Category Archives: the left

Netanyahu Seeks to Smash the Joint List and Cement Permanent Rule by Israel’s Far-Right

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is only weeks away from the scheduled start of his long-awaited corruption trial – the endgame in a series of investigations that have been looming over him for years. As a result, he has been taking extraordinary measures to save his political skin.

One of the most surprising is his moves to get into bed with politicians representing a section of Israeli society he has long characterized as the enemy.

In recent weeks Netanyahu has been working overtime to prise apart the Joint List, a coalition of 15 legislators in the parliament who represent Israel’s large Palestinian minority. In particular, he has been making strenuous overtures to Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, a conservative Islamic party.

This is a dramatic about-face. Netanyahu’s political trademark over the past five years has been incessant incitement against Israel’s Palestinian minority – one in five of the population.

These 1.8 million citizens are the remnants inside Israel of the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom were ethnically cleansed from their homeland in 1948, in events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Netanyahu appears to hope that sabotaging the Joint List will offer him short-term help as he seeks to evade his trial. But there may be a longer-term electoral dividend too. Destroying the Joint List, now the third largest party in the Israeli parliament, would remove the main stumbling block on the path to permanent rule by the far-right coalition he dominates.

Torrent of incitement

Israel’s Palestinian parties – like the minority they represent – have always been regarded as illegitimate political actors within a self-declared Jewish state. Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, regularly depict them as a “fifth column” or “supporters of terror”.

The Palestinian parties have never been invited into any of the regular coalition governments that rule Israel. The closest they have been to power was when they propped up the government of Yitzhak Rabin – very much from the outside – in the early 1990s. Even then the arrangement was implemented out of necessity: it was the only way Rabin could get the “Oslo peace process” legislation through the parliament over the opposition of a majority of Jewish legislators.

But even by Israel’s normal standards of racist disdain towards its Palestinian citizens, Netanyahu has unleashed a torrent of incitement against the minority in recent years as he has struggled to maintain his grip on power.

His fear has been that the Palestinian parties might once again gain a role, as they did under Rabin, of serving as kingmakers, helping to support a government from which he would be excluded.

On the eve of polling in a critical general election in 2015, Netanyahu famously issued a warning to Israeli Jews that the Palestinian public were “coming out to vote in droves”.

And during one of last year’s indecisive elections he sent operatives from his Likud party into polling stations in Palestinian communities armed with body cameras in an effort to “kosher” the result – creating the impression that the Palestinian minority was defrauding the Jewish public.

Netanyahu’s Facebook page also sent out an automated message last year to voters claiming that “the Arabs” – including Palestinian citizens – “want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”.

Falling turnout

Netanyahu’s incitement has had two main goals.

He hoped for a low-turnout among the Palestinian minority – and conversely a strong showing by Likud voters – so that Palestinian parties could not bolster his Jewish opponents in the parliament. Falling turnout had been the long-term trend among Palestinian citizens, with barely half voting in the 2009 election that began Netanyahu’s current consecutive governments.

But the incitement efforts largely backfired, stirring the Palestinian minority to turn out in record numbers this March and rallying their support overwhelmingly to the Joint List rather than more moderate Jewish parties.

But more successfully, Netanyahu has also sought to make the idea of allying with the Joint List so toxic that no rival Jewish party would dare to consider it.

In part because of this, Benny Gantz, a former army general who became leader of the center-right Blue and White party, Israel’s version of a “resistance” party to Netanyahu, threw in his hand and joined the Netanyahu government following the inconclusive results of March’s election rather than work with the Joint List.

In return, he is supposed to become alternate prime minister late next year, though few – including apparently Gantz – think Netanyahu will honor such a handover.

The current wave of mass protests by Israeli Jews against Netanyahu, which have been growing weekly despite fears of the pandemic, reflect the sense of many, especially among Gantz’s supporters, that they have been politically abandoned.

Submarines affair

The issue chiefly driving protesters to the streets is not the boxes of cigars and pink champagne Netanyahu and his wife are accused of treating as bribes from rich businessmen. Nor is it the pressure Netanyahu is alleged to have exerted on media organizations to garner himself better coverage.

What really incenses them is the thought that he played fast and loose with – and possibly profited from – the national security of Israel, in what has become known as the submarines affair.

Evidence has amassed that Netanyahu’s government purchased three submarines and four ships from a German firm in defiance of advice from the military. The attorney general, however, appears to have balked at adding yet another indictment to the charge sheet.

It was precisely over the matter of the submarines deal that the budding romance between Netanyahu and Abbas was cemented last month.

Yariv Levin, speaker of the parliament and Netanyahu’s righthand man, appears to have pressured Abbas, a deputy speaker, into voiding a parliamentary vote Abbas oversaw that narrowly approved a commission of inquiry into the submarines affair. That would have proved disastrous for Netanyahu.

In return, the prime minister appears to have offered Abbas a series of favors.

That has included Netanyahu’s unprecedented appearance last week via Zoom at a meeting of a special parliamentary committee headed by Abbas on tackling the current crime wave in Palestinian communities in Israel.

Netanyahu’s attendance at an obscure committee is unheard of. But his sudden interest in the rocketing number of criminal murders among Israel’s Palestinian minority was hard to swallow. He helped to create the economic and social conditions that have fueled the crime wave, and he has done almost nothing to address the lack of policing that turned Palestinian communities into lawless zones.

‘Peace dividend’?

Abbas, however, hopes to leverage his ties with Netanyahu to his own political benefit, despite deeply antagonizing the rest of the Joint List by doing so.

Netanyahu has publicly argued that Palestinian citizens will feel a peace dividend from Israel’s warming ties to Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He recently told the media: “This revolution that we are carrying out outside of the State of Israel’s borders, we must also carry out within the State of Israel’s borders.”

Abbas has taken credit for Netanyahu’s assurances of an imminent program to improve public safety in Palestinian communities – an issue high on the minority’s agenda.

Netanyahu’s office also recently sent an “official” letter to Abbas confirming plans for large-scale investment in developing Palestinian communities in Israel, allowing the United Arab List leader to claim credit for the initiative.

In fact, the plan was drawn up by Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, and negotiated not with Netanyahu’s Likud party but with a Blue and White minister – part of Gantz’s own cynical efforts to keep Joint List legislators onside in case they are needed in a later push to oust Netanyahu.

Return on investment

Netanyahu hopes for a long-term return on his initial investment in Abbas.

First he may need Abbas’s four seats in his complex coalition arithmetic. If Netanyahu calls another general election – as he is expected to do to avoid implementing the promised hand-over to Gantz, the defense minister, next year – the United Arab List leader could deprive any rival to Netanyahu of the votes needed to oust the prime minister.

And second, Abbas could help Netanyahu either pass or thwart legislative moves related to his trial. Abbas could, for example, block efforts by Netanyahu’s opponents to pass a law banning him from running for prime minister while on trial. Or if Netanyahu succeeds again in exploiting COVID-19 to postpone the legal proceedings against him, Abbas might help him pass a so-called immunity law exempting a sitting prime minister from being put on trial.

Abbas has shocked other Joint List members by hinting in interviews that he might consider voting in Netanyahu’s favor on just such a law.

Abbas, meanwhile, has his own long-term incentives to cultivate this pact. There are already deep tensions within the Joint List that Abbas wishes to exploit for his own ends.

Ideological divisions

The four parties making up the List share limited, if core, concerns about ending both Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians under occupation and Israel’s rampant and systematic discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel that severely degrades their citizenship.

The consensus on these issues has tended to overshadow the parties’ very different, wider ideological positions.

Hadash is a bloc of explicitly socialist groups that emphasize class concerns they believe can unite Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish populations. They have, however, failed dismally to draw poorer Jews away from supporting the right-wing populism of Netanyahu’s Likud.

Balad appeals particularly to a new and aspiring secular middle class that wishes to advance social democratic values that clash with Israel’s Jewish ethnic nationalism. That is one reason why, paradoxically, Balad feels the need to highlight its own community’s Palestinian national identity, as a counterweight.

Abbas’s United Arab List is a socially and culturally conservative Islamic party, but willing to horse-trade on issues that benefit its largely religious constituency. It tends to accentuate its “moderation”, particularly after Netanyahu banned its chief rival, the more politically radical and extra-parliamentary Northern Islamic Movement, in 2015.

Finally, a faction under Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to Yasser Arafat, operates as a more charismatic party, tending to cherry pick policies – and voters – from the three other parties.

Lower votes threshold

None of these parties wishes to be in the Joint List, but they have been forced into an uneasy alliance since the 2015 election by the actions of Avigdor Lieberman, who was then a minister in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Shortly before that election, Lieberman advanced the so-called Threshold Law on behalf of the Israeli right. It lifted the electoral threshold – the point at which parties win seats in the parliament – just high enough to ensure that none of the four Palestinian parties could pass it.

The right had assumed that these parties were so hostile to each other that they would never be able to work together. But faced with electoral oblivion, and pressure from Palestinian voters in Israel, the four factions set aside their differences at the last minute to create the Joint List.

It has proved a success with Palestinian voters in Israel, who turned out in such large numbers that the party has become easily the third largest in the parliament – after Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White. But it has been a rocky ride by all other measurements.

The parties have been contemplating ways to break free of the alliance ever since – and now Abbas may believe he has found an answer. It is rumored – not least by Lieberman, who is now a vocal opponent of Netanyahu – that Netanyahu may agree to lower the threshold again.

That would benefit Abbas, freeing him to desert the Joint List and run on his own party’s platform. Lieberman has claimed that Netanyahu might offer Abbas a post in a future government, making concessions to its Islamic religious demands much as he already does to Jewish religious parties like Shas.

In return, Netanyahu would smash the Joint List apart, and likely see the turnout among a disillusioned Palestinian public drop precipitously, bolstering his far-right coalition by default.

Looking inwards

Why Abbas might play along with this plan is revealed by two related developments that have transformed the political scene for Israel’s Palestinian parties over the last couple of years.

The first is that there has been an almost complete loss of interest – in the west, among the Arab states and, of course, among Israeli Jews – at the deteriorating plight of Palestinians under occupation.

This has left the Palestinian parties in Israel bereft of their traditional role promoting the Palestinian cause, either rhetorically or substantively. There is simply no audience willing to listen to what they have to say on the matter.

That has required the Palestinian parties to quickly reinvent themselves. And that transformation has been further accelerated by changing attitudes among their own voters.

With demands for Israel to end the occupation increasingly off the table, Palestinians inside Israel have preferred to look inwards, addressing their own situation as second and third-class citizens of a Jewish state. If they can’t help their Palestinian kin in the current international climate, many think it would make more sense to pressure Israel to make good on its false claims that they enjoy equal rights with Jewish citizens.

Political influence

The sense that this is a historic moment for the Palestinian minority to take the initiative has been underscored by the spate of inconclusive elections that have made Netanyahu’s grip on power look increasingly shaky. Palestinian citizens have started to wonder whether they can parlay their potential kingmaker status into political influence.

Polls show that Palestinian voters in Israel want their parties to try to elbow their way into mainstream politics any way they can. In one survey last year, 87 percent said they wanted their parties involved in government.

That was one reason why all the Joint List legislators made a historic decision earlier this year, jettisoning their usual indifference to post-election horse-trading by Jewish parties, and backed Gantz as prime minister. He spurned their support and joined Netanyahu’s government.

The reality is that no ruling Jewish party is ever going to invite the Joint List into government, and none of the Palestinian parties – apart from possibly Abbas’s United Arab List – would ever contemplate joining one.

So Netanyahu has seen a chance both to pry apart the Joint List, making the Palestinian vote in Israel once again marginal to his calculations, and to recruit one of its factions into his orbit where he can offer its tidbits in return for support.

Profound crisis

None of this has gone unnoticed by Abbas’s partners. Mtanes Shehadeh, head of Balad, warned that “Netanyahu is trying to disband the Joint List,” using familiar “divide and rule” tactics.

Abbas, however, seems open to such divisions if he can exploit them to his benefit. He has written on Facebook: “We need to decide whether we’re going to serve our community or just grandstand.” He has said elsewhere: “I want to be part of the political game.”

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, he clarified: “What do I have in common with the left? In foreign policy [relating to the occupation] I’m with them, of course – we support the two-state solution. But on religious affairs I’m right wing. I have a lot more in common with [the religious Jewish parties] Shas and United Torah Judaism.”

The paradox is that the Joint List is in profound crisis a few months after it celebrated an unmitigated success at the March election. It received a record number of seats – 15 in the 120-member parliament – having unified the Palestinian minority’s votes. It broke for the first time the taboo among left-wing Israeli Jews on voting for the Joint List. And coalition-building arithmetic, given the Joint List’s status as the third largest party, has pushed the Israeli Jewish political scene into a prolonged upheaval that has Netanyahu finally on the defensive.

But Netanyahu, ever the experienced tactician, has more incentive than ever to play high stakes to keep himself out of jail. With the Joint List as one of the main obstacles to his political survival, he will do whatever it takes to bring the alliance down.

• First published by Mondoweiss

The post Netanyahu Seeks to Smash the Joint List and Cement Permanent Rule by Israel’s Far-Right first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Nazi Satan Death Cults” and other Mass Distractions

Recently, Dissident Voice contributor, the never-compromising class- and labor-blogger, Michael K. Smith, took on a dragon of the  progressive left whose slaying really seems long overdue. Writing in his typically potent style, Smith hammered out the following:

How many times do we need to request a meaningless ‘denunciation’ of white supremacy? We, on what passes for a left, are supposed to be critics of corporate media, so why the dog-like obedience to its idiotic framing on this non-issue?…

Let us have no more Southern Poverty Law Center-style ‘studies’ of how right-wing fascists are poised to take over the country, which they’ve been robotically repeating since the 1970s.

Non-stories about ‘hate-group terror’ do indeed fill the corporate media—and, yes, a few real ones too. This has been so since the 1980s when sheared, pale youth spewing semi-literate vitriol filled day-time TV on a weekly basis — where did Geraldo/Oprah/Sally Jesse find these people, I always asked myself.

History Channel-Nazis and Hollywood skinheads do indeed horrify and fascinate, and they always will. That’s a good, ingrained impulse, surely. But it’s also why people like Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have been able to scare literally hundreds of millions of dollars from rich, northeastern liberals over the last fifty years. As a result, Dees and his group have been called ‘everything that’s wrong with liberalism today.’

A Canadian version of Smith’s piece would have mentioned our own SPLC: the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Just days before Smith’s piece, the self-described ‘monitor of Canadian hate’ provided the corporate media some of the most “idiotic framing on this non-issue” I’ve ever seen framed. See the slab of a quote below which the Global News network saw fit to print from the group.

The context here is what CAN gleaned from the social-media accounts of a white guy being investigated for murdering a Muslim man in Ontario the month previous. Among other things, CAN found:

… he followed individuals associated with the national socialist black metal scenes, we are talking neo-Nazi metal. From there, we found his YouTube account, we found that he posted a video that’s associated with this chant that’s associated with this Nazi Satanist ideology, and we looked back on his other social media profiles and found that he used very specific language that would indicate that he was an adherent, or at least extremely well-versed, in the ideology of this Nazi death cult.

What is “Nazi Satanist ideology”, you ask? CAN nor the reporter tells you. What’s a “Nazi death cult”? Same thing. Nothing. Certainly, concerned Canadians would like to know things like how many death cults are out there, whether they’re here in Canada, etc., but, again, no details — and, no, this “chant” business isn’t explained either.

How do we know this isn’t all just word play designed to produce certain mental effects? We don’t, and that’s what makes uncritical reporting from corporate media seem sensationalist and deceptive.

Global News also pushed out a claim that appears on CAN’s site about Canada having a whopping 300 ‘far-right extremist’ groups. This would be news to most — including CSIS, Canada’s FBI, because it would be astounding if it were true. One research report that looked through the SPLC’s own list of around a thousand hate-groups in the US concluded it to be essentially a fraud designed to scare the public—I haven’t been able to find any details about the contents of CAN’s list anywhere online; a red flag for an objective reporter and political leaders, surely (just this week, the list was mentioned by the leader of Canada’s progressive party).

Now, I don’t disbelieve the accused killer has some alarming internet habits (nor that CAN does some good work), but the complete lack of push-back from Global News as well as its failure to seek an outside source (a law professor? CSIS spokespeople?) clearly had to do with what the corporate media has always done since at least the days of William Randolph Hearst: provoking fear from the public so they spend more attention on the media-spectacle and less on capitalism.

That this type of advocacy takes the public’s focus away, as Smith argues, is frustrating enough. But on top of it, just days after Smith’s piece, CAN received a $268,000 grant from Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The federal grant followed a corporate one of $10,000 from the Bank of Montreal just weeks after the murder of George Floyd. Both were surely intended to divert attention away from the economic oppression each is deeply invested in and likely a waste of taxpayer-funds that could be spent on things like race-relations education or de-escalation training for cops.

Even calling CAN “liberal” seems to be overly generous. As Dissident Voice contributor Yves Engler has documented, CAN apparently failed to condemn a horrific Al Quds rally in Toronto last year in which innocent Palestinian-rights protesters were hounded by 50 to 100 members of anti-Islam groups, including the notorious Jewish Defense League (which the FBI labels a terrorist organization). Interestingly enough, among the harassing protesters was something called the Soldiers of Odin, a motorcycle gang who CAN does label a hate group. On most days at least.

This likely wasn’t loafing on the job. CAN’s chair Bernie Farber has a history of defending Israeli apartheid going back to the 1980s when he led a Zionist lobbying group, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).  His former CJC partner Len Rudner is also part of CAN. Counterpunch even wrote back in 2007 that Farber is somewhat of an originator of the now well-known conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism — Not one of our proudest exports, if true.

Unsurprisingly then, he’s also called support for BDS or the use of  “apartheid” to describe what’s happening in the oPt as signs of “anti-Semitism.”

The inconsistencies don’t stop there. In 2018, he led a push to remove a statue of John A. Macdonald stating that, due to him espousing “legalized racism” and having ‘degraded’ indigenous peoples, he shouldn’t receive “any honours”, let alone statues. In addition, Farber’s given seminars on the genocide and ‘betrayal by colonialist ideals’ experienced by Canada’s First Nations. Fair enough. But such sensitivity toward indigenous rights and reconciliation should strike some as slightly incongruous considering his previous attempt to ban pro-Palestinian activists from participating in Toronto’s Gay Pride parade. Or, his defense of notorious anti-Muslim activist Daniel Pipes. Or, his opposition to York University students protesting Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, a three-week-long assault in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, some with white phosphorous.

For progressives, emphasizing racial issues over class struggle has been controversial since it began in the late sixties. Both should be pursued without cannibalizing one another. After all, one can point to numerous examples of big business, past and present, stoking up racial tensions among workers in order to pursue a divide-and-conquer labor strategy.

Further, highlighting the problem of hate groups screams of a middle-class concern, one which working people can’t afford to elevate above the structural economic unfairness they deal with daily.

Smith’s argument that ‘white supremacist terror’ has become a distraction for the benefit of the oligarchs has plenty of merit. The near-constant and symbolic denunciations it receives from Trudeau’s Liberals and Woke Capital helps bear this out as does the SPLC’s hoovering up of donation funds that could’ve been spent in minority communities.

And merely speaking out against white-supremacist gangs shouldn’t inspire self-righteousness or automatically make you a leftist. SPLC and CAN prove this. Leaning into serious racist structures like those found in Israel and elsewhere does. Until we see this from CAN, the SPLC, etc., corporate media’s attention and our tax dollars should be spent elsewhere.

The post "Nazi Satan Death Cults" and other Mass Distractions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Future is in Our Hands

The election is now over and Joe Biden is the President-elect. What is likely to happen after Biden is inaugurated? The incoming Biden administration will face numerous huge problems left behind by the Trump administration. It is likely that Covid-19 will still be a major concern here and in many other nations around the world. President Biden will also have to deal with high levels of unemployment, of homelessness, of hunger, of people under-insured or without health insurance, of income and wealth inequality as well as an angry and divided people. In addition, the Biden administration will have to deal with the appalling systemic discrimination against minorities, women and the poor.

The Trump administration also took steps that will likely increase the severity of the climate catastrophe scientists have been warning about for decades. We are already seeing devastation caused by the rapidly changing climate and the risk of ever greater devastation continues to grow. This situation requires an urgent worldwide campaign larger than anything humans have ever done. To achieve this necessary international cooperation also requires a huge change in the criminal and barbaric US militaristic and sanctions-based foreign policy. The US must rely on diplomacy and, among other things, respect the sovereignty of other nations. This change will thus allow a huge reduction in the corporate welfare given to the military-industrial complex.

However, if we accept politics as usual under the Biden presidency, that is, politics directed and controlled by Wall Street and large corporate interests, the human rights of a large portion of the US population will continue to be ignored. When government fails to address the needs of its people, its legitimacy can be questioned and there is a risk of society falling apart. The low level of voter participation in our elections, particularly in non-presidential years, is already a concern. Do people not vote because they have given up on the system? Even this year with a hotly contested election, roughly 1/3 of the eligible electorate failed to vote. Making matters worse, the blatant politicization of the Supreme Court has weakened its already tenuous claims to legitimacy as a non-partisan and independent branch of government.

If we continue to allow the profit-driven corporate controlled media, including social media, to divide us from one another, we will be unable to overcome the huge problems mentioned above. It is necessary for ‘we the people’ to unite, to overcome the left/right, Democratic/Republican partisan divide, in order to force the US political system to work on behalf of the people instead of on behalf of the special interests of the wealthy. Only constant and strong nonviolent pressure on Congress and the White House from ‘we the people’ can overcome the power of money, that is, the legalized bribery in our national political system.

If the Biden administration adopts positions that clearly benefit ‘we the people’ instead of the wealthy and powerful, there is a good chance of overcoming much of our dangerous division. People of all political persuasions will realize we finally have a president who represents their interests instead of those of the super wealthy.

Note what we demand are universally recognized human rights that people deserve wherever they are on the left/right political spectrum. These rights include decent housing, living wage jobs, good food, health care, education, fair and equal treatment before the law, voting and a clean and safe environment. These are not extreme positions and people in many other nations have had these rights for decades. Unfortunately, we still don’t have these rights, making the US exceptional in the sense of how few basic human rights we actually have.

For example, in countries with these rights, people are not afraid of losing their health care if they lose their job or of going bankrupt due to high medical charges. There is not a loss of dignity or respect associated with receiving social benefits. Low and middle income students can go to college without a fear of graduating with huge debts.

Can we pressure President Biden enough for him to adopt this popular and winning approach? Can we put enough pressure on Congress to cause it to join in this campaign? Sí, se puede! This campaign requires that all of us across the political spectrum stand up for our legitimate rights. We have no other choice if we want to make the US live up to the lofty words that inspired millions here and around the world.

The post The Future is in Our Hands first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Biden will fail to bring back “normal” politics

Analysts are still grappling with the fallout from the US election. Trumpism proved a far more enduring and alluring phenomenon than most media pundits expected. Defying predictions, Trump improved his share of the overall vote compared to his 2016 win, and he surprised even his own team by increasing his share of minority voters and women.

But most significantly, he almost held his own against Democratic challenger Joe Biden at a time when the US economy – the incumbent’s “trump” card – was in dire straits after eight months of a pandemic. Had it not been for Covid-19, Trump – not Biden – would most likely be preparing for the next four years in the White House.

Of course, much of Trump’s appeal was that he is not Biden. The Democratic party decided to run pretty much the worst candidate imaginable: an old-school machine politician, one emphatically beholden to the corporate donor class and unsuited to the new, more populist political climate. His campaigning – on the rare occasions he appeared – suggested significant cognitive decline. Biden often looked more suited to a luxury retirement home than heading the most powerful nation on earth.

But then again, if Trump could lead the world’s only superpower for four years, how hard can it really be? He showed that those tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theorists might be right after all: maybe the president is largely a figurehead, while a permanent bureaucracy runs much of the show from behind the curtain. Were Ronald Reagan and George W Bush not enough to persuade us that any halfwit who can string together a few cliches from a teleprompter will suffice?

No return to ‘normal’

The narrowly averted Trump second term has at least prompted liberal pundits to draw one significant lesson that is being endlessly repeated: Biden must avoid returning to the old “normal”, the one that existed before Trump, because that version of “normal” was exactly what delivered Trump in the first place. These commentators fear that, if Biden doesn’t play his cards wisely, we will end up in 2024 with a Trump 2.0, or even a rerun from Trump himself, reinvigorated after four years of tweet-sniping from the sidelines. They are right to be worried.

But their analysis does not properly explain the political drama that is unfolding, or where it heads next. There is a two-fold problem with the “no return to normal” argument.

The first is that the liberal media and political class making this argument are doing so in entirely bad-faith. For four years they have turned US politics and its coverage into a simple-minded, ratings-grabbing horror show. A vile, narcissist businessman, in collusion with an evil Russian mastermind, usurped the title of most powerful person on the planet that should have been bestowed on Hillary Clinton. As Krystal Ball has rightly mocked, even now the media are whipping up fears that the “Orange Mussolini” may stage some kind of back-handed coup to block the handover to Biden.

These stories have been narrated to us by much of the corporate media over and over again – and precisely so that we do not think too hard about why Trump beat Clinton in 2016. The reality, far too troubling for most liberals to admit, is that Trump proved popular because a lot of the problems he identified were true, even if he raised them in bad faith himself and had no intention of doing anything meaningful to fix them.

Trump was right about the need for the US to stop interfering in the affairs of the rest of the world under the pretence of humanitarian concern and a supposed desire to spread democracy at the end of the barrel of a gun. In practice, however, lumbered with that permanent bureaucracy, delegating his authority to the usual war hawks like John Bolton, and eager to please the Christian evangelical and Israel lobbies, Trump did little to stop such destructive meddling. But at least he was correct rhetorically.

Equally, Trump looked all too right in berating the establishment media for promoting “fake news”, especially as coverage of his presidency was dominated by an evidence-free narrative claiming he had colluded with Russia to steal the election. Those now bleating about how dangerous his current assertions of election fraud are should remember they were the ones who smashed that particular glass house with their own volley of stones back in 2016.

Yes, Trump has been equally culpable with his Twitter barrages of fake news. And yes, he cultivated rather than spurned support from one of those major corporate outlets: the reliably right wing Fox News. But what matters most is that swaths of the American public – unable to decide who to believe, or maybe not caring – preferred to side with a self-styled maverick, Washington outsider, the supposed “underdog”, against a class of self-satisfied, overpaid media professionals transparently prostituting themselves to the billionaire owners of the corporate media.

Once voters had decided the system was rigged – and it is rigged towards the maintenance of elite power – anyone decrying the system, whether honestly or duplicitously, was going to prove popular.

Indebted to donors

Trump’s appeal was further bolstered by styling himself a self-made man, as his campaign riffed on the long-standing myths of the American Dream. The US public was encouraged to see Trump as a rich man prepared to gamble part of his own fortune on a run for the presidency so he could bring his business acumen to USA Ltd. That contrasted starkly with Democratic party leaders like Clinton and Biden who gave every appearance of having abjectly sold their principles – and their souls – to the highest-bidding corporate “donors”.

And again, that perception – at least in relation to Clinton and Biden – wasn’t entirely wrong.

How can Biden not end up trying to resurrect the Obama years that he was so very much part of during his two terms as vice-president and that led directly to Trump? That was why corporate donors backed his campaign. They desire the kind of neoliberal “normal” that leaves them free to continue making lots more money and ensures the wealth gap grows.

It is why they and the media worked so hard to pave Biden’s path to the presidency, even doing their best to bury political stories embarrassing to the Biden campaign. Maintaining that “normal” is the very reason the modern Democratic party exists.

Even if Biden wanted to radically overhaul the existing, corporate-bonded US political system – and he doesn’t – he would be incapable of doing so. He operates within institutional, structural constraints – donors, Congress, the media, the supreme court – all there to ensure his room for manoeuvre is tightly delimited.

Had his main rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, been allowed to run instead and won the presidency, it would have been much the same. The important difference is that the existence of a President Sanders would have risked exposing the fact that the “world’s most powerful leader” is not really so powerful.

Sanders would have lost his battles trying to defy these structural constraints, but in the process he would have made those constraints far more visible. They would have been all too obvious had someone like Sanders been constantly hitting his head against them. That was precisely why the corporate class and the technocratic leadership of the Democratic party worked so strenuously to make sure Sanders got nowhere near the presidential race.

Resistance posturing

Biden will do his best to achieve what his donors want: a return to the neoliberal “normal” under Obama. He will offer a sprinkling of initiatives to ensure progressive liberals can put to rest their resistance posturing with a clear conscience. There will be some “woke” identity politics to prevent any focus on class politics and the struggle for real economic justice, as well as some weak, corporation-friendly Green New Deal projects, if Biden can sneak past them past a Republican-controlled Senate.

And if he can’t manage even that … well that’s the beauty of a system tailor-made to follow the path of least financial resistance, to uphold the corporate status quo, the “normal”.

But there is a second, bigger problem. A fly in the ointment. Whatever Biden and the Democratic party do to resurrect the neoliberal consensus, the old “normal”, it isn’t coming back. The smug, technocratic class that has dominated western politics for decades on behalf of the corporate elite is under serious threat. Biden looks more like a hiccough, a last burp provoked by the unexpected pandemic.

The neoliberal “normal” isn’t coming back because the economic circumstances that generated it – the post-war boom of seemingly endless growth – have disappeared.

Plutocracy entrenches

A quarter of a century ago, the Cassandras of their day – those dismissed as peddlers of false conspiracy theories – warned of “peak oil”. That was the idea that the fuel on which the global economy ran either had peaked or soon would do. As the oil ran out, or became more expensive to extract, economic growth would slow, wages would fall, and inequality between rich and poor would increase.

This was likely to have dramatic political consequences too: resource wars abroad (inevitably camouflaged as “humanitarian intervention”); more polarised domestic politics; greater popular dissatisfaction; the return of charismatic, even fascist, leaders; and a resort to violence to solve political problems.

The arguments about peak oil continue. Judged by some standards, the production peak arrived in the 1970s. Others say, with the aid of fracking and other harmful technologies, the turning-point is due about now. But the kind of world predicted by peak oil theory looks to have been unfolding since at least the 1980s. The crisis in neoliberal economics was underscored by the 2008 global economic crash, whose shockwaves are still with us.

On top of all this, there are looming ecological and climate catastrophes intimately tied to the fossil-fuel economy on which the global corporations have grown fat. This Gordian knot of globe-spanning self-harm urgently needs unpicking.

Biden has neither the temperament nor the political manoeuvre room to take on these mammoth challenges and solve them. Inequality is going to increase during his term. The technocrats are again going to be exposed once again as impotent – or complicit – as plutocracy entrenches. The ecological crisis is not going to be dealt with beyond largely empty promises and posturing.

There will be lots of talk in the media about the need to give Biden more time to show what he can do and demands that we keep quiet for fear of ushering back Trumpism. This will be designed to lose us yet more valuable months and years to address urgent problems that threaten the future of our species.

The age of populism

The ability of the technocratic class to manage growth – wealth accumulation for the rich, tempered by a little “trickle down” to stop the masses rising up – is coming to an end. Growth is over and the technocrat’s toolbox is empty.

We are now in the age of political populism – a natural response to burgeoning inequality.

On one side is the populism of the Trumpers. They are the small-minded nationalists who want to blame everyone but the real villains – the corporate elite – for the west’s declining fortunes. As ever, they will search out the easiest targets: foreigners and “immigrants”. In the US, the Republican party has been as good as taken over by the Tea party. The US right is not going to repudiate Trump for his defeat, they are going to totemise him because they understand his style of politics is the future.

There are now Trumps everywhere: Boris Johnson in the UK (and waiting in the wings, Nigel Farage); Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil; the Le Pen dynasty in France; Viktor Orban in Hungary. They are seeding the return of xenophobic, corporate fascism.

The corporate media would have us believe that this is the only kind of populism that exists. But there is a rival populism, that of the left, and one that espouses cooperation and solidarity within nations and between them.

Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the US are the first shoots of a global reawakening of class-conscious politics based on solidarity with the poor and oppressed; of renewed pressure for a social contract, in contrast to the worship of survival-of-the-fittest economics; of a reclaiming of the commons, communal resources that belong to us all, not just the strongmen who seized them for their own benefit; and, most importantly, of an understanding, lost sight of in our industrialised, consumption-obsessed societies, that we must find a sustainable accommodation with the rest of the living world.

This kind of left wing populism has a long pedigree that dates back nearly 150 years. It flourished in the inter-war years in Europe; it defined the political battle-lines in Iran immediately after the Second World War; and it has been a continual feature of Latin American politics.

Warped logic

As ever, the populism of the nationalists and bigots has the upper hand. And that is no accident.

Today’s globalised wealth elite prefer neoliberal, technocratic politics that keep borders open for trade; that treat the labouring poor as human chattel, to be moved around on a global chess board as a way to force wages down; and that ensure the elite can stash its ill-gotten gains away on island sanctuaries far from the tax man.

But when technocratic politics is on its death bed, as it is now, the corporate elite will always settle for the populism of a Trump or a Farage over the populism of the left. They will do so even if right wing populism risks constraining their financial empires, because left wing populism does much worse: it upends the warped logic on which the corporate elite’s entire hoarded wealth depends, threatening to wipe it out.

If the corporate elite can no longer find a way to foist a neoliberal technocrat like Biden on the public, they will choose the populism of a Trump over the populism of a Sanders every time. And as they own the media, they can craft the stories we hear: about who we are, what is possible and where we are heading. If we allow it, our imaginations will be twisted and deformed in the image of the deranged totem they choose.

We can reclaim politics – a politics that cares about the future, about our species, about our planet – but to do so we must first reclaim our minds.

The post Biden will fail to bring back "normal" politics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Stop Press: No Left Turn

When one is stuck in traffic with an old car, in my case a 1962 Mercedes diesel, with no power anything, and merely 45 bhp to deal with younger cars, there is no temptation to aggressive driving. Despite the fact that a Mercedes is a classic man’s car, there is no machismo with a vehicle that tops at 120 km/h. However, what driving such a car makes obvious is just how few good drivers there are on the road despite, or perhaps because of, the advances in automotive technology.

Today’s drivers take no note of safety intervals or speed limits because they do not know what a braking distance is. Modern technology has bred something like autism, not only through contaminated vaccines, as a state of culture. Dementia is also not confined to the aged but clearly is a kind of lifestyle now.

For the last four years people writing, also in these pages, have reiterated ad nauseum the chant that the reigning POTUS is “the worst ever” in addition to other insults disguised as political analysis. As I wrote in 2017, what these people truly mean is that Donald Trump says what they really think but would not dare to say. He also speaks the language of ordinary power — not his but the power that the Anglo-American ruling elite can muster from the heartland — with its killer Iowa farm boys — to the urban metropolises on either coast with their thousands of underpaid, overambitious scriveners serving every segment of the American Dream machine — from Right to farthest Right. The Left in the US was killed off, banned or exiled by 1974. Everything else under that banner is mere sentimentality.

As the so-called Left — in that sense Mr Trump was only using domestic terminology — set out to prove, together with the sponsorship of other government agencies, that indeed a coup d’etat was possible without a US Embassy, it became apparent — at least from RoW — why the US Empire will never be ended by Columbia’s progressives.

I could go into far greater detail but I have written enough over the past years to explain myself.

Here I would like to highlight the most grievous moments of dishonesty. As I noted above people who sit in modern motor vehicles and believe that their road travel is driving are deluded. They cannot even hear their engine. They do not feel the speed. They are not able to detect the differences between their own cocoon on wheels and the rest of the environment with its diversity.

Since the AP presumed to declare the victor in this year’s POTUS contest, everyone from the FT to the usual “leftie” writers that post here, blatantly disregards the US Constitution and the election laws in force. Even in the 19th century there was an instance where the Electoral College chose a candidate who had not obtained the majority of the popular vote.1 That is a legal risk of the fundamental law that the so-called “Left” has yet to change. The reigning POTUS has every right to remain in office and to exhaust every remedy to assert his claims — by no means irrational or unjustified given the four years of uninterrupted threats by his opponents to use any means to remove him — that what was no doubt the greatest single electoral fraud in US history is tried and duly adjudicated.

I find the word hypocrisy weak because it suggests that the people who say one thing and do another are engaged in a petty offense. I do not believe that the “Left” of which I write here is hypocritical. Rather they believe as little in law or democracy as those whom they oppose. The adamance with which on one hand Mr Trump’s charges are dismissed and on the other hand simultaneous apologies are given for the fascists who dominate the Democratic Party (personified in the Bush-Clinton gang) shows, or ought to show, that what presents itself as “Left” or “progressive” in the US (and among their foreign friends) is just the low budget imperialism with which German Social Democrats supported the slaughter of World War I.

I could name names. However, I just had lunch and that would only add to my dyspepsia.

If those who feel they have overtaken the “worst person” on the road that ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are already celebrating, they should recall that in the course of four years Mr Trump has survived even impeachment proceedings. The campaign against Mr Trump did not increase the number of Democratic Party hacks in Congress, but reduced it.

Perhaps I am too obsessed with slow moving vehicles and historical comparisons. However, it is worth recalling that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery and Jim Crow. It was a Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, who extended Jim Crow to the federal civil service and assured its enforcement in the military. It took a war the US started in Korea and nearly lost (that war is also not yet over) to force an otherwise segregationist Democratic POTUS to order integration of the US military. It was the Democratic Party that dominated the corrupt urban political machines that suppressed Black and immigrant voters in the North and ran the Klan in the South. It was the Democratic Party that defeated Radical Republicans, ended Reconstruction and perpetuated the racist system in the US for another century.

So where these people who look to the Democratic Party get the nerve to claim any decency at all escapes me. Some poignant remarks from Malcolm X come to mind:

It isn’t a president who can help or hurt; it is the system. And this system is not only ruling us in America, it is ruling the world. Nowadays, when a man is running for president of the United States, he is not running for president of the United States alone; he has to be acceptable to other areas of the world where American influence rules. … the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists knew that the only way people would run toward a fox would be if you showed them a wolf.2

I can only conclude that those who revel in the supposed defeat of Donald Trump are like those drivers in new technology-saturated cocoons to which I initially referred. They have no sense of speed, or safety intervals, braking distances or even how the machine in which they sit actually operates. They do not understand the electoral mechanics and have no respect even for the formal legal structures — they have never been able to change and hence are equally obliged to accept.

They are irresponsible, reckless drivers who should never be trusted on the roads to democracy — anywhere.

  1. Note: In the 1876 US Presidential election Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was elected by the electoral college. In 1888 Democrat Grover Cleveland won the popular vote against Republican Benjamin Harrison but lost in the electoral college.
  2. Meeting of the Pan-African magazine Présence Africaine, 23 November 1964.

The post Stop Press: No Left Turn first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Leveraging the Ruling Class’s Loss of Legitimacy

The polls closed with “no winner yet in cliffhanger presidential election,” as of Wednesday evening. Despite a period of uncertainty, which is typically the nemesis of Wall Street, the Dow climbed 0.9%, the S&P 500 opened 1.5% higher, and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 2.6%.

The explanation is that the financial elites know that they win regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, which is something that some leftists, who had advocated temporarily subordinating an independent working-class alternative to campaign for the leading neoliberal candidate, did not firmly grasp.

Trouncing the contender that Noam Chomsky hyperbolically called “worse than Hitler” would be a blow to overt white supremacy. But bedrock institutional racism, entombed in the US carceral state, will still endure and the tasks of the left will remain.

Legitimizing neoliberal rule

The left’s vote was not needed to ensure a Biden victory. But it was needed to justify voting for the “lesser evil” based on the false narrative of TINA – “there is no alternative.”

The Revolutionary Communist Party, normally marginalized by the corporate media, received banner headlines when it declared for Biden. The “paper of record” for the Democratic wing of the two-party duopoly, The New York Times, opportunistically posted an op-ed by a self-described socialist because it pleaded, “leftists should vote for Biden in droves.”

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) readily acknowledged “there is no choice at the top of the ticket that would advance our movement or constitute a ‘victory’ for democratic socialism.” But that did not deter them from jumping on the Biden bandwagon. DSA seemed more worried about Biden losing than about Sanders being excluded by the DNC.

It is not the left’s responsibility to strategize how the Democrats could have run this or future campaigns. Incidentally, a Biden/Harris victory would preclude a liberalish Democrat, such as a member of the Squad, making a run as the Democratic standard bearer for next 12 to 16 years.

The contribution of those parttime leftists who campaigned for Biden was not to put him into the White House – they didn’t have the numbers to do that – but to help legitimize neoliberal rule. Their preemptive political surrender obscured the failure of a political system incapable of addressing the critical issues of our times.

Politics of fear obscured critical issues

Fear was the operational motivator for apocalyptic fantasies of a fascist coup, which served to obviate a progressive agenda. A tanking economy, a still uncontained pandemic, and unprecedented protests against racialized police brutality were attributed solely to Trump’s watch, instead of being understood as also endemic to the neoliberal order.

Neither presidential candidate advocated comprehensive healthcare in a time of pandemic, with both in effect opting for triage of the most vulnerable – people of color and the elderly. The two wings of the duopoly mainly differ on this existential health issue over the advisability of wearing face masks.

Climate catastrophe remains an existential threat. Biden may throw a few more crumbs than Trump in the direction of the alternative energy industry. But both candidates contested to see who was more enthusiastic about fracking, while they agree that tax cuts and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry will be continued. Biden’s predecessor, whom he served as VP, boasted “we’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” The next four years portends a choice of someone who denies global warming or another who believes in the science but does not act on it.

The financial elites disproportionately lavished their support on the Democrats. The oligarchs understood more clearly than certain elements of the left where their class interests reside. “Wall Street,” Politico reported, grew “giddy about Biden,” because Uncle Joe would best help recover their legitimacy while carrying their water. The financiers also hedged their bets with contributions to Trump. Along with the DNC, they understood that another four years of the current occupant would be better than a Bernie Sanders presidency for the owning class.

Game of Thrones

While the outcome of the presidential election is uncertain, the legitimacy of the ruling class has surely been sullied by the arguably ugliest campaign in recent history. The elite club must now figure out how to anoint their new emperor without further damaging their image. The hiccups over their transfer of power is their dilemma and our good fortune.

It may be too early to tell, but the widely feared Trump coup has yet to be realized. The Proud Boys, with their mail-order munitions, have yet to replace the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Nervous leftists, apprehensive about a Trump coup, are calling upon labor to wage a general strike to install a neoliberal into the White House. Joe Hill would find that ironic at best.

While “President Donald Trump has cast doubt on whether he will commit to a peaceful transfer of power,” CNN revealed, “the secretive process to prepare a would-be Biden administration has been underway for months with help from top Trump officials (emphasis added).”

Biden may now be less unpalatable than Trump, but Uncle Joe had the advantage of not being in power for the last four years. He may not look so hot after another term of neoliberal rule, characterized by increasing austerity for working people, entrenched institutional racism, oppressive surveillance and security state measures, and an aggressive imperialism abroad. Substantial differences exist between Trump and Biden, but those differences do not extend to which class they serve.

Recovering the left alternative

With record turnout, never before have so many voted for so little. Now is auspicious for alternatives to the two-party duopoly.

As reported by Alan Mcleod, Trump’s abysmal approval rating of 42% is barely edged out by Biden’s of 46%. Two-thirds of prospective Democratic voters polled claim they would be voting against Trump rather than for Biden; only a quarter of the prospective Republicans are voting so much for Trump as against the Democrats. Biden way squeak through on the appeal of not being Trump, but that will wear thin quickly.

With both major parties continuing to abandon the interests of working people, the left must either take the initiative or surrender it to a growing right wing. Rather than this being the time when never before has there been a greater need to support the lesser-evil Democrats and give them an extraordinary mandate to rule, this is a time to leverage the ruling class’s loss of legitimacy to articulate a left alternative.

Taking a left initiative, despite the loss of legitimacy of the ruling elites, is challenging. With a Republican victory, the left has historically gotten absorbed into a resistance that devolves into an assistance – the graveyard of social movements that is the Democratic Party. With a Democratic victory, the illusion of hope and that anyone’s better than Trump are false excuses to “give Biden a chance.” After campaigning for the Democrat, it will be problematic for these same left forces to credibly do an about-face and fight him. As for an independent electoral left, more rigorous party registration rules targeting left alternatives, recently imposed by Democrats, foreshadow fewer left choices on future ballots.

However, the majority of working people support a progressive agenda, which has been ignored and suppressed by the duopoly:

  • Effectively addressing global warming
  • COVID safety over economic activity and economic relief
  • Ending forever wars and sanctions, while de-escalating the threat of nuclear conflagration
  • National healthcare program modelled after Medicare
  • Opposition to the militarization of the police and preservation of civil liberties
  • Reduction of income inequality, stronger anti-trust laws, and fairly taxing wealth

These were among the critical issues that were lost in the distracting political theatre of the 2020 campaign and the basis for a renewed left initiative.

The post Leveraging the Ruling Class’s Loss of Legitimacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The US Republic, Trump and the Authoritarian Fear Mongering Club

It’s an oxymoron with a long history: American democracy.  In referring to the United States, it does not exist.  Nor does it take a follower of refrigerated communism to note the obvious point that democracy plays a small part in the processes of the US political system. It is a republic, with all the glorious, problematic and deep seated problems that term implies.  Factions are held in check; neither must get too powerful.  To ensure political, propertied stability, the worst side of human nature is to be guarded against.  One way lies the rule of the mob; the other, the tyrant.

The conservative Heritage Foundation, in a report published in June 2020, reiterates the point.  “America is a republic.”  It was never meant to be a “pure democracy”.  Issue is taken with various non-republican solutions which are becoming popular: Congressional-term limits; abandoning the Senatorial filibuster; inflating the number of Supreme Court justices; “developing more effective and immediate ways to express the will of the majority”.

One initiative intended to shore up the democratic deficit has come in the proposal to circumvent or abolish the Electoral College, an idea that captured the imaginations of Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) in April last year.  The Electoral College damns numerical voting majorities in favour of overly weighted college votes.  The US republic has witnessed five instances when the popular vote did not carry the day: 2016, 2000, 1888, 1876 and 1824.

In introducing a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College system, Senator Schatz suggested that “the person who gets the most votes should win.  It’s that simple.”  For Senator Durbin, “the Electoral College is a relic from a shameful period in our nation’s history, and allows some votes to carry greater weight than others.”

The issue of making elections more direct to popular voice is a debate worth having.  But it is hard to imagine these senators being as enthusiastic to such reform had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election for their party.

The creation of the US republic – by white, privileged land owners fearful of either a return to monarchy or the usurpation of democratic impulse – suggested the need for containment, neutralisation, the levelling out of factional interest.  Extol the virtues of human nature; but ensure that such nature be contained by such doctrines as the separation of power.  As James Madison wrote in the tenth essay of the Federalist Papers (1787), “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.”

Such a background is instructive in debunking the false option available to US voters on November 3.  One recurring theme here is that of democracy versus Trump.  This was always a false opposition, and continues the libel against his supporters perpetrated with disastrous import by Hillary Clinton.  (Never forget “the basket of deplorables”.)  In the initial days after the 2016 presidential election, there were voices to be heard in San Francisco’s Castro District calling, not for more democracy but less: the disenfranchisement of ignorant voters who could let such a man have the keys to the White House.  Early on, the seeds of the Russia canard was also sown, an attempt by a traumatised establishment to suggest that the man in the White House was nothing more than a puppet of the Kremlin.  All of this served, at least for the Democrats and Trump’s critics, to distract from the weaknesses and problems that had imperilled their own political position.  Losses can always be explained away by exogenous cause, a method of deflection Trump knows all too well.

During Trump’s time in office, the spectre of tyranny has not been realised.  It was predicted by some conservatives and those of more progressive bent in the initial days of the presidency.  Yes, the president has fiddled and courted external powers to assist his political efforts; attacked the fourth estate; mocked science and its high priests as a pandemic rages; embraced the odd conspiracy theory on the way; tampered with appointments.  He has brought Twitter and Fox News into the White House.  Reality television has become staple in a presidency that has, at times, resembled a grotesque caricature of power rather than power itself.  But for all that, the optimistic might have much to say that the Republic, despite ailing, still has some fight in it.

This has not stopped commentary from the presidium of talking heads warning about Trump as the anti-democratic, even totalitarian figure, suggesting that a vote for Joe Biden is somehow more democratic, more decent and enlightened.  On the eve of the US election, we have scholars of authoritarianism and fascism signing a letter with a less than subtle allusion to the president that democracy “is either withering or in full-scale collapse globally”.  The scholars lament the passing of a golden era “in the years following the end of the Cold War,” when “democracy appeared to be flourishing everywhere”.

It does not make much time for the signers of the letter to get to the president.  “Whether Donald J. Trump is a fascist, post-fascist populist, an autocrat, or just a bumbling opportunist, the danger to democracy did not arrive with his presidency and goes well beyond November 3rf, 2020.”  It is admirable for the signatories to take the long view, though such language can come across as silly.  For one, the scholars, having been so caught up with seeing authoritarianism everywhere, have probably neglected to identify the content of democracy with any precision.  There is also surely a vast difference between terms such as “fascist” and a “bumbling opportunist” but labels in the academe can start to clot the mix of reason after a time.

In such cases, it becomes easy to adopt a didactic tone of warning.  Mark Kenny of the Australian National University’s Australian Studies Institute does just that, taking aim at the US voter.  “A decisive rejection of Trumpism offers national redemption.  His re-election, the opposite.  In 2020, there will be no innocence and no buyer’s remorse.”  The problem, as always with such assessments of Trump, is that this president was not responsible for the US republic’s banishment from Eden.  There was never any innocence to take in the first place.

The post The US Republic, Trump and the Authoritarian Fear Mongering Club first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Countering Rightward Drift In The United States: This Struggle Is Long Term

This week, people are planning protests across the nation beginning the day after the election. Some, like Democratic Party-aligned groups and unions, will only demonstrate if President Trump loses and refuses to leave office. Trump will fail if he tries because the ruling class has clearly shifted its support to Biden. Professor Adrienne Pine explains this in her analysis of the opposition to Trump. Others such as issues-based groups, coalitions and community groups are planning to take the streets no matter what the outcome of the election is.

This is good news because a mass mobilization of left and progressive groups is needed to change the rightward direction in which the United States is headed. Michael J. Smith’s explanation of the “ratchet effect” describes the roles both Republicans and Democrats have played in moving our politics in that direction since 1968. In a nutshell, each time the Republicans moved to the right, the Democrats followed with the excuse that it’s necessary to win votes. This locks in the rightward motion, opening space for Republicans to move to the rightward again.

But Smith also writes, “the Democratic Party has assumed the role of ensuring that the countervailing pressure from the Left doesn’t happen. The party contains and neutralizes the Left, or what there is of it. Left voters are supposed to support the Democrat, come what may.” This is one of the reasons why the expression “the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements” exists. How do we counteract that?

2020 vision on who we are

In a recent episode of Eleanor Goldfield’s series, Deception 2020, she and Eugene Puryear discuss why the trope of “this is the most important election ever” is recycled in every presidential election. It serves as a great distractor that puts the focus on personalities rather than the broader social context of where we are. It pits Republican and Democratic voters against each other while the ruling class plays both sides, putting the most money on the one that has the best chance of winning. The people hold their noses and vote for whomever they consider to be the lesser evil while the wealthy class knows their interests will be served no matter who wins.

The year 2020 has brought into clear focus that we are living in a failed state and can’t afford to be drawn into this distraction.  The number of new COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000 in one day. The recession is likely to deepen into a prolonged depression due to Congress’ failure to provide supports for families and their businesses and farms. The climate crisis is raging. And structural racist violence goes on in all of its forms while the Pentagon continues its insatiable consumption of the federal budget leaving austerity for the rest of us

Instead of being caught up in this “political ping pong”, as Kevin Zeese would call it, we need to focus on these grave issues before us. I learned some lessons to avoid this ping pong during my involvement with the health reform process in 2009-10 when we were advocating for national improved Medicare for all while the Democrats were pushing their version of a healthcare bill that protected the profits of the health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and big businesses.

The lesson is best summarized using the acronym “ICU.” Think of it as what is needed, especially in a time of crisis. The “I” stands for independent. It is important not to tie our issue to the agenda of a political party but to maintain independence from them while we press for what we need, lest our struggle be co-opted. The “C” stands for clarity, meaning we must be clear about what we are demanding. Members of the corporate duopoly will always try to water our demands down with proposals that may sound positive but are less than what we need. Look at the Democrat’s Green New Deal as a current example that protects the dirty energy industries and is too little, too late. And the “U” stands for uncompromising. The ruling class will always tell us we are asking for too much but we can’t compromise on fundamentals such as health care, housing, education, financial security and an end to violence against us. These are universal basic needs that nobody should be denied.

With this 2020 vision, we can mobilize a broad movement that puts forth a bold agenda of what we need and fights for it, no matter who is elected. This is how we reverse the ratchet effect. We can look to Chile as a recent example of a people succeeding in their struggle to reverse the ravages of neoliberalism. Patricio Zamorano describes how a similar situation to what we face, great inequality and injustice, drove people to mobilize despite severe repression and win the right to remake their Constitution.

Jeff Bachner/New York Daily News.

Violence on the rise

One reality we must prepare for is the continued rise in right wing violence no matter who wins the election. If Trump wins and people continue to struggle to end the injustices we face, right wing extremists will be emboldened by a president who encourages them. If Biden wins, they will be angered at what they view as a threat to the gains they have made and may lash out.

In light of this, communities need to organize to be vigilant to what is happening around them and to be proactive in creating structures that provide safety and mutual aid, particularly for those who are most vulnerable.

We live in an era of great polarization. This is expected because it goes hand in hand with great inequality and it often precedes moments of social transformation. Think of it as heightening the contradictions and forcing a choice. Who are we and how do we want our society to be?

George Lakey puts the polarization into historical context. Almost one hundred years ago, when extreme polarization existed in Europe, some countries moved to fascist dictatorships while others moved to socialized democracies. The difference was how the people organized and mobilized. Lakey suggests a road map.

If people who consider themselves left or progressive fail to organize and mobilize, we may go the way of a fascist dictatorship no matter who wins this presidential election. If Trump wins, he may do what others have done by trying to further consolidate his power into an authoritarian state. If Biden wins, and he continues the neoliberal and repressive policies that have marked his 47 years in elected office, then the conditions will be created in 2024 or beyond for another Democratic Party loss and an opening for a right wing leader who is more effective than Trump at consolidating power.

Either way we must mobilize and protect our rights. While most of our organizing will take place outside the electoral system because that is where we have power, it will also be necessary to focus on preserving whatever democratic rights exist and strengthening them.

Common Cause NY.

Protecting and improving the election process

As flawed as the electoral process in the United States is, it is the system we currently have. Fair election and third party activists have been working to change it for decades. Now, as it is on so many issues, the major problems with that system – voter suppression, lack of transparency and the process for choosing a president – are more evident.

While the United States has never been a democracy, in fact a look at the founding of the country shows the ruling class who wrote the Constitution were afraid of it, the people believe in democracy. Focusing on democratic rights in this election will bring people together and build momentum to change the system.

Focusing on what President Trump says is a distraction. Recall that Trump was also saying that he would not commit to accepting the outcome in the lead up to the 2016 election. The Democrats and the groups aligned with them are amplifying fears to drive voter turn out, and it seems to be working. The latest Gallup Poll finds almost 70% of registered voters are enthusiastic about the election, which is an increase from the 50% who were enthusiastic in 2016 and similar to 2008 levels. This is highest among registered Democrats.

Five Thirty Eight predicts that due to the electoral process in a few states, for example Pennsylvania is not allowed to start counting mail-in ballots until Tuesday, and the way the states are looking right now, neither of the major party candidates could reach the required 270 electoral votes on election night. It could take a few days.

This is not cause for panic. Instead, let’s take a collective deep breath and watch for problems with the process in our states. Documenting these can be used to challenge and improve the process for the next round. Already, people have been challenging the election process with more than 300 lawsuits filed in 44 states.

There is a small chance that President Trump will be re-elected. If that happens, it will be critical to respect that result. To reject an outcome of the election process we have opens the door to a breakdown of that system and a vacuum that could threaten the hope of building more democratic structures.

Remember, no matter what happens on November 3, our struggle goes on. It is a long term struggle against deeply entrenched structures of racism, capitalism, colonialism and imperialism that will have successes and failures. Our best chance for a better future is to keep our eye on the world we hope to create and keep working toward that goal.

The post Countering Rightward Drift In The United States: This Struggle Is Long Term first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Class Consciousness in the Age of COVID

Prior to the appearance of COVID-related restrictions and lockdowns, neoliberal capitalism had turned to various mechanisms in the face of economic stagnation and massive inequalities: the raiding of public budgets, the expansion of credit to consumers and governments to sustain spending and consumption, financial speculation and militarism.

Part and parcel of this has been a strategy of ‘creative destruction’ that has served to benefit an interlocking directorate of powerful oil, agribusiness, armaments and financial interests, among others. For these parties, what matters is the ability to maximise profit by shifting capital around the world, whether on the back of distorted free trade agreements which open the gates for plunder or through coercion and militarism which merely tear them down.

In the so-called ‘developed’ nations, notably in the US and the UK, along the way millions of jobs have been offshored to cheap labour economies. In effect, societies have become hollowed out. They have increasingly resembled empty boxes whereby the main component lurking inside is a giant mechanical hand of government and media propaganda with the threat of state violence lying in wait. And its only function is to pull the lid shut if anyone ever dares to tear it open and shed light on things. If successful, they will see the immorality, the lies, the hypocrisies.

And they would also be able to identify cynical methods of social control that have assumed a different level in 2020 with constant COVID fear propaganda being pumped out on a daily basis. If we take the UK, the fact is that excess deaths in 2020 are not out of the ordinary when looking back over a 25-year period.

But we continue to see the rolling out of near-endless restrictions and tiered lockdowns across the country based on questionable PCR tests and the designation of healthy, asymptomatic people as ‘cases’. The narrative has shifted from COVID deaths and ‘flattening the curve’ to an obsession with ‘cases’ as the curve became flattened and COVID-related deaths bottomed out. Even at the height of government- and media-driven COVID paranoia, over 90% of ‘COVID deaths’ were most likely due to the serious co-morbidities listed on the death certificates of the mainly over-75s who make up the vast majority of such deaths.

COVID marks a crucial stage of neoliberal capitalism. Under yet another strategy of creative destruction, millions of livelihoods across the world continue to be destroyed and small businesses are on the edge of bankruptcy.

But this is precisely what is supposed to happen when we acknowledge that it is all part of the ‘great reset’ as explained by the recent article ‘Klaus Schwab and his great fascist reset’ which appeared on the OffGuardian website: a transformation of society resulting in permanent restrictions on fundamental liberties and mass surveillance as entire sectors are sacrificed to boost the bottom line of the pharmaceuticals corporations, the high-tech/big data giants, Amazon, Google, major global chains, the digital payments sector, biotech concerns, etc.

In other words, a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which historian Luciana Bohne recently noted on her Facebook page is going to result in a different economy based on new businesses and sectors. In turn, this means older enterprises are to be driven to bankruptcy or absorbed into monopolies. It also entails massive job losses.

Although COVID is being blamed, Bohne notes that the shutting down of the old economy was already happening as there was insufficient growth, well below the minimum tolerable 3% level to maintain the viability of capitalism.

Bohne quotes the World Bank to underline her point:

In order to reverse this serious setback [COVID] to development progress and poverty reduction, countries will need to prepare for a different economy post-COVID, by allowing capital, labor, skills, and innovation to move into new businesses and sectors. 1

Economies are being ‘restructured’ and ‘downsized’ and COVID restrictions and lockdowns are being used as a battering ram to implement this agenda.

It is very revealing that Matt Hancock, British minister for health, gave a speech to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in October 2017. Klaus Schwab was also in attendance.

Hancock stated:

And I’m delighted to speak alongside so many impressive colleagues who really understand this, and alongside Professor Klaus Schwab who literally ‘wrote the book’ on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Your work, bringing together as you do all the best minds on the planet, has informed what we are doing, and I’m delighted to work with you.

If readers take time to read the aforementioned piece, they may well be disturbed by many of the beliefs Schwab holds for the future. And now, three years on from Hancock’s presentation, we are seeing him play an active role in implementing the type of scenario Schwab has set out in his various books and speeches by rolling out further restrictions and phased lockdowns, mass surveillance measures, vaccination projects, authoritarian government and economic devastation.

Hancock really does seem to be taking his cue from the influential Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

COVID is being used to inject neoliberal capitalism with new life by destroying livelihoods and implementing a social and economic tectonic shift. If people in the richer countries are perplexed by the destruction of livelihoods under the pretext of COVID, they need look no further than India to appreciate why governments wage financial and social war on their own people and the type of brutality they are capable of and whose interests they ultimately serve.

There is a plan for the future of that country and most of its current farmers do not have a role in it. India remains an agrarian-based society with over 60% of the population still relying on agriculture either directly or indirectly for their livelihood.

Successive administrations have been making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of agriculture and into the cities to work in construction, manufacturing or the service sector, despite these sectors not creating anything like the number of jobs required. By uprooting the agrarian base, we are seeing a fundamental attack on Indian society.

The aim is to displace the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will then control the sector. Agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods, while feeding the urban masses.

As is currently happening in the West, small independent concerns (in this case, smallholder farmers) are being driven to bankruptcy. So why would anyone set out to deliberately run down what is effectively a productive system of agriculture that feeds people, sustains livelihoods and produces sufficient buffer stocks? Similarly, why in 2020 are governments facilitating economic destruction?

Politicians are effectively facilitating the needs of global capital and all it entails: a system based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out, create or expand into new, untapped markets to maintain profitability.

India’s agrarian base is being destroyed at the behest of predatory commercial interests (via the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, World Bank directives and WTO policies) and the peasantry is being dealt a knock-out blow so global agribusiness and retail concerns can capture financially lucrative markets and further incorporate the agri-food sector into their global supply chains.

Looking at the Industrial Revolution in England, historian Michael Perelman has detailed the processes that whipped the English peasantry into a workforce coerced into factory wage labour. Peasants left their land to work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of industrial capitalists. Perelman describes the policies through which peasants were forced out of agriculture, not least by the barring of access to common land. A largely self-reliant population was starved of its productive means.

It was brutal, just like ongoing developments in India. And what we are now seeing are vested interests forcing through a Fourth Industrial Revolution across the world. This too is brutal and is also having dire consequences in places like India as I have previously outlined in the article ‘Coronavirus Capitalism: Entrenching Dispossession and Dependency’.

The encouragement of identity politics, narcissism, apathy and consumerism’s irretrievable materialism, among other things, have undermined ordinary people’s capacity for action. Not so the billionaire class pushing through the ‘great reset’ which is acutely aware of its own interests.

A lack of class consciousness among ordinary people debilitates their ability to unite and recognise that their interests and those of the government and the people they really serve are diametrically opposed. Free from the shackles of mainstream propaganda, ordinary people would be better placed to resist current restrictions and challenge the prevailing narrative on COVID.

Unfortunately, those who might be expected to be pivotal in this – prominent figures and media outlets which claim to be of the ‘left’ – have failed to lead by example and have capitulated to the agenda of those who are driving the COVID narrative, the restrictions, the fear, the rolling out of draconian surveillance and rushed-through vaccines and the economic devastation leading to millions of job losses.

What must be regarded as the ‘establishment left’ has done little more than cheer-lead restrictions and lockdowns.

  1. World Bank, October 2020 Report.

The post Class Consciousness in the Age of COVID first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Left-Democrats Abandon Struggle for the Working Class to the Right

All indications are that Joe Biden is heading for a landslide win. Losers will be Trump and those Republicans who have not already defected to the Democrat’s big tent. Collateral damage, however, may be the progressive cause. Some leftists have advocated temporarily subordinating an independent working-class alternative to campaign for the leading neoliberal candidate.

For example, the Open Letter: Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden argues for “the most urgent task – defeating Trump in the election with as big an Electoral College margin as possible, to undermine his predictable efforts to steal the election.” Among the 55 signatories of the open letter are some of the most dedicated and productive people on the progressive left.

Many of them would agree that ultimately there needs to be a political force representing working people not tied to the dictates of capital – but now is not the time. The open-letter signatories contend, “Protestations that Biden is beholden to elites are true but beside the point.”

The left’s vote is not needed to ensure a Biden victory, but is needed to justify voting for the “lesser evil” based on the false narrative of TINA – “there is no alternative.” That is, the contribution of the part-time leftists that campaigned for Biden is not to put him into the White House but to legitimize his neoliberal rule.

Current predicament of the ruling class transition of power

Despite the fear-based speculation by other left-Democrats that “the fading 77-year-old Biden will blow-up much of his polling lead,” his expected win should be anticipated. A tanking economy, a still uncontained pandemic, and unprecedented protests against racialized police brutality all are attributed to Trump’s watch.

The financial elites are disproportionately lavishing their support on the Democrats. In contrast to Trump frantically crisscrossing the country holding campaign rallies, Biden is comfortably resting at home with a too-big-to-fail war chest, letting his campaign’s domination of the airwaves carry the day. Combined spending for all 2020 campaigns is projected to be $10.8 billion, substantially greater than the GDP of Haiti.

Yet for certain left-Democrats (not the open-letter signatories) democratic electoral means to remove the “preening Antichrist” are insufficient. They demand “Trump out now,” arguing “the world can’t wait until January 20th, 2021 for the defenestration of this lethal lunatic.”

Some of the same people, who believe Trump “continues to lie” and is moronic, delusional, and incompetent, also believe Trump can carry off a coup. Trump, they claim, will command “white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their ‘enemies’ if he loses on Election Day.” Adding, “Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed.”

Those who find this coup scenario somewhat hyperbolic are accused of “naivete and [taking] childish enablement of abuse to new levels.”

Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace and a proponent of a third party alternative observes:

Democrats and deeply confused radicals are [in] a race to see who can advance the most farfetched notions of a pending Trump coup. All of it is quite insulting. Why would [the] ruling class risk a revolt and support a Trump coup and what elements of the state would support it? What childishness!

The Secret Service may have to pry Trump out of the Resolute Desk and physically escort him from the White House. But how the ruling class handles their transition of power from one emperor to the next is not our problem. Differences exist between the pretenders to the Oval Office, but those differences do not extend to which class they serve.

Rather than this being the time when never before has there been a greater need to support the lesser-evil Democrats and give them an extraordinary mandate to rule, this is a time to leverage the ruling class’s loss of legitimacy to articulate a left alternative. We should be celebrating splits in the ruling class and welcoming their internecine warfare. Polarization, rather than unity and harmony with the ruling class, is what class struggle is about.  If the left does not rise to the occasion, the right will.

Regaining the initiative after the preemptive surrender of a left alternative

In synchrony with the Democrat’s suppression of the Green Party, the left Biden boosters explicitly rejected the argument that “more votes for the Green Party’s or any other third party’s presidential candidate are necessary to win long-term progressive goals.” For sure, the victorious Democrats will not be returning any favors to their leftist supporters, who counselled us to subordinate other progressive struggles to “the most important goal” of campaigning for Biden.

More stringent party registration rules targeting left alternatives, recently imposed by Democrats, foreshadow a dearth of left choices on future ballots. Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for president, comments on the eve of the election about the lack of left solidarity with an anti-neoliberal agenda: “Reliance on the lesser evil has historically led to greater evils…The result of progressives consistently settling for the Democrats as the lesser evil has created a political dynamic [that] has been moving US politics to the right for decades.”

Folks who campaigned for the new CEO of the capitalist world on Tuesday may not be as convincing when they start organizing against him on Wednesday. The Democratic Party ignored the issues of their left-leaning constituency during the campaign and are even less likely to pay any attention to them afterward. The left-Democrats’ argument that we should give Biden the vote when it counted, but “pressure” him afterward is not a resounding argument to workers looking for leadership in their struggles against neoliberalism.

The voting left will have negligible impact on this presidential election. The Greens and other left electoral alternatives will likely garner less votes than in 2016. The extant left bloc cannot swing the outcome of the presidential election, but it can be an embryo for system change if it breaks with the “graveyard of social movements,” which is the Democratic Party, and provides an independent alternative.

What is key now is to fan the embers of the independent left.  Otherwise, there will be little alternative to the rule of capital, which in its current neoliberal form portends ever increasing austerity for working people, entrenched institutional racism, oppressive surveillance and security state measures, and an aggressive imperialism abroad. With the rotten rule of capital more than ever exposed and more people, especially youth, engaged in protests such as the BLM, the progressive potential is propitious.

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