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Monday, July 20, 2015

The Greek Tragedy

They were young, attractive, well-educated, and the darlings of the non-Communist left (and even some Communists!). The leaders of the Greek party, SYRIZA, promised the Greek people an escape from the jaws of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission. Instead, they delivered the humiliating surrender of a people who only a week earlier had demonstrated a clear rejection of accommodation to the EU ruling classes.
The Financial Times headlined: “Greek PM likely to rely on opposition to pass most intrusive programme ever mounted by EU.” (My emphasis)
Regarding the SYRIZA surrender, The Real News commentator, Dmitri Lascaris, declared that “this is one of the worst political debacles in modern European history.”
Journalist and award-winning documentarian, John Pilger acidly commented: “An historic betrayal has consumed Greece. Having set aside the mandate of the Greek electorate, the Syriza government has willfully ignored last week’s landslide “No” vote and secretly agreed [to] a raft of repressive, impoverishing measures in return for a ‘bailout’ that means sinister foreign control and a warning to the world.”
Predictably, the non-revolutionary left scrambled to put an apologetic spin on the embarrassing collapse of the SYRIZA program. Before the draconian deal, the entire spectrum of the US left—from “progressive” Democrats to neo-Marxists and other hyphenated pseudo-Marxists---were swept into a love fest for SYRIZA unlike any since the orgy of Obama-mania. Typical of the post-referendum SYRIZA craze was the statement by the loquacious “Marxist” economist Richard Wolff on Democracy Now!
...And if Syriza can pull that off, the message sent to the comparable groups in every other European country is a staggering reconception of what the future of Europe may look like, where the words "anti-capitalism" become a unifying slogan for people across that continent...
You cannot impose economic structural reforms on a population that has voted 60 percent against them, with the television blaring out propaganda for them, every TV station and every newspaper, virtually, doing that. You just can’t do it. It’s not a question of argument; it’s a question of fact. (7-7-15)
Well, Professor Wolff, the Troika did it, thanks to the capitulation of SYRIZA.
Rather than heap deserved blame on the SYRIZA leadership, it is surely more useful to draw lessons from a fiasco that will have disastrous consequences for the Greek people. Of the many possible lessons, I offer the following three:
1. Social democracy offers no answer to the crisis of capitalism in its many manifestations. Whether it is the untenable strategy of overturning the neo-liberal model of capitalism and returning to the “golden age” of welfare statist policies, the once popular doctrine that “a rising tide raises all boats,” or the contradictory notion of democratizing capitalism, reformist programs that accommodate the bourgeois state and capitalist relations of production will fail to deliver the people from increasing immiseration and degradation. The European experience teaches nothing if not that.
Europeans have understandably lost patience with the evolution of their parliamentary systems toward two poles: tyranny of markets and tyranny of markets with a human face. They are turning instead to “radical” parties of the right and left. SYRIZA is an example of a “radical” party of the left that occupies the untenable space of defying the logic of capitalism while accepting its legitimacy. This is akin to diagnosing cancer while refusing treatment.
Clearly, the newly minted Euro-left parties that hide social democratic accommodation of capitalism behind the mask of “anti-capitalism” promise no more success than SYRIZA.
2. The Greek Communists (KKE) won a moral and ideological victory with their steadfast position that the SYRIZA program would end in disaster. They argued consistently that SYRIZA's attempt to “manage” capitalism would end badly. Speaking before a July 2 rally in Athens, General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas stated emphatically:
Both the YES and the NO mean the acceptance of a new memorandum of anti-people measures, perhaps the worst that we have seen up to now.
Both the YES and NO will lead the people to new torments and tragedies. •Both the YES and the No mean anti-worker, anti-people measures. •The referendum is an alibi for a new memorandum-agreement at the expense of the Greek people.
The KKE calls on the Greek people to reject all the blackmail, to cast its proposal into the ballot box and say:
Nearly 6% of the voters-- a remarkable write-in result-- complied with Koutsoumpas' call.
Not surprisingly, the bourgeois media ignored KKE's campaign against the maneuvers and manipulations of the SYRIZA-ANEL government; one would expect no less from the mouthpieces of the capitalist ruling classes. However, the nearly total disregard of the KKE critique and counter-program by the broad left is indefensible. Apart from a few Leninist organizations, KKE's position was either ignored or subjected to derision. Particularly in the US, intense anti-Communism and ideological conformity led to an almost complete misreading of the Greek tragedy, a development that could have been avoided with a measure of non-sectarian tolerance toward the KKE analysis.
With the collapse of SYRIZA as a left oppositional party, only KKE holds the banner of left resistance. Let's see if our “left” friends will support its struggle.
3. For those of us living in the US, those of us destined to suffer through a tortuous, sensationalized, but ultimately disappointingly predictable Federal electoral campaign, the SYRIZA debacle holds some interesting parallels. As a friend and comrade so astutely points out, the Bernie Sanders campaign is a similar Trojan horse channeling dissatisfaction with capitalist institutions away from truly radical, effective solutions.
Instead of mounting a truly independent campaign outside of the two-party black hole, Sanders chose to run in the Democratic primary while promising neither to bolt the Party nor to withhold support from the primary victor regardless of the outcome. Thus, when he falls in the primaries to Hilary Clinton's corporate coffers-- as every serious commentator acknowledges he will, Sanders will dutifully urge the Party's progressive wing to accept defeat and climb aboard Clinton's juggernaut.
Apologists for this quixotic campaign will argue that Sanders will at least move the campaign conversation leftward. Of course this flies in the face of every primary campaign in any voter’s memory. Every Democratic Party primary season swings leftward in deference to the hard-core base, only to swing even further rightward to accommodate the “centrists” that strategists hope to cultivate. More often than not this strategy backfires; yet it remains an irreproachable axiom in the age of television and the Internet.
Sanders says in his campaign literature: “...the billionaire class is spending huge amounts of money to buy candidates and elections. We are now witnessing the undermining of American democracy and the rapid movement towards oligarchy where a handful of very wealthy families and their Super PACs will control our government.”
Does he think this process will be suspended for the 2016 primary season? Does he not count the Clinton family, its foundation, and its massive fund-raising machine as part of that “oligarchy”?
If Senator Sanders believes his words, he would support a movement away from this trap and not lend his name to legitimizing a corrupted, bankrupt process.
Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Racism: Hidden in Full View

How Pundits and the Media Deflect Attention from the Cancer

The June 18 murder of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina was a racist act, a calculated political statement, an assassination, another instance of the pervasive racism that has seeped into everyday life.
It was not an act of derangement or a flag-inspired event. It was not a crime directed against religious practitioners or as an attention-getter. It was not caused by gun-mania. Nor was it terror-driven. It was not the inexplicable act of a lone, desperate gunman. Politicians, “experts,” and the media want you to believe it was any and all of these things.
They do not want you to see it for what it was: a deliberate, racist murder that springs from the politics, institutions, and culture of the United States.
For days, talk radio, NPR, network news, and the commentariat debated a civil war battle flag, as though racism would be extinguished if all the symbols associated with the losing side in a civil war concluded one hundred-fifty years ago were expunged from public display. Liberals talked of removing street signs and statues. Symbol watch dogs now ceaselessly scrutinize everything from Civil War re-enactors to license plates, as if a world absent these reminders of slavery would eradicate racism. The stench of racism is being taken for its fetid substance.
Gun control advocates reached out to remind us of the damage that a .45 caliber Glock pistol can do. They spin the assassination as enabled by the availability of lethal firearms, conveniently ignoring the ugly legacy of racist violence through lynchings, bombings, and burnings. In the minds of many commentators, the Charleston event was little different from unfortunate, everyday violence perpetrated with guns. Racism is swept under the rug.
And then there are the hair-splitters who want to press the description of “terrorist” on the young racist assassin, correctly noting the hypocrisy of applying it selectively for some acts and not others. But the word “terrorism” has no legitimate use. It is dishonestly stretched to include virtually every national liberation movement from the Algerian FLN, the Palestinian PLO, to the South African ANC, earning Nelson Mandela the dubious distinction of being labeled a terrorist. On the other hand, the term has been opportunistically shrunk to exclude the death squads in US-friendly nations and the death-dealing, genocidal invasions and aggressions of the US military and its NATO allies. “Terrorist” has become the emotive expletive reserved for the victims of the bullies of the world. Does it enlighten to include the racist killer in the corrupted category of terrorist?
Talk show hosts think so. They consult experts to debate the question. And the question of racism is again evaded.
Politicians speak earnestly of a conversation or a dialogue on race. They want no such discussion unless it skirts the question of societal, institutional racism. They do no want to raise the matter of African American joblessness or African American poverty. They do not want to acknowledge the fact that many if not most Northern Blacks live in urban ghettos akin to Apartheid Bantustans. While African Americans are not required to carry internal passports, their skin color serves the same purpose in modern-day North America.
The media windbags will not revisit the betrayal of school desegregation in the 1974 Supreme Court decision Milliken v Bradley which effectively eviscerated Brown v Board of Education. The Burger Court stopped the desegregation process at the city limits, stoking white flight, accelerating the neglect of urban schools, and stifling the opportunity for urban African Americans to get a decent, equal education.
No leader dares shed light on the mass incarceration of Blacks, a process that has left millions of African American males socially ostracized, disenfranchised, and removed from life-opportunities. The passing of draconian laws and the simultaneous militarization of the police forces have been enforced with a Nazi-like brutality, only now marginally recognized by a justice-impaired media.
Pundits and policy makers willfully ignore the extreme and asymmetrical effects of radical deindustrialization upon the Black working class in Midwestern cities since the 1980's. Once vital, neighborhoods are now in shambles. And throughout the United States the near absence of Black faces on building sites can only be overlooked by those choosing to ignore it.
Public spaces for candid discussion and debate are dominated by shrill voices of fear. Before there was a Red scare in the US, before there was hysterical fear of Islam, there was fear of Black people. Birth of a Nation and Willie Horton book-end a century of scurrilous demonization of African Americans. Like anti-Communism and Muslim-hating, the consciously contrived fear of Blacks distracts the majority from its own grievances, its own abuse at the hands of the rich and powerful.
It is a bitter irony that these fears once enriched realtors who used the Black scare to herd whites to the suburbs and exurbs. Their children are now “gentrifying” cities, forcing Blacks from formerly affordable housing and out of these same cities, a not-too-subtle form of ethnic cleansing worthy of the Israeli settler-colonists in Palestine.
And when Black people rise up, as they did in Ferguson, Baltimore, and hundreds of places earlier, they are labeled “thugs,” “looters,” and “rioters.” The same press that delivers only invective in response to African American insurgency hypocritically labels Nazis in Ukraine “freedom fighters.” The same press that celebrates US-instigated coups against elected governments in Honduras and Ukraine finds nothing noteworthy in the institutional disenfranchisement of Black people through electoral maneuvers.
It is not merely hypocrisy that infects our media and culture, but the malignancy of racism. Mass culture-- television, film, etc-- and news media almost universally depict urban African Americans as gangsters, drug dealers, addicts, and other purveyors of violence and vulgarity. True, mass culture occasionally portrays Blacks sympathetically, but as the exceptional character escaping dysfunctionality.
The example of a dramatic shift in popular acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates the power of a cultural shift, a mainstreaming of a minority. As the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows, in only six years-- from 2009 to 2015-- support for gay marriage grew by 20 points, from 40% to 60%. This remarkable turn-around surely shows the effects of depicting gays as sympathetic figures in movies, sitcoms, news print, etc.
While the media should be applauded for helping secure this welcome change, it must be roundly condemned for persisting in demonizing African Americans. No similar effort has been made to mainstream Blacks. Instead, the powers owning and controlling our news and entertainment corporations fuel the fear, disdain, and even hatred directed at African Americans. They depict a minority alien to the values of hard work, civility, and respect. By portraying Blacks (and Hispanics as well as other minorities) as unworthy, they support their ruling class brothers and sisters and sow disunity in order to guarantee low wages and benefits, a ravaged social safety net, and social and political stability. There is nothing that ruling class elites fear more than the dissolving of the divisions, prejudices, and ignorance that preclude a unified, clear-sighted working class.
The corporate cultural and news complex, more than a shabby Civil War symbol, is responsible for the tragic event of June 18.
Given centuries of oppression and exploitation, along with a relentless campaign of social rejection, it is no wonder that Blacks are the only social group in the US with a more positive view of socialism than capitalism (Pew Research Center, May 4, 2010). One would hope that this wisdom garnered from the harsh lash of capitalism will be welcomed by others who are appalled by our country's treatment of their fellow citizens.
Zoltan Zigedy