Category Archives: Democracy

Billionaires and American Politics

Is the United States becoming a plutocracy?

With the manifestly unqualified but immensely rich Donald Trump serving as the nation’s first billionaire president, it’s not hard to draw that conclusion.  And there are numerous other signs, as well, that great wealth has become a central factor in American politics.

Although big money has always played an important role in U.S. political campaigns, its influence has been growing over the past decade.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by 2014 the share of political donations by the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans had increased to 29 percent (from 21 percent four years before), while the top 100 individual donors accounted for 39 percent of the nation’s super PAC contributions.

With the 2016 presidential primaries looming, would-be Republican nominees flocked to Las Vegas to court billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who had donated well over $100 million to Republican groups during the 2012 election cycle.  Although even Adelson’s money couldn’t save them from succumbing to vicious attacks by Trump, Adelson quickly forged a close alliance with the billionaire president. In 2018, he became the top political moneyman in the nation, supplying Republicans with a record $113 million.

In fact, with Adelson and other billionaires bringing U.S. campaign spending to $5.2 billion in that year’s midterm elections, the big-ticket players grew increasingly dominant in American politics.  “We like to think of our democracy as being one person, one vote,” noted a top official at the Brennan Center for Justice.  “But just being rich and being able to write million-dollar checks gets you influence over elected officials that’s far greater than the average person.”

This influence has been facilitated, in recent years, by the rise of enormous fortunes. According to Forbes ― a publication that pays adoring attention to people of great wealth―by March 2019 the United States had a record 607 billionaires, including 14 of the 20 wealthiest people in the world.  In the fall of 2017, the Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the three richest among them (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett) possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than half the American population combined.

After this dramatic example of economic inequality surfaced in June 2019, during the second Democratic debate, the fact-checkers at the New York Times reported that the wealth gap “has likely increased.” That certainly appears to be the case. According to Forbes, these three individuals now possess $350.5 billion in wealth―a $102 billion (41 percent) increase in less than two years.

The same pattern characterizes the wealth of families.  As Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies recently revealed, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries (their fossil fuel empire), the Mars candy family, and the Waltons of Walmart now possess a combined fortune of $348.7 billion―an increase in their wealth, since 1982, of nearly 6,000 percent.  During the same period, the median household wealth in the United States declined by 3 percent.

Not surprisingly, when billionaires have deployed their vast new wealth in American politics, it has usually been to serve their own interests.

Many, indeed, have been nakedly self-interested, sparing no expense to transform the Republican Party into a consistent servant of the wealthy and to turn the nation sharply rightward.  The Koch brothers and their affluent network poured hundreds of millions (and perhaps billions) of dollars into organizations and election campaigns promoting tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of corporations, climate change denial, the scrapping of Medicare and Social Security, and the undercutting of labor unions, while assailing proposals for accessible healthcare and other social services.  And they have had substantial success.

-Similarly, billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, spent $49 million on right-wing political ventures in 2016, including funding Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, and Cambridge Analytica (the data firm that improperly harvested data on Facebook users to help Trump’s campaign).  After Trump’s victory, Robert stayed carefully out of sight, sailing the world on his luxurious, high-tech super yacht or hidden on his Long Island estate.  But Rebekah worked on the Trump transition team and formed an outside group, Making America Great, to mobilize public support for the new president’s policies.

The story of the Walton family, the nation’s wealthiest, is more complex.  For years, while it fiercely opposed union organizing drives and wage raises for its poorly-paid workers, it routinely channeled most of its millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans.  In the 2016 elections, it took a more balanced approach, but that might have occurred because Hillary Clinton, a former Walmart director and defender of that company’s monopolistic and labor practices, was the Democratic standard-bearer.

Although some billionaires do contribute to Democrats, they gravitate toward the “moderate” types rather than toward those with a more progressive agenda.  In January 2019, an article in Politico reported that a panic had broken out on Wall Street over the possibility that the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee might go to someone on the party’s leftwing.  “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders,” insisted the CEO of a giant bank.  More recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman made the same point, publicly assailing the two Democrats for their calls to raise taxes on the wealthy. “Taxes are high enough,” he declared. “We have the best economy in the world. Capitalism works.”

The political preferences of the super-wealthy were also apparent in early 2019, when Howard Schultz, the multibillionaire former CEO of Starbucks, declared that, if the Democrats nominated a progressive candidate, he would consider a third party race.  After Schultz denounced Warren’s tax plan as “ridiculous,” Warren responded that “what’s ‘ridiculous’ is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves.”

Can they buy it? The 2020 election might give us an answer to that question.

The Case for a New Third Party in America

In the late 1850s, the United States experienced a political realignment when the Whig Party disbanded and many of its members including Abraham Lincoln joined the nascent Republican Party because of the betrayal of the Whig leadership over the issue of slavery and its extension.

American politics may be poised for a similar realignment today as popular disaffection with the two major parties and their domination by corporate money and interests increases. Polls show that 57 percent of Americans want a major new party, including 71 percent of millennials.

The reason for these figures are not hard to discern: from climate change, to rising cost of education, to a lack of a universal health care system to a policy of endless war, the Washington ruling elite has failed its citizenry.

A Princeton and Northwestern University study found that there is no correlation between public preferences, expressed in opinion polls, and the decisions made in Congress let alone by the Executive Branch. The study concluded that the “preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) was founded in 2017 and has begun to attract a considerable following in an attempt to reverse the trend towards oligarchy.

Party founder Nick Brana, who in 2016 served as national outreach director for Bernie Sanders, stated in an interview that “we are now at a historic moment just like in 1852 when the Whig elites went against their base when they adopted a pro-slavery position that led to the formation of the Republican Party. Similarly today, the Democratic Party has abandoned its working class base, creating a fissure between the party and the people, that necessitates the foundation of a new party.”

Brana points to the rapid formation of new political parties in Mexico and Europe in the midst of wide-scale disaffection with neoliberal policies as a model for the United States.

He sees the Green Party as equivalent to the Free-Soilers and other 19th century parties which set the groundwork for more successful parties like the Socialists and Populists at the turn of the 20th century.

These latter parties amassed large followings not only in urban centers like New York but also in the Southwest among farmers by promoting the regulation or break up of Wall Street banks that had plunged them into debt by selling them usurious loans.

According to Brana, the Green Party today is too wedded to an electoral strategy and runs candidates who do not have a strong local connection to the communities in which they are running.

The MPPs strategy is different in that it is focused on grass-roots organizing.

Its members have rallied for climate justice with Zero Hour, demonstrated for peace at the women’s march on the Pentagon, boycotted Driscoll’s batteries on behalf of exploited farmworkers, picketed with striking teachers and hotel employees, promoted the public banking movement, participated in civil disobedience with the poor people’s campaign, and helped institute ranked choice voting in Maine.

MPP political director Carol Ehrle, a former journalist and media relations specialist, stated that the MPP was focused on establishing coalitions with progressive and non-profit organizations and labor unions like the AFL-CIO whose executive council endorsed MPP. In 2017, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution stating that “whether candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street [over working people and labor] have been protected” and that “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”

In his 2016 book Bernie and the Sandernistas, Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of Counterpunch website, criticized Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Democratic Party stalwart, for being a fake revolutionary who failed to speak out enough against U.S. foreign policy and directed his followers into the counter-revolutionary fold of the Democratic Party.

According to St. Clair, during the 2016 presidential campaign Sanders should have done precisely with the MPP is now doing – mobilize his followers to support civil disobedience and direct-action protests and link up with those directly challenging corporate power.

The MPP on its website is calling for a new economic bill of rights that would guarantee employment, food, clothing, leisure, a living wage, housing, healthcare, social security, education and freedom from monopolies and unfair competition to every American.

Based on the model of FDR’s New Deal, it wants to set up a massive public works program that will help generate full employment and revitalize America’s infrastructure.

Other planks call for free Medicaire for all, free public college and quality education, the abolishment of free-trade agreements that benefit large corporations, a fair tax code that increases inheritance taxes and tax on the wealthy, banning offshore oil drilling and fracking, improvement of public transportation, sustainable agriculture and strong legislation that supports labor unions and workplace democracy, including through encouragement of workers cooperatives.

A skeptic would suggest that these latter measures are unfeasible in the American system and that some of the measures are being advanced by the Democratic Party.

Public opinion polls show, however, that most of these measures are widely supported by the electorate, while the Democratic Party leadership remains wedded to large corporations.

The frontrunner in the 2020 Party primary, Joe Biden stated that the “rich and powerful” are not a problem and has a long record of supporting corporate friendly legislation. Many of the other contenders also have dubious backgrounds, including Kamala Harris who upheld the death penalty in the state of California as a District Attorney and covered up for prosecutorial misconduct.

If a third party should emerge anywhere, Oklahoma, the state where I live, is a prime target. Over a decade of austerity policies have decimated public and higher education and cut basic services there to third world levels. A Guardian article in 2017 described a dire situation where a teacher was seen panhandling to buy supplies for her classroom, county jails were dangerously overcrowded and riddled with abuse, and families had to wait ten years just to get on a wait list to obtain state support for caring for a disabled child – all while nearly one in four children struggled with hunger.

The state legislature in the face of this crisis remained fixated on sustaining low tax rates for the oil corporations which fund its representatives. Fracking pioneer Harold Hamm, the 43rd wealthiest man on the planet, is a prime donor of the state’s Republican Party, while the Democrats receive substantial funding from oil industry billionaire, George Kaiser, a self-professed “red state robber baron” who helped turn the state into his own private tax haven.

Historian Richard Hofstadter compares third parties in American history to bees who sting and then die. Their sting is nevertheless sharply felt, even if for a fleeting moment, along with their buzz.

The MPP is a promising new organization which could yield a major impact. The time is indeed ripe for a new third party to blossom and there is no time to lose.

The Plot to Keep Corbyn out of Power

In the latest of the interminable media “furores” about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed unfitness to lead the Labour party – let alone become prime minister – it is easy to forget where we were shortly before he won the support of an overwhelming majority of Labour members to head the party.

In the preceding two years, it was hard to avoid on TV the figure of Russell Brand, a comedian and minor film star who had reinvented himself, after years of battling addiction, as a spiritual guru-cum-political revolutionary.

Brand’s fast-talking, plain-speaking criticism of the existing political order, calling it discredited, unaccountable and unrepresentative, was greeted with smirking condescension from the political and media establishment. Nonetheless, in an era before Donald Trump had become president of the United States, the British media were happy to indulge Brand for a while, seemingly believing he or his ideas might prove a ratings winner with younger audiences.

But then Brand started to look rather more impressive than anyone could have imagined. He took on supposed media heavyweights like the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman and Channel 4’s Jon Snow and charmed and shamed them into submission – both with his compassion and his thoughtful radicalism. Even in the gladiatorial-style battle of wits so beloved of modern TV, he made these titans of the political interview look mediocre, shallow and out of touch. Videos of these head-to-heads went viral, and Brand won hundreds of thousands of new followers.

Then he overstepped the mark.

Democracy as charade

Instead of simply criticising the political system, Brand argued that it was, in fact, so rigged by the powerful, by corporate interests, that western democracy had become a charade. Elections were pointless. Our votes were simply a fig-leaf, concealing the fact that our political leaders were there to represent not us but the interests of globe-spanning corporations. Political and media elites had been captured by unshored corporate money. Our voices had become irrelevant.

Brand didn’t just talk the talk. He went out and started committing to direct action. He shamed our do-nothing politicians and corporate media (the devastating Grenfell Tower fire had yet to happen) by helping gain attention for a group of poor tenants in London who were taking on the might of a corporation that had become their landlord and wanted to evict them to develop their homes for a much richer clientele. Brand’s revolutionary words had turned into revolutionary action.

But just as Brand’s rejection of the old politics began to articulate a wider mood, it was stopped in its tracks. When Corbyn was unexpectedly elected Labour leader, offering for the first time in living memory a politics that listened to people before money, Brand’s style of rejectionism seemed a little too cynical, or at least premature.

But while Corbyn’s victory marked a sea-change, it is worth recalling that it occurred only because of a mistake. Or perhaps two.

The Corbyn accident

First, a handful of Labour MPs agreed to nominate Corbyn for the leadership contest, scraping him past the threshold needed to get on the ballot paper. Most backed him only because they wanted to make the election look fair and open. After his victory, some loudly regretted having assisted him. None had thought a representative of the tiny and besieged left wing of the parliamentary party stood a chance of winning – not after Tony Blair and his acolytes had spent more than two decades remaking Labour, using their own version of entryism to eradicate any vestiges of socialism in the party. These “New Labour” MPs were there, just as Brand had noted, to represent the interests of a corporate class, not ordinary people.

Corbyn had very different ideas from most of his colleagues. Over the years he had broken with the consensus of the dominant Blairite faction time and again in parliamentary votes, consistently taking a minority view that later proved to be on the right side of history. He alone among the leadership contenders spoke unequivocally against austerity, regarding it as a way to leech away more public money to enrich the corporations and banks that had already pocketed vast sums from the public coffers – so much so that by 2008 they had nearly bankrupted the entire western economic system.

And second, Corbyn won because of a recent change in the party’s rulebook – one now much regretted by party managers. A new internal balloting system gave more weight to the votes of ordinary members than the parliamentary party. The members, unlike the party machine, wanted Corbyn.

Corbyn’s success didn’t really prove Brand wrong. Even the best designed systems have flaws, especially when the maintenance of the system’s image as benevolent is considered vitally important. It wasn’t that Corbyn’s election had demonstrated that Britain’s political system was representative and accountable. It was simply evidence that corporate power had made itself vulnerable to a potential accident by preferring to work out of sight, in the shadows, to maintain the illusion of democracy. Corbyn was that accident.

Brainwashing under freedom’

Corbyn’s success also wasn’t evidence that the power structure he challenged had weakened. The system was still in place and it still had a chokehold on the political and media establishments that exist to uphold its interests. Which is why it has been mobilising these forces endlessly to damage Corbyn and avert the risk of a further, even more disastrous “accident”, such as his becoming prime minister.

Listing the ways the state-corporate media have sought to undermine Corbyn would sound preposterous to anyone not deeply immersed in these media-constructed narratives. But almost all of us have been exposed to this kind of “brainwashing under freedom” since birth.

The initial attacks on Corbyn were for being poorly dressed, sexist, unstatesmanlike, a national security threat, a Communist spy – relentless, unsubstantiated smears the like of which no other party leader had ever faced. But over time the allegations became even more outrageously propagandistic as the campaign to undermine him not only failed but backfired – not least, because Labour membership rocketed under Corbyn to make the party the largest in Europe. As the establishment’s need to keep him away from power has grown more urgent and desperate so has the nature of the attacks.

Redefining anti-semitism

Corbyn was extremely unusual in many ways as the leader of a western party within sight of power. Personally he was self-effacing and lived modestly. Ideologically he was resolutely against the thrust of four decades of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s; and he opposed foreign wars for empire, fashionable “humanitarian interventions” whose real goal was to attack other sovereign states either to control their resources, usually oil, or line the pockets of the military-industrial complex.

It was difficult to attack Corbyn directly for these positions. There was the danger that they might prove popular with voters. But Corbyn was seen to have an Achilles’ heel. He was a life-long anti-racism activist and well known for his support for the rights of the long-suffering Palestinians. The political and media establishments soon learnt that they could recharacterise his support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. He was soon being presented as a leader happy to preside over an “institutionally” anti-semitic party.

Under pressure of these attacks, Labour was forced to adopt a new and highly controversial definition of anti-semitism – one rejected by leading jurists and later repudiated by the lawyer who devised it – that expressly conflates criticism of Israel, and anti-Zionism, with Jew hatred. One by one Corbyn’s few ideological allies in the party – those outside the Blairite consensus – have been picked off as anti-semites. They have either fallen foul of this conflation or, as with Labour MP Chris Williamson, they have been tarred and feathered for trying to defend Labour’s record against the accusations of a supposed endemic anti-semitism in its ranks.

The bad faith of the anti-semitism smears were particularly clear in relation to Williamson. The comment that plunged him into so much trouble – leading twice to his suspension – was videoed. In it he can be heard calling anti-semitism a “scourge” that must be confronted. But also, in line with all evidence, Williamson denied that Labour had any particular anti-semitism problem. In part he blamed the party for being too ready to concede unwarranted ground to critics, further stoking the attacks and smears. He noted that Labour had been “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”, adding: “Our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion … we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”

The Guardian has been typical in mischaracterising Williamson’s remarks not once but each time it has covered developments in his case. Every Guardian report has stated, against the audible evidence, that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic about anti-semitism”. In short, the Guardian and the rest of the media have insinuated that Williamson approves of anti-semitism. But what he actually said was that Labour was “too apologetic” when dealing with unfair or unreasonable allegations of anti-semitism, that it had too willingly accepted the unfounded premise of its critics that the party condoned racism.

Like the Salem witch-hunts

The McCarthyite nature of this process of misrepresentation and guilt by association was underscored when Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Jewish party members who have defended Corbyn against the anti-semitism smears, voiced their support for Williamson. Jon Lansman, a founder of the Momentum group originally close to Corbyn, turned on the JVL calling them “part of the problem and not part of the solution to antisemitism in the Labour Party”. In an additional, ugly but increasingly normalised remark, he added: “Neither the vast majority of individual members of JVL nor the organisation itself can really be said to be part of the Jewish community.”

In this febrile atmosphere, Corbyn’s allies have been required to admit the party’s institutionalised anti-semitism, to distance themselves from Corbyn and often to submit to anti-semitism training. To do otherwise, to deny the accusation is, as in the Salem witch-hunts, treated as proof of guilt.

The anti-semitism claims have been regurgitated almost daily across the narrow corporate media “spectrum”, even though they are unsupported by any actual evidence of an anti-semitism problem in Labour beyond a marginal one representative of wider British society. The allegations have reached such fever-pitch, stoked into a hysteria by the media, that the party is now under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the only party apart from the neo-Nazi British National Party ever to face such an investigation.

These attacks have transformed the whole discursive landscape on Israel, the Palestinians, Zionism and anti-semitism in ways unimaginable 20 years ago, when I first started reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then the claim that anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a state privileging Jews over non-Jews – was the same as anti-semitism sounded patently ridiculous. It was an idea promoted only by the most unhinged apologists for Israel.

Now, however, we have leading liberal commentators such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland claiming not only that Israel is integral to their Jewish identity but that they speak for all other Jews in making such an identification. To criticise Israel is to attack them as Jews, and by implication to attack all Jews. And therefore any Jew dissenting from this consensus, any Jew identifying as anti-Zionist, any Jew in Labour who supports Corbyn – and there are many, even if they are largely ignored – are denounced, as by Lansman, as the “wrong kind of Jews”. It may be absurd logic, but such ideas are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

In fact, the weaponisation of anti-semitism against Corbyn has become so normal that, even while I was writing this post, a new nadir was reached. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary who hopes to defeat Boris Johnson in the upcoming Tory leadership race, as good as accused Corbyn of being a new Hitler, a man who as prime minister might allow Jews to be exterminated as happened in the Nazi death camps.

Too ‘frail’ to be PM

Although anti-semitism has become the favoured stick with which to beat Corbyn, other forms of attack regularly surface. The latest is a comment by an unnamed “senior civil servant” reported in the Times alleging that Corbyn is too physically frail and mentally ill-equipped to grasp the details necessary to serve as prime minister. It barely matters whether the comment was actually made by a senior official or simply concocted by the Times. It is yet further evidence of the political and media establishments’ anti-democratic efforts to discredit Corbyn as a general election looms.

One of the ironies is that media critics of Corbyn regularly accuse him of failing to make any political capital from the shambolic disarray of the ruling Conservative party, which is eating itself alive over the terms of Brexit, Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. But it is the corporate media – which serves both as society’s main forum of debate and as a supposed watchdog on power – that is starkly failing to hold the Tories to account. While the media obsess about Corbyn’s supposed mental deficiencies, they have smoothed the path of Boris Johnson, a man who personifies the word “buffoon” like no one else in political life, to become the new leader of the Conservative party and therefore by default – and without an election – the next prime minister.

An indication of how the relentless character assassination of Corbyn is being coordinated was hinted at early on in comments – also reported by The Times, and also made anonymously – by a British military general immediately after Corbyn’s election in 2015. He told the paper there would be “direct action”, what he termed a “mutiny”, by the armed forces should Corbyn ever get in sight of power. The generals, he said, regarded Corbyn as a national security threat and would use any means “fair or foul” to prevent him implementing his political programme.

Running the gauntlet

But this campaign of domestic attacks on Corbyn needs to be understood in a still wider framework, which relates to Britain’s abiding Transatlantic “special relationship”, one that in reality means that the UK serves as Robin to the United States’ Batman, or as a very junior partner to the global hegemon.

Last month a private conversation concerning Corbyn between the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the heads of a handful of rightwing American Jewish organisations was leaked. Contrary to the refrain of the UK corporate media that Corbyn is so absurd a figure that he could never win an election, the fear expressed on both sides of that Washington conversation was that the Labour leader might soon become Britain’s prime minister.

Framing Corbyn yet again as an anti-semite, a US Jewish leader could be heard asking Pompeo if he would be “willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK”. Pompeo responded that it was possible “Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected” – a telling phrase that attracted remarkably little attention, as did the story itself, given that it revealed one of the most senior Trump administration officials explicitly talking about meddling directly in the outcome of a UK election.

Here is the dictionary definition of “run the gauntlet”: to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.

So Pompeo was suggesting that there already is a gauntlet – systematic and organised blows and strikes against Corbyn – that he is being made to run through. In fact, “running the gauntlet” precisely describes the experience Corbyn has faced since he was elected Labour leader – from the corporate media, from the dominant Blairite faction of his own party, from rightwing, pro-Israel Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, and from anonymous generals and senior civil servants.

‘We cheated, we stole’

Pompeo continued: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

So, Washington’s view is that action must be taken before Corbyn reaches a position of power. To avoid any danger he might become the UK’s next prime minister, the US will do its “level best” to “push back”. Assuming that this hasn’t suddenly become the US administration’s priority, how much time does the US think it has before Corbyn might win power? How close is a UK election?

As everyone in Washington is only too keenly aware, a UK election has been a distinct possibility since the Conservatives set up a minority government two years ago with the help of fickle, hardline Ulster loyalists. Elections have been looming ever since, as the UK ruling party has torn itself apart over Brexit, its MPs regularly defeating their own leader, prime minister Theresa May, in parliamentary votes.

So if Pompeo is saying, as he appears to be, that the US will do whatever it can to make sure Corbyn doesn’t win an election well before that election takes place, it means the US is already deeply mired in anti-Corbyn activity. Pompeo is not only saying that the US is ready to meddle in the UK’s election, which is bad enough; he is hinting that it is already meddling in UK politics to make sure the will of the British people does not bring to power the wrong leader.

Remember Pompeo, a former CIA director, once effectively America’s spy chief, was unusually frank about what his agency got up to when he was in charge. He observed: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

One would have to be remarkably naive to think that Pompeo changed the CIA’s culture during his short tenure. He simply became the figurehead of the world’s most powerful spying outfit, one that had spent decades developing the principles of US exceptionalism, that had lied its way to recent wars in Iraq and Libya, as it had done earlier in Vietnam and in justifying the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and much more. Black ops and psyops were not invented by Pompeo. They have long been a mainstay of US foreign policy.

An eroding consensus

It takes a determined refusal to join the dots not to see a clear pattern here.

Brand was right that the system is rigged, that our political and media elites are captured, and that the power structure of our societies will defend itself by all means possible, “fair or foul”. Corbyn is far from alone in this treatment. The system is similarly rigged to stop a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders – though not a rich businessman like Donald Trump – winning the nomination for the US presidential race. It is also rigged to silence real journalists like Julian Assange who are trying to overturn the access journalism prized by the corporate media – with its reliance on official sources and insiders for stories – to divulge the secrets of the national security states we live in.

There is a conspiracy at work here, though it is not of the kind lampooned by critics: a small cabal of the rich secretly pulling the strings of our societies. The conspiracy operates at an institutional level, one that has evolved over time to create structures and refine and entrench values that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. In that sense we are all part of the conspiracy. It is a conspiracy that embraces us every time we unquestioningly accept the “consensual” narratives laid out for us by our education systems, politicians and media. Our minds have been occupied with myths, fears and narratives that turned us into the turkeys that keep voting for Christmas.

That system is not impregnable, however. The consensus so carefully constructed over many decades is rapidly breaking down as the power structure that underpins it is forced to grapple with real-world problems it is entirely unsuited to resolve, such as the gradual collapse of western economies premised on infinite growth and a climate that is fighting back against our insatiable appetite for the planet’s resources.

When we colluded in the manufactured consensus of western societies, the system operated without challenge or meaningful dissent. A deeply ideological system destroying the planet was treated as though it was natural, immutable, the summit of human progress, the end of history. Those times are over. Accidents like Corbyn will happen more frequently, as will extreme climate events and economic crises. The power structures in place to prevent such accidents will by necessity grow more ham-fisted, more belligerent, less concealed to get their way. And we might finally understand that a system designed to pacify us while a few grow rich at the expense of our own and our children’s future does not have to continue. That we can raise our voices and loudly say: “No!”

The Plot to Keep Corbyn out of Power

In the latest of the interminable media “furores” about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed unfitness to lead the Labour party – let alone become prime minister – it is easy to forget where we were shortly before he won the support of an overwhelming majority of Labour members to head the party.

In the preceding two years, it was hard to avoid on TV the figure of Russell Brand, a comedian and minor film star who had reinvented himself, after years of battling addiction, as a spiritual guru-cum-political revolutionary.

Brand’s fast-talking, plain-speaking criticism of the existing political order, calling it discredited, unaccountable and unrepresentative, was greeted with smirking condescension from the political and media establishment. Nonetheless, in an era before Donald Trump had become president of the United States, the British media were happy to indulge Brand for a while, seemingly believing he or his ideas might prove a ratings winner with younger audiences.

But then Brand started to look rather more impressive than anyone could have imagined. He took on supposed media heavyweights like the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman and Channel 4’s Jon Snow and charmed and shamed them into submission – both with his compassion and his thoughtful radicalism. Even in the gladiatorial-style battle of wits so beloved of modern TV, he made these titans of the political interview look mediocre, shallow and out of touch. Videos of these head-to-heads went viral, and Brand won hundreds of thousands of new followers.

Then he overstepped the mark.

Democracy as charade

Instead of simply criticising the political system, Brand argued that it was, in fact, so rigged by the powerful, by corporate interests, that western democracy had become a charade. Elections were pointless. Our votes were simply a fig-leaf, concealing the fact that our political leaders were there to represent not us but the interests of globe-spanning corporations. Political and media elites had been captured by unshored corporate money. Our voices had become irrelevant.

Brand didn’t just talk the talk. He went out and started committing to direct action. He shamed our do-nothing politicians and corporate media (the devastating Grenfell Tower fire had yet to happen) by helping gain attention for a group of poor tenants in London who were taking on the might of a corporation that had become their landlord and wanted to evict them to develop their homes for a much richer clientele. Brand’s revolutionary words had turned into revolutionary action.

But just as Brand’s rejection of the old politics began to articulate a wider mood, it was stopped in its tracks. When Corbyn was unexpectedly elected Labour leader, offering for the first time in living memory a politics that listened to people before money, Brand’s style of rejectionism seemed a little too cynical, or at least premature.

But while Corbyn’s victory marked a sea-change, it is worth recalling that it occurred only because of a mistake. Or perhaps two.

The Corbyn accident

First, a handful of Labour MPs agreed to nominate Corbyn for the leadership contest, scraping him past the threshold needed to get on the ballot paper. Most backed him only because they wanted to make the election look fair and open. After his victory, some loudly regretted having assisted him. None had thought a representative of the tiny and besieged left wing of the parliamentary party stood a chance of winning – not after Tony Blair and his acolytes had spent more than two decades remaking Labour, using their own version of entryism to eradicate any vestiges of socialism in the party. These “New Labour” MPs were there, just as Brand had noted, to represent the interests of a corporate class, not ordinary people.

Corbyn had very different ideas from most of his colleagues. Over the years he had broken with the consensus of the dominant Blairite faction time and again in parliamentary votes, consistently taking a minority view that later proved to be on the right side of history. He alone among the leadership contenders spoke unequivocally against austerity, regarding it as a way to leech away more public money to enrich the corporations and banks that had already pocketed vast sums from the public coffers – so much so that by 2008 they had nearly bankrupted the entire western economic system.

And second, Corbyn won because of a recent change in the party’s rulebook – one now much regretted by party managers. A new internal balloting system gave more weight to the votes of ordinary members than the parliamentary party. The members, unlike the party machine, wanted Corbyn.

Corbyn’s success didn’t really prove Brand wrong. Even the best designed systems have flaws, especially when the maintenance of the system’s image as benevolent is considered vitally important. It wasn’t that Corbyn’s election had demonstrated that Britain’s political system was representative and accountable. It was simply evidence that corporate power had made itself vulnerable to a potential accident by preferring to work out of sight, in the shadows, to maintain the illusion of democracy. Corbyn was that accident.

Brainwashing under freedom’

Corbyn’s success also wasn’t evidence that the power structure he challenged had weakened. The system was still in place and it still had a chokehold on the political and media establishments that exist to uphold its interests. Which is why it has been mobilising these forces endlessly to damage Corbyn and avert the risk of a further, even more disastrous “accident”, such as his becoming prime minister.

Listing the ways the state-corporate media have sought to undermine Corbyn would sound preposterous to anyone not deeply immersed in these media-constructed narratives. But almost all of us have been exposed to this kind of “brainwashing under freedom” since birth.

The initial attacks on Corbyn were for being poorly dressed, sexist, unstatesmanlike, a national security threat, a Communist spy – relentless, unsubstantiated smears the like of which no other party leader had ever faced. But over time the allegations became even more outrageously propagandistic as the campaign to undermine him not only failed but backfired – not least, because Labour membership rocketed under Corbyn to make the party the largest in Europe. As the establishment’s need to keep him away from power has grown more urgent and desperate so has the nature of the attacks.

Redefining anti-semitism

Corbyn was extremely unusual in many ways as the leader of a western party within sight of power. Personally he was self-effacing and lived modestly. Ideologically he was resolutely against the thrust of four decades of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s; and he opposed foreign wars for empire, fashionable “humanitarian interventions” whose real goal was to attack other sovereign states either to control their resources, usually oil, or line the pockets of the military-industrial complex.

It was difficult to attack Corbyn directly for these positions. There was the danger that they might prove popular with voters. But Corbyn was seen to have an Achilles’ heel. He was a life-long anti-racism activist and well known for his support for the rights of the long-suffering Palestinians. The political and media establishments soon learnt that they could recharacterise his support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. He was soon being presented as a leader happy to preside over an “institutionally” anti-semitic party.

Under pressure of these attacks, Labour was forced to adopt a new and highly controversial definition of anti-semitism – one rejected by leading jurists and later repudiated by the lawyer who devised it – that expressly conflates criticism of Israel, and anti-Zionism, with Jew hatred. One by one Corbyn’s few ideological allies in the party – those outside the Blairite consensus – have been picked off as anti-semites. They have either fallen foul of this conflation or, as with Labour MP Chris Williamson, they have been tarred and feathered for trying to defend Labour’s record against the accusations of a supposed endemic anti-semitism in its ranks.

The bad faith of the anti-semitism smears were particularly clear in relation to Williamson. The comment that plunged him into so much trouble – leading twice to his suspension – was videoed. In it he can be heard calling anti-semitism a “scourge” that must be confronted. But also, in line with all evidence, Williamson denied that Labour had any particular anti-semitism problem. In part he blamed the party for being too ready to concede unwarranted ground to critics, further stoking the attacks and smears. He noted that Labour had been “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”, adding: “Our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion … we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”

The Guardian has been typical in mischaracterising Williamson’s remarks not once but each time it has covered developments in his case. Every Guardian report has stated, against the audible evidence, that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic about anti-semitism”. In short, the Guardian and the rest of the media have insinuated that Williamson approves of anti-semitism. But what he actually said was that Labour was “too apologetic” when dealing with unfair or unreasonable allegations of anti-semitism, that it had too willingly accepted the unfounded premise of its critics that the party condoned racism.

Like the Salem witch-hunts

The McCarthyite nature of this process of misrepresentation and guilt by association was underscored when Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Jewish party members who have defended Corbyn against the anti-semitism smears, voiced their support for Williamson. Jon Lansman, a founder of the Momentum group originally close to Corbyn, turned on the JVL calling them “part of the problem and not part of the solution to antisemitism in the Labour Party”. In an additional, ugly but increasingly normalised remark, he added: “Neither the vast majority of individual members of JVL nor the organisation itself can really be said to be part of the Jewish community.”

In this febrile atmosphere, Corbyn’s allies have been required to admit the party’s institutionalised anti-semitism, to distance themselves from Corbyn and often to submit to anti-semitism training. To do otherwise, to deny the accusation is, as in the Salem witch-hunts, treated as proof of guilt.

The anti-semitism claims have been regurgitated almost daily across the narrow corporate media “spectrum”, even though they are unsupported by any actual evidence of an anti-semitism problem in Labour beyond a marginal one representative of wider British society. The allegations have reached such fever-pitch, stoked into a hysteria by the media, that the party is now under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the only party apart from the neo-Nazi British National Party ever to face such an investigation.

These attacks have transformed the whole discursive landscape on Israel, the Palestinians, Zionism and anti-semitism in ways unimaginable 20 years ago, when I first started reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then the claim that anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a state privileging Jews over non-Jews – was the same as anti-semitism sounded patently ridiculous. It was an idea promoted only by the most unhinged apologists for Israel.

Now, however, we have leading liberal commentators such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland claiming not only that Israel is integral to their Jewish identity but that they speak for all other Jews in making such an identification. To criticise Israel is to attack them as Jews, and by implication to attack all Jews. And therefore any Jew dissenting from this consensus, any Jew identifying as anti-Zionist, any Jew in Labour who supports Corbyn – and there are many, even if they are largely ignored – are denounced, as by Lansman, as the “wrong kind of Jews”. It may be absurd logic, but such ideas are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

In fact, the weaponisation of anti-semitism against Corbyn has become so normal that, even while I was writing this post, a new nadir was reached. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary who hopes to defeat Boris Johnson in the upcoming Tory leadership race, as good as accused Corbyn of being a new Hitler, a man who as prime minister might allow Jews to be exterminated as happened in the Nazi death camps.

Too ‘frail’ to be PM

Although anti-semitism has become the favoured stick with which to beat Corbyn, other forms of attack regularly surface. The latest is a comment by an unnamed “senior civil servant” reported in the Times alleging that Corbyn is too physically frail and mentally ill-equipped to grasp the details necessary to serve as prime minister. It barely matters whether the comment was actually made by a senior official or simply concocted by the Times. It is yet further evidence of the political and media establishments’ anti-democratic efforts to discredit Corbyn as a general election looms.

One of the ironies is that media critics of Corbyn regularly accuse him of failing to make any political capital from the shambolic disarray of the ruling Conservative party, which is eating itself alive over the terms of Brexit, Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. But it is the corporate media – which serves both as society’s main forum of debate and as a supposed watchdog on power – that is starkly failing to hold the Tories to account. While the media obsess about Corbyn’s supposed mental deficiencies, they have smoothed the path of Boris Johnson, a man who personifies the word “buffoon” like no one else in political life, to become the new leader of the Conservative party and therefore by default – and without an election – the next prime minister.

An indication of how the relentless character assassination of Corbyn is being coordinated was hinted at early on in comments – also reported by The Times, and also made anonymously – by a British military general immediately after Corbyn’s election in 2015. He told the paper there would be “direct action”, what he termed a “mutiny”, by the armed forces should Corbyn ever get in sight of power. The generals, he said, regarded Corbyn as a national security threat and would use any means “fair or foul” to prevent him implementing his political programme.

Running the gauntlet

But this campaign of domestic attacks on Corbyn needs to be understood in a still wider framework, which relates to Britain’s abiding Transatlantic “special relationship”, one that in reality means that the UK serves as Robin to the United States’ Batman, or as a very junior partner to the global hegemon.

Last month a private conversation concerning Corbyn between the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the heads of a handful of rightwing American Jewish organisations was leaked. Contrary to the refrain of the UK corporate media that Corbyn is so absurd a figure that he could never win an election, the fear expressed on both sides of that Washington conversation was that the Labour leader might soon become Britain’s prime minister.

Framing Corbyn yet again as an anti-semite, a US Jewish leader could be heard asking Pompeo if he would be “willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK”. Pompeo responded that it was possible “Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected” – a telling phrase that attracted remarkably little attention, as did the story itself, given that it revealed one of the most senior Trump administration officials explicitly talking about meddling directly in the outcome of a UK election.

Here is the dictionary definition of “run the gauntlet”: to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.

So Pompeo was suggesting that there already is a gauntlet – systematic and organised blows and strikes against Corbyn – that he is being made to run through. In fact, “running the gauntlet” precisely describes the experience Corbyn has faced since he was elected Labour leader – from the corporate media, from the dominant Blairite faction of his own party, from rightwing, pro-Israel Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, and from anonymous generals and senior civil servants.

‘We cheated, we stole’

Pompeo continued: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

So, Washington’s view is that action must be taken before Corbyn reaches a position of power. To avoid any danger he might become the UK’s next prime minister, the US will do its “level best” to “push back”. Assuming that this hasn’t suddenly become the US administration’s priority, how much time does the US think it has before Corbyn might win power? How close is a UK election?

As everyone in Washington is only too keenly aware, a UK election has been a distinct possibility since the Conservatives set up a minority government two years ago with the help of fickle, hardline Ulster loyalists. Elections have been looming ever since, as the UK ruling party has torn itself apart over Brexit, its MPs regularly defeating their own leader, prime minister Theresa May, in parliamentary votes.

So if Pompeo is saying, as he appears to be, that the US will do whatever it can to make sure Corbyn doesn’t win an election well before that election takes place, it means the US is already deeply mired in anti-Corbyn activity. Pompeo is not only saying that the US is ready to meddle in the UK’s election, which is bad enough; he is hinting that it is already meddling in UK politics to make sure the will of the British people does not bring to power the wrong leader.

Remember Pompeo, a former CIA director, once effectively America’s spy chief, was unusually frank about what his agency got up to when he was in charge. He observed: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

One would have to be remarkably naive to think that Pompeo changed the CIA’s culture during his short tenure. He simply became the figurehead of the world’s most powerful spying outfit, one that had spent decades developing the principles of US exceptionalism, that had lied its way to recent wars in Iraq and Libya, as it had done earlier in Vietnam and in justifying the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and much more. Black ops and psyops were not invented by Pompeo. They have long been a mainstay of US foreign policy.

An eroding consensus

It takes a determined refusal to join the dots not to see a clear pattern here.

Brand was right that the system is rigged, that our political and media elites are captured, and that the power structure of our societies will defend itself by all means possible, “fair or foul”. Corbyn is far from alone in this treatment. The system is similarly rigged to stop a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders – though not a rich businessman like Donald Trump – winning the nomination for the US presidential race. It is also rigged to silence real journalists like Julian Assange who are trying to overturn the access journalism prized by the corporate media – with its reliance on official sources and insiders for stories – to divulge the secrets of the national security states we live in.

There is a conspiracy at work here, though it is not of the kind lampooned by critics: a small cabal of the rich secretly pulling the strings of our societies. The conspiracy operates at an institutional level, one that has evolved over time to create structures and refine and entrench values that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. In that sense we are all part of the conspiracy. It is a conspiracy that embraces us every time we unquestioningly accept the “consensual” narratives laid out for us by our education systems, politicians and media. Our minds have been occupied with myths, fears and narratives that turned us into the turkeys that keep voting for Christmas.

That system is not impregnable, however. The consensus so carefully constructed over many decades is rapidly breaking down as the power structure that underpins it is forced to grapple with real-world problems it is entirely unsuited to resolve, such as the gradual collapse of western economies premised on infinite growth and a climate that is fighting back against our insatiable appetite for the planet’s resources.

When we colluded in the manufactured consensus of western societies, the system operated without challenge or meaningful dissent. A deeply ideological system destroying the planet was treated as though it was natural, immutable, the summit of human progress, the end of history. Those times are over. Accidents like Corbyn will happen more frequently, as will extreme climate events and economic crises. The power structures in place to prevent such accidents will by necessity grow more ham-fisted, more belligerent, less concealed to get their way. And we might finally understand that a system designed to pacify us while a few grow rich at the expense of our own and our children’s future does not have to continue. That we can raise our voices and loudly say: “No!”

Morsi’s Legacy: Unlikely Democrat, Reluctant Martyr

Morsi surrounded by his minders

Mohamed Morsi (1951–2019) was the fifth President of Egypt (30 June 2012 to 3 July 2013), deposed by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a coup d’état July 3, 2013. In his last words, Morsi accused the government of “assassinating” him through years of poor prison conditions.

Morsi is survived by his wife Naglaa Ali Mahmoud (not “First Lady” but rather “First Servant of the Egyptian people”). Morsi had five children, two are US citizens born in California. His body was quickly buried without an inquest. His wish that he be buried in his hometown Adwa was denied.

Human Rights Watch official Sarah Leah Whitson said Morsi’s treatment in prison was “horrific, and those responsible should be investigated and appropriately prosecuted.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a “prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” into Morsi’s death. Among major world leaders only Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Malaysia and Qatar expressed regret at his death.

Morsi’s legacy is mixed. An engineer who studied at the University of Southern California, he was an unlikely figure to be thrust onto Egypt’s central stage, not a major thinker in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), without any political experience. He was an unconvincing second choice for the MB as presidential candidate, a bumbler, a poor speaker, but brave and principled.

The charismatic, millionaire businessman Khairat El-Shater, a major financier and chief strategist of the Brotherhood, was disqualified at the last minute based on previous trumped up convictions, and Morsi was only allowed a few hours before the deadline to register. He was vilified by hysterical secular westernizers, and undermined by a campaign of lawlessness and planned shortages, but was popular to the end among devout Muslims. The media and the elite were against him and drowned out the Muslim wisdom not to overthrow a ruler as long as you are “not commanded to disobey Allah. If he is commanded to disobey, then there is no listening or obedience.” Ibn Omar (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2796).

The MB, like Iran’s Islamic order, doesn’t fit into western secular thinking. The MB supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan. But they are not the Taliban, they never supported al-Qaeda. They are more in line with Turkey’s Islamists. Or Iran’s Islamists.

A few key moments:

*On 19 October 2012, Morsi traveled to Egypt’s northwestern Matrouh in his first official visit to deliver a speech on Egyptian unity at el-Tenaim Mosque. Immediately prior to his speech he participated in prayers there where he openly mouthed “Amen” as cleric Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, the local head of religious endowment, declared, “Deal with the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. Oh Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, oh Lord.” The prayers were broadcast on Egyptian state television and translated and posted by MEMRI, a Zionist media watchdog.

*On 22 November 2012, Morsi issued a declaration which intended to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution from judicial interference, until a new constitution is ratified in a referendum. This was blown up as an Islamist coup, but in fact Morsi was just trying to get around the Supreme Court, stacked with anti-MB judges, who would declare the MB’s programs and new constitution as … unconstitutional? Whatever. In the referendum to ratify the new constitution, it was approved by approximately two-thirds of voters.

*The declaration also required a retrial of those accused in the Mubarak-era killings of protesters, who had been acquitted. Additionally, the declaration authorized Morsi to take any measures necessary to protect the revolution.

*Morsi strengthened ties with Iran following years of animosity since the Iranian revolution in 1979. However, his actions were met with Sunni Muslim opposition both inside and outside of Egypt.

*He spoke out for the rights of Christians and emphasized that Islam requires there to be an ethical component in economic affairs to ensure that the poor share in society’s wealth.

Fatal mistake

Like Erdogan, in the heady days after the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world, Morsi got swept up into Islamic revolutionary fever, calling for the overthrow of the (Alawite) “infidels”, a kind of belated revenge for the slaughter of the Syrian MB by Hafez Assad in 1980. But then, just about everyone was (and still is) supporting the Syrian opposition, from Obama to most Sunnis, soon-to-be-ISIS, and leftists.

The last straw for the military was when Morsi attended an Islamist rally on 15 June 2013, where Salafi clerics called for jihad in Syria and denounced supporters of Bashar al-Assad as infidels. Morsi announced that his government had expelled Syria’s ambassador and closed the Syrian embassy in Cairo, calling for international intervention on behalf of the opposition forces and establishment of a no-fly zone.

Morsi’s attendance at the rally was later revealed to be a major factor in the army’s decision to side with anti-Morsi protesters during the June 30 anti-Morsi protests. In November 2012, the National Salvation Front (NSF) had suddenly appeared, and overnight, a nationwide petition was signed by 22m Egyptians calling for Morsi’s immediate resignation.

Is it possible Morsi might have survived if he hadn’t broken relations with Syria and called for jihad? The Egyptian military looked at Syria and saw their own future. The Syria army was battling to hold the country together in the face of a dubious coalition of Islamists with lots of support from Saudi Arabia and the US. They decided they had to overthrow their own Brotherhood before it took them on and ended their privileged hegemony. The Egyptian military is trained and equipped by the US. Egypt runs on Saudi dollars. Best to keep the US and Saudis on your side and the message by then was ‘Dump the Brotherhood’.

We will never know, but the plan from the start clearly was for the all-powerful military to give the Brotherhood some rope, and then take charge and hang them (metaphorically and literally) if they actually tried to govern, counting on the vengefulness of the old guard and the screaming liberals if the MB pushed too hard. The liberals were weak, and could be conned into supporting a coup, and then easily brought to heel with a few arrests and massacres.

This power politics isn’t confined to the Arab world. Iran and Venezuela are both targets of western-backed campaigns to destroy any attempt, Islamic or socialist, to escape the clutches of the US empire. Trump welcomed Sisi to the White House in April 2019, after Sisi declared himself president for life (in a referendum which he won with 88.3% approval). Trump: “We’ve never had a better relationship, Egypt and the United States, than we do right now. I think he’s doing a great job.” After the meeting, Trump pushed for the US to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Overthrowing rulers

Just as Erdogan came to regret his betrayal of Assad (and barely survived a coup in 2016), so Morsi and the entire MB can only regret flirting with militant jihad abroad, from the 1980s on. Even if Assad is an Alawite and you don’t approve of that sect of Islam, you don’t overthrow him as long as he doesn’t commanded you “to disobey Allah”.

But then, 30 years ago it was official Egyptian and US policy to encourage Islamists from Egypt to go to fight in Afghanistan. And the campaign against Assad was/is almost unanimous in the West. So again, I sympathize with bad judgment by the MB.

MB spokesman Dardery said, “The nation elected Morsy to a four-year term and should stand by that. To do otherwise would disrupt the country’s nascent democracy. It is not fair to a democracy.” Lesson from Iran and Syria: If you’re going to have an Islamic revolution, make sure the people and army are on your side.

El-Sisi’s legacy

Sisi clearly models himself on Egypt’s 19th dictator-pasha Muhammad Ali. The parallel is stark between Sisi’s slaughter of thousands of Muslims, and Muhammad Ali’s clever invitation of all his Mameluke rivals to his citadel in 1811. He invited them to the centre of power and proceeded to slaughter a thousand of them to consolidate his rule. Invite your foes into the open and then murder them.

A legend of the pasha was that he had 300,000 street children rounded up and shipped to Aswan where they were taught skills and became assets to his construction of a new Egypt. Sisi launched just such a program “Homeless Children” in May 2017, planning to gather up street waifs and whisk them to an army camp for training.

Then there’s the new Aswan Dam, criticized as a white elephant, even as Egypt hovers on the brink of bankruptcy. (Along with it is a scaled-down version of the MB’s proposed industrial corridor along the Nile.) This nostalgia for the past is perhaps an attempt at taking the wind out of the sails of ISIS, the actual Muslim terrorists, yearning for the caliphate, but is just as misguided.

By attempting to destroy the MB, the legitimate Islamists, Sisi gives fuel to the ISIS fires. That was what the MB could have tackled, not a secular dictator persecuting devout Muslims. On the contrary, terrorism has increased dramatically since 2013, with at least 500 deaths.

The Ministry of Education have decreed that the revolution of January 25, 2011, and the uprising on June 30, 2013 will no longer be mentioned in high school history textbooks. The ‘Arab Spring’ didn’t happen.

President Morsi is dead, assassinated. El-Khater and other MB leaders are on death row. Sisi is dictator for life.

The end of history? Hardly. As for Morsi, he enters the realm of legend, a kind of foil for bin Laden, as a true martyr to Islam.

The Future of Democracy

The word democracy derives from the Greek words that means “people govern.” Generally, it is assumed throughout the world that the democratic way of decision-making is the best possible and therefore, the most acceptable. The only problem is that nobody knows what exactly it means. It would be ideal if people mutually agree and create rules on an equal basis that would be valid in their collective, but it is impossible to achieve because every society brings an unlimited number of decisions about which all people cannot decide on either due to lack of interest, knowledge, or time.

Therefore, today an indirect form of democracy where people elect at the polls their representatives in government is generally accepted. Candidates who win the most votes of the people receive the mandate to govern on behalf of the people in a given period. The peoples’ representatives in government should represent the interests of their electors, but they cannot successfully do it, because they have insufficient insight into the wishes of the voters who have elected them. It goes without saying that an elected government has no desire at all to meet the needs of those people who did not vote for them. Besides that, representatives of the people are quite privileged, and as such they more often represent their own interests or the interests of a privileged class of people who help them in elections rather than the interests of the people. So that in practice, indirect forms of democracy cannot adequately follow the will of people and therefore, they are not satisfactory. Also, the democratically elected leaders can cause significant harm to the people of which there is not an adequate defence. For example, democratically elected Adolf Hitler and George Bush are remembered mostly by the destructions they initiated “in the name of the people.”

The will of people may be followed to a greater extent by a direct form of democracy through referendums, where people directly decide on issues of self-interest. The intention of the majority of people accepts or rejects the proposed decision. This form of democracy also has significant disadvantages. Firstly, I would mention that a majority of people might outvote a minority and thus cause inconvenience to the minority, which is unacceptable. The principle of consensus among representatives of people on issues that people should vote about, make such a form of democracy more acceptable. But direct democracy is rarely applied, primarily because governments do not like people messing with their businesses and then because the organization of referendums is not a simple process. Finally, each society brings a vast number of decisions about which one could not call for referendums because people do not have enough knowledge about making all the decisions or are not interested in it or do not have time to participate in them. And so decisions in society are always brought by privileged authorities that do not follow the will of the people sufficiently.

Does this mean that the will of the people cannot be carried out? That democracy cannot be developed? Scholars of social sciences do not see a solution to the problem of democracy and cannot establish any consensus on how a developed democracy should look like. The establishment of a developed form of democracy requires the discovery of a new pathway that will effectively implement the will of people. To reach it, one needs to think outside the box. I have managed to create a straightforward and original way, leading to a fully developed democracy.

*****

Let’s allow every person, who within the scope of his activity can affect us in any way, to do it freely upon their will. We do not even have many choices because we cannot interfere with the freedom of activities of presidents, doctors and mechanics, or any other worker, nor do we have the ability, nor the time, nor the right, perhaps not even the desire to do so. However, all these people may create advantages and disadvantages through their actions to individuals and society. We indeed have developed the ability to sense whether or not the activities of a president, doctor, mechanic, or any other man, brings some advantages or disadvantages to us. And according to it, we should have the right to award a person who through his or her acting creates convenience for us and punish a person who does inconveniences to us. Such a right would certainly direct all people to perform the least inconveniences and the greatest conveniences to other people. Such an orientation of society would undoubtedly follow the will of all the people in the best possible way and therefore, would present a developed democracy.

My philosophy is based on the equal rights of people because it is the only proper orientation of society. In this regard, let each person have the same power to punish let’s say three individuals who hurt him the most in any month and to award let’s say three individuals who realize the most significant benefits to him each month. This is the essence, and the rest is a technical matter about which I won’t bother you much here. I propose that the rewards and punishments have an equivalent value of one dollar. Each award a person receives from somebody will bring them one dollar and each penalty will take away one dollar from them. In that manner, all people will become the same authorities who have a small direct power in society.

Given that all people will have equal rights and the power of evaluation, and that they can give their rewards and punishments to other people regardless of any written rules, such a democracy will present the form of anarchy. That is the reason why I have called such an evaluating system democratic anarchy. I am confident that this is the only possible path toward full democracy and good society.

Democratic anarchy will direct each member of society to respect other people. People will become values to all people. They will create the most significant possible advantages for the community and diminish or abolish the creation of all forms of disadvantages. Such a measure will definitely decrease uncontrolled or insufficiently controlled individual power originating in privileged social status. I have to stress that the privileged status of individuals causes the greatest inconveniences and problems to society. In this straightforward way, the populus will realize a great direct power in society for the first time in the history of humankind, which will result in highly harmonious and constructive social relations.

Many people, including university professors, have given me remarks in the sense that people are not able to objectively judge other people. I have answered them that objectivity is desirable but not essential. People will judge others the way they feel, and every person is obliged to take into account the consequences his actions may have on other people. By adopting this system, this will happen, and that is what will bring considerable benefits to society. Furthermore, a system that supports the equal rights of people will develop objectivity in the community, and when that happens, people will certainly objectively judge other people.

Individuals will not have much power in society, but their evaluations joined together will be very powerful. A person who receives a large number of negative assessments would try hard to avoid doing anything inconvenient to other people. Besides, the person who receives bad evaluations would never know who has evaluated him negatively so that he would try to improve his behaviour towards everyone. As a result, bullies will not harass children at school anymore; bosses will not abuse their employees at work, neighbours will not produce noise at night, salespeople will not cheat their customers, politicians will not lie to people, etc. They will all try to please other people in the best possible way. This is what will take privileged powers from all the people; this is what will eliminate social evil and form a good society.

The system of democratic anarchy will especially affect authorities. The higher the position an authority has in society, the greater the responsibility they would bare to society. For example, The President of the US might get 100,000,000 bad evaluations from the American people for bad policies, lies, and criminal aggression on countries. That would cost him 100,000,000 dollars in only one month. On the other hand, I doubt that his supporters would certainly evaluate him positively because they might easily have higher positive evaluation priorities and would spend their positive evaluations elsewhere. Non-privileged presidents would no longer dare perform bad policies anymore. And if it happens somehow, they would run away from their positions very fast. Only the most skillful and brave individuals would dare lead countries. They will not be authorities anymore, but our servants.

People will judge other people freely. In this regard, I have received many complaints in the sense that people may evaluate other people maliciously because of spite or envy. I answered that such a risk exists but I would add that individual assessment of one dollar might not cause significant harm to anyone. The damage that an individual can make is insignificant compared to the damage authorities can make because they often pull back the whole society. Take the example of Adolf Hitler and George Bush again. In the system that I have proposed these individuals would get so many negative evaluations from people from the very beginning of their careers that they would no longer dare to cause evil. Their followers would receive negative assessments as well so that organized evil would hardly rise in such a society. It is possible to forbid people who receive a large number of negative evaluations from governing society. In this way, authorities will no longer dare to carry out aggression and wars. Is it worthwhile to allow individuals to wrongly judge others for one dollar if such trials would abolish all forms of destructiveness in society? Sure it is. Also, the new system will develop objective values and the conscience of the people where malice and envy would hardly exist. If something like that would still exist, each person would be able to correct a possible wrongful assessment that he gave to another individual by instigating a correct evaluation even many years later when he experiences enlightenment under the influence of the new system. And he will.

So what if influential people who own mass media unfairly accuse someone of evil in society and thus prompt people to give bad evaluations to the wrong person? Such things are easily possible in today’s society. However, there is a proverb that says: “Lies have short legs.” One day the lie will be revealed, and then I would not like to be in the skin of these individuals who lied because they will be punished by the people for sure.

Democratic anarchy will finally and unconditionally create a good society, and therefore it presents the greatest invention of all the time.

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Under pressure from democratic anarchy, an elected government will inevitably follow the needs of the people. The authorities would indeed not dare to make the most important decisions for society alone because they can easily make mistakes that might bring about the wrath of the people and a large number of negative evaluations. If the authorities are not sure what the needs of the people are then their responsibility, clearly defined by the fear of peoples’ evaluations, directs them to discover love towards peoples’ participation in decision-making processes through referendums. In this regard, they will develop a simple, fast, and efficient method for direct decision-making of the people, most likely over the Internet.

The people will directly create the macroeconomic policy of the society because it is the foundation that directs the economy, and that means an entire community. How? Quite simply, one first needs to enable every person to decide how much money from their gross income they want to pay for taxes. The average values of all the peoples’ expressions will determine what percentage of salaries each worker will put aside for taxation. Furthermore, in the same way, each person can decide on how tax money is spent. Each person will determine how much tax money they would set aside for: the defence of the state, public safety, education, health, housing, recreation, infrastructure, etc.

Theoretically, people can decide on a collective consumption within the consumer groups as much as they want. All these groups of shared consumption will have a far greater overall impact if they are democratically allocated. Following the living experience, people will learn how much money should be collected for taxes and what the best way to spend it is. Thus, this spending will follow the needs of people in the most efficient way because it will no longer be alienated from society. In such a way, the people will become active members of society and so they will accept their community a lot more. Given that the new system offers stable and good relations among nations, people will no longer allocate money for the needs of armies and armies will cease to exist. In the democracy I have proposed, war will no longer be possible.

The people must directly make strategic decisions in society because that is the only way the policy of society certainly follows the interests of people. Professionals could make all other decisions, and they will be directly responsible to the people for those decisions. Once people get the power to participate in the decision-making process of their own interests and when they can judge those who make decisions on their behalf, which will present the most developed form of democracy. There’s no better political way. Such a democracy will realize all the dreamers’ dreams in the history of humankind. Once such democracy is accepted, people will become so satisfied with it that they will not allow anyone to seize it from them.

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This is just a basic idea about the future of democracy. It cannot be understood well enough without reading and analyzing my book Humanism available free of charge here: Table of Contens.

The Growth of Popular Democracy

In 1975 just 46 countries were considered to be electoral democracies; forty years later, according to The Global State of Democracy report 2017, the number had risen to 132, accounting for 68% of nations. The bulk of the increase occurred after 1989 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and what was to be the beginning of the global protest movement. While staging general elections every five years or so is an important step away from the autocratic alternative, unless democratic values are embraced and introduced, true democracy remains little more than a slogan, social injustice and suppression in various forms continue and concentrations of power persist.

Although the number of electoral democracies continues to increase, throughout the world democracy is in crisis; governments have become increasingly partisan, populism and extremism of all stripes have flourished, and people have lost confidence in democratic institutions as the means of solving the various crises confronting us. Politicians are viewed with suspicion or outright contempt, regarded as ambitious, ideologically compromised men and women with little concern for the majority, who make policy based on self-interest and party doctrine.

Democracy has been hijacked by ‘the economy’ – twinned with capitalism and the ‘free market’, and corrupted thereby. Democracy is, or should be, a living organism, an evolving form that sets the parameters within which society functions, based on principles that are rooted in and cultivate expressions of unity and love.

The democratic ideal seeks to guarantee basic freedoms, establish social justice and equality and ensure government accountability. It recognizes that human beings are equal, diverse but united, that their needs are universal and that meeting these needs is a right not a luxury. True democracy cannot exist where the ideology of commercialization, consumerism and greed resides. The crisis in democracy is inextricably linked to the socio-economic crisis; changes in one will trigger a revolution in the other. And this process is well underway.

Collective action

Despite the decline in civil liberties and deep disillusionment with the functioning of governments throughout the world, various studies, including The Economist’s Democracy Index 2018 have found that political participation is significantly increasing. Exasperation with politicians and institutions together with an intense desire for fundamental change has impelled huge numbers to unite and act; people, particularly the young, are engaging, joining political parties, taking part in demonstrations and online activism, signing petitions or joining local community groups.

This surge in democratic participation represents a major shift in attitudes, a new collective consciousness that tends towards unity and cooperation, and offers hope – not hope based on a distant belief that someone else, a government, institution or God will make all things new – such are the ways of apathy and self-deceit, but hope anchored in action, in committed consistent engagement.

At the heart of many of the protest movements that have swept the world since the Berlin Wall came down, is democracy. Demanding democracy where none exists, as was the case with the Arab Spring (widely put down), for example, and more recently in Algeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, or, in countries broadly aligned with democratic principles, calling for a deepening of democracy, the structures and institutions opened up, and for the voice of the people to be heard and concerns acted on.

As more people engage and the power of popular democracy grows, democratic platforms for engagement such as Citizens Assemblies will become increasingly relevant. In early 2018 the UK government commissioned a Citizens Assembly to discuss Social Care: 47 individuals chosen at random, and, with the support of experts spent two weekends discussing the subject. At the end of their deliberations a report was sent to the government and their views helped fashion government proposals.

In order for the collective voice to have increasing influence, people need to be educated about the issues/s of concern; this is an act of democratic responsibility. A well-informed populace free from ideological allegiance is required in order to reach views free from bias and prejudice, and contribute to discussions with decision makers. Ignorance, complacency and fear are fertile ground for propaganda; they are the friends of the duplicitous politician and the enemy of the people and common sense – a much-underrated quality.

Sharing, participation and responsibility

Within the evolving democratic environment the role of politicians as co-workers, as collaborators for the common good, becomes ever more important. They need to engage with activists, listen – not to the loudest flag-waving faction, not just to their own supporters, but to the broad consensus, and respond, and not, as has historically been the case, reluctantly and over decades, but swiftly and whole-heartedly. A positive example of this is the decision by the Scottish parliament to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, in response “to young protesters who went on strike from school to urge action.” The declaration of a climate emergency by governments has been a key demand of environmental campaigners, including Extinction Rebellion (which staged huge, peaceful protests in London for two weeks recently), for some time.

Announcing the step on 29th April, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said, “they [environmental activists] want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. They say that’s what the science tells us, and they are right … I am declaring that there is a climate emergency and Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.” The UK government followed Scotland’s example on 1st May, making it the first national parliament to declare a Climate Emergency.

Democracy is not in decline, as some believe; like all existing systems – social, economic, political and religious. Democracy in its current form is inadequate to the challenges and the nature of the present time, and is being fundamentally challenged. Democratic forms need to change, to be allowed to evolve – to be re-imagined. Crucially democracy needs to be unshackled from economics and the socio-economic system reexamined in light of the growing demands for social justice, environmental action and freedom.

The principle of sharing is a core democratic ideal that, if incorporated into all areas of life, would allow democratic values to be made manifest: students sharing in the organization of schools and the design of curricula; employees sharing in the management and standards of businesses; sharing animating the socio-economic systems under which we all live and coloring geo-political decisions. Sharing, responsibility and participation are interrelated; they sit together and reinforce one another. An unstoppable movement of change is being created by the growing inculcation and expression of these democratic principles; a momentum that may just be strong enough to save the planet and usher in a new and just way of living.

A Fully Automated Society is Science Fiction

May Day is one of the most important days to the exploited people. Michael D. Yates, director of Monthly Review Press and former Associate Editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on US labor and its movement in the following interview from April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury. Professor Michael Yates, whose academic fields are labor economics and the relationship between capital and labor, also discusses labor’s new initiatives at grass roots level, defying and contesting “official” labor leadership.

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Farooque Chowdhury: You have been closely associated with labor in the United States for more than 30 years. You have worked as a labor educator, as negotiator representing unions, as union organizer, and as labor activist. Moreover, you have covered labor widely in your articles and books. Based on these interactions and experiences, please tell us about the present state of labor in the US.

Michael Yates: If we look at some data, we see that, from a numerical standpoint, the U.S. labor movement is weak. Union density (the fraction of wage and salary workers who are in unions) is low. In January 2019, it was 10.5 percent. In 1983, the rate was 20.1 percent. And although the rates are not perfectly comparable for earlier years, when the data collection was not the same, at the time of the merger of the country’s two largest labor federations, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), in 1955, the fraction of workers in unions was much higher, probably in the neighborhood of 33 percent.

Thus, we see that there has been a long-term decline in union density, and this in a country that has historically had much lower percentages of union membership than almost every other rich capitalist country (by comparison, Scandinavian nations have rates in excess of 60 percent, with Iceland over 90 percent.) Even the absolute number of union members has been in decline over the past few years. What is more, the current union density hides the division between private-sector and public-sector workers. In private employment, a mere 6.4 percent of employees are unionized (lower than it was more than 100 years ago), while in the public sector the fraction is 33.9 percent.

However, even in public employment, rates have been falling, and there is a widespread effort, led by capital, to make it difficult for public employees to unionize or maintain membership in existing unions. Public-sector unions typically had contract clauses that compelled those who refused to join the union to still pay a “dues equivalent” to the union, since they too would benefit from whatever the union won in the collective bargaining. Capital waged a long campaign through the courts to nullify such contract clauses. Employers achieved success when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that compelling non-members to pay dues was unconstitutional.

One last point with respect to public-sector workers is that among the highest union densities is that for “protective service” employees. These are police, prison guards, and the like, persons who only by a stretch of the imagination should even be included in the working class, given that their social role is to suppress workers. These employees overwhelmingly serve capital, unlike, for example, public school teachers, transit workers, and so forth.

Another measure of the strength of the working class is the incidence of strikes. There has been a marked decline in the number of strikes involving 1,000 workers or more (these are called “major work stoppages” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the source of the data I have been citing). In 2017, there were 7 of these, involving 25,000 workers, slightly higher than the all-time low set in 2009, when there were a mere 5 such strikes, with but 13,000 people out on strike. The trend in major strikes has been markedly downward. The last time there were more than 100 major strikes was in 1981. And the last year in which more than one million workers participated in major strikes was 1979. Compare these numbers to earlier years. Between 1947 and 1979, there was only one year with fewer than 200 major strikes, and years with at least 300 of these strikes were not that uncommon. Also, between 1947 and 1979 (32 years), fewer than a million workers walked off the job in only 7 years.

The year 2018 did see a bit of an upsurge in major strikes, due mainly to the aggressive actions of public-school teachers in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and California. These strikes and a few others (mainly by healthcare workers) have shown that the strike tactic can still yield positive results, as the strikers won significant wage and other increases. The victories by teachers were the result of efforts by the rank-and-file to involve their communities and win their support for demanding better schools and education for the children of people in the communities. What these actions give us is a bit more hope for the revival of a labor movement in the United States.

Yet, overall, we are a long way from any sort of revival. At the top of the internal hierarchies of most unions, we have career bureaucrats interested mainly in their own advancement and security. High salaries abound, democracy is a rare commodity, and statements of principles (much less action on any set of principles) rarer still. Unions are wedded to the Democratic Party, which is at heart as much a party of capital as the utterly reactionary and proto-fascist Republican Party. Unions cannot even come to strongly support the Green New Deal that the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party supports as part of an effort to come to grips with the destruction of Mother Nature now so well underway. What is more, the union chiefs are still supportive of U.S. imperialism. I am afraid it will take more than rank-and-file protests to change things dramatically and in the direction of radical change.

FC: What’s the present condition of the U.S. labor movement?

MY: My answer to Question 1 provides my overall view. I will add here that the U.S. working class, like those everywhere in the world, is suffering from rising insecurity in employment (fueled by many things, including outsourcing of work, laws and court rulings, and sophisticated mechanization), stagnant wages, diminishing benefits such as health care, pensions, and paid leaves, seemingly endless speed-up at work, invasive monitoring/surveillance and drug-testing, unhealthful and unsafe working conditions, and rising temperatures that make working outside increasingly dangerous. Workers feel politically impotent, and all too often, the unions they do have ignored them or, worse, collaborated with employers and engaged in corrupt practices.

We see the unhappiness of workers reflected in several trends. Remarkably high percentages of young persons (ages 22-37) tell pollsters they are more favorable toward socialism than capitalism, and many even identify themselves as democratic socialists. Much of this is due to the success that Senator Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, had his run for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States in 2016. This was followed by the election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 of several persons, mainly women and ethnic minorities, who also declared themselves democratic socialists. In addition, a political organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has grown very rapidly over the past two year and now has in excess of 50,000 members, impressive in a country such as the United States. DSA members have supported many working-class efforts, including strikes, housing struggles, and environmental efforts that would greatly benefit workers, such as the Green New Deal.

It must be noted that what most mean by socialism is not what was envisioned by Marx and Engels and millions of radicals throughout the world ever since the two great communists wrote and worked. Rather, it is the social democracy that has marked mainly the Scandinavian countries, that is, a well-developed state-financed social welfare system buttressed by strong labor unions. Hopefully, as social democracy is found to be no longer possible, as it is faltering even in those nations where it has been strongest, working people will come to see that more radical struggle is needed. There are some groups in the U.S. that do have a radical perspective, such as Philly Socialists (“Philly” is slang for the city of Philadelphia), and they are deeply embedded in working class communities. Hopefully, these organizations will grow and flourish.

Unfortunately, there are workers who are too demoralized to do anything political or even to form labor unions. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide are growing more common, and among working-class white workers, life expectancies are falling. Anger and resentment also find an outlet in neo-fascist politics, as evident from the fact that some workers avidly support the criminal and thoroughly anti-working-class administration of President Trump. Trump has used his racism, sexism, and xenophobia to fuel widespread hatred for the “other,” whether the “other” be Black Americans, women, or immigrants. This rightward trend is troubling, and the labor movement, such as it is, must address this forcefully. Unfortunately, top labor union leaders met with Trump soon after he took office, and by no means all labor officials are as hostile to Trump as they should be.

FC: Which parts of the working class dominate the labor movement in the US, and what’s the reason?

MY: In terms of power within the national labor federation (the AFL-CIO), the most conservative unions, mainly in the construction trades, have power that belies their relatively small numbers. These unions typically oppose anything that might threaten the jobs and high pay of their (mainly white and male) members, such as the various oil pipeline schemes so detrimental to the environment. They oppose any sort of Green New Deal as well. Several large industrial, service, and catchall (many kinds of members, from various sectors of the economy) unions have influence based on their relatively large memberships. These would include the Teamsters union, the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Autoworkers. They might support more liberal policies and politicians, but they are mired in bureaucracy, hostile to the members’ interest, full of careerists, and often enough corrupt.

The real issue here is that there is no real labor movement to speak of. Plus, overall membership is so low relative to the number of workers in the country, that most laborers have no representation at all. And even where there are specific working-class movements, such as the effort to win at least $15 per hour for fast-food workers, the leaders of such movements are all too often tied to the same bureaucratic and corrupt unions. The only real hope, it seems to me, is for the mass of workers to forge new kinds of organizations. See the question below on what unions should do for more details.

FC: There are initiatives at the grassroots level in the US to go beyond or rise above the “official”/“establishment” labor movement or labor leadership. These seem to be sporadic and isolated. Most of these can’t go that far, but another part thrives. What are the reasons behind all of this – rise of new movement at grassroots level, failures of a part of these, and moving forward by the rest?

MY: The rise of new organizations and movements is due to the overall suffering of the mass of workers and the inadequacy of the current labor movement. These are, indeed, often isolated, but some like workers’ centers, operating inside communities and usually built by immigrant workers, have succeeded. Examples are the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in New York City, the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. The last is an organization of farm workers, mainly immigrants. In these examples, we find dedicated leadership, a model based upon active members and real democracy, careful planning of strategy and tactics, and strong community support, built up over longer periods of time. The same rules for success apply as well to worker-managed cooperatives and urban farming ventures. An example worth studying is the Cooperation Jackson movement in the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Here is what I wrote about this organization in my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?:

“The movement in Jackson is called Cooperation Jackson (CJ), and it grew out of various efforts by blacks to build a socialist community in the heart of U.S. capitalism. The rallying cry of the people who began Cooperation Jackson — one of the most notable of these was black radical Chokwe Lumumba, who eventually became Jackson’s mayor, something remarkable in its own right — was ‘Free the Land.’ After doing some preliminary organizing in the area, they acquired land and began to develop an ambitious plan of eco-socialist production, distribution, and education. In the South, global warming is going to inundate low-lying areas with water. This fact and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made these leaders grasp that any scheme that doesn’t take ecology seriously cannot hope to change the world. Therefore, CJ maintained from the beginning that whatever they did had to be based upon the principle of sustaining the environment.”

“The CJ project has four goals: gaining black working-class control of the means of production in Jackson and the area close to it; building and advancing the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production; making the working class the agent of combining the means of production into socially useful outputs; and democratically transforming Jackson, and then the state of Mississippi, and outward to the entire South. CJ has started cooperatives, a cooperative school, training center, union, and bank. Farms and grocery stores are an integral part of cooperative production. There is much more to CJ, including the use of technologies like 3D printers to make useful goods, the development of substantive political democracy, and eco-friendly public infrastructure. The industrialization plan is particularly ambitious. It can be criticized as not feasible, but in any conceivable future, goods will have to be made using one technology or another. CJ, by beginning to conceptualize this and then implementing it, will help show the way forward.”

Movements such as Cooperation Jackson may hold the key to the building of a radical labor movement in the United States, one concerned with all aspects of working class life and willing to engage in militant collective self-help activities.

FC: What obstacles do these grassroots movements of labor in the US face?

MY: There is the problem of funding. It is best to have members fund activities whenever possible, with solicitations from ordinary people supplementing the group’s treasury. Reliance on existing labor unions or NGOs is usually a mistake because such monies never come without strings attached. There is also the problem of antagonism from capital and the state, which will become worse the more successful the grassroots movement is. There is the problem of developing grassroots experts for all the technical work and organizing that has to be done. There is the problem of burnout from long hours and poor living conditions. There is the problem of turnover in the membership as people move away out of economic necessity, deportations (in the case of undocumented workers), and the like. There is the problem of internal ideological differences, which can split a group apart. Finally, any grassroots efforts must show some results quickly, so that workers benefit. And they must find ways to protect members from capital’s efforts to destroy what they are doing.

FC: What should be done now, in this perspective, by labor at grassroots level, and by writers of labor literature?

MY: I have addressed this above when I wrote about what needs to be done to have a chance at success. What writers can do is publicize all such efforts, writing for those involved and not just about them. Also, coalitions with other similar organizations are necessary, and certainly, education must be a primary component of any grassroots effort. A membership that has learned its history, the nature of the political economy, the struggles needed and the obstacles that will be faced, is more likely to succeed and more likely to have a radical perspective.

FC: What impact has monopoly finance capital, which has been identified and analyzed by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, made on labor in the US?

MY: Well, monopoly finance capital has certainly increased the overall power of capital, and this, by definition, will inevitably harm the working class. Specifically, two things come to mind. First, as businesses are taken over by finance capital, they are seen merely as collections of assets, to be squeezed for maximum immediate return. Debt will be piled up and assets stripped for money. When as much money has been extracted as possible, the corpse left will be left to rot. All of this will result in shrinking employment, lower wages, reduced or eliminated benefits, and more unsafe working conditions. Finance capital works much like gangsters, who do the same things when they use direct violence to take over a business. Second, monopoly finance capital has meant the elimination of whatever autonomy the states of capitalist countries once had. States are now adjuncts of finance capital, and states are now run according to strict market principles. The state’s assets are stripped too, the result being a diminution of both public employment and public services. Everyone is presumed to be on his or her own, and no one will offer help. The rich will continually get richer and workers will suffer more and more. Good reasons for the working class to finally develop a radical consciousness and get rid of this insidious system once and for all.

One more point bears consideration. Monopoly finance capital, with its relentlessly short-term horizon, acts in such a way that financial bubbles become inevitable, as witnessed by the housing bubble and crisis that struck the United States and then much of the world, in 2007. These bubbles, when they burst, generate economic slowdowns, which now have become deep recessions, that wreak havoc on working-class life.

FC: Has capital’s capacity in the US to bribe workers eroded? If it has eroded, has monopoly finance capital played a role in the erosion? If not, then, is the bribing going on as usual?

MY: It is not so much that this capacity has eroded. What has happened (and see the previous question) is that capital no longer has to bribe labor, which in the past it did from the super profits extracted from workers in the Global South. Profits abound for capital in the Global North. However, labor is now so weak and disorganized, and capital so strong that workers do not have to be bribed to support Northern capital, as they, in effect, were in the past. Some workers support capital without any monetary advantage, and the rest are so habituated to the system that they do not know how to mount an attack on capital. Super profits have always helped to finance the states in the Global North (through taxation), but now even the state offers labor no protection. Tax revenues can be and are used to buttress capital’s profits and power. This situation will continue to prevail until such time as there is a united, global, and radical labor movement to challenge it.

FC: Automation is creeping in. Unionization rates are falling. What’s the impact of automation on labor in the US?

MY: Automation (robotization and other types of mechanization) always lowers employment, at least in the sectors most immediately affected, and thus increases the reserve army of labor. This reserve is now global in scope and mechanization occurs everywhere in the world. This reserve puts downward pressure on wages and every other condition of employment, and it generates some new (and old) types of employment that rely heavily on labor (as in service employment and work done from home). Automation also divides the working class into a tiny elite of scientific workers and everyone else, causing growing wage inequality, which itself impedes labor solidarity. Often enough, just the threat of automation (like the threat of moving operations to other countries) is enough to pressure workers into submission. Automation, by allowing for greater surveillance of workers and building what was once employee knowledge into the machines themselves, greatly enhances managerial control in the workplace.

At the same time, however, automation may make production more sensitive to disruption, just as complex supply chains and logistics do, but this requires that workers understand this, are organized, and willing to disrupt production. The irony is that, under a different, socialist system, more sophisticated technology, developed for the people rather than against them, could greatly ease the burden of many kinds of onerous employment and give rise to much shorter working hours. And freedom for each of us to fully develop our capacities.

I might add that profits derive from the exploitation of living labor and not from machines themselves. Given this, the idea of a fully automated society is science fiction. Machines would have to build and program machines! And there would be, in the end, no living labor to exploit. Automation would automatically end capitalism! This is an unlikely scenario.

FC: Are trade war(s) making any impact on labor?

MY: Trade is always a matter of politics and never just a matter of obvious and shared economic advantage. Thus, given that almost all governments, and certainly that of the United States, are now servants of capital, trade agreements will always benefit corporations and hurt workers. Such was the case with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which harmed workers in all three signatory nations: The United States, Canada, and Mexico, although, no doubt, Mexican workers (and peasants) suffered most. President Trump has begun trade wars with many countries, in part to satisfy his anti-immigrant and xenophobic base. These may upset markets and in that way damage workers in affected industries. Ironically, they also might hurt the bottom line of those economic sectors impacted most by tariffs and quotas. For example, trade wars with China mean that soybean farmers in the central United States will lose lucrative export markets. So far, Trump has always backed away from doing the damage he could do, no doubt because of protests from powerful capitalists. His base is largely ignorant of the nuts and bolts of this, so he can always claim he acted tough with the foreign countries he claims are out to get the United States. Full-scale trade wars can lead to real wars, so there is always a danger of that. And it is still true that corporations are headquartered and protected in the United States, so there is competition among national capitals, despite the fact that production is now so global. So, states will always be keen to protect their national capitals. From a working-class perspective, the struggle should be for as much worker-controlled and localized production as possible, if for no other reason than that trade is very damaging to the environment and wreaks havoc on the poorest workers and peasants worldwide.

FC: Factional fights within the US ruling class are surfacing, sometimes in ugly, crude, and dangerous form. The fight, at times, is questioning the credibility of a number of very essential institutions of class rule. The factions engaged in intra-class conflict are questioning its news-information-views media – the mainstream media or the imperialist media, in whatever way these are identified. Its external adventures, interventions, and aggressions in other lands are facing debacles. Its credibility and that of its media are declining. Today, its audience accepts little of whatever the MSM report. Is there any impact of these on the labor in the US?

MY: I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on ruling class splits. Of course, there are capitalists opposed to Trump. However, in the end, they will accept him because he has been good for their profits (tax cuts, for example, which overwhelmingly benefit capital the most). The situation may be different in other countries, but here I don’t see any segments of capital ready to revolt. In addition, as the Democratic Party has shifted significantly to the right, the center of political gravity overall in the United States has also shifted dramatically to the right, given that the Republican Party is to the extreme right. Trump is an evil maniac, without a shred of morality or compassion, and he is doing things most of us, naively I think, couldn’t imagine happening. And yet, the mainstream media have profited mightily from Trump’s insanity, with ratings going up every time they report on a new Trump scandal. The real danger is the rise of neo-fascism, with its inherent drive to annihilate the “other.” It is possible to imagine that this will continue with or without Trump. The capitalist class is facing unprecedented crises, foremost among them, ecological catastrophe. It faces constant wars too, although capital has never vehemently opposed wars, including the War on Terror. There will soon enough be hundreds of millions of climate (and war) refugees seeking shelter. Beset by unprecedented inequality (which they don’t mind for now, given that they have gotten so much money as wealth and income move from the bottom to the top), the rich will find it hard to hide. What will they do? Demand more democracy and better media? A more educated population? I don’t see this. They will want the state to crack the whip, and they will (and are now) build private, fortified and heavily policed enclaves for themselves. A society run on market principles must have violence at its beck and call. This is really what fascism is all about. Only an aroused working class, allied with peasants, has any chance of stopping this.

FC: The US ruling class is vigorously marketing divisive/sectarian/medieval politics. What’s the impact of this on labor in the US, and what’s to be done by the labor movement?

MY: The working class in the United States is divided along many dimensions: skill, location, education, wage rates, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, and race, among others. Among these, gender, ethnicity, and race are most important. The capitalist political economy here has been patriarchal and racist from its beginning. The latter is the result of a vicious slavery that built the economy, not just through the production of cotton but from the slave-generated money that helped to fuel, and, in fact, led, the country’s industrial revolution. The unpaid labor of women in the home has been a gift to capital. And women could be drawn into market-based production when needed and discarded when not. Employers soon discovered that race and gender could be used to split workers, fomenting competition rather than solidarity among them. This has been done by the allocation of job, with racial and ethnic minorities and women given the worst jobs and white men the best. This along with constant racist and sexist propaganda soon gave rise to the notion that these groups deserved their fate. I have written much about this and refer readers to Can the Working Class Change the World? Here, however, consider some of the results of racism: “A brief look at some data from the United States shows the remarkable disparities between black and white members of the working class. Median black family income is barely 60 percent that of whites, a little more than ten percentage points higher than it was in 1949. Black median household net worth is just 5 percent that of whites. Blacks earn less than whites at all levels of education. Astonishingly, ‘a $10,000 increase in the average annual wage of an occupation is associated with a seven-percentage-point decrease in the proportion of black men in that occupation.’ Besides earnings, when we consider poverty, unemployment, health, education, housing, life expectancy, infant mortality, or the criminal justice system, we must conclude that ‘having a black skin, in and of itself, is a grave economic and social disadvantage, while having a white skin confers considerable advantage.’”

There have been forces within the U.S. labor movement that have actively combated the divisions in the working class, sometimes with success. Usually, these forces have been radical; the Communist Party in the 1930s is a good example. The left-led labor unions, purged from the CIO during the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s, often did the same. However, much more needs to be done. Statements of principles of no toleration for racism and sexism by the AFL-CIO and all individual unions are essential, as is action to back these up. Collective bargaining agreements with strong “no discrimination” clauses and a willingness to strike, picket, and boycott over employer violations are necessary. Support for feminist and anti-racist groups in the larger society is a must, as is active participation in the protests and actions of Black Lives Matter and similar groups. Promotion of caucuses of women, Black workers, and ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ workers, could give these groups of oppressed workers a strong voice in every labor organization. Militant actions on the political front, are badly needed. General strikes to support immigrants, oppose the rise of fascist groups, and the like would show a real commitment to equality.

FC: Is there any impact of the present condition of and trends within the labor movement in the US on the labor movements in other countries?

MY: Historically, U.S. organized labor has been, all too often, an adjunct of U.S. foreign policy, opposing left-wing unions and movements around the world. Therefore, it has been rare for the U.S. labor movement to have a positive, much less a radical, impact on workers’ movements in other countries. Anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S.-led wars on poor countries has never been very strong in the U.S. labor movement. This is still the case. Things may change as workers, especially younger ones, are drawn to social democracy. However, even in social democratic organizations, a U.S.-first view is common and a neglect of what is going on in the rest of the world is as well. Another positive development is the greater radicalism and willingness to organize and join unions of newly-arrived immigrants into the United States. Hopefully, these immigrants will, along with Black and other oppressed workers, succeed in building a labor movement with an international working-class perspective.

FC: What are your suggestions/proposals to labor as a whole and to the labor defying “official” leadership, to deal with the reality that you have pictured in the answers above?

MY: Here is a long quote from my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?, that I think answers this question:

“Labor unions have been a principal response by workers to capital’s exploitation. They are necessary defense agents, and as long as capitalism exists, they will form.

If unions mirror corporations in their structures, which all too many do, there isn’t much hope that they will confront capital. And this is all the more the case if they have entered into a compact with employers that views the two sides as cooperators interested primarily in the profitability of the owners’ businesses. This strategy has failed, the proof being in the deteriorating working conditions and life circumstances of union members and the sharp drop in union densities during the period in which partnership has marked much of the labor movement worldwide. To begin to reverse course, then, labor unions must become democratic, run by the membership, and they must abandon labor-management cooperation schemes. Since it is unlikely that current leaders will seek to do either of these things, the only way forward is to get rid of the leadership. In the United States, a perusal of the magazine Labor Notes shows that there have been frequent attempts by rank-and-file activists to take control of their unions and put them on a democratic and militant path. A few have been successful, most have not. No doubt, the fear of such insurgencies has made some unions willing to mobilize members and take on the companies with strikes, picketing, and boycotts. But reform has proved a daunting task, similar to efforts by political advocates to move the Democratic Party to the left. Those in power seldom want to relinquish control, and they will be as ruthless as necessary to beat back rivals. Still, labor rebellions have been successful, at all levels of unions. Corrupt criminal leadership was defeated in both the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers, for example, and though the rank-and-file victors were subsequently defeated or weakened, neither union is as awful as it once was. In addition, sometimes revolt has taken the form of a new union, one that breaks away from the parent organization. Or, if a group of workers have no representation and no existing union is willing to help them organize, they might establish an independent union. Again, in the United States, an example of the former is the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Tired of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) top-down management, its embrace of labor-management cooperation and sweetheart deals with employers, its frequent impositions of trusteeships (the national union takes over the running of a local union) on recalcitrant locals with rebellious and independent leaders, and outright corruption, the NUHW broke away from SEIU in 2009.

Before asking what a democratic union looks like and what it should do, it is proper to say that there are now unions that work in a democratic manner. In the United States, the best example is the United Electrical Workers, an independent labor union that has the distinction of being kicked out of both the AFL and the CIO. Its national office and locals rest on the will of the members. It does not make deals with employers, and it has never been tainted with corruption. Officer salaries and expenses are strictly controlled, and its constitution is a model of democratic principles that the union has adhered to through good times and bad. Other U.S. unions have served their members well, too. The overall trajectory, however, has been toward bureaucratic, undemocratic structures and an increasingly unwarranted faith in labor-capital compromise.

Democracy means more than voting. The structure of the union must be democratic. There should be direct ballot casting by all the members for any office, as opposed to convention delegates, usually chosen by the leadership, voting for those same leaders, as is common in many U.S. unions. Term limits for officers are essential. No advantage of any kind should be proffered to incumbents seeking reelection. Strict limits should be placed on the salaries of union officers, and a careful open audit of expenses should be routine. The rank and file should participate in all union activities, from planning for negotiations, setting demands, strike preparation, and the striking and picketing. Union meetings should be open to all members, especially those with home responsibilities (almost always women), and also held at convenient times. Meeting discussions should be open, and criticisms should be welcomed and debated. Special attention should be paid, in all aspects of the union, to the concerns and needs of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT members. Retirees should be encouraged to take part in all union actions.

If a rank-and-file uprising is successful, a breakaway union is founded, or an independent union is created, and even if these result in more democracy, it is still necessary to ask: Democracy for what? What are the principles and goals of the organization? The NUHW lists these as its core beliefs:

  1. A strong union is led by its members.
  1. Worker power is the foundation of a just society.
  1. Quality patient care requires that caregivers have a voice in their workplaces and are protected from retaliation.
  1. Healthcare is a human right.

This is a good preliminary set of principles. But more needs to be said and done. First, education must be a priority. Compulsory classes should greet new members, teaching them about the union’s history and that of the labor movement as a whole. And regular short courses, summer schools, and longer learning experiences should be made available, with at least some courses required to maintain membership. In these classes, the construction of a broader array of principles and aspirations can be developed. Several come to mind:

  1. An examination of racism and patriarchy. The objectives here are ending discrimination in the union, building greater solidarity, compelling the employer to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner, and leading the union to play a positive role in combating these divisions in the community and society.
  1. A study of imperialism and militarism. For unions in the Global North, the purpose of this would be to build an understanding of the role of their governments and employers in subjugating the peoples of the Global South, and of the past complicity of unions in this. A radical labor movement cannot become a reality unless it is adamantly opposed to imperial wars, arms production and sales, the infiltration of the military into local economies and daily life, the patriotism of flags and national anthems, the mantra that we must all support the troops. In the Global North, nationalism is a disease that impedes the global working-class solidarity essential for human liberation. Unfortunately, it is so deeply embedded in the institutional structure of capitalist society that the task of eliminating it is formidable. Yet, if the effort isn’t made, there is no hope of the working class changing the world.
  1. A serious discussion of the multiple environmental crises we face. If these aren’t working-class issues, what are? Global warming is a workplace issue. Ecology professor and writer Andreas Malm writes:

    Physical labour makes the body warm. If it takes place under the sun or inside facilities without advanced air-conditioning systems, excessively high temperatures will make the sweat flow more profusely and the bodily powers sag, until the worker suffers heat exhaustion or worse. This will not be an ordeal for the average software developer or financial adviser. But for people who pick vegetables, build skyscrapers, pave roads, drive buses, sew clothes in poorly ventilated factories or mend cars in slum workshops, it already is; and the bulk of exceptionally hot working days are now anthropogenic in nature. With every little rise in average temperatures on Earth, thermal conditions in millions of workplaces around the world shift further, primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of the working population — some four billion people — live their days. For every degree, a greater chunk of output will be lost, estimated to reach more than a third of total production after four degrees: in this heat, workers simply cannot keep up the same pace.’

    Given the magnitude of impending disasters, labor must make the environment a major concern. This means opposing all corporate and public actions that exacerbate global warming, the poisoning of air, soil, and water, and the extinction of species, among others. When construction unions lobby for ruinous shale oil pipelines, as happened in the United States, other unions must speak out and condemn such self-serving deeds.

    As democratic unions strengthen and their principles and goals become more class-conscious, they will naturally ally themselves with like-minded unions and community groups. In this way, a labor movement worthy of the name can begin and grow, one concerned with the entirety of the working class, including those in the reserve army of labor and the informal sector.

    A union’s most important immediate concern is with its members’ welfare. Here the question of “democracy for what?” can take concrete form. Labor-management cooperation should be immediately and permanently rejected, replaced by an adversarial relationship that makes no concessions to management. Instead, the union makes demands that challenge capital’s control of the workplace. Higher wages are always on the table, but so must be shorter hours, more paid time off, full parental leave for both parents (for at least a few months), a safe and nontoxic work environment, active union participation in decisions related to both technology and work intensity, an unrestricted right to strike over any issue, a shortened grievance resolution procedure (with rank-and-file participation at all levels), the right not to cross picket lines while on employer-related business, and high monetary penalties for plant closures and relocations. Whatever makes laboring less alienated and weakens capital’s control should be vigorously and relentlessly pursued. Unions should never allow the employer to play one plant off against another, much less cooperate in this, as the United Auto Workers has done. Strong protections for women and racial and ethnic minorities should be part of every contract. When a union faces a multi-plant employer, or more than one employer, it should organize coordinated communications and tactics among the officers on the shop floor, office, or store. Solidarity must be more than a word, and an injury to any worker should anger every sister and brother.

FC: What do you suggest to read/study to learners like me interested to know about labor?

MY: Two of my books might be useful: Can the Working Class Change the World? and Why Unions Matter. Others that are good are: any book by Kim Moody. His last is titled On New Terrain. Steve Early is an excellent analyst of U.S. labor. A google search should give many results. Save Our Unions is good. Paul LeBlanc’s A Short History of the US Working Class is a very good introduction. Joe Burns Reviving the Strike and Strike Back! Show the necessity and usefulness of strikes. Jane Slaughter’s A Troublemaker’s Handbook has great advice for making trouble for the bosses. Labor Notes, the magazine Jane helped to found, is devoted to reporting on strikes and rank-and-file efforts to democratize their unions, as well as the overall state of the U.S. labor movement. Priscilla Murolo’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend is good, with much material on women’s labor. Robin Kelley has written excellent books on Black workers, including Hammer and Hoe and Race Rebels. On immigrant farm laborers and their union efforts, read the exceptional Trampling Out the Vintage by Frank Bardacke.

FC: Thank you for the interview with contemporary issues concerning the labor in the US.

MY: You are very welcome. And let me offer solidarity to the workers of the world on this May Day!

Grim Britain

If the whole ghastly debacle over Brexit has proven anything at all it’s how totally unfit for purpose the British parliament is. For those of us who have known that for a long time and campaigned vigorously for many years for its complete reformation this comes as no surprise. The whole shambolic system of Britain’s so-called democracy must be scrapped and replaced with a real democracy.

Somewhere at the heart of the Brexit farce lies the real nub of the problem – the fact that our parliament cannot cope with a truly democratic decision if it doesn’t like that decision. When the British people voted for Britain to quit the EU — a result that most of parliament opposed and never expected — the thing should have been quite straightforward: Britain quits the EU. But as everyone now knows that is not what happened. The last few weeks leading up to what was supposed to be the day Britain left the EU provided an endless series of incredible displays of parliamentary time-wasting and incompetence that turned Britain into a global laughing stock. Surely it is now abundantly clear that this whole creaking anachronism must go. Apart from being institutionally corrupt — its most important fault — the pseudo-democracy it practices is now clearly ludicrous.

Britain’s Green Party is the only significant political organisation I know of in the country which has not only known about this problem for many years, it also has a number of important radical policy proposals for putting it right. These include the drafting of a written constitution, scrapping the institution of monarchy and unelected parliamentarians, proportional representation, and creating direct democracy throughout a system of massively decentralised government. Far from being simply an environmentalist pressure group, their substantial policy document clearly states: “The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics”. And its proposals for total constitutional reform, creating real democracy for the first time in our history, clearly show their intentions.

Written Constitution

Possibly the most important item on this list of proposed Green changes is their intention to create a written constitution. Britain is almost alone in the world in terms of not having one of these. The thing itself is not necessarily significant. After all, most countries have written constitutions, but this doesn’t prevent many of them from being badly run. So at least as important as a written constitution itself is the need to ensure mechanisms are in place for enforcing its provisions.

This might seem obvious, but to cite just one and perhaps the most important example — the United States, supposedly the global role model of freedom and democracy — serious breaches of its own constitution by its own rulers are not unusual. Henry Kissinger, for example, once the US Secretary of State, said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer”.1 So it’s clear to see that having a written constitution is one thing, making sure it’s effective is often something very different.

A constitution is supposed to be a written statement of the rules of a country’s government, a legally binding document applying to ALL its citizens, listing the rights and responsibilities of the government, and usually the country’s people too. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Britain has resisted having one throughout its history. The most obvious possibility is that if there are no written rules of how a government should conduct itself, the rulers may conduct themselves anyway they like. Given Britain’s long and blood-soaked history of barbaric oppression, in its own country and all over the world, this is clearly not a strong recommendation for allowing rulers to have such uncontrolled powers.

Scrapping Monarchy and Unelected MPs

It’s patently obvious that a government whose head of state is unelected and appointed by hereditary right, and whose parliament comprises a large decision-making body of people who are similarly unelected (the House of Lords), cannot seriously call itself a democracy. Yet Britain has managed to trick the world into believing this falsehood for a couple of hundred years.

The main reason this ludicrous farce has been so successful is because Britain’s monarchy and its unelected House of Lords have always supported the interests of a tiny handful of super-rich individuals above the interests of billions of other people around the world, as well as tens of millions of British people. The great genius Tom Paine accurately nailed this phenomenon, as he accurately nailed so many others. Writing in the introduction to “Common Sense”, the booklet that stirred the hearts of American settlers to fight for their independence from Britain, he said,

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

Because this tiny group of super-rich individuals have always been very careful to control the information that people receive they have nearly always been successful tricking people into thinking and acting against their own best interests. For many centuries this information-control was achieved by forging a tight alliance with religion. Priests were allowed to communicate with the masses, and profit from them, providing they communicated the right messages. Village churches throughout Britain, for example, occupied land owned by wealthy aristocrats. A priest was allowed to base himself in a church and extort impoverished parishioners — the position was called a “living” — providing he never upset the landlord. But given that most priests were themselves sons of rich fathers and landed gentry, that was seldom likely to be a problem. Therefore many generations of people came and went firmly believing in the divine right of monarchs and aristocrats to keep them in miserable subjugation – a widely-held view that survives to this day.

The scrapping of unelected monarchs and unelected MPs is, in itself, no guarantee of good government. After all, the most powerful rogue nation on Earth is ruled by an elected president, and there are many other failed states around the world that are ostensibly led by elected leaders. But the principle of elected leaders rather than unelected ones is unquestionably a superior concept. The very obvious flaws that currently exist are directly attributable to the corrupt practices of those supposedly democratic systems, rather than the principle itself. Therefore it’s very obvious that the constitution must be drafted, and enforced, in such a way that these anomalies are prevented.

Direct Democracy

No doubt many people would react with horror, given the farcical debacle over Brexit, to any suggestion that Britain should permanently be governed by a system of continual referendums – which basically is what direct democracy is. I mean, many people might reasonably argue that if direct democracy means more Brexit-type chaos, on a daily basis, then obviously we don’t want it. Although that reaction is perfectly understandable, it overlooks a couple of very important points.

Firstly, there’s the fact that direct democracy works perfectly well, as Switzerland, which has used the system for a long time, continually shows. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, providing that people are well and properly informed – which was not the case with the Brexit referendum – the people can usually be relied upon to make good and humane decisions. After all, trial by jury which, despite its numerous faults, is still better than any other way of resolving court cases, is direct democracy in miniature. So the principle of normal people, properly informed, making important decisions is clearly a very sound one.

The concept of democracy — as most people understand it — is not only a bad method of government. It’s also demonstrably corrupt. It’s based on the practice of people electing politicians who, in theory, are supposed to represent their best interests. So far from conforming to the widely used definition of democracy as being government for the people by the people, it is in practice government for the super-rich by the super-rich – which is pretty much how people have always been ruled – only the existing system is far more cynical and dishonest than outright tyranny, because it pretends to provide people with real political power whilst actually ensuring they don’t have it. Elected representatives who, for the most part, are simply paid employees of the super-rich, provide the veneer of democracy when what they’re actually doing is preventing it.

No doubt many who sincerely believe they live in a real democracy would react with horror to such a suggestion, but all they need to do is ask themselves who pays for election campaigns. Are they paid for by the people, or are they paid for by the super-rich? Given that democracy should be a public service, it should be paid for by the public like any other public service. But the reality is that the election campaigns of most governments have been bought and paid for by the super-rich. These people are not well known for their generosity or love of public service – which is why so many of them avoid paying their taxes — so why do they spend millions on election campaigns if not for the fact that they expect to be very well compensated by the winners? Which is, of course, exactly what happens  as countless accounts of corruption in high places verify on an almost daily basis.

Proportional Representation

Many people with progressive tendencies have long championed the cause of proportional representation. Many so-called democracies use the “first-past-the-post” method of deciding election winners and losers, a system whereby the person with the most votes wins and gets elected to public office whilst whoever else competed in the election is forgotten about. Proportional Representation, on the other hand, takes account of every vote cast in an election and then allocates seats in proportion to the numbers voting for each political party. It is unquestionably a much fairer way of deciding elections, and should be implemented in any country that calls itself a democracy. However, direct democracy, which effectively bypasses elected representatives altogether and allows the citizen direct control of their government’s decisions, is even better yet — providing the citizen is properly informed — and should be the primary goal for all political activists.

Subsidiarity

One of the Greens’ most important policies is that of subsidiarity – democratic decision-making provided at the source of wherever a decision needs to be made. It’s the polar opposite of centralised government — the model practised by most countries — where some all-powerful regime effectively controls all decisions throughout the country. Whilst Britain, like many other countries, has some decentralised government functions in the form of local councils, the effective decision-making powers of local councils is significantly controlled by central government. This is achieved by central government having considerable control of money supply, and by having the powers to simply overturn any decisions made by local councils if they feel like it.

Decentralisation, effectively another word for subsidiarity, is a fine principle for the simple reason that it provides real decision-making power to people organised in small communities, communities which, when added together, comprise society as a whole. Switzerland provides a good working example of the model in practice.

Swiss cantons are similar in size to some English counties, but there the similarity ends, for cantons have considerably more power than their English equivalents — particularly regarding tax collections. As with their federal government Swiss citizens use direct democracy to control their cantons too, and may initiate referendums or veto new laws they’re not happy with.

Contrary to what opponents of direct democracy may claim, no doubt citing the British Brexit debacle to reinforce their argument, this considerable and direct power that Swiss citizens have over their government has done Switzerland no noticeable harm whatsoever. In fact, it’s made Switzerland one of the most stable, free, peaceful and well-respected nations in the world. It has achieved this whilst being relatively poor in natural resources, completely landlocked, without doing any imperial looting of distant lands, and surrounded by two of the worst wars in human history. Therefore their political model obviously has useful lessons for almost every other country to learn from.

The Party’s Over

There is absolutely no justification for maintaining the anachronistic and institutionally corrupt system of government that Britain uses. It must be totally scrapped and a new model created based on the principles outlined in this essay. The seat of government should be moved away from London to somewhere more central to the whole country — like Northampton, say. Building a brand new parliament where no monarch or chamber of unelected MPs have any official role, and where a network of decentralised local councils controlled by direct democracy may be efficiently coordinated will be a huge step in the right direction.

But there are two other essential changes that need to be made. Although they’re very different to each other they are quite possibly equally important.

The control and supply of money must be removed from the private banking system and placed where it belongs — in the hands of the new democratic state. Although money may not be absolutely essential to an economy, it unquestionably enables the economy to work more efficiently. Throughout history the availability of money has always been ruthlessly controlled by a tiny handful of super-rich individuals. There is absolutely no economic necessity for this. It happens only because that’s how the super-rich controllers of money want it to stay. But money should be seen as a human right, and the supply viewed as public service totally controlled by the state.

The second vitally important change that needs to happen is that the supply of public information must be vastly improved. A successful system of direct democracy would be largely determined by the quality of information that voters receive upon which to form their opinions and make their decisions. Most people will make good decisions if they are given good information, and they will make very bad ones if given bad information — as the catastrophic Brexit fiasco proves beyond any reasonable doubt.

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence that the British state does not provide its citizens with good information — or even allow them to find it for themselves — is the fact that the state’s obsession with secrecy borders on the psychotic. As I write these words the outrageous treatment being meted out to the heroic publisher Julian Assange by the British state, probably on behalf of its US controllers, is providing graphic evidence of how the state treats those who try to reveal its secrets for public inspection. Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves, for example, is a fine study of the extent to which this problem affects us. It is quite impossible to obtain good information about the actions of the state when so many of those actions are deemed too secret for the public to know about for very considerable periods of time. Therefore two of the easiest steps to take to ensure the public receive good information is to scrap the odious Official Secrets Act, and for the state to open for public access all of its vast archives of secret files.

The ability to access good information is also dependent on a fundamental change to our system of education. British schools serve as an important first step in the process of brainwashing British people. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is the teaching of history. History is a vitally important subject because it teaches us about how our country became what it is. Or that’s what it should teach. But the history that’s taught in most schools, a history of Britain’s supposed greatness, is totally different from the history taught by historians such as EP Thompson, say, or Al Morton, or the Hammonds, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis or Ian Cobain. These writers all explain British history in a very different way to the history taught in most British schools, a way which would teach most children to understand that far from being the great champions of justice, liberty and humanity that they’re taught to see most British kings and queens, lords and ladies, general and admirals, they would learn instead how many of these people were indistinguishable from psychotic murderers and thieves.

It would teach people to acquire a far more humble belief about Britain’s true role in history and teach them a far more humane and tolerant attitude to others. It would also create a desperately needed contempt for the super-rich ruling classes of today – instead of the fawning sycophantic subservient attitude that is instilled by the existing education system. The obvious evidence of this institutionalised brainwashing is apparent in the very name of the country – “Great” Britain. There’s very little about British history which deserves to be called great. If the name Britain needed an adjective at all, “Grim” Britain would be closer to the mark.

Also badly lacking in our current education system is teaching the ability to think clearly and logically, but also with humanity, compassion for all living things, and awareness of the desperate existential threat our planet is enduring — mostly because of human overpopulation together with the capitalist economic model that drives it and which ridiculously demands infinite growth from finite resources.

To complete the picture of essential changes to make to the quality of public information we also obviously have to look at the providers of so-called news, the information about daily events that affect our lives. There is now a vast quantity of evidence that proves how the so-called news is manipulated by the rich and powerful to manipulate people to think and behave in a particular way. This must change. It should not be necessary to censor this information, which is actually mis-information. All that’s needed is to provide a more accurate, honest and humane alternative. The great journalist John Pilger, quoting the American historian and journalist TD Allman wrote.

Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events. (my emphasis)2

A state-provided news service, guided by this principle — or something very near it — is all we need to combat the vast quantities of misinformation and fake news provided by the mainstream media. Combined with the incredible new information technologies that are now available, and a totally reformed education system, people would be properly prepared and able to cope with sweeping constitutional changes to the way we have been misruled for thousands of years.

The one useful thing that the Brexit fiasco has done is to reveal how utterly useless and unfit for purpose the British parliament is. As I said at the start of this essay, that is not news to those of us who have long campaigned for reform. Our parliament has always been primarily about protecting the interests of the super-rich, rather than doing what’s best for most British people.

The future will not forgive us

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of this is clearly visible in the vast array of antiquated procedures that accompany almost every action carried out in the Houses of Parliament. From the annual state opening of parliament, an ancient and highly ritualised performance designed to show the supremacy of an unelected head of state appointed by hereditary succession, to the daily routine business of parliament where supposedly serious debates take place in what sounds more like a children’s playground than the most important decision-making forum in the land.

This ridiculous farce of a system, ludicrously masquerading as a global model of democracy, must go. It has caused infinitely more harm than good, and now, with Britain and the world in general facing a perfect storm of the most serious existential crises since dinosaurs disappeared, we have to have an entirely new system of government — a system that is both wholly and truly democratic, as well as being compassionate and humane. If we do not do this, now, the future will not forgive us — and rightly so.

  1. New York Times, October 28, 1973.
  2. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.

To Brexit or Not to Brexit?



The main problem with the question of Leave or Remain is that it’s not the question most people in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland are really interested in.  It’s just a very fraught proxy for the real question.

Every week as I engage in the by-now comfortably familiar process of following global news developments, thinking about what I want to address in this week’s missive, recording the podcast version of it, etc., it is a new weekly opportunity when I must once again observe that the world appears to be going to hell just as fast this week as it was last week. Catastrophic flooding on several continents at the same time, with an unknown and possibly vast death toll in Africa, where it appears entire cities may have drowned. Israeli missiles are once again raining down on the besieged outdoor prison known as Gaza. Christchurch is burying its dead. Trump has located the Golan Heights on a map. His Attorney General says he’s not working for Putin. And many other developments.

Prominent among them, of course, is the increasingly chaotic state of the farcically-named country known as the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Soon perhaps to be known as the United Kingdom of England and Wales. The political class in the country is in the midst of a real meltdown, and life is uncertain for many millions of people within and outside of the UK right now.

The question of how people and politicians should react to this volatile situation is certainly an important one, and I personally don’t pretend to have any useful advice for anyone. For whatever little it may be worth, whether I’m stating the obvious or not, what I do have to offer is this: the main reason the whole question of Brexit is so incredibly fraught is that the question of whether or not to leave the European Union isn’t really the question most people were seeking to answer. I’m quite convinced from spending a whole lot of my life playing music with and for the English working class in places like Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham or Leicester that the struggling English working class that is mainly responsible for the success of the Leave campaign is not actually interested in whether they’re governed from London or from Brussels.

Most of the people voting for Brexit probably knew that this wasn’t the choice they wanted to be voting on. They would much have preferred a vote between socialism and neoliberalism — in which case socialism would have won. They want a return to pre-Thatcher Britain, when most of the people governing the country at least believed in everyone in the country having the ability to live a dignified life with decent housing, education and health care. Their impression that the lobbyists in Brussels don’t have their best interests in mind is correct. They also know most of the politicians in London don’t have their best interests in mind either. Which is why the choice is so fraught — it’s the wrong choice.

Many of my left-wing friends in all corners of the United Kingdom voted both for and against Brexit. The campaign to Leave the EU may have been largely led by an assortment of nationalists and xenophobes, but those who voted to Leave are far from a homogeneous group. The notion that more local control might have more potential to lead to more local democracy is a sensible one. Having alliances and agreements with other nations makes sense for any country for so many reasons, but the question always is, what kinds of agreements, and for whose benefit?

Opposition to power shifting from national governments to Brussels has been widespread in many corners of European society, since the beginning of the EU, though listening to just about any of the English-language media these days you would be forgiven for thinking that the idea of local democracy is a racist conspiracy of the far right, funded by the Kremlin.

The first time I traveled around Europe as an adult was in 1995. I spent most of that trip in Ireland, England and Denmark. The trip began in Copenhagen. I knew I wanted to visit England and Ireland, but the fact that the trip included Denmark was an accident of Air Hitch. You could choose five different major European cities where you might end up, and you were only guaranteed that you’d end up in one of them within five days of your desired date of arrival. Copenhagen was where I ended up.

It was the spring of 1995, but it was literally only a matter of hours before I met people who were telling me about what had happened there on the streets of the city almost exactly two years earlier.

In 1993 a bare majority of Danish voters approved the Maastricht Treaty, which gave greater powers within the European Union to Brussels. It had to be passed by all the EU member states at the time, and the year before, Denmark had been the hold-out, rejecting the treaty in a vote in 1992. With barely any changes made, it was again brought to a popular vote the following year.

When it passed the second time, this was mainly because of voters from outside the only major city, Copenhagen. Most people in Copenhagen voted against it. In the diverse, largely left-wing neighborhood of Norrebro, protests turned to riots, with such intensity and mass participation that the vastly outnumbered riot police deployed for the occasion fired live ammunition at the people for the first time since the end of the Second World War, injuring eleven. None of those shot were members of the Right.