Category Archives: Politics

In the name of humanitarianism, Covid is crushing local as well as global solidarity

There seems to be a glaring illogic to official arguments about the need to vaccinate British children against Covid that no one in the corporate media wishes to highlight.

Days ago the British government’s experts on vaccinations, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, withstood strong political pressure and decided not to recommend vaccinating children aged between 12 and 15. That was because the JCVI concluded that vaccination could not be justified in the case of children on health grounds.

The implication was that the known health risks associated with vaccination for children – primarily from heart inflammation – outweighed the health benefits. The JCVI also indicated that there might be unknown, longer-term health risks too, given the lack of follow-up among young people and children who have already been vaccinated.

But while the JCVI defied the government, they did not entirely ignore the political demands of them. They offered the government’s four chief medical officers a get-out clause that could be exploited to rationalise the approval of child vaccinations: they conceded that vaccinations might offer other, non-health benefits.

Utilitarian arguments

Predictably, this utilitarian justification for child vaccinations has been seized on by the British government. Here is the Guardian uncritically regurgitating the official position:

There have also been concerns about the indirect effects of the virus on children. The biggest has been the disruption to schools, which had a severe impact on their mental and physical health, as well as their education.

That, essentially, is why the four CMOs have said children aged between 12 and 15 should be eligible for the jab.

They believe that being vaccinated will reduce the risk of disruption to school and extracurricular activities and the effect of this on their mental health and wellbeing.

Let’s unpack that argument.

Covid poses no serious threat to the overwhelming majority of children, the JCVI and the chief medical officers are agreed. (Those few children who are at risk can be vaccinated under existing rules.)

But, according to the government, Covid has inflicted physical, mental and educational suffering on children because classrooms had to be shut for prolonged periods to protect vulnerable adults in the period before the adult population could be vaccinated.

Now most adults, and almost all vulnerable adults, are vaccinated against Covid, offering them a significant degree of protection.

But still children need to be injected with a vaccine that may, on balance, do more harm to their health than good.

If this is the official argument, we should all be asking: Why?

Two scenarios

There are two potential scenarios for assessing this argument.

The first:

The vaccine works against transmission and severe illness in adults. Schools therefore no longer need to be shut down to protect the adult population. Adults are now largely safe – unless they have decided not to get vaccinated. And that, in turn, means that “indirect” harm to children’s mental and physical wellbeing caused by school closures should no longer be a consideration.

If this is the case, then there are no grounds – either health ones or indirect, non-health ones – to justify vaccinating children.

The second:

The vaccine doesn’t stop transmission and severe illness, but it reduces some transmission and mitigates the worst effects of Covid. This is what the evidence increasingly suggests.

If this is the case, then vaccinating children will not only fail to stop a proportion of them catching and transmitting Covid but it will also fail in its stated purpose: preventing the future closure of schools and the associated, indirect harms to children.

Worse, at the same time vaccination may increase children’s risk of damage to their health from the vaccine itself, as the JCVI’s original conclusion implies.

Just to be clear, as the “follow the science” crowd prepare yet again to be outraged, these are not my arguments. They are implicit in the official reasoning of the experts assessing whether to vaccinate children. They have been ignored on political grounds, because the government would prefer to look like it is actively getting us “back to normal”, and because it has chosen to put all its eggs in the easy (and profitable) vaccine basket.

If vaccines are all that is needed to solve the pandemic, then there is no need to look at other things, such as the gradual dismantling of the National Health Service by successive governments, very much including the current one; our over-consumption economies; nutrient-poor diets promoted by the farming and food industries; and much else besides.

Unadulterated racism

There are, in fact, much more obvious, unequivocal reasons to oppose vaccinating children – aside from the matter that vaccination subordinates children’s health to the adult population’s wellbeing on the flimsiest of pretexts.

First, vaccination doses wasted on British children could be put to far better use vaccinating vulnerable populations in the Global South. There are good self-interested reasons for us to back this position, especially given the fact that the fight is against a global pandemic in a modern world that is highly interconnected.

But more altruistic – and ethical – concerns should also be at the forefront of discussions too. Our lives aren’t more important than those of Africans or Asians. To think otherwise – to imagine that we deserve a third or fourth booster shot or need to vaccinate children to reduce the risk of Covid deaths in the west to near-zero – is pure, unadulterated racism.

And second, a growing body of medical reseach indicates that natural immunity confers stronger, longer-lasting protection against Covid.

Given that the virus poses little medical threat to children, the evidence so far suggests they would be better off catching Covid, as apparently half of them already have.

That is both because it serves their own interests by developing in them better immunity against future, nastier variants; and because it serves the interests of the adults around them – assuming (and admittedly it’s a big assumption) that the goal here is not to have adults dependent on endless booster shots to prevent waning immunity and enrich Pfizer.

Worst of both worlds

By contrast, the approach the British government is pursuing – and most of the corporate media is cheerleading – is the worst of both worlds.

British officials want to treat Covid as a continuing menace to public health, one that apparently can never be eradicated. A state of permanent emergency means the government can accrue to itself ever increasing powers, including for surveillance, on the pretext that we are in an endless war against the virus.

But at the same time the government’s implicit “zero tolerance” approach to Covid – in this case, a futile ambition to prevent any hospitalisations or deaths from the virus in the UK – means that the interests of British children, and populations in foreign countries we helped to impoverish through our colonial history, can be sacrificed for the good of adults in rich western countries.

The combined effect of these two approaches is to foster a political climate in which western governments and the corporate media are better placed to replicate the colonial policy priorities they have traditionally pursued abroad but this time apply them to the home front.

The supposed war against the virus – a war that children apparently must be recruited to fight on our behalf – rather neatly echoes the earlier, now discredited and unravelling “war on terror”.

Both can be presented as threats to our civilisation. Both require the state to redirect vast resources to corporate elites (the “defence” industries and now Big Pharma). Both have led to widespread fear among the populace, making it more compliant. Both require a permanent state of emergency and the sacrifice of our liberties. Both have been promoted in terms of a bogus humanitarianism. And neither war can be won.

Dog eat dog

Recognising these parallels is not the same as denial, though the government and media have every interest to cultivate this as an assumption. There were and are terrorists, even if the term readily gets mangled to serve political agendas. And there is a dangerous virus that vulnerable populations need protection from.

But just as the “terror” threat arose in response to – and to mask – our arrogant, colonial control over, and plundering of, other people’s resources, so this pandemic threat appears to have arisen, in large part, from our arrogant invasion of every last habitat on the planet, and our ever less healthy, consumption-driven lifestyles.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote an article that went viral called “A lesson coronavirus is about to teach the world“. In it, I argued that our capitalist societies, with their dog-eat-dog ideologies, were the least suited to deal with a health crisis that required solidarity, both local and global.

I noted that Donald Tump, then the US president, was trying to secure an early, exclusive deal for a “silver bullet” – a vaccine – whose first doses he planned to reserve for Americans as a vote-winner at home and then use as leverage over other states to reward those who complied with his, or possibly US, interests. The planet could be divided into friends and foes – those who received the vaccine and those who were denied it.

It was a typically Trumpian vanity project that he did not realise. But in many ways, it has come to pass in a different fashion and in ways that have the potential to be more dangerous than I could foresee.

Divide and rule

The vaccine has indeed been sold as a silver bullet, a panacea that lifts from our shoulders not just the burden of lockdowns and masks but the need for any reflection on what “normal life” means and whether we should want to return to it.

And just as Trump wanted to use vaccine distribution as a tool of divide-and-rule, the vaccination process itself has come to serve a similar end. With the quick roll-out of vaccines, our societies have almost immediately divided between those who demand vaccine passports and mandates as the price for inclusion and those who demand the protection of basic liberties and cultivation of social solidarity without conditions.

In popular discourse, of course, this is being spun as a fight between responsible vaxxers and irresponsible anti-vaxxers. That is more divide-and-rule nonsense. Those in favour of vaccination, and those who have been vaccinated, can be just as concerned about the direction we are heading in as the “anti-vaxxers”.

Fear has driven our division: between those who primarily fear the virus and those who primarily fear western elites whose authoritarian instincts are coming to the fore as they confront imminent economic and environmental crises they have no answers for.

Increasingly, where we stand on issues surrounding the pandemic has little to do with “the science” and relates chiefly to where each of us stands on that spectrum of fear.

Hoarding impulse

The vaccination of children highlights this most especially, which is why I have chosen to focus on it. We want children vaccinated not,, because the research suggests they need it or society benefits from it, but because knowing they are vaccinated will still our fear of the virus a little more.

Similarly, we want foreigners denied the vaccine – and that is the choice we make when we prioritise our children being vaccinated and demand booster shots for ourselves – because that too will allay our fears.

We hoard the vaccinations, just as we once did toilet paper. We try to fortify our borders against the virus, just as we do against “immigrants”, even though the rational part of our brain knows that the virus will lap up on our shores, in new variants, unless poorer nations are in a position to vaccinate their populations too.

Our fears, the politicians’ power complexes and the corporations’ profit motives combine to fuel this madness. And in the process we intensify the dog-eat-dog ideology we call western civilisation.

We turn on each other, we prioritise ourselves over the foreigner, we set parent against child, we pit the vaccinated against the unvaccinated – all in the name of a bogus humanitarianism and solidarity.

The post In the name of humanitarianism, Covid is crushing local as well as global solidarity first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Seven Theories of Politics: The Rehabilitation of a Loaded Vice Word

The reason I wrote this article is to get people excited about the explanatory power of the word “politics” and to make sense of the world and how to change it. In Part I of this article, I brought up some of major confusions over how the word “politics” is used to describe actions as well as to define the word theoretically. I then posed 12 questions that any political theory would have to answer. The questions were:

  • Temporal reach: How far back into history does politics go?
  • Cross-species scope: Is politics an activity which is confined to the human species?
  • Spatial reach: Where is the arena in which politics takes place?
  • Political agency: Who does politics? Professionals or everyone?
  • Political action: How is politics different from strategies?
  • Interpersonal processes: How is politics different from convincing and persuading?
  • What is the relationship between politics and power? Does politics drive power or does power drive politics?
  • What is the relationship between politics and force or coercion? Are they interchangeable? Are they opposites?
  • Interdisciplinary span? To what extent is politics influenced by economics, technology, history?
  • What are the forces that shape politics?
  • What is the relationship between theories of politics and theories of political sociology?
  • What is the relationship between theories of politics and political ideologies?

Lastly, I identified seven political theories. In Part I, I focused on three political theories that occupy the centrist portion of the political spectrum: old institutionalists (mainstream political science), civil republicans and Weberian political economy. In Part II I discuss the remaining four theories: radical feminism and Marxism on the left and Rational Choice Theory and Bio-Evolutionary on the right. At the end of this article, there is a table which summarizes how each of the seven theories answers the twelve questions above.

Marxist political economy

Contradictory nature of politics in Marx

Marx’s notion about politics is contradictory. In some places he lumps together politics with religion, morals, laws and contrasts this to the economic “base”. However, in his more political writing on France, he seems to give politics more importance than in the first formulation above. In a formal sense, Marx thought that politics was a product of class conflict. In this sense, he saw the state as the concentration of political struggle. In a narrow sense, this would exclude egalitarian societies from politics because they didn’t have any classes. Yet Marx was very interested in lack of private property and in the decision-making processes of these societies. But he implies that decisions about property relations and deciding whether or not to move to a new location are not political.

Politics is inseparable from economics

In Part I, we saw institutionalists and civic republicans both accept the separation of politics from economics, and institutionalists think what they are doing is “political science”. We also saw Weberians will not make this separation, claiming that what they are doing is “political economy”.  Yet they will come down more on the side of the importance of politics. When Marx talked about economics, most explicitly in Das Kapital, Grundrisse, and in other works, he also did so out of a tradition called political economy. People like Adam Smith and David Ricardo would never separate economics from the politics of the day. Despite all these qualifications, we can safely say that for Marx there was no such thing as politics without economics. Marx would have heaped scorn on the disciplines of “political science” for ignoring the economy and the economists who pretend there is no politics in economics.

Historical sweep: politics as relative

Marx had the second broadest historical sweep of the evolution of politics because he points to changes from the relations of property going all the way back  from communal, to slave, to feudal, to capitalist property. This broad sweep of politics enabled Marx to see the relativity of politics in a way that institutionalists, civic republicans and even Weberians do not. For Marx, tribal societies practiced no politics because there were no social classes. At the visionary end of Marx’s social vision, under communism there would be no politics because the existence of social classes would be abolished. Unlike any other theoretician of politics Marx believed politics emerged at a certain, relatively recent point in human history and it would wither away at a later point. Marx’s perspective was not only historically depthful but his interdisciplinary reach included not only economics and world history, but also anthropology and sociology.

The state as passive

Both institutionalists and Weberians think that the state is very important for enacting politics, though for very different reasons. With civic republicans, Marx did not think the state was very powerful in its political activity. Marx saw the state as a relatively passive instrument of the capitalist class, its executive committee and its representative bodies as the “talking shop of the bourgeoisie”.

Place of violence in politics

Marx understood all class conflict as violent because there was a struggle between two classes for control over the natural resources, tools, finished products and power settings. The extraction of surplus value from the working class by the capitalist class with state backing gives rise to class struggle. So for Marx, as for Weber, all politics was violent, either using force explicitly or implicitly. At the same time, the forces that shaped politics were the various contradictions within capitalism.  The electoral politics of institutionalists or the civic debates in public of civic republicans do not give a voice to the working class. With Weberians, real politics takes place behind the scenes and these scenes will never include the working class. Political conflicts cannot be resolved democratically because the economic contradictions that underlie the capitalist system are not addressed.

Political sociology and political ideology

In political sociology, there are ‘functional” Marxists who do not make as much of class struggle in the area of politics as they make in trying to understand the economic contradictions of capitalism – its problems of accumulation. Yet there are others who emphasise the importance of how the class struggle impacts the accumulation process and how the contradictions under capitalism cannot be understood without taking this into account. In terms of political ideology, Marxists are all socialists – social democrats, Leninists and council communists – and all claim Marx’s writings though they differ bitterly over the interpretation of his work.

Rational Choice Theory

Neo-classical economics on the prowl of politics

We said earlier that both Institutionalism and civic republicanism accepts the separation of politics and economics as opposed to the Weberian and Marxian claim that they cannot be separated. Rational choice theory:

  1. first separates economic behavior from politics; and,
  2. takes its theory of economic exchanges and projects it onto politics. There is a kind of political unconscious.

The political realm is a kind of economic market place in which politicians pursue their interests to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs under circumstances where their resources are scarce and wants are many. Rational and collective choice understandings of politics are rooted in neoclassical micro-economics, except they are applied to non-market situations. Gary Becker even tried to apply microeconomic principles of traditional economics to families and human sexual life. He wanted to counter the moralistic, idealistic and romantic beliefs that family and sexual life are supposedly beyond economic calculations.

Unlike institutionalism and republicanism, rational choice theory argues that economically people are self-interested maximizers in their economic exchanges and this is not just a product of capitalism. Rather, they say a desire to “truck, barter and exchange” goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers.

Politics as the management of public goods

For rational choice theorists, the practice of politics is not about the process of governmental goal-setting, decision-making, and monitoring (institutionalists). Neither is it about public debate and compromise to achieve a virtuous outcome (Civic Republicans). Politics is bartering and haggling involving the public, not in a reasoned debate striving towards a collective good, but occurs under very specific public conditions. Based on a Lockean notion of social contract theory, when people are in small groups they behave rationally as individuals. But around issues that involve large groups, there is a danger of collective irrationality. What might those conditions be?

Situations that involve the management of public goods is the arena for politics. This means goods from whose benefits people cannot be excluded, such as clear air, or the conservation of resources. What differentiates political behavior from economic transactions is that in political behavior participants must be far-sighted. What to do about pubic goods does not dissolve after an immediate market exchange. It goes on indefinitely. This requires the presence of institutions and networks. Politics is a kind of market place for regulating the messy collective consequences of trading where the rate of profit is low and the long-term consequences accumulate.

Politicians are like commodities governed by the supply and demands of voting

Rational choice theorists treat politicians as if they were commodities in a market. Just as supply and demand expectations of consumers control the price of commodities, the supply and demand of people’s voting preferences drives the competition between politicians who are driven into and out of office. Rational choice theory believes in liberal democracy not in a political sense, the way the institutionalists do. Rather they believe in an economic democracy where political competition for votes leads to democratic results, just as Adam Smith believed that economic competition leads to social good.

All interpersonal processes like convincing or persuading are really economic exchanges. What would make them political is the presence of public goods. Rational choice theorists do not pay a great deal of attention to political power, because they tend to see political actions as subject to a democratic process of supply and demand. This theory pays little attention to the predominant place collective and cooperative activity – building a bridge, working on a ship – has in human social life.

Politics takes place at the point of exchange

Neoclassical economists claim that capitalists’ profits take place at the point of exchange between capitalist competitors and between individual capitalists and the marketplace. Marxian political economics argue that the most important place where profits are made is at the point of production. This means that it is in the exploitation of the worker. According to Marx, the worker produces far more social wealth – surplus value – than she receives as a wage.

Rational choice theorists ignore political processes that occur before the moment of exchange. That would be in the policy settings of think tanks, upper class social clubs, foundations, and congressional hearings which take place long before voting,  Just as they see economic profits being made at the point of exchange, rather than as Marxists do as at the point of production, so too, they see politics taking place at the point of exchange rather than at the point of political production.  The school of political sociology which fits snugly with rational choice theories are political pluralists. In terms of political ideology, rational choice theory goes best with right-wing libertarians.

Radical Feminist

Critique of the public-private separation of politics from the non-political

Radical feminism goes the furthest of any political theory in how far it carries politics into other areas of human social life. Feminists argue when institutionalists limit politics to the state and its institutions, these accepted boundaries for the arena of politics are not natural self-evident boundaries. Rather, they are the product of past political struggles which resulted in a public-private dichotomy in the first place. For them politics takes place in private settings, such as in families.

Limitations of individualist self

The liberal institutionalists have as its foundation a separate, autonomous, rational and self-subsisting self. This self is not simply describing and reflecting individual-social relations under capitalism, but it appears to be prescribing and structuring relations as if this were the only possible self. Institutionalists ignore the research that in non-capitalist societies, the self is better understood as “collectivist”.

Social contract theory

Once the individualist self is granted, the stage is set for social contract theory. Whether it be Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau, social contract theory starts with the premise that individuals really could subsist in a state of nature but as a calculating rational act, they agree that they would be even better off under social relations than in a “state of nature”. This social contract is required to create both civil society and the state. But even further back into archaic states, radical feminists argued it required sexual contract whereby domestic relations were not understood as political but private.

Capitalist state exploitation of women

Politics has been more exclusively limited to men and more self-consciously masculine than any other social practice. Given that women have conventionally been defined in terms of their relation to what is domestic, this has marginalized women as political actors. The unacknowledged foundation of male public politics is autonomous individuals. Meanwhile, what is ignored is the support and care received from women at home which is a) unpaid, and b) seen as not political. At the same time, the state denies their responsibility to intervene in family disputes. Until recently, it has excluded domestic violence as a category outside its political jurisdiction.

The socio-construction of humanity

Radical feminists reject all social contract theory, and along with Marxists, claim that human beings are social long before we become individuals. Without society, most fundamentally the relationship between mothers and their siblings, there could be no individuality. In fact, there is no such thing as an individual separate from society. It is society that transforms a biological organism – first into a human being and then into an individual. All social relations are political whenever there are resources at stake. Politics is the process by which people organize the production, distribution and use of resources to produce and reproduce their lives.

Gender is political

While agreeing with Weberian and Marxism claims that politics must include economics and history, radical feminist theory insists that the domestic politics of the family and sexuality not be excluded. It is not just in formal settings such as elections or civic debate that politics takes place, but in informal settings as well. The process by which a family decides whether to redecorate the kitchen or go on a vacation is political. When a man takes up two seats on a train with one seat occupied by his bag, and a woman standing up nearby does or does not tell the man to move his bag so she can sit down, that’s politics. When men whistle at women as they go by and women look the other way, that’s politics. Politics is embedded in language. When women end their statements as if they were questions when they are speaking in front of men, that’s politics. When women do emotional work not to appear too smart on a date to keep the man interested, that’s politics.

Power with vs power over people

Unlike all political theory, with the possible exception of Marxism, all power is not hierarchical. There can be power with people, as in egalitarian pre-state societies. There is also power over people as comes is developed in rank and stratified societies.

Power as the process

Generally, feminists are reluctant to make a separation between politics and power as means and end. An egalitarian political process has a good chance of leading to power with people. What feminists are very sensitive to is when a political process over the production, distribution and use of resources and is not egalitarian. When this is the case, it makes power vertical, power over people, no matter how noble the ends. So, when Marxist-Leninists ignore what the working class actually say it needs, when it suppresses the collective creativity of workers self-organizing attempts, its power is always vertical no matter what Leninists say about speaking for the working class.

All strategies are political

While there may be a fine line between strategizing and politics, radical feminists are likely to say it is a safer bet to assume that all strategies are political. Why? Because the cost of assuming some interaction is political when it is really strategic is not nearly as high as mistaking a move someone makes is strategic when it is really political. The same is true with any kind of influence. Convincing, persuading, and negotiating are better understood as a form of subtle politics with bribery, or force at the other extreme. For too long, women have been lulled into what appeared to be cooperative endeavors but were really manipulations of sorts. It is better to assume assertion or even aggression is the norm and then be pleasantly surprised if it turns out otherwise.

Political sociology and political ideology

In terms of political sociology, no school fits it exactly, but the political class model probably comes the closest. When it comes to political ideology, radical feminism is likely to be either social democratic or anarchist.

Biological Evolutionary

Most political theories deny politics exist among non-human species

Up until now, we haven’t addressed the question of the extent to which politics exists outside the human species. Both institutionalism and civic republicanism would explicitly deny that is possible because a) only in state societies can politics exist, or b) politics require reasoned debate which is beyond the reach of any other species. For Weberians, politics requires a state and a monopoly over the use of force which is beyond other animals. For Marxists, since animals do not have social classes (the examples of hierarchies among some of the other animals would not be deemed of the same order as social classes) there would be no politics. Rational choice theory would dismiss the possibility of politics among other animals because the whole basis of politics involves weighing the pros and cons of choices and imagining long-term consequences.

Being a social species with cooperation and sharing makes you a political species

According to Tiger and Fox (Imperial Animal), in order for politics to occur in material production, traveling together in herds and mothers taking care of their young is not enough for politics to take place. There has to be:

  1. a) a division of labor and cooperation in the process of providing food, building shelters and providing defense against attack; and,
  2. b) sharing of resources.

Since there is little or no division of labor in provisioning in other animal societies, there is no economic sphere in which to ask the question about politics’ relationship to economics.

Politics occurs in the cross-fire where genetics, socio-culture and individual learning conflict

Roger Masters takes it further, arguing that politics is the mechanism by which the human species reconciles conflicts between genetic, socio-cultural and individual learning loyalties. He points out that in any situation there are opportunities:

  • to be selfish and only consider yourself, making enemies along the way;
  • to look out for your relatives, which is kin selection and which results in nepotism;
  • to look out for your friends and forming alliances based on reciprocity; and,
  • to look out for strangers regardless of what they give back in return – altruism.

Power is not just about control over material production and control over policy but control over sexual reproduction

What all theories of politics have in common is that it is either a means to power or synonymous with power. Most, if not all, theories of power argue that power has a great deal to do with control over the provisioning of material resources: economics such as food, land, tools, commodities. Most political sciences connect power to control of social policy in the future, and maintaining it practically within its judicial system and police.

However, feminists rightly point out that resources are not just material production. They also include control over sexual resources of reproduction. If we consider that politics is the means of gaining power over the forces of production (economics) and public decision-making and reproduction, then biological evolutionary theory of sexual selection has a great deal to teach us about the  sexual politics of reproduction.

Sex and politics are traditionally separated

What is normally termed “sex” and “politics” are two sides of the same evolutionary coin. Yet what textbook on sexual behavior treats it as a political process? What primer on political science recognized that its subject matter is a derivative of a biological theme as fundamental as the struggle for reproductive success? What politician sees his own compulsive energy as fired by the ancient impulses of sexual competition? What lover sees his sexual process as pride being part of the necessary comportment of the successful mammalian politician? Sex and dominance, reproduction and power are so intimately linked that it is hard to disentangle one from the other when considering sex in its social setting.

Political economy and domestic economy

Unlike other theories of politics, for bioevolutionary politics involves two processes, a political economy and a domestic economy. Political economy involves material provisioning of natural resources to a society. It involves social production. The domestic economy involves sexual provisioning for mating and raising its children. It involves social reproduction.

The beginnings of a domestic economy

For the biological evolutionary perspective, the central political process is the process of sexual selection and sexual selection is based on bonding. A species can get by without much bonding. Flocks, herds, and schools of fish are notable for the interchangeability of their members. But like breeding systems with asexual reproduction, without bonding they restrict their options and reduce the amount of variety on which sexual selection can work. A true social system begins when animals respond differentially to other members of the species as individuals. They begin to select other members for specific kinds of relatively permanent interaction.

Before mammals were political about material resources, they were political about sexual resources. Sexual politics carries into all social species, most completely among chimps (Frans B. M. De Waal), dolphins and to a lesser extent among elephants. When animals form groups, they must organize themselves in terms of mating practices. As a result of fighting, posturing, cooperating, forming alliances and coalitions, males and females organize themselves into hierarchies. These hierarchies have built into them ground rules as to who can and can’t mate with who and under what conditions.

The domestic economy is about genetics, not sex.  While all males get a chance to copulate, only the more dominant get a chance to breed. The more powerful animal gets a better chance to perpetuate himself genetically. The dominate male is more or less sexually indifferent and will often let inferior males mount the females. Everyone copulates, but only dominates propagate. The dominant animal moves more freely, eats better, gets more attention, lives longer, is healthier and less anxious. On the other hand, the death rate among peripheral males at puberty is very high.

Hierarchies are biologically constituted

Bio-evolutionary theory agrees with feminism that family and sexual life is very political. But where most feminists take the existence of these hierarchies as socially and historically constructed and hope one day to abolish them, bio-evolutionary political theory would argue that these hierarchies are not simply products of society but are rooted in biology. The presence of gender stratification may enhance and amplify these hierarchies, but it doesn’t create them.

Furthermore, in response to Marxism, the creation of a communist society with social gender equality may reduce hierarchies but it wouldn’t abolish them, at least for the foreseeable future. Based on dominance hierarchies, the highest in the hierarchies would have access to the best food and the most comfortable nesting. However, that is not the same thing as having control over production. Darwinian political theory would say all social species are doing some kind of political jockeying come mating season.

What is the relationship between politics and natural selection?

There is, of course, competition for resources between species, but that is not political. Politics can only occur within a species in which fight or flight are not fruitful strategies.

The emergence of the state as an unusual problem to be explained

For neo-Darwinian politics, the emergence of the state is not the starting point of politics, but a problem that neither the traditional mechanisms of kin selection theory or reciprocity solves. What ecological, demographic, economic and technological problems arise that make it in the self-interest of most people to accept the subjugation, the asymmetrical production and distribution of resources that the state involves? Roger Masters offers a rational choice answer to the question. He argues that once collective goods emerge there is trade-off most members of society are willing to make between the benefits of irrigation systems, roads, trade, and the end of feuding that makes the subjection and increased alienation worth it.

Political agency, persuasion

There are no professional politicians in the non-human animal kingdom as far as I know, although De Waal makes some amusing cases for some chimps being more political than others. De Waal makes some interesting points about the power of body language to impact others, although sometimes it might be persuasion and sometimes force or the threat of force. I suspect bio-evolutionary politics would define politics as the strategy within a species to mate and maximize genes across generations.

Bio-evolutionary theory in political sociology and political ideology

It is difficult to place biological politics in the field of political sociology. Political managerial might be closest. A knee-jerk reaction of feminists and Marxists would be quickly to tar-and-feather any biological theory as the political ideology of fascists because of the legacy of social Darwinism. But modern bio-evolutionary theorists are generally hip to its past, and are sensitive to the racial and sexual implications it may have. A friend of mine did a survey among evolutionary psychologists to find out what their leanings are in terms of political ideology. In general, they were liberal. There are also a significant number of women in the field of evolutionary psychology who identify themselves as feminists.

Conclusion: Grand Definition of politics

In making a living, we are co-producers. At the very heart of our social existence has always been a wide range of conscious and planned activities involving the purposive use and production of resources for given ends. People in groups could more easily fell trees, and place them across gullies or streams, deploy hunting nets and chase animals into them if they planned together. In the process of planning there are disputes and debates about what policy to follow and how to achieve their aims.

Politics is:

  1. as an activity that consists of the process of social goal-setting, decision-making and monitoring activities which produce cooperation, negotiation and conflict; and,
  2. as an analysis, politics consists of the study of the provenance, origins, forms, resource allocation (human skills, animate sources of energy, inanimate sources of energy), distribution, and control and consequences of power.

Please see Table A which compares the seven theories of politics across twelve categories of questions. The table closes with each theory’s definition of politics.

• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

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Patriotic Snitch: Bob Hawke as US Informant

Larrikin is a word often, and inaccurately used, in Australian political lingo.  Australia’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was known as one such figure.  He was praised as the great communicator and healer between the forces of labour and capital, enjoyed imbibing, his sports and varied female company.  He could also be vain and ruthless.

In June, a rather unremarkable revelation was made that Hawke had been something of an errand boy for the US imperium, a spiller of the beans and something of what Australians would call a “dobber”.  Cameron Coventry, in an article published that month, makes much of embassy and diplomatic cables covering the late Hawke between 1973 and 1979.  “During this time, he divulged information [to the US] about the Whitlam government (1972-75), the Fraser government (1975-83), Labor, and the labour movement.”  What is less than flattering for the Australian establishment is that snitching and informing on colleagues and their various circles was more than an errant pastime: it was entrenched practice.

The image of Hawke as an eager informant for US officials had already attained form in the release of US state department cables by Wikileaks.  During the turbulent times of the Labor government of Gough Whitlam, Hawke, according to embassy accounts, speaks of a party left in “bad financial shape” by their leader, one afflicted by “stupidity”.  The acrimony between Prime Minister Whitlam and Hawke also registers with some frequency.  This was of interest, given the very specific concerns from Washington that Whitlam was going wobbly on the alliance due to pressure from within his own party.  His growing weakness was particularly troubling given “his basic moderation and support of US defence facilities and other US interests”, as one embassy cable notes in August 1974.

Hawke, for his part, was happy to pile upon Whitlam in his disclosures to the embassy, often with intense colour.  An embassy official notes, in one cable in 1973, that, “Direct quotations in this report will be difficult as Hawke used short words of emphasis not suitable for family newspaper.”  Whitlam, according to Hawke, was “egocentric” though a poor judge: having sought voting and funding support from the Jewish community, he proceeded to treat Jewish elders in a “completely unsatisfactory and humiliating way”.

Two versions of Hawke emerge.  There is the Hawke who publicly believed that Australia could find much in the context of independent non-alignment.  (Even then, this would have been laughable, given the firm security cord binding Canberra to Washington.)  Hawke the US informant and snitch preferred deeper and closer integration into the American machine, wishing to expand the ANZUS alliance beyond its “purely defensive military” character.

Given that Australia had become a rather nice bit of strategic realty for the US, there was much appreciation for his efforts to take the sting out of any potential threats posed by the Left in general and the trade union movement in particular.  An important component to this was the relationship with the US Labour Attaché, a position long occupied by intelligence officers.  The occupants of the position took much interest in the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), of which Hawke would become president.  With his election, things got rosy, with US diplomats keen to push the ACTU into a sympathetic political orbit with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

The Labour Attaché would also contact Hawke on various occasions to intervene in industrial disputes.  In 1973, Hawke was asked about a potential disagreement at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station in Western Australia.  Hawke, the cable reports, “volunteered to intervene formally”, having felt “concern and surprise at the militancy” of workers on the site.

What emerges in the cables scrutinised by Coventry is a concerted strategy from Washington to encourage Hawke to abandon Keynesian economics in favour of more neoliberal policies. By the end of the 1970s, in Coventry’s assessment, Hawke came to “believe the maintenance of full employment was secondary to controlling inflation; that wage restraint was pivotal to the inflation fight; and that tripartism [an accord between unions, employers and the government] was needed to enact macroeconomic reform.”

It did take some time to warm up to Hawke.  Initially, as historian David McKnight writes, US officials “were unnerved by his militant aspirations and his association with communists.” When he threw his hat in the ring for ACTU leadership in 1969, Labor Attaché Emil Lindahl observed that, while he was “brilliant and effective”, detractors had taken issue with his “subjects to flights of irresponsibility, including drunkenness, playing around with women, and brawling”. Despite this, he could be counted, along with then ACTU President Harold Souter, “friends of the US”.

In 1978, Hawke the great defender of US interests and neutraliser of threats to Washington was appraised in another cable.  “Hawke has a lively and sometimes critical interest in the United States and has been a friend of Labor attaches and US officials in Australia […]. [I]in 1973 he told a US official that Australia and the US must remain close for a long time to come.”  A few years later, the cable further notes, Hawke “said that his personal attitude on foreign policy questions was very close to the United States.”  No wonder that Hawke, on becoming prime minister in 1983, made any criticism of the Australian-US relationship an offence worthy of political stoning.

These latest, ably compiled revelations should be damning.  But like long spells of selective amnesia, heroes in the pantheon of politics will be spared public scrutiny.  Hawke hagiographers will simply find, in their hero, a straight thinking fellow keen to stay in the good books of a great power in order to protect Australian interests.  That this seemed almost treasonous will never be countenanced.

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Seven Theories of Politics: The Rehabilitation of a Loaded Vice Word

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
— Pericles, 430 BC


Politics is a slippery set of actions

We normally think art and literature are different from politics, but how do we explain what the difference is? There are occasions when art and literature are banned by the state. What happens to make them political?

Which of these are political examples demonstrate that, and why?

  • House of Commons debating a Bill
  • U.S. ambassador mediating between warring states in the Middle East
  • Elders deciding on the day a nomadic tribe should move on to the next pasture
  • Salesman wondering how to counter a rival’s advertising campaign
  • Man beating his slave
  • Priest giving a sermon
  • Family deciding whether to have a holiday abroad this year or not
  • Small boy pleading with his older sister to buy him an ice cream

Linguistic obstacles to defining “politics”: Politics is a loaded, vague, and ambiguous word

“Politics” is one of those words which is loaded. Whatever your opinion about politics, it is likely to be “charged” and is a good bet to get you to rev your engines. As Adrian Leftwich points out in What is Politics? the word “politics” has gotten bad press. Here are some associations and their implied opposites: Politics can be:

  • Hypocrisy – baby kissing (not saying what you feel)
  • Wheeling and dealing (as opposed to following through on promises)
  • Fraud (as opposed to honesty)
  • Unpleasant squabbles (as opposed to agreeableness)
  • Can be violent (as opposed to being non-violent)
  • Done by professionals (as opposed to by the average person)
  • Character assassination (as opposed to sticking with the issue)
  • Unnecessary “don’t get political” (as opposed to a necessary activity)
  • Temporary (intrinsic and functional activities which are not political)
  • Distasteful “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it” (as opposed to enjoyable)

Those who claim to hate politics probably draw from at least some of these associations. However, these reservations still have embedded in them their own definition of politics. Even those who claim to be “apolitical” still have a vague definition about what politics is in order for them to decide to withdraw from it. Lastly, many of those who claim to like politics often have a very narrow and conventional definition of what it actually is.

Besides the word “politics” being loaded, it is also one of those words that everyone thinks is commonly agreed upon. I am not talking about specific political positions, for instance, conservative or liberal. What I mean is a simple working definition of the word. The word politics is vague in the sense that the borderline between it and other related terms in sociology is murky.

As Leftwich points out:

There are institutional jealousies, border police, with well-placed and often concealed booby-traps, diversions and dead ends. Some people who attempt to work in such areas never seem to emerge alive. Those who do, often re-emerged tattered and in such a state of shock that they never seem able to say anything about any concrete politics of problems of the world again. (117)

Politics is often used interchangeably with “power”. This term “power” is another hornet’s nest to define which I will take up in an article in the near future. What political theories disagree about are its origins, sources, basis, forms, distribution, measurement, and interpretation. Another sign of vagueness in the word “politics” is to try to identify what the opposite of politics is. If you try this, you will probably see it is not an easy exercise.

Finally, the word politics is ambiguous, meaning it can be categorized in many different ways. Here it is less a question of murky boundaries as it is a choice as to how broad or narrow a range to cover

Seven theories of politics and my sources

There are seven theories of politics: Old Institutionalists; Civic Republicans; Weberian political sociologists; Marxian political economy; Rational Choice Theory; Radical Feminism; and Bio-evolutionary. I have divided this article into two parts. In Part I, I ask twelve foundational questions that all seven of these theories must address. I then cover the more centrist political theories, namely, the old Institutionalists, the civic republicans, and the Weberian political sociologists. In Part II I cover the more extreme versions of politics: Radical Feminism and Marxian political economy on the left and Rational Choice Theory and Bio-evolutionary Theory on the right. At the end of Part II there is a table which compares how the seven theories answer each of the twelve questions. My sources for this article include Politics by Andrew Heywood; What is Politics, Edited by Adrian Leftwich; and Invitation to Politics by Michael Laver.

As a prologue to a definition of politics, the following twelve questions need to be answered. Once we have a more solid foundation of how they can be answered, then we will be able to link them to each of seven different schools of politics. Here are the categories and the questions that follow.

Twelve Questions for Determining What Politics Is

Temporal reach – How far back into human history does politics go? Does politics go back to pre-state societies? Or does politics begin with state societies? Is politics possible before there were political parties?

Cross species scope – Is politics confined to the human species or does it ooze into the life of other species? If so, which ones? If politics crosses species, is it social species that are political? Is it possible to have animal societies which are social, such as lions or wolves but not political? Does a species need to be social to be political? Is being social a necessary but not sufficient condition for politics? Is being social a necessary and sufficient condition for politics? Or is being social neither a necessary nor sufficient condition? In other words, is it possible for a non-social species to have political relationships?

How much does evolutionary biology impact politics? At a macro level, how does natural adaptation impact human politics? In terms of men and women, how much does sexual selection determine politics? At the micro level, how much do genetics and brain chemistry determine the level and the interest and skill in politics? Or is politics primarily a creature of the socio-historical level of reality?

Spatial reachWhere does politics take place? Many political scientists limit politics to what is taking place within states. Is that casting the net too narrowly? Can there be politics through discussions in public space? Is it politics when I get into a discussion about the viability of capitalism while I am at the unemployment line waiting for my check? Are there politics within families? Are there politics between lovers? Or are politics only about public affairs?

Political agencyWho does politics? Is politics done only by politicians? If I argue with my neighbor about police brutality in my neighborhood, are my neighbor and I political beings in this discussion? Do I become political only when I vote on the issue in the next election? Do I become political when I bring police brutality to a town hall meeting next month? Or is the only person who is political the mayor who decides whether or not to make it part of his platform for his campaign next month.

Political actions vs strategiesHow are political actions different from strategizing? If I go to the laundromat to do my laundry and I give a stranger two dollars to put towards the dryer while I go back to my house to grab another load, is that political? If not, how could the situation become political? In the previous example, I think we can agree that in families members engage in strategies as to how do deal with other family members. But are all strategies political? Lovers strategize and negotiate about when the first-time sex might be undertaken. Is this political? If not, what would need to happen to make it political if at all?

The degree of influence in interpersonal processes – Am I being political if I ask my partner if she wants to go to the movies and propose a movie and she agrees to both proposals, is spontaneous agreement political? Suppose she says she wants to go to a movie but prefers another movie. We debate about it, and one of us persuades the other. Has the discussion become political? Suppose you and I are riding bicycles. We reach a crossroads where we have to decide whether to turn left or right. We each want to go in a different direction. Is the process of deciding political? Let’s say we are moving and are lifting boxes to put in the moving truck. Are the mutual complaints about whether or not the other is pulling their weight or whether to stop for a rest political?

Let’s say we both want to go to a movie but neither of us can persuade the other to go to the movie we each want, so we flip a coin. Is flipping a coin political? Suppose we can’t agree and we negotiate. I will go to this movie this time and you promise to go to a movie of my choice next time. Is that political?

Does it make a difference if our disagreement about movie choices has to do with our different race or class origins? Will those influences make our disagreement political? Suppose our discussion about movies became heated. If I recognized that if I get too hot under the collar, she might not want to make love with me later that night and so I calm down. Is that political? if I threaten to not accompany her to her friend’s birthday party (whom I don‘t like) and then she doesn’t go the movie I want, it that politics?

We have seven possibilities. Notice that these topics are not political in a traditional sense. So, the question here is not whether the content is political, but if the interpersonal process is political.

  • a spontaneous agreement
  • a persuasive argument
  • a standoff, which is settled by a chance mechanism
  • a negotiation
  • a standoff based on race or class differences
  • an instrumental strategy for other ends
  • a withdrawal of rewards

Are any of these processes political? Which one or ones (if any)? Where are you drawing the line and why?

What is the relationship between politics and power? Can you have politics without having power? Can you have power without having politics? If power and politics are related, how? Are politics and power interchangeable? Is one a meansto another? Is power the means and politics is the end? Is politics the means and power is the end?

Politics, force and coercion Let’s go back to this movie issue.  Suppose Sandy has been drinking, and in the past, she has been bad-tempered to her partner. She starts drinking while they are deciding on a movie. Sandy’s partner starts worrying and gives in to the movie Sandy wants to watch prematurely to avoid the risk of being potentially yelled at. Is that politics?

This example is a small slice of a larger issue: what is the relationship between politics and force or the threat of force? Is violence an inherent part of politics or is politics what you do to win someone over without being violent?  Some political theorists like Bernard Crick say that politics is the art of compromising when you know you cannot get what you want. Others say that the whole political system is based on violence because the entire class system is based on exploitation and force. All attempts to change things must come up against this militaristic force which protects the rulers. Some say that only force is political and that the state is the ultimate political actor because it has, in Weber’s words, a monopoly on the means of violence.

Interdisciplinary span of politics. How (if at all) is politics related to economics? What is the relationship between technology and politics?  Does the economy dictate politics? Does politics determine economics? Does technology determine politics or does politics determine technology? The same question could be asked about religion or mass media.

What, if any, is the relationship between theories of politics and the schools of political sociology? Is there a relationship between our answers to these political questions and schools of political sociology? In other words, are there consistent answers to these questions which are given by political pluralists? Is there a consistency in the managerial/elitist point of view that answers the same questions? Is there a thread which runs through the class perspective which will answer these questions quite differently?

What, if any, is the relationship between theories of politics and political ideologies? Is there a relationship between a consistent set of answers to these questions and whether you are a liberal or conservative? How will the answers of social democrats, communists and fascists be different than that of either anarchists on the left or libertarian capitalists on the right? We will see that the answers the schools of political sociology give to these questions will have overlap but are not the same as the answers political ideologies might give. For example, the bio-evolutionary reading of politics has, in the past, been connected to fascism. However as feminist evolutionary psychologists point out, it is possible to have a Darwinian take on answers to political questions and be a conservative, liberal or even a Marxist in political ideology.

As it turns out these questions can be answered with some consistency and coherency by seven different theoretical tendencies within the study of politics. We will now turn to these schools and their theoreticians.

Old Institutionalists (mainstream political science)

If you care to recall your high school or college civic classes, the manner in which politics was presented was probably derived from the institutional theory of politics. Of all the schools of politics, the institutionalists address the twelve questions above in the narrowest way. Politics for this school involves only state organs and state processes.

State organs: government

Institutionalists focused on government organs – constitutions, legal system, the branches of government, political parties, pressure groups and elections. The early institutionalists referred almost exclusively to the political institutions of the United States and western Europe. These “democracies” were taken to be the best of all possible worlds, and were taken as given, rather than studied critically. The old Institutionalist understanding of historical change was based on modernist assumptions of gradual linear progress with Western “democratic” politics at the apex. This has changed somewhat in recent years. Government is seen as the vessel of politics.

State processes: governing

The process of politics is governing. Governing is a larger process which refers to general patterns and interlocking systems across both public and private spheres by which all social life is organized and managed, whether it be a monarchy, aristocracy or a democracy. Governance is a process; government has institutions for implementing and sustaining that process. Some scholars say that there can be governance without government and that networks might replace them. Institutionalists counter that networks are incapable of coping with conflict and reconciling collective goals.

Governing involves two tasks:

  • deciding on collective goals for society
  • devising mechanisms through which those goals can be attained

These two tasks must satisfy four conditions:

  • policy setting – setting collective goals for society and reconciling competing wants and demands by prioritizing goals and acquiring resources to realize those goals. This is done by representative political process. When policies are not worked out, governing bodies will work at cross purposes. One example would be the simultaneous funding of subsides for tobacco farmers and anti-smoking advertisements.
  • decision-making steering – this involves making concrete decisions and implementing them efficiently by using a public bureaucracy and administration.
  • coherency – which involves the coordination among the institutions. Often when coordination problems are not resolved, governments fragment and involve unnecessary duplication. Sections of governments perpetrate themselves, maintain their own budgets and pursue their own policy latitude in the face of perceived threats
  • monitoring and acquiring feedback – acquiring mechanisms for detecting and assessing the action of the governance system as a whole.

Politics is limited to the state

While government cannot exist without governing, institutionalists do not believe that governing can exist without government, more specifically the state. If the state is a necessary condition of government and all politics must include the state, then societies in social evolution without a state, that is, tribal societies, are pre-political. So too, spatially, issues that come up in family and in public discussions are not seen as political.

Politics is limited to competitive elections

Furthermore, politics only occurs in state societies with competitive elections. From a Marxist point of view, this is bourgeois democracy. While societies without bourgeois democracies may have politics, typically they are seen in an unfavorable light, and labeled as authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorships and despotisms.

Liberty as private rather than public

For institutionalists, liberty is a private pleasure which exists only through state protection. This goes back to social contract theory which has its roots in conservative individualism and in the work of Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy.

Political science excludes economics, history, and anthropology

In an interdisciplinary sense, politics generally excludes economics and historical factors. The only people who are political are professional politicians who win elections, and the only political issues involve the four processes of governance – goal setting, steering coherency, and monitoring.

Authority rules, power is violence

As far as the use of power goes, institutionalisms act as if power could be dissolved into authority. In other words, whatever regime is in office wields political authority. Anyone challenging political authority is behaving in an extra-political way, that is – violently. For institutionalists, strategizing only becomes political when it is involved in public affairs which affect an entire community. What is public is inseparable from the state. Any interpersonal processes such as convincing and persuading which is done outside public institutions of the state is not political. Relations with family and lovers is outside the bounds of politics and is more in the domain of sociology.

Political sociology of pluralism; political ideology of liberals and conservatives

The political sociological school which corresponds to the old institutionalists is political and functional pluralism. The work of Robert Dahl and Gabriel Almond are classic examples. It also goes with the political ideology of conservatives and liberals. For institutionalists, politics is the provision of direction to the economy and society through goal setting and steering which brings coherence and monitoring. Institutionalism has focused more on the processes that make political systems stable. It has had a difficult time explaining how political processes change.

Civic republicans

Politics as the art of the possible

For the second theory of politics, civic republicans, the arena in which politics occurs, at least in its initial stages, is not in states in political debates between professional politicians. Rather it takes place in the city in debates among citizens. Yet politics is a very complex, dense process rather than merely giving reasoned arguments and listening to opposing sides about public issues. Argument becomes political when:

  • collective policy-making is necessary (rather than optional)
  • resources are at stake
  • the conflict is at a stalemate
  • the perceived costs of continuing the conflict are too high
  • withdrawal is not an option
  • coercion, force or violence is not an option – as in dictatorships or despotisms

Under these conditions, politics is the art of compromise, negotiation, and persuasion – what Bernard Crick calls “the art of the possible”. For civic republicans, politics and force, threat, bribery are opposites. Where compromise is abandoned, so is politics.

What is the relationship between politics and power?

For institutionalists, the ability to do work to get things done is authority, not power. Power is understood by institutionalists as outside of politics because it uses force. For institutionalists all revolutions are illegitimate assaults on politics. Civic republicans have a more positive view of power. Power is the ability to get things done, but politics is both the process and result of the political use of power. If extrinsic motivators — force, coercion, bribery, or manipulation — are used to reach ends, politics has been corrupted. The use of violence demonstrates lack of power rather than power.

Civic debate humanizes humanity

Civic republicanism is best typified in the political writings of Aristotle, in Hannah Arendt’s work as well as the work of Bernard Crick in his In Defense of Politics. According to Aristotle, life in cities frees the citizen from the blood relations of family, kin group and village where they can think critically without the ignorant and superstitious, emotional practices which are at play in sexual and familial life. Engaging strangers with different perspectives from other regions are the seeds for the best political debate. Civic republicans, like institutionalists, have little patience with any claims that politics can be familial or sexual. Politics begins where the family and sex end. It is becoming political which makes us human. Those who refuse to identify with politics are not quite human, according to Aristotle.

Republicanism vs institutionalist democracy

For civic republicans, an active citizenry practicing politics in city debate is a precondition for democracy. Republics are not just logically prior to democracy; they are historically prior. Classical Greece, early Rome, the 16th century Italian and German city-states, and the 17th Century Dutch society were republics, not democracies.

If the institutionalists ideal is a liberal democracy, for civic republican theoreticians the ideal is a republic. Civic republicans are broader than institutionalists in that the ultimate political actors are an active citizenry, rather than professional politicians. The place where this active citizenry engages is not in elections but in public debates, with or without legislative bodies. Lastly, each has a different conception of individual liberty. For democratic institutionalists, liberty for the individual is to engage in private pleasures and guaranteed protection from the state. This is rooted in Hobbes version of a social contract as an agreement between miserly, self-subsisting individuals. For civil republicans, following Rousseau’s version of the social contract, the ultimate liberty is politics in public discourse using rational persuasion. Please see Table A below.Like institutionalists, civic republicans tend to be less sensitive to history and they make a separation between politics and economics. Among political sociology schools civil republicans are matched easily with political pluralists. On the political spectrum, civic republicans are most likely to be liberals.

Weberian political sociologists

Peter Nicholson argues that in defining politics we should strive for a criterion which is comprehensive, distinctive and fruitful. It must include all politics, exclude everything else and suggest areas for research. Some definitions fail because they include too little and exclude too much while others fail because they included too much and exclude too little.

Definitions which are too narrow

For example, Nicholson argues that Marxists define politics too narrowly because they limit it to class societies. This excludes tribal societies. At the same time, civic republicans define politics too narrowly by limiting it to rational discussion leading to persuasion and assent rather than violence and compulsion. This means that politics can only occur in a truly representative democracy. This excludes dictatorships and authoritarian rule from politics. For civic republicans as for institutionalists, politics depends on whether a society is democratic or not.

Institutionalists claim that all politics is synonymous with government. But schools and banks have governance too. It is also insufficient to say that all politics is decision-making for there are also non-political decisions. Politics is also wider than the allocation of resources, for resources are allocated outside politics too, such as in businesses and families.

Definitions which are too wide

On the other hand, some political theorists cast their nets too widely when they say that spontaneous agreement or coming to a consensus is political too. With these standards, everything would be political and then it becomes questionable why we even have the word at all. Others may rein in their nets a little and say that disagreement and conflict need to be present for there to be politics. But can’t there be politics even when there appears to be no explicit conflict? Can’t there be disagreement which has nothing to do with politics such as mathematicians contesting a proof?

Politics as coercion and force directed at the public as opposed to conflict and decision-making

The political sociology based on Max Weber’s work is more pessimistic than either the Institutionalists or the Civic Republicans about what politics is about. The distinctive mark of a political action is that it can be directed and enforced towards all members of society. Every kind of law, directly or indirectly, can potentially involve the exercises of force. In tribal societies coercion or force existed at a group level. With the rise of the state, the means of violence is monopolized which means that force is legally used to settle certain conflicts, sanction certain rules, back certain decisions, and guarantee certain policies.

Some counter that other groups and individuals use force as well as the state. What about rebels, armed robbers or a parent chastising or battering a child? The difference is that this is private force. Not all members of society are affected by this. Politics is the force or coercion used by the state in public affairs.

Force differs from conflict as a criterion of politics. There is no room for two or more exercises of force. By the very nature of force, only one body is able to consistently back its will by force. Certainly, there can be more than one kind of decision-making coexisting in the same society. But only those decisions which are backed by force are political. The running of businesses, trade unions, schools, universities, banks, churches and families certainly disagree, and come into conflict.  However, none may use force legally except with the permission of the state. All strategizing by groups in society is not political because convincing and persuading does not use force. Only when force is used does it become political and that force must be monopolized by the state.

Politics is about power, not authority

For institutionalists, politics is a process and the result is the authority of the state. In the case of civil libertarians, politics is the process and the result is power to get things done by the civic community. For Weberians (Max Weber), all politics is rooted in power and power is based on force or coercion. Furthermore, all force is concentrated in the state. Authority is one kind of power, but it is not the ultimate source. Legitimate authority and charisma are other kinds of power. If anything, power is the end and politics is the means. Unlike the institutionalists, for Weberians, professionally elected politicians may or may not be the ones doing politics. The real politics is going on not in debates in parliament but behind the scenes in the wheeling and dealing of elites competing with each other.

Unlike either institutionalists or civic republicans, Weberians are more sensitive to changes in politics over the course of history. So too, they do not make an absolute separation between politics and economics. While they understand all politics involves economics, they think that the maneuvering among elite state actors controls the economy.

In political sociology Weber represents what has been called the “managerial” school, both political and functional wings. Weberians are difficult to classify in terms of political ideology. On the one hand they are radical in their critique of the existing order. But on the other, there is a pessimism about the working class or the lower class’s ability to participate in democratic process or public civil discussion.


At the beginning of this article, I pointed out how difficult it was to define politics, both in political actions and political theory.  I then posed twelve questions that all seven theories have to answer. I then named and described three theoretical schools of politics: institutionalists, civil republicans and Weberian political economists. Despite their differences, all three theories occupy the centralist section of the political spectrum. That is, all three theories are liberal or conservative. In Part II of this article, I will address other theories of politics. Radical feminist and Marxist theories will represent the revolutionary left side of the political spectrum, that is socialist theories of politics. On the right side of the political spectrum, we will address rational choice theories and bio-evolutionary theories of politics. Rational choice theory would be right libertarian, as would Darwinian theories of politics.

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Greed and Consumption: Why the World is Burning

Rome is scorching hot. This beautiful city is becoming unbearable for other reasons, too. Though every corner of the beaming metropolis is a monument to historical grandeur, from the Colosseum in Rione Monti to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in San Giovanni, it is now struggling under the weight of its own contradictions.

In Via Appia, bins are overflowing with garbage, often spilling over into the streets. The smell, especially during Italy’s increasingly sweltering summers, is suffocating.

Meanwhile, many parts of the country are literally on fire. Since June 15, firefighters have reportedly responded to 37,000 fire-related emergencies, 1,500 of them on July 18 alone. A week later, I drove between Campania, in southern Italy, and Abruzzo, in the center. Throughout the journey, I was accompanied by fire and smoke. On that day, many towns were evacuated, and thousands of acres of forests were destroyed. It will take months to assess the cost of the ongoing destruction, but it will certainly be measured in hundreds of millions of euros.

Additionally, the entire southern Europe is ablaze, as the region is experiencing its worst heat waves in many years. Greece, Spain, Turkey, and the Balkans are fighting fires that continue to rage on.

Across the Atlantic, the US and Canada, too, are desperately trying to battle their own wildfires, mostly direct outcomes of unprecedented heat waves that struck North America from Vancouver to California, along with the whole of the American northwest region. In June, Vancouver, Portland and Seattle all set new heat records, 118, 116 and 108 Fahrenheit, respectively.

While it is true that not all fires are a direct result of global warming — many in Italy, for example, are man-made — unprecedented increases in temperature, coupled with changes in weather patterns, are the main culprits of these unmitigated disasters.

The solution is more complex than simply having the resources and proper equipment to contain these fires. The impact of the crises continues to be felt for years, even if temperatures somehow stabilize. In California, for example, which is bracing for another horrific season, the devastation of the previous years can still be felt.

“After two years of drought, the soil moisture is depleted, drying out vegetation and making it more prone to combustion,” The New York Times reported on July 16. The problem, then, is neither temporary nor can be dealt with through easy fixes.

As I sat with my large bottle of water outside Caffettiamo Cafe, struggling with heat, humidity and the pungent smell of garbage, I thought about who is truly responsible for what seems to be our new, irreversible reality. Here in Italy, the conversation is often streamlined through the same, predictable and polarized political discourse. Each party points finger at the others, in the hope of gaining some capital prior to the upcoming October municipal elections.

Again, Italy is not the exception. Political polarization in Europe and the US constantly steers the conversation somewhere else entirely. Rarely is the problem addressed at a macro-level, independent from political calculations. The impact of global warming cannot and must not be held hostage to the ambitions of politicians. Millions of people are suffering, livelihoods are destroyed, the fate of future generations is at risk. In the grand scheme of things, whether the current mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, is elected for another term or not, is insignificant.

Writing in the Columbia Climate School website, Renee Cho highlights the obvious, the relationship between our insatiable appetite for consumption and climate change. “Did you know that Americans produce 25 percent more waste than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, sending an additional one million tons a week to landfills?” Cho asks.

This leads us to think about the existential relationship between our insatiable consumption habits and the irreparable damage we have inflicted upon mother earth.

Here in Via Appia, the contradictions are unmistakable. This is the summer sales season in Italy. Signs reading “Saldi” – or “Sale” – are everywhere. For many shoppers, it is impossible to fight the temptation. This unhinged consumerism – the backbone and the fault line of capitalism – comes at a high price. People are encouraged to consume more, as if such consumption has no repercussions for the environment whatsoever. Indeed, Via Appia is the perfect microcosm of this global schizophrenia: people complaining about the heat and the garbage, while simultaneously consuming beyond their need, thus creating yet more garbage and, eventually, worsening the plight of the environment.

Collective problems require collective solutions. Italy’s heat cannot be pinned down on a few arsonists and California’s wildfires are not simply the fault of an ineffectual mayor. Global warming is, in large part, the outcome of a destructive pattern instigated and sustained by capitalism. The latter can only survive through unhindered consumption, inequality, greed and, when necessary, war. If we continue to talk about global warming without confronting the capitalist menace that generated much of the crisis in the first place, the conversation will continue to amount to nil.

In the final analysis, all the conferences, pledges and politicking will not put out a single fire, neither in Italy nor anywhere else in the world.

The post Greed and Consumption: Why the World is Burning first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Politics of Cheering and Booing: On Palestine, Solidarity and the Tokyo Olympics

When the Palestinian Olympic delegation of five athletes – adorned in traditional Palestinian attire and carrying the Palestinian flag – crossed into the Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium during the inauguration ceremony on July 23, I was overcome with pride and nostalgia.

I grew up watching the Olympics. All of us did. Throughout the month-long international sports event, the Olympics were the main topic of discussion among the refugees in my refugee camp in Gaza, where I was born.

Unlike other sports competitions such as football, you did not need to care about the sport itself to appreciate the underlying meaning of the Olympics. The entire exercise seemed to be political.

However, the politics of the Olympics is unlike daily politics. Indeed, it is about something profoundly deeper, related to identity, culture, national struggles for liberation, equality, race and, yes, freedom.

Before Palestine’s first Olympic participation in 1996, with only one athlete, Majed Abu Marahi, we cheered – we still do – for all the countries that seemed to convey our collective experiences or share part of our history.

In our Gaza refugee camp, in a small, often hot, simply furnished living room, my family, friends and neighbors would gather around a small black and white television set. For us, the opening ceremony was always critical. Though the camera often allocates mere seconds to each delegation, a few seconds were all we needed to declare our political stances regarding each and every country. It was no surprise, then, that we cheered for all African and Arab countries, jumped in joy when the Cubans came marching in, and booed those who have contributed to Israel’s military occupation of our homeland.

Imagine the chaos in our living room as a small crowd of people made loud and swift political declarations about every country, making a case of why we should cheer or boo, all simultaneously: “The Cubans love Palestine”, “South Africa is the country of Mandela”, “The French gave Israel Mirage fighter jets”, “The Americans are biased towards Israel”,  “The president of this or that country said the Palestinians deserve freedom”, “Kenya was occupied by the British too”, and so on.

The judgment was not always easy as sometimes none of us would be able to offer a conclusive statement to make a case for why we should cheer or boo. For example, an African country which normalized relations with Israel would give us pause: we hated the government but we loved the people. Many such moral dilemmas were often left unanswered.

These dilemmas existed even before I was born. The previous generation of Palestinians also struggled with such pressing quandaries. For example, when African American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists during the award ceremony in the October 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, that, too, must have been a difficult philosophical question to be readily answered by the residents of my refugee camp. On the one hand, we loathed the historically devastating role played – and continues to be played – by the US, in arming, funding and politically supporting Israel. Without such support, Israel would have found it impossible to maintain and profit from its ongoing system of military occupation and apartheid. On the other hand, we supported, as we continue to support, African Americans in their rightful struggle for equality and justice. In these situations, it is often resolved that we should support the players while still rejecting the countries they represent.

The ongoing Tokyo Olympics were hardly the exception of this complex political system. While much media coverage has been placed on the Covid-19 pandemic – the fact that the games were held in the first place, the safety of the players and so on – the politics, the human triumph, the racism, and much more were also still present.

As Palestinians, this time around, we have more to cheer for than usual: our own athletes. Dania, Hanna, Wesam, Mohamed and Yazan are making us proud. The story of each one of these athletes represents a chapter in the Palestinian saga, one that is rife with collective pain, besiegement and ongoing Diaspora, but also hope, unparalleled strength and determination.

These Palestinian athletes, like athletes from other countries who are enduring their own struggles, whether for freedom, democracy or peace, carry a heavier burden than those who were trained under normal circumstances, in stable countries that provide their athletes with seemingly endless resources to reach their full potential.

Mohamed Hamada, a weightlifter from the besieged Gaza Strip, competes in the 96 kg men snatch. In actuality, the 19-year-old is already carrying a mountain. Having survived several deadly Israeli wars, a relentless siege, lack of freedom to travel, to train under proper circumstances and, of course, the resulting trauma, by taking his first step in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, Hamada was already a champion. Hundreds of aspiring weightlifters in Gaza and throughout Palestine must have watched him in their own living rooms, filled with hope that they, too, can overcome all the hardship, and that they, too, could be present at future Olympics.

Yazan al-Bawwab, the 21-year-old Palestinian swimmer, embodies, despite his youth, the story of the Palestinian diaspora. A Palestinian, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, now living in Canada while carrying dual Italian and Palestinian citizenships, he represents a generation of Palestinian youngsters who live outside the homeland and whose life is a reflection of the constant search for home. There are millions of Palestinian refugees who were forced by war, or circumstances, to constantly relocate. They too, aspire to live a normal and stable life, to carry the passports of their own homeland with pride and, like al-Bawwab, to achieve great things in life.

The truth is, for us, Palestinians, the Olympics are not an ethnocentric exercise. Our relationship to it is not simply inspired by race, nationality or even religion, but by humanity itself. The dialectics through which we cheer or boo conveys so much about how we see ourselves as a people, our position in the world, the solidarity that we wish to bestow and the love and solidarity that we receive. So, Ireland, Scotland, Cuba, Venezuela, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden and many more, including all Arab countries without exception, can be certain that we will always remain their loyal fans.

The post The Politics of Cheering and Booing: On Palestine, Solidarity and the Tokyo Olympics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Family Separation Law: Israel’s Demographic War on Palestine Intensifies  

When the Israeli Knesset (parliament) failed to renew what is commonly referred to as the Family Reunification Law, news reports and analyses misrepresented the story altogether. The even split of 59 MKs voting in favor of the law and 59 against it gave the erroneous impression that Israeli lawmakers are equally divided over the right of Palestinians to obtain permanent residency status or citizenship in Israel through marriage. Nothing could be further away from the truth.

Originally passed in 2003, the Citizenship and Entry Law was effectively a ban on Palestinian marriage. Under the guise of ‘security’, the law prohibited Palestinians in the West Bank, who marry Israeli citizens, to permanently move to Israel, obtain work, permanent residency and, ultimately, citizenship.

The law was never made permanent as it was subjected to an annual vote, which successfully renewed it 17 times, consecutively. The 18th vote, on July 6, however, ran into an obstacle. Contrary to the perception given by media coverage, those who voted against the renewal of the ban did so for purely political reasons and not out of concern for the tens of thousands of Palestinian families that have splintered and broken up since the law came into effect.

Since the ousting of former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the hands of his protégé, current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s former leader has been determined to topple Bennett’s already fragile coalition. Bennett’s government allies cobble up extreme right-wing parties, including Yamina, the party of the prime minister himself, centrist and even leftist parties, the likes of Meretz. It even hosts an Arab party, United Arab List, or Ra’am, of Mansour Abbas. A coalition of this nature is unlikely to survive long, considering Israel’s tumultuous politics, and Netanyahu – eager for an early election – will do everything in his power to facilitate what he sees as an imminent collapse.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies in the opposition voted against renewing the discriminatory law to score a political point. Their justification, however, was more appalling than the law itself. The Likud wants the temporary law to become a permanent fixture, a Basic Law, to be added to dozens of other similar racially-motivated laws that target the very fabric of Palestinian society.

Welcome to Israel’s demographic war on the Palestinian people. This one-sided war is situated in the belief among Israel’s Jewish majority, that Israel’s greatest challenge is sustaining its demographic advantage which, thanks to a decided campaign of ethnic cleansing that began over seven decades ago, has been held by Jews over Palestinian Arabs.

Israel’s main fear is not simply a decisive Palestinian majority between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel’s Jewish ruling classes are also rattled by the real possibility of the growing political influence of Israel’s Palestinian Arab constituency, and are doing everything in their power to ensure Palestinian holders of Israeli citizenship are kept at a minimum. The Citizenship and Entry Law was designed specifically to keep this population in check.

The general elections of March 2020, in particular, provided a taste of what a doomsday scenario would look like.  Arab Israeli parties unified under the single ticket of the Joint List and emerged with 15 seats, making it the third-largest political bloc in the Israeli Knesset, after Likud and Blue and White. If Palestinian Arabs mastered this much influence, though they represent only 20% of the overall Israeli population, imagine what they could do if the demographic tide continues to shift in their favor.

For Israel, the future of Jewish majority – read: supremacy – is dependent on keeping the population equation in favor of Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinian Arabs. Most of the laws that discriminate against Palestinians, regardless of where they reside – in fact, anywhere in the world – is motivated by this maxim.

According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), Israel’s Palestinian Arab population is targeted with 65 different government laws and regulations, which ensure Palestinian Arabs do not prosper as a community, remaining politically disempowered, socio-economically disadvantaged and constantly threatened with the loss of their residency, and even citizenship.

Palestinians elsewhere suffer an even worse fate. For example, Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who supposedly hold permanent residency status, are subjected to different types of legal harassment, so that Jerusalem can maintain its current Jewish majority. When Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the city was almost entirely Palestinian Arab. Through numerous tactics, the city’s Arab population is now an ever-shrinking minority. Worse still, in 2018 Israel passed a law that granted the Ministry of Interior the right to revoke the residency of Jerusalemites based on the murky accusation of ‘breach of loyalty’.

The occupied West Bank and Gaza are confined, as only Israel determines who remains and who is permanently exiled. The Israeli military occupation of these regions has taken population control to a whole new level; it is almost an exact science.

This is also precisely why Israelis abhor the very discussion of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, for they consider it an implicit call for the ‘destruction of Israel as a Jewish state’. According to this logic, if millions of Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to their homes and lands in historic Palestine, Israel will no longer exist in its current form, as a Jewish state, but will become a democratic state for all of its citizens, instead.

What is likely to happen next is that Israel’s Interior Ministry will continue to find caveats in Israel’s ever-flexible laws to block the reunification of Palestinian families, until the Knesset officially renews the Citizenship and Entry Law or, worse, make it permanent. Either way, Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians is likely to intensify in the future. Considering that it is a war that cannot rationally be won, Israel is likely to delve deeper into the abyss of apartheid.

As Israel continues to experiment with controlling the Palestinian population, it would be shameful if the international community continued to remain silent. This moral outrage must end.

The post Family Separation Law: Israel’s Demographic War on Palestine Intensifies   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”   

Another football ‘controversy’ has started when football players participating in the ongoing ‘UEFA Euro 2020’, kneeled down during national anthems to protest racism, a serious problem that has plagued football stadiums for many years.

Yet, while some players chose to kneel down, others opted not to, offering flimsy excuses as “players weren’t ready”, and “politics should stay out of football”. Racism in sports is real, though it cannot be separated from racism within society. In fact, the reactions to the moral stances taken by some players were reflections of how rightwing, populist and chauvinistic movements wield such massive influence over various European societies, to the extent that these movements often define mainstream political sensibilities.

For example, the French national team, comprising largely black and Muslim French players, came under attack led by right wing politicians and media outlets to the point that, on June 15, the entire team decided not to take a knee at the start of their matches, likely fearing racist repercussions.

In the French example, racism in sports prevailed over the anti-racism sentiments. Worse, the country’s highest football association, the French Football Federation (FFF) does not even acknowledge the necessity to discuss the issue. FFF president, Noel Le Graet, was quoted as saying that racism “does not exist”, following an incident last September during the Marseille-Paris Saint Germain game, when the Brazilian Neymar was called a  ‘monkey motherf—er’ during a scuffle.

Not only are racist incidents in football games on the rise and well-documented in France and elsewhere, the ‘monkey’ slur is particularly popular among European football fans who, sometimes in groups, carry out what is known as ‘monkey chanting’, which specifically target black and other dark skin players. When the despicable practice in Italy finally received national attention, an Italian court dismissed the case as ‘unfounded’, and fans who were caught ‘monkey chanting’ on camera were ‘unconditionally acquitted.’

This in mind, it was unfortunate that only half of the Italian team took a knee during their game against Wales on June 20, and eventually, they decided not to kneel down at all in a later game. It is telling that, while racism in sports continues to prevail, anti-racist gestures are considered unnecessary and divisive.

The truth is that football, like any other sport, is a reflection of our societies, our unities and divisions, our economic privileges and socio-economic inequalities, our strong communal bonds and, yes, our racism. Instead of attempting to fully understand and, when necessary, alter these relationships, some conveniently opt to ignore them altogether.

Assertions such as ‘sports and politics must not mix’ are not only wishful thinking – as they ignore the fundamental premise that sports are a direct expression of reality – they are also underhanded as they are meant to divert attention from core issues that should concern everyone.

This misleading logic falls within the same category of the phrase “all lives matter” in response to the legitimate outcry for racial justice under the banner, “black lives matter”. The latter is meant to illustrate – in fact, challenge – racism and violence, which disproportionately target black people in the United States specifically because of their skin color; while the former, although technically accurate, is meant to delude and undermine the urgency of confronting systemic racism.

When American football player, Colin Kaepernick, kneeled down in 2016 to protest racial injustice, he did mean to be disruptive, not to ‘disgrace’ American ‘values’ and ‘symbols’, but to force millions of people out of their comfort zone to contend with far more consequential questions than winning or losing a football match. His statement was an act of protest against the mistreatment of black communities across the US. As a black man with access to media platforms, it was his moral duty to speak out. He did. But that wholly symbolic, non-violent act was perceived by many in government, media and society as a treasonous one, which ultimately cost the athlete his career.

The entire episode, which reverberated across the world and the violent, often racist, responses to it were all political, unwittingly proving, once more, that the relationship between politics and human rights, on the one hand, and sports, on the other, are impossible to separate. Interestingly, those who insisted that Kaepernick has violated the sanctity of sports have no qualms with other, essentially political acts throughout football: the national anthem, the endless display of flags, the nationalist chants, of soldiers being honored for their services in various wars and, at times, of air force fighting jets flying overhead, intoxicating the crowds with the might and power of the US military. Why are nationalistic politics acceptable while a single black man kneeling down to shed light on the plight of the innocent victims of police brutality is perceived to be an act of treason?

Whether it is convenient or not, sports is rife with political symbols and is a reflection of existing realities: inequalities, racism and more. It can also be a source of harmony and unity. In fact, sometimes it is, as was the heartwarming exchange between Portuguese international player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Iranian footballer, Ali Daei, when, on June 24, Ronaldo  equalized the international goal record of Daei. It can also be a reflection of rooted socio-political ailments, such as racism.

Racism is a political disease, like cancerous cells spreading across the body, or body politic of society. It has to be stopped, on and off the field. While taking the knee will not end racism, it is meant to serve as a conversation starter, a moral stance by players and a meaningful gesture of camaraderie and humanity.

The post Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”    first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Cruella Moments in Peru

Catherine and the Baroness

The only character who actually dies in Disney’s Cruella is the sweet, good servant, Catherine, who consents to raise Cruella – condemned to death by her birth mother, the grotesquely unfeeling Baroness De Vil – as her own daughter. Cruella and the Baroness shall dance a burlesque that plays out to the morbid rhythm of an eternal melody. Similarly in Peru since even the time of Spanish dominion a macabre masquerade has been enacted between conservatives and liberals, parties born of the same mother, Empire, whose local nemesis, Pachamama, struggles vainly with these uninvited adoptees in the face of their mutual despoliation of the natural order. Pachamama and her birth children, the Indigenous, do not fare well in this movie.

Vargas Llosa Musings

Peru’s – and perhaps the world’s – greatest living and truly genius novelist, 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, an unequalled expert on the psychology of Latin American caudillos, is himself the progeny of Peru’s deepest contradictions. In any other context it would be difficult to conceive how the celebrator of anarchy in Le Guerra del Fin del Mundo could possibly condemn Pedro Castillo, whom progressives must continue to hope will be inaugurated as president of Peru on July 28, as a presage of dictatorship and backwardness. To deepen his wound, Vargas Llosa, who campaigned for the presidency in 1990 against Alberto Fujimori, has expressed his preference for Cruella (or, perhaps, the Baroness) herself, Keiko Fujimori, Alberto’s eldest daughter. Her father dissolved the Peruvian Congress in 1992, setting himself up as dictator for the next eight years, and whose enforcer was intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, with the help of $10 million from the CIA with whom Montesinos had a long-standing relationship. The CIA financed an anti-narcotics unit organized by Montesinos in the National Intelligence Service (SIN), despite reports of the involvement by Fujimori’s eminence grise in corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations. A powerful Peruvian drug lord of the 1990s, Demetrio Chávez, testified in court that he paid US$50,000 monthly in bribes to Montesinos and several army officers.

Aged 19 in 1994, Keiko, who appears to have specialized more than anything else in the fine art of losing three presidential elections, accepted the title of First Lady from her father. Alberto had booted out (and was eventually to divorce) his much-abused wife, Susana, after Susana had accused him both publicly and in court, of kidnapping, torture, and corruption, and sought to run against him in the 1995 elections (Alberto changed the law so that Susana could not qualify).

Comparable perhaps to the bestowal on Keiko of the title of First Lady, Vargas Llosa, who replaced his own wife of 50 years in 2016 in favor of the 64-year-old mother of Enrique Iglesias – dubbed the ‘Pearl of Manila’ by the Daily Mail – was willing recipient of the hereditary title of 1st Marquis in the peerage of Spain, granted him in 2011 by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, the monarch who was soon to abdicate in disgrace for financial and other improprieties.

Meditations on Andean Peasantry

In his novel Lituma en los Andes (1993) Vargas Llosa turned his attention to the Andean Indigenous at the peak of the Maoist-inspired, rural, terrorist movement Sendero Luminoso. He peered deep into a primeval blackness belied by the peasantry’s colorful alpaca hats, facemasks, and ponchos. His niece, the film director Claudia Llosa, achieves much the same effect in her anthropological dissection of Andean village culture in Madeinusa (2006) and La Teta Asustada (2009). In his more recent Tiempos Recios (2019) Vargas Llosa constructs an allegory of the Fujimori and Montesinos years – a sort of lament, perhaps, for his own failure to out beat Fujimori electorally in 1990, and in which politically naïve, fearful members of Lima’s wealthy technocracy are represented as vain and foolish. Nor should we forget that in his novel El Sueño del Celta (2010) Vargas Llosa had already painted as horrific a picture of the abuse and slaughter of Amazonian Indigenous by European rubber interests around the turn of the twentieth century as has ever been accomplished.

Which leads us, then, to wonder at Vargas Llosa’s monumental failure of political judgment when confronted with a choice between Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo. For it is not the Indigenous to whom we should first look for evidence of primeval blackness, but to the Conquistadores, their armies, priests, and traders whose swirling, mendacious blackness of racism, violence, and greed, conjoined with equally toxic liquids from the north, saturates beyond repair the entire continent of Latin America to this day. Vargas Llosa projects his attention outwards when he should be looking inwards: he has reversed cause and effect, abuser and victim. It is not the Indigenous who are dark and mysterious. More likely they are tired, and they are angry. They are tired of providing pretty pictures for frivolous tourists whose travel to Peru from countries far wealthier than theirs contributes to planetary destruction, and whose corporations seize 70% of the profits earned by exploitation of the country’s mineral resources on Indigenous land. Peru has the world’s biggest reserves of silver, as well as Latin America’s largest reserves of gold, lead and zinc. The Peruvian coast is renowned for its marine resources. The Amazon basin possesses large reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as abundant forestry resources.

Winner of the 2021 presidential election Pedro Castillo, explained:

Peru is such a wealthy country but so much of the wealth, such as copper, gold, and silver, goes to foreigners. At the ports, you see an endless stream of trucks taking away the resources of the country and just two hundred meters away, you see a barefoot child, a child with tuberculosis, a child full of parasites. That is why we must renegotiate the contracts with big companies so that more of the profits remain in Peru and benefit the people. We must reexamine the free trade agreements we have signed with other countries so that we can promote local businesses.

But what are the prospects for real change? In what follows I shall look at how Peru’s natural wealth and indigenous people interact with Cruella’s Hispanic Dance of the Macabre, starting with its latest episode (Pedro vs. Keiko) then retreating to the Spanish conquest, before moving to mid-19th century reinterpretations of Cruella’s dance that sought to integrate the Indigenous, on more harmonious grounds, and finally pausing at Peru’s nearest shot at authentic revolution, the Velasco regime, and its morbid neoliberal Fujimori aftermath.

The Policies and Politics of Pedro Castillo

Presidential candidate Pedro Castillo won the 2021 presidential election by a margin of 44,000 votes on the second round, with 50.14% of the votes counted as against Keiko Fujimori who garnered 49,86%. If the election is validated, then President Castillo will command 42 out of the 130 seats in Congress, whilst Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular and the other right wing electoral coalitions will have a combined parliamentary strength of at least 80 seats. If the election is not validated and no president is inaugurated on July 28, then under the constitution there must be new elections.

The 2021 presidential election in Peru should have ended several weeks ago, at the time of this writing, but validation of Castillo as president has been delayed by Fujimori´s denunciations sin evidencia, and in the style of Trump –  yet afforded legitimacy by representations of some military and conservative figures through their own media (more than 70% of Peru’s news is owned and controlled by El Comercio Group which among other things propagates Fujimori’s ridiculous assertion that Castillo is a Sendero Luminoso communist).  This might seem less outrageous in the capital, Lima, where Fujimori support is concentrated and where major corporations have threatened their employees with the loss of their jobs if they failed to vote for Fujimori. A highly suspicious massacre of 16 people in San Miguel del Ene on May 23rd, attributed by police to an unlikely, mysteriously reborn Sendero movement, was more likely to have been a ghastly pro-Fujimori terror campaign.

Those who supported Keiko Fujimori’s claim that the election had been stolen and that 200,000 votes should be thrown out were concentrated in the upper classes of the capital, Lima, and included former military leaders and members of influential families. Some openly called for a new election, or even a military coup if Mr. Castillo was sworn in. Hundreds of retired military officers sent a letter to top military chiefs urging them to not recognize “an illegitimate president.” A former Supreme Court justice filed a lawsuit requesting that the entire election be annulled. The Defense Ministry has confirmed that Alberto Fujimori’s henchman, Vladimiro Montesinos, in jail on a naval facility, was somehow able to use a landline number to make 17 phone calls to Pedro Rejas, a retired military officer and formerly loyal Fujimori cohort who later revealed the recordings. In one conversation Montesinos appeared to suggest that bribes be paid through an intermediary to three of the four members of an electoral tribunal to favor Fujimori in a recount.

On July 3, Peru’s government rejected Fujimori’s request to seek an international audit of its June 6 election. Even the U.S. State Department had described the election as a model of democracy.  International observers, including the Organization of American States (OAS), found no evidence of major irregularities. Both the USA and EU praised the electoral process. Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, urged Peruvians to accept the election results. The National Elections Jury charged with reviewing contested ballots should have completed its task by mid-July so that a new president can be sworn in on July 28th. Its work was held up by a week after one of the judges resigned (he has been replaced).

A writer for the Financial Times has described Pedro Castillo, 51 years old, as a rural primary school teacher, a son of peasant farmers, and trade union activist. Castillo recently elaborated:

This year we are celebrating the bicentennial of Peru as a republic, yet after two hundred years, we still have a high level of illiteracy, and the homes of my parents and neighbors don’t have electricity, lights, or running water. There’s a totally abandoned health center where once in a while a nurse comes by and maybe you can find a bandage or a few pills for all the families. As I traveled in rural areas across the country, I found conditions similar to my hometown. Further into the Amazon, conditions are even worse. People there have nothing; they are totally abandoned by the state.

From 2005 to 2017 Castillo was affiliated with Perú Posible, a centrist party led by former president Alejandro Toledo. In 2017, the year he attained prominence as a leading figure in the 2017 teacher strike in Peru, Castillo joined his current party, Partido Nacional PERÚ LIBRE (PNPL) or Perú Libre, which claims a Marxist-Leninist heritage and proposes a left-wing program centered around increased spending on education and health services, nationalization of key extractive sectors, anti-corruption, and salary limits for congressional members.

Castillo was born to two illiterate peasants in one of the poorest regions in Peru. He is the third child of nine in his parents’ family. 60% of Peruvians do not have access to internet, and Castillo did not have a Twitter account. His campaign relied on community radios, personal visits to small towns, and cultural events. He built his presidential election campaign around resource nationalism and Indigenous rights. A central tenet of his PERÚ LIBRE party is to restructure Peru as a plurinational state along the basic lines of Ecuador and Bolivia. Peru has 4 major indigenous languages in the Andes (Quechua, Aymara, Cauqui and Jaqaru) and 43 more in the Amazon region.

Castillo has plans to rewrite the Constitution to give the state a greater role in the economy and keep a larger share of profits from mineral resources. Amid uncertainty over the final electoral outcome, he appointed more moderate economic advisers and sought to retain central bank head Julio Velarde – seen by many as a symbol of stability. The PERÚ LIBRE program addresses land reform, nationalization of natural resources to ensure that most of this wealth remains in Peru and available for the eradication of poverty, increases in state expenditure on social services (health and education), income redistribution, decriminalization of abortion. Other targets include human trafficking, especially of women; elimination of patriarchy and machismo in state and society; respect and promotion of women’s reproductive rights; and promotion of the self-organization of women at every level. Castillo himself, it should be noted, has reportedly opposed the legalization of abortion, same-sex marriage, and policies promoting gender equality. Additionally, PERÚ LIBRE aims to abandon the OAS (unofficial US regime-change machine) and return to UNASUR. The party strongly supports Cuba and Venezuela.

Although Castillo won only 18% of the vote for PERÚ LIBRE in the first round this was still something of a surprise, since the main contender for the left was thought to have been Veronika Mendoza, candidate of the Juntos por el Peru coalition, who obtained slightly less than 8%. Castillo was one of the least known among eighteen contenders in the first round. 70% of voters did not choose either Pedro Castillo or Keiko Fujimori. Many voters had been convinced by opposition propaganda that Vladimir Cerrón, the Marxist leader of Castillo’s party, Perú Libre, was the real power behind Castillo. It did not help that PERÚ LIBRE, although constituted in part by school union organizers like Castillo, also maintains loose ties to MOVADEF, a political movement that seeks amnesty for convicted terrorists, and advocates political participation and reconciliation between fully rehabilitated former terrorists and the citizenry at large. Castillo is anything but a terrorist. On the contrary, he was a rondero who helped lead peasant civilian militias that were officially recognized by the Peruvian government to defend small towns in the Andes against Sendero Luminoso terrorist cells during the 1980s and early ’90s. But no matter how progressive Castillo’s policies may seem they are also worryingly flexible in the face of potential setbacks and different audiences, and in Peru there is a bad history of the better promises of progressives or of progressive elements of neoliberals heading south (think Alan Garcia or Ollanta Humala) as quickly as champagne bottles at campaign victory fiestas. The show of humble, even Indigenous, origins, offers insufficient protect against such a turn of events.

The Politics and Policies of Keiko Fujimori

Fujimori is clearly a member of the Peruvian elite, albeit one whose father is still doing jail time – as is his former intelligence chief (the two are estimated to have stolen a combined $600 million during their decade in power). In a pre-Trumpian and therefore more rational world she would have stood nowhere near a position of power since prudence dictates even to social elites that they should keep the progeny of corrupt and murderous dictators hidden in the nursery or cellar, figuratively speaking, of course. In opinion polls, Fujimori has been among the least popular politicians in Peru. She has candidly supported her father’s dictatorial legacy and defended his record of state-sponsored extra-judicial killings. She has been hailed by the New York Times as a “towering symbol of the Peruvian elite and the heir to a right-wing populist movement started three decades ago by her father, the former President Alberto Fujimori.”

She became First Lady at the age of 19. She attended Stony Brook University in New York and earned a business degree from Boston University in 1997. She obtained her MBA from Columbia University in 2008. Her party, Fuerza Popular, promotes “fujimorism,” advocating for free trade and strong security. In 2016, Keiko Fujimori campaigned for tax breaks, incentives for small businesses to encourage registration of informal companies and allowing (Indigenous) communities to become shareholders in mining projects. She vowed to expand electricity and internet coverage into rural areas. In 2021 she has vowed to protect the interests of small and medium-sized businesses over large multinationals. She has advocated for state participation in strategic industries such as energy. She has also insisted that large mining projects must have the support of local communities to proceed. In short, she has cleverly hybridized the neoliberal policies of social elites with reassuring noises of concern for the middle classes and Indigenous.

Remembering Atahualpa

What is there more macabre than the vision of Hernando de Soto, future explorer of the Mississippi and a founding father, of sorts, of the USA, teaching Spanish to the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa – following one of history’s most notorious, bloodiest, and deceitful massacre of thousands – in Cajamarca – by Francisco Pizarro’s small band of plunderers? As De Soto and Atahualpa conversed day by day in the early 1530s, the Incas amassed a roomful of gold as ransom for Atahualpa’s freedom, a day that never came because Pizarro ordered Atahualpa’s execution.

Unfinished Revolutions

Peru has not been short of revolutions to redress this inaugural evil of modern imperialism. Each has fallen considerably short of real independence from imperialism and shorter still of freedom from racism and poverty. Advances in mass prosperity across the past century and a half have typically involved short-term excesses of generosity resulting from the State’s sale of the land, mining rights and enterprise of others, usually the Indigenous, to European traders and multinational companies. Neoliberalism is not so much about the generation of wealth that would not otherwise be created, as about the forcible transfer of that wealth from the State – and/or the people whom the State supposedly represents – to the accounts of business, finance and trade.

The liberation of Peru from Spain was undertaken in 1821, following nearly three hundred years of Spanish conquest and occupation, by José de San MartinEl Libertador de Argentina, Chile and Peru – with the assistance of Simón Bolívar. San Martin occupied Lima and declared Peruvian independence on 28 July. Upper Peru – Bolivia – remained as a Spanish stronghold until the army of Simón Bolívar liberated it three years later. Bolivarian projects for a Latin American Confederation floundered and a union with Bolivia proved ephemeral.

Thus was initiated the long reign of governance by a largely white Hispanic ruling class of traders, farmers, soldiers, priests, and educators. One of the liberators, Ramón Castilla y Marquesado, was later president of Peru for the period 1844-1863 and inaugurated a period of great national prosperity on account of trade in guano (bird excrement from conveniently uninhabited offshore islands, and used for fertilizer and gunpowder), which was initially monopolized by the State but whose profits were later enjoyed principally by foreign (mainly British) enterprises and eventually declined by the final quarter of the century. As the century wore on, politics became more formalized around an elected President and Congress, a party system that principally represented the interests of different sections of the ruling class (especially the military), based on a system of enfranchisement that favored propertied, educated, white men but did not necessarily exclude the indigenous. Women did not get the vote until 1956 and gender inequality has persisted as one of the outstanding features of Peru. Slavery was abolished in 1854, and the ranks of slaves in mines and plantations were increasingly occupied by impoverished Chinese and some Japanese immigrants as well as by the more favored but more demanding Europeans.

Velasco, or Fiasco?

If we set to one side the inevitable incremental changes achieved by liberal regimes (occasionally presided over by leaders from poor or even Indigenous background), often reversed by conservative successors or simply abandoned in periods of economic malaise, Peru’s second major revolution was the curious Conservative-Liberal-Military hybrid of the military regime and dictatorship of Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975).

We can say of this period that a military junta, seemingly coming out of nowhere in response to a period of considerable political instability because Velasco’s predecessor (also to be his successor, 1980-85), Belaúnde, had no majority in Congress, handed Peru a revolution-on-a-plate. This might otherwise have taken centuries to achieve and had it happened anywhere else or at any other time, would have been instantly (and was eventually) squashed by the regime-change shenanigans of Washington and its Latin American allies. Yet it was scorned by Peruvians of both upper and lower caste (or at least so we are told, although following his death in 1977, Velasco’s casket was carried on the shoulders of farmers for six hours around Lima) and casually tossed into the trash can in favor of a return to the more familiar pace of Peru’s macabre, Cruella dance. That it happened at all was because it was a revolution previously unannounced, coming from the top, imposed top-down. Plus, it was a revolution in the deceptive spirit of Kennedy’s Alianza Para El Progreso, launched in 1961 through the Agency for International Development and the Alliance for Progress and designed as an answer to the regional threat posed by Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution of 1959.

It is the Velasco revolution, not Fujimori’s torture-drenched dictatorship that most occasions dread for Vargas Llosa. The Velasco story is recounted in Peru’s 2019 greatest-ever movie hit, La Revolución y La Tierra by director Gonzalo Benavente which, predictably, is all but invisible and unattainable anywhere in the vast universe of US movie (anti-) abundance.

Agrarian Reform

In 1968, Velasco (whose early life he described as one of “dignified poverty” working as shoeshine boy) launched a coup against the right-wing government of Fernando Belaúnde Terry. In suppressing Cuban-inspired revolutionary movements in impoverished regions of Peru, some of the regime’s army leaders became radicalized. The new regime introduced significant land reform which dissolved the horrendously cruel Spanish-era hacendado system that had concentrated land ownership (and, in effect, ownership of Indigenous) among 40 families whose lineage traced back to the days of imperial Spain. Within a decade, the regime expropriated 15,000 properties (totaling nine million hectares) and benefited some 300,000 families. Most properties were converted into cooperatives owned by prior workers on the estates. The purpose was to override existing property interests in favor of cooperative ownership, as opposed either to individual private farming or to state farms. But the government also created a system of price controls and monopoly food buying by state firms that was designed to hold down prices to urban consumers, no matter what the cost to rural producers. Following Velasco, most of these cooperatives were later converted into individual private holdings during the 1980s, after majority votes of the cooperative members in each case. The conversions left Peru with a far less unequal pattern of landownership than it had prior to the reform and with a much greater role for family farming than ever before in its history. But by creating many small holdings it reduced the economic efficiency and competitiveness of Peruvian agriculture. Agricultural reform may have contributed to centralization and urbanization as people moved into Lima and other coastal cities, tendencies that would almost certainly have occurred regardless.

The former landlords predictably claimed that they did not receive adequate compensation. They had been paid in agrarian reform bonds, a sovereign debt obligation of which the government defaulted payment due to the hyperinflationary period that affected Peru’s economy in the late 1980s. As the government ran deeper into debt, it was forced to devalue the currency and pursue inflationary policies. This was in part due to the 1970s Energy Crisis which made it impossible for the administration to fund some of its most ambitious reforms. Economic growth under the administration was steady if unremarkable – real per capita GDP (constant 2000 US$) increased 3.2% per year from 1968 to 1975, compared to 3.9% per year over the same period for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole.


Other measures included expropriations of foreign businesses, few as significant as the International Petroleum Company, owned by (US) Standard Oil. There had previously been a dispute with the International Petroleum Company over licenses to the La Brea y Pariñas oil fields. On October 8, 1968, these were taken over by the Army. From this point on the USA set itself to overthrow Velasco. US–Peru disagreements extended over a broad range of issues including Peru’s claim to a 200-mile fishing limit, that resulted in the seizure of several US commercial fishing boats, and the expropriation of the American copper mining company Cerro de Pasco Corporation. Velasco’s government also instituted tax reforms, rewrote the constitution, and established diplomatic relations with the major communist countries. Under Velasco Peru advocated the removal of OAS sanctions against Cuba and advocated for Latin American unity against US power and influence.


Velasco’s regime advocated nationalization through a program it described as Peruanismo, a philosophy that inspired future Venezuelan revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez on his visit to Peru in 1974. The idea was to find a “third way” between capitalism and socialism, with a corporatist society much more inclusionary than that possible under capitalism but without rejecting private ownership or adopting any of the compulsory methods identified with communism.  Peruanismo aimed to serve policies of inclusive social justice, development, and national independence. The regime expropriated companies across all major sectors, including fisheries, mining, telecommunications, and power generation, and consolidated these into single, monopolistic, industry-centric government-run enterprises and disincentivized private activity in those sectors. The new State companies proved expensive to the public treasury in part because of government attempts to hold down their prices with a view to easing inflation or to subsidize consumers. Their deficits were aggravated by spending tendencies of military officers appointed to management positions, and inadequate attention to costs of production. State enterprises were not able to finance more than a quarter of their investment spending and, when allowed to borrow abroad for imported equipment and supplies, external debt rose dramatically. By 1975 external creditors had lost confidence in Peru’s ability to repay its debts.

Curbing Foreign Influence

Foreign influences were reduced through tight restrictions on foreign investment and nationalization of some of the largest foreign firms. Peru’s action in this respect contributed to the formation of the regional Andean Pact, that featured some of the most extensive controls on foreign investment ever attempted in the developing world. The Industrial Community Law of 1970 gave any industrialist on the register of manufacturers the right to demand prohibition of any imports competing with his products with little regard for concerns about high costs of production, poor product quality, or monopolistic positions fostered by excluding import competition. Velasco promoted industrial investment by granting major tax exemptions, as well as tariff exemptions on imports used by manufacturers in production. The fiscal benefits equaled 92 percent of total internal financing of industrial investment in the years 1971 through 1975. Investment rose strongly but tax exemptions contributed to a rising public-sector deficit and inflationary pressure. Exemptions from tariffs on imports of equipment and supplies led to a strong rise in the ratio of imports to production for the industrial sector.

Industrial and Education Reform

Promoting worker participation in ownership and management was intended to reshape labor relations. A system of “industrial communities” required firms to distribute part of their profits to workers in the form of dividends constituting ownership shares. But firms typically avoided reporting profits in an effort to postpone sharing ownership, instead channeling profits to companies outside the system or adjusting the books. A few workers gained shares, but most were focused on immediate working conditions and earnings. Unions were distrustful of the seeming abrogation of their power. A reform of labor relations included severe restrictions on rights to discharge workers once they had passed a brief trial period of employment. Businesses responded by hiring more workers on a temporary basis.

The education reform of 1972 provided for bilingual education for the Indigenous people of the Andes and the Amazon, which comprised nearly half of the population. But there was little tolerance for dissent and media were frequently harassed and censored. Velasco pursued a partnership with the Soviet bloc, tightening relations with Cuba and Fidel Castro and undertaking major purchases of Soviet military hardware.

A Final Assessment

If ultimately the Velasco regime was undermined by inflation, unemployment, food shortages, increased political and military opposition, one may argue that it is fitting, if disappointing that a revolution that starts with the military should end at the hands of the military, as when military commanders declared that Velasco had not achieved most of what the “Peruvian Revolution” had stood for and was unable to continue in his functions. Which regimes, then, picked up that challenge of what the revolution “stood for,” and which, if any, made any further progress towards that goal?

Velasco’s successor, his prime minister, Francisco Morales Bermúdez, began a second phase of the Peruvian armed revolution, promising to transition to civilian government even as he paralyzed implementation of Velasco’s reforms, illustrating how an ideology of parliamentary democracy can be weaponized for counter-revolutionary purposes. To hammer the point home, Bermúdez turned into an extreme right-wing military dictator, pursuing a policy of leftist cleansing. But he did return Peru to democratic elections in 1980, when Fernando Belaúnde Terry (whom Velasco had deposed in 1968) was re-elected.

This period inaugurated or coincided with the rise of gruesome US-backed military dictatorships across Latin America: General Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina (1976-1981); General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973 to 1981); Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay (1954–1989); General Juan María Bordaberry of Uruguay (1973–1985); the Brazilian military dictatorship of various successive military leaders (1964–1985) and successive military dictatorships in Bolivia (1964–1982). It was this tendency more than any other that most inspired and sustained Sendero Luminoso in the 1970s and 1980s, in turn creating the terror pretext that secured Fujimori’s victory against Vargas Llosa in the 1990 elections. The ensuing neoliberal dictatorship and militarization of the 1990s enabled Fujimori, like Chile’s Pinochet, to exploit principles of neoliberalism for illegal self-enrichment. But also, it has to be said that neither Velasco nor Sendero Luminoso enjoyed sufficient popular consent or support – least of all by those whose interests they most claimed to serve, those of the Indigenous peasantry.

 Return to the Cruella Dance

It is remarkable that since Velasco all but one former president (Belaúnde) has been tried and convicted of corruption charges. At least four (Martin Vizcarra, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Ollanta Humala and Alejandro Toledo) have been caught up in the long-running Odebrecht scandal in which the Brazilian engineering and contracting giant has been implicated in charges of bribery. Using a complex network of shell companies, off-book transactions and offshore bank accounts, and a dedicated bribery division, Odebrecht paid more than $780 million in bribes to government officials, their representatives, and political parties in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. This conduct helped it win contracts and other benefits totaling $3.34 billion.

Governance over the ten to fifteen year period separating the dictatorships of Velasco and Fujimori was shared principally between the second presidency of Belaúnde (1980-1985), for Acción Popular – the party he had founded in 1956 as a reformist alternative to conservative forces and to the populist APRA party, appealing primarily to the middle class, professionals and white-collar workers – and the first presidency of Alan Garcia (1985-1990) for Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), the political party founded by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre in 1924, and supported by workers and middle-class liberals. APRA dominated Peruvian politics for decades and stood for Latin American unity, nationalization of foreign-owned enterprises, and an end to the exploitation of the Indigenous.

Liberal pretensions notwithstanding this period constituted one of economic and political disaster on account of unmanageable debt and hyper-inflation, such that inflation stood at 7,649% in 1990, and 2,200,200% over the period 1985-1990 alone. Belaunde’s lifting of tariffs shortly after coming to power threw Peru into a highly competitive international economy for which it was ill-prepared, a challenge exacerbated by the economic impact of a severe earthquake in 1983. Garcia’s reluctant embrace of the IMF in 1988 (though he tried to limit payments to 10% of GNP) had severe consequences for expenditure on social welfare and further contributed to the rural popularity of Sendero Luminoso, which had been established in the Andean highlands in 1969 by philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán, and provided Garcia’s successor with pretexts of national emergency for ruthless army suppression that barely distinguished between guerrillas and peasants.

Fujimori’s dictatorial regime lasted a full decade (1990-2000), beginning shortly after the country had taken on the IMF loan in 1988 in a bid to evade national bankruptcy and amidst a period of extraordinarily rampant inflation. He is best known for his neoliberalism and ruthless suppression of terrorism and of the Left more generally. He is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in killings and kidnappings by death squads. In April 1992, he dissolved Congress, dismantled the judiciary, and assumed full executive and legislative powers. He decreed stringent and repressive labor laws to create a ‘paradise’ of labor flexibility, giving management the right to fire, casualize labor contracts, and to oppose unions and collective bargaining. He increased the number of provinces subjected to a military state of emergency from 52 to 66 so that nearly half of the population was encased in these emergency areas where all sectors of the left were ruthlessly suppressed at a total final cost of 69,000 lives, according to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2001-2003). The Left was barely present in the elections of 1995, 2000, 2006, and 2011 and began to recover only in 2016.

Following the same Chicago School neoliberal script as others before him including Margaret Thatcher in the UK, Ronald Reagan in the USA, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Fujimori eliminated price controls, totally deregulated markets, privatized state-owned companies and introduced a tight monetary policy. This attracted foreign (in particular, US) investment in natural resources, finances, and consumer markets, and expanded the power of foreign capital in Peru. Fujimori’s eugenic plan led to the forcible sterilization of about 350,000 mainly peasant and indigenous women as a “solution” to the nation’s ‘Indian problem’ (i.e. higher birth rates among Indigenous people than Peruvians of European descent).

Fujimori’s successor, president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) who founded his own party, Pais Posible, and led the anti-Fujimori opposition, did not resort to the underhand and brutal methods of his predecessor. His administration marked the beginning of the country’s macroeconomic boom, and promoted foreign investment, free trade, and investment in infrastructure and human development. But it also suffered from a governance crisis, scandals in Toledo’s personal life, and allegations of corruption against his inner circle. In July 2019, Toledo was arrested in the USA for an extradition order to Peru. He requested release on bail, but the request was ruled inadmissible. He was later released on bail, but placed under house arrest in San Francisco, awaiting extradition on charges of receiving multimillionaire bribes.

Toledo was succeeded by the return to the presidency of Alan Garcia, leader of APRA, for the period 2006-2011. Garcia committed suicide in 2020 as the police came to arrest him for personal graft and corruption during his administration. For most of the 20th century, APRA had dominated Peruvian politics, appealing to the masses with its anti-imperialist rhetoric. Yet Garcia’s government embraced an agenda oriented towards attracting foreign investors and fighting drug trafficking. Within his first month in power, Garcia repudiated his election promise of seeking changes to the Free Trade Agreement with Washington, and made its signing his first priority. His enthusiastic adoption of neoliberal measures and welcome of foreign transnationals to exploit communal lands for oil exploration, logging, mining, and large-scale farming involved a massacre by heavily armed Peruvian security forces against protesting Amazon Indigenous. This occurred in the Peruvian city of Bagua, located 1,400 kilometers north of Lima, when some 600 militarized police attacked 1,000 demonstrators who were blocking the main road. European, American, and Brazilian companies had bid tens of billions of dollars for rights to drill oil, construct a hydroelectric plant and exploit the vast mineral and timber resources of the Amazon jungle. Garcia mocked the Indigenous whom he claimed hated investment and did not like capitalists, on the grounds that it was not just about US corporations who were looking to plunder their lands, but also Korean, Arab, and Japanese.

Ollanta Humala, once described as a left-leaning former army officer, assumed office for the Gana Peru party (2011-2016) largely on the strength of support from poor voters. He was briefly depicted as a sort of hero for defeating Keiko Fujimori. He is brother of the “ethnocacerist,” Antauro Humala. Ethnocacerism is an ethnic nationalist movement seeking the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship led by the country’s Indigenous communities and their descendants. It draws on the history of Indigenous and anticolonial movements. It was developed by Ollanta and Antauro Humala in 1987, beginning as a military doctrine in the war against Sendero Luminoso, and as an organizing strategy in opposition to the military doctrine and strategic errors of the Peruvian armed forces, which viewed the Indigenous countryside as a foreign territory and colony. Antauro Humala was later handed a 25-year prison sentence for kidnapping 17 police officers for 3 days and killing 4 of them.

In the week following his victory Humala made it his priority to reassure capitalist investors, foreign and national, that they had nothing to fear from his campaign rhetoric about changing the country’s economic model and effecting a more just distribution of wealth. He issued a conciliatory message to the USA that he considered it a ‘strategic partner’ and that he was looking to establish a close cooperation with Washington in the fight against drugs. He handed the armed forces in Peru, already active in fighting drug trafficking, greater responsibility for maintaining public order. The armed forces would now also be expected to crack down on illegal mining, and to intervene in social protests. Under Humala’s watch it was revealed that the government was creating a gas concession, bordering on or including the Manú national park, that would favor Pluspetrol, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, which already operated an existing gas concession in the region known as the Camisea project.

Digging in his heels later against opponents of the huge US$4.8 billion Conga gold and copper mining project in the region of Cajamarca in northern Peru, Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency and called on residents to maintain serenity and calm. The project was operated by (US) Newmont Mining, the world’s largest gold mining company, which already operated the giant Yanachocha open-pit gold mine in the vicinity. Humala’s administration expected Peru to  earn an estimated $800 million in royalties and taxes. Many residents feared that the project, approved the year before by Alan Garcia, would ruin their water supply. Humala mobilized army troops in a region where constitutional rights had already been suspended under emergency decree, claiming that the authorities had exhausted the possibility of dialog with protesters and blaming the intransigence of local leaders.

In 2017 Humala and his wife were arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering. Both were banned from leaving Peru and were awaiting trial in 2018. The 2017 election was won by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (of Peruans por el Kambio), one of the wealthiest and oldest of Peruvian presidential candidates. His presidency should have run to 2021, but he was forced to resign in 2018 to avoid impeachment procedures initiated in 2017 for lying to Congress and receiving bribes in exchange for government contracts. While Peru’s Congress was debating whether to oust him over these charges of corruption, he made a Faustian bargain to win over supporters of Alberto Fujimori who wanted him to pardon Fujimori. The pact does not seem to have worked very well for Kuczynski and obtained only a very short reprieve for Fujimori.

Kuczynski had to be replaced by his vice-president, Martin Vizcarra (Independent), who launched an offensive against corruption but was impeached by Congress in November 2020 for taking bribes on several occasions in 2014 in exchange for awarding public work contracts. It is widely believed his impeachment was prompted by his decision to dissolve Congress for obstructing the investigations against corruption.

Without admitting guilt, Vizcarra accepted the Congress decision and was replaced by the Congress’s President, Manuel Merino, as caretaker leader with a cabinet dominated by the business elite. The country exploded in huge mass demonstrations that were met by brutal police repression with two dead, dozens injured and many more arrested. Merino was forced to resign on 15 November 2020 and Congress then appointed Francisco Sagasti (who had voted against Vizcarra’s impeachment) as interim president. Sagasti was entrusted with the task of organizing the presidential elections in April 2021.

Rising Inequality

Peru had a total population of 32m in 2019, with a per capita GDP of approximately $7,000 and an overall GDP of over $230 billion. Peru is the seventh largest economy in Latin America. Its services sector accounts for 60% of GDP, within which telecommunications and financial services alone account for nearly 40% of GDP. Industry represents 35% of GDP. Peru’s ores and minerals exports make up over 50% of total exports, food accounts for 21% and mineral fuels account for 12%, a trade that is very vulnerable to shifts in terms of trade. In a financially dollarized economy, consumers and firms might borrow in USD but buy and sell products in local currency, so any fluctuation of the foreign exchange can lead to distortions in both production and consumption decisions.

For two decades in the twenty-first century, Peru’s economy appeared robust, among the best-performing Latin American economies, with annual real GDP growth averaging 5.4 percent 2005-2020. But economic inequality had been intensifying since 2014, when a 12-year run of sustained growth in the national GDP, driven by a mining boom, came to an end.

Poverty had been the fate of 50% of the population in 1970, even increasing slightly to 54.1% in 2000. It then declined a little, to 49.1%, in 2006, but went down a whole lot further to 20% in 2019. But the 2020 pandemic pushed it back up to 30%. In 2019 the top 1% and 10% of income earners got 29.6% and 56.6% of GDP, respectively; 40% of middle-income earners got 35.8% of GDP, whilst 50% of low-income earners only received 9.4% of GDP. About 45% of Peru’s total population is indigenous and 52% of those who live below the extreme poverty line are indigenous.

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Informatica (INEI), people who earn less than 338 soles, or US$150 dollars, per month are in poverty and those who earn less than 183 soles or US$80 a month are in extreme poverty. The minimum living wage has been established at 930 soles, or 415 dollars, per month. In 2017, poverty in urban areas impacted 15% of the population, but poverty in rural areas was 44%. 70% of the rural poor did not have titles to their property, 42% lived in adobe houses, and 58% lived on dirt floors. 73% of the rural poor had no access to a public water source, and 50% had only reached a primary school level of education. More than 80% did not have health insurance, and 53% worked in agriculture. Decades of neoliberal meanness in the matter of social and welfare benefits have cast millions into precariousness and hardship, enhancing their vulnerability to pandemics such as Covid-19. Peru has experienced one of the highest Covid-related mortality rates.

By 2021 a total of US$ 17 billion had been transferred abroad in fear of Pedro Castillo’s presidency. Consumer prices jumped 3.2 percent 2020-2021, a rise concentrated in products of the “basic food basket” impacting mainly the poor. Peru produces only 9.5 percent of the wheat it consumes—the rest is imported from Canada, the US, Argentina, and Russia. By 2020 the number of families declared poor (earning US$2,520 or less annually) in Peru had risen from 20 percent to 30 percent of the population, wiping out the poverty reduction achieved over the past decade. More than 10,000 families have been evicted from informal settlements. Yet foreign investment in Peru’s mining sector was expected to total US$34 billion over the next decade. Although the international price of copper rose by 94 percent from May 2020 to May 2021, mining employed fewer personnel due to increasing automation.


In many ways Peru continues to suffer from a 500-year-old Latin American malaise of Hispanic dominance, exercised through military, religious and economic institutions, coupled with the problems of proximity to the global hegemon, the USA, and the attraction of Peru’s mineral wealth to a global capitalist class. Its politics evince a perpetual struggle – Cruella’s macabre dance – between a stubborn conservative self-interest, and a more liberal, less privileged middle class that claims to speak for the Indigenous but has achieved too little to advance their status. The world views of both parties are shaped predominantly through a westernized lens. Their campaign wars of words provide a very insecure basis on which to predict their actual behavior in power, which is governed as much by fear and venality than a concept of the public good. Problems that cannot be resolved within this narrow compass frequently invite military intervention and/or dictatorship that is given to brutality.

The post Cruella Moments in Peru first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered?

“The Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered”. This assertion has been oft repeated recently, especially after the torture to death on June 24 of a popular Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, 42, at the hands of PA security goons in Hebron (Al-Khalil).

The killing – or ‘assassination’ as some Palestinian rights groups describe it – of Banat, however, is commonplace. Torture in PA prisons is the modus operandi, through which Palestinian interrogators exact ‘confessions’. Palestinian political prisoners in PA custody are usually divided into two main groups: activists who are suspected by Israel of being involved in anti-Israeli occupation activities and others who have been detained for voicing criticism of the PA’s corruption or subservience to Israel.

In a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, the group spoke of “dozens of arrests”, carried out by the PA “for critical posts on social media platforms.” Banat fits perfectly into this category, as he was one of the most persistent and outspoken activists, whose many videos and social media posts exposed and embarrassed the PA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party. Unlike others, Banat named names and called for severe measures against those who squander Palestinian public funds and betray the causes of the Palestinian people.

Banat has been arrested by PA police several times in the past. In May, gunmen attacked his home, using live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. He blamed the attacks on Abbas’ Fatah party.

His last social media campaign was concerned with the almost-expired Covid-19 vaccinations which the PA received from Israel on June 18. Because of public pressure by activists like Banat, the PA was forced to return the Israeli vaccines which, before then, were touted as a positive gesture by Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett.

When the PA men descended on Banat’s house on June 24, the ferocity of their violence was unprecedented. His cousin, Ammar, spoke of how nearly 25 PA security personnel raided Banat’s house, pepper-sprayed him while in bed and “began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons.” After stripping him naked, they dragged him into a vehicle. An hour and a half later, the family learned the fate of their son through a WhatsApp group.

Despite initial denial, under pressure from thousands of protesters throughout the West Bank, the PA was forced to admit that Banat’s death was “unnatural.” The PA’s Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Shalaldeh, told Palestine TV that an initial medical report indicated that Banat was subjected to physical violence.

This supposed explosive revelation was meant to demonstrate that the PA is willing to examine and take responsibility for its action. However, this is simply untrue as, one, the PA has never taken responsibility for its past violence and, two, violence is the cornerstone of the PA’s very existence. Arbitrary arrests, torture and suppression of peaceful protests are synonymous with PA security as numerous reports by rights groups, whether in Palestine or internationally, have indicated.

So, is it true that “the Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered?” To consider this question, it is important to examine the rationale behind the PA’s very existence, and also to compare that initial purpose to what has transpired in the following years.

The PA was founded in 1994 as a transitional national authority with the purpose of guiding the Palestinian people through the process of, ultimately, national liberation, following the ‘final status negotiations’, set to conclude by the end of 1999. Many years have elapsed, since, without a single political achievement to the PA’s name. This does not mean that the PA, from the viewpoint of its leadership and Israel, has been a total failure, as the PA security continued to fulfill the most important role entrusted to it: security coordination with the Israeli occupation; i.e., protecting illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and doing Israel’s dirty bidding in PA-run autonomous Palestinian areas. In exchange, the PA received billions of dollars from US-led ‘donor countries’ and from Palestinian taxes collected on its behalf by Israel.

That same paradigm is still at work, but for how much longer? Following the Palestinian revolt in May, the Palestinian people have exhibited unprecedented national unity and resolve that have transcended factional lines, and have daringly called for the removal of Abbas from power, rightly linking the Israeli occupation with the PA’s corruption.

Since the mass protests in May, the PA’s official discourse has been marred by confusion, desperation and panic. PA leaders, including Abbas, tried to position themselves as revolutionary leaders. They spoke of ‘resistance’, ‘martyrs’, and even ‘revolution’, while simultaneously renewing their commitment to the ‘peace process’ and the American agenda in Palestine.

As Washington resumed its financial support of Abbas’ Authority after it was disrupted by former US President Donald Trump, the PA hoped to return to the status quo, that of relative stability, financial abundance and political relevance. The Palestinian people, however, seem to have moved on, as demonstrated in the mass protests – always met with violent response by PA security throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah, the seat of the PA’s power.

Even the slogans have changed. Following Banat’s murder, thousands of protesters in Ramallah, representing all strands of Palestinian society, called on Abbas, 85, to leave, referring to his security goons as ‘baltajieh’ and ‘shabeha’ – or thugs – terms borrowed from Arab protesters during the early years of various Middle Eastern revolts.

This change in discourse points to a critical shift in the relationship between ordinary Palestinians – emboldened and ready to stage a mass revolt against Israeli occupation and colonialism – and their quisling, corrupt and self-serving so-called leadership. It is important to note that no aspect of this Palestinian Authority enjoys an iota of democratic credentials. Indeed, on April 30, Abbas canceled the general election that was scheduled to be held in Palestine in May, based on flimsy excuses.

The PA has proven to be an obstacle in the face of Palestinian freedom, with no credibility among Palestinians. It clings on to power only because of US and Israeli support. Whether this Authority’s days are numbered or not, depends on whether the Palestinian people prove that their collective will is stronger than the PA and its benefactors. Historical experience has taught us that the Palestinian people will eventually prevail.

The post The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered? first appeared on Dissident Voice.