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Monday, June 24, 2024

Lessons of the European Elections

The recent European Parliament elections shocked the mainstream European parties and their international friends and allies.

The 720-member European legislature has largely been the handmaiden for the technocrats in Brussels, who craft the economic and social direction of the European Union. Since its inception, the EU has presented a stable, reliable face of capitalist rule organized around market fundamentalism, minimizing market intervention, and slowing, even reversing, the growth of the public sector. The broad right-center and left-center-- traditional pro-business, liberal, and social democratic parties-- have united in ensuring that agenda. 

With the demoralization or decline of the anti-capitalist left, there has been little resistance mounted to the forward march of the EU program.

Into the breach left by a marginal or now timid anti-capitalist left, stepped a new wave of right-wing populists preparing to exploit the growing mass dissatisfaction with twenty-first-century capitalism and its political custodians. The economic setbacks, stagnant or declining standards of living, inadequate social and employment security, inequality, social strife, and displacement incurred by European workers cried out for political expression. Right opportunists gladly answered these calls with hollow nationalism, ill-aimed blaming and shaming, and cultural anti-elitism. 

Throughout Europe, new and refashioned parties like Austria’s Freedom Party, France’s National Rally, Alternative for Germany, Hungary’s Fidesz Party, Italy’s Lega and Brothers for Italy, Netherland’s Party for Freedom, Spain’s Vox, and many others, vie to fill the radical oppositional space evacuated or neglected by the anti-capitalist left.

Where the European Communist Parties could always count on a far more robust protest vote beyond their core membership, the protest vote now goes to the populist right by default.

To stem the right-populist tide, various strategists devised new alliances, power-sharing agreements, even technocratic governments. New “left” populist parties-- Syriza, PODEMOS, France Insoumise -- sprung up to draw support from the same mass anger and frustration exploited by the populist right. 

But none of these supposed answers to right-wing populism have succeeded in containing or reversing its advance. The mid-June European parliamentary elections have, in many ways, marked a new high water for right-populism. In both France and Germany-- the two anchors for the Eurozone project-- the right has made spectacular gains. 

Most dramatically, the French National Rally (RN)-- the historic party of the Le Pen family-- won more than double the vote (31+%) of Macron’s ruling party. In an act of frustration and, perhaps, desperation, Macron called for early national elections at the end of June. He, no doubt, expects to cry for a “united front” against the threat of right-wing governance, as he has successfully done in the past. He assumes that his party and RN will win in the first round and the left will have no choice but to support him in the second-round run-off. 

Meanwhile, Macron’s approval rate in France has reached an all-time low of 5.5%. And he has begun his campaign by attacking both the left and right (“the fever of extremes”) -- hardly a formula for drawing the left in a presumed second round of voting. 

But the soft leftist parties-- France Insoumise, the Communist Party, the Socialist, and the Greens-- have cobbled together their own shaky “united front” to make an impact in the first round. The interesting question would be whether Macron’s party would return the favor and support this effort in a second round against RN. I doubt they would. Bourgeois “solidarity” only goes so far.

In Germany, the hard right, semi-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party became the second largest party behind the Christian Democrats, garnering more votes than any of the individual parties in the governing coalition. The war-crazed Green Party took an especially hard hit in this election, losing nine seats.

While AfD has done less than RN to attempt to clean its ownership of fascistic detritus, it nonetheless draws a great deal of support from working-class protest voters. Germany’s ARD polling found that “a full 44% voted for the AfD out of disappointment at other parties.”

And that is how much of the electoral support for the populist right should be understood. The traditional right has long drawn its support from the bourgeoisie, small businesses, the professional strata: those protecting their status in a capitalist society. The populist right, taking that approach a step further-- through nostalgia, misplaced blame, false anti-elitism, and the bogus promise of life-altering change-- appeals to the masses: those alienated from a capitalist society. Unless one wants to cynically dismiss the people for their bad choices or pompously scold them for their bad judgment, you must conclude that the existing left parties have failed the masses, lost their credibility, and surrendered leadership on the popular issues, allowing right-populism to fill the breach. 

Can one imagine Le Pen or even Macron winning the votes of France’s workers from the post-war Communist Party of Thorez, Duclos, and Rochet, the party esteemed for its role against fascism, and the party promising socialism? 

Can one imagine Berlusconi, Lega, the Five Star Movement, Brothers of Italy drawing the Italian working class away from the Communist Party of Togliatti, the party that led the anti-fascist struggle, the party that offered Italian workers a dignified struggle against capital?

Can one imagine the AfD flourishing in the GDR, that part of Germany that today supplies the greatest number of votes to the AfD?

They do so today because the French Communist Party has abandoned its historic role as the champion of the working class and neither listens to workers nor puts their interests at the top of its agenda.

The Italian party dissolved itself thirty-five years ago and paved the way for decades of political farce and faux populism in Italian politics.

And the capitalist pillage of the former socialist German Democratic Republic planted the seeds of despair that grew into the AfD.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The untold story of the European parliamentary election reveals a world of possibility.

Purposely overlooked by the media were the impressive left gains in Greece and Germany. In both cases, working-class partisanship, principled socialism, and militant anti-imperialism and the promise of peace attracted voters. Where the weak-tea, decaffeinated left campaigned on fear of the right and defense of the European Union’s foreign policy, the Greek Communist Party and a new, radical German party surprised observers with significant gains.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) nearly doubled its percentage of the vote over the previous European parliamentary election held in 2019. The results substantially exceeded last year’s parliamentary percentages as well. Its strength was shown especially in Attika and urban and working-class areas. These gains were made because of the principled stance of KKE and in spite of swimming against the EU tide of capitalism and war shared by all the other parties. KKE shows that defeating right-wing populism is possible by giving real, bold, and radical answers to the despair of working people.

In Germany, the left wing of the Die Linke Party-- the working class-oriented, anti-imperialist wing-- finally broke away and established a new party openly opposed to the European Union agenda, its institutionalized capitalism, and its war policies. Led by the independent-minded Sara Wagenknecht, the new party was quickly organized five months ago, yet drew 6.2% of the vote in the European parliamentary elections. The persistently compromising, centrist-orienting Die Linke was trounced, reduced to 2.7% of the vote. ARD polls show that the new party drew 400,000 votes from Die Linke, 500,000 votes from the Social Democrats, and 140,000 votes from the AfD. In some parts of Eastern Germany, the new party-- yet to create a sustainable name-- drew as much as 15% of the vote.

Perhaps better than any result, the new party delivered a shocking blow to the idea that one must stop the populist right by rallying to the center in defense of a moribund capitalism. As Lenin reminds us: “Two questions now take precedence over all other political questions—the question of bread and the question of peace.” Wagenknecht’s new party gave the questions precedence, attacking Germany’s economic malaise and inflation, as well as the deadly war in Ukraine. We should follow the development of the new party closely.

By attending to working-class interests, The Austrian Communist Party and the Workers’ Party of Belgium also made gains against the right-populist wave.

It should be clear that the hollow tactic of opposing right-populism by circling the wagons around mainstream centrist parties is proving to be bankrupt. The notion that voters can be shepherded away from populist poseurs with a “united front against the bad guys” approach has failed to win people from a desperate need for bread and peace.

These examples show a principled, proven approach to the problem of the populist-right, an approach that neither resorts to a retreat to the center or a bogus, unsustainable, ineffective “united front.” The thirst for change is there.

Greg Godels

Friday, June 21, 2024

What is Independent Political Action?

I recently found an unpublished essay written in 1979 by a comrade from Western Pennsylvania who argued passionately for the urgent necessity of independent political action. In The Time is Now: A Position Paper on Independent Political Action, Bob Bonner challenged the left to begin the process of building independent political organizations and to convince the people to support them.

Bob is not a starry-eyed academic or a know-it-all armchair socialist, but a keen observer of local politics, its limitations, and its possibilities. 

He was then a worker, a founding leader of the Clairton Coalition, a leader in a local independent political party that scored some notable electoral victories, and a founder of the Pittsburgh Coalition for Independent Politics. He grew up in Clairton, PA breathing the foul air of the country’s largest cokeworks, a virtual company town that knew every corporate injustice that one found in the industrial heartland. It has become fashionable to refer to people like Bob as community organizers; I prefer to see him simply as a peoples’ leader.

There are many parallels today with the world that Bonner wrote about in 1979. Jimmy Carter had run and won in 1976 on the most progressive party program that the Democrats had offered since the New Deal; but by 1978, he had jettisoned the program and turned to policies that presaged the policies of the soon-to-be-president, FBI snitch and B-actor, Ronald Reagan. By the midterm elections of 1978, Carter had reneged on virtually every progressive campaign promise and was saddled with brutal inflation.

Bonner wrote at the time: “America’s two-party system has reached an all-time low in the eyes of the voters… rendering the concepts of majority parties and representative government meaningless and, to some, a laughing stock… 62.1% of American voters, or 90 million people, stayed home last election day, an increase of another one and a half percent from 1974… Millions more can’t be motivated enough to even register [to vote].”

Citing a New York Times-CBS poll, Bonner notes that “fully half of those who participated in the two-party charade felt that the outcome would have no appreciable effect on their lives.”

Bonner goes on to show that despite dire media assessments of a rightward trend, where progressives or independents offered voters a real choice, they were met with enthusiasm, often victory. 

The then-left-oriented Congressional Black Caucus picked up three new members in the interim election, and arch-reactionary Frank Rizzo was denied a third term in Philadelphia. “The massive monopoly effort in Missouri to pass an anti-union ‘right to work (for less)’ law through a referendum failed, and in some states liberal to progressive tax initiatives won,” Bonner reminds. Communist Party candidates, running as Communists, received vote totals unprecedented since the 1940s. There was a sense that inroads were possible for independent politics.

With regard to the then-emerging danger of the so-called “new right” of Reagan and his ilk, Bonner had this to say: “The high visibility of the ‘new’ right is made possible by the huge gap that exists between the direction of the two main parties and the urgent pressing needs of the people as a whole. The ruling class has recognized this gap and has smartly and opportunistically shoved reactionary one-issue groups into this vacuum in order to confuse and misdirect the voting public.”

Ironically, today’s corporate Democrats have followed this Republican strategy by placing single issues front and center at the expense of a popular program meant to resonate with all working people.

Bonner believes that “[t]he electorate is searching for meaningful alternatives. That is why they vote for ‘mavericks’; that is why Black people voted for Republicans in the last election…”

Forty-five years later, this obvious point is missed by the elite pundits who denounce working-class “deplorables” turning to unlikely “mavericks” like Donald Trump and Robert Kennedy Jr. They are surprised and alarmed that polls show many Black and Latino/Latina voters-- ignored by Democratic Party leaders-- leaning toward Trump’s false promises of change.

Today, one-issue groups abound, with foundations doling out financial support, designer NGOs staffing causes, academics offering studies, and consultants mapping strategies. Talk of “intersections” are just that, with more and more divisions denying any basis for common cause, as our common plight grows more desperate.

And when the two parties’ thinkers offer even a hint of prospective benefits in exchange for their votes, it is not a vision, but a reminiscence. The Republicans promise a return to the land of milk and honey before “freedom”-restricting laws on civil rights, the environment, workplace safety, and unions. 

The Democrats, on the other hand, offer an idyllic time before the Reagan revolution-- the so-called Neoliberal era ushered in with the 1980 election-- conveniently forgetting the long, painful, previous decade of stagflation. In essence, we are given two different versions of “Make America Great Again.” Neither promise works for the twenty-first century.

Sounding eerily prescient, Bonner cites the opposition to the unbearable weight of the military budget and the threat of war, actions against the energy monopolies, a militant women’s movement for women’s rights, the fight against police brutality, the miners’ strike, and the struggle for the Dellums National Health Service Act as a basis for bringing together a united, independent movement escaping the political inertia of 1979. “There is absolutely no reason and no excuse for not pulling several of these forces together and entering the political arena…,” Bonner asserts.

Forty-five years later, we have yet to create this needed movement, and the battles of 1979 are yet to be won.

We must recognize that a mere declaration of independence is not enough, as our own US Revolution shows. Achieving independence is an arduous process. In our time, it is a battle against the dependency that comes from taking the money offered from corporations, foundations, non-profits, NGOs, and governments, and from uncritically accepting the influence of think tanks, universities, academic “authorities,” and consultants. 

Most importantly, political independence only begins with a concerted effort to fight capture by the two parties. Far too many left initiatives have been absorbed and suffocated by the Democratic Party. In its essence, independence is always independence from some external force that doesn’t share our values and goals.

We must also judge independence by acts and not rhetoric or posture. The fallacy of celebrity, the fetishism of personality, is a sure barrier to independence. Instead, the steps away from wealth and power should be our measuring stick of independent political action. Where independence exists, we must nurture it; where it doesn’t, we should sow it.

In the forthcoming election, how will we express our political independence?

Greg Godels

Friday, May 31, 2024

Fascism: What’s in a Word?

The word “fascism” is a lightning rod. No one wants to be called a fascist. Everyone is ready to call someone else a fascist. 

Like many highly charged words, the more common its usage becomes, the more inexact its meaning becomes.  

Today, Trump is a fascist, Putin is a fascist, Modi is a fascist, Radical Islam is Islamofascism, the House and Senate members who passed the FISA renewal are fascists, Ukraine is a fascist country, political correctness is fascism, anti-Zionists are fascists, Zionists are fascists, and so on….

Clearly, the word “fascism” in these contexts is most often an expression of extreme disapproval-- a kind of expletive.

A problem arises when the claimant-- the person using the word-- has something more definite in mind, something more exacting. A problem arises when the user of the word intends to draw an association with the real, historically concrete phenomena of fascism that emerged in the aftermath of World War I and rose tragically to ravage and terrorize nearly the entire world. 

The idea that people or organizations are preparing to organize Blackshirts, Brownshirts, Silver Shirts or whatever to intimidate or overthrow conventional political processes is understandably reprehensible. But to conjure such an image in order to influence the political process, though without sufficient warrant, is misleading.

In a highly charged political context, it is not only misleading, but also unhelpful, and even incendiary.

Even a policy as sanctified by much of the left as the New Deal has been called fascist, proto-fascist, or fascist-tinged by commentators from across the political spectrum. And the “sainted” FDR has been labeled fascist by many. Critics from both left and right have seen parallels between elements of the New Deal and Mussolini’s corporatism. Still others have found similarities between the Rooseveltian Civilian Conservation Corps and Hitler’s German Labor Services. Since the New Deal was a mish-mash of trial-and-error pragmatism, it is a disservice to wed it with any particular ideology.

Of course, “fascism” depends on how we define it. Problems of definition arose immediately after World War II and the defeat of the major fascist powers. The emerging Cold War led to the US and its allies accepting a narrow definition when it came to new-found allies among former Nazis and Nazi collaborators. In its conflict with the Soviets, US leaders relied on Germans and Eastern Europeans with dubious, fascist ties to advance weapons programs, utilize intelligence, and bolster anti-Communism. Vetting of fascists by ideology was a haphazard process at best.

On the other hand, attempts to link fascism to Communism was an ongoing project. Determined efforts to find common features to justify anti-Communism led to a construct called “totalitarianism.” Popularized by Hannah Arendt, Cold Warriors wanted and got a tally of supposed similarities that served their purposes and served to generate a common definition of two disparate ideologies.

Thus, the Cold War created both a narrow and broad interpretation of fascism-- one for practical purposes, the other for propaganda purposes.

As the Cold War warmed in the 1980s, academics like Stanley Payne (Fascism, Wisconsin, 1980), made attempts at more independent, nuanced, and objective definitions of “fascism.” Payne engaged in comparative historical analysis and arrived at his typological description of fascism. Unfortunately, it suffered somewhat from raw empiricism and a failure to properly weigh the factors disclosed. To its credit, it undercut the Cold War conflation of Communism and fascism by emphasizing anti-Communism as a common feature of fascism, and not conflating it with Communism. 

Further, Payne in 1980 recognizes the historically met concept of “liberal authoritarianism” -- a form of illiberal liberalism-- that might serve to explain much of the confusion of our anti-Trump left today, who are anxious to dispense with the Bill of Rights to save “our” democracy.

In a recent essay regarding the “fascism is imminent” fashion of today, noted liberal commentator, Patrick Lawrence, riffs on the concept of “liberal authoritarianism.” Lawrence declares in his article This Isn’t Fascism posted on Consortium News that “I cannot quite tell what people mean when they speak of fascism in our current circumstances. And [as] far as one can make out, a lot of people who use the term, and maybe most, do not know what they mean, either.”

Unfortunately, while Payne still serves as a keystone for contemporary Western academic scholarship, the old Cold War conflation of Communism and fascism has resumed, particularly under a new wave of retro-Cold Warriors like Anne Applebaum and Timothy Snyder. 

But more consequentially, the charge of fascism-- invoked irresponsibly-- has served as a weapon in electoral politics. Specifically, many in the Democratic Party-- bereft of an appealing program-- charge that a vote for Biden is a vote against fascism. Given that Biden’s failure on inflation and his bloody war-mongering are rejected, especially by youth and the Party’s left wing, portraying Trump as a fascist is an act of desperation, but an act that will ultimately do little to forego the rise of Trump and his ilk.

Again, invoking Lawrence:

Much of this, let’s call it the pollution of public discourse, comes from the liberal authoritarians. Rachel Maddow, to take one of the more pitiful cases, wants us to think Trump the dictator will end elections, destroy the courts, and render the Congress powerless. The MSNBC commentator has actually said these things on air.

One-man rule is the theme, if you listen to the Rachel Maddows. The evident intent is to cast Donald Trump in the most fearsome light possible, as it becomes clear Trump could well defeat President Biden at the polls come Nov. 5.

We can mark this stuff down to crude politicking in an election year, surely. There is nothing new in it. But this is not the point.

Opportunistic voices on the left will often draw a crude analogy with the rise of Nazism. They argue the simplistic and false case that disunity on the left opened the door for Hitler’s ascendency to the Chancellorship of Germany in 1933. They repeat an old whitewash of history-- dismissing Hitler’s backing by the German capitalists, the perfidy of the weak government, and the betrayal of the Social Democrats. They ignore the economic crisis, the rulers’ failure to address the crisis, and the peoples’ desperate search for a radical answer to that failure. An unquestionable sign of that desperation was the continuing growth of the votes for the Communist Party, along with the decline in votes for the Social Democrats, and other centrist parties.

Nazism was not inevitable, but ushered in on a fear of revolution, of workers’ power, by a despairing ruling class. That was the reality wherever fascism seized power in twentieth-century fascism.

Today, the answer to a deepening crisis of capitalist rule that is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the masses is not rallying support around the failed policies that created and deepened the crisis. The answer is not to cry wolf or remind the people that matters could get worse. They know that!

The answer is to develop real answers to the despair facing working people-- reducing inequality, raising living standards, guaranteeing health care, increasing social benefits, improving affordable public transportation, protecting the environment, improving public education, and so on. These issues have existed for many decades, worsening with each passing year. There is no mystery. We are offered only two parties and they are determined to evade these issues. 

Lawrence makes a similar point:

I suppose it might make America’s many-sided crisis — political, economic, social — more comprehensible if we name it [fascism] to suggest it has a frightening antecedent. But this is profoundly counterproductive. So long as we, some of us, go on persuading ourselves we face the threat of fascism or Fascism, either one, we simply obscure what it is we actually face.

We name it wrongly... I do not see fascism in any form anywhere on America’s horizon. To call it such is to render ourselves incapable of acting effectively.

But that still leaves us with the question: What is fascism? Is there no cogent definition?

Indeed, there is one that springs forth from a deep and thorough study by the late Marxist thinker, R. Palme Dutt. Published in 1934, soon after Hitler’s rise to power, Fascism and Social Revolution (International Publishers) locates fascism in the cauldron of the rise of Communism, a deep economic crisis, and the collapse of capitalist class legitimacy.

Dutt, unlike servile academics weaving a bizarre, historically challenged link between Communism and fascism, discovers direct ties between capitalism and fascism (p. 72-73).

Fascism manufactures its ideology around its practice. Dutt explains: 

Fascism, in fact, developed as a movement in practice, in the conditions of threatening proletarian revolution, as a counter-revolutionary mass movement supported by the bourgeoisie, employing weapons of mixed social demagogy and terrorism to defeat the revolution and build up a strengthened capitalist state dictatorship; and only later endeavoured to adorn and rationalize this process with a “theory” (p. 75).

Dutt’s operational definition contrasts favorably with the failed attempt by writers like Payne who attempted to engage comparative studies in order to arrive at a superficial typography of fascism.

Dutt further adds the class dimensions, absent in nearly all non-Marxist definitions:

Fascism, in short, is a movement of mixed elements, dominantly petit-bourgeois, but also slum-proletariat and demoralized working class, financed and directed by finance-capital, by the big industrialists, landlords and financiers, to defeat the working-class revolution and smash working-class organizations (p. 82).

Elegant in its simplicity, robust in its comprehensiveness, Dutt’s explication of fascism aptly characterizes historic fascism from the march on Rome to the Generals’ coup in Indonesia and Pinochet’s regime in Chile. When social conditions deteriorate drastically and workers and their organizations threaten the capitalist order, the rulers throw their support behind counter-revolutionaries prepared to defend and strengthen the capitalist order, even at the expense of bourgeois democracy.

These institutions and organizations fester within bourgeois society as latent counter-revolutionary forces ready to be unleashed at the right moment by a desperate capitalist ruling class.

Clearly, Dutt’s study and elucidation of fascism clears the muddy waters stirred by today’s alarmists and opportunists. There is no imminent threat of revolution; the revolutionary left and the workers’ organizations currently pose little threat to the capitalist order, unfortunately. 

There is no emergent organized mass movement responding to a counter-revolutionary call. The mass movements of the right-- the Black Legions, the KKK, the Proud Boys, the militias, etc.-- do exist, should conditions ever ripen for a mobilization against the working class; but for today, they remain unacceptable to most of the ruling class.

For the most part, the capitalist class, especially its dominant monopoly sector, is satisfied to conduct its business within the confines of bourgeois democracy. “Finance-capital… the big industrialists, landlords and financiers…” defend and protect the two-party system because they regard it as functioning adequately, though the “lawfare” attacks piling up on Trump and the rabid media attacks against him show that an important section of the ruling class considers his unpredictability to be a threat to stability. 

Others think that his buffoonery and bluster serve as a safety valve for the discontent infecting the citizenry, much as Berlusconi’s clown-act pacified and entertained Italians unhappy over their political fate for three decades.

In any case, Trump does not pose the threat of fascism that many would like us to believe. 

We need to find other words to describe the deep crisis of bourgeois legitimacy that we are enduring, words that do not force us into a frenzied defensive posture that deflects us from finding real solutions to a real and profound problems facing working people. 

Greg Godels

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