Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

What is the pseudo-left?

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30 July 2015

The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.

The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.

These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”

Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.

In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.

Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.

We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:

* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.

* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.

* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.

* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.

North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”

The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.

The WSWS Editorial Board

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/30/pers-j30.html

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated

The iconic philosopher on America’s broken education system and the lasting influence of the Monroe Doctrine

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated
Noam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

JacobinWe’re pleased to publish another interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. In this recent conversation with Dan Falcone, a Washington DC–based high school history teacher, Chomsky builds on our last interview, discussing everything from Scott Walker to the Monroe Doctrine, from Citizens United to for-profit colleges. We hope you’ll share it widely.


I wanted to stay on the topic of education and ask you about language, terminology, and definitions in the social sciences. So for example, I’ve noticed in my curriculum that there’s a tendency to have terms with a real definition and then a code definition. Terms like foreign aid, independence movements, partition, and democracy.

Two terms that I know are of particular interest to you are anarchism and libertarianism. Could you discuss the varying definitions of those two terms, anarchism and libertarianism? Maybe the American definition versus the European, and why that’s important for education to sort out?
There’s hardly a term in social science, political discourse, academic professions, and the scholarly professions where there’s anything remotely like clear definitions. If you want a clear definition, you have to go to mathematics or parts of physics.

Definitions are basically parts of theoretical structures. A definition doesn’t mean anything unless it’s embedded in some theory of some explanatory scope. And in these areas, there really are no such theories. So the terms are in fact used very loosely. They have a strong ideological component.

Take, say, democracy. The United States, I’m sure in your school, they teach as the world’s leading democracy. It’s also a country in which about 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the income scale, are completely disenfranchised.

Their opinions have no detectable influence on the decisions of their own representatives. Which is a good reason to believe, a large reason, why a huge number of people don’t bother voting. They know that it’s a waste of time. So is that a democracy? No, not really.

And you could say the same about almost any other term. Sometimes it’s almost laughable. So for example, in 1947, the US government changed the name of the War Department. They changed it to the Defense Department — any person with a brain functioning knew that we’re not going to be involved in defense anymore. We’re going to be involved in aggression. They didn’t have to read Orwell to know that. And in fact, religiously, every time you read about the war budget, it’s called the defense budget. And defense now means war, very much as in Orwell. And pretty much across the board.

Anarchism is used for a very wide range of actions, tendencies, beliefs, and so on. There’s no settled definition of it. Those who use the term should be indicating clearly, as clearly as you can, what element in this range you’re talking about. I’ve tried to do that. Others do it. You know, anarcho-syndicalism, communitarian anarchism, anarchy in the sense of let’s get rid of everything, the old kind of primitive anarchism, many different types. And you’re not going to find a definition.

Libertarianism has a special meaning predominantly in the United States. In the United States, it means dedication to extreme forms of tyranny. They don’t call it that, but it’s basically corporate tyranny, meaning tyranny by unaccountable private concentrations of power, the worst kind of tyranny you can imagine.

It picks up from the libertarian tradition one element, namely opposition to state power. But it leaves open all other forms of — and in fact favors — other forms of coercion and domination. So it’s radically opposed to the libertarian tradition, which was opposed to the master servant relation.

Giving orders, taking orders — that’s a core of traditional anarchism, going back to classical liberalism. So it’s a special, pretty much uniquely American development and related to the unusual character of the United States in many respects.

America is to quite an unusual extent a business-run society. That’s why we have a very violent labor history. Much more so than comparable countries, and attacks on labor here were far more extreme. There are accurate libertarian elements in the United States, like protection of freedom of speech, which is probably of a standard higher than other countries. But libertarianism is designed in the United States to satisfy the needs of private power.

Actually, it’s an interesting case in connection with the media. The United States is one of the few countries that basically doesn’t have public media. I mean, theoretically, there’s NPR, but it’s a highly marginal thing and is corporate funded anyway. So there’s nothing like the BBC here. Most countries have something or other. And that was a battleground, especially when radio and television came along.

The Founding Fathers actually were in favor of different conceptions of freedom of speech. There’s a narrow conception which interprets it as being a negative right, meaning you should be free of external interference. There’s a broader conception which regards it as a positive right: you should have a right to impart and access information, hence the positive interpretation. The United Nations accepts the positive interpretation, and theoretically, the US does too.

If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think Article 19 says that every person must have the right to express themselves without constraint and to impart and receive information over the widest possible range. That’s the positive right.

That was a battleground in the 1930s and 1940s. Particularly right after the Second World War, there were high level commissions taking both sides. And the position that won out is what was called corporate libertarianism, meaning corporations have the right to do anything they want without any interference.

But people don’t have any rights. Like you and I don’t have the right to receive information. Technically, we can impart information if we can buy a newspaper, but the idea that you should be a public voice that people, to the extent that this society’s democratic and participatory, was eliminated in the United States. And that’s called libertarianism. Meaning mega-corporations can do what they like without interference.

IN THE EVER-GROWING FIELD OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IS WISCONSIN GOV. SCOTT WALKER. HE’S ADVOCATING LOCAL CONTROL OF SCHOOLS IN AN EFFORT TO UNDERMINE PUBLIC EDUCATION. WITH HIS ANNOUNCEMENT TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT, I’M REMINDED OF THE RECALL IN WISCONSIN A FEW YEARS AGO AND ITS RELATION TO THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE. CAN YOU DISCUSS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE AND THE IMPACT ON TEACHERS AND EDUCATION, AND THE OVERALL MEANING OF THAT DECISION ON THE SOCIETY?

The Citizens United decision should be considered in the context of a series of decisions, starting with Buckley v. Valeo back in the ’70s, that determined that money is a form of speech. You and I can speak in the same roughly equal loudness, but you and Bill Gates can’t speak in the same loudness in regards to money. So that was a big deal, that there can’t be any interference with the use of money, for example — funding.

Now there were restrictions in the laws on campaign funding, but they’ve been slowly eroded. Citizens United pretty much dispensed with them. There’s still some limitations but not much. So exactly what its impact was is pretty hard to judge. But it’s part of a series of decisions which have led to a situation in which, if you want to run for president, you have to have several billion dollars. And there’s only certain sources for several billion dollars. If you want to run for Congress, pretty much the same. House of Representatives, you have to have a huge campaign funded.

Technically, you could decide, “I’m going to run for president.” That’s a meaningless freedom. It doesn’t mean anything. And the effect is pretty striking. The impact of money on politics goes way back — you know, Tom Ferguson’s Golden Rule? It’s the best work on this topic; he’s a very good political scientist, and has done work, very good work, on the impact of campaign funding on both electability, but also more significantly on political decisions. And he traces it back to the nineteenth century. And the impact is quite substantial — it goes right through the New Deal and on to the present.

But now it’s in the stratosphere. That’s why 70 percent of the public is totally disenfranchised. They don’t contribute to campaign funding, so they’re out. And if you sort of go up the income/wealth scale, you can detect greater levels of influence, but it’s not really significant until you get to the very top, maybe a fraction of 1 percent or something, where decisions are basically made.

It’s not 100 percent, so you find some deviation. There are times when public opinion is powerful enough so that it does matter, but these are overwhelming tendencies. The effect on education, of course, is obvious. It means that the concentrated power of the business classes will determine educational as well as other policies. That’s why you’re getting charter schools, cutting back of funding for state colleges, the corporatization of the universities. I mean, it’s across the board.

Universities, for example, are increasingly going to a business model in which what matters is not educational attainment, but the bottom line. So if you can get temporary, cheap, dispensable labor, like adjuncts and grad students, that’s preferable to tenured faculty. And of course by other measures, it’s not that preferable, but this is a business model.

At the college level, there’s a huge growth of these private colleges, most of which are total scams. They’re not private, they get maybe 80–90 percent of their funding from the federal government through Pell Grants and other things. And they’re very profitable. So during the recession, they stayed extremely profitable. All their corporate profits went down, but their stock stayed high.

They have a huge drop-out rate, enormous. Corinthian Colleges, one of the biggest for-profits, just had a big scandal. They made promises that they’d recruit deprived populations. So they’ll heavily recruit in, say, black areas, with all kind of inducements to what you can become if you take on a huge debt and go here. Kids end up with an enormous debt and very few of them even graduate. It’s just a major scam. And meanwhile, the community colleges, which can serve these communities, they’re being cut back.

And that’s very natural in a business-run society. After all, business is interested in profit and power; not a big surprise. And so therefore why have public education, when you can use it as a way to profit? It’s very much like the health care system. Why is the United States about the only country without any national health — without any meaningful national health care? Well, it’s the same thing. It’s extremely inefficient, very costly, and very bad for the patient, about twice the per capita costs of comparable countries, with some of the worst outcomes.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to get health insurance, but it’s an unbelievable process. My wife just did it, and we spent days trying to get on the computer networks, which don’t work, and then you call the office and then you wait for an hour and finally you get somebody that doesn’t know what you’re talking about and if you do it, it fails. And we finally had to end up after days of this, going to an office, a physical office out in the suburbs, a small office, where you can actually talk to a human being, and then figure it out in five minutes.

Alright, that saves money for the government and the insurance companies, but it costs money to the consumer. And in fact, that’s not counted, so economists, for ideological reasons, don’t count costs to users. Like if you think there’s an error on your bank statement, say, and you call the bank, you don’t get somebody to talk to. You get a menu, a recorded menu, and then comes a whole routine, and then maybe if you’re patient, minutes later, you get somebody to talk to. Saves the bank a lot of money, so it’s called very efficient, but that’s because they don’t count the cost to you, and the cost to you is multiplied over the number of consumers — so it’s enormous.

If you added those costs, the business would be extremely inefficient. But for ideological reasons you don’t count the cost to people, you just count the cost to business. And even with that, it’s highly inefficient. All of these — it’s not because people want it. People have favored national health care for decades. But it doesn’t matter. What the people want is essentially irrelevant.

Education is simply part of it. So sure, when Scott Walker talks about going down to the local level, it’s put in the framework of, “I’m for the common man.” What he means is that at the local level, businesses can have a lot more power than they can at the state level or at the federal level. They have plenty of power at the higher levels, but if it’s a local school board, the local real-estate people determine what happens. There’s as little resistance as you can possibly get down at the lower levels. It would be different if it was a democratic country where people were organized, but they’re not. You know, they’re atomized.

That’s why the right wing is in favor of what they call states’ rights. It’s a lot easier to take over a state than the federal government. Pretty easy to take over the federal government too, but a lot easier when you get to the state level.

And all of this is veiled in nice, appealing terminology about we’ve got to favor the little guy and send freedom back to the people and take it away from power, but it means exactly the opposite — just like libertarianism.

DO YOU SEE A LOT OF PROPAGANDA EFFORTS IN TERMS OF UNDERMINING TEACHERS, MAYBE IN REGARDS TO PENSIONS OR JOB SECURITY, TO HAVE “NEIGHBOR TURNING AGAINST NEIGHBOR”?

It’s unbelievable. In fact, what Walker did, or his advisers, was pretty clever. They unionized the teachers, firemen, policemen, and people in the public sector who had benefits. And what they concealed, and what you know, is the fact that the benefits are paid for by the recipients. So you pay for the benefits by lowering your wages. That’s part of the union contract. You defer payment and take a slightly lower wage and get a pension. But that’s suppressed.

So the propaganda which was directed at the workers in the private sector said, “Look at these guys. They’re getting all kinds of benefits and pensions, security, and you’re being thrown out of your job.” Which is true. They were being thrown out of their jobs. And of course the unions had already been beaten down to almost nothing in the private sector. And this propaganda was able to mobilize working people against people in the public sector. It was effective propaganda. I mean, a total scam, but effective.

It’s pretty interesting to see it work in detail. You get a lot of insight. So you remember in 2008, when the whole economy was crashing, we could have gone into a huge depression, mostly because of the banks and their corruption and so on. But there was one huge insurance company, AIG, the biggest international insurance company, which was collapsing. If they would have collapsed, they would have brought down with them Goldman Sachs and a whole bunch of big investment firms, so the government wouldn’t let them collapse.

So they were bailed out, a huge bailout. And it was really malfeasance, if not criminality, on their part that led to all of this, but they were bailed out, and Timothy Geithner had to keep the economy going. Right after that, right at that time, the executives of AIG got huge bonuses. That really didn’t look good, so there was some publicity about it, bad publicity. But Larry Summers, the former secretary of treasury, a big economist, said, you have to honor the contracts. And the contract said that these guys have to get a bonus.

Right at that same time, the state of Illinois was going bankrupt, it claimed. And so they had to stop paying pensions to teachers. Well, you didn’t have to honor that contract. So yeah, for the gangsters at AIG who practically brought the economy down, you got to honor that contract, because they got to get their multimillion dollar stock options. But for the teachers who already paid for the pensions, you don’t have to honor that one.

And that’s the way the country runs. That’s what a business-run society looks like in case after case. And it’s all consistent and perfectly sensible and understandable.

SHIFTING TO A FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION, I REMEMBER RECALLING BEING GIVEN THE TRADITIONAL ACCOUNT OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE AS A YOUNG STUDENT OF HISTORY, AND IN MY FORMATIVE YEARS, HEGEMONIC TERMS OR IMPERIALISTIC PHRASEOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM WASN’T COMMON. IT WAS EXCLUDED FROM MY HISTORY INTRODUCTION ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.

ANYWAY, A LITTLE WHILE BACK, SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY ANNOUNCED THAT “THE ERA OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE IS OVER.” IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN JUST RHETORIC, AND RECENTLY VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN ANNOUNCED THAT A $1 BILLION AID PACKAGE WOULD BE DELIVERED TO CENTRAL AMERICA.

THAT PROMPTED SEVERAL SCHOLARS LIKE ADRIENNE PINE, AN ACADEMIC FROM AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, TO EXPRESS CONCERNS — HER AREA OF EXPERTISE IS HONDURAS AND GUATEMALA, AND SHE WAS ARGUING THAT THIS “AID PACKAGING” WOULD GO TO CORRUPT GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN THOSE COUNTRIES AND IT WOULD DO LITTLE TO ENHANCE DEMOCRACY OR HELP PEOPLE.

Well, this whole story is quite interesting. The meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, we were taught, was to protect the country from European imperialism. And that’s perfectly defensive. But the actual meaning was stated very clearly by Secretary of State Lansing, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state. It’s a wonderful example of an accurate description — he presented a memorandum to President Wilson in which he said, here’s the real meaning of the Monroe Doctrine.

He said the Monroe Doctrine was established in our interest. The interests of other countries were an incident, not an end. So it’s entirely for our interest. But Wilson, a great exponent of self-determination, said he thought this argument was “unanswerable,” but it would be impolitic to make it public. That’s the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine. And it is. It’s exactly the way it’s been used.

This is supposed to be our hemisphere. Everybody else stay out. We didn’t have the power to implement it in 1823, but it was understood how it would work. John Quincy Adams, the great grand strategist and the intellectual author of Manifest Destiny, explained in the accredited — I think he probably wrote the Monroe Doctrine when he was secretary of state — he explained it was really directed at Cuba.

Cuba was the first foreign policy objective for the US. We wanted to take over Cuba. And the Monroe Doctrine was supposed to keep the British out. And it was discussed, and they understood that they couldn’t do it because Britain was too powerful.

But Adams explained that over time, Britain would become weaker, and the United States would become more powerful, and over time, he said, “Cuba will fall into our hands by the laws of political gravitation, the way an apple falls from the tree.” Which is exactly what happened through the nineteenth century when relations of power shifted, the United States became more powerful and was able to kick Britain out of one place after another.

In 1898, the United States invaded Cuba. The pretext was to liberate Cuba. In fact it was to conquer Cuba and prevent it from liberating itself from Spain, which it in fact was about to do. And then comes the Platt Amendment, and Guantanamo and all the rest of the story.

That’s the Monroe Doctrine. Why is it changing? It’s changing because Latin America has liberated itself. The United States is practically being kicked out of the hemisphere. That’s extremely important. For the last roughly fifteen years and for the first time in its history, the Latin American countries have begun to integrate slightly to free themselves from imperial control to face internal problems, and if you look at the hemispheric conferences, the United States is increasingly isolated.

At the Santiago conference in 2012, the OAS conference, it never reached any decisions because they have to be reached by consensus, and the US and Canada blocked every decision. The major ones were on Cuba. Everybody wanted it admitted, but the US and Canada refused. And the other was drugs. The other countries want to end this crazy US drug war which is destroying them, and the US and Canada refused.

Well, there was another conference coming up in Panama, just a couple months ago. And Obama recognized‚ or an adviser recognized, that unless he did something, the US would simply be kicked out of the hemisphere. So they moved towards normalization of relationswith Cuba. And here, it’s presented as a wonderful benign gesture, bringing Cuba out of its isolation.

Fact is, the United States is totally isolated. In the world, it’s completely isolated. The votes in the UN on the embargo are like 180–2, the United States and Israel. And in the hemisphere, it was on the verge of being tossed out. So they make the gestures that are silly — they have to say those sort of things, or end up being thrown out of the hemisphere.

And we can’t intervene at the previous levels — there’s plenty of intervention, but not at the level before. As for giving money toHonduras and Guatemala, it means giving money to murderers ruling governments that were installed by US power. The Honduras government was thrown out by military coup in 2009. This is Obama now. And they were a military government, ran a kind of a fake election, which almost nobody recognized except the United States, and it’s become a horror chamber.

If you take a look at the immigrants coming across the border, you’ll notice most of them are from Honduras. Why? Because Honduras, thanks to Obama, is a horror chamber. They’re giving money to Honduras, this military regime which has probably the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. Guatemala has been a horror story ever since 1954, when the US went in.

So that’s the history, but not the sanitized history.

 

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/29/noam_chomsky_the_united_states_is_totally_isolated_partner/?source=newsletter

The problem with center-left critiques of neoliberalism

By Martijn Konings On July 22, 2015

Post image for The problem with center-left critiques of neoliberalismThe Polanyian preoccupation with the social limits to the expansion of the market is really just a distraction from our own investment in the status quo.

Image shows Steve Lambert’s art installation Capitalism works for me!

It is now sometimes hard to remember — and for the generation that is now in college and wasn’t necessarily reading the opinion pages at the time, it may seem nothing short of perverse — but there was a period following the onset of the crisis when progressive commentary on economic and financial life was pervaded by intense optimism about the future. As overleveraged financial structures crumbled, progressive intelligentsia rang the death knell for the neoliberal principles that were so obviously responsible for the problems.

At the height of the crisis in September 2008, the excitement about the ‘return of the state’ was palpable. That the bailouts had some morally problematic aspects did of course not go unnoticed, but those were nonetheless seen as secondary in importance to the basic lesson they taught: that the capitalist economy does not regulate itself and needs the state. The future seemed to belong to public regulation and Keynesian intervention.

In the social sciences, such reasoning has become closely associated with the revival of the work of Karl Polanyi. The key concept here is that of the ‘double movement,’ which sees history as evolving in cycles: periodic ‘disembedding’ movements, when the speculative and individualizing logic of the market becomes unmoored from its social and political foundations, will be followed by ‘re-embedding’ movements, when society regroups and once again subordinates markets to the public good.

This model sees financial crises as powerful reminders of the inability of markets to regulate themselves, and accordingly takes them as political turning-points. The influence of this model of capitalist development has been significant throughout the neoliberal era, but has grown dramatically since the financial crisis, with some of the most prominent public intellectuals embracing it. Indeed, anyone who has misgivings about the role of markets and financial institutions in contemporary life and consults the social science literature for some deeper insight will soon encounter the name of Karl Polanyi.

The schema of the double movement has turned out to be just about the poorest guide to the post-crisis development of capitalism that we could have had.

Neoliberalism recharged

Instead of a break with the politics of financial expansion and hands-off regulation, what we got was a neoliberalism recharged. Not only have left-wing progressive reform agendas faltered almost everywhere, the past years have in fact seen a dramatic turn to austerity. In order to make sense of this state of affairs, progressive intellectuals have turned to the idea of regulatory or cognitive capture: it is the iron-fisted hold of financial elites on regulatory institutions and the mindsets of policymakers that has prevented the re-embedding movement from materializing.

But of course the disproportionate influence of elites on public policy is hardly a new phenomenon and is in many ways more symptom than cause. What needs explaining is precisely how the privileges of the financial sector have survived amidst widespread concerns about its legitimacy and intense hostility towards bankers. We are currently seeing the bizarre emergence of an academic growth sector devoted to explaining the failure of social reality to conform itself to social scientists’ fantasies of a re-embedding movement — a curious imitation of the financial sector’s own ability to profit from failure.

These kinds of post-crisis debates have been unable to come to terms with the considerable popular appeal and democratic legitimacy of neoliberalism. This has been most visible in the United States, where the Tea Party movement played a crucial role in bringing austerity to the top of the political agenda.

The movement originated in the widespread concern that the American government had become heavily involved in the picking of economic winners, and its central aim is to restore an America founded on republican values, where the undeserving were not pampered with bailouts. This phenomenon of ‘neoliberal populism’ manifests something that progressive commentators have profound difficulty relating to: the moral force of the orthodox image of the market and the ethical appeal of austerity as a means of purifying capitalist institutions.

The disembedding metaphor underlines this disconnect: it sets far too much store by the claims of the ‘dismal science’ as a guide to actually existing capitalism and places far too much emphasis on the morally corrosive aspects of the market.

Organizing our own oppression

The issue here isn’t just of academic interest: the growing stature of Polanyi’s work among social scientists reflects the more general tendency among progressive intellectuals to adopt as serious explanation what is little more than journalistic opinionating and left-of-center moralizing. In keeping with this style of political commentary, progressive commentators have gone out of their way to downplay the significance of neoliberal populism, dismissing it as irrational sentiment manufactured and manipulated by conservative elites.

More generally, to the extent that progressive intellectuals have engaged with the ethical charge of neoliberal capitalism, they have tended to focus on its paradoxical alliance with (neo)conservatism and the religious right. In this interpretation, private enrichment has been legitimated through appeals to conservative values, and large sections of the American public have been curiously unable to see through this hypocrisy. At the limit, this gives rise to the kind of despair at the people’s irrationality that is expressed in the title of Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas?

To understand the attachment to neoliberalism as a kind of cognitive impairment is hardly a promising starting point for engaging it in a serious way. As a result, the left’s debate on austerity has remained superficial, revolving around the notion that it represents nothing but an ideological program imposed on populations from above and remaining largely silent on the question of how austerity discourses have been able to gain such traction in democratic polities.

The democratic character of our political systems is of course compromised in myriad ways, but — at least in a Western context — neoliberalism does not operate in a way that is primarily authoritarian. Its distinctive strength is its ability to lure us into organizing our own oppression.

Framed in psychological terms, progressive perspectives on austerity ‘externalize’ the problem, attributing problems to the nefarious machinations of scheming elites in order to disavow our own connection to it. The result is a critique of austerity that is moralistic, depicting it as a wrong policy or cognitive mistake without meaningful social or psychological roots.

That the capture concept is a neoliberal invention — it was pioneered by George Stigler, a founding member of the Mont Pelerin society — should alert us to a blind spot in the progressive critique of neoliberal capitalism. The neoliberal project is itself already fundamentally a critique of the ways in which public institutions have been captured by special interests. It looks to austerity as a means to restore an authentic republican ethos, a self-reliance that is not cynically utilitarian but responsible and accountable, capable of serving as the backbone of political community.

And here it is precisely the progressive-liberal character that is seen as the principal obstacle: it features as the embodiment of moral corruption, as elitist, condescending do-goodery that facilitates lazy, hedonistic dependency. The progressive critique of neoliberalism, then, operates somewhat unreflexively in the slipstream of the neoliberal assault on progressivism.

The power of austerity

Of course, the neoliberal management of austerity has often been a highly technocratic and depoliticized affair. But what needs explaining is precisely how democratic publics have come to embrace such self-limitation. Similarly, it is true that only the US has experienced a full-fledged movement of neoliberal populism. But the turn to austerity policies in the post-crisis Eurozone could never have been effective had it not been for the remarkable speed with which the focus of at least Western European public opinion was redirected from almost visceral disgust with financial elites to a general acceptance of key tenets of austerity policy — that budgets need balancing and debts need to be paid.

Explaining the power of austerity therefore requires an ability to critically penetrate an economic imaginary that enjoys considerable ethical appeal and democratic traction. The Polanyian preoccupation with the idea that there exist inherent social and political limits to the expansion of market logics, and its reliance on conspiratorial explanations for why those limits are not being enforced, are really just distractions from the real question of why we are so invested in the logic of neoliberal capitalism.

It is reflective of the malaise of present-day progressivism that it can only understand formulations such as the latter as encouraging a retreat from political action. In practice, it is of course precisely the advocacy of policy change that is associated with a dismissive attitude towards the spate of critical energies that have flourished since the crisis, counseling cautious accommodation to austerity politics no matter how minute and short-lived the discounts on offer.

That ethos serves to demobilize rather than energize resistance, and a meaningful critical engagement of neoliberal capitalism is premised on a break with a distinctly progressive-liberal way of thinking about economic life that is epitomized by the prominence of Polanyi’s ideas.

Martijn Konings teaches at the University of Sydney and is the author of The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed (2015).

 

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/polanyi-progressive-critique-neoliberalism-crisis/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

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.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/23/fass-j23.html

 

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.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/22/germ-j22.html

Is Advertising Morally Justifiable?

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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.”