Category Archives: Neoliberalism

Order and Progress was Never a Civilian Slogan

The apparent victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections has been analysed as the return of some kind of fascism to Brazil: electing dictators where they previously had to enter office in tanks. However, Brazilians, unlike Portuguese, did not remove their dictators from power. The Brazilian military gave way to its civilian counterparts. A governing structure was created in 1986, which permitted the discrete withdrawal of uniformed personnel from public offices and public liability for the consequences of their acts. However, it did not end the role of the military in ruling Brazil. For both historical and ideological reasons this was not necessary.

The military-technocratic tradition in Brazil is as old as the founding of the republic.1 That was one reason why the Brazilian military so readily accepted the same “national security ideology” that the US propagated in its cadre institutions like the National Defence College/University, the curriculum of which was largely imitated by the Superior War College in Brazil. The “military” in Brazil is best understood as the elite managers of the republic’s military – industrial – technological complex, one of the products to survive the dictatorship.

Although certainly not an accident, the anointment of Bolsonaro as a saviour in Brazil’s time of troubles, is incidental. His appearance and election (unless something utterly unexpected happens on 28 October) should be understood within Brazil’s ancient domestic political culture and the subordination of the Brazilian military in the widest sense of the term to the hemispheric national security ideology that has prevailed since its formulation in the late 1940s.

Comparisons with Trump are distractions, like the attacks on Trump. They draw attention away from the actual power issues involved and who actually wields power.

Bolsonaro’s election cannot be fully understood without an international perspective. Brazil, although a very large country with an enormous economy, is a very closely held property dominated by a tiny elite with more loyalty to the North American elite than to its own national interests. It has always been a subordinate country in the hemisphere although the mechanisms of subordination have changed over time. Unlike in the US, Brazilian elections are actively manipulated by foreign governments. Brazilian media are even more concentrated than in the US, with Globo occupying virtual monopoly control over every media outlet in Brazil not controlled by a US conglomerate.

Yet there has always been a tension between pro-US and nationalistic factions in Brazil’s elite. The only mass political base ever established in Brazil — prior to the PT — was the Vargas regime, which was vigorously opposed by those in Brazil who hate anything resembling democracy, nationalism or mass-based politics. The PT emerged despite repression to become Brazil’s first mass democratic party. When it was allowed to govern after the long-forgotten corruption of the Collor de Melo presidency, it was because it had attained this broad democratic base capable of winning elections.

Winning elections was considered in the early period after the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the sine qua non of the “victory” of capitalism. The PT then started to create its own political base in the Brazilian context– a combination of local clientelism and organised labour, but including sectors that had previously been excluded from this formula. In Brazil’s federal system it was necessary to establish a serious social budget at federal level to compensate for the intransigence at state level. To do this the PT needed a public budget to finance that expenditure. And here is where international banking– a historical force in suppressing Brazilian national development– applied the brakes. The PT had to commit itself to servicing the extortion aka foreign debt. Like in every other country held down by “debt”, Brazil could not fulfill any but the most superficial social promises and pay the extortion to banks.

So what happened was surely this: the PT political engineers decided to covertly subsidise their political consolidation and some of the social budget by siphoning funds from the parastatal oil company, Petrobras. This had to be done covertly to prevent the extortion ring (international banking and monetary agencies) from manipulating the Brazilian credit ratings and exchange rate to prevent it. So a lot of people got on the gravy train to keep this scheme working. Of course, the drain of paying all those whose cooperation was necessary to maintain this finance mechanism became parasitical so that more money was reaching the facilitators than the intended beneficiaries of the policy.

The idea of draining funds from a corporation through covert means is not new. (Enron was essentially a banking-led investor scheme for laundering money and exporting it to off shore banks. It would have continued had it not been for some personnel problems and a few accidents– biggest of which that it threatened to implicate POTUS G W Bush.) It is entirely excusable as greed when the funds are transferred to the wealthy. However, it becomes a horrible crime if the money benefits masses of ordinary people. The multilateral (US) debt enforcers have always upheld the claims against sovereign states by those who made official loans to corrupt dictators where the money was transferred to private Swiss accounts.

Hence, given the number of people on the Petrobras gravy train, this policy might have continued with relative impunity were it not for two very important international issues where the US regime has a direct interest: BRICS and Venezuela.

It is worth viewing a small segment in the late Allan Frankovich’s 1980 documentary On Company Business. There is an interview with a labour organizer from the US who is recruited by the AIFLD to go to Brazil and organise “anti-communist unions”. He explains what he thought he was doing and what he found to be his actual mission. But his most striking realisation was that he had been sent to Brazil for this work in 1962– a full two years before the “crisis” that officially led to the Brazilian military coup removing João Goulart.

Bolsonaro is discussed as a product of the “anti-corruption” crusade. “Anti-corruption” has merely replaced “anti-communism” since the latter is deemed extinct. In fact, the case for disrupting Brazil’s BRICS policy and isolating it from the Venezuela – Cuba “axis”, was given almost immediately after Lula’s first election. However, it would have taken some time to place everyone and everything in the best position to depose the PT. This was certainly ready by the time Lula’s second term expired. The death of Chavez and recently the death of Castro (at least of natural causes) have made it imperative to close the Brazil-Venezuelan border in every sense. The escalating war against Russia and China had already made it imperative to take the “B” out of BRICS.

The success of the “anti-corruption” strategy in legitimating the overthrow of heads of state had been proven along with the capabilities to generate synthetic social support for such exercises as elections and street demonstrations. Anti-corruption campaigns are directed against public officials and civil servants but not against the military (although the corruption of the arms trade is endemic and apparently incurable) or corporations who initiate the corrupt acts and/or benefit from them. There is a conspicuous reluctance to attack fundamentally anti-democratic institutions: Business and the military. “Anti-corruption” is really a euphemism for a broad attack on all democratic institutions since 1989-90.

It is one of the failures of the Left and faux gauche to grasp these fundamental issues. This is in part because they share the same “moral language” and progressive technocratic ideas about how the State should be constituted and operated. There has been a distinct inability or reluctance to retool, to defend fiscal independence, to recognise and call foreign debt (or in many countries all public borrowing) what it, in fact, is: a deliberate conversion of community resources into private cash streams for the ruling class compulsory debt financing of public expenditure by private banks. This is the main reason why the central banking system adopted by the US regime in 1913 and internationalised at Bretton Woods and in the EU, impoverishes all attempts at socialism. It is impossible to remedy the corrupt system of public finance and government operations without a radical change in the anti-democratic control over money. As long as economics is treated as a science when it is, in fact, a theology, every Left government will have its Luthers praising the slaughter of revolting peasants, while claiming the privileges of their own particular liberties.

The PT attempted to evade this criminal constraint on the democratic government by using a parastatal for social purposes– this was a capital crime and will be punished as such. It makes little difference that Petrobras could never have funded all the activities that the PT government would have implemented were it not constrained by compulsory “debt” service. The scandal effect of a rather thinly disguised evasive tactic by a slightly socialist government was a necessary catalyst to break the electoral majority that had delivered the PT solid election results.

The strategies of Langley have also matured with the years. In 1964 there was no hesitation to use direct military force to seize control. But now this is unnecessary and undesirable. No amount of protest prevented Temer exercising the office of President, despite massive corruption charges pending against him. No one can defend notorious criminal acts if they are made notorious even before trial has established whether a crime was committed. In the 60s and 70s no one in the Western hemisphere or Africa could be “for” a government notorious as socialist/communist, even if it was neither; in fact, (Goulart was no communist but there are people from Brazil who still say that he was. There are also people in Portugal who think that the 1974 revolution was directed from Moscow, although it was clearly the director of the counter-revolution, Frank Carlucci, who died this year.)

Another innovation has gone largely without comment: that is the refinement of the Phoenix programme. The so-called “war on drugs” and its various theatres provide cover throughout Central and South America for counter-insurgency or political warfare against the poor. When Temer ordered the military into Rio the attention was given to the extreme criminality and danger to normal inhabitants, which the military was needed to suppress. Aside from the fact that the military and police in all countries are integral components of the trade in drugs and other contraband, law enforcement militarisation is a classic cover for death squads and similar terror instruments. Placing the poor under martial law is something the Brazilian military actively practiced together with US Forces while deployed in Haiti under UN cover. No serious commentator on Haiti doubts that the “crime” in Haiti is any kind of base organisation against the owners of the neo-slave state.

Bolsonaro’s election result has to be seen, together with the combined operations to demobilise those sectors of the Brazilian electorate that provided the support and legitimacy for the PT, leaving only the historically unreliable and proportionately insignificant middle class to be disaffected (not unlike the anti-Chavista middle in Venezuela) to vote for the mythical “clean broom”. Here we return to the fact that the military never really left the stage. The military can be better grasped in a “cultural” sense — all those people in the elite and supporting classes who think with the military whether members of the armed forces or not. This includes the technocratic strata and those who naively believe in “military rationality” as a pure and national virtue. But one thing should be remembered about modern politics and “independent” candidates. Bolsonaro is expendable. He can be seen as a placeholder for the wider institutional force that combines actively to frustrate any democratisation of Brazil, most importantly by preventing any meaningful self-confident lower class political organisation and obstructing anything but the most meagre attempt to remedy Brazil’s grotesque economic inequalities.

The resistance to political and economic equity, let alone equality, is a centuries-old tradition in the two largest slaveholder republics of the Western hemisphere. This commitment to enrichment by forced labour and plunder has always been the driving force in the US and in Brazil. It makes little difference that chattel slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Democratic allocation of a country’s resources by whatever formula violates the very essence of the economic system slavery made possible. Facing that deep corruption in the Brazilian and US regimes will help in the appraisal of measures and movements to create genuine democracy and maybe even socialism in the majority of countries of the Americas, which have had neither.

  1. Ordem e Progresso (order and progress), the Brazilian national motto is a slogan from the 19th century Positivist Church. The leading figures of the Brazilian military, e.g. Benjamin Constant, who overthrew the monarchy to establish the republic were members. The Positive Church was based on the teachings of Auguste Comte, credited as the founder of positivism and sociology. It was conceived as a “religion of humanity”, emphasising science and progress. This coincided with the development of modern militaries in Latin America based on science and engineering as the foundations of military education. The military’s “modernising” role and its supposed rational objectivity originate in this tradition.

Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order

In order to meet the colossal challenges of the time, fundamental change to the socio-economic order is needed. The environmental catastrophe is the major issue, together with armed conflict, potentially nuclear. Both threaten the survival of humanity and the planet, and both are widely ignored by the men and women of power, whose short-term approach, obsession with ‘the economy’, and a nationalistic introspective view of the world is leading us to the precipice of disaster.

If humanity is to survive these interconnected crises and overcome other crucial challenges, including poverty, social injustice and the displacement of people, a totally new vision of the way society functions is required. At the root of much, if not all, of the chaos is the socio-economic model combined with inadequate, artificial forms of democratic governance. State and private institutions are interdependent monopolies of power that require radical democratization; deep-rooted systemic deficiencies must be addressed and altogether different values to those that are currently encouraged, inculcated.

Totalitarian Structures

Neo-Liberalism has infiltrated all areas of society and permeated life in virtually every corner of the world; it is a dysfunctional system that instead of serving human need is designed to provide wealth ‘beyond the dreams of Avarice for a privileged few,’ as Noam Chomsky puts it. Its very existence denies the manifestation of real democracy.

Flowing from this paradigm of injustice is extreme inequality leading to a wide range of social ills, high levels of unemployment – particularly among the young in many parts of the world – low investment in public services and, as the political/economic scientist C. J. Polychroniou, says, “rapidly declining standards of living, dangerously high levels of both public and corporate debt, a financial system that remains out of whack, and ecological collapse.” It is a decrepit global system propped up by the guardians of the status-quo, who are intellectually bankrupt, have no answers to the issues of the day but, desperate to cling on to power, use all their tools of control to resist change.

Within the existing forms political influence is concentrated in the hands of a tiny group of people and institutions — they run the corporate organizations and stock the governing executive, these are the wealthy and powerful — the ruling elite; corporations and their masters dominate this entitled ensemble; huge tyrannical institutions, unaccountable bodies with enormous power. As Noam Chomsky states, corporations are “one of the most tyrannical systems human beings have ever devised”. Control is concentrated at the top from where policy is made and orders are issued, managers pass on instructions and workers are expected to obey, conform, and be thankful to the beneficent company for buying their labor, albeit for a pittance compared to the pay checks of the boardroom. This is little more than wage slavery.

The raison d’être of the corporate world is to maximize market share and generate profits, irrespective of the impact on people or the environment. To do this they need the population to behave in ways consistent with their ideological approach to life, namely consumerism. Their persuasive message of pleasure and competition is spread to a weary populous via the communications industry, which they happen to own: the media, entertainment sector and advertising companies. These bodies color the social atmosphere, are responsible for setting the public agenda, facilitating collective discussion, and, together with education and (organized) religion are the principle outlets for mass conditioning, or what Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion (published 1922) called the ‘manufacture of consent’.

Corporate institutions actively work to curtail democracy and deny the establishment of a just economic system; they have tremendous influence over government policy and consistently obstruct environmental legislation. They operate in secret, have been granted extraordinary rights and access, and, as Chomsky says, have “complicated strategic alliances among alleged competitors” forming what some economists have called “Alliance capitalism big networks of tyrannical institutions basically running the world,” institutions which “have no right to exist any more than any other tyrannical systems,” and should be dismantled.

Over the last 30 years or so a worldwide protest movement has developed, huge numbers of people have united demanding socio-economic and democratic change, to be listened to by remote arrogant politicians and for a meaningful global response to the environmental crisis. In scale and scope the movement is unprecedented. People of all ages have come together expressing collective frustrations, demanding a new approach to living. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement were prominent expressions of the same underlying current for change, and, it could be argued, so were Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, albeit in a distorted, reactionary form.

Despite setbacks, an irresistible current of change is sweeping the world that will not be extinguished. The old forms must give way to the emerging ways of the time, the economic, political, social and in due time, religious forms that have crystallized and are incapable of responding to the needs of the many.

The 2008 financial crisis revealed some of the inherent flaws in the economic model, since when politics has become more polarized and reactionary, wages have been frozen, austerity has been enforced, punishing the poorest in society, and the financial system has been allowed to continue much the same. The lack of genuine change means that a second crash is a real possibility, indeed perhaps that’s what it will take to bring about the lasting systemic change that so many yearn for. As stated in the introductory literature for New Thinking for the British Economy, “the evident failings of our present economic system, and the growing political mobilization for change, suggest that we may be on the cusp of another major shift in economic thinking and policy.” A shift away from oligarchic systems of governance, and an unjust, unsustainable, environmentally abusive economic model, to a sustainable, participatory and just way of living.

The Age of Sharing

The same essential element in harmonious living and justice is absent from both the economic world and the political sphere: the principle of sharing. Placing sharing at the heart of a new economic paradigm would do more than any other single factor to bring about real change. It would completely alter the collective social atmosphere and allow for a range of other positive democratic ideals, such as social justice, tolerance and compassion, to manifest. Sharing of resources (including food, water and land), wealth/income, knowledge, skills, ideas, etc., sharing in the management of the institutions (state and private) that dominate society, and the bodies that one happens to work in or study at, and crucially sharing in the decisions and ideas that shape our lives; i.e., real participation.

In corporate democracies the right to vote and run civil society may exist, there may even be an independent judiciary, the observation of human rights (more or less) and unfettered (albeit monitored) access to information, but without social justice and meaningful participation it is not really democracy. It is an inadequate ideological construct, the nature and structure of which is set by those sitting within gilded offices of power, who limit its scope and control its expression; it is democracy owned by the corporate world entwined with the methodology of the market. As such its exponents are complicit in perpetuating injustice, maintaining concentrations of power, facilitating division and encouraging wage slavery. Participation is at best limited, competition, greed and personal gain over collective well-being are promoted and lived. Material success is held up as the aim of life, selfish tendencies are encouraged, feeding intolerance and division – all of which work to deny true democracy and stifle the good in humanity.

Real Democracy is meaningful participation in all socio-political/economic and business institutions. When this takes place positive aspects of human nature will begin to flourish and the structures that perpetuate the existing injustices will crumble under the weight of the good. Group participation, social responsibility and unity are essential elements in bringing about such a change and are key principles of the time, at the heart of which, and from which all else flows must be sharing, and for a range of reasons: sharing breaks down divisions and engenders trust, kindness grows and humanities inherent goodness can flower. Sharing is an expression and acknowledgement of our common humanity, cooperation takes place when we share, and as people cooperate they build relationships, form groups, exchange ideas.

Without sharing the corrosive patterns of the present will continue, as Chomsky puts it, “if we were to move towards [real] democracy we would say that there should be no maldistribution of power in determining what’s produced what’s distributed what’s invested and so on, rather that’s a problem for the entire community. In fact my own personal view is unless we move in that direction human society probably isn’t going to survive.”

This is a view shared by many; however, if one looks beyond the ugly theatrics of nationalism and fear an alternative vision of the future can be seen. A coalition of change is forming throughout the world and a shift in consciousness in underway. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is young people who are leading the way, they are less conditioned by the old order, have a powerful sense of social justice and freedom and care deeply about the natural environment.

We are at the beginning of the Age of Sharing, but it will not be gifted to us. Like movements of change throughout history it will be brought about by consistent coordinated action, by demanding change, by recognizing that we are all responsible for this world, and if we want a new and just society we have to build it.

Brazil’s Neo-Liberal Fascist Road to Power

The decisive electoral victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro startled politicians and analysts of the traditional parties of the left and right.

The possible implications for the present and near future raises a number of fundamental questions whether it represents a ‘model’ for other countries or is the result of the specific circumstances of Brazil.

We shall proceed by outlining the socio-economic events and policies of Brazil which led up to rise of the highly authoritarian, neo-liberal Bolsonaro regime. We will then discuss if similar circumstances are emerging elsewhere and whether anti-authoritarian popular-democratic politics challenge the threat. We will conclude by evaluating the future of far-right regimes and their enemies.

Brazil :Two Decades of Military Rule and the Legacy of Impunity

Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship between April 1964 and March 15, 1985. Though the military formally withdrew from the regime it retained many powers and prerogatives, including impunity for the thousands of cases of arbitrary violations of human rights, including torture and assassinations.

However, during the height of the so-called ‘economic miracle’ during the 1970s, sectors of the middle class supported the rule by the triple alliance of private business, state enterprise elites, and the military. Only when the regime faced a major crisis in the early 1980’s did the military give way to electoral politics. The authoritarian legacy remained embedded in the political culture of the military and its followers. With the deepening economic crises of neo-liberalism, the corruption of civic culture and the increase of crime during the second decade of the 21st century, a militarized political movement headed by Jair Bolsonaro came to the fore.

The Social Bases of the Authoritarian regime

Most commentators have emphasized the amorphous mass of voters’ discontent with political corruption as the basis for the rise of the right. Moralism and insecurity with street crime were cited as the driving force of right-wing extremism.

Yet powerful economic power elites played a decisive role in propelling Bolsonaro to power. While masses were in the street, the Brazilian National Agricultural Confederation, the Federation of Banks and other prominent elite associations provided the funds, the legitimacy and legislative muscle. Over 40% of the Senate and Congress was controlled by the ‘ruralist bloc’, which came out in favor of Bolsonaro. Many of the voters who previously supported ex-President Cardoso’s center-right candidate Geraldo Alickman defected to the authoritarian right reducing his estimated vote by half.

The judiciary, under the influence of the agro-business and banking elite exploited political corruption to discredit and prosecute the center-left and the traditional political parties, leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest and prosecution of the leading left candidate Lula Da Silva.

From Authoritarianism to Fascism

Bolsonaro’s appeal to the elite is grounded in his program of savaging the working class: he promises to freeze public salaries for twenty years; lower pensions and increase retirement age up to twenty years; increase the role of the military and police in repressing strikes and land reform movements; end all restraints on pillaging the Amazon forest; lower taxes for the rich, deregulate the private economy and privatize the public sector.

In effect the Bolsonaro’s policies follow the script of a corporatist-neoliberal state: fascism with ‘free markets’. The pro-military policies are code words for mass repression; his pro-business strategy is disguised by an embrace of ‘family values’ and virulent hostility to working women, Afro-Brazilians, gays and indigenous people. His crusade against crime excludes bankers, landowners and industrialists who bribed politicians and congress-people – only the latter were prosecuted.

The Future of Neo-Liberal Fascism; Wave of the Future?

Will Bolsonaro’s version of neo-liberal fascism set the mark for other Latin American countries? Will his regime intervene and overthrow progressive countries? Will his victory in Brazil spur similar developments throughout the world?

In the aftermath of Bolsonaro’s first round electoral rout, the real (Brazilian currency) rose 3% against the dollar and the stock market jumped 4.5% in expectations of the total de-regulation of markets, and the privatization of the entire public sector.

Though Bolsonaro is compared to President Trump, there are both similarities and differences. Both share hostility to minorities, flaunt a rabidly chauvinist ideology and embrace ‘nationalist’ slogans. Yet Bolsonaro cannot embrace Trump’s protectionist policies and trade war with China. The agro-business elite in Brazil, which is an essential social bloc, would not permit him to undercut their vital export markets.

Bolsonaro’s neo-liberal fascist policy resonates with several regimes in Latin America, namely Colombia and Argentina. In Colombia large scale militarization and death squads’ collaboration in support of neo-liberalism have been in place for decades prior to Bolsonaro’s rise to power. Moreover, Colombia’s oligarchic regime does not depend on the mass base and charismatic leadership of a ‘fascism’ regime.

Argentina under President Mauricio Macri might like to imitate Bolsonaro, but his dependence on the IMF and its austerity program precludes any ‘mass base’ which might have been mobilized at the start of his neo-liberal regime.

This takes us to consider the stability and duration of the Brazilian experience of neo-liberal fascism. Several considerations are foremost.

Bolsonaro’s embrace of radical attacks of wage earners, salary employees, pensioners, debtors, small farmers and business-people may erode his ‘mass appeal’ and charisma.

The mass electoral fervor may not withstand the deterioration of basic socio-economic living standards.

Bolsonaro’s regime lack a congressional majority will obligate him to form alliances with the same corrupt parties and politicians which he denounced. The post-election political deal making may disillusion many of his ‘moral’ supporters.

If his free market program deepens social polarization and the class struggle, general strikes may result – though Brazil lacks the Argentine working-class tradition.

The agro-mineral elite, the military and the bankers will back Bolsonaro’s ‘war on crime’, and even benefit from the war in the slums, but unless he can stimulate investments, export markets and incorporate skilled workers and innovative technology, Brazil would be reduced to becoming merely an agro-mineral economy run by oligarchs and warmed over corrupt politicians.

Bolsonaro’s hostility to blacks, women, gays, trade unions and urban and rural social movements may win votes, but it does not increase profits and growth. Reactionary policies may attract amorphous middle-class voters, but it is not a program for governing nor does it serve as a coherent economic strategy.

There is no doubt that the explosive appeal of the ‘anti-establishment rhetoric has initially successful. There is no doubt that the military-regime alliance can withstand and repress a popular backlash, but can the regime rule sitting on bayonets?

The defeat of neo-liberal fascism in Brazil and its possible imitators elsewhere depends on the scope and depth of organized resistance. Bolsonaro’s ability to implement his assault on the living standards of the popular classes will depend on the scope and intensity of the class struggle. For starters Bolsonaro has won an election – but it has yet to be determined whether neo-liberal fascism is a viable, durable alternative to populist nationalism and social democracy. Likewise, it is not yet evident that the declining Left, fragmented and discredited can regroup and offer an alternative road to power.

A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash

When the global financial crisis resurfaces, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

*****

A full decade since the great crash of 2008, many progressive thinkers have recently reflected on the consequences of that fateful day when the investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, foreshadowing the worst international financial crisis of the post-war period. What seems obvious to everyone is that lessons have not been learnt, the financial sector is now larger and more dominant than ever, and an even greater crisis is set to happen anytime soon. But the real question is when it strikes, what are the chances of achieving a bailout for ordinary people and the planet this time?

In the aftermath of the last global financial meltdown, there was a constant stream of analysis about its proximate causes. This centred on the bursting of the US housing bubble, fuelled in large part by reckless sub-prime lending and an under-regulated shadow banking system. Media commentaries fixated on the implosion of collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps and other financial innovations—all evidence of the speculative greed and lax government oversight which led to the housing and credit booms.

The term ‘financialisation’ has become a buzzword to explain the factors which precipitated these events, referring to the vastly expanded role of financial markets in the operation of domestic and global economies. It is not only about the growth of big banks and hedge funds, but the radical transformation of our entire society that has taken place as a result of the increasing dominance of the financial sector with its short-termist, profitmaking logic.

The origins of the problem are rooted in the early 1970s, when the US government decided to end the fixed convertibility of dollars into gold, formally ending the Bretton Woods monetary system. It marked the beginning of a new regime of floating exchange rates, free trade in goods and the free movement of capital across borders. The sweeping reforms brought in under the Thatcher and Reagan governments accelerated a wave of deregulation and privatisation, with minimum protective barriers against the ‘self-regulating market’.

The agenda was pushed aggressively by most national governments in the Global North, while being imposed on many Southern countries through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s infamous ‘structural adjustment programmes’. A legion of books have examined the disastrous consequences of this market-led approach to monetary and fiscal policy, derisorily labelled the neoliberal Washington Consensus. As governments increasingly focused on maintaining low inflation and removing regulations on capital and corporations, the world of finance boomed—and the foundations were laid for a dramatic dénouement in 2008.

Missed opportunities

What’s extraordinary to recall about the immediate aftermath of the great crash is the temporary reversal of those policies that had dominated the previous two decades. At the G20 summit in April 2009 hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, heads of state envisaged a return to Keynesian macroeconomic prescriptions, including a large-scale fiscal stimulus in both developed and developing countries. It appeared that the Washington Consensus had suddenly lost all legitimacy. The liberalised global financial system had clearly failed to provide for a net transfer of resources to the developing world, or prevent instability and recurrent crisis without effective state regulation and democratic public oversight.

Many civil society organisations saw the moment to call for fundamental reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as a complete rethink of the role of the state in the economy. There was even talk of negotiating a new Bretton Woods agreement that re-regulates international capital flows, and supports policy diversity and multilateralism as a core principle (in direct contrast to the IMF’s discredited approach).

The United Nations played a staunch role in upholding such demands, particularly through a commission set up by the then-President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the ‘UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development’ proposed a number of sensible measures to protect the least privileged citizens from the effects of the crisis, while giving developing countries greater influence in reforming the global economy.

Around the same time, the UN Secretary-General endorsed a Global Green New Deal that could stimulate an economic recovery, combat poverty and avert dangerous climate change simultaneously. It envisioned a massive programme of direct public investments and other internationally-coordinated interventions, arguing that the time had come to transform the global economy for the greater benefit of people everywhere, including the millions living in poverty in developing and emerging industrial economies.

This wasn’t the first time that nations were called upon to enact a full-scale reordering of global priorities in response to financial turmoil. At the onset of the ‘third world’ debt crisis in 1980, an Independent Commission on International Development Issues convened by the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, also proposed far-reaching emergency measures to reform the global economic system and effectively bail out the world’s poor.

Yet the Brandt Commission proposals were widely ignored by Western governments at the time, which marked the rise of the neoliberal counterrevolution in macroeconomic policy—and all the conditions that led to financial breakdown three decades later. Then once again, governments responded in precisely the opposite direction for bringing about a sustainable economic recovery based on principles of equity, justice, sharing and human rights.

A world falling apart

We are all familiar with the course of action taken from 2008-9: colossal bank bailouts enacted (without public consultation) that favoured creditors, not debtors, despite using taxpayer money. Quantitative easing (QE) programmes that have pumped trillions of dollars into the global financial system, unleashing a fresh wave of speculative investment and further widening income and wealth gaps. And the perceived blame for the crisis deflected towards excessive public spending, leading to fiscal austerity measures being rolled out across most countries—a ‘decade of adjustment’ that is projected to affect nearly 80 percent of the global population by 2020.

To be sure, the ensuing policy responses across Europe were often compared to structural adjustment programmes imposed on developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s, when repayments to creditors of commercial banks similarly took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. The same pattern has repeated in every crisis-hit region, where the poorest in society pay the price through extreme austerity and the privatisation of public assets and services, despite being the least to blame for causing the crisis in the first place.

After ten years of these policies a new billionaire is created every second day, banks are still paying out billions of dollars in bonuses each year, and the top 1% of the world population are far wealthier than before the crisis happened. At the same time, global income inequality has returned to 1820 levels, and indicators suggest progress is now reversing on the prevention of extreme poverty and multiple forms of malnutrition.

Indeed the United Nations continues to face the worst humanitarian situation since the second world war, in large part due to conflict-driven crises that are rooted in the economic fallout of the 2008 crash—most dramatically in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Countries of both the Global North and South remain in the grip of a record upsurge of forced human displacement, to which governments are predictably failing to respond to in the direction of cooperative burden sharing through agreements and institutions at the international level.

Not to mention the rise of fascism and divisive populism that is escalating in almost every society, often as a misguided response to pervasive inequality and a widespread sense of unfairness among ordinary workers. It is surely reasonable to suggest that all these trends would not be deteriorating if the community of nations had seized the opportunity a decade ago, and acted in accordance with calls for a just transition to a more equitable world order.

The worst is yet to come

We now live in a strange era of political limbo. Neoclassical economics may have failed to predict the great crash or provide answers for a sustained recovery, yet it still retains its hold on conventional academic thought. Neoliberalism may also be discredited as the dominant political and economic paradigm, yet mainstream institutions like the IMF and OECD still embrace the fundamentals of free market orthodoxy and countenance no meaningful alternative. Consequently, the new regulatory initiatives agreed at the global level are largely voluntary and inadequate, and governments have done little to counter the power of oligopolistic banks or prevent reckless speculative behaviour.

Banks may be relatively safer and possess a bigger crisis toolkit, but the risk has moved to the largely unregulated shadow banking system which has massively increased in size, growing from $28 trillion in 2010 to $45 trillion in 2018. Even major banks like JP Morgan are forewarning an imminent crisis, which may be caused by a digital ‘flash crash’ in which high frequency investments (measuring trades in millionths of a second) lead to a sudden downfall of global stock markets.

Another probable cause is the precipitous rise in global debt, which has soared from $142 to $250 trillion since 2008, three times the combined income of every nation. Global markets are running on easy money and credit, leading to a debt build-up which economists from across the political spectrum agree cannot last indefinitely without catastrophic results. The problem is most acute in emerging and developing economies, where short-term capital flowed in response to low interest rates and QE policies in the West. As the US and other rich countries begin to steadily raise interest rates again, there is a risk of a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets that could trigger a renewed debt crisis in the world’s poorest countries.

Of most concern is China, however, whose credit-fuelled expansion in the post-crash years has led to massive over-investment and national debt. With an overheating real-estate sector, volatile stock market and uncontrolled shadow banking system, it is a prime candidate to be the site for the next financial implosion.

However it originates, all the evidence suggests that an economic collapse could be far worse this time around. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ problem remains critical, with the biggest US banks owning more deposits, assets and cash than ever before. And with interest rates at historic lows for many G-10 central banks while the QE taps are still turned on, both developed and developing countries have less policy and fiscal space to respond to another shock.

Above all, China and the US are not in a position to take the same decisive central bank action that helped avert a world depression in 2008. And then there are all the contemporary political factors that mitigate against a coordinated international response—the retreat from multilateralism, the disintegration of established geopolitical structures and relationships, the fragmentation and polarisation of political systems throughout the world.

After two years of a US presidency that recklessly scraps global agreements and instigates trade wars, it is hard to imagine a repeat of the G20 gathering in 2009 when assembled leaders pledged never to go down the road of protectionist tariff policies again, fearing a return to the dire economic conditions that led to a world war in the 1930s. The domestic policies of the Trump administration are also especially perturbing, considering its current push for greater deregulation of the financial sector—rolling back the Dodd-Frank and consumer protection acts, increasing the speed of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and more.

Mobilising from below

None of this is a reason to despair or lose hope. The great crash has opened up a new awareness and energy for a better society that brings finance under popular control, as a servant to the public and no longer its master. Many different movements and campaigns have sprung up in the post-crash years that focus on addressing the problems wrought by financialisation, which more and more people realise is the underlying source of most of the world’s interlinking crises. All of these developments are hugely important, although the true test of this rising political consciousness will come when the next crash happens.

After the worldwide bank bailouts of 2008-9—estimated in excess of $29 trillion by the US Federal Reserve alone—it is no longer possible to argue that governments cannot afford to provide for the basic necessities of everyone. Just a fraction of that sum would be enough to end income poverty for the 10% of the global population who live on less than $1.90 a day. Not to mention the trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen that have been directly pumped into financial markets by central banks of the major developed economies, constituting a regressive form of distribution in favour of the already wealthy that could have been converted into some form of ‘quantitative easing for the people’.

A reversal of government priorities on this scale is clearly not going to be led by the political class. They have already missed the opportunity, and are largely beholden to vested interests that are unduly concerned with short-term profit maximisation, not the rebuilding of the public realm or the universal provision of essential goods and services. The great crash and its aftermath was a global phenomenon that called for a cooperative global response, yet the necessary vision from within the ranks of our governments was woefully lacking. If the financial crisis resurfaces in a different and severer manifestation, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

Much inspiration can be drawn from the popular uprisings throughout 2011 and 2012, although the Arab Spring and Occupy movements were unable to sustain the momentum for change without a clear agenda that is truly international in scope, and attentive to the needs of the world’s majority poor. That is why we should coalesce our voices around Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of everyone to the minimal requirements for a dignified life—adequate food, housing, medical care, access to social services and financial security.

Through ceaseless demonstrations in all countries that continue day and night, a united call for implementing Article 25 worldwide may finally impel governments to cooperate at the highest level, and rewrite the rules of the international economic system on the basis of shared mutual interests. In the wake of a breakdown of the entire international financial and economic order, such a grassroots mobilisation of numberless people may be the last chance we have of resurrecting long-forgotten proposals in the UN archives, as notably embodied in the aforementioned Brandt Report or Stiglitz Commission.

The case of Iceland is widely remembered as an example of how a people’s bailout can be achieved, following the ‘Pots and Pans Revolution’ that swept the country in 2009—the largest protests in the country’s history to date. As a result of the public’s demands, a new coalition government was able to buck all trends by avoiding austerity measures, actively intervening in capital markets and strengthening social programs for the less privileged. The results were remarkable for Iceland’s economic recovery, which was achieved without forcing society as a whole to pay for the blunders of corrupt banks. But it still wasn’t enough to prevent the old establishment political parties from eventually returning to power, and resuming their support for the same neoliberal policies that generated the crisis.

So what must happen if another systemic banking collapse occurs of even greater magnitude, not only in Iceland but in every country of the world? That is the moment when we’ll need a global Pots and Pans Revolution that is replicated by citizens of all nationalities and political persuasions, on and on until the entire planet is engulfed in a wave of peaceful demonstrations with a common cause. It will require a huge resurgence of the goodwill and staying power that once animated Occupy encampments, although this time focused on a more inclusive and universal demand for implementing Article 25 and sharing the world’s resources.

It may seem far-fetched to presume such an unprecedented awakening of a disillusioned populace, as if we can expect a visionary leader of Christ-like stature to point out the path towards resurrecting the UN’s founding ideals of “better standards of life for everyone in the world”. Unfortunately, nothing less may suffice in this age of economic chaos and confusion, so let us all be prepared for the climactic events about to take place.

The Contradictions of Being Pro-Capitalist and Anti-War

In his lesser known novel, A Small Town in Germany, John Le Carré skewers the diplomatic class in the old West German capital of Bonn. An investigator sent to the drizzly town on the banks of the Rhine discovers a fog of misdirection as he tries to track down a fled spy. At one point, comfortably resigned to his frustration, a glib diplomat tells the investigator, himself at wit’s end, unable to capitalize on an array of clues, “There’s always something; there’s never enough.” This is largely the story of the socialist “opportunists” that the Russian Bolsheviks themselves skewered in the revolutionary and blood-scented atmosphere of World War One Europe. As Vladimir Lenin argues in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, the socialist opportunists argue for something: a few tepid reforms that may provide a transitory respite in the plight of the poor. But they never go far enough: challenging a system of predatory appropriation for which minor reforms are nothing but an extended sentence. They offered a map to nowhere on a path whose starting and end points are the same.

It is likewise the story of today’s bourgeois liberal class, a hollow parody of progressivism allied with the ruling class establishment. Not only are today’s Democrats purveyors of media misdirection with Russiagate, but their policies are likewise the stuff of fake news and forgotten promises. The liberal class, including its current champion, Bernie Sanders, has yet to face the incompatibility of corporate capitalism, particularly in its monopoly stage, and military imperialism. They are flip sides of the same fascist coin. The early Soviets knew this all too well.

In his memorable screed on onetime socialist Karl Kautsky’s slide into opportunism, Lenin lays out the contradiction between being anti-imperialism and pro-capitalism. After all, if imperialism, as Lenin argues, is the highest stage of capitalism itself, how could one deplore the former and approve the latter? You can’t, not without falling into a set of contradictions that render one’s entire position farcical. Lenin shows, with meticulous documentation, how capital tends to concentrate, creating monopolies and generating demand for new markets and new revenue streams.

An Iron Law of Capitalism

Through a meticulous review of European and North American data, Lenin writes that the “transformation of competition into monopoly is one of the most important–if not most important –phenomena of modern capitalist economy.” He notes how entire supply chains, or verticals, tend to combine for more fluid and efficient production. He notes, “…for example, the smelting of iron ore into pig-iron, the conversion of pig-iron into steel, and then, perhaps, the manufacture of steel…” and quotes one of the leading economists in the Weimar Republic, Rudolf Hilferding, writing, “Combination levels out the fluctuations of trade and therefore assures to the combine enterprises a more stable rate of profit.” It isn’t hard to recognize the empirical proofs of this claim, living as we do in an era of mergers and acquisitions, in which a mind-numbing $2.5 trillion in M&A were launched in just the first half of 2018.

Just consider the mediascape, in which a handful of elephantine conglomerates control some 90 percent of American media. They continue to gobble up smaller local media venues, guaranteeing the phenomenon cleverly spelled out in an 2011 infographic, which notes that 223 executives controlled the “information diet” of some 227 million Americans. While the mergers may indeed happen for reasons of capital, an epiphenomenon is the consolidation of opinion in a few ideologically sanguine hands. Example after example, cover the 1860s through the early 1900s, bring Lenin to the conclusion that “…the rise of monopolies, as the result of the concentration of production, is a general fundamental law of the present stage of the development of capitalism.” It is all done, of course, to stimulate super-profits. Not surprisingly, “the social means of production remain the private property of a few.”

When monopolies don’t get what they want, they take aggressive action against intransigent market entities. Lenin notes several tactics, including shutting down supplies of raw materials, foreclosing avenues of labor supply, quitting deliveries, blocking trade outlets, forming exclusive trade agreements, price cutting, and other vicious economic attacks.  Likewise, the control of capital itself, in the forms of credits and interest rates, is another signal feature of monopolist aggression. (Think of the Volcker Shock.) The monopolists are “…throttling those who do not submit to them…” It is interesting that these tactics are particularly evident in American foreign policy. Washington itself acts like a cartel enforcer for elite capital. These tactics, often in the form of sanctions, have been variously applied to China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and other nations that refuse to adopt the yoke of American economic imperialism.

But where does all this economic infighting lead? First to monopoly, then to imperialism. Not only must access to cheap raw materials be fitted into the verticalized supply chain, owned and operated by the monopolist subsidiaries, but new markets must forever be annexed in order to stem a falling rate of profit. Lenin’s argument suggests that World War One was a bloody dividing of the world into separate camps, for the redistribution of colonial possessions, and so on. Another consistent feature of capitalist imperialism we’ve seen in recent years in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, all of which had underlying economic conflicts that drove military conflict.

The Buried Narrative

Lenin adds that monopolists leverage propaganda through media in the form of “false rumours” and “anonymous warnings” in the papers. Sound familiar? The media propaganda foisted on the public is a critical chapter of this story. The story that Lenin lays out, on the growth of competitive capitalism into monopoly and monopoly into imperialism, is a seminal link in the chain that yokes capitalism to war. And yet it has been largely scrubbed from the western record. And the absence of that knowledge is what permits imperialists like the Democratic Party to masquerade as paladins of peace and prosperity through capitalism, all cloaked beneath a feel-your-pain rhetoric aimed squarely at the working class.

Lenin opens a pivotal chapter in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, “Critique of Imperialism” with a comment that defines the corporate media and the professional class from which it comes, “’General’ enthusiasm over the prospects of imperialism, furious defence of it and painting it in the brightest colours—such are the signs of the times.” As he says, “’Social-Democratic’ Party of Germany are justly called “social-imperialists”, that is, socialists in words and imperialists in deeds.” Bourgeois scholars and publicists usually come out in defence of imperialism in a somewhat veiled form…do their very best to distract attention from essentials by means of absolutely ridiculous schemes for “reform”, such as police supervision of the trusts or banks, etc.”

He notes that most bourgeois arguments from nations seeking to shrug off the colonial shackles fail to recognize that imperialism is “inseparably bound up with capitalism,” and that requests to remove imperialism without removing capitalism are stillborn petitions, “strangled in the crib”, as Churchill might say, by their internal contradictions. Lenin points to the “anti-imperialists” in America that opposed the American trampling of the Philippines fell into the same trap of foreclosed imagination. While they railed against the “jingo treachery” of American false promises, Lenin said their criticisms would amount to little if they failed to recognize “the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore between imperialism and the foundations of capitalism…” His perspective on the Philippines protest almost, step for step, mirrors the reality of today’s “#resistance”, a farcical amalgam of costume parades and tweet storms that seeks to unseat anyone that uses politically incorrect language or wants displays their sexist or racist chevrons in public.

Discrediting sexism and racism is obviously good, if it is legitimately done. But Lenin lamented the “socialists in words and imperialists in deeds” that hounded the socialist landscape of his day. Today’s Democratic Party is progressive in words and neoliberal in deeds. The corporate liberal class has finally reached the stage where it can run a minority to do its dirty deeds. The population numbers foreseen in the Sixties have finally arrived. Barack Obama preached inclusivity from the political pulpit, but promoted exclusivity from the policy bench. It is no surprise: he is a member of a very exclusive club—an adoptee of the one percent.

Lenin attacks Kautsky and other bourgeois pundits, who argue for leveraging the engines of capitalism to increase “’the consuming capacity’” of the populace. Lenin points out that “it is in their interest to pretend to be so naïve and to talk “seriously” about peace under imperialism.” Another familiar tactic. Anyone familiar with the modern Democrats would recognize it. Like Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize from a demented clan of flour-haired Scandinavians. In one of the books he penned before he was elected, Obama confirmed that he was “a free market guy”. No one in the mainstream liberal press was willing to recognize or capable of recognizing that in confirming his capitalist bona fides, he was simultaneously signaling his allegiance to empire.

Lenin’s contemporaries like Kautsky believed that the imperial monopolies of capitalism could be disbanded and returned to a state of free competition in which the oracular market would appease the warring instincts of states, and a market-led peace would ensue. Kautsky called it “ultra-imperialism”. Lenin called it a “reformist swindle”. He notes that monopolies arose out of competition, and that to uncouple the monopolies would only return the relevant entities to a state of fierce competition, in which inequities would arise, leading to new monopolies. It was akin to dialing back determinism and expecting a new outcome. Lenin notes how any pacific alliances between competing imperialists would be at best temporary as the balance of power would inevitably shift in one direction or the other, instigating new confrontations, conflagrations, and war.

Lenin also noted the great value of imperial conquest to capital. Ever in search of new avenues of investment, ever threatened by the scourge of overproduction, new colonies could be forced open to accept “commodity dumping” from developed nations that would undercut local industry. Usurious loans to these colonial dependents would provide the funds with which to buy the first-world commodities. He even points to a German loan to Romania that facilitated the purchase of German railway materials. How could anyone fail to recognize in this dynamic the European Union’s behavior toward its fragile periphery of Portugal, Ireland, and Greece, particularly the latter? Were not German loans made to Greece to purchase German goods, inflating the latter’s monopoly profits while inflating the former’s debt peonage? Lenin calls this “skinning the ox twice”. After all, the bank makes compound interest off the loan; then the loan is used to buy products from the bank’s clients. Then, once the debtor nation flounders under debt deflation, having less and less to fund its economy since so much of its income was redirected to interest payments on exorbitant loans, it will be forced, like Greece, to begin selling off its national assets at bargain prices to the lender nation, as the vultures gather round the carrion.

History’s Rerun

Lenin concludes that peace in capitalist geographies is merely a respite between conflicts. Little more than “the banal philistine fantasies of English parsons”. In effect, Kautsky and the “opportunist” elements of the middle class were doing little more than attempting to unhitch capitalism from imperialism in order to save the system of their own enrichment. A failed project, to be sure, as passage after passage of Lenin’s polemic reads like a lucid profile of the Democratic Party. The Bolshevik leader concludes that, “imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom.” Later he adds that, “…capital can maintain its domination only by continually increasing its military force.” Could there be a better description of our modern dilemma of financial exploitation and military conquest? The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is tens of billions larger than last year’s and supports nearly 900 military installations around the world.

Finally, Lenin remarks that there’s no hope for unity with “the opportunists in the epoch of imperialism.” He points to the bourgeois denunciations of imperial annexations by various powers. Immediately the theatrical denunciations of Russia in Crimea and Syria in its own territory come to mind. Lenin sensibly argues that the author of such condemnations can be, “sincere and politically honest only if he fights against the annexation[s]” his own country makes. Naturally, the beltway liberals are silent on our de facto annexation of parts of Syria, our clandestine coup d’état in Ukraine, our savage use of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, not to mention a dozen other base camps we’ve established like a necklace of crimes across the planet. As a nation, what we condemn in others, often falsely, we do ourselves. And on a slightly smaller scale, what the Democrats condemn across the aisle, they often do themselves behind a patina of progressive rhetoric. Sophistry and sops from the banquet table of the rich; this is today’s Democratic Party writ large.

Food, Justice, Violence and Capitalism

In 2015, India’s internal intelligence agency wrote a report that depicted various campaigners and groups as working against the national interest. The report singled out environmental activists and NGOs that had been protesting against state-corporate policies. Those largely undemocratic and unconstitutional policies were endangering rivers, forests and local ecologies, destroying and oppressing marginalised communities, entrenching the corporatisation of agriculture and usurping land rights.

These issues are not unique to India. Resistance against similar practices and injustices is happening across the world. And for their efforts, campaigners are being abused, incarcerated and murdered. Whether people are campaigning for the land rights of tribal communities in India or for the rights of peasant farmers in Latin America or are campaigning against the fracking industry in the UK or against pipelines in the US, there is a common thread: non-violent protest to help bring about a more just and environmentally sustainable world.

What is ultimately fueling the push towards the relentless plunder of land, peoples and the environment is a strident globalised capitalism, euphemistically termed ‘globalisation’, which is underpinned by increasing state surveillance, paramilitary-type law enforcement and a US-backed push towards militarism.

The deregulation of international capital movement (financial liberalisation) effectively turned the world into a free-for-all for global capital. The ramping up of this militarism comes at the back end of a deregulating/pro-privatising neoliberal agenda that has sacked public budgets, depressed wages, expanded credit to consumers and to governments (to sustain spending and consumption) and unbridled financial speculation. In effect, spending on war is in part a desperate attempt to boost a stagnant US economy.

We may read the writings of the likes of John Perkins (economic hitmen), Michel Chossudovsky (the globalisation of poverty), Michael Hudson (treasury bond super-imperialism) or Paul Craig Roberts (the US’s descent into militarism and mass surveillance) to understand the machinations of billionaire capitalists and the economic system and massive levels of exploitation and suffering they preside over.

Food activists are very much part of the global push-back and the struggle for peace, equality and justice and in one form or another are campaigning against violence, corruption and cronyism. There is a determination to question and to hold to account those with wealth and power, namely, transnational agribusiness corporations and their cronies who hold political office.

There is sufficient evidence for us to know that these companies lie and cover up truth. And we also know that their bought politicians, academics, journalists and right-wing neoliberal backers and front groups smear critics and attempt to marginalise alternative visions of food and agriculture.

They are first to man the barricades when their interests are threatened. Those interests are tied to corporate power, neoliberal capitalism and the roll out of food for profit. These companies and their cheerleaders would be the last to speak up about the human rights abuses faced by environmentalists in various places across the world. They have little to say about the injustices of a global food regime that creates and perpetuates food surpluses in rich countries and food deficits elsewhere, resulting in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. Instead all they have to offer are clichés about the need for more corporate freedom and deregulation if we are to ‘feed the world’.

And they attempt to gloss over or just plain ignore the land grabs and the marginalisation of peasant farmers across the world, the agrarian crisis in India or the harm done by agrochemicals because it is all tied to the neoliberal globalisation agenda which fuels corporate profit, lavish salaries or research grants.

It is the type of globalisation that has in the UK led to deindustrialisation, massive inequalities, the erosion of the welfare state and an increasing reliance on food banks. In South America, there has been the colonisation of lands and farmers to feed richer countries’ unsustainable, environment-destroying appetite for meat. In effect what Helena Paul once described in The Ecologist as genocide and ecocide.  From India to Argentina, we have witnessed (are witnessing) the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’.

And from various bilateral trade agreements and WTO policies to IMF and World Bank directives, we have seen the influence of transnational agricapital shaping and benefiting from ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘structural adjustment’ type strategies.

We also see the globalisation of bad food and illness and the deleterious impacts of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture on health, rivers, soils and oceans. The global food regime thrives on the degradation of health, environment, labour and communities and the narrowing of the range of crops grown resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets.

Whether it includes any or all of the above or the hollowing out of regulatory agencies and the range of human rights abuses we saw documented during The Monsanto Tribunal, what we see is the tacit acceptance of neoliberal policies and the perpetuation of structural (economic, social and political) violence by mainstream politicians and agricapital and its cheerleaders.

At the same time, however, what we are also witnessing is a loosely defined food movement becoming increasingly aware of the connection between these issues.

Of course, to insinuate that those campaigning for the labelling of GM food, the right to healthy food or access to farmers markets in the West and peasant movements involved with wider issues pertaining to food sovereignty, corporate imperialism and development in the Global South form part of a unified ‘movement’ in terms of material conditions or ideological outlook would be stretching a point.

After all, if you campaign for, say, healthy organic food in your supermarket, while overlooking the fact that the food in question derives from a cash crop which displaced traditional cropping systems and its introduction effectively destroyed largely food self-sufficient communities and turned them into food importing basket cases three thousand miles away, where is the unity?

However, despite the provisos, among an increasing number of food activists the struggle for healthy food in the West, wider issues related to the impact of geopolitical IMF-World Bank lending strategies and WTO policies and the securing of local community ownership of ‘the commons’ (land, water, seeds, research, technology, etc) are understood as being interconnected.

There is an emerging unity of purpose within the food movement and the embracing of a vision for a better, more just food system that can only deliver genuine solutions by challenging and replacing capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption.

“Living above our means”: Macri, the IMF, and Other Victims of Austerity

Argentinian president Mauricio Macri speaking on September 3rd, 2018 (Youtube screenshot).

After a hectic weekend with speculation aplenty, Argentina woke up on September 3rd waiting for the announcements of president Mauricio Macri. After accomplishing the feat of being late in delivering a recorded video, the message of more than 20 minutes was finally broadcast, with Macri announcing new austerity measures to try and get an earlier disbursement of the funds contemplated in the agreement with the IMF that was signed in May.

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Argentina’s current context is one of economic contraction, inflation, an increase in interest rates and a strong devaluation of the currency, which has lost 50% of its value with respect to the US dollar so far in 2018. For all these woes the Argentinian president found the solution in resorting to the IMF. But he did manage to find a multitude of parties responsible for the current situation: the rise of oil prices, drought, the commercial “war” between the United States and China, troubles in Turkey and Brazil, and above all the corruption and bad policies of previous governments.

But while the Argentinian president did his best to assign blame to his enemies, near and far, the explanation for the crisis – the failure of neoliberalism – was right in the middle of the screen, since nobody embodies noeliberalism better than Mauricio Macri himself.

Finance minister Nicolás Dujovne later presented more details of the measures that the government wishes to implement, before departing to meet the IMF in order to secure an early release of funds. These measures include a tax on exports and a promise to reduce the 2019 deficit to 0. In the agreement with the IMF the goal was 1.3%, so this reduction will hinge on bigger cuts to public spending and hikes in energy and transportation prices.

It should be stressed that these measures do not represent a shift, but rather a doubling-down on the policies that have been implemented since the Cambiemos coalition took power. The past two years have seen brutal increases in electricity and gas prices, a pension reform, massive layoffs in the public sector, major cuts in areas such as science, education or healthcare, attacks against labour rights, etc., with disastrous consequences for the population.

The Argentinian government, who was represented by Dujovne in the US, hopes that this latest round of sacrifices to the almighty markets will slow down the currency devaluation and secure the blessing of the high priests of the IMF and Wall Street. Nevertheless, prophecies about market uncertainties do have a tendency to self-fulfil. Not only that, the Argentinian executive, now slashed in less than half, is a team of businessmen that will know which interests to protect when push comes to shove.1

Macri and Dujovne meeting with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on March 16, 2018 (Photo: Casa Rosada)

Discursive platitudes

Macri’s speech was littered with elements that would have sounded extremely familiar to anyone who followed the austerity programmes that were implemented since 2010 in countries like Portugal or Greece. When the Argentinian president said that “we have been living above our means”, any Portuguese person could have recalled listening to their own president in 2011 – Cavaco Silva – say exactly the same thing.

Along the same lines, this was also the verdict reached by the Greek prime minister – Georgios Papandreou – who signed the first bailout agreement, and the all-powerful German finance minister – Wolfgang Schäuble – has always harped on this string to justify the austerity imposed on Greece. In truth the sanctimonious discourse of “living within our means” is no modern invention, but rather something that has always closely followed the neoliberal doctrine, even going back to Thatcher.

Another common element was the admission, with dishonest concern, that these measures will result in increased poverty. In 2011, the Portuguese prime minister went even further, saying that only by getting poorer would the crisis be overcome. In exchange, there is always a pledge that “the most vulnerable will be looked after”, and that those with more resources will be called upon to make bigger sacrifices, when it is well known that, almost by definition, the purpose is quite the opposite.

The cases of Greece and Portugal

Keeping in mind the distances between the examples we discuss, the similarities in the official discourse demand that we at least examine what took place in Greece and Portugal. In these cases the IMF was not the only creditor institution: it was joined by the European Central Bank and the European Union to form the fearsome “troika”. These were perhaps the most extreme cases of the austerity that was imposed throughout the continent in response to the crisis that broke out in 2008.

Greek GDP contracted by more than 40% since 2008. After the implementation of the memoranda of agreement with the troika, unemployment has consistently topped 20%, and youth unemployment has been around 40%. More than that, 4 out of 10 children are at risk of poverty. These are but a few indicators, among many others, that showcase the devastation that was unleashed upon the Greek people, while billions of euros of bailout money ended up directly in the hands of foreign banks.

As for the stated goal of the austerity packages, Greek public debt grew from 146% of GDP at the time of the first “structural reform” programme (2010) to 180% of GDP in 2018. Although officially Greece has exited the bailout programmes, the debt remains absolutely unpayable, and the idea that Greece can go on for decades balancing budgets under this weight is an illusion.

The Portuguese case is slightly less tragic. The 2015 elections resulted in a defeat for the right-wing coalition – which had implemented the deal signed with the troika in 2011 – and the emergence of a new government solution, which from afar might seem like it is on the left. The new government put an end to austerity and managed to revert the economic tendency and register economic growth once more.

The mere action of putting an end to austerity, while slowly reverting salaries and pensions to their 2011 levels, was a demonstration that the path of harsh budget cuts and tax increases was not the only choice. However, Portuguese public debt remains unpayable and an obstacle, among others, which will have to be confronted sooner or later.

Carlos Latuff depicts austerity in Greece

Where austerity leads to

This small transatlantic detour is useful to illustrate that, despite some declaring them as successful, the bailout plans did not manage to bring debt under control in Europe’s peripheral countries. But that goal, as well as the sacred budgetary targets, are simply argumentative artefacts.

Austerity packages, which are often more eloquently branded as “structural reforms”, are nothing but mechanisms to transfer wealth from labour to capital, with an underlying logic that profits are private and losses are socialised. When salaries and pensions are cut, when healthcare and education budgets are shrunk, when public services are dismantled, when thousands of workers are laid off, in order to pay back creditors, the people are being sacrificed to safeguard the interests of a handful of shareholders, be they national or foreign.

This transfer of wealth also occurs under the form of privatisations. These can be blatant or hidden under the pretext of the inefficiency of public management, but bailouts and structural adjustment plans have always been tremendous opportunities for capitalists. In the Greek case, important state assets, such as airports or the port of Piraeus, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean, ended up in private hands.

In truth, the Macri government has already made its position quite clear on the issue of privatizations; for example, in the energy sector, where the state is looking to sell its stake in several projects. In addition, the Argentinian company that produced satellites, ARSAT, was sold to an American company. The agreement with the IMF, and especially the version on steroids that will allow for an early release of funds, is sure to bring a new wave of privatisations, much to the delight of investors, and reviving ghosts of a not-so-distant past in Argentina.2

But it is not just through privatisation that room is opened up for private companies, especially multinational corporations, to flourish. The mere reduction of the reach of the state and public services leaves an open space to be filled by the whims of the market. In this context, the suppression of the health ministry, now reduced to a secretariat in the new ministry for health and social development, is quite symbolic. That this happened at a time when the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Coverage (CUS), a programme with a mercantile view of healthcare, is being discussed, is not a good omen for public healthcare in Argentina.

At this point we should go back to the issue of “living within our means”. The evolution of capitalism, even in times of crisis, has seen an ever growing concentration of wealth. It is estimated that 8 men own about as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population. Therefore there are people living above what should be their means. But these are not pensioners, or public workers, or trade unionists, etc., as some would have us believe.

Resistance and repression

The Cambiemos government offensive, which will be intensified in the coming months, has been met with resistance from the Argentinian people in the streets. For example, a faculty strike in the university system, in protest against cutbacks in higher education and reforms in the pension system, was joined in August by a strong student mobilization in support, with several universities throughout the country temporarily occupied.

Trade unions, contradictions notwithstanding, also look to resist, and have called a general strike which is taking place on September 24-25. And perhaps there has been nothing more surprising and inspiring than the mobilisation of several hundred thousand people to defend the legalisation of abortion. Despite the goal not having been achieved for now, the awakening of consciences and the scale of the street mobilisations are building blocks for the upcoming struggles. The challenge is to turn all these struggles into attractor poles of a single, unified battle front.

Demonstration in Buenos Aires during a National Day of Protest, September 12 (Photo: Resumen Latinoamericano)

While it is fair to say that the rapid development of the crisis has caught the Argentinian government by surprise, the fact is that preparations to contain and repress any resistance to austerity had long been on the march. The decree which allows the armed forces to intervene in internal security matters, something which had not happened since end of the dictatorship, is particularly significant, not to mention the installation of US military bases in Argentinian territory.

The government and its talking heads have put forward a fallacious argument; namely, that with a tremendous sense of duty, those in charge are doing what needs to be done with no concern for upcoming elections. In reality what they are doing is ensuring that the interests of capitalists are shielded for decades, way beyond next year’s elections. It is the purest defence of class interests. Because at the end of the day power is not confined to the presidential palace or to legislative chambers.

An important difference with respect to cases such as Portugal or Greece is that in Argentina, thanks to the hegemony of media conglomerates such as the Clarín group, a scapegoat to which attention can be diverted has been put in place. This is the (alleged) corruption of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and members of her government, which is presented as the root of all evils that befall Argentina. Similarly to what has happened in cases such as Lula’s in Brazil, the goal is to have the trial in the media for short-term political gain.3

The cases of Portugal and Greece, alongside many other recent examples of “rescue plans”, give an idea of what is to come. Under the excuse of “having lived above our means”, different mechanisms to transfer wealth to capital, brazen or hidden, will be implemented. And faced with the difficulty of meeting unrealistic budgetary targets that are imposed from the outside there will be no solution other than imposing more and more sacrifices on the majority of the people.

After its failure and exhaustion as a political project, neoliberalism resurfaced in Latin America essentially leaning on the media and on the (politicisation of the) judicial system. It now looks to contain any alternative, in the case of Argentina, by mortgaging the country’s future and reactivating repression mechanisms. All of this places Argentina in the front line of a battle that is not just about next year’s presidential elections. The task ahead is to resist, every day and in every way, against this renewed offensive, and at the same time to construct a true, and radical, alternative.

• Thanks to Luciana Daffra for her comments and corrections.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. On September 17 Dujovne presented the 2019 budget before the Argentinian Congress. It is, in his words, an “austere budget”, with a 7% cut on public spending, a prediction of economic contraction of 2.4%, and a zero deficit goal.
  2. It is worth recalling that this is no pure ideological matter for Macri, since the Macri Group is one of the largest business conglomerates in Argentina, with activities over a range of sectors, and having directly benefited from privatisation of state assets in the past.
  3. Our goal is not to vouch for anyone’s innocence, rather to point out the clear manipulation of justice for political ends and the double standards (or lack of standards) of the media. In Argentina, for example, a large circus has been set up surrounding the famous “notebooks” which detail the corruption of a former official during the Kirchner governments. The notebooks came from a remorseful driver, but up until now only photocopies of the smoking gun have been presented. In exchange, Macri featuring in the Panama Papers did not seem to merit the same level of scrutiny from the media, and the same can be said about the “fake contributions” and money laundering in the campaign of Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of the province of Buenos Aires and one of the main figures of Cambiemos.

The Neoliberal Order is dying: Time to Wake Up

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are, of course, deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

Language is on the side of those, like politicians and corporate journalists, who conceal structure, who deal in narratives of the small-power of individuals rather than of the big-power of structure and ideology. In what passes for news, the media offer a large stage for powerful individuals to fight elections, pass legislation, take over businesses, start wars, and a small stage for these same individuals to get their come-uppance, caught committing crimes, lying, having affairs, getting drunk, and more generally embarrassing themselves.

These minor narratives conceal the fact that such individuals are groomed before they ever gain access to power. Business leaders, senior politicians and agenda-setting journalists reach their positions after proving themselves over and over again – not consciously but through their unthinking compliance to the power-structure of our societies. They are selected through their performances in exams at school and university, through training programmes and indentures. They rise to the top because they are the most talented examples of those who are blind or submissive to power, those who can think most cleverly without thinking critically. Those who reliably deploy their skills where they are directed to do so.

Their large and small dramas constitute what we call public life, whether politics, world affairs or entertainment. To suggest that there are deeper processes at work, that the largest of these dramas is not really large enough for us to gain insight into how power operates, is to instantly be dismissed as paranoid, a fantasist, and – most damningly of all – a conspiracy theorist.

These terms also serve the deception. They are intended to stop all thought about real power. They are scare words used to prevent us, in a metaphor used in my previous post, from stepping back from the screen. They are there to force us to stand so close we see only the pixels, not the bigger picture.

Media makeover

The story of Britain’s Labour party is a case in point, and was illustrated even before Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Back in the 1990s Tony Blair reinvented the party as New Labour, jettisoning ideas of socialism and class war, and inventing instead a “Third Way”.

The idea that gained him access to power – personified in the media narrative of the time as his meeting with Rupert Murdoch on the mogul’s Hayman Island – was that New Labour would triangulate, find a middle way between the 1% and the 99%. The fact that the meeting took place with Murdoch rather than anyone else signalled something significant: that the power-structure needed a media makeover. It needed to be dressed in new garb.

In reality, Blair made Labour useful to power by re-styling the turbo-charged neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party of the rich had unleashed. He made it look compatible with social democracy. Blair put a gentler, kinder mask on neoliberalism’s aggressive pursuit of planet-destroying power – much as Barack Obama would do in the United States a decade later, after the horrors of the Iraq invasion. Neither Blair nor Obama changed the substance of our economic and political systems, but they did make them look deceptively attractive by tinkering with social policy.

Were the neoliberal order laid bare – were the emperor to allow himself to be stripped of his clothes – no one apart from a small psychopathic elite would vote for neoliberalism’s maintenance. So power is forced to repeatedly reinvent itself. It is like the shape-shifting Mystique of the X-Men films, constantly altering its appearance to lull us into a false sense of security. Power’s goal is to keep looking like it has become something new, something innovative. Because the power-structure does not want change, it has to find front-men and women who can personify a transformation that is, in truth, entirely hollow.

Power can perform this stunt, as Blair did, by repackaging the same product – neoliberalism – in prettier ideological wrapping. Or it can, as has happened in the US of late, try a baser approach by adding a dash of identity politics. A black presidential candidate (Obama) can offer hope, and a woman candidate (Hillary Clinton) can cast herself as mother-saviour.

With this model in place, elections become an illusory contest between more transparent and more opaque iterations of neoliberal power. In failing the 99%, Obama so woefully voided this strategy that large sections of voters turned their back on his intended successor, the new makeover candidate Hillary Clinton. They saw through the role-playing. They preferred, even if only reluctantly, the honest vulgarity of naked power represented by Trump over the pretensions of Clinton’s fakely compassionate politics.

Unstable politics

Despite its best efforts, neoliberalism is increasingly discredited in the eyes of large sections of the electorate in the US and UK. Its attempts at concealment have grown jaded, its strategy exhausted. It has reached the end-game, and that is why politics now looks so unstable. “Insurgency” candidates in different guises are prospering.

Neoliberal power is distinctive because it seeks absolute power, and can achieve that end only through global domination. Globalisation, the world as a plaything for a tiny elite to asset-strip, is both its means and its end. Insurgents are therefore those who seek to reverse the trend towards globalisation – or at least claim to. There are insurgents on both the left and right.

If neoliberalism has to choose, it typically prefers an insurgent on the right to the left. A Trump figure can usefully serve power too, because he dons the clothes of an insurgent while doing little to actually change the structure.

Nonetheless, Trump is a potential problem for the neoliberal order for two reasons.

First, unlike an Obama or a Clinton, he too clearly illuminates what is really at stake for power – wealth maximisation at any cost – and thereby risks unmasking the deception. And, second, he is a retrograde step for the globalising power-structure.

Neoliberalism has dragged capitalism out its nineteenth-century dependency on nation-states into a twenty-first ideology that demands a global reach. Trump and other nativist leaders seek a return to a supposed golden era of state-based capitalism, one that prefers to send our children up chimneys if it prevents children from far-off lands arriving on our shores to do the same.

The neoliberal order prefers a Trump to a Bernie Sanders because the nativist insurgents are so much easier to tame. A Trump can be allowed to strut on his Twitter stage while the global power-structure constrains and undermines any promised moves that might threaten it. Trump the candidate was indifferent to Israel and wanted the US out of Syria. Trump the president has become Israel’s biggest cheerleader and has launched US missiles at Syria.

Faustian pacts

The current power-structure is much more frightened of a left insurgency of the kind represented by Corbyn in the UK. He and his supporters are trying to reverse the accommodations with power made by Blair. And that is why he finds himself relentlessly assaulted from every direction – from his political opponents; from his supposed political allies, including most his own parliamentary party; and most especially from the state-corporate media, including its bogus left-liberal elements like the Guardian and the BBC.

The past three years of attacks on Corbyn are how power manifests itself, shows its hand, when it is losing. It is a strategy of last resort. A Blair or an Obama arrive in power having already made so many compromises behind the scenes that their original policies are largely toothless. They have made Faustian pacts as a condition for being granted access to power. This is variously described as pragmatism, moderation, realism. More accurately, it should be characterised as betrayal.

It does not stop when they reach high office. Obama made a series of early errors, thinking he would have room to manoeuvre in the Middle East. He made a speech in Cairo about a “New Beginning” for the region. A short time later he would help to snuff out the Egyptian Arab Spring that erupted close by, in Tahrir Square. Egypt’s military, long subsidised by Washington, were allowed to take back power.

Obama won the 2009 Nobel peace prize, before he had time to do anything, for his international diplomacy. And yet he stepped up the war on terror, oversaw the rapid expansion of a policy of extrajudicial assassinations by drone, and presided over the extension of the Iraq regime-change operation to Libya and Syria.

And he threatened penalties for Israel over its illegal settlements policy – a five-decade war crime that has gone completely unpunished by the international community. But in practice his inaction allowed Israel to entrench its settlements to the point where annexation of parts of the West Bank is now imminent.

Tame or destroy

Neoliberalism is now so entrenched, so rapacious that even a moderate socialist like Corbyn is seen as a major threat. And unlike a Blair, Obama or Trump, Corbyn is much harder to tame because he has a grassroots movement behind him and to which he is ultimately accountable.

In the US, the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party prevented the left-insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, from contesting the presidency by rigging the system to keep him off the ballot paper. In the UK, Corbyn got past those structural defences by accident. He scraped into the leadership race as the token “loony-left” candidate, indulged by the Labour party bureaucracy as a way to demonstrate that the election was inclusive and fair. He was never expected to win.

Once he was installed as leader, the power-structure had two choices: to tame him like Blair, or destroy him before he stood a chance of reaching high office. For those with short memories, it is worth recalling how those alternatives were weighed in Corbyn’s first months.

On the one hand, he was derided across the media for being shabbily dressed, for being unpatriotic, for threatening national security, for being sexist. This was the campaign to tame him. On the other, the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, the house journal of the neoliberal elite, gave a platform to an anonymous army general to warn that the British military would never allow Corbyn to reach office. There would be an army-led coup before he ever got near 10 Downing Street.

In a sign of how ineffectual these power-structures now are, none of this made much difference to Corbyn’s fortunes with the public. A truly insurgent candidate cannot be damaged by attacks from the power-elite. That’s why he is where he is, after all.

So those wedded to the power-structure among his own MPs tried to wage a second leadership contest to unseat him. As a wave of new members signed up to bolster his ranks of supporters, and thereby turned the party into the largest in Europe, Labour party bureaucrats stripped as many as possible of their right to vote in the hope Corbyn could be made to lose. They failed again. He won with an even bigger majority.

Redefining words

It was in this context that the neoliberal order has had to play its most high-stakes card of all. It has accused Corbyn, a lifelong anti-racism activist, of being an anti-semite for supporting the Palestinian cause, for preferring Palestinian rights over brutal Israeli occupation. To make this charge plausible, words have had to be redefined: “anti-semitism” no longer means simply a hatred of Jews, but includes criticism of Israel; “Zionist” no longer refers to a political movement that prioritises the rights of Jews over the native Palestinian population, but supposedly stands as sinister code for all Jews. Corbyn’s own party has been forced under relentless pressure to adopt these malicious reformulations of meaning.

How anti-semitism is being weaponised, not to protect Jews but to protect the neoliberal order, was made starkly clear this week when Corbyn criticised the financial elite that brought the west to the brink of economic ruin a decade ago, and will soon do so again unless stringent new regulations are introduced. Useful idiots like Stephen Pollard, editor of the right wing Jewish Chronicle, saw a chance to revive the anti-semitism canard once again, accusing Corbyn of secretly meaning “Jews” when he actually spoke of bankers. It is a logic intended to make the neoliberal elite untouchable, cloaking them in a security blanket relying on the anti-semitism taboo.

Almost the entire Westminister political class and the entire corporate media class, including the most prominent journalists in the left-liberal media, have reached the same preposterous conclusion about Corbyn. Whatever the evidence in front of their and our eyes, he is now roundly declared an anti-semite. Up is now down, and day is night.

High-stakes strategy

This strategy is high stakes and dangerous for two reasons.

First, it risks creating the very problem it claims to be defending against. By crying wolf continuously about Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism without any tangible evidence for it, and by making an unfounded charge of anti-semitism the yardstick for judging Corbyn’s competence for office rather than any of his stated policies, the real anti-semite’s argument begins to sound more plausible.

In what could become self-fulfilling prophecy, the anti-semitic right’s long-standing ideas about Jewish cabals controlling the media and pulling levers behind the scenes could start to resonate with an increasingly disillusioned and frustrated public. The weaponising of anti-semitism by the neoliberal order to protect its power risks turning Jews into collateral damage. It makes them another small or bigger drama in the increasingly desperate attempt to create a narrative that deflects attention from the real power-structure.

And second, the effort to stitch together a narrative of Corbyn’s anti-semitism out of non-existent cloth is likely to encourage more and more people to take a step back from the screen so that those unintelligible pixels can more easily be discerned as a smoking gun. The very preposterousness of the allegations, and the fact that they are taken so seriously by a political and media class selected for their submissiveness to the neoliberal order, accelerates the process by which these opinion-formers discredit themselves. Their authority wanes by the day, and as a result their usefulness to the power-structure rapidly diminishes.

This is where we are now: in the final stages of a busted system that is clinging on to credibility by its fingernails. Sooner or later, its grip will be lost and it will plunge into the abyss. We will wonder how we ever fell for any of its deceptions.

In the meantime, we must get on with the urgent task of liberating our minds, of undoing the toxic mental and emotional training we were subjected to, of critiquing and deriding those whose job is to enforce the corrupt orthodoxy, and of replotting a course towards a future that saves the human species from impending extinction.

The Dalai Lama’s Remarks on Migrants follow a CIA, Nazi and Slavery-linked History

This past week the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s 83-year old self-declared spiritual leader in exile, made controversial remarks at a press conference in Malmö recognizing the 80th anniversary of the founding of Individual Humanitarian Aid, a Swedish development and philanthropic assistance program that took in Buddhist refugees after the Chinese annexed Tibet in 1959. His comments came as he addressed the European migrant crisis and his choice of words immediately sparked criticism because they seemed to express an attitude typically shared by the European Union’s far right. With the exception of his detractors, the views he expressed to most were unexpected coming from a monk known for preaching enlightenment and inner peace around the globe. “His Holiness”, AKA Tenzin Gyatso, stated:

Recently large numbers of refugees, many from the Middle East, have fled to Europe in fear for their lives. They have been given shelter and support, but the long-term solution should include providing training and education, particularly for their children, so they can return to rebuild their own countries when peace has been restored.

I think Europe belongs to the Europeans. … Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country.

The comments occurred in Sweden on the heels of the country’s own shocking general election results which saw an impressive 18% performance made by the anti-immigrant and right-wing populist party, Sweden Democrats. Their third-place finish took place in the midst of a surge of far right nationalist political gains trending across the EU. Sweden, itself, has taken in tens of thousands of refugees during the influx of immigration in the last few years, a number which the Sweden Democrats have declared they want to halve and 60% of the public in polls wish to see lowered. Unlike far rightists in Eastern Europe or Greece’s Golden Dawn, the Sweden Democrats are part of a slick and optical re-branding of ultra nationalism that emphasizes Islamophobia over anti-Semitism, with other examples such as Ukip and France’s Front National. This pragmatic approach has not gone unpunished, however, as Viktor Orban of Hungary just saw his country slapped with sanctions by the European Parliament for enacting measures restricting immigration as the clash between anti-globalists and neo-liberal ‘inclusive capitalists’ appears to be escalating.

The remarks upset many of the Dalai Lama’s adoring fans as he knowingly or unwittingly appeared to be dog-whistling to their supporters. Still, this isn’t the first time the Tibetan leader has expressed such views. Along with singing praises for India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2016 he stated that Germany had “too many refugees” during an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In addition to demonstrating an oblivious lack of understanding about the migrant crisis, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s statements shocked many of his admirers, especially considering his own status as a refugee residing in India for more than 50 years. To his critics they served as further testimony to a hidden history largely unknown to his naive followers and a summation of his actual nationalist views —after all despite his refugee status, his entire political history has been based around returning to power in Tibet. In the West, he has been given the persona of a ‘simple Buddhist monk’ by the political establishment and Hollywood, cloaking his own past as a theocratic despot who speaks for a dominant class within Tibet that has collaborated with the interests of imperialism against China for more than fifty years.

The political author and critic Michael Parenti has written at length about the oppressive social system that existed in Tibet prior to the Chinese liberation in his 2003 essay “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth“. The Dalai (“ocean” in Mongolian) Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of the Buddha of Compassion, or manifestations in a lineage of the Bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”). It was the Mongol invasion of Tibet in the 13th century during the Yuan dynasty where Tibetan Buddhism first spread throughout Asia and for the next six centuries was the state religion of both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Following the disintegration of China’s last imperial dynasty, from 1912-1933 Tibet was an absolute monarchy under his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama.

During his brief tenure as the head of state until he was a mere 24 years old, the 14th Dalai Lama was not a democratically-elected leader but selected by a committee of elite lamas (priests of Tibetan Buddhism) following an extensive search guided by their religious beliefs just like those which preceded him. Under his brief but ultra-wealthy reign, Tibet was a remotely isolated and poor country for the vast majority of its population which mostly consisted of illiterate slaves and serfs who were treated like rental cars by overlords, resembling a Buddhist version of the Gulf State kingdoms more than any peaceful paradise. While presiding over a brutal caste system, the Dalai Lama lived in a 1000-room estate with a personal army at his disposal to hunt down deserters. Parenti writes:

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation — including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation — were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs.

During the Cold War, interest in Tibetan Buddhism worldwide grew dramatically and so did a mainstream version of it in the West. This was supplied by an idealized and exoticized utopian portrayal of the Himalayas and the country akin to the imaginary ‘Shangri-La’ from the novel Lost Horizon, while Western media agencies promoted the ‘Free Tibet’ cause promoted by movie stars and popular musicians. Buddhism’s appealing teachings have led to the perception by many that it is exempt from the ugly history attributed to other major religions, but as we can see with modern examples such as the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar this is untrue— it has been used to justify various forms of oppression (including slavery) throughout its history just like other organized religions. Western buddhism became popularized after the establishment of teaching centers during the New Age movement of the 1970s but most of what people in the West know about Tibet is through its depiction in Hollywood, where he has been courted in the silver screen community by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Richard Gere. At the same time, the source of where Hollywood has pulled its superficial understanding of Tibet is from the 1952 book Seven Years in Tibet authored by Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer which aggrandized the feudal government.

It turns out that Harrer wasn’t just any mountaineer but a member of the Sturmabteilung Nazi paramilitary and an SS officer, even meeting with Adolf Hitler after his expedition team successfully climbed the Eiger North Face in the Swiss Alps. In 1939, Harrer traveled in an expedition to the Himalayas to climb the Nanga Parbat peak, one of the world’s ten highest mountains but he was subsequently interned in India by British troops when the European theatre of WWII broke out. Harrer managed to escape to nearby Tibet where his knowledge of the native language led to a salaried employment in the Tibetan government and role as the Dalai Lama’s personal English tutor — in other words, Kundun’s introduction to the Western-world was through a member of Hitler’s Storm Detachment. After the communist Chinese took over, Harrer returned to Europe to write about his experiences and the book became an international best-seller. In 1997, Hollywood made a film version of his account starring Brad Pitt.

Harrer’s experiences weren’t the only instance of historical encounters between the Nazis and Tibet. During the 1930s, along with the occult, European fascists had a bizarre fascination with Asian mysticism. They admired the Tibetan Kingdom with its feudal pecking order and wide-ranging use of torture, mutilation, and the death penalty. In 1938, the Germans led a scientific expedition headed by animal biologist and SS officer Ernst Schafer under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler’s Nazi think tank, the SS Ancestral Heritage Society, which promoted racist pseudo-scientific research. While the voyage happened under the pretext of strategic military purposes against the British, it was also intended to validate Himmler’s racial theory that Aryans of unmixed ancestry had previously settled in the Himalayas. During their investigation, the Germans conducted cranial measurements of human skulls and bones obtained from Tibetan graves with the intent to find evidence supporting Himmler’s ideas that they would be of German ancestry. The Nazi Party’s appropriation of the swastika, a symbol connected to the caste system of Ancient India, was also based on this false idea. Schafer returned with his ‘findings’ just a month prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

One of the Dalai Lama’s biggest talking points has been his supposed “commitment to non-violence.” This apparently does not apply to his own practices, where for years during the Cold War he participated in a covert program of the CIA which personally gave him an annual salary of $180,000 as it promoted the Tibetan independence movement, authorized by the same committee which green-lighted the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Not only did the CIA aid his escape to India, but the program also involved subsidizing a Tibetan guerilla movement based in Nepal waging a violent campaign against the Chinese. The program only ended in 1972 when the Nixon administration opted for détente with China under the foreign policy direction of Henry Kissinger. The Dalai Lama regretfully admitted to this decision in his auto-biography Freedom in Exile, but claimed he didn’t initially know of the agreement made with the CIA that was approved by his brothers . However, he avoided mentioning his presence on the CIA payroll proven by declassified documents and his representatives have denied awareness of it since. The Chinese have long claimed that the Tibetan independence movement was a cause under the influence of foreign powers and it appears by his own admission this is true.

China’s so-called ‘occupation’ of Tibet, while certainly not free of flaws (especially during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward), nevertheless ended a brutal feudal and theocratic system and began a process of industrialization that continues to this day. Prior to 1959, much of Tibet did not even have running water or electricity, much less modern housing or healthcare. The introduction of non-religious education, reformation of the previous severe tax system, and abolishment of slavery and serfdom has lifted much of Tibet out of deep impoverishment and raised its standard of living. Even if one feels that the Chinese need to be more tolerant of its traditional culture or recognize its right to self-determination, the idea that this process should involve returning absolute authority to the Dalai Lama is self-appointed and not the wishes of most Tibetans. The Chinese to their credit since have given greater autonomy to Tibetans after reforms in the 1970s and to this day Buddhism is still practiced widely by its people and tolerated by the authorities. In fact, each year on March 28 Tibetans widely celebrate a Serfs Emancipation Day holiday to commemorate their liberation from theocracy. Tibet had been unified with China for many centuries and was not an independent state for the majority of its history — not only did the PRC free a slave kingdom from social injustice but from its influence under colonial powers who had used it as a chess piece to undermine China.

The architect of the Cold War, the U.S. diplomat and historian George F. Kennan, exposed the orientalist goals of imperialism towards China in his infamous PPS23 Memo when addressing the Far East:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

Coincidentally, the migrant crisis has occurred alongside the modern equivalent of Kennan’s theory of containment in Obama’s failed “pivot to East Asia” regional strategy. Foreign policy toward East Asia under Obama saw the U.S. accelerate its military presence with aircraft carriers in forward deployment, increased presence of combat troops and naval access surrounding China. The U.S. is desperately trying to halt the rise of China on the global stage with its booming economy — journalist and filmmaker John Pilger’s The Coming War on China is an excellent documentary and cinematic exploration of this topic in what appears to be an increasing drive towards WWIII with Beijing. Just as it did throughout the Cold War with Tibet, U.S. media is also stepping up its propaganda campaign by exaggerating the plight of the Uyghur Muslim Turkic minority by falsely claiming they are being interned in concentration camps by the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama’s comments have provoked a predictable reaction from the very liberals who have championed his cause as an instance of betrayal of their shared cosmetic values. This is emblematic of the entire political climate since the 2008 financial crash which preceded the migrant crisis that the centrist political establishment has done everything within its power to downplay its inseparable connection. The financial collapse is what opened up political space for new, radical ideas and that included a surge of interest in both far left and far right political organizations which spoke directly to the working class, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party. Liberals continue to express faux-outrage at developments of which their failed policies are responsible, while at the same time offering no alternative or solution except doubling-down on the same empty strategies.

While the Stop the War co-founder Jeremy Corbyn has become the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the United States, and the disappointing SYRIZA coalition was elected in Greece, it is the far right which has made the greatest gains in response to the failures of capitalism. In 2016, it saw both the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. who campaigned pledging to build a wall on the Southern border and 17 million Brits voting to leave the European Union. Sadly, it is inevitable that their attempts to save capitalism from itself by restricting immigration and imposing tariffs will prove to be ineffectual as Keynesian economics. The real problem lies not with immigration or the demise of the nation state by globalism, but with increasing global inequality and the free market’s relentless drive to extract wealth and resources through imperial conquest of smaller nations, the actual cause of the migrant crisis.

The political establishment is now fighting for its life as it outright denies the interdependence of failing global markets with the crisis, all the while fear-mongering the public in its efforts to reform capitalism under the phony banner of ‘inclusivity’, even as its very policies fuel the increase in xenophobia scapegoating the immigrants it claims to want to protect. These policies not only include the implementation of economic austerity, but military intervention abroad with support for jihadist-dominated uprisings and its failed ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East which destabilized the region and fueled the wave of migrants seeking asylum in the EU. Much has been written about the contribution of migration and endless war to the Roman Empire’s collapse — it seems the same cards are in the deck for the United States and its hegemony.

The Aftershocks Of The Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt

Photo by Oli Scarff for Getty Images

There has been a spate of articles recently on the ten year anniversary of the financial collapse. We wrote about this anniversary two weeks ago, describing the cause of the collapse and the reasons why we are still at risk for another one. Now, we look at how the aftermath of the collapse is shaping current politics, people’s views on the economic system and the conflict that lies ahead to create an economy for the 21st Century.

Economic Violence Is Being Waged Worldwide (Source Twitter)

The Aftershocks Of The Collapse Are Still Being Felt

Jerome Roos of ROAR Magazine writes that the response to the 2008 crash – bailing out the banks but not the people – led to unrest across the globe, beginning with the Arab Spring, and a growing anti-capitalist sentiment. He goes on to say:

It has recently begun to consolidate itself in the form of vibrant grassroots movements, progressive political formations and explicitly socialist candidacies that collectively seek to challenge the untrammeled power and privileges of the ‘1 percent’ from below.

The stagnant economy, austerity measures and resulting increased debt have opened a space for people to search for and try out alternative economic structures that are more democratic. They have also created conditions for a rise of nationalism on the right. Roos concludes that the “real confrontation is yet to come.”

In the United States, the economic conditions have revived populist movements on both the right and the left. Gareth Porter explains the Democratic and Republican parties are aware of the great dissatisfaction with their failed policies and know they need to try to appease the public by trying new policies, but they don’t know how.

He points to recent joint papers put out by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic Party think tank, and the American Enterprise Institute, a Republican Party think tank. One from May is called, “Drivers of Authoritarian Populism in the United States,” and the other from July is called, “Partnership in Peril: The Populist Assault on the TransAtlantic Community.” In the papers, rather than present alternative solutions, they attack Jill Stein of the Green Party and Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist.

There is a battle inside the Democratic Party between progressives, some who call themselves socialists, and the dominant business-friendly corporatists. As Miles Kampf-Lessin writes:

An August poll shows that, for the first time since Gallup started asking the question 10 years ago, Democrats now view socialism more favorably than capitalism.

But the Democratic Party has been deaf to the interests of its constituents for decades. At meetings organized by centrist Democratic Party groups this summer, lacking populist solutions, the best they could come up with was “the center is sexier than you think.” And while a few “progressives” in the Democratic Party won their primaries, they are not receiving support from the party. Instead, the party leaders are throwing their weight behind security state Democrats, who could make up half of newly-elected Democrats this November.

In the Republican Party, Donald Trump’s faux populism has shown itself to be a sham. The Republican Party is unable to handle Trump, who defeated a series of elitist candidates starting with the next heir of the royal Bush family, Jeb. A record number of Republicans have given up and decided not to run for re-election. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saw the writing on the wall and said he wanted to spend time with his family.

The 2018 election will bring change as Republican control of both Chambers of Congress is at risk, especially the House, but this is unlikely to resolve the crises the country is facing. Democrats are more focused on going after Trump. We can expect a flood of subpoenas investigating all aspects of his administration and business, rather than solutions to the economic and social crises.

From Catholic News USA

What The People Are Demanding

There is a growing anti-capitalist revolt, especially against the form it has taken in the United States; i.e., neoliberalism that privatizes everything for the profit of a few while cutting essential services for the many.  Anti-capitalism is so widespread that even corporate media outlets like Politico are taking notice, as they did in an article describing what socialism would look like in the United States. And President Obama this week discovered “a great new idea,” Medicare for all.

Of course, there has been a movement for National Improved Medicare for All for decades, and it is now gaining momentum. A new poll found even a majority of Republicans support Medicare for all, as do 85% of Democrats. Out of all of the ‘wealthy’ nations, the United States is ranked at the bottom, only above Greece, when it comes to the percentage of the population that has healthcare coverage. The third poorest country in our hemisphere, Bolivia, announced this week it will provide healthcare for all.

While polls indicate increased support for socialism, in the United States there is a lack of clarity on what that means exactly. Rather than a state socialism, most people are advocating for policy changes that socialize the basic necessities of the people. National Improved Medicare for All is one example.  There is also increased pressure for community-controlled or municipal Internet, taking this critical public service out of the hands of the much-hated for-profit providers.

Other demands include a living wage, free college education and affordable housing. There is also increased advocacy for a universal basic income and for public banks. All of these socialized programs can and do exist in capitalist countries.

From Prout.org

Creating Economic Democracy For The 21st Century

The new economy is still taking shape and will likely result from a process of trying new practices out and gradually replacing current economic institutions with the new ones that gain support. The new institutions will need to be radically different than the current ones, meaning they are rooted in different values, if they are to change the current system.

In Policy Options, Tracy Smith Carrier urges using a human rights framework for the new economy. The human rights principles are universality, equity, transparency, accountability and participation. Rather than charity, which doesn’t solve the problems that brought people into a situation of need, her research team advocates for putting in place a poverty-reduction strategy that targets “the building blocks of society that reproduce poverty.”

This past week, we interviewed economist Emily Kawano of the US Solidarity Economy Network for our podcast, Clearing the FOG. The episode is called “So You Want To End Capitalism, Here’s How.” Like the human rights framework, the solidarity economy is built on a set of principles: democracy, cooperation, equity, anti-oppression, sustainability and pluralism. Kawano describes the formation of the solidarity economy using the analogy of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly – the various pieces of the economy are forming and finding each other and may eventually coalesce into a new system composed of old and new elements.

This week on Clearing the FOG, we will publish an interview with Nathan Schneider, author of Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that is Shaping the New Economy. Schneider acknowledges that his generation is the first one that will fare worse than its predecessors. Out of necessity, people are creating more democratic economic structures. The Internet is a helpful tool in the process, particularly in creating ‘platform cooperatives.’

The economy needs to move from concentrated wealth to shared economic prosperity. In addition to requiring specific changes in policy that lead to greater socialization of the economy, systemic changes will be needed to establish a cooperative and egalitarian economy. Without far-reaching changes to the structure of the state, they are highly unlikely to succeed.

There will be another economic crisis in the near future which will present opportunities for rapid transformational change, if the movement is organized to demand it. JP Morgan issued a report on the tenth anniversary of the collapse warning of another collapse and mass social unrest like the US has not seen in 50 years. It is up to us now to prepare for that moment by developing our vision for the future and working out the types of institutions that will bring it about. The other option, if we are not prepared, could bring fascism and greater repression.

As Jerome Roos concludes, “…the political fallout of the global financial crisis is only just getting started. The real confrontation, it seems, is yet to come.”