Fight for $15 marks a new era of workers’ struggle in the US

By Chris Wright On May 1, 2015

Post image for Fight for $15 marks a new era of workers’ struggle in the USThe struggle for fair pay is establishing itself as a successor to failed trade union strategies and a key node in the emerging social justice movement.

Photo by Christopher Dilts.

The demonstrations across the United States on April 15 revealed the significance of the Fight for $15, and has already been dubbed “the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.” Tens of thousands of people in 230 cities marching, chanting, broadcasting their voices over loudspeaker so that the “Masters of the Universe” could hear them — demanding fair pay for all.

Consider the scene at the University of Illinois in Chicago: thousands of black, white and brown faces cheering together — retail workers, graduate students, professionals, unions organizations for the homeless, interested individuals, schoolchildren, the middle-aged, the elderly: a panoply of humanity shouting in unison against poverty wages, union-busting, racism, police brutality, corporate oligarchy — the status quo.

Even in its early stages, Fight for $15 already finds itself at the forefront of a new social justice movement. As it intersects with the Black Lives Matter and feminist movements, community organizing and workers’ struggles the world over, Fight for $15 exemplifies an innovative new form of social movement unionism — the desperately needed successor to the old failed AFL-CIO strategies of narrow collective bargaining, ossified bureaucratism, and concessionary negotiations with union-busting employers.

It’s time we took the fight to the streets, to resurrect and fuse the spirits of the 1930s and the 1960s. The Fight for $15 is rapidly emerging as a key node of this revolutionary 21st century fusion — what we can expect will become a massive international movement of movements for economic and social justice.

In less than three years, the Fight for $15 has grown from a single strike in New York City to what we saw on April 15, which included demonstrations in Italyand New Zealand. Seattle and San Francisco have passed $15 minimum wage laws, Chicago will have a $13 minimum wage by 2019, and other cities and statesare considering similar laws.

More and more politicians are coming out in support of minimum wage hikes, which, on less dramatic scales, have been passed recently in several states and cities. Social movements take years to build, but this one is already picking up steam.

As it continues to gain visibility, moreover, the pressure it brings to bear on politicians will deepen and broaden. When issues like a higher minimum wage, anti-racism, workplace safety, immigrants’ rights and social welfare are seen to overlap and are pressed forward, together, on multiple fronts — as happened, for instance, in the 1930s, when the wide range of social movements pushed American politics to the left on dozens of issues — real political change can result.

Ultimately, systemic alternatives can emerge, whether interstitially or squarely in the mainstream. As important as the Fight for $15 is, therefore, it may be only the beginning of something truly momentous.

We’ve already seen other glimmers of the possible, some of which flared up only briefly and then sputtered into semi-darkness after months or a couple years. Occupy Wall Street is the best example. It had enormous influence at the level of public discourse, thrusting the issue of income inequality into the spotlight, but after being savagely repressed by the political establishment and its police goons, it rapidly petered out.

The Fight for $15, by contrast, while lacking Occupy’s creative anarchist spontaneity, is much more organizationally robust, oriented towards the long haul and towards specific legislative goals that can serve as stepping stones toward ever more ambitious goals. The movement is building networks and coalitions, politicizing working people, raising awareness, and pushing public opinion to the left. As the American mainstream becomes sensitized to the demand for higher wages and enforcement of workers’ rights, it is more likely to support anti-racist policies, prison reform, action against police brutality, anti-war agendas, and other left-wing goals that all overlap.

These fights are not likely to suffer the fate of Occupy Wall Street, largely because they don’t depend on a single specific tactic that is vulnerable to police action. They will build strength year by year, aided by the momentum of the Fight for $15.

It is significant, incidentally, that a large cross-section of American business — including two out of three small business owners — supports a higher minimum wage, because it makes good economic sense. When radical ideas like these start being adopted by large sections of the ruling class — even if only in a defensive move — it is clear that the momentum is on the side of change.

In short, there is cause for optimism on multiple fronts. Of course there is little doubt that society, in the long term, is in for catastrophic social and environmental disruptions — but in the midst of these tragedies, there will still be accumulating successes, thanks to the work of activists like those who have made possible the Fight for $15. The more of us join them, the more victories the left will be able to claim in the years and decades ahead.

Chris Wright is a doctoral candidate in U.S. labor history and author ofWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States and Notes of an Underground Humanist. Visit his website.

Parasitism, plutocracy and economic depression

Economy is in reverse

2 May 2015

Seven years since the 2008 financial crash, the US economy remains mired in slump, stagnation and financial parasitism. This reality was underscored Wednesday with the release of figures showing that the economy all but ground to a halt in the first quarter of this year, refuting the endless claims by the Obama administration that the US is in the midst of an economic “recovery.”

The US Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product grew at a rate of just 0.2 percent between January and March, down from a rate of 2.2 percent in the previous quarter. Since the official end of the recession in 2009, the US economy has grown at an average annual rate of only 2.2 percent, compared to an average growth rate of 3.2 percent during the 1990s and 4.2 percent in the 1950s.

The ongoing economic stagnation in the United States is one element of a global crisis that continues to grip the world economy. Last month, the International Monetary Fund warned in its World Economic Outlook that global growth is unlikely to return to rates that existed before the 2008 financial meltdown.

It warned, “Potential growth in advanced economies is likely to remain below pre-crisis rates, while it is expected to decrease further in emerging market economies in the medium term.” The report added, “Shortly after the crisis hit in September 2008, economic activity collapsed, and more than six years after the crisis, growth is still weaker than was expected before the crisis.”

The IMF noted that business investment is at historic lows, significantly below the level experienced in the aftermath of any recovery since World War II. This assessment was borne out in the Commerce Department’s report on US economic growth, which showed that business fixed investment plunged by 3.4 percent over the previous quarter.

The slump in productive investment takes place even as corporations are sitting atop the largest cash hoard in history: US corporations alone have $1.4 trillion on their balance sheets.

Instead of using this money to invest, hire workers or raise wages, major US corporations are using it to buy back shares, increase dividends and engage in an orgy of mergers and acquisitions.

General Motors, which slashed pay of new-hires by fifty percent during the 2009 auto restructuring and is looking to cut labor costs even further in the upcoming contract, has announced a $5 billion share buy-back scheme, using its massive cash hoard to further enrich its wealthy shareholders.

Meanwhile energy giant Shell, which early this year waged a bitter struggle against oil refinery workers striking to demand higher pay and safety improvements, announced that it would make $70 billion available to buy up British oil producer BG group.

This year is shaping up to be one of the biggest for mergers and acquisitions in history, with a record $4.3 trillion available for merger activity, according to Credit Suisse.

Notable mergers have included the food producers Kraft and Heinz (likely to result in 5,000 job losses), and Staples and Office Depot (closing up to 1,000 stores and eliminating thousands of workers). RadioShack, meanwhile, has worked out a deal with Standard General that would close more than 2,000 stores and eliminate 20,000 positions.

Stock markets have celebrated each of these successive corporate bloodbaths. Last month, the technology-heavy NASDAQ exchange eclipsed its peak in early 2000 at the height of the dot-com bubble. The NASDAQ has nearly quadrupled since 2009, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased threefold.

As a result of the soaring stock market, the 400 richest individuals in the United States, whose wealth has doubled since 2009—the era of Obama. They now have a combined net worth of $2.29 trillion, larger than the annual output of the 130 poorest countries in the world.

The soaring wealth of the financial oligarchy is another side of the continual impoverishment and immiseration of working people. One in four American children are officially in poverty, one in five do not get enough to eat, and half of public school students qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

The American state functions not to ameliorate this soaring inequality, but rather to facilitate the continuous enrichment of the corporate and financial aristocrats.

The institutions supposedly responsible for “regulating” the financial system do little more than cover up for and facilitate its crimes. This basic reality was expressed in the latest settlement between the United States and Deutsche Bank, in which the German bank last month received a wrist-slap fine for flagrantly helping to rig LIBOR, the key global interest rate, for its own enrichment.

Wall Street pays handsomely for the support and protection it receives from so-called financial regulators. A case in point is Ben Bernanke, the man who, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, oversaw the bank bailout and “quantitative easing” measures that transferred trillions of dollars onto the balance sheets of Wall Street.

Now, Bernanke is getting his payday: he has been hired by not one, but two leading financial institutions: the hedge fund Citadel and Pimco, one of the largest bond traders in the world, each of whom will pay him handsomely in exchange for services rendered.

These dominant features of economic life in the present period are not incidental aberrations, but rather express the essential character of the capitalist system first identified by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels nearly 170 years ago: crisis, economic stagnation and ever-growing inequality.

The only way to end this cycle of parasitism and economic slump, and ensure a decent standard of living for all people, is to break the political stranglehold of the financial oligarchy. This is inseparable from the struggle to do away with the parasitic and outmoded capitalist system, and replace it with socialism, the rational reorganization of society in the interest of the great majority of the population.

Andre Damon

Bernie Sanders to seek Democratic presidential nomination


By Patrick Martin
1 May 2015

US Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont confirmed Thursday that he was seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. The announcement, made in an email statement sent out to supporters, followed by a brief press conference on the lawn of the US Capitol, marks a new stage in one of the longest-running political frauds in American history.

Since 1990, when he won the first of eight terms as Vermont’s sole member of the House of Representatives, and continuing with his election in 2006 to the US Senate, and reelection in 2012, Sanders has formally declared himself to be an independent. On occasion he goes further, calling himself a democratic socialist, suggesting that he represents some sort of opposition to Wall Street’s domination of American political and economic life.

Throughout this period, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats in the House and then the Senate, receiving the same treatment as any other Democrat in terms of committee assignments and promotions. This year his seniority allowed him to achieve the position of ranking minority member on the Budget Committee, making him responsible for preparing the budget offered by the Senate Democrats as an alternative to that drafted by the Republican majority.

Although he first won his House seat over Democratic opposition, Sanders has long since buried the hatchet. Leading Democratic senators like Wall Street favorite Charles Schumer of New York backed his election to the Senate in 2006, and President Obama traveled to Vermont in 2012 to campaign for his reelection.

In formally seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, Sanders is only admitting publicly what has always been a reality. His “independence” is as much of a sham as his “socialism.”

According to the rules set down by the Democratic National Committee, any candidate for the presidential nomination must be a “member in good standing.” The DNC issued a statement welcoming the Vermont senator into the race, indicating that the Obama White House, the Clinton campaign organization and the Democratic Party establishment as a whole will make no obstacles to his candidacy. Sanders will be included in the Democratic candidate debates and no special effort will be made to keep him off the ballot.

Press reports described Sanders as the standard-bearer for the liberal wing of the Democrats against the overwhelming favorite for the nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. There was discussion of a “Warren-Sanders” wing of the Democratic Party, a reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has denied interest in a presidential race at this point, but could easily change course in the event Clinton proves vulnerable.

The Sanders candidacy follows in the footsteps of similar efforts to give a left cover to the increasingly right-wing policies of the Democratic Party. Al Sharpton and Congressman Dennis Kucinich played that role in the 2004 campaign, with Kucinich coming back for a re-run in 2008.

In media interviews Wednesday and Thursday and at his press conference, Sanders struck a pose as a critic of Wall Street and the domination of American politics by multi-millionaires and billionaires. He identified as his three main issues the growth of economic inequality, the political influence of big money, and the increasing danger from climate change.

Significantly, his only reference to foreign policy was a chauvinist denunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with a dozen countries, including Japan, directed against China. Sanders said nothing about the growing danger of war, whether in the Middle East, Asia or Eastern Europe, and he never mentioned the Obama administration—a remarkable feat, since he was announcing his candidacy to succeed Obama in the White House.

Sanders declared that the American people faced “a more serious crisis than at any time since the Great Depression,” and referred to the fact that the 99 percent of all new income growth goes to the top 1 percent, and that the top 1 percent own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. He called this staggering inequality “not just immoral but unsustainable.”

But he said nothing about what policies could reverse the growth of inequality and create “an economy that works for working people,” or how such policies could be enacted, given the intransigent defense of the financial elite by both Republican and Democratic politicians.

Perhaps unintentionally revealing was his explanation of why he chose to run in the Democratic presidential primaries. He could not run as a third-party candidate because he was not independently wealthy. “I am not a billionaire,” he told MSNBC. “To run outside of the two-party system would require enormous sums of money.” In other words, not being an independent billionaire, he had to join one of the two parties controlled by the billionaires.

Sanders has engaged longtime Democratic Party strategist Tad Devine, a veteran of presidential campaigns by Democrats Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry, as his principal campaign operative. Devine told, “The one thing he’s determined not to do is to be another Ralph Nader. And the only way to avoid doing that is to avoid being a third-party candidate from the left in the general election.” This was to reassure the Democratic establishment, which vilified Nader for “stealing votes” from Gore in 2000, when the Democrats refused to fight the theft of the presidential election.

Even if Sanders does eventually choose to make a third-party run, as his supporters in groups like the Green Party and the International Socialist Organization are urging, he would still be a capitalist politician offering a capitalist program. This is demonstrated by his political record since entering Congress in 1990.

In 16 years in the House of Representatives, he voted with the Democrats 98 percent of the time, including support for President Bill Clinton’s war against Serbia in 1999. He voted for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the legal basis for both the US invasion of Afghanistan and all subsequent actions in the so-called “war on terror,” including the campaign of drone missile assassination mounted by the Obama administration.

Sanders regularly votes for military appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is a fervent supporter of the state of Israel. More recently, he backed Obama’s use of sanctions against Russia in the crisis provoked by the US-backed fascist-led coup in Ukraine.

While conventionally liberal on domestic social policies and the environment, Sanders has embraced a strident chauvinism on trade and immigration, taking his cue from the AFL-CIO unions. In 2009, Sanders sponsored an anti-immigrant amendment to Obama’s economic stimulus bill, which the American Immigration Lawyers Association denounced as a “disturbing step backwards,” which “creates a climate of jingoistic divisiveness.”

In his most important policy role, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs during last year’s scandal over conditions at VA hospitals, Sanders worked with Republican John McCain to craft bipartisan legislation that opened the door for greatly increased privatization of VA care.

The press response to Sanders’ entry into the presidential race, while dismissing his chances of winning the nomination or the presidency, was largely respectful, even positive. Bloomberg View—the editorial arm of Bloomberg News, owned by the billionaire former mayor of New York—headlined its commentary, “Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign may be useful for Democrats.”

“Sanders can force Clinton to make and articulate choices on precisely the type of issues that she will be most eager to evade, including a host of knotty questions related to inequality,” Bloomberg argued. In other words, Clinton can better define herself by having a “left” straw man in the race.

Other press commentaries noted that Sanders has been reluctant to criticize either Clinton or Obama, a sign that he is himself conscious of the task he has been assigned, to give the Democrats a “left” face without challenging the Wall Street consensus or damaging the presumptive nominee. Even when directly questioned about the tens of millions of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation from companies with issues before the Clinton State Department, Sanders declined to engage.

US economy stalled in first quarter


By Andre Damon
30 April 2015

The US economy grew at a rate of just 0.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, marking a sharp slowdown from the previous quarter, in which the growth rate was 2.2 percent.

The mounting signs of an economic slump in the US prompted the Federal Reserve to downgrade its view of the US economy in its latest policy statement, issued Wednesday. The Fed declared that economic growth had “slowed during the winter,” whereas its previous statement claimed that growth had “moderated somewhat.”

The first quarter gross domestic product figures, released Wednesday by the Commerce Department, were far lower than even the meager 1.0 percent growth rate predicted by economists. It was the slowest quarterly growth for the US economy in a year.

The fall-off in economic activity was led by a collapse in business fixed investment, which fell by 3.4 percent. Exports plunged by 7.2 percent, compared with an increase of 4.5 percent in the fourth quarter. On the whole, government spending shrank, led by a fall of 1.5 percent in state and local spending.

The collapse in investment takes place amid a speculative frenzy whipped up by the trillions of dollars injected into the financial system by the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Mergers and acquisitions are occurring at a near-record pace, while US corporations, sitting on a cash hoard of $1.4 trillion, have engaged in share buy-backs and dividend increases to further enrich their wealthy shareholders.

These record mergers, acquisitions, and share buy-backs have been accompanied by mass layoffs.

* On Tuesday, helicopter maker Bell Helicopter announced 1,100 layoffs at its facility in Lafayette, Indiana.

* On Friday, Pennsylvania-based software developer Unisys announced plans to slash 8 percent of its global workforce, including 1,800 workers in North America.

* On April 24, pharmaceutical company Procter & Gamble announced that it would eliminate up to 6,000 office jobs worldwide. Since 2012, the company has slashed more than 20,000 office and manufacturing jobs.

* On April 20, United States Steel Corp. issued layoffs to 1,404 employees, concentrated mostly in Texas. Since June, the company has announced plans to eliminate 7,800 US positions, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

* That same day, oilfield services company Halliburton said it had cut 9,000 jobs, amounting to over ten percent of its workforce.

* On April 16, Halliburton’s rival Schlumberger announced another 11,000 job cuts, on top of the 9,000 it implemented in January.

The negative figures follow the announcement by the Labor Department earlier this month that the US economy added only 126,000 jobs in March, the smallest job growth since 2013. The March figure was half the number predicted by economists.

Since the beginning of the economic “recovery” in 2009, the US economy has grown at an average annual rate of only 2.2 percent, compared to an average growth rate of 3.2 percent during the 1990s.

Beyond the collapse in business investment, the negative growth figures for the first quarter were the result of a confluence of factors, each pointing to the precarious state of the US and global economy.

Worldwide demand for US goods remains stagnant amid a global slump, with the International Monetary Fund declaring this month that “potential growth in advanced economies is likely to remain below pre-crisis rates, while it is expected to decrease further in emerging market economies in the medium term.”

Weak demand from overseas has been compounded by the ongoing rise in the value of the dollar, shrinking demand for US manufacturing exports overseas.

Oil prices, meanwhile, have fallen by more than half over the past year, prompting tens of thousands of layoffs in the US, particularly in high-cost hydraulic fracturing operations.

US corporations in recent months stepped up their demands for the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates near zero in order to lower the value of the dollar and prop up their profits through cheap credit.

Speaking in San Francisco earlier this month, US Fed Chair Janet Yellen stressed the need to be “patient” in raising rates, while Fed officials lowered their estimate for where the federal funds rate will be at the end of this year to 0.625 percent, sharply lower than their December estimate of 1.125 percent.

In its Wednesday statement, the Federal Reserve hinted at a further delay in rate increases this year by downgrading its view of the economy while eliminating any reference to a specific timetable for raising rates.

Last week, William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, made clear that the Fed is seriously considering pushing back its plans to raise interest rates till next year, declaring that “hopefully” economic growth will pick up enough for the Fed to raise rates this year.

The continuation of near-zero interest rates will not bring about any meaningful increase in investment and hiring. Rather, it will sustain the massive run-up of stock prices, which have tripled since 2009, further enriching the financial oligarchy at the expense of the working class.

The financial elite has made no effort to hide its appreciation for the Fed’s easy money policies. Earlier this month, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who funneled trillions of dollars in government funds to Wall Street in the post-2008 bank bailout, announced that he had been hired by Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel LLC. On Wednesday, bond trading firm Pimco announced that it had simultaneously hired Bernanke as an adviser.

Bernanke’s multi-million-dollar salary at these posts amount to a payoff for services rendered.

Hitler’s ghost still haunts Berlin’s psyche, 70 years on

As the April 30 anniversary of the Nazi leader’s death approaches, there is a divide between the wish to avoid the shameful past and a need to acknowledge it
A bust of Adolf Hitler lies amid the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in 1945.
A bust of Adolf Hitler lies amid the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in 1945. Photograph: Reg Speller/Getty Images

This Thursday, April 30,  marks the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death but, like his birthday last Monday, it will understandably go unmarked. For many years the spot where he killed himself was also unmarked. The past can be an unwanted presence in Berlin.

It is, after all, only 25 years since a huge concrete wall separated east from west and communism from capitalism. At first, in an effort to reunify the divided city, the site of the demolished wall was so comprehensively built over that it was hard to know it had been there.

Tourists became so baffled that a cobblestone outline was laid down in the centre of town to show where the wall had stood.

Today there are also a couple of preserved sections of the wall, a Checkpoint Charlie display, a dedicated museum and even kitsch celebrations of the infamous East German car, the Trabant. After a period of determined “moving on”, the German capital has grown more at ease with the past that it was in such a rush to escape.

But less so in the case of the past that originally led to the city’s division – the Nazi era. There are few surviving buildings or monuments to testify to the period in which Berlin was the Nazi capital, when it was to become Welthauptstadt Germania – an Albert Speer-designed world capital of a massively expanded German nation.

The Olympic stadium, site of the 1936 Games, still exists, the disused Tempelhof airport and, most notably, the forbidding former ministry of aviation from which Hermann Göring boasted of dominating the European skies.

It is now the home of the ministry of finance, which many believe dominatesEurope in a far more effective manner than the Luftwaffe could ever have done.

The rest of Nazi Berlin was buried at the end of the war by a mixture of RAF and US bombing and Red Army artillery. The memory of what it had been was further interred on both sides of the wall by a concerted effort to wipe out the legend of the man who continues to cast his ominous shadow over Berlin: Hitler.

On 30 April 1945, with the Red Army only streets away, Hitler killed himself in the Führerbunker beneath the Reich Chancellery in the city centre. His body was then taken out into the open, doused in petrol and set alight in a bomb crater.

No one is sure what happened to his remains, although the Soviets believed that they had taken possession of them and kept them hidden in secret. But like some cursed relic, they were deemed too dangerous to conserve and in 1970 the Soviets had them dug up, incinerated and the ashes thrown into a river.

The Führerbunker itself was blown up and built over. But when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, it was discovered that much of the bombproof structure was still intact and it was reburied all over again.

Today it sits beneath the car park of a grey pebble-dash apartment block built during the East German era. Until nine years ago, there was no sign that identified its location, although interest in the place had been greatly increased by the filmDownfall (Der Untergang), which depicted Hitler’s demented last days.

The film proved to be a psychological breakthrough for Germans because it showed Hitler as a human being, albeit one riven by delusion, psychopathic rage and megalomaniacal dreams of violence.

When in 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup, there was concern that visiting football fans would go in search of the bunker and disturb local residents. So a discreet board was placed in the car park informing visitors of the history beneath their feet.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Photograph: Alamy

A couple of hundred yards from the spot is Peter Eisenman’s haunting memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. For all the Nazis’ brutality as an invading force, it is the industrial genocide perpetrated on six million Jews that singles Hitler out as uniquely evil.

As a result Hitler and the Nazis have come to occupy the extreme end of the moral spectrum, the immoral end. If you want to make a point about where racism, nationalism, militarism, flag-waving or almost any dubious behaviour might lead, you need only cite the Nazis. In fact there is a rule governing internet debate known as Godwin’s law that states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

It’s as if all wrong paths lead to Auschwitz. That can be a paralysing thought and in many ways it has inhibited Berlin’s and Germany’s ability to take stock of the past.

Living under the injunction never to forget hasn’t necessarily led Germans to remember more clearly. And the blurriest of issues remains why they allowed Hitler to do what he did.

There are whole libraries of books devoted to the subject, each applying different degrees of responsibility and knowledge. The historian Michael Stürmer made his reputation by arguing that Germans needed to develop a positive view of their history.

He says: “Germans knew and they didn’t know. The idea that all Germans knew what was going on is absurd, but there were no Germans who could not see people with the yellow star and should have asked themselves, ‘Where are they being sent to? Why are the trains coming back empty?’”

He agrees that for a long time after the war Germans suppressed the truth, partly through shame, partly because many members of the Nazi state had been redeployed in the state apparatus of both West and East Germany, and partly because the division of the country enabled each side to blame the other for the Nazis. To the communists, Nazism sprang out of capitalism, and to the democrats of the west it was the totalitarian twin of Stalinism. “It was not so much that people openly lied,” says Stürmer. “But between not lying and speaking the horrible truth there was a vast gap.”

Soon though, no one who was an active Nazi will be alive and direct responsibility will cease to be a live moral issue but solely a vexed academic one. The current trial of Oskar Gröning, an SS guard at Auschwitz, is probably the last of its kind. Once again it unearths horrific details that few have the appetite to take in.

“There is a very widespread wish to avoid the topic unless you are an author who can make some money out of it.”

Before the war there were 170,000 Jewish Berliners. Fifty-five thousand of them lost their lives in the Holocaust and most of the rest fled abroad. By the 1980s the affiliated Jewish community was down to 3,800, but an influx of Russian Jews since 1990 has taken the numbers up to 10,500, although there could be significantly more who are non-affiliated.

Alter, whose father survived Auschwitz and whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, says it has been a struggle to identify himself as German but, having sought help for his “personal traumas”, he has come to terms with his nationality. That said, he would leave tomorrow if he felt the position of Jews was under increased threat.

The security checks and metal detectors that are standard at Jewish institutions and schools are things he has learned to live with. What frustrates him is a lack of openness about the past. “I’m 55 and I’ve never met someone who was an adult in the 1930s and 1940s who said, ‘I was a Nazi and made a mistake’ or even ‘I was a Nazi and don’t regret it’. No, they all had no knowledge, were against it, their parents were in the Socialist party, they hid a Jew in the attic. I’ve never met anyone who had the courage to say, ‘I believed in it.’ If there is not an admission of guilt, then you can’t forgive.”

History can exert a tenacious hold on even the most reluctant captives, but Berlin has slowly established a normalised identity at the heart of Europe. More secure in its future, it can also be more open about its past.

There are strong rumours of plans to make the Führerbunker accessible to the public. The fear has been that the site could be used to glorify him, but what is there to glorify?

Hitler went to his death vowing to destroy Germany. It would be a measure of his failure if a secure Germany is now able to expose where that pathetic death took place.


Hitler, presiding over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich, retreats to his Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945.

As Soviet forces converge on Berlin on 22 April, Hitler suffers a nervous collapse after being told that forces led by SS General Felix Steiner will not rescue Berlin.

By 27 April, Berlin is cut off from the rest of Germany. Hitler receives reports that Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, has offered to surrender to the western allies.

On 29 April, Hitler marries Eva Braun in a civil ceremony held in the Führerbunker.

Later that day Hitler, sceptical about the potency of the cyanide capsules he has received from the SS, tests one on his dog, Blondi, which dies.

At 1am on 30 April Hitler is informed by officers that all forces he had been hoping would come to the rescue of Berlin had either been encircled or forced onto the defensive.

Later on 30 April Hitler commits suicide, shooting himself in the mouth. Braun takes a fatal overdose of cyanide. Hitler’s remains, as he had requested, are doused in petrol and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside.

On the morning of 1 May, Stalin is informed of Hitler’s suicide, but three days pass before his body is found.

Germany officially surrenders on 7 May in the French city of Reims. Fighting ends at 11.01pm on 8 May, which is declared VE Day.


Neoliberals are killing us

The TED talk, techno-utopian, Thomas Friedman-economy is a lie

Neoliberal fantasy world is filled with daring entrepreneurs competing in a meritocracy. Do you recognize that?

Neoliberals are killing us: The TED talk, techno-utopian, Thomas Friedman-economy is a lie

A turkey and Thomas Friedman (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/panbazil via Shutterstock/Salon)

Last week, 295,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Economists called it good news, as the number was less than 300,000; that’s the line they say separates good news from bad. But it isn’t much less, and other news seems very bad. In February, housing starts plunged 17 percent. Inventories are high. Demand is low. Job growth is anemic. Still, economists say things are going so well we can raise interest rates. They call that good news — though they don’t say for whom.

There’ll be more news this week: home prices, consumer confidence, new growth figures. In our casino economy we hang on these reports like blackjack players waiting for a dealer to turn the next card. Republicans and Democrats alike believe growth will cure all our ills. President Obama and Hillary Clinton call it their No. 1 economic priority. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they still believe a rising tide lifts all boats.

Some call Obama’s and Clinton’s economic worldview ‘neoliberal.’ Like ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ it’s an imprecise word meant to signify a cluster of opinions; among them that globalization is inevitable and benign and that the revolution in information technology is fast democratizing commerce and politics. Neoliberals love fiscal austerity and free trade and are suckers for privatization, deregulation and ‘education reform,’ which they say will keep us competitive.

Like the neoconservatives with whom they often ally on military matters, neoliberals seem to regard our present political and economic arrangements as civilization’s final flowering, as close to perfect as one can get in a fallen world. It’s the faith that made Bush think Iraqis would greet us as liberators–who wouldn’t want to be us– and why Obama bet his presidency on economic recovery rather than reform. It’s our establishment orthodoxy, the ‘bipartisan consensus’ we’re forever chasing. It’s killing us.

In the neoliberal narrative, geniuses reinvent the world in their garages; risk takers invest in innovation; technology and trade spawns endless opportunity. It’s a land without ideology; a true meritocracy where anyone with pluck and grit is sure to rise. (So long as they’re really, really smart.) Above all it’s an engine of prosperity, the only sure means by which to broaden and strengthen the middle class.

Real life is nothing like the neoliberal narrative. As PayPal’s Peter Thiel says, our overhyped innovations tend toward mere gadgetry and away from such vital areas as health and transportation. One reason: those stories about geniuses in garages and their angel investors are mostly made up. In 2014 venture capital funding hit $48.3 billion, but just $700 million of it went to ‘seed stage’ projects. Who really funds the little guys? The same folks who brought you the microchip, the Internet and GPS. Last year the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research Program alone lent or gave the real pioneers $2.4 billion; more than triple their take from ‘venture capitalists.’

If the story of our not-so-bold investors disappoints, it may matter less than you think, in that technology and trade never really lived up to their billing. In 2005, Tom Friedman, the Candide of globalization, said “the world is flat”; meaning technology was a great leveling force that would soon topple the old political and economic oligarchies and give everyone a chance to be an entrepreneur, or at least work in a call center. America has since grown more economically stratified and politically corrupt and has fewer jobs than it did eight years ago.

Early critics who said the new information technology would lay waste to labor were dismissed as Luddites. Twenty years on it still kills more jobs than it creates; even ‘serious people’ now say this could be the first new technology wave to result in a net job loss. As for trade, the tide let in by NAFTA sank more middle-class boats than it lifted, which accounts for the resistance to Obama’s fast track scheme.

In real life, we’re a nation of middle men and corporate toll collectors, where health insurers get 20 cents on the dollar for services done everywhere else for a nickel or less; where big banks shun small business while raking in merger fees and taking a cut of every purchase charged to a credit card; where Comcast’s pipeline is worth more than NBC’s oil; where Google gorges on ad revenues that once supported world-class journalism. We’re about cartels, not startups, not bound to the future but mortgaged to the past.

In real life, the middle class is in limbo. In the seven years since Wall Street’s crash, stocks, profits and CEO pay are at historic highs, but wages haven’t budged and we’re still years away from adding back all the jobs we lost. Millions of older Americans who lost their pensions and the equity in their homes will retire broke. Millions of younger Americans fear they’ll never have their parents’ opportunities. They all know it will take more than a bailout or a stimulus to get our economy, or their lives, back on track. You can’t prime a broken pump. We need real reform and everybody knows it; everybody, that is, except those in charge.*

The gap between elite and popular opinion on these issues is wide. Tension boiled over on the right long ago, but Democrats have mostly kept mum. It reflects their fear of Republicans, and the fact that Obama and Clinton are staunch neoliberals. Bill Clinton, more than anyone, made the consensus bipartisan. Hillary’s rhetoric has a more populist hue now, but changing her actual views won’t be easy for her.

The backlash against neoliberalism cuts across all political categories. If the Democrats resist debating it, progressives must force a debate. But they too may be reluctant, not because of any risk—there’s greater risk in silence—but because they don’t know what to say. Many progressive critics of neoliberalism are just like Republican critics of Obamacare; they hate it, but can offer no alternative.

It’s understandable. The very purpose of a political debate is to test our ideas. We progressives knock Democrats who duck debates but it’s been a while since we’ve had one of our own. I don’t mean the daily squabbles we all seem to enjoy, but a big debate that draws our whole community and eventually the nation in. We know we’d raise the minimum wage and tax the rich. But do we know our bottom line? We reject soulless, mindless globalization, but can we picture a more just and humane order? If so, we can start to frame policies to support it. I’ve only a few fragments of a vision, but hoping to extend the conversation, I’ll describe them.

Right now, before our eyes, a new economy struggles to be born. It’s more democratic than the one we have. It prizes smallness, permanence and community. It favors cooperatives and other collaborative forms of ownership and production. It reclaims the commons we own in trust for future generations. It’s local and sustainable. It both needs and fosters civic renewal. It’s growing now despite great resistance, but its final success or failure is up to us. I’ll offer some examples, first a less exotic one. It’s of an old familiar institution readapting to changing times.

I speak of independent bookstores. By 2009 the big chains had nearly wiped them out. They hit rock bottom: 1,651 stores. Then to everyone’s surprise, they revived. The number of stores has since grown to 2,094, a 25 percent increase in six years. Sales are up, and at a brisk 8 percent annual rate. It turns out that in the age of information overload, thoughtful curation means more, not less. The Internet that nearly killed them also provided a cheap way to advertise. And by expanding their activities, they built community and played to their great strength, their customers’ love of books and bookstores. To many the future of small-scaled enterprises looks bleak, but the independent booksellers’ story is one of many that suggests that in the new economy, small is beautiful.

The new economy favors forms of ownership and production that foster democracy and collaboration. You may recall George W. Bush’s blather about an ‘ownership society,’ a greedy scam to privatize Social Security and Medicare. For many years real reformers have been building a real ownership society. A familiar tool is the employee stock ownership plan. (ESOP) Often underestimated, today 11,000 ESOPs now employ nearly 11 million workers. Benefits range from higher job satisfaction and wages to improved productivity and in hard times, fewer layoffs.

ESOPs are most typically born via conversion of an established business on its owner’s retirement. Chris Mackin, a leader in the field, says coming retirements of so many baby boomers offer a chance for rapid growth. Mackin also urges use of other forms of employee ownership and seeks new government policies, including possible set asides for employee owned businesses. Having worked in the field for thirty years, he feels its best days are not only ahead of it, but imminent.

Some very innovative thinking concerns the public commons. The phrase has always meant y resource owned and used by the public but it applies in new ways to new things, from public lands to the internet and the airwaves. One goal is to preserve priceless public assets; another is to compensate the public for private use of its resources.

Peter Barnes, a journalist, activist and public spirited entrepreneur, has called for a dividend fund patterned after the Alaskan fund that distributes state oil revenue to all citizens on a pro rata basis. He’d first target companies that pollute the air and says the government could collect enough money from all sources to write every American a check every year for $5,000.

The commons may refer to peer to peer production, a process by which people collaborate as equals to produce things of value, often with little or no pay. It may sound arcane but examples include Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and Wikipedia. David Bollier, a brilliant strategist of the commons, says the challenge is to protect such work from rapacious monetization by corporate actors. Another challenge for all cooperatives is to preserve an ethos of public spiritedness as enterprises scale up.

In their different ways, independent booksellers, ESOP owner/ employees and open source programmers are helping to engineer our next economy our next new economy. The 11million who work in ESOPs enjoy good wages, benefits and job security. The booksellers are among the 14 million Americans who work for very small businesses. The programmers may be among the 6 million Americans who work from home or the 10 million who are independent contractors. For income and benefits, most of them are pretty much on their own.

All have these things in common: Their government doesn’t think much about them. They don’t think much of it. Their needs are ill-served by current economic policies or by having both major so closely tied to the old order. You can count them different ways and never with confidence, but it’s likely they comprise as much as 15 percent of the workforce — and they grow by the hour. They haven’t a sense of themselves as a political force but one party or the other soon will. When that happens, I hope they hold out for real answers.

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.