal, four years of the Trump administration provided no relief from elitism.

The Republicans historically vacillate between isolationism and belligerence. But at least they vacillate. 

While the Republicans do not want to identify with racism, misogyny and the many other know-nothing-isms, they are not above courting the scum that do. 

The Democratic Party-- the other option that we are allowed by our ruling class-- wears the mythical mantle of “the party of the people.” The sole basis for this claim is dim recollections of the New Deal, a little understood period of US history that brought some benefits to working people as a result of a desperate attempt to save capitalism from itself.

With capitalism on a firmer footing after World War II, US rulers, with the full cooperation of Democratic Party Cold Warriors, dealt a fatal blow to the so-called popular front, purging left-wing militancy from unions, universities, schools, media, and any other area of influence. 

The coup de grâce to New Deal thinking came after the collapse of the Keynesian paradigm/New Deal political coalition in the 1970s. When Reagan ushered in market fundamentalism and ushered out government intervention, the Democrats were not long in jumping on board. Soon, every Democrat saw the wisdom of efficiency, balanced budgets, private initiatives, and entrepreneurial sovereignty. As the Republican Party embraced religious zealotry and medieval justice, many saw the Democrats as the new Republicans, with their stealth attacks on welfare, Social Security, and Medicare.

Today’s Democratic Party is neither democratic nor a party, but a brand. It lives and breathes on money from corporate sponsors. Its contact with its supporters is through advertising, television talking heads, the punditry, and indirectly through various media; the idea of human contact with potential voters is only useful if it can be filmed and included in a television commercial.

Like the Republicans, the Democrats have an activist wing that provides a social democratic veneer to the party’s image. Unlike the Republican counterpart wing, the “progressive” Democratic wing never dares to attempt to impose its views on the party. Without exercising “leverage,” the Democratic Party left wing simply serves as a cover, a safe space for “progressives” to welcome other progressives into the party’s arms.

The truth is the Democratic Party is a corporate party, but a party that has occasionally been forced by social pressure, circumstances, or crises to play a people-friendly role. The pressure is not there now.

Moreover, the Democratic leadership has nothing to offer working people. The class base of the party has shifted. With the loss of the South to the Republicans and the ugly Nixon fiasco in the 1970s, the Democrats captured the suburban petty-bourgeoisie and its aspirants who were comfortable with the shrinkage of the welfare state, lower taxes, and deregulation, yet socially liberal on personal questions. Stable super-voters, active in social movements, and financially generous to the Democrats, they (and their contemporary urban gentry counterparts who share a similar profile) are the new keystone of the Democratic Party. The traditional backbone of the Democratic Party-- minorities, unions, youth, the poor-- are taken for granted. After all, according to the reasoning of Democratic leaders, those groups have nowhere else to go.

This realignment has refashioned its core issues around lifestyle, personal rights, and a hyper-regard for the diversity of individual values. The traditional left's concerns for common social values of equality, community, and material security have been forced into the background. Good jobs, health care, education, and secure retirement are not there for all to have, but for those who earn them.

Democratic leaders celebrate achievers-- those who have broken through glass ceilings-- but have contempt for those fallen or stuck in the basement. Both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have arrogantly, and with little forethought for appearances, relegated the heartland of the US to a land of gun-loving, Bible-thumpers-- in Clinton’s unforgettable words, “the deplorables.” Never mind that the Midwest has been ravaged by corporate deindustrialization, leaving cities and small towns depopulated, poor, with shrinking social services, and marginal employment. The “deplorables” have failed to push on, get a late-life STEM education, and rise by their own bootstraps. In the meantime, let’s extend a welcoming, helping hand to those few who merit admission to the highest rungs of elite society. 

This contempt for the non-coastal residents came forth most recently in a New York Times bestseller, White Rural Rage, by Schaller and Waldman, who depict small town USA as backward and infected with racism. Like so many in the Democratic Party intelligentsia, they see this as a threat to “our” democracy. That is to say, the authors worry about contempt for the democracy of the “successful,” but care little for the democracy of the “losers.” For a tightly argued, thoughtful rejoinder to this dose of elitism, read Les Leopold’s Wall Street War on Workers, though I wish Leopold would have as a sub-title “and the Two Parties’ War on Workers.”

For the forthcoming election, the Democrats will once again hope to corral those left-of-center with Trump’s alleged threat to “our” democracy. They will go so far as to raise the specter of fascism. Ironically, the closest move against democracy that resembles the realities of life under fascism is the recent bipartisan passage of an expanded section 702 of the infamous FISA, an act that permits warrantless spying on US citizens. The ACLU comments that it is a “bill that gives the government more ways to secretly surveil us.” Even more ironically, Trump-- the alleged enemy of democracy-- denounced the entire FISA act.

Leftish Democrats will again raise the old canard about divisions on the left in Germany opening the door to fascism in the 1930s. According to this historical reconstruction, the failure of the Communists and Social Democrats to unite against Hitler allowed him to take power. It is an ill-informed, simplistic take on a complex situation. But suffice it to say, it excuses the real causes of Hitler’s rise: the draconian Treaty of Versailles, discredited centrist politics, compromised industrialists and business people, a profound economic crisis, displaced workers whose voices were not heard, their desperation, and-- yes-- a rotten, broken capitalist system. 

The Democrats face an enormous problem with poor management of the economy and support for unpopular wars. Some say the Democrats are the war party. But that is not fair. Both parties are war parties, each with its own badges of shame.

But Biden and the Democrats will pay a price for enabling the bloodletting in Ukraine and, especially, for complicity in the massacres in Gaza. The intensity of the outrage against the genocidal slaughter in Gaza will only increase.

Regardless of which of the two parties wins in November, we are in for a rough patch. While the candidates are different, they are different in equally despicable ways.

I will follow the wise council of most of my fellow citizens who say that “a third majority party is needed” and cast my one vote towards that goal.

Greg Godels

Friday, April 19, 2024

The Myth of the Marshall Plan and US Imperialism

One of the signal events of the post-World War II era-- an event that helped shape the subsequent course of US imperialism-- was the implementation of the European Recovery Act of 1948, the so-called Marshall Plan. Not only was the Marshall Plan a maneuver to tie Western Europe economically to the US-- though Europe would play a subordinate role-- but it also served in the early days of the Cold War as a massive propaganda triumph for the US ruling class. Every US school girl and school boy marveled at the generosity and selflessness of the US government’s assistance to the impoverished people of Europe. The fact that the Eastern European people’s democracies refused US magnanimity only underscored the stubbornness of the Cold War antagonists.
Of course, there have been alternative accounts of the intent and efficacy of the Marshall Plan from its very beginning-- skeptical accounts that challenged US motives, questioned attached terms and conditions, and offered alternative schemes for European recovery. As early as 1947, Henry Wallace, former US Vice-President, for example, sought to remove aid to Europe from Cold War politics by creating a UN-administered reconstruction fund, prioritizing financial aid according to the recipient countries’ war-related needs regardless of ideology before or after the war, guaranteeing that no political or ideological strings were attached, and ensuring that aid not be used for military or aggressive intent. His proposals were met hostilely in the escalating confrontational climate pursued by the Truman administration.
Genuflecting to ‘victory’ in the Cold War, Western commentators have largely accepted the Marshall Plan as the profound act of sacrifice and generosity portrayed by its creators.
Thus, an alternative perspective on the Marshall Plan is both essential and welcome. A new book by French Communist historian Annie Lacroix-Riz, Les Origines du Plan Marshall: Le Mythe de “l’Aide” Américaine promises to address that shortcoming.
Thanks to a thorough and well-argued appreciation of Lacroix-Riz’s book by Jacques R. Pauwels in Counterpunch, those of us with rusty French reading skills do not have to sit with our copy of Collins Robert French Dictionary in our lap and struggle through a translation.
Pauwels is a discerning critic of the many myths that abound in the history of the US, including the Marshall Plan. He describes the myth thusly:

… after defeating the nasty Nazis, presumably more or less singlehandedly, and preparing to return home to mind his own business, Uncle Sam suddenly realized that the hapless Europeans, exhausted by six years of war, needed his help to get back on their feet. And so, unselfishly and generously, he decided to shower them with huge amounts of money, which Britain, France, and the other countries of Western Europe eagerly accepted and used to return not only to prosperity but also to democracy.

Simplistic as it reads, this is certainly the prevailing understanding of the 1948 European Recovery Act and its motivation. But as Pauwels acknowledges, the Marshall Plan was actually a door opener for US capital, US products, and US political influence.

Pauwels credits Lacroix-Riz with explaining US imperialist outreach as a long process, rooted in the late-nineteenth-century scramble for colonies by the great powers, as described by Lenin in his pamphlet, Imperialism. He writes: “The imperialist powers thus became increasingly competitors, rivals, and either antagonists or allies in a ruthless race for imperialist supremacy, fueled ideologically by the prevailing social-Darwinist ideas of ‘struggle for survival.’” (It should be noted the US was the first economic power to attempt to acquire colonies in an already divided world, according to prominent Soviet economist, Eugen Varga).

Thanks to war-time loans to belligerents, exploding military production, and immunity to invasion, the US economy leap-frogged ahead of its European counterparts after World War I. As a result, US economic ascendency was rewarded with new markets, new targets for investment, and a strong commitment to open doors and free markets: “...American industrialists were henceforth able to outperform any competitors in a free market. It is for this reason that the US government… morphed into a most eager apostle of free trade, energetically and systematically seeking ‘open doors’ for its exports all over the world.”

With all its industrial might, the late-to-the-colonial-game US pioneered a new form of imperialism: neo-colonialism. The former first president of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah-- himself a victim of imperialist intrigue-- conceived of neo-colonialism this way:

Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom,’ which has come to be known as neo-colonialism.

With the world already divided among great powers, it was natural for the US to fight to loosen the stranglehold of its rivals by advocating national self-determination (Woodrow Wilson), decolonization, and free trade after World War I (I have written about this “new” imperialism here). This was the US answer to a world divided into colonial empires and it became the template for the future of imperialism.

This US neo-colonial offensive in the interwar period gives the lie to the popular impression of an indifferent, isolationism fostered by many historians. As Calvin Coolidge boasted at his 1928 Memorial Day address at Gettysburg: “Our investments and trade relations are such that it is almost impossible to conceive of any conflict anywhere on earth which would not affect us injuriously.”

Pauwels confirms this offensive:

In the 1920s, the unprecedented profits generated by the Great War had allowed numerous US banks and corporations such as Ford to start up major investments in [Germany]. The “investment offensive” is rarely mentioned in history books but is of great historical importance in two ways: it marked the beginning of transatlantic expansion of US capitalism and it determined that Germany was to serve as the European ‘bridgehead’ of US imperialism.

This “new” imperialism allowed the US to dominate other economies without the immense costs of stationing troops, administrators, and overseers in restive colonies or bearing the responsibility for infrastructure in dependencies. Also, without formal colonies, the US could continue to laud its commitment to Wilsonian self-determination. This proved to be an enormous propaganda asset during the Cold War. Quoting historian William Appleman Williams referencing our ruling elites, “These men were not imperialist in the traditional sense.…” But they were imperialist nonetheless.

The “new” imperialism engaged the historical great powers. Pauwels notes the interwar US investment in Nazi Germany: “The United States had no desire to go to war against Hitler, who proved to be so ‘good for business.’”

Likewise, Britain was as much an investment target as an ally:

The first country to be turned into a vassal of Uncle Sam was Britain. After the fall of France in the summer of 1940, when left alone to face the terrifying might of Hitler’s Reich, the former Number One of industrial powers had to go cap in hand to the US to loan huge sums of money from American banks and use that money to buy equipment and fuel from America’s great corporations. Washington consented to extend such “aid” to Britain in a scheme that became known as “Lend-Lease”. However, the loans had to be paid back with interest and were subject to conditions such as the promised abolition of “imperial preference”, which ensured that Britain and its empire would cease to be a “closed economy” and instead open their doors to US export products and investment capital. As a result of Lend-Lease, Britain was to morph into a “junior partner”, not only economically but also politically and militarily, of the US. Or, as Annie Lacroix-Riz puts it in her new book, Lend-Lease loans to Britain spelled the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

Eugen Varga, in his 1960 Twentieth Century Capitalism, makes the same point, but in the context of inter-imperialist rivalries:

The struggle between the imperialists of each of the belligerent blocs did not cease during the war. Italy, Hitler’s chief European ally, practically did not take part in the war before the defeat of France, she carried on “her own” war with Greece for the conquest of Albania. Japan had “her own” war in East Asia and against the U.S.A.; although Japan had been a party to the “anti-Comintern pact”, she concluded a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union. The chief U.S. aim in the anti-fascist alliance was to defeat Japan and, parallel, to defeating Hitler, to weaken Britain and abolish the British colonial empire. With this aim in view the U.S.A. at first supplied Britain with war materials for cash (i.e., for gold), thus taking away from Britain her gold reserve and her American securities. The U.S.A. went over to the lend-lease system only when Britain’s reserves were exhausted and then stopped the lend-lease at the end of the war without any warning. During the war Roosevelt took advantage of every opportunity to demand the abolition of the British system of preferential tariffs, one of the main economic supports of the British Empire, the granting of political independence to India, and so on. (p. 49-50)

So, by the end of World War II, the US had an established policy and practice of using its economic strength and free-trade advocacy to impose its dominance over weaker, vulnerable countries-- a form of streamlined, but opaque neo-colonialism suited for the post-colonial era to come. Would it come as a surprise that the US continued, refined, and expanded its imperial designs?


Pauwels spells out the architecture for the US postwar neocolonial advance: the Bretton Woods agreement, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank-- all supportive of US economic interests and designed to create subordination to US political and economic goals.

For a detailed look at how these policies were implemented, we have Lacroix-Riz’s account of their French application. We learn that the US threw its support behind corrupted, thoroughly anti-Communist Vichy officials, rather than the London-based exiles around Charles de Gaulle, a strongly nationalist, independent figure untarnished by collaboration. Pauwels writes: “[T]he Americans understood only too well that these former Pétainists [Vichyites] would be agreeable partners, ignored or forgave the sins the latter had committed as collaborators, labelled them with the respectable epithet of ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ and arranged for them, rather than Gaullists or other leaders of the Resistance, to be placed in positions of power.”

Establishing Vichy Admiral Darlan, a born-again anti-fascist, as the leader of a provisional French government served US purposes. As Pauwels retells:

The American “appointment” of Darlan paid off virtually immediately, namely on September 25, 1943, when the French provisional government signed a Lend-Lease deal with the US. The conditions of this arrangement were similar to those attached to Lend-Lease with Britain and those that were to be enshrined one year later at Bretton-Woods, namely, an “open door” for US corporations and banks to the markets and resources of France and its colonial empire. That arrangement was euphemistically described as “reciprocal aid” but was in reality the first step in a series of arrangements that were to culminate in France’s subscription to the Marshall Plan and impose on France what Lacroix-Riz describes as a “dependency of the colonial type.”

As matters developed, the Vichyite-heavy government was too much for anti-fascist French and the active Resistance to stomach, and the sufficiently anti-Communist de Gaulle became acceptable to US elites. The problem with de Gaulle, however, was that he agreed with the Soviets that reparations should be extracted from Germany, contrary to the wishes of the US. US industrial and financial interests were too deeply embedded in Germany to force them to pay for their aggression. Quoting Pauwels:

Thus we can understand the stepmotherly treatment Washington meted out in 1944-1945 to a France that was economically in dire straits after years of war and occupation. Already in the fall of 1944, Paris was informed that there were to be no reparations from Germany, and it was in vain that de Gaulle responded by briefly flirting with the Soviet Union, even concluding a “pact” with Moscow that would prove to be “stillborn”, as Lacroix-Riz puts it… As for France’s urgent request for American credits as well as urgently needed food and industrial and agricultural supplies, they did not yield “free gifts” of any kind, as is commonly believed, …but only deliveries of products of which there was a glut in the US itself and loans, all of it to be paid in dollars and at inflated prices. Lacroix-Riz emphasizes that “free deliveries of merchandise to France by the American army or any civil organization, even of the humanitarian type, never existed....”

Foretelling the future of US-France relations, the Blum-Byrnes Agreement of 1946 “was widely perceived as a wonderful deal for France… and was proclaimed by Blum himself as ‘an immense concession’ from the Americans.”

Instead, it was a surrender to US demands, involving agreement to purchase left-over military equipment and other products that US capitalists were anxious to get off their books. Payment for these goods were to be in dollars, hard to acquire without bargain-basement prices for French goods exported to the US. The French were made to compensate US corporations for their losses on French soil (ironically, losses most often the result of US bombing). Lacroix-Riz maintains that, in fact, lend-lease loans were not forgiven and that the Agreement “produced no credits whatsoever.”

When de Gaulle left the government in early 1946, his successors followed the US lead in attacking the French Communist Party, the most popular political group in the immediate aftermath of the war. With their expulsion from the French government in 1947, the road ahead was cleared of a powerful obstacle to the further penetration of US capital, exports, and culture.

The conclusion to be drawn, according to Pauwels and Lacroix-Riz:

That France’s postwar economic recovery was not due to US “aid” is only logical because, from the American perspective, the aim of the Blum-Byrnes Agreements or, later, the Marshall Plan, was not at all to forgive debts or help France in any other way to recover from the trauma of war, but to open up the country’s markets (as well as those of her colonies) and to integrate it into a postwar Europe — for the time being admittedly only Western Europe — that was to be capitalist, like the US, and controlled by the US from its German bridgehead. With the signing of the Blum-Byrnes Agreements, which also included a French acceptance of the fact that there would be no German reparations, that aim was virtually achieved. The conditions attached to the agreements did indeed include a guarantee by the French negotiators that France would henceforth practice free-trade policy and that there would be no more nationalizations like the ones that, almost immediately after the country’s liberation, befell car manufacturer Renault as well as privately owned coal mines and producers of gas and electricity…

The Marshall Plan repeats the template established with the Blum-Byrnes Agreement, which itself was a consistent development of the US neo-colonial program created in the aftermath of the First World War. Thus, we see the continuous development of a US imperialist strategy. What was unique at each step was the growing scale of the project. Later elaborations of this initiative, like the Point Four Program, the Alliance for Progress, USAID, and a host of other agencies and plans spread US corporate tentacles throughout the rest of the world.

As I wrote in 2015: “In the post-World War II era, the Marshall Plan and The Point Four program were early examples of neo-colonial Trojan Horses, programs aimed at cementing exploitative capitalist relations while posturing as generosity and assistance. They, and other programs, were successful efforts to weave consent, seduction, and extortion into a robust foreign policy securing the goals of imperialism without the moral revulsion of colonial repression and the cost of vast colonies.”

Pauwels and Lacroix-Riz add to our understanding of this critical juncture in the elaboration of US neo-colonial policies. Puncturing the Marshall Plan myth, Pauwels concludes:

The integration of France into a postwar (Western) Europe dominated by Uncle Sam would be completed by the country’s acceptance of Marshall Plan “aid” in 1948 and its adherence to NATO in 1949. However, it is wrong to believe that these two highly publicized events occurred in response to the outbreak of the Cold War, conventionally blamed on the Soviet Union, after the end of World War II. In reality, the Americans had been keen to extend their economic and political reach across the Atlantic and France had been in their crosshairs at least since their troops had landed in North Africa in the fall of 1942. They took advantage of the weakness of postwar France to offer “aid” with conditions that, like those of Lend-Lease to Britain, were certain to turn the recipient country into a junior partner of the US. This became a reality, as Lacroix-Riz demonstrates in her book, not when France subscribed to the Marshall Plan, but when her representatives signed the agreements that resulted from the unheralded Blum-Byrnes Negotiations. It was then, in the spring of 1946, that France, unbeknownst to the majority of its citizens, waved adieu to her status of great power and joined the ranks of the European vassals of Uncle Sam.

One can hope that Lacroix-Riz’s important book will find an English translator and publisher.

Greg Godels

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Is There an Answer to Inflation?

Inflation is a scourge on those cursed with living under the capitalist order. It especially punishes those least able to weather the pain of constantly falling behind rising prices and expanding debt. 

Inflation harms nearly all working people whose income growth trails the rise in prices, including those with union contracts that bridge periods of rapid price increases. 

Small businesses suffer because of their inability to match supplier increases with price hikes of their own. Also, they are more likely to be locked into a cycle of incurring greater and greater debt and ever-higher interest rates.

The pain of inflation is intensified by the customary antidote prescribed by mainstream economists: interest-rate hikes designed to slow economic activity and force pricing restraint. While some decry the harshness of government anti-inflation policies, they can offer no other solution under capitalism. Erdoğan, President of Türkiye, recently experimented with defying anti-inflation orthodoxy with disastrous results.

Higher interest rates add higher interest charges that banks attach to already bloated prices through credit-card usage, mortgages, student debt, and other private borrowing. 

In the post-war period, we have known one period of extended, intractable inflation, and that came after a long period of government military-related spending and an unanticipated economic shock-- the oil crisis-- in the 1970s. As I wrote in 2021: 

The enormous costs of the US’s long, costly Asian war produced great debt and pressure on the gold-backed US dollar. The imperialist alliance with Israel brought a disruptive, unprecedented boycott on the part of the oil-producing nations resisting Israel’s occupation of Arab territories. Intense competition between the dominant US economy and the resurgent Euro-Asian economies was shrinking profit margins.

I thought there were common features with that earlier period and the emergence of high inflation in 2021:

The pandemic, like the oil crisis, has shocked the global economy. The US economy and subordinate economies have been running on the fumes of fiat money and central bank stimulation, exposing remedies that are losing their effectiveness. Despite the lack of even phantom existential threats, the US has conjured costly foreign adventures and an extraordinarily wasteful and large military budget and “security” spending, crowding out social spending and amplifying national indebtedness. Commodity scarcity generates rising prices. And both slow growth and inflation are now reappearing and promise to continue.

This was not a popular view in 2021. 

And it is not popular today, though wars in Ukraine and Gaza are adding even more limitless demand for weapons and more inflationary pressure.

In 2021, economists, government officials, and pundits scoffed at inflation, assuring us that inflation would subside as soon as income support from the pandemic was exhausted and damaged and broken supply chains were repaired. In sharp contrast, I pointed out:

Despite the admonitions of the central bankers and financial gurus, inflation seldom self-corrects. It rarely runs its course. Instead, inflation tends to gather momentum because all the economic actors attempt to catch up and get ahead of it…  And it is important to recognize that this profit-taking has and will continue to fuel inflation. Once again, the commanding heights of the US economy-- the monopoly corporations-- are using the excuse of catching-up to profit-up.

With Wall Street and its minions still clinging to the illusion that inflation was going away and that there was no need for the braking effect of high interest rates, the January and February inflation reports came as a shock. The media likes to jump from one measure of inflation to another to promote the best perception of inflationary trends. Thus, from report to report, they may feature the CPI or the core CPI, or the PCE, computed on a month-to-month or annualized basis, depending on which shows the most optimistic results. But manipulation and wishful thinking cannot hide the bare facts: December to January month-to-month CPI rose .6% and January to February month-to-month CPI by .4%, alarmingly high increases after three straight months of month-to-month decline. Inflation is still with us.

Conformation for the relationship between higher prices and profit-taking comes from an unexpected source. Conservative economist Greg Ip writes of the Big Profits, High Prices: There Is a Link: “Since the end of 2019, prices are up 17%, outpacing both labor and nonlabor costs. The result: Profits grew by 41%. If profits had grown at the same, slower rate as costs, that would have translated to a cumulative price increase of only 12.5%, and an average annual inflation rate roughly 1 percentage point lower.”

So, the monopoly corporations effectively robbed the consumer and small businesses of 1% more of the price of goods and services in each of the last four years, on top of their usual rate of exploitation. During this period, profits reached a rate unseen in the twenty-first century. 

In this election year, is anyone in either of the two major parties addressing the pain of inflation and its cause located in the insatiable thirst for profit on the part of monopoly capital? The monopoly corporations impose a unilateral 1% tariff on all goods and services for four years in a row with no outcry from the mainstream press? This is what the pundits mean by “our democracy”?

The Biden administration answers that, despite inflation, we are doing better. The economy is doing fine.

Consider the facts:

● The New York Federal Reserve reports that “serious” credit-card delinquencies have risen from 4.01% to 6.36% in the year through the fourth quarter of 2023, an increase of more than 50% in one year and indicative of “increased financial stress.” For many workers, the credit card is the mechanism used to address income shortfalls, but with interest on credit debt rising from pre-pandemic 14.9% to 21.5%, the average of the last quarter of 2023, credit cards are exacting a harsh toll. Credit-card usage now constitutes a vicious trap and not an answer.

● Mortgage and auto-loan delinquencies are also on the rise.

● Fox News reports: ”A record-breaking number of Americans are making emergency withdrawals from their 401(k) retirement plans in order to cover a financial hardship amid the ongoing inflation crisis, according to new data from Vanguard Group… Nearly 3.6% of workers participating in employer-sponsored 401(k) plans made a so-called "hardship" withdrawal in 2023, according to Vanguard, which tracks about 5 million accounts. That marks a major increase from the 2.8% rate recorded in 2022 and the pre-pandemic average of about 2%. It marks the highest level since Vanguard began tracking the data in 2004.” 

The Wall Street Journal explains: “Inflation experienced by the poorest fifth of society was 1.6% higher than for the richest fifth from March 2020 to June 2023…”

● Also: “Pandemic savings have run down. The Federal Reserve concluded at the end of last year that ‘excess’ savings accumulated during the pandemic have been run down, and depending on the method used have either run out altogether or are close to it. Low-income consumers spent their excess-cash cushion earlier, according to other studies, which helps explain why they are struggling more with debt.”

● Consumers are pulling back on purchases. January’s revised 1.1% drop in retail sales has alarmed economists. While February’s numbers increased, they fell below consensus predictions.

● Burger chain McDonald’s, a bellwether for middle- and lower-strata discretionary spending, reports more customers are turning to grocery purchases and dining at home to save money.

● In a January, 2024 Pew poll, 31% of respondents say that US economic conditions are “poor” and 41% say that they are “only fair.”

These facts present a formidable case that inflation is continuing and doing great harm to US citizens, especially the working class. Sadly, there is no-- and likely will be no-- political answer to this scourge expressed in the forthcoming elections. To properly address inflation without advocating the painful remedies now in place would require a critical challenge to the economic system that frequently spawns inflation. That system is capitalism and neither mainstream political party will dare make that challenge.

The US working class needs organizations-- unions, political parties-- that will actually fight against inflation or risk another lost decade of economic stagnation and declining living standards.

Greg Godels

Friday, March 8, 2024

Peoples’ China: What Lies Ahead?

Whither China? was the name of a widely circulated pamphlet authored by the respected Anglo-Indian Marxist author, R. Palme Dutt. Writing in 1966, with The People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the throes of the “Cultural Revolution,” the pamphlet sought to shed light on the PRC’s tortured road from liberation in 1949 to a vast upheaval disrupting all aspects of Chinese society as well as foreign relations. To most people – across the entire political spectrum—developments within this Asian giant were a challenge to understand. To be sure, there were zealots outside of the PRC who hung on every word uttered by The Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao, and stood by every release explaining Chinese events in the People’s Daily, Red Flag and Peking Review. A few Communist Parties and many middle-class intellectuals embraced the Cultural Revolution as a rite of purification. Yet for most, as with Palme Dutt, the paramount question remained: Where is the PRC going? 

 Today, forty-five years later, the question remains open.

I wrote the above thirteen years ago. I contend that the question remains open today. Much has changed, however. In 2011, China-bashing was widespread especially where jobs had disappeared in manufacturing, but largely tempered by a Western business sector anxious to exploit low wages and the Chinese domestic market.

But almost simultaneously with the 2011 posting, the Obama administration made official its “pivot to Asia,” directed explicitly at Peoples’ China. As the Brookings Institute ‘diplomatically’ put it, “Washington is still very much focused on sustaining a constructive U.S.-China relationship, but it has now brought disparate elements together in a strategically integrated fashion that explicitly affirms and promises to sustain American leadership throughout Asia for the foreseeable future.” More explicitly, they intend “to establish a strong and credible American presence across Asia to both encourage constructive Chinese behavior and to provide confidence to other countries in the region that they need not yield to potential Chinese regional hegemony.”

To be sure, the officially declared Obama administration hostility to the PRC was neither a reaction to job loss nor to deindustrialization. The Administration showed no interest in recreating lost jobs or restoring the industrial cities in the Midwest. The real purpose is revealed in the simple phrase “Chinese regional hegemony.” Clearly, by 2011, ruling circles in the US had decided that the PRC was more than an economic cherry ready to be plucked. Instead, it had developed into an economic powerhouse, a true, even the true, competitor in global markets; indeed, it had become a robust threat to U.S. hegemony.

With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the anti-PRC campaign continued, though conducted in an accelerated, cruder fashion, employing sanctions, threats, ultimatums, and even legal chicanery (the detention of one of Huawei’s executives, the daughter of the company’s founder).

The subsequent Biden administration pursued the same approach, adding another level of belligerence by stirring conflict in the South China Sea and reigniting the Taiwan issue. To anyone paying attention, successive administrations were intensifying aggression against the PRC, a process fueled by the eagerly compliant mainstream media.

It has become commonplace on the left to explain the growing hostility to the PRC by the U.S. and its NATO satellites as the instigation of a new Cold War, a revival of the anti-Communist crusades strengthening after World War II. In the past, I have suggested as much. But that would be grossly misleading.

The original Cold War was a struggle between capitalism and socialism. Whether Western critics will concede that the Soviet alternative was really socialism is irrelevant. It was a sharp and near-total alternative, and the West fought it as such. The Soviet Union did not organize its production to participate in global markets, it did not compete for global markets, nor did it threaten the profitability of capitalist enterprises through global competition. In short, the Soviet Union offered a potent option to Western capitalism, but not the threat of a rival for markets or profits. Moreover, Soviet foreign policy both condemned capitalism and explicitly sought to win other countries to socialist construction.

The same cannot be said for the Western antagonism to the PRC. The West courted Peoples’ China assiduously from the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution through the entire Deng era. Western powers saw the PRC as either an ally against the Soviet Union, a source of cheap labor, an investment windfall, or a virgin market. But with China’s success in weathering the capitalist crisis of 2007-2009, the U.S. and its allies began to look at the PRC as a dangerous rival within the global system of capitalism. Chinese technologies more than rivaled the West’s; its share of global trade had grown dramatically; and its accumulation of capital and its export of capital were alarming to Western powers bent on pressing their own export of capital.

In contrast to the actual Cold War, even the most ardent defender of the “Chinese road to socialism” cannot today cite many instances of PRC foreign policy strongly advocating, assisting, or even vigorously defending the fight for socialism anywhere outside of China. Indeed, the basic tenet of PRC policy-- the noninterference in the affairs of others, regardless of their ideologies or policies-- has more in common with Adam Smith than Vladimir Lenin.

What the Soviet Union took as its internationalist mission-- support for those fighting capitalism-- is not to be found in the CPC’s foreign policy. Nothing demonstrates the differences more than the Soviet’s past solidarity and aid toward Cuba’s socialist construction and the contrasting PRC’s commercial and cultural relations and meager aid.

Accordingly, the PRC’s commercial relations with less developed countries can raise substantial issues. Recently, Ann Garrison, a highly respected solidarity activist, often focusing on imperialism in Africa, wrote a provocative article for Black Agenda Report. In her review of Cobalt Red, How the Blood of the Congo Powers our Lives-- an account of corporate mining and labor exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo-- Garrison makes the following commentary guaranteed to raise the ire of devotees of the “Chinese road to socialism”:

[The author of Cobalt Red] explains battery technology and the global dominance of battery manufacture by South Korean, Japanese, and, most of all, Chinese industrial titans. Huge Chinese corporations so dominate Congolese cobalt mining, processing and battery manufacture that one has to ask why a communist government, however capitalist in fact, doesn’t at least somehow require more responsible sourcing of minerals processed and then advanced along the supply chain within its borders. I hope that Kara’s book has or will be translated into Chinese. (my emphasis)

Predictably, rejoinders came fast and furious. In both an interview and response posted on Black Agenda Report, Garrison's critics struggled to explain why PRC-based corporations were not contributing to the impoverishment and exploitation of Congolese workers. They cited Chinese investments in infrastructure and in modernization; they noted huge increases in productivity wrought by Chinese technology; they reminded Garrison of the corruption of the DRC government and local capitalists, and even blamed capitalism itself. How, one critic asked, could the PRC be singled out, when other (admittedly capitalist) countries were doing it as well?

Yet none even made a feeble attempt to explain how the extraction of one of the most sought-after minerals in modern industry could leave the people of the mineral-rich DRC with one of the lowest-- if not the lowest-- median incomes in the entire world. This striking fact points to the enormous rate of exploitation engaged in cobalt, copper, and other resource extraction in this poverty-stricken African country (for a Marxist angle on this question, see Charles Andrews’s article, cited by Garrison, but seemingly misunderstood by her).

In their zeal to defend the PRC’s Belt and Road initiative, these same defenders of the penetration of Chinese capital in poor countries often cite the frequent Chinese concept of “win-win” -- the idea that Chinese capital brings with it victory for both the capital supplier and those ‘benefitted’ by the capital. Theorists of the non-class “win-win” concept are never clear exactly who the beneficiaries are -- other capitalists, corrupt government officials, or the working class. Nevertheless, within the intensely competitive global capitalist system, this “win-win” is not sustainable and is contrary to both experience and the laws of capitalist development. Theoretically, it owes more to the thinking of David Ricardo than Karl Marx.

The PRC’s vexing relationship to capitalism has produced contradictions at home as well as globally. The ongoing collapse of the largely private construction/real-estate industry is one very large example. Once a major factor in PRC growth, overproduction of housing is now a substantial drag on economic advance. Monthly sales of new homes by private developers peaked late in 2020 at over 1.5 trillion yuan and fell to a little more than .25 trillion yuan at the beginning of 2024.

With the private real estate sector on the verge of bankruptcy and a huge number of residential properties unsold or unfinished, the PRC leadership is caught in a twenty-first-century version of the infamous scissors crisis that brought the Soviet NEP-- the experiment with capitalist development of the productive forces-- to a halt. If the government allows the private developers to fail, it will have harsh repercussions throughout the private sector, with banks, and foreign investors. If the government bails out the developers, it will remove the market consequences of capitalist excess and put the burden of sustaining capitalist failure on the backs of the Chinese people.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the government, led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is considering placing “the state back in charge of the property market, part of a push to rein in the private sector.” The WSJ editors construe this as reviving “Socialist Ideas”-- a welcome thought, if true.

The article claims that in CCP General Secretary Xi’s view, “too much credit moved into property speculation, adding risks to the financial system, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and diverting resources from what Xi considers to be the ‘real economy’-- sectors such as manufacturing and high-end technology.…”

Putting aside the question of how the private real estate sector was allowed to create an enormous bubble of unfinished and unsold homes, the move to return responsibility for housing to the public sector should be welcome, restoring price stability and planning, and eliminating speculation, overproduction, and economic disparities. 

Unfortunately, there will be uncertain consequences and difficulties for banks, investors, and real estate buyers who purchased under the private regimen.

It is worth noting that no Western capitalist country or Japan has or would address a real estate bubble by absorbing real estate into the public sector.

Under Xi’s leadership, the direction of the PRC’s ‘reforms’ may have shifted somewhat away from an infatuation with markets, private ownership, and foreign capital. The former “enrich yourselves” tolerance for wealth accumulation has been tempered by conscious efforts at raising the living standards of the poorest. Xi has made a priority of “targeted poverty alleviation,” with impressive success.

Western intellectuals harshly criticize the PRC’s ‘democracy’ because it rejects the multi-party, periodic election model long-favored in the West. These same intellectuals fetishize a form of democracy, regardless of whether that particular form earns the trust of those supposedly represented. The mere fact that a procedure purports to deliver democratic or representative results does not guarantee that it actually makes good on its promise.

If China-critics were truly concerned with democratic or popular outcomes, they would turn to measures or surveys of public confidence, satisfaction, or trust in government to judge the respective systems. On this count, the PRC is always found at or near the top in public trust (for example, here and here). Moreover, Chinese society shows high interpersonal or social trust, another measure of success in producing popular social cohesion by a government.

It’s telling that with the Western obsession with democracy, there is little interest in holding bourgeois democracy up to any relevant measure of its trust or popularity. When it is done, the U.S. fares very poorly, with a six-decade decline in public trust, according to Pew. As recently as February 28, the most recent Pew poll shows that even people who do respect “representative democracy” are critical of how it's working. Their answer to their skepticism may be found “if more women, people from poor backgrounds and young adults held elective office”, say respondents. Those elites who so glibly talk of “our democracy,” in contrast to those including the CCP that they call “authoritarians,” might pause to listen to the people of their own country.

The PRC has shocked Western critics with the breakneck pace of its adoption of non-emission energy production. In 2020, the Chinese anticipated generating 1200 gigawatts of solar and wind power by 2030. That goal and more will likely be reached by the end of 2024. Overall, the PRC expects to account for more new clean-energy capacity this year than the average growth in electricity demand over the last decade and a half. This means, of course, that emissions have likely peaked and will be receding in the years ahead-- an achievement well ahead of Western estimates and Western achievements, and a victory for the global environmental movement.

At the same time, the PRC’s successful competition in the solar-panel market makes it the target of global competitors, a brutal struggle that undermines the espoused “win-win” approach. Despite the benign tone of “win-win,” market competition is not bound by polite resignation, but aggression, conflict, and, as Lenin affirmed, ultimately war. That is the inescapable logic of capitalism. PRC engagement with the market cannot negate it.

Western leftists too often simplify the ‘Chinese Question’ by making it a parlor game revolving around whether China is or is not a socialist country, an error confusing a settled, accomplished state of affairs with a contested process.

As long as capitalism exists and holds seats of political power, the process of building socialism remains unstable and unfinished.

The 1936 Soviet constitution declared in Article One that the USSR was “a socialist state of workers and peasants,” a status that was under great duress over the subsequent following decades. The 1977 constitution stated even more boldly that the USSR was “a socialist state of the whole people…,” a state without classes and, by implication, class struggle. A decade and a half later, there was no USSR. Building socialism is a fragile process and one prone to reversals and defeats.

Thus, we should follow Palme Dutt’s sage advice and observe developments in the PRC with vigilance and a critical eye. If building socialism is a dynamic process, we should attend to its direction, rather than pronouncing its summary success or failure. The PRC is a complex creation with a complex-- often contradictory-- relationship with other countries as well as the socialist project. The cause of socialism is ill served by either ignoring or exaggerating both missteps and victories in the PRC’s revolutionary path.

Greg Godels

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Is There a Future for the Left?

…the Left narrative, no matter how accurate and intellectually powerful it may be, cannot expect to catch the imagination of the citizenry without including a vision for a real alternative future. Moreover, working-class institutions need to be reinstituted for the enhancement of class consciousness and authentic socialist parties need to be rediscovered for the Left narrative to become politically effective. Social movements are important, but their actions rarely have lasting effects. Only political parties can succeed in forging the Left narrative into the policy agenda and turn it into a programmatic plan for social change. Understandably enough, this is quite a tall order, but the Left needs to win once again the hearts and minds of the laboring classes. But it needs the necessary political agencies and cultural instruments to do so. It cannot accomplish it on intellectual grounds alone, especially with the politics of identity acting as a spearhead for social transformation... The Communist Manifesto would have remained just a mere political document if it wasn’t for the existence of radical political parties across the globe to embrace it as their guide and vision for the emancipation of the working class from the yoke of capital. The Left has a Great Story to Share About Alternatives to Capitalism-- But Sucks at Telling It, CJ Polychroniou (Common Dreams)

Shorn of the academic jargon, Polychroniou’s conclusion to his Common Dreams article gets a lot right about the failings of the US and European left and the road back to relevance.

It is true that today the left’s unstated action model is a plethora of focused, but single-issue social movements.
However, that model has enjoyed, at best, limited success in the US since single-issue activism won big gains in the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights era of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the movements effectively complemented a bloody defeat of US Cold War aggression and the other completed the formal constitutional promise of full-citizenship rights for Blacks, women, and other minorities.

But substantial, larger, associated issues remain unresolved. US imperialism continues unabated with ever-more casualties and injustices; the inequalities suffered by oppressed groups remain intact, with a token stratum of those groups allowed through the door of privilege, even to elite status, but with most lagging far behind.

Social movements have focused on specific policies (NAFTA, tax structure, minimum wage, healthcare, immigration reform), emerging trends (globalization, “neoliberalism”), gross inequality (Occupy), changes in governance (Arab spring, police reform), environmental degradation (fracking), or US foreign intervention among many other identifiable wrongs, all of which burn brightly in the beginning, then unfortunately just as quickly fade, as protest confronts the glacial, fractured electoral system.

It is also true that most of the left operates and acts without any overarching program of reform or revolution.
The majority of US leftists, for example, enthusiastically, reluctantly, or by default rely upon the Democratic Party and electoral politics to drive broad, systemic change. They may hope that their issues will be embraced by the party’s policy makers, they may struggle with the party’s entrenched leaders for a suitable program, or they may simply defer to the Democrats out of desperation. DSA, a self-described ‘democratic’ socialist party, is very far from cutting the umbilical cord with the Democrats. While the Green Party expends impressive effort to achieve ballot status, it brings a hodge-podge of candidates to the ballot, seldom aligned with any kind of common program or larger goal. And the small Marxist parties have failed to impact the labor movement or pressure reform movements from the left, as last did the US Communist Party of Gus Hall’s era when anti-Communist repression was far more intense than today and the word “socialism” was then a term of abuse.

But it is not just a program that is missing, but a vision as well.

‘Anti-capitalism’ is not a vision, but a defiance; it expresses hostility and resistance, but not rejection. It gives us no alternative to capitalism. Most of the US left counts itself as anti-capitalist, but one can only guess at what that might mean.

Some are more specific: they are anti-neoliberal capitalism, anti-disaster capitalism, anti-racial capitalism, or perhaps anti-monopoly capitalism. But, by implication, are they for some other kind of capitalism? Do they pine for the era before neoliberalism? Do they imagine capitalism without racism? Do they wish to turn the clock back to the stage before monopoly capitalism? An imagined time when capitalism did not spawn disasters?

These are not political visions, they’re mere fantasies!

The dominant alternative vision to capitalism until the collapse of real-existing-socialism in the late-twentieth century was Marxist socialism. From the rise of mass socialist parties in the final decades of the nineteenth century, the vision sketched by Marx and his followers dominated the hopes of ‘anti-capitalist’ working people. Whatever else the early Marxist militants meant by socialism, they agreed that socialism should end the exploitation of workers by capitalists; they envisioned ending capitalism once and for all and not merely managing it or buffering its worse aspects.

With the birth of real-existing-socialism, creating, shaping, and developing the vision proved to be a lengthy, often messy process, as though serious onlookers would expect it to be otherwise. Previously rare or unheard-of levels of economic, cultural, and human growth were achieved. Enormous sacrifices were made. And internal and external enemies were met.

Some leaders rose to meet challenges, some failed to do so. Mistakes were plentiful, as were acts of unparalleled heroism. The costs of change and of development were enormous, which any thoughtful observer would concede in a life-and-death struggle against capitalism. Ultimately, those living in the lands where socialism was won, no matter how briefly or for how long, must weigh the sacrifices against the gains made, and discount the judgment of smug, privileged foreign critics.

Ironically, Polychroniou, who correctly steers the left away from aimlessly drifting in the political maelstrom of left-wing faddism and unmoored posturing, paints a picture of real-existing-socialism so without merit or achievement as to turn anyone away from the socialist alternative.

Polychroniou, like his sometime collaborator, Noam Chomsky, often shows an impressive critical eye toward the failings of the capitalist system and of imperialism, but follows unfailingly the conventional, stereotypic Cold War demonization of real-existing-socialism; he cannot even credit twentieth-century socialism with being ‘real,’ calling it “actually-existing-socialism.” Like Chomsky, Polychroniou mistrusts the mainstream media at every turn, recognizing its obedience to the ruling class, but accepts everything it sells about the ruling class’s arch-enemy: the real-existing-socialism of the last century.

As a result, Polychroniou’s often perceptive comments are diminished, lost before disdain for a project that he believes has proven, in reality, to be an unmitigated disaster. According to Polychroniou, “actually existing socialism” was “undemocratic,” undermining its “social, cultural, and economic achievements…” “Workers had no say in economic decisions… [T]he rulers possessed no wealth and had no private property of their own but made all of the decisions for the rest of society. The USSR was at best a ‘deformed workers’ state’.” [my emphasis]

Polychroniou sees this ‘deformation’ as a huge impediment to the achievement of socialism. Consequently, he is surprised that its disappearance did not bring on a flowering-- a revival-- of interest and commitment to socialism. “Instead of feeling liberated by the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ the western Left felt a loss of identity and entered a long period of intellectual confusion and political paralysis.” In other words, the Western Left suffered malaise, lost its bearings, and floundered at a time when Polychroniou thought his “real” socialism was within reach.

Surely this bizarre psychologistic explanation of the failure of a Left unburdened by the legacy of Communism is as unsatisfying as Polychroniou’s comic strip characterization of over 70 years of real-existing-socialism. As he concedes, the so-called Western Left found its opportunity to fulfill its promise of a different alternative. But the promise collapsed before it got started, degenerating into scholastic quarrels over truth, identity, and forms of governance.

Still Polychroniou recognizes the urgent need for a Left political party -- a class-based organization of those committed to a common road to social change-- to serve as the vehicle for a program and a vision. In his words, “[The] Left needs to win once again the hearts and minds of the laboring classes.” In his judgment, systemic change must be realized through the political party. However, he surely knows that the idea that radical political ideas can be realized through centrist parties has long been discredited, though far too many radical organizers continue to pursue that dead end in the US and Europe.

It must be acknowledged that the popular idea that a Left political party can be constituted by addition, simply bringing all the various social movements together, is equally flawed, relying on the magical thinking that ideological proximity or contiguity is the same thing as the organic unity necessary for party-building.

Similarly, the seductive idea that a political party can be constructed around the mere fact that it is new and different from the failed, bankrupt center-left parties of Europe and the US has been proven wrong by the corruption or decline of Europe’s new wave. From the German Greens to Spain’s Podemos, Italy’s Five Star, or Greece's SYRIZA, the promise of a shiny new toy filling the political vacuum left by a dying center-left is decidedly broken.

Without a distinctive vision, without a concrete program, with only a pledge for more “democracy,” all of the new wave disappointed its idealistic followers, leaving many disgusted and disenchanted with political action.

To his credit Polychroniou is critical of this trend. In a September, 2023 article (Endgame for Syriza, The Unbearable Lightness of the Greek Left) in Common Dreams, he chronicles the rise and fall of Greece’s SYRIZA party, a new-wave, self-styled radical party that actually grasped the brass ring of political power in 2015, but soon capitulated to capital without a fight. Since SYRIZA’s fall from its former heights, Polychroniou ponders its future.

“The answer to that mystery,” he says, “was revealed during the leadership election that was held just this past Sunday [September 24, 2023] when party members elected a gay, liberal, former Goldman Sachs trader, shipping investor, and political neophyte Stefanos Kasselakis to head the once radical left-wing Syriza party.” The once “radical” SYRIZA has devolved into a nondescript liberal party of the center/center right (as has the German Greens).

But he concludes his insightful essay on SYRIZA’s rapid decline with this bizarre note: “Under Kasselakis, Syriza will cease having affinity to leftist politics in any form or shape, which means that Greece will now be left with a Leninist-Stalinist Communist Party as the only large-scale organized political force fighting for the interest of the working class.” [my emphasis]

Is the idea of the KKE-- the Greek Marxist-Leninist party 
“fighting for the interest of the working class” which he dismissively refers--  so distasteful to Polychroniou as to rule it out-of-hand? Would Greek working people be better off if the KKE were not fighting for their interests? Is the fourth largest political party in Greece declared “untouchable” by Polychroniou? Is he apologizing because Greece actually has a committed fighter for the interests of its working class? 

Polychroniou’s dismissal comes with no logic and no evidence. It is simply the deeply entrenched, unexamined anti-Communism that he shares with so many middle-strata, academic and intellectual leftists of his and past generations. Despite KKE’s long history of contesting capitalism and imperialism, its unwavering, heroic resistance to fascism, and its persistent promotion of a Greek society free of exploitation, Polychroniou and others of his ilk can find no circumstances in which they could even conditionally support “the only large-scale organized political force fighting for the interest of the working class” in Greece.

Surely, this is the epitome of blind, foolish, and counterproductive anti-Communism.

It is ironic that the KKE pointed out-- long before 2015 and Polychroniou-- that SYRIZA would not and could not answer the challenges facing Greece in the throes of crisis. At the time, intellectuals like Polychroniou, dismissed KKE’s assessment and charged it with sectarianism for refusing to join in coalition with the now admittedly discredited SYRIZA.

It is, however, a good thing that Polychroniou and others are reexamining the tactics and strategies of the European and US Left in the twenty-first century. It is difficult to reconcile the occurrence of economic catastrophes unseen since the Great Depression, numerous tragic and bloody wars of aggression and domination, and social and political crises with the lack of significant social change or revolution over the last quarter-century. The title of Vincent Bevins’s recent book, If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution, captures the dilemma well. Arguably more people have been motivated to protest existing conditions than ever before, but no revolutionary change has ensued. Why?

The question, or one very much like it, is taken up by Anton Jäger and Arthur Borriello in their recent book, The Populist Moment: The Left After the Great Recession. Both books are the subject of a critical review in the 8 February 2024 issue of The London Review of Books (A Circular Motion, James Butler).

Certainly, the failure of the Left and the current numerous fractures on the Left deserve serious retrospection and assessment. The way forward could well come from such study. But it will falter if poisoned from the onset with mindless anti-Communism. It will be prone to the same limiting calls to individualism, to identity, and the vacuous, vague, but always heralded cry for more “democracy.” A challenge to capitalism will require more than virtue-signaling.

Surely, the lessons of a century of social upheaval, confrontation, and revolution animated by working-class organizations cannot be cavalierly dismissed. The role of Communists and Communist Parties was decisive in colossal social change in the twentieth century. Might they be decisive again?

Greg Godels