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Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: The Brothers-- John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

In a different time, a time when we escape the cultural waste excreted by decadent capitalism, a time without Fast and Furious 23 and the abominable cable television mini-series Spartacus, some creative and capable filmmaker might make a fascinating bio-pic out of the lives of the Dulles brothers, Allen and John Foster. Until then, we must make do with a new biography of the important duo (The Brothers, Times Books, 2013) written by Stephen Kinzer, and another, hopefully soon-to-be-available book on the subject by David Talbot.
Kinzer's book gives a fascinating, but unsatisfying look at the lives of two public figures who wielded an unprecedented concentration of global power. For the better part of a decade-- from 1953 to 1959-- the two brothers together shaped nearly the entire US policy toward the rest of the world. As director of the Central Intelligence Agency, brother Allen decided the US clandestine activities toward friends and foes alike. At the same time, he shaped the extent and few limits of the newly founded agency.
Brother John Foster did the same for the US's overt role in the world. As President D. D. Eisenhower's Secretary of State from 1953 until Dulles's death in 1959, he served the same goals and interests as his brother.
The unusual circumstance of such complete and convergent power sharing was neither coincidental nor the result of a ruthless power grab. In fact, it was consensual.
But who gave the necessary consent? Certainly not the electorate, since neither brother held elected office. Nor was it the tacit consent of the public given Allen Dulles's secretive role and publicly unknown activities. The consent question can only be answered by positing the existence in the US of a mechanism capable of deciding questions of ultimate leadership, a mechanism that could entrust US foreign policy to these two long-groomed brothers. While we cannot be sure of who exactly operates this mechanism and how it specifically functions, we can be sure that it exists with the same certainty that we can affirm the unseen existence of gravity.
It should be equally obvious that the work of the Dulles brothers through their eight years of common leadership coincided broadly with the “interests” of the US as defined by the privately-held, corporately organized heights of the US economy. While their policies only occasionally directly benefited individual capitalists (usually former legal clients), their actions were decidedly intent on benefiting the capitalist class as a whole.
It is through this mechanism that the interests of the capitalist class are protected and promoted. It is, in the end, the way in which a ruling class rules. In the end, it constitutes the best Marxist evidence for the existence of a ruling class.
Ruling class-deniers are compelled to explain how the Dulles brothers came to enjoy such exceptional power precisely at a time when US elites felt most threatened by the specter of Communism. They must offer an alternative account that brings two imposing figures associated with power, wealth, and anti-Communism to the pinnacle of power outside of the bourgeois democratic process.
Kinzer, a reliable foot soldier in the New York Times corporate empire, does not hide the uniqueness and oddity of the ascent of the brothers. But he would certainly have nothing to do with the forbidden idea of a ruling class in the US.
Nonetheless, his account offers revealing hints about how the Dulles brothers were vetted and selected, how one qualifies to be trusted agents for ruling class interests.
As early as 1921, the Dulles brothers participated in the creation of an important part of the mechanism of capitalist class rule: The Council on Foreign Relations and its subsequent public discussion journal, Foreign Affairs. To this day, the Council and its publication remain essential elements in crafting and debating foreign policy options congruent with the interests of capital.
Armed with Ivy League, foreign policy and clandestine service credentials, the Dulles brothers easily passed through the filters of ruling class trust. For John Foster, this brought him to the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, perhaps the leading legal agent for the international interests of US capital at the time. While rising to the top of the firm, the elder Foster ensured that US corporations, especially financial firms, were advanced and protected overseas. Kinzer recounts how the law firm could always call on the US military to back up its deal making. Moreover, he doesn't hide the close, welcoming relationship of Sullivan and Cromwell with fascist regimes. Even in the inter-war period, Foster was obsessed with forging unity with any enemies of Communism. Like the Council on Foreign Affairs, Sullivan and Cromwell was another component of the ruling class mechanism. Allen worked for the firm as well.
With much of the history of the ruthless, violent, and undemocratic trajectory of US foreign policy in the 1950s now widely acknowledged, Kinzer cannot mask the devious and bloody role of the brothers in orchestrating it. Instead, he does a shrewd job of softening it by focusing on only six covert plots against foreign “monsters” perceived as standing in the way of US interests. The six-- Iran's Mossadegh, Guatemala's Arbenz, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, Indonesia's Sukharno, Congo's Lumumba, and Cuba's Fidel-- are specifically targeted by the Dulles brothers for having the audacity to defy the US. All six cases are well-documented independently, with the Sukharno case the least well-known (Kinzer fails to fully indict the CIA in its collaboration in assassinating a million Indonesian Communists and their allies).
This spin on CIA extra-legal killings, coups, and assassination attempts feeds a simple-minded psychological explanation of the Dulles disposition to rearrange the world to suit US capital. Drawing on a bizarre interpretation of the celebrated movie, High Noon, Kinzer paints the Dulles brothers as counterparts to the cowboy hero “...reluctant to fight, but moved to do so because otherwise good people will suffer.” What makes this particular allusion so twisted is that the screenwriter, Carl Foreman, intended the film to be a less-than-veiled attack on the cowardice of those lacking the spine to confront anti-Communist blacklisting and McCarthyism. What was meant as an attack on the Cold War mentality is converted by Kinzer into an excuse for that Cold War mentality. Oddly, many right wingers see High Noon as Kinzer does. But the old loud-mouthed red-baiter, John Wayne, knew better-- he refused the lead because he smelled an anti-blacklist allegory.
Kinzer postures his account as a study of an aberration, a time when well-meaning people did some now embarrassing things because they exaggerated the Soviet threat. But none of these postures are proven by Kinzer; they are merely stated as fact. There seems no good reason to view two Cold Warriors as well-meaning when they brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and caused the deaths of literally millions. There is no compelling reason to conclude that there really was a Soviet threat to the security of the US, unless one assumes the Soviet desire for world socialism was somehow more intrinsically aggressive than the US desire for a capitalist world. But posturing the Dulles's foreign policy as an aberration is preposterous. The aggressiveness of the CIA and the US military after the reign of the brothers only intensified. Kinzer surely can't be blind to the US interventions in Vietnam, Angola, Panama, Grenada, Chile, and right up to the more recent aggressions against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia, and Syria. The Dulles brothers provided a blue print and not an aberration.
So why does a distinguished writer for The New York Times writing for Times Books choose to write a critical, but sympathetic biography of these two ruthless Cold Warriors?
One finds the answer in the final chapter. Kinzer quotes Senator William Fulbright, an often lonely critic of the Fosters and US foreign policy, as saying that John Foster “misleads public opinion, confuses it, [and] feeds it pap.” But if Dulles fed the public “pap,” he did it through the intermediary of the US news media, including The New York Times. It is transparently obvious that the media of the Dulles era not only failed to challenge the Dulles world view but actively promoted and disseminated it. In that regard, Kinzer's employer is complicit in fanning the flames of Cold War fervor and sanctioning the violence and lawlessness that emerged from it.
To escape this unpleasant judgment on the Cold War media, Kinzer finds a convenient, handy scapegoat: the US public. Amidst splashes of psycho-babble, Kinzer explains:
Part of the answer lies in their personal backgrounds, part in the realm of psychology. The most important explanation, however, may be: they did it because they are us. If they were shortsighted, open to violence, and blind to the subtle realities of the world, it was because these qualities help define American foreign policy and the United States itself.
The Dulles brothers personified ideals and traits that many Americans shared during the 1950s, and still share... they embodied the national ethos. What they wanted, Americans wanted.
In all of this, the Dulles brothers were one with their fellow Americans. Their attitudes were rooted in the American character. They were pure products of the United States.
Now this is a shabby, dishonest piece of writing. Their “fellow Americans”-- millions of ordinary people-- were not like the Dulles brothers. They were not privileged Ivy League graduates born in the midst of the elite of the elites. Nor is it fair to the millions of US citizens who never had the opportunity to walk the path or through the doors open to the brothers to say that these citizens were “shortsighted,” “open to violence,” or “blind to subtle realities.” Certainly millions of their fellow citizens unwisely trusted these pillars of high society to not succumb to these character flaws. They were betrayed, just as they were betrayed by a compliant, cowardly media.
In his tortured finale, Kinzer persists in excusing the brothers and their Cold War enablers, the media. To his credit, he recognizes some of the great harm incurred on their watch; to his shame, he places the blame at the doorstep of the US public: “The blame, however, does not end with them. To gaze at their portraits and think, 'They did it,' would be reassuring. It would also be unfair. Americans who seek to understand the roots of their country's trouble in the world should look not at Foster and Allen's portraits but in a mirror.”
Kinzer would like us to believe that we collectively bear the blame for despicable deeds that were done behind our backs and without our consent, deeds that a compliant media, including his patron, The New York Times, were only too eager to ignore, distort, and approve.
Following Kinzer's logic, the public is responsible for the hyper-spying of the NSA so recently revealed by Snowden. The fact that it was kept from public scrutiny by the government and the media matters not. If we are indignant over authorities collecting our phone calls and other electronic communications, we should look “in a mirror” and accept the blame.
Of course this is ridiculous.
Kinzer serves a cold dish of obfuscation and blame-deflection with his book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and their Secret World War. Readers should be wary of this calculated apology for imperialism and its high commanders. There is little new in Kinzer's account apart from some anecdotal hi-jinks. And much of the ugly side of US foreign policy is omitted. There is no indictment of an enthusiastically collaborative Cold War media either, only an embarrassing silence about their role.
Stephen Kinzer's patrons will be happy.

Zoltan Zigedy

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cooperatives: A Cure for Capitalism?

Co-ops-- cooperative economic enterprises-- have been embraced by significant groups of people at different times and places. Their attraction precedes the heyday of industrial capitalism by offering a means to consolidate small producers and take advantage of economies of scale, shared risk, and common gain.

At the advent of the industrial era, cooperatives were one of many competing solutions offered to ameliorate the plight of the emerging proletariat. Social engineers like Robert Owen experimented with cooperative enterprises and communities.

In the era of mass socialist parties and socialist construction, cooperatives were considered as intermediate steps to make the transition from feudal agrarian production towards socialist relations of production.

Under the capitalist mode of production, co-ops have filled both employment and consumption niches deferred by large scale capitalist production. Economic activities offering insufficient profitability or growth have become targets for cooperative enterprise.

In theory, cooperatives may offer advantages to both workers and consumers. Workers are thought to benefit because the profits that are expropriated by non-workers in the capitalist mode of production are shared by the workforce in a cooperative enterprise (less the present and anticipated operating expenses and investments, of course). Many argue as well that the working conditions are necessarily improved since workplace decisions are arrived at democratically absent the lash associated with the profit-mania of alienated ownership (though little attention is paid to the consequences for productivity and competitiveness against capitalist enterprises).

Consumers are said to benefit when they collectively appropriate the retail functions normally assumed by privately owned, profit-driven outlets. Benefit comes, on this view, by purchasing from wholesale suppliers, collectively meeting the labor requirements of distribution, and enjoying the cost-savings from avoiding a product markup (little attention is paid to limitations on participation dictated by class, race, or gender; the wholesale quantity discounts enjoyed by capitalist chains are also conveniently overlooked).

A case can also be made for the cooperator's dedication to quality, safety, and health- promotion.

In reality, cooperatives in the US are largely indistinguishable from small businesses. Like small private businesses, they employ few people and rely heavily upon “sweat equity” for capitalization. Like other small businesses, US cooperatives operate on the periphery of the US economy, apart from the huge monopoly capitalist firms in manufacturing, service, and finance.

Cooperatives as a Political Program

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism, many on the US Left have rummaged for a new approach to the inequalities and injustices that accompany capitalism. Where more than a decade of anti-Communist purges had wrung nearly all vestiges of socialist sympathy from the US psyche, the fall of the ludicrously-named “Iron Curtain” found Leftists further distancing themselves from Marxian socialism. Hastily interning the idea of socialism, they reached for other answers.

It is unclear whether this retreat was actually a search for a different anti-capitalist path or, in reality, grasping an opportunity to say farewell to socialism.

In recent years, several Leftists, “neo-Marxists”, or fallen Marxists have advocated cooperatives as an anti-capitalist program. Leading advocates include the Dollars and Sense collective centered around the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, GEO (Grassroots Economic Organizing), Professor Gar Alperovitz, Labor Notes, United Steel Workers of America, and media Marxist-du-jour, Professor Richard Wolff. Some are organizing around the idea of a “New Economy” or a “Solidarity Economy”, with cooperative enterprises as a centerpiece.

Now coops are not foreign to Marxist theory. After World War I, the Italian government sought to transfer ownership of unused land from big estates, latifondi, on to peasants, especially veterans. As much as 800,000 hectares were thus passed on to poor peasants. Through this process and land seizures, the number of smallholders increased dramatically. Socialists and Communists urged the consolidation of these holdings into collectives, agricultural cooperatives. Certainly more than 150,000 hectares ended up in cooperatives. In those circumstances, the rationale was to increase the productivity, to save the costs, to enhance the efficiency of peasant agriculture in order to compete with the large private estates. Cooperatives were not seen as an alternative to socialism, but a rational step away from near feudal production relations toward socialism, a transitional stage.

Likewise, in the early years of the Soviet Union, Communists sought to improve small-scale peasant production by organizing the countryside into collective farms, producers' cooperatives. They saw cooperative arrangements as rationalizing production and, therefore, freeing millions from the tedium and grind of subsistence farming and integrating them into industrial production. Through mechanization and division of labor, they expected efficiency and productivity to grow dramatically, speeding development and paving the way for socialism.

Again, cooperative enterprises counted as an intermediary for moving towards socialist relations of production. Thus, Marxists see the organization of cooperatives as a historically useful bridge between rural backwardness and socialism.

But modern day proponents of cooperatives see them differently.

The 'evolutionary reconstructive' approach is a form of change different not only from traditional reform, but different, too, from traditional theories of 'revolution'” says Gar Alperovitz of cooperatives and other elements of the “Solidarity Economy” (America beyond Capitalism, Dollars and Sense, Nov/Dec, 2011). Like most proponents, Alperovitz sees cooperatives as pioneering a “third way” between liberal reformism and socialist revolution. However, a minority of advocates (Bowman and Stone, “How Coops can Change the World”, D&S, Sept/Oct, 1998, for example) see cooperatives as the “best first step towards that goal [of a planned, democratic world economy]. They suggest that the correct road is through “spreading workplace democracy” and on to socialism.

Whether postured as a “third way” or a step towards socialism, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the extent and success of the cooperative movement; it is equally challenging to gather a sense of how it is suppose to function in a capitalist economy.

As for numbers, Alperovitz (“America beyond Capitalism”, D&S, Nov/Dec, 2011) muddies the waters by citing the numbers of “community development corporations” and “non-profits” (Alperovitz, 2011) as somehow strengthening the case for cooperatives. The fact that community development corporations have wrested control of neighborhoods from old-guard community and neighborhood groups and embraced developers and gentrification causes him no distress. Of course “non-profits” count as an even more dubious expression of a solidarity economy. In a city like Pittsburgh, PA, mega-non-profits remove 40% of the assessed property from the tax rolls. These non-profits not only evade taxes, but divide enormous “surpluses” among super-salaried executives. They beggar funding from tax shelter trusts and endowment funds, completing the circle of wink-and-a-nod tax evasion. Of course there are, as well, thousands of “non-profits” that pursue noble goals and operate on a shoestring.

Alperovitz alludes to credit unions as perhaps sharing the spirit of cooperation without noting the steady evolution of these once “third way” institutions towards a capitalist business model. Insurance companies also share this evolution, but they are too far down this path of transition to capitalist enterprise to be credibly cited by Alperovitz.

Alperovitz leaves us with “...11,000 other businesses that are owned in whole or part by their employees.” In this slippery total of whole or partial worker ownership are included ESOPs-- Employee Stock Ownership Programs, a touted solution to the plant closing surge that ripped through the Midwest in the 1980s. Alperovitz pressed vigorously for ESOPs in the steel industry in the 1980s as he does cooperatives today. When asked to sum up their track record, one sympathetic consultant, when pressed, said: “I don't think its been a real good record of success. Some have actually failed...” (Mike Locker, “Democracy in Steel?”, D&S, Sept/Oct, 1998). But we get no firm number for cooperatives in the US.

Another advocacy group for cooperatives gave a more candid picture of the cooperative movement in the Sept/Oct, 1998 issue of Dollars and Sense (“ESOPS and Coops”). A study by the Southern Appalachian Cooperative Organization claimed that there were 154 worker-owned cooperatives employing 6,545 members in the US. In sixty percent of the 154, all workers were owners. Median annual sales were $500,000 and 75 percent had 50 or fewer workers. Twenty-nine percent of the coops were retail, twenty-eight percent were small manufacturing, and twenty-three per cent food related businesses.

Interestingly, the same article claims that there were approximately 11,000 ESOPs in 1988 (source: National Center of Employee Ownership). If we take Alperovitz's 2011 claim seriously, there has been little growth in the ensuing thirteen years of “...businesses that are owned in whole or part by their employees...”.

From this profile, we can conclude that cooperatives in the US are essentially small businesses accounting for a tiny portion of the tens of millions of firms employing less than 50 employees. As such, they compete against the small service sector and niche manufacturing businesses that operate on the periphery of monopoly capitalism. Insofar as they pose a threat to capitalism, they only threaten the other small-scale and family owned businesses that struggle against the tide of price cutting, media marketing, and heavy promotion generated by monopoly chains and low-wage production. They share the lack of capital and leverage with their private sector counterparts. Cooperatives swim against the tide of monopolization and acquisition that have virtually destroyed the mom and pop store and the neighborhood business.

Some of the more clear-headed advocates acknowledge this reality. Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone concede the point: “...Marx argued in 1864 that capitalists' political power would counteract any gains that coops might make. This has proven true! When capitalists have felt threatened by cooperatives, they have conducted economic war against coops by smear campaigns, supplier boycotts, sabotage, and, especially, denying credit to them.” (Bowman and Stone, D&S, Sept/Oct, 1998).


Until recently, cooperators and their advocates had one very large arrow in their quiver.
When pressed on the apparent weakness of cooperatives as an anti-capitalist strategy, they would counter loudly: “Mondragon!”.

This large-scale network of over 100 cooperative enterprises based in Spain seemed to defy the criticisms of the cooperative alternative. With 80,000 or more worker-owners, billions of Euros in assets and 14 billion Euros in revenue last year, Mondragon was the shining star of the cooperative movement, the lodestone for the advocates of the global cooperative program.

But then in October, appliance maker Fagor Electrodomesticos, one of Mondragon's key cooperatives, closed with over a billion dollars of debt and putting 5500 people out of work. Worker-employees lost their savings invested in the firm. Mondragon's largest cooperative, the supermarket group Eroski, also owes creditors 2.5 billion Euros. Because the network is so interlocked, these setbacks pose long term threats to the entire system. As one worker, Juan Antonio Talledo, is quoted in The Wall Street Journal (“Recession Frays Ties at Spain's Co-ops”, December 26, 2013): “This is our Lehman moment.”

It is indeed a “Lehman moment”. And like the Lehman Bros banking meltdown in September of 2008, it makes a Lehman-like point. Large scale enterprises, even of the size of Mondragon and organized on a cooperative basis, are susceptible to the high winds of global capitalist crisis. Cooperative organization offers no immunity to the systemic problems that face all enterprises in a capitalist environment. That is why a cooperative solution cannot constitute a viable alternative to capitalism. That is why an island of worker-ownership surrounded by a violent sea of capitalism is unsustainable.

The failures at Mondragon have sent advocates to the wood shed (see Leading theoretical light, Gar Alperovitz, has written in response to the Mondragon blues: “Mondrag√≥n's primary emphasis has been on effective and efficient competition. But what do you do when you are up against a global economic recession, on the one hand, or radical cost challenges from Chinese and other low-cost producers, on the other?”

What do you do? Shouldn't someone have thought of that before they offered a road map towards a “third way”? Are “global economic recessions” uncommon? Is low cost production new? And blaming the Chinese is simply unprincipled scapegoating.

Alperovitz goes on: “The question of interest, however - and especially to the degree we begin to face the question of what to do about larger industry - is whether trusting in open market competition is a sufficient answer to the problem of longer-term systemic design.” Clear away the verbal foliage and Alperovitz is admitting that he never anticipated that open market competition would snag Mondragon. Did he think that Fagor sold appliances outside of the market? Did he think that Mondragon somehow got a free pass in global competition?

Of course the big losers are the workers who have lost their jobs and savings. It would be mistaken to blame the earnest organizers or idealistic cooperators who sincerely sought to make a better, more socially just workplace. They gambled on a project and lost. Of course social justice should not be a gamble.

The same sympathy cannot be shown for those continuing to tout cooperatives as an alternative to capitalism. If you want to open small businesses (organized as cooperatives), be my guest! But please don't tell me and others that it's somehow a path beyond capitalism.

Comrades and friends: It's impossible to be anti-capitalist without being pro-socialist!

Zoltan Zigedy

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Looking Back: Five Years after the Obama Election

By 2008, the US electorate was fed up with George Bush. In fact, the US ruling class was fed up, too. Internationally, US prestige was at a low point, thanks to the Bush administration's brazen and failed military aggressions. Domestically, the bottom had fallen out of the US economy. It was time for him to go. His failings cast a shadow over the system's legitimacy.
Anyone with even a passing understanding of US history understood that “regime change” was in the cards. That is, it was the moment for the two-party juggernaut to spit out a fresh face untainted by the previous administration, vigorous, and promising a new direction. It was essential that new leadership appear different, self-confident, and representative of policies contrasting with the old regime.
We saw this before.
Franklin Roosevelt was such a figure. He came forward as a clean, untainted alternative to the failed Hoover administration. Disgust with Hoover was so great, that merely by avoiding large, looming issues, FDR was able to capture the Presidency with a virtual carte blanche to rescue the sinking capitalist economy. Yet he was, as a leading commentator of the time, Walter Lippmann, observed before Roosevelt's election, “... 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. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President." All historians agree that Roosevelt was, first and foremost, practical. If policies worked or were popular, he supported them.
Over time, a myth arose that Roosevelt was a savior, a messianic figure who arose and smote the rich and powerful. Those who organized the bonus marches, the unemployment councils, the general strikes, the tenant and share cropper actions of the Depression era, like those who built the industrial unions that made up the powerful CIO, were swept under the historical rug. Acknowledging that they were the source or driving force for New Deal reforms was an inconvenient truth. That said, Roosevelt's pragmatism, his respect for new ideas in desperate times, marked him as an uncommon political leader.
The New Deal myth sustained the Democratic Party for decades, even though Party leaders began a retreat from the New Deal upon Roosevelt's death. After 1944, the “New Deal” label fell into disuse as both political Parties rallied around anti-Communism and a relatively benign social compact. Political leaders willingly conceded a modest social contract with labor for cooperation in the anti-Communist campaign and business unionism.
Anti-Communist excesses (so-called “McCarthyism”), overt and institutional racism (segregation), setbacks in foreign policy (Cuba, the U-2) tarnished the US reputation internationally and stirred discontent at home by the end of the 1950s.
Once again, a new face, representing religious diversity, youth, cosmopolitan life style, and change, emerged as an alternative. John Kennedy, like FDR, injected vigor into a two-party landscape driven by the now dominant medium of television. Again regime change was in order and the appearance of regime change was achieved. Despite the mythology of the Kennedy Camelot-- and sealed by his assassination-- Kennedy's administration was ruled by the continuation of the Cold War and lip-service to domestic discontent. While some opportunistic adjustments were forced on his administration, Kennedy largely sought to construct a more compassionate, tolerant face to US capitalism; his assassination obviously shows that this was not acceptable to many important, powerful members of the old club.
Months after the Kennedy assassination, left pundit I.F. Stone captured Kennedy's role: “ ...Kennedy, when the tinsel was stripped away, was a conventional leader, no more than an enlightened conservative, cautious as an old man for all his youth, with a basic distrust of the people and an astringent view of the evangelical as a tool of leadership.”
Less than a decade later, with the criminal implosion of the Nixon administration, the credibility of the US political system was undermined. Resignations, criminal charges and Impeachment bred an unprecedented cynicism and challenge to two-party legitimacy.
A fresh face entered from the wings: Jimmy Carter, neither a Senator nor a corporate attorney, but an obscure Southern Governor and a peanut farmer. Like Roosevelt, Carter brought a fresh, unstained image to the political game, a much-needed contrast to the sleaze of his predecessors.
I wrote in 2008 of the 1976 election: “Most citizens looked to the then forthcoming elections with a profound desire for a new course. The Democrats chose a political outsider, Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia. Carter promised to make the government 'as good as the people.' Pundits hailed Carter as a departure from the old politics and a fresh, honest voice for change (e.g. The Miracle of Jimmy Carter, Howard Norton and Bob Slosser, 1976).”
I went on to note that Carter proved to be a prophet of false hope and absent change. He quickly turned his back on the most progressive Democratic platform since the New Deal and ushered in economic policies that were soon to be dubbed “Reaganomics.
It was this historical backdrop that prompted me to suggest that candidate Barack Obama might well be another postured savior at a moment of crisis in the two-Party system, a carefully crafted, groomed alternative to a bumbling, embarrassing regime.
There are some striking and illuminating parallels between this election season and the Presidential election campaign of 1976... Like the eight years of the Bush administration, the eight years of Nixon/Ford produced an unparalleled collapse of support for the Republican Party. The Watergate scandal coupled with the failure of the US military in Vietnam and an economic crisis left the Republican Party wounded and regrouping.
Similar to 1976 Presidential candidate J. Carter, his presumptive 2008 counterpart, Barack Obama, is viewed as a Washington “outsider”. He has campaigned as a candidate of change. Pundits hail him as a fresh voice untainted by the vices of the establishment.
Obama must contend with similar issues: a brutal military adventure, collapsing mass living standards, and an economy exhibiting more and more of the symptoms of “stagflation.” Like Carter, his campaign is geared to appealing to the mass base of the Democratic Party: the working class, liberals, and African-Americans. His campaign strategists will likely recommend - as Carter’s advisors did - that the candidate tack to the right to garner center-right and independent votes going into the general election. Every Democratic Party Presidential candidate since has employed a similar strategy. Despite this maneuver, Carter managed to lose his huge lead in the polls and eke out a narrow victory in the November election. Nonetheless, this failed approach continues to seduce Democratic Party tacticians. (ZZ, 2008: A Reprise of 1976? Fall, 2008)
Obama represented a constant of modern US politics: political crisis or threat to legitimacy spawning a face-lift, cosmetic changes, and a re-kindling of “hope” and “change” in the form of a vigorous, youthful, well-spoken Democrat. And Obama, as an African American, had the special appeal of breaking through racial barriers and perhaps sharing some common sensibilities with diverse peoples outside of the US.
While contemporary history taught that appearance generally belied actual change, liberals and most of the US Left succumbed to the allure, putting aside their picket signs, marching shoes, and petitions to open their pocketbooks and enthusiasm to the Obama campaign.
With the November, 2008 victory under his belt, Obama's unprecedented campaign contributions from the financial sector, his lame, discredited cabinet appointees, and his blatant, shameless, scandalizing of his home-town pastor, Reverend Wright, left the adoring Left unfazed.
By fitting Obama with the mantle of progressive change, 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. Why have these lessons been ignored? (ZZ, Let Obama be Obama? December 29, 2008)
Yet everyone from the Hollywood liberal set to the Communist Party USA hailed Obama as the Second-coming of FDR, if not Lincoln.
Over the top, but representative of the self-delusional moment, one hopped-up “progressive” wrote in a widely disseminated 19-page homage to the election of Barack Obama: "...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."
Leaving aside the hyperbole (less than 130 million people voted for BOTH candidates and 400 years takes us back to well-before there was a USA), this screed correctly captured the unjustified euphoria that swept through the Left.
Seemingly, every generation of the Left surrenders to the false hope of the Democratic Party; every generation repeats the same mistake.
Tragedy? Farce?
Today, the Obama administration owns the betrayal of the EFCA promise to labor, an untenable healthcare system borrowed from Mitt Romney, 800 hundred deaths a month in the failed state of Iraq, an Afghani nation that may kick the US military out before it plans to leave, the destabilization of Libya and Syria, a broken promise on Guantanamo, widening income and wealth gaps, crumbling infrastructures, a host of unfulfilled promises, a legacy of corporate coddling, and cowardly and illegal (drone) murders. The shattering of a racial barrier-- the election of the first African American President-- has shamefully served to cover the criminal neglect and decline of the well-being of African Americans.
And everyone knows it. In 2013 alone, Obama's approval rating dropped nine points to 43%; the percentage believing that Obama is honest and straightforward has dropped ten points to 37%.
And this is the candidate embraced by the broad Left in 2008?
With three years left-- two years before the 2016 Presidential campaign begins in earnest-- Democratic Party influentials are pressing Obama to establish some kind of legacy to energize the base, to charge up the “respectable” Left and labor for future elections. As a lame-duck, he will likely make numerous gestures towards the social, life-style issues valued by the upper-middle strata-- the petty-bourgeoisie. There may even be a highly publicized, but feeble attempt to raise the minimum wage. But expect no serious changes in ruling class foreign or economic policy. Liberals have demonstrated that they will not hold elected Democrats to any promises on these questions.
Will this herd the sheep-like liberals and soft-Left back into the fold? Will they repeat again the slavish loyalty of the past? Will they drink the Kool-aid?
Or will people finally recognize the Democratic Party trap and begin to construct a movement towards independent politics, perhaps rallying around Jill Stein and the Green Party? Will there be a long overdue departure from bankrupt ideology and shameless opportunism? Will the idea of people power and the companion notion of socialism take root?
We have a new year to find out...

Zoltan Zigedy