Post Capitalism


Jonathan Taplin on Jul 25

The British journalist Paul Mason published a provocative except from his new book Postcapitalism in the Guardian last week. His theory is that the sharing economy is ushering in a new age.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed — not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies — the giant tech companies — on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world — Wikipedia — is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Since the 1930’s when Lord Keynes worried about a future in which we would have so much leisure time that we might not be able to create enough poets to fill our evening hours. So of course I am skeptical as most of my friends are working longer hours than 10 years ago when their every waking hour wasn’t harried by smartphones chirping.

But I do believe that Mason’s point, about the potential of Open Source technology to break up the “fragile corporate edifice” constructed by the tech monopolies that I have written about, is real. Consider the edifice that was Microsoft’s Windows operating system in 1998 when the Justice Department brought its anti-trust action. Since that time two Open Source software systems, Linux and Apache have made huge inroads into the corporate and Web server business. Both systems were constructed by hundreds of thousands of man hours of free labor contributed by geeks interested in improving the software and sharing their improvements with a large community for free. So in that sense, Mason is right that this is a post capitalist construct.

But here is the current problem with the sharing economy. It tends towards a winner take all economy.

Whether Uber ends up buying Lyft is yet to be determined, but my guess is that market will look like markets dominated by AirBnb, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Google. As Susie Cagle recently pointed out:

While technology has provided underlying infrastructure to spark and support new peer-to-peer network behavior, it hasn’t really changed anything about how those networks are built and owned. For example, we now have the tools and ability to disrupt the taxi industry by allowing collectives of drivers to reach customers directly — but instead, we have Lyft and Uber, multibillion dollar companies that neither offer benefits to their drivers, nor truly give them the opportunity to run their own independent businesses.

Likewise, we have the tools and ability to build collectively owned messaging and social platforms — but instead, we have Twitter and Facebook, which mediate what users can see from other users and collect personal data to better tailor advertising sales.

My concerns relate to the media and entertainment industry that we study at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. And in that world the possibility of using the Open Source model to build a new kind of Digital Distribution Cooperative seems very possible.

Ask yourself this question: why should YouTube take 55% of the ad revenue from a Beyonce (or any other artist) video when all they provide is the platform?

They provide no production money, no marketing support and their ad engine runs lights out on algorithms.

Imagine in today’s music business a distribution cooperative that would run something like the coops that farmer’s use (think Sunkist for orange growers). Here is how they are described.

Many marketing cooperatives operate through “pooling.” The member delivers his product to the association, which pools it with products of like grade and quality delivered by other members. After doing whatever processing is necessary, the co-op sells the products at the best price it can get and returns to the members their share of total proceeds, less marketing expenses.

In our model (much like the early days of the United Artists film distribution company formed in the 1920’s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W.Griffith) the producers of music would upload their new tunes to the coop servers, do their own social marketing and probably end up getting back 85–90% of the revenues rather the 45% they get from YouTube. The coop could rent cloud space from Amazon Web Services just like Netflix and Spotify do.

All of this is possible because in the world of entertainment the artist is the brand. No one ever suggested to you, “let’s go to a Paramount movie tonight.” It is possible that we are entering a post capitalist age, but it cannot exist as long as the sharing economy is dominated by a few monopolists. Perhaps some bold experiments on the part of music artists could point the way towards a truly innovative way of using technology for the good of the artist rather than for her exploitation.

Donald Trump: The ugly face of capitalist politics


By Patrick Martin
24 July 2015

The rise of billionaire Donald Trump to a leading position in the Republican presidential race is proof that scum floats to the top of the pool. But Trump is not an aberration, or a distraction, or a “disgrace,” as some media commentators have claimed—except in the sense that American capitalist politics as a whole is a disgrace.

The Des Moines Register lambasted Trump in an editorial calling for his withdrawal from the presidential race, calling him “a feckless blowhard who can generate headlines, name recognition and polling numbers not by provoking thought, but by provoking outrage.” An appropriate description, but one that applies to all the other capitalist politicians in the race for president, to a greater or lesser degree. Not one of them, Trump included, tells the truth to working people or has any genuine mass following.

Trump personifies the backwardness and decay of the American political system and the American financial aristocracy. He first came to prominence in the real estate boom that followed the near-bankruptcy of New York City in 1975. After the city was bailed out through massive concessions by the unions, including the looting of workers’ pension funds to fuel speculative investment, the conditions were created for the transformation of parts of Manhattan into gated communities for the extremely rich.

The scion of a real estate family of middling wealth, Trump cashed in through investments in luxury apartments for ultra-high-net-worth individuals, as in his eponymous Trump Tower. A 91-page financial report filed with the Federal Election Commission this week confirms that the self-styled “master builder” is mainly engaged in servicing the vices of the super-rich, specializing in casinos, golf courses and luxury resorts. He is a parasite on the parasites. There is virtually no productive activity associated with the 515 enterprises in which he is involved, including 391 bearing his name.

In the past two decades, Trump has built his wealth by promoting himself through a variety of media ventures, beginning with “The Apprentice.” The dubious character of his claim to a $10 billion fortune is demonstrated by his valuation of his “brand” alone at $3.2 billion. But such valuations are not out of place in the Wall Street of 2015, where financial speculation and skullduggery are preparing an even greater crash than in 2008.

Trump’s egomania is coupled with broad, undifferentiated ignorance of politics and issues of state. He recently told an interviewer, explaining his reluctance to read books, “One of the problems with foreign policy is that it changes on a daily basis.”

That said, Trump has a sharp eye for the main chance and a ruthless grasp of the nature of his opponents, both Republican and Democratic. His public announcement of the cellphone number of Senator Lindsey Graham was not just a publicity stunt, but a demonstration that he has taken the measure of the South Carolina Republican. Graham denounced Trump this week as a “jackass,” but was rather more conciliatory when he called the billionaire a few years ago pleading for a campaign contribution and assistance in getting back in the good graces of Fox News.

Trump was equally cutting (and accurate) in his assessment of the likely Democratic nominee, noting Hillary Clinton’s maneuvers in response to the challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “Hillary is going way left, and I sort of laugh because I know Hillary very well,” he told the Hill. “The interesting part about Hillary is that her donors are all the hedge fund guys and the business guys and the real estate guys. And they’re all saying, ‘Do you think she means it?’ And I say, ‘Of course she doesn’t mean it — you know her.’”

The combination of Trump’s celebrity and his presumed wealth, as well as the crudeness of his bigoted and right-wing pronouncements, have propelled him, at least for now, into the leadership of the Republican presidential field, with 24 percent support, compared to 13 percent and 12 percent respectively for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. His standing is a measure of the insignificance of his opponents and the lack of popular enthusiasm for the array of reactionaries and political hucksters who make up the Republican field.

The demographics of his support, as reported in recent polls, show Trump’s likely voters as generally younger, lower income and less ideologically conservative than the Tea Party faction that has dominated Republican Party primaries in recent years. By fomenting anti-immigrant bigotry, Trump is seeking to make an appeal to the latter ultra-right layer as well.

There is no reason to think that Trump believes anything he says about any political issue. He has been for and against universal health care, abortion, expanding Social Security benefits, and tax increases on the rich. He contributed to the political campaigns of Hillary Clinton and at one point pronounced himself a Democrat before shifting to the Republicans in the past decade.

Trump is thus no different than the typical American capitalist politician or CEO, albeit more cartoonish. But he can hardly be said to be the most disgusting political figure in a country whose president publicly boasts of his assassinations, listing the men he has killed with evident relish, and whose rivals include the aforementioned Lindsey Graham, who recently threatened that he would authorize drone missile strikes on any American who even thinks of joining ISIS.

As for the faux media outrage over Trump—from newspapers and networks that have happily profited from the billionaire’s enterprises—what do they offer as a counterpoint? New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is a case in point: presenting the self-confessed Vietnam War mass murderer, former Senator Robert Kerrey, as the voice of moral condemnation.

One study showed that the media itself is the main generator of Trump’s political rise. Before his announcement of candidacy, the billionaire was mentioned in only 4 percent of articles covering the Republican campaign. From the day he entered the race, this figure shot up to 30 percent and has remained at 20 to 30 percent ever since.

R.W. Fassbinder at 70: the German filmmaker’s life on display in Berlin

By Hiram Lee
23 July 2015

German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982) was born seventy years ago this May. To honor the anniversary, a number of events have been held in Berlin.

An exhibition on display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum until the end of August, entitled Fassbinder Now, features several artifacts from the director’s personal archives. Annekatrin Hendel’s new documentary, simply calledFassbinder, has been shown in cinemas and on German television.

Throughout July and August, Berlin’s Arsenal cinema is screening some of Fassbinder’s classic films, including three of his best works—Effie Briest(1974), Fox and His Friends (1975) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979).Fassbinder’s plays, or plays based on his films, have recently been staged at the Deutsches and Gorki Theaters.

A serious appraisal of Fassbinder’s work on the occasion of his seventieth birthday would have been most welcome. Unfortunately, the exhibition in Berlin and Hendel’s documentary do not by and large rise to that level.

©Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Berlin

While it has certain worthwhile features, the Fassbinder Now [Fassbinder—JETZT] exhibition is a mostly superficial affair. Curators have culled a number of items from Fassbinder’s personal archives, though some of the materials chosen for inclusion are puzzling.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone should be especially interested in seeing a pinball machine once owned by the director, or his bicycle for that matter. This is not an appraisal of Fassbinder the artist, but a presentation of Fassbinder as icon or celebrity. One is even invited to take a seat on the director’s sofa.

More interesting is the collection of home video cassettes that once belonged to the filmmaker. These include the works of Douglas Sirk, of course, whose influence on Fassbinder is often noted. But his library also contained a large number of major and minor films from Orson Welles, Michael Curtiz, Howard Hawks and several other of cinema’s greatest storytellers. Fassbinder was well versed in the works of classic Hollywood and European cinema, as his own efforts demonstrate.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970 ©Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Foto: Peter Gauhe

Most significant is the large selection of Fassbinder’s shooting scripts, handwritten notes and other working materials on view. For all the attention paid to his private life, Fassbinder appears to have spent most of his time working. He was a tremendously prolific artist, creating 41 feature films as well as numerous works for the stage during his short life.

Included in the collection are materials from his epic-length adaptation for television of Alfred Döblin’s classic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), a work that held a lifelong fascination for Fassbinder, and his notes toward a film about Rosa Luxemburg, which he was preparing near the end of his life. A version of her life story would ultimately be filmed by Margarethe von Trotta, one of Fassbinder’s early collaborators, in 1986.

While such materials are worth seeing, the museum provides little context for them and offers generally poor introductions to the different pieces shown.

Tom Geens, You’re the Stranger Here, 2009 ©BFI & FILM4

Regrettably, several of the exhibition’s rooms are given over to works by contemporary artists said to follow in Fassbinder’s footsteps. You’re the Stranger Here (2009), a short film by Belgian filmmaker Tom Geens, is a nasty piece of work, in which a middle class family is victimized by an unstoppable military dictator who rapes and murders at will. There is no escape, not even an attempt is made. The film has far more in common with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s severely demoralized 1975 film Salo than it does with any of Fassbinder’s work.

A 2005 video installation by Maryam Jafri entitled Costume Party depicts a room of partygoers who adopt the dress of various social types and perform the roles associated with them. The implication is that we are all complicit in the social order and conform to this or that role, taking part in our own oppression or that of another. Apparently there are no innocent parties.

To the extent that these artists were influenced by Fassbinder at all, they have gravitated toward whatever was weakest or most pessimistic and cynical in his work. What was a limitation for Fassbinder has become a priority for them.

There is, more generally, an attempt on the part of certain middle class critics and admirers of Fassbinder to over-emphasize the director’s sexuality and play up the treatment of sexual orientation and “personal identity” in his films. The social content of his best work and his hostility to capitalism and opportunism are obscured in the process.

Hendel’s documentary Fassbinder is the summer’s other major tribute to the director. While it is a more sympathetic film than the tabloid documentaryFassbinder: To Love Without Demands (Christian Braad Thomsen), which debuted at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, both works tend to gossip about Fassbinder’s sex life and do what they can to confirm his reputation as cinema’s enfant terrible in a leather jacket (the jacket too is on display at Martin-Gropius-Bau). There is something unseemly about watching Fassbinder’s former friends and collaborators badmouth him in these documentaries, giving voice to petty jealousies and other personal grievances.

If Fassbinder only paved the way for second-rate artists and abused many of his collaborators in the process, why should anyone pay attention to him today?

Character assassination aside, Fassbinder made one of the more remarkable contributions to film in the second half of the twentieth century. One can see powerfully dramatized in his work the consequences of sacrificing one’s principles to careerism, status and the pursuit of wealth or friends in high places. With often painful accuracy, he describes the debasement of human relationships under conditions in which success is defined by those very pursuits.

Among the film clips on view in the Fassbinder Now exhibition is the devastating scene from The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) in which the status-obsessed middle class family of a fruit peddler, now that he appears to be taking a step up the social ladder, finally permit themselves to speak openly to this black sheep of the family. One by one, the family members freely—and with relief—admit how they had hated and been embarrassed by his manner of making a living. The fruit peddler suffers in silence. It is a deeply affecting sequence. There are many more such examples to be found throughout Fassbinder’s work, especially in the films made between 1969 and 1976.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Ballhaus on the set of Beware of a Holy Whore, 1970-71 ©Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Foto: Peter Gauhe

During his career, Fassbinder tackled virtually every period in German history from the late nineteenth century onward. There was the minor aristocracy of the late 1800s in Effie Briest, the Weimar Republic in Berlin Alexanderplatz(1980), fascism and the Second World War in Lili Marleen (1981), the postwar period and the “economic miracle” of The Marriage of Maria Braun and radical terrorism of the 1970s in The Third Generation (1979).

Two films about anti-immigrant chauvinism—Katzelmacher (1969) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)—appear even more relevant today than at the time of their release.

Fassbinder saw a thread of continuity running through German history. In film historian Thomas Elsaesser’s Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject(1996), one finds the following comment in which the director spoke about his film Lili Marleen: “[It] is my first attempt to make a film about the Third Reich. And I will certainly be making other films about the Third Reich. But that’s another subject, just as the Weimar Republic is another subject. This cycle will also be continued. Maybe at the end, a total picture will emerge of the German bourgeoisie since 1848 … I think, there is a logic in all this. Just as I think that the Third Reich wasn’t just an accident, a regrettable lapse of history, as it is so often portrayed. The Third Reich does have a sort of logic, as well as what carried over from the Third Reich to the Federal Republic and the GDR.”

However, an interest in history is not the same thing as understanding it. Of course, the Third Reich was not an accident, but neither was it the inevitable and “organic” outcome of German history. The horrors of Hitlerism were only made possible by the historic betrayal of the working class by Social Democracy and Stalinism in the years 1914 to 1933, in the course of which numerous opportunities to overthrow German capitalism and prevent the barbarism of Nazism presented themselves.

The concrete problem of the crisis of working class leadership in the 20th century—above all, the life-and-death conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism—was largely a closed book to Fassbinder and other radicalized intellectuals and artists in Germany in the 1980s. Many settled for a relatively lazy, semi-anarchist bohemianism and consoled themselves with the thought that the critical political questions of the previous half-century were “old hat” or solely the concern of “Old Leftists.” And they paid a high price as a consequence.

Another remark featured in Elsaesser’s Fassbinder’s Germany is telling. “Freud sometimes seems more important than Marx,” says Fassbinder. “The changing of productive relations in society and the exploration of interpersonal communication must be achieved in parallel fashion … I find that psychoanalysis from childhood on should be the right of every citizen.”

This sort of Freudianized Marxism, associated with the Frankfurt School, held sway over the student protest movement of the late 1960s, which played a prominent political role in Fassbinder’s formative years.

Through this body of thought, many of his generation were directed away from the most vital questions of class society and directed instead toward individual psychology, sexuality and consumerism. According to the co-founders of the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer and Adorno, capitalist society had developed powerful mechanisms to integrate the broad masses of the population into their own oppression. One of the products of this political-intellectual process in Germany today is the pro-imperialist Green Party.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, 1972 ©Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Berlin

It is interesting to note that Fassbinder’s film The Bitters Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) was subtitled “A medical history” and not, for example, “A social history.” Effie Briest carried the cumbersome subtitle: “Many people who are aware of their own capabilities and needs just acquiesce to the prevailing system in their thoughts and deeds, thereby confirm and reinforce it.”

This was a demoralized perspective, an outlook that emerged following the trauma of fascism and the Second World War and the brutal crimes of Stalinism, taking root under conditions in which German capitalism was able temporarily to restore its equilibrium after the war.

Fassbinder’s best films evinced a real sympathy for ordinary people, but only rarely did he demonstrate any great confidence in them. Toward the end of his career, in the last years of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, he churned out one story after another in which individuals compromise themselves, conspire with reactionary elements and are destroyed in the process. Something in him had been fatally worn down. He died, tragically, in 1982 from a drug overdose. He was only 37 years old.

A critical appreciation of Fassbinder’s work on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of his birth, taking up the significant strengths and weaknesses in his work and placing them in the appropriate context, would be of great value. This is not to be found in the Fassbinder Now exhibition or in the recent documentaries of his life.


The return of the “German question”

Adolf Hitler salutes troops of the Condor Legion who fought alongside Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, during a rally upon their return to Germany, 1939.

By Peter Schwarz
22 July 2015

“The German question is back,” the New York Times wrote early last week, meaning by this the question of how Germany can be kept under control and prevented from dominating Europe and destroying it as in World War II. Over the course of the week, numerous articles appeared in the French, Italian, British and American press accusing the German government of seeking to dominate Europe and subject it to Berlin’s discipline.

The conservative French newspaper Le Figaro wrote that an “anti-German zone of turbulence” is sweeping over France. It continued: “A part of the French political class, ranging from the sovereignists in the Left Front, through the Socialists, to members of the [Gaullist] Republican party, is attacking Germany for its attitude toward the European Union.”

Left and right were furiously attacking the “German diktat,” the newspaper wrote. Le Figaro itself accused the German government of imposing conditions “on a small member-state [that] would have previously required arms.”

In the Italian media, there was talk of state-organised torture and Germanic megalomania.

In London’s Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau accused Greece’s creditors of having “destroyed the euro zone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union.” He added, “In doing so they reverted to the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century.”

In the Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson spoke for the Tory right, accusing “the Germans” of tabling “a document that is breath-taking in its candour and brutality.” He added, “If Greece wants to stay in the single European currency, Athens must prostrate herself in an act of doglike self-abasement… These Schäuble proposals are tyrannical. They should be bitterly resisted.”

The sociologist Jürgen Habermas told the British Guardian that the German government had “gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century—and by ‘better’ I mean a Germany characterised by greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality.”

Threat of Grexit

The reason for this onslaught is the humiliating conditions Germany forced upon the Greek government. Berlin was not prepared to accept an offer of drastic austerity measures worth more than 13 billion euros that Athens had drawn up in collaboration with Paris. The Merkel government demanded more, including the transfer of state assets worth 50 billion euros to a trust fund controlled from Germany, and threatened the temporary exclusion of Greece from the euro.

The current edition of the news weekly Der Spiegel reports that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had deliberately formulated the conditions so harshly that the Greek government could not accept them, making a Grexit inevitable. The German finance minister had not reckoned with the fact that the head of the Greek government, Prime Minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, would capitulate anyway.

The exclusion of Greece from the euro zone was a taboo that Paris and Rome could not tolerate. A Grexit would set a precedent that would completely change the character of the EU and the euro zone. A community of states, which, in form at least, is based upon unanimity or majority decisions, would become a loose alliance dominated by Germany.

Berlin could henceforth determine who belonged to the euro zone and who did not. And it would have increased pressure on the French, Italian and other governments with budgetary problems to submit to the German rules, removing any room for political manoeuvring in the face of growing social tensions.

For this reason, after the euro summit, French President Francois Hollande presented himself as the architect of a “compromise” that prevented a Grexit and preserved the unity of Europe, even though he, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk, had worked on the Greek prime minister all night to accept Germany’s harsh austerity measures.

Germany’s return to great power politics

The WSWS and the Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (Socialist Equality PartyPSG) have been warning that the German ruling class was returning to its aggressive and militaristic traditions.

In September 2014, a PSG conference resolution noted: “The country’s ruling elites, which have thrown the world into the abyss twice before, are once again calling for ‘German leadership’ (Führung) and preparing to realise their imperialist interests through military violence… Almost 70 years after the crimes of the Nazis and Germany’s defeat in World War II, the German ruling class is once again adopting the imperialist great power politics of the Kaiser’s Empire and Hitler.”

The PSG and its youth and student organization, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), were viciously attacked because they publicly criticized politicians, journalists and professors who advocate this policy and justify it ideologically. In recent weeks, the media has unleashed a veritable witch-hunt against the IYSSE and the “Münkler-Watch” blog because they have exposed Humboldt Professors Herfried Münkler and Jörg Baberowski as the champions of German great power politics. This smear campaign is intended to intimidate anyone who dares oppose German great power politics and its ideological pioneers, dismissing all such criticism as fantasy and conspiracy theory devoid of any real foundations.

But now the return of the “German question” has become a central issue in the international media. After the events of recent days, it can no longer be denied that the country’s ruling elites are seeking supremacy over Europe so that German imperialism can play the role of world power as it did under Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler.

Finance Minister Schäuble and the political scientist Münkler are among the leading proponents of this orientation, which has led to considerable tensions within the government and the political parties.

In the Bundestag (parliament) vote on the Greek bailout package as many as 65 Christian Democrats refused to follow the chancellor, the biggest rebellion ever. Their “no” vote was a vote for a Grexit, which Schäuble continues to advocate even though he officially backs Merkel, who for the time being rejects such a move.

According to well-informed journalists in the German capital, the majority of the Christian Democratic parliamentary group stands behind Schäuble. Many had voted “yes” only because they currently do not want to threaten Merkel’s chancellorship. The Süddeutsche Zeitung considered the vote “the end of Merkel’s omnipotence,” saying she now has in Schäuble “a second chancellor at her side.”

Schäuble wants “a different, a more effective, a more disciplined Europe,” writes Heribert Prantl in the same newspaper. The purpose of the threat of Grexit was “to stabilize the euro zone, making an example of Greece and, at the same time, teaching a lesson to all the countries that did not want to keep to the existing rules, Italy for example.”

Noting that the finance minister has for some time advocated the establishment of “an EU budget commissioner who would strictly control national budgets,” Prantl describes the proposal as “a kind of democratic dictatorship.” There “would be less democracy in Europe, but it would bring more discipline to the EU.”

Schäuble and his supporters in politics and the media are thus striving for a Europe that is dominated and disciplined by Germany and serves as a platform for Berlin’s global power politics. Schäuble had already developed this concept in 1994 in the so-called Schäuble-Lamers paper, under the heading of “core Europe.” At that time, he suggested reducing the EU to a hard core anchored by Germany, around which the other EU countries would be loosely grouped.

Herfried Münkler also promotes this objective. In his recent book Power in the Middle he demands that Germany assume the role of “disciplinarian” in Europe—a term that coincides with Schäuble’s orientation and enjoys increasing popularity in media and political circles.

In numerous interviews, Münkler has argued more recently for a “core Europe” around which a second and third ring would be grouped, with “fewer rights, but also fewer obligations.” In the core, he includes Germany, the Benelux countries, France and—possibly—Italy.

The advocates of a Europe dominated by Germany consider the disciplining of Greece and Europe a precondition for Germany’s role as a world power. Jochen Bittner has clearly expressed this in the weekly Die Zeit. “Never again,” he writes, should the European Union invest “so much political energy in a relatively small problem” such as Greece. It has “more important things to do.” There should be “room and time for the bigger challenges.” Among these he includes “crumbling state structures around the Mediterranean, an influx of refugees of historic proportions, a revanchist Russian government… and a competitive race with Asia.”

Holger Steltzner argues in similar fashion in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The EU’s inability to solve the Greek crisis,” he writes, “stands contrary to a central argument of the bailout, the claim of Europe’s political power in the world.”

Conflict with the US

This “claim of political power in the world” brings Germany into conflict not only with other European powers, but also with the United States. President Obama and representatives of the US administration repeatedly criticised the German austerity measures and urged Berlin to adopt a more accommodating attitude towards Greece. They did this primarily for geo-strategic reasons. They fear social unrest in Greece could destabilize the eastern flank of NATO and bring Greece under the influence of Russia or China.

However, tensions between Germany and the US have more fundamental causes. They confront each other as global economic rivals. The speed with which German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel—less than a week after the conclusion of the nuclear agreement with Iran—rushed to Tehran at the head of a business delegation seeking to profit from an anticipated boom in orders, demonstrates vividly the aggressiveness with which Germany pursues its global economic interests.

Schäuble’s critics in Germany—the Green Party, the Left Party, sections of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a minority of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—have merely tactical differences with the finance minister. They fear that a sharp conflict with France, Italy, Britain and other European powers could isolate Germany in Europe and thus weaken it globally. They regard a functioning EU as a precondition for playing a great power role globally. Therefore, they argue for a return to the European policy of Helmut Kohl, who always tried to secure German dominance in Europe through political compromises or financial concessions.

However, the economic prerequisites for such a policy no longer exist. The common currency, which was originally meant to bind Germany to Europe, has had the opposite effect. It has strengthened Germany’s economic dominance. A current account surplus of 7.5 percent (and rising) of gross domestic product gives Berlin a superior weight that blows up the EU in its old form. This has become ever more clear since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Germany’s European rivals respond by rattling their sabres. Their criticism of the German government is largely reactionary. This applies not only to such right-wingers as Boris Johnson and Marine Le Pen, but also to pseudo-lefts such as the leader of the French Left Front, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

These fake lefts do not call for the international solidarity of the working class. Instead, they stir up anti-German chauvinism. In this way, they defend the interests of their own imperialist bourgeoisie and exacerbate the national tensions that are inevitably plunging Europe into sharp clashes and wars, such as those that gripped the continent in the first half of the 20th century.

Suruç massacre: today we mourn, tomorrow we rebuild

By Yvo Fitzherbert On July 21, 2015

Post image for Suruç massacre: today we mourn, tomorrow we rebuildThe bombing of the Amara Cultural Center was meant to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane. We must not let ISIS succeed.

Image: the faces of some of the victims of the bomb attack.

The bomb attack that took place at midday on Monday, July 20, at the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç will go down in history as a tragedy. Suruç is a border-town within 15 kilometers of Kobane, and has been the center for relief operations and the logistical hub of all support activity.

To many, Amara was a place of sanctuary and refuge for refugees fleeing the conflict in Kobane for many months. It acted as the base of coordination for the relief effort at the dozens of refugee camps scattered across the city, and as a center for international solidarity and delegations visiting the area.

Throughout the conflict, which began last September, journalists and activists have come to offer their support, and Amara was their home. I spent many weeks at the cultural center over numerous trips to the border, and it was a place which brought everyone together.

In addition to being a hub for people coming from outside, the center also acted as a refuge for children. Many workshops were arranged for the kids, and in the central room a children’s art exhibition was permanently on display. Cay was continuously drank as people sat in the middle of the room and discussed the political developments across the border in Rojava.

A specific target

The bomb specifically targeted a solidarity group called the Socialist Federation of Youth Associations (SGDF). Its young members had come to lend a hand in the rebuilding effort, and planned to cross into Kobane where they would take part in the building of a children’s playground. The victims of the massacre were predominately from Istanbul, and many were students.

SDLP are the youth wing of the socialist ESP (Party of the Oppressed), the party which formed an alliance with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) before the elections. The HDP’s co-president is Figen Yüksekdağ, a founding member of the ESP. From the traditional Turkish left, the ESP’s alliance with the HDP and the Kurdish movement in general represents the advances made in creating solidarity across pre-existing ethnic divides between Turks and Kurds.

The HDP consciously sought out alliances with the Turkish left, and in this sense, the deliberate targeting of SGDF is a direct attack on the recent convergence of the Kurdish and Turkish left. The slogan with which SGDF led the delegation says it all: “The values of Kobane are the values of the Gezi Resistance.”

The delegation that the SGDF were involved with was an attempt to extend solidarity for the people of Rojava beyond ethnic affiliations. Many of the victims of the massacre came from Alevi backgrounds, whilst another young man came from the traditional nationalist stronghold of Trabzon on the Black Sea.

Amara, moreover, was the base for activists from across the world, a sort of embassy for international allies of Kobane and Rojava more generally. For journalists, Amara was the first introduction to life on the border. Interviews were arranged through the center, and it was also where journalists were arranged to be smuggled into Kobane.

For these reasons, we can see the attack on the SGDF delegation as an attack on the international solidarity which has been built around Kobane’s resistance. The center itself is intrinsically linked to the struggle across the border in Kobane, and the attack is a clear attempt by the Islamic State to dissuade such international solidarity from taking place. We must not allow ourselves to be scared into submission.

Suicide bombers and Turkey’s ties to ISIS

Over the last two months, we have witnessed an increase in ISIS revenge suicide bombings on the Kurds, seemingly in direct response to the recent defeats the Kurdish liberation forces (YPG/YPG) have inflicted upon ISIS in northern Syria.

In Diyarbakir during an election rally for the pro-Kurdish HDP, a Turkish citizen who had previously fought for the Islamic State in Syria detonated a bomb, killing four. A few weeks later, ISIS jihadists entered Kobane from the Turkish border-gate and proceeded to massacre over 200 citizens — their second-biggest massacre in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

In all three of these attacks, Turkey has either been complicit or utterly negligent. As evidence of Turkey’s involvement with ISIS steadily grows, it has become increasingly apparent that the Turkish government is not on the side of its own Kurdish citizens, and would much rather support the Islamic State in order to weaken the Kurdish experiment in democratic autonomy in northern Syria.

This situation points towards an increasing spillover of the Syrian civil war into southern Turkey. While the Syrian Kurds continuously battle the Islamic State (making major gains over the last two months), the fear is that ISIS, with the implicit support of the Turkish government, will continue to carry out suicide attacks against the Kurds inside Turkey. Following the tragedy that took place in Suruç, many Kurds blame the Turkish government and its security forces for not doing enough, and are demanding retribution from the PKK.

Need for international solidarity

Both the massacre in Kobane in late June and this latest bomb attack in Suruç are an attempt by the Islamic State to keep Kobane in a desperate, war-torn, destroyed state. Local authorities have begun to rebuild the city — and the attacks are clearly intended to inspire fear and keep people from acting in solidarity with Kobane.

As international allies of the Rojava revolutionaries, we have a duty to fulfill the aims of the SGDF delegation: to help rebuild the city of Kobane.

The international solidarity towards Kobane has done an extraordinary amount of good for the Kurdish resistance in the canton. It has given fighters and citizens hope. The Amara Cultural Center represented this strong desire for international solidarity. It welcomed international visitors and sought to internationalize the conflict beyond those immediately affected by the war. We must not let ISIS have their way and be cowed into inaction out of fear of further terror.

One survivor of Monday’s attack, Merve Kanak, posted this message on her Facebook page:

They killed the people we sang with on the bus. They killed the people we danced with. They killed the people we talked with, those we were surprised to see there, those we worked together with. They killed the people we had breakfast with in the garden of Amara, the people we smiled with, we ate watermelon with. They killed the people we discussed politics and theories with. They killed the people who had different political ideologies, but who were united by the reality of the revolution. We were all good people. We all came there to realize a dream. We had toys with us, three bags each, do you understand?

Our hearts are heavy today. Tomorrow, we will rebuild.

Yvo Fitzherbert is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He writes for a number of different publications, with a particular focus on Kurdish politics. Follow him on Twitter at @yvofitz.


Is Advertising Morally Justifiable?


With Is Advertising Morally Justifiable?, philosopher Thomas Wells is out to change the way you think about Google and its ilk. Wells says: “Advertising is a natural resource extraction industry, like a fishery. Its business is the harvest and sale of human attention. We are the fish and we are not consulted. Two problems result from this. The solution to both requires legal recognition of the property rights of human beings over our attention.

First, advertising imposes costs on individuals without permission or compensation. It extracts our precious attention and emits toxic by-products, such as the sale of our personal information to dodgy third parties.

Second, you may have noticed that the world’s fisheries are not in great shape. They are a standard example for explaining the theoretical concept of a tragedy of the commons, where rational maximising behaviour by individual harvesters leads to the unsustainable overexploitation of a resource. Expensively trained human attention is the fuel of twenty-first century capitalism. We are allowing a single industry to slash and burn vast amounts of this productive resource in search of a quick buck.”

The US presidency for sale


20 July 2015

The 2016 US presidential election will be the most expensive in history, costing an estimated $10 billion, when all spending by candidates, the Democratic and Republican parties, super PACs and other corporate lobbies and trade unions is tabulated.

The vast sums being raised and spent by the Democratic and Republican candidates make a mockery of the claims that the United States is a democracy in which the people rule. It is big money that rules, dominating the entire process of selecting the candidates of the only two officially recognized parties and effectively determining the outcome of the vote on November 8, 2016.

Of the $390 million raised so far, $300 million has gone to the 15 announced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, while $90 million has gone to four Democrats—$71.5 million of that to the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. The disparity is misleading: once the primary contest is over, and a Republican is selected to face Clinton, there will be billions spent on each side in the general election campaign.

The role of big money in the presidential campaign has become so obvious that even the corporate-controlled media can’t cover it up any longer. TheWashington Post, for example, published a report July 16 whose headline left little to the imagination: “2016 fundraising shows power tilting to groups backed by wealthy elite.” The article noted that “independent” expenditures by so-called super PACs—political action committees loosely linked to the candidates—would for the first time exceed the spending by the candidates and their official campaign committees.

On the Republican side, the pace has been set by Jeb Bush, brother of former president George W. Bush and son of former president George H.W. Bush. His campaign and two associated super PACs raised $119 million during the second quarter of 2015, the largest amount ever raised for a presidential candidate so early in the campaign.

Nearly all this money came from well-heeled donors: Bush himself gave more money to his own campaign ($399,720) than all of his small donors combined ($368,023). Besides the billionaires and multi-millionaires who gave up to $1 million apiece to the super PAC (the limit set by the Bush campaign), Bush raked in cash from lobbyists representing finance, oil, wholesale, real estate and a raft of other industries.

Super PACs are the offspring of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and subsequent court actions, which effectively removed any limit on what billionaires and corporations can give to political action committees (donations to candidates themselves are still limited to $2,700).

Super PACs first played a significant role in 2012, mainly in the Republican primary campaign, where billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess kept Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the field against Mitt Romney, himself a hedge fund boss and near-billionaire.

What is happening in 2016 is a further quantitative leap. Super PACs account for $230 million in funding for Republican candidates, compared to $65 million raised by the candidates themselves.

Every significant Republican candidate has a billionaire (or in the case of Donald Trump, is a billionaire), except Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose occasional objections to US military adventures overseas have cut him off from such funding, causing his campaign prospects to fade rapidly.

Super PAC funding has made Jeb Bush the frontrunner, while also boosting Senator Ted Cruz ($53 million) and Senator Marco Rubio ($44 million) to the status of serious contenders. Another top Republican hopeful, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, raked in $20 million for his super PAC before declaring his candidacy July 13.

Super PACs will sustain at least another half dozen Republican candidates. Three billionaires are funding former Texas Governor Rick Perry, with $16 million of the $17 million he has raised. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is to announce next week, has $11.5 million, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie $10 million. Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a latecomer to the campaign, is backed by $9 million in super PAC money. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also have enough big-money donors to run campaigns.

On the Democratic side, the same essential reality prevails, albeit masked by the pretense that the Democratic Party is the party of working people, and the populist rhetoric of some of the Democratic challengers to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s fundraising has the same profile as the Republican candidates, with the difference that, not expecting a serious primary contest, Clinton’s strategists asked big money donors to hold their fire until the general election campaign. Most Democratic billionaires, like Warren Buffett, currency speculator George Soros, and investment banker Tom Steyer, are waiting until next year.

But Clinton has already raked in smaller amounts—essentially down payments—from media billionaires Haim Saban and Fred Eychaner, hedge fund operator Marc Lasny, J.B. Pritzer of the Hyatt family fortune, Lynn Forester de Rothschild, and numerous other Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street moguls.

Last week Clinton posted on her campaign web site the names of 122 “bundlers” who raised at least $100,000 for her campaign in the second quarter. These included corporate lobbyists for Dow Chemical, Microsoft, Exxon, PepsiCo, Verizon and MasterCard, among many, many others. The identity of one “bundler” is telling: Steven Rattner, the investment banker who headed Obama’s auto task force that imposed 50 percent pay cuts on newly hired autoworkers.

Clinton’s main challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has no super PAC but raised $15.2 million anyway, mainly over the Internet. He actually raised more money than Clinton from small donors, those who gave less than $200. This shows that Sanders is performing his assigned function: using anti-billionaire rhetoric (which includes refusing to have a super PAC), to attract those disaffected by the right-wing policies of the Obama administration, and bringing them back into the orbit of the Democratic Party.

This entire process has nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. It shows how the US financial aristocracy manipulates public opinion, seeking to preserve the illusion of popular choice in the presidential election behind the most transparent of fig leaves. In the meantime, the billionaires will put the candidates through their paces, selecting the individual they will install in the White House to do their bidding.

Patrick Martin