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Friday, March 23, 2018

Running Amok

Periods of generalized fear and mass hysteria are not new to the United States. In the aftermath of both World Wars, a virulent Red Scare spread near and far. Thousands were caught in an official dragnet aimed at capturing Communists and other dissenters. At the same time, the government and powerful interests terrorized the rest of the population with fear of incrimination and stoked hatred toward those with ‘dangerous’ ideas. Threats were manufactured.

The suddenly shrunken ranks of principled civil libertarians, those yet to be cowed by the hysteria, saw parallels with witch hunts and inquisitions for good reason. They saw fear spawning outrageous claims and ridiculous charges. The fear of nuclear annihilation contributed to the madness of the 1950s, along with the cultural vulgarity of zombies and vampires. Flying saucers, alien invaders, rock and rollers, fluoride, motorcycle gangs, juvenile delinquents, and defiant atheists added to the terror of that time.

Some saw this as sheer insanity, but behind the orgy of fear was a calculated purging of domestic dissent and a stoking of foreign aggression and intervention, both essential for the crafting of a post-war political and foreign policy consensus. The calculation came easy to wealthy and powerful elements who had absorbed the lessons of the post-Civil War South, an era that nurtured outrageously contrived threats attributed to former slaves. The demonization of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and after served well as the basis for the virulent racism that protected the privileges of the white upper classes. Fear sustained a terroristic, racist ruling class

Therefore, US elites readily recognize the value of fear-mongering as an instrument of persuasion, as an arm-twister, as a lever of consent. They foresee and secure the eager complicity of the corporate media in amplifying these fears.

True to form, the lapdog capitalist media accept their mission of uncritically following the lead of US policy makers in manufacturing conflict in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, Northern Africa, and, most diligently, the Middle East. Media bought and sold the contrived excuses for invading Iraq without a whimper of dissent. The current Western consensus on Syria is grounded from “reporting” bylined Beirut or Ankara, where US embassy press releases are readily and safely available, or from the claims of a London-based “observatory” that incredibly touts reliable sources from afar in every oppositional town or village in Syria.

The foundation for this perversion of objectivity is fear, fear of ill-defined “terrorism,” fear of Islam, fear of brown people. As a result of this madness, the Middle East is fractured.

The historic success of fear-mongering has emboldened US rulers to offer a further set of demons, another source of great evil-- Russia. At a moment of slack political credibility, at a time of lost confidence in the US electoral process, Russia-bashing is serving as a useful distraction. It’s difficult to discern an evil-inspired motive for Russia to want to destroy our rotting political system when its system resembles our own money-driven, elite-dominated, craven media “pseudo-democracy.” Maybe they hope to retaliate for the US intervention in securing political changes throughout Eastern Europe, especially on multiple occasions in Ukraine. Doesn’t anyone remember US diplomat Victoria Nuland crudely selecting the leaders for a US-friendly Ukraine?

Despite no evidence-- credible or otherwise-- that any real damage has been accomplished by Russian perfidy, the millionaire TV news readers and the screeching commentariat have succeeded in turning public opinion around in a short span. Gallup reports that in the winter of 2010, most US respondents (47%) had a “favorable” opinion of Russia. By a small margin, most people had put aside the Cold War craziness. But by the spring of 2017, 70% of the respondents now had an “unfavorable” view of Russia. A remarkable turnaround based on little more than fear-mongering and innuendo.

Russia-bashing has long since moved beyond the charge of political influence that energized it. Like previous US infections of political hysteria, Russia now causes everything from tooth decay to impotence. One could see it only too clearly in a series of copycat headlines that appeared a week or so ago. BBC, Time, CNN, Reuters, The Times, ABC, and a host of other prominent media outlets featured a close variation of the headline Putin Ordered a Passenger Plane to be Shot Down. Some headlines were more shrill than others, some added that he called off the hit, but the lasting impression was that the callous Putin was about to order a commercial passenger plane to be blown up with the death of many innocent people before backing off. For those who bothered to read on, the plane was believed to be directed by a terrorist and heading for the Sochi Olympic games. Action was called off when the threat proved bogus.

Given that the emergency procedure would be and is a commonplace with any competent security service, it is difficult to understand why so many news services chose to highlight such an insignificant Putin anecdote, except to exploit the existing anti-Putin mindset.

No opportunity is missed to further expand the fears of a Russian plan to destroy the US, though no one has exposed a credible motive.

Nearly all previous fright orchestrations have parlayed fear of a foreign “enemy” into a domestic crackdown-- threats from Reds abroad mean threats from Reds at home, for example.

So far, the RussiaGate fanatics have seemingly sought few domestic leftist foes to boil in oil.

That may be changing.

An unlikely witch hunter, the iconic liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, served up a pot-boiler conspiracy theory linking the “Brown” with the “Red”-- the so-called “alt-right” and the anti-imperialist movement. The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left wing resentment, authored by Alexander Reid Ross, a geography graduate student at Portland State University, pretends to expose a kind of united front between left and right knitted together by dark forces involving Putin, Rasputin-like Russians, and Russian “soft-power networks.”

Ross expresses his debt to an intellectual godfather, an anonymous self-styled anarchist blogger, “Vagabond,” who devoted 46,000 words in January to a meandering, unhinged attack on the US left for its “crypto-fascism.” Oddly, the acid-tongued Vagabond even castigates his sycophant, Ross, for posting on Counterpunch-- the “red-brown cesspool.”

A sample of Vagabond’s writing captures its ominous, conspiratorial tone:
Now, why should the Stalinoid/Marcyite WWP and the PSL be shunned, apart from their obvious history of genocide denial and support for atrocities, lies in their alliance with fascists. The difference with Ross and the Marcyite parties is that Ross, while unfortunately published by CounterPunch, does not himself collaborate with fascists while the Marcyite parties are active collaborators of Lyndon LaRouche and Duginists.

The supreme irony of this innuendo-laced diatribe is that it is so reminiscent of the language of the attacks in the late 1960s on the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Marxist left by the National Caucus of Labor Committees and its guru Lyn Marcus-- the aforementioned Lyndon Larouche. Like Larouche, Vagabond equates sharing a position on a public issue, any and even the most casual associations, or even attending a meeting or conference with the sin of “active collaboration.” This ‘gotcha’ politics was once solely the posture of the McCarthyite right, but has now become a signature feature with phony ‘antifascists’ like Vagabond and Ross.

Sadly, this charge of “red-brown” alliance seems to have gained traction in some anarchist and ‘antifa’ circles. In contrast to Vagabond’s shrill rants, Ross chooses a slightly more measured tone, referring to the imagined left-fascist connection as “syncretic”-- “syncretic networks,” “syncretic news sites,” “syncretic figures,” “syncretic hub,” etc. Despite the attempt at academic-sounding cosmetics, both authors share the goals of guilt by association, of slandering the left.

Unshorn of the dubious web of ‘associations,’ the argument at the center of the attack-- if it can be dignified by calling it an argument-- is quite simply and transparently invalid:
The ‘fascists’ or ‘alt-right’ supports a multi-polar world

The Russians support a multi-polar world

The left supports a multi-polar world

Ergo, The ‘fascists/alt-right,’ the Russians, and the left are in alliance or, in a “syncretic” relationship.

Repeatedly, Ross (and others) build their case around the allegation that support for a multi-polar world-- a world without one solely dominant power-- is the tell in demonstrating underlying alliances, common networks, or sympathies. It must never occur to those seeing conspiracy that people could support the same end-- a multi-polar world-- for vastly different reasons. It must never occur to Ross, Vagabond, and their ilk (or the Southern Poverty Law Center) that the rational alternative today to a multi-polar world is a unipolar world like the one envisioned by the ruling class of the US. US elites brashly claimed that world for themselves after the demise of the Soviet Union, costing those standing in the way millions of lives.

But it is futile to reason with pathologies.

To add the illusion of seriousness, Ross supplies the reader with a pretentious network ‘map’ that obfuscates more than it clarifies, a Venn diagram that is not a Venn diagram, and a “conceptual model” that is a Venn diagram. The point of this exercise is only to present the Far Right and the Hard Left visually as overlapping or interlinked, just in case the narrative proved too convoluted and tenuous to suggest such a conclusion.

It is a curious picture, displaying a bizarre caricature of the left and singling out only those elements of the left that challenge the current US foreign policy line: active measures against Russia, Assad’s Syria, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, and others. From Black Agenda Reports’ Margaret Kimberley to ANSWER’s Brian Becker, outspoken anti-imperialists are labeled as part of a “red-brown” network. Workers World Party, Party of Liberation and Socialism, and even the Green Party’s presidential candidate, Jill Stein, are allies of the fascists in this demented picture. The leading anti-imperialist organizations, the ANSWER Coalition and the United National Antiwar Coalition are similarly charged with ‘brown’ affiliation.

Of course the glue that binds these individuals and organizations to the hard right, in the estimation of Ross and friends, is Russia, its foreign policy, and especially its media arms-- RT and Sputnik. An appearance on either medium guarantees the “red-brown” disgrace.

For those in power, for those who crafted the imperialist policies that brought death, destruction, and chaos to the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and a host of other countries troubled by US intervention, an attack on the small, but dedicated “red” US left could not be more welcome.

History has shown that the vaunted liberal US values of fair play, due process, measured judgement, presumption of innocence, etc. are only credible when they are exercised under duress. Civil liberties are of greatest use precisely when they are most unpopular.

History also shows that in the most challenging times, in times of witch hunts and inquisitions, few liberals will step away from their comforts in defense of their values. Liberal fidelity runs thin.

With the endorsement of Ross’s baseless slander of the anti-imperialist and Marxist left, the Southern Poverty Law Center adds another chapter to that liberal history of disappointment, hypocrisy, and spinelessness.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has, on March 14, taken down the Ross posting. It is no longer accessible. In place of it, an “Explanation and Apology” has been posted that is neither an adequate explanation nor a sincere apology for the contemptible views originally posted. As SPLC sees it, “the article did not make the “point as clearly as it could or should have”, an explanation worthy of an adolescent caught in a fib. Further, the apology is extended to “those who believe they have been falsely described in it…”. There is no concession here that they have been falsely described. In my view, this weaselly “correction” only underscores the treason of the liberals in these dangerous times.

Greg Godels

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Collapse of the Center, Where is the Left?

With both the Italian elections and the German effort at a so-called “Grand Coalition” in the recent news, much attention has turned to political developments in Europe. For those of us in the US, interest comes not only from the impact of European politics on our own affairs, but also from the fact that US and European trends have often traveled parallel tracks.
For example, in much of the post-war period, governance in Europe has revolved around two centrist political poles that can be roughly characterized as Christian democracy and social democracy. Insofar as both poles defend capitalism and oppose Communism, support capitalist institutions, and are content to peacefully alternate rule, they mirror the US two-party system without the stricter institutional backstops that preserve the electoral system for the Republican and Democratic Party in the US.
Certainly, the Western European political systems were nominally multi-party after the war, but the dynamics of those systems steered political developments toward the center. The far right was appropriately neutered by the discrediting of Nazism and fascism as a consequence of World War II. The revolutionary left-- the Communists-- were overtly and covertly thwarted by the Cold War, the NATO consensus. Where the Communists enjoyed formal legality, the centrist parties, the US, and the NATO allies worked hand-in-glove to deny participation in government.
While both European Christian democracy and social democracy were firmly committed to the capitalist course, social democracy wittingly served as a buffer against the attraction of a workers’ state by advocating a kind of faux-socialism, a socio-economic safety net. As an insurance policy against the ascendency of European Communist Parties, Christian democracy tempered the right’s conventional economic liberalism of minimalist government, unfettered markets, and austere budgets, grudgingly accepting social spending and a more “humane” social contract.
Frustrated with the de facto barrier against Communist parliamentary success, many European Communist Parties began a process of concessions, of shedding revolutionary principles and prospects, creating a left-social democracy dubbed “Euro Communism.” A few Parties resisted this opportunistic path.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the European socialist states proved to be a watershed for European politics and, particularly, the left. The Euro Communist left, stripped of its untenable raison d'ĂȘtre-- Communism without Communism-- collapsed, leaving a void to the left of social democracy. Social Democracy, in turn, cast off faux-socialism for public-private partnership under the direction of monopoly capitalism: markets, and not social policies, were to provide for the masses. And, without the threat of Communism, the right returned to its fundamental character, aggressively pressing unrestrained class politics: anti-unionism, fiscal austerity, deregulation, privatization, and chauvinism.
Without the fear of Communism, capitalism found no need for an accommodation with the working class.
In the 1990s, Continental Europe followed the path blazed in the UK and US over a decade earlier by the Thatcher/Reagan axis. Faced with shifting alignments and the 1970s failure of Old Labour/New Deal policies (specifically, the Keynesian economic framework underlying both approaches), a new consensus began to emerge in both countries.
From the mid-1980s into the next decade, the new consensus spread to nearly all major political parties and around the globe. In its essence, it was a return to Whiggism, the political, social, and economic ideology of the bourgeoisie: parliamentarism, negative rights, and the economic liberalism of minimal regulation, preference for private over public initiative, and markets as decisive of all matters and in the last instance.
Pundits are fond of labeling this development “neo-liberalism,” a statement of the obvious. But the superficiality of that term obscures the fact that the turn is more than a mere policy. In fact, it is a response to the failings of the previous consensus and it constitutes the capitalist norm when the specter of Communism does not loom large over the future.
Social democrats in the US and Europe promoted the notion of a “third way” to mask their capitulation to classical capitalism and its totalizing influence over all aspects of society, over every global nook and cranny. In fact, after the demise of the Soviet Union and its socialist neighbors, there was the one way in the US and EU.
With capitalism marching triumphantly into the twenty-first century, most of the US and European left conceded that capitalism was resilient and here to stay. An inflated memory of a kinder, gentler capitalism might be the best that could be imagined.
But the triumphant project ran aground, crashing on the rocks of economic crises. The capitalist accumulation process imploded in 2000 and, again, even more severely, in 2007-2008. “Recovery” re-established accumulation, but left millions of broken, desperate people in its wake. Inequality, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, insecurity, and alienation afflicted millions in the US and the EU (and, of course, the rest of the world). Capitalism recovered, but the people did not. For the people, the entrenched ideological options of conservatism and social democracy offered only the thin gruel of austerity.
Mesmerized by rising equity values and restored profitability, and impressed with the growing wealth and well-being of the bourgeoisie and the visible and vocal petty bourgeoisie, ruling elites labor under the illusion that all is going well. In Europe and the US, the never-changing meal of celebrity-worship, sports, anti-social social media, and other distractions nourish a false sense of security and satisfaction.
But in towns and villages, neighborhoods and suburbs, people are suffering. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions are taking a demographic toll, unseen by high-income, physically segregated elites. As insecurities and dysfunctionality grow, millions feel a growing difference-- an often poorly expressed class difference-- between the beneficiaries of the capitalist economy and themselves, the losers.
Anger seethes.
Without the compass of a revolutionary ideology, without the vision of socialism, this anger remains unfocused, directed vaguely at government, the media, existing political parties, and, too often, convenient scapegoats.
As the anger emerges politically, it is met with elite derision, contempt, or condescension. It is seen by their “betters” as a product of the uneducated, the backward, the uncultured. As Hillary Clinton so famously put it: “the deplorables.”
The insularity of US and European elites-- divided from the masses by culture, social practices, power, status, and wealth-- leads directly to the political crisis that spawned Brexit, Trump’s election, the rise of “populist” or alternative political parties, and most decidedly, the discrediting of historically centrist parties. This last week’s desperate attempt to preserve a coalition of the center in Germany and the collapse of the center left and the shocking success of the Five Star Movement and extreme right in Italy only underscore the distance between the masses and the political parties carefully crafted by the bourgeoisie to contain the aspirations of those masses.
Behind these political developments lies a stagnant, sputtering global economy. It is apparent that segments of the ruling classes are uneasy with or reject the globalist ideology of open markets and are moving towards economic nationalism. The failure of growth to return has led many in the capitalist class to call for a change in direction: protectionism. The emergence of support for nationalism and protectionism has energized the Euro-skeptics, the extreme right, and Trump.
Of course, the other side of this political coin is the failure of the left, especially the left that is yet untainted by the stain of ineffectual social democracy. For the most part, the non-establishment left has failed to deliver a militant, persuasive message to the working people in Europe and the US. And where there is a still a credible militant Communist left, the waters have been muddied by false prophets-- for example, SYRIZA in Greece.
In many countries, the retreat from Marxism became a rout after the fall of the Soviet Union. In its place, ideologies like anarchism, utopian socialism, and cooperativism-- ideologies that had long been discredited by Marx himself-- are revived. The peculiarly North American mania for procedural democracy-- the view that justice will flow spontaneously like a natural spring when we unleash a radical version of Robert’s Rules of Order-- has returned to prominence as shown by to the now collapsed Occupy movement. And of course, left-lite liberals immerse themselves in the battles for self-identity and against “micro-aggressions” while minority identities are actually ravaged by the macro-aggressions of class war and capitalist exploitation.
In light of recent poor electoral showings, some have sought to explain the sorry state of the US and European left as a result of structural changes in capitalism. They see a new working class, the “precariat,” as superseding the traditional proletariat (even The Wall Street Journal has fancied the term). The “precariat” notion derives from the realities of a changing workplace of part-time, contract, temporary, and dispersed employment, an optimal realization of the classical liberal economic dream. This trend in employment has made organizing workers difficult, certainly more challenging than with the world of the traditional worker engaged in one lifetime or semi-lifetime job under a factory roof.
Of course, the structural changes cited are, to a great extent, the result of the failure of trade unions and political parties to defend the interests of workers against predatory capitalists. Moreover, the difficulties that these changes bring forth are obstacles to union organizing, less so to political parties. And history teaches that establishing militant political parties precedes organizing militant trade unionism. No task before the union movement today presents greater impediments than was the task of building industrial unions in the US in the 1930s. The challenge of establishing the CIO was only met, was only possible, because of the leadership and effort of Communist and socialist workers.
Needed is the return in influence of historically informed workers’ parties that draw upon the social theory of Marx and the organizational insights of Lenin (that is to say, parties that reject the backward Cold War dogma of Anything but Communism), Without the strong option of Communist or Workers’ Parties, the European and US working class will continue to face the repellent choice between decadent, rotting centrist parties and a host of new charlatan parties offering fool’s gold policies, magic elixirs, and vulnerable scapegoats. 
Only an independent, working class-oriented movement informed by Marxism-Leninism can provide a “third way” apart from the disaster of free-market globalism or the trap of economic nationalism.
The old saw that workers deserve their own party is more true today than ever-- an authentic anti-capitalist party that returns to the revolutionary legacy surrendered to opportunism and parliamentary illusions.

Greg Godels