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

Is America Undergoing a Major Political Sea Change?

 Inside the Rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

The political spectrum doesn’t want more conventional thinking.

Photo Credit: http://www.facebook.com/PDARunBernieRun/photos

America’s political center, if it ever really existed, appears to be shrinking.

On the left, Bernie Sanders’ issue-oriented presidential campaign of economic justice is drawing the crowds and generating the most passion, eclipsing his more moderate competitors. And on the right, Donald Trump’s loud promises to use his dealmaking moxie to fix the country, with a dose of racist comments thrown in, has pushed him to the top of the polls in 2016’s early states.

There’s no shortage of pundits writing off their surges. Surely, you’ve heard them all, which amount to saying that when the campaign gets serious, they will seriously falter. The latest analyses from this past weekend’s polling noted that both were doing well in two of the whitest states—Iowa and New Hampshire—but not in bigger, more diverse ones. So now these hallowed presidential proving grounds prove nothing?

But there is one explanation you won’t find among the politicos who are parsing the interior numbers in polls—such as the negative approval ratings, or appeal by race and gender. That explanation is that the political spectrum is changing, or stretching toward its blunter extremes, which also accounts for the muted enthusiasm for both party’s leading establishment candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

A shifting electorate is the last thing many pundits want to confront. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, pointing to four recent polls, merely says Hillary should worry about her rising unpopularity. He does not touch the deeper question: is she out of tune with what’s engaging the public now? His colleague, Phillip Bump says she’s lagging among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, but climbs back up in later states where she appeals to non-whites. Sanders and Trump aren’t doing that, he said.

At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another go-to site for reporters to get zeitgeist quotes, the reflex is to dismiss both Trumps and Sanders for different reasons, rather than probe how the electorate may be shifting. Trump’s surge, according to associate editor Geoffrey Skelly, is because he’s well-known, loud, in a crowded field, and keeps getting press coverage. Even worse, the GOP idiotically tied participation in its upcoming presidential debate to how candidates are polling, he said, where Trump will be “attacked from all sides.”

One can go very far in political analysis by being cynical. But that does not mean you’ve got your finger on a changing pulse. Politico’s  piece on Trump’s latest rise in New Hampshire and Iowa points to the politics of anger, especially against Washington power-brokers, which includes the GOP’s congressional majority.

“Just 16 percent among all Republicans (15 percent of Republican registered voters… [and] 50 percent of Democrats (51 percent of Democratic registered voters) feel that they are [well] represented in the nation’s capital,” it reported. “Among independents, just 27 percent feel well-represented.”

What are people angry about? Who is giving voice to their problems, or offering solutions? CNN says the top concerns facing voters are the economy (44 percent), health care (20 percent) and terrorism (12 percent). If those numbers are accurate, it is not surprising that Sanders and Trump, on the left and right, have captivated voters because they are speaking outside the safe centrist political box.

Trump’s bragging that most of politics comes down to being the best negotiator has an appeal when the Republican-controlled Congress is bumbling at best. His slaps at immigrants are ugly, but there have always been racists in modern Republican ranks. Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln, nor is it Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-corporate reformers. Most of their 2016 candidates have been recycling Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric or predictable policies benefitting the upper classes.

While it remains to be seen what broad new agenda will emerge on the right, it is not surprising that the cliché-ridden remedies spouted by a field of predictable candidates isn’t creating much excitement, even as they try to out-do each other on the far right. Trump’s rise strongly suggests something in the GOP’s base is shifting.

Bernie Sanders’ surge is more easily traced, and also shows shifting voter sensibilities. His messaging has been saturated with specifics, from his speeches to e-mails. On Monday morning, he sent out a long missive seeking $3 donations that listed 12 issue areas and his solutions: jobs, jobs, jobs; raising wages; wealth and income inequality; reforming Wall St.; campaign finance reform; fighting climate change; health care for all; protecting our most vulnerable; expanding opportunity and equality; dismantling structural racism; college for all; war and peace. This is not political fundraising as usual.

It is easy to say that Sanders, like Elizabeth Warren before him, is pulling the Democrats closer to their progressive heart. But Sanders would not be as successful as he has been if Democrats in the electorate were not embracing his message. As one of Iowa’s leading pro-Democrat bloggers, BleedingHeartland.com, wrote this weekend, “Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds in Iowa–including roughly 1,200 people in West Des Moines on Friday—and polls indicate that he is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers.”

Clinton still led Sanders by 29 points, 55 percent to 26 percent, with Martin O’Malley at 4 percent and Jim Webb at 2 percent, it reported, citing the latest polls. But “his message is resonating with a sizable part of the Democratic base, as anyone could see on Friday night during his town-hall meeting at West Des Moines Valley High School. I challenge any Democrat to find one substantive point to disagree with in Sanders’ stump speech. Many people who attend his events are already ‘feeling the Bern.’ My impression is that the undecideds who show up walk away giving him their serious consideration. I doubt anyone leaves a Sanders event thinking, ‘I could never caucus for that guy.’”

BleedingHeartland continued, “Listening to Sanders on Friday, I was again struck by the senator’s distinctive way of speaking. He packs a lot of facts and figures into his remarks without sounding wonky. He conveys a lot of passion without raising his voice often. Compared to many candidates, he says very little about his children and grandchildren. Still, his feelings about family come through loud and clear when he contrasts Republican ideas about ‘family values’ (a ‘woman shouldn’t be able to control her own body’) with what family values should mean (for instance, a mom and dad having paid time off from work so they can get to know their new baby). Although the Sanders stump speech is overly long—pushed well past the one-hour mark by many interruptions for applause—he keeps his listeners’ attention. Even my 12-year-old was still engaged….”

Next years’ presidential caucuses are a long way off, and the November election is even further away. It’s easy for pundits to dismiss Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for different reasons, with respect to their eventual prospects. But doing so can overlook what’s happening now, which is the assumed frames, views and mood of the electorate are shifting, or stretching, or changing, and favoring the blunt and unconventional.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/america-undergoing-major-political-sea-change-exploring-shocking-rise-bernie-sanders?akid=13338.265072.UrDWuB&rd=1&src=newsletter1040052&t=1

Kids Count report: 22 percent of US children live in poverty

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By Tom Hall
22 July 2015

Twenty-two percent of all children in the United States live below the federal poverty line, significantly higher than during the height of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, according to a report issued Thursday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The latest edition of the Kids Count Data Book found that the number of children living in poverty rose by almost 3 million between 2008 and 2013, the latest year included in the data: from 13.2 million to 16.1 million. The US child poverty rate remains four percentage points higher than it was in 2008, when it stood at 18 percent.

“Especially worrying” to the authors is the fact that the percentage of children in high poverty neighborhoods has risen from 11 percent in 2006-2010 to 14 percent in 2013, the highest level since 1990. The report notes that children living in high-poverty areas are more likely to drop out of school or develop behavioral or emotional problems.

The percentage of children in high-poverty neighborhoods is significantly higher in former industrial centers such as Detroit, where 81 percent of children live in poor neighborhoods. This figure is also higher for African-American, Native American and Latino children, at 32, 30 and 24 percent respectively.

The report reflects the fact that Obama’s economic “recovery,” which has seen a massive increase in stock values and profits of major corporations, has been a catastrophe for the American working class, who have seen their living standards and those of their children decline precipitously during this period.

“Although we are several years past the end of the recession, millions of families still have not benefited from the economic recovery,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “While we’ve seen an increase in employment in recent years, many of these jobs are low-wage and cannot support even basic family expenses.”

“Only the most highly educated and highly paid workers have seen their wages grow, while inflation-adjusted wages for the lowest-income workers have slowly but gradually fallen,” the report states. This shift toward unskilled, low-paid professions since the “recovery” has led to an additional 1.7 million children living in “low-income working families” between 2008 and 2013.

It is widely acknowledged among researchers that “at a minimum, families need an income of at least twice the federal poverty level to cover basic expenses,” the report states. A total of 45 percent of all US children lived beneath this threshold in 2013.

The bleak job situation facing the US population “remains one of the primary obstacles to further reducing economic hardship among children and families,” according to the report. In addition to low wages, the number of jobs created after the 2008 financial crisis has not been sufficient to keep pace with the natural growth of the labor force. Thirty-one percent of children in 2013 had parents that lacked access to secure employment, defined as having a full time, year-round job. This is an increase from 27 percent in 2008, or 2.7 million additional children.

Income levels for US workers remain far below what they were prior to the recession. Median household income fell by 8 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to figures from the Federal Reserve.

Even industries which were once associated with a decent standard of living, especially those in manufacturing, have now been opened up as low-wage platforms. In a move spearheaded by the Obama administration’s auto restructuring, auto makers have institutionalized a “second tier” of employees who now make less, in real terms, than autoworkers a century ago. Wages have been lowered to the point where manufacturers are now “insourcing” some production back into the United States, eager to exploit the emerging and highly profitable low-wage economy.

The difficult economic conditions faced by American children are among the worst of any country in the industrialized world. A report by UNICEF last year found that the United States has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, as measured by the percentage of children beneath the median national income. The United States has the sixth-highest child poverty rate out of the 41 countries in the study, lower only than countries such as Mexico and Greece.

The social crisis has hit major urban centers particularly hard. An earlier reportalso released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that child poverty had risen in 35 of the 50 largest cities in the United States since 2005. In six American cities: Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Fresno and Memphis, the child poverty rate was higher than UNICEF’s figures for Greece, with Detroit and Cleveland topping 50 percent.

Even as the incomes of US workers have plunged, the profits of major corporations and the value of the stock market have soared. Major US stock indices have tripled since 2009, despite the fact that the real economy is still mired in slump, with the US economy barely growing over the first half of the year.

The wealth of the super-rich, meanwhile, continues to grow. A recent Forbesreport found that the wealth of the world’s billionaires, 536 of whom live in the United States, surged past $7 trillion earlier this year for the first time.

Even as millions of people have slid into poverty, the White House and Congress have slashed funding for social programs year after year. Total cuts to food stamps implemented over the past two years alone have added up to $13.7 billion. Meanwhile, federal extended unemployment benefits have been continually slashed, resulting in a smaller share of the unemployed receiving jobless benefits that at any point in the history of the program.

 

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

The Nazi past of Germany’s post-war political elite

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By Verena Nees
7 July 2015

Fifty years ago, the Brown Book: War criminals and Nazis in the Federal Republic—in government, business, administration, the army, the judiciary and science was published on July 2, 1965.

In its first edition, the Brown Book listed the SS ranks and former Nazi membership of 1,800 business leaders, politicians and senior officials of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the third edition in 1968, more than 2,300 individuals were listed—including 15 ministers and state secretaries, 100 generals and admirals of the Bundeswehr, 828 judges, state prosecutors and top judicial officers, 245 leading officials of the foreign office, and 297 senior police officers and employees of the intelligence service. The veracity of the data was supported with detailed statements and quotations from legal, military and Gestapo archives, often accompanied by copies of incriminating documents.

“The whole system is infested with Nazis,” said publisher Albert Norden at an international press conference at the time. The Brown Book sparked a deep political crisis and led to the resignations of numerous officials and government ministers.

It played an important role in the protest movement of the 1960s. Suddenly it became clear that there had never been a “zero hour”—that is, a new beginning for German society after the end of World War II, as announced by the government of Konrad Adenauer. Despite adoption of the Basic Law (German constitution) and the official denazification campaign, key positions in the state apparatus, the government and posts for its representatives abroad were occupied chiefly by former Nazis.

The Brown Book set the ball rolling. After 1965, many more former Nazi perpetrators were unmasked in the German civil service. One thinks of the Baden-Württemberg Minister President Hans Filbinger, who served as a naval judge until the final days of the war, delivering death sentences that were only revealed in 1978.

But the book dealing with the continuity of Nazi cliques in post-war West Germany is not only an historical document. It is also strikingly relevant today, because it alarmingly exposes the tradition that has generated current German foreign policy, the massive rearmament of the army and its involvement in NATO’s war manoeuvres against Russia.

The Brown Book does not merely list names and professions; it brings to light the aggressive aims of German imperialism expressed in the quoted communiqués of particular Nazi functionaries and army officers during World War II. The tone of many of these statements bears a striking resemblance to that characterising today’s calls for Germany’s assumption of greater military responsibility in the world.

In the early stages of the attack on the Soviet Union, when the general staff still reckoned with a quick victory, further plans for world domination were already being discussed. Special task forces in Ribbentrop’s foreign office undertook aproject to take over countries in Africa and Asia under the control of the colonial powers of England and France. At issue were the objectives of the “permanent exclusion of England from the Near East and the permanent securing of German control over the oil resources there,” according, for example, to a record compiled by the then-undersecretary of state Ernst Woermann, relating to the work of Fritz Grobba’s special task force and dated November 6, 1941. Many of the participants in that task force were again employed in the German Federal Republic’s diplomatic missions abroad after 1945.

Wilhelm Grewe, the Nazi law professor and “researcher of the East” at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University), who published his views in numerous political journals, called for German hegemony, not only in Europe but also throughout the world. The Brown Book states that he wrote in the International Journal of Political Science (vol. 103): “The struggle is now only a question of whether we are entering into an “American century”, where governance of the world falls to the United States—or whether the new world order represented by the powers of the tripartite pact prevails.”

In 1940, Grewe also agitated through the Journal for Politics (German Journal of Research in Human Resource Management, ZfP, p. 233) for the “destruction of all Paris churches, palaces, theatres, hospitals, academies, conservatories, courthouses, halls, victory arches, colonnades, the stock exchange, the bank, the city hall and bridges as a consequence of realistic thinking.” In 1941, he celebrated in the same journal (p. 749) the invasion of the Soviet Union as the beginning of a “world-historical mission.” After 1945, Grewe headed the legal department and then the political affairs department of the foreign office in Bonn, after which he became West German ambassador in the US and later a NATO representative in Paris.

The Brown Book was edited by Albert Norden, Humboldt University professor of modern history from 1953 to 1955 and leader of investigations into war and Nazi crimes for the politburo of the former Stalinist Socialist Unity Party of East Germany (SED). Son of a rabbi and a long-standing member of the German Communist Party (KPD), Norden had contributed to the Brown Book in relation to the Reichstag (Nazi parliament) fire and Hitler’s terror regime as early as 1933. He collaborated with East Berlin attorney Friedrich Karl Kaul, who also made a name for himself as a lawyer in numerous anti-Nazi proceedings in West Germany—such as the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, which coincided with the publication of the Brown Book, as well as the Dora court case in Essen and the Treblinka proceedings in Düsseldorf. A large part of the research for theBrown Book was carried out by Norbert Podewin, who was a history student at Humboldt University from 1961 and who died last year. In 2002, Podewin published the extended 1968 edition of the Brown Book.

Following the founding of the Federal Republic, the Adenauer government terminated the denazification process in 1948 on the grounds that it was necessary to draw a line under the Nazi past. Amnesty laws in 1949 and 1954 made possible the pardoning of tens of thousands of Nazi criminals. During the drafting of these laws, former staff members of the Hitler Reich’s (Nazi “empire”) Ministry of Justice, like Werner Best and various war and special court judges, were involved. In addition, the federal parliament legislated the so-called Regulation 131, which granted the right of public sector employment to anyone claiming during denazification proceedings to have been merely a Nazi fellow traveller.

Media and political circles reacted hysterically to the Brown Book’s publication. Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who rose to chancellor at the head of the grand coalition in 1966 and had himself been unmasked in the Brown Book as a leading Nazi, denounced it as “a work of communist propaganda” and saw to it that the second edition was impounded in the course of a spectacular police operation at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1967. Kiesinger, a confidante of both Ribbentrop and Goebbels, had been in charge of foreign propaganda in the occupied territories until 1945. The revelation of his Nazi past played a major role in the protest movement challenging the Emergency Laws of the grand coalition.

The information provided by the Brown Book was later proven to be almost 100 percent correct. Although the facts it presented were officially denied in the West German media, numerous officials resigned from their posts, including Attorney General Wolfgang Fraenkel, whom the Brown Book proved to have been responsible for 50 death sentences delivered by the Nazi court in Leipzig, and minister for displaced persons Hans Krüger, whose bloodstained reputation as a Nazi judge in Chojnice, Poland was exposed.

The latter’s predecessor, former Gauleiter (regional Nazi Party leader) of East Prussia, Theodor Oberländer, who had also been Reich director of the Association of the German East and later an intelligence officer in the West German army, was dismissed from his post in 1960, having been proven guilty of war crimes by the Stalinist East German government. Oberländer had also set up the “Nightingale” militia battalion, consisting of Ukrainian fascists who massacred of thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Lviv and other cities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The head of Adenauer’s federal chancellery, Hans Globke, resigned in 1963 before publication of the Brown Book, having been accused by the East German authorities of involvement in the drafting of the Nuremberg race laws. In 1969, former federal president Heinrich Luebke, who had claimed since 1945 to have been a resistance fighter, also finally resigned from office. TheBrown Book had uncovered his past as a concentration camp architect and construction manager in the Peenemünde army research centre, as well as a Gestapo confidante.

The Brown Book continues to be a veritable mine of information and serves as a crucial source for historical research. The chapter of the Brown Bookconcerning “Ribbentrop’s diplomats in the Bonn government’s foreign service”, was thus incorporated into the 2010 investigation titled “The Office and the Past”, which an historical commission emanating from the foreign office itself had appointed. The details covered in this chapter, which were substantially confirmed in 2010, revealed that no fewer than 520 Nazi diplomats were working for the West German Republic in 1965, including over 30 in top positions, and that former Gestapo members were scandalously in charge of the department of eastern affairs.

Particularly politically explosive are the entries concerning fathers of today’s politicians and senior military officers—for example, Lothar Domröse, father of current Bundeswehr (German military forces) General Hans-Lothar Domröse, who now directs the NATO manoeuvres in Eastern Europe on the borders of Russia and agitates for war preparedness and military rearmament. His father, whom the Brown Book exposed as an aide-de-camp to General Blumentritt (Hitler’s army commander-in-chief) prior to 1945, attempted to help war criminal Hermann Hoth evade conviction by swearing to a false affidavit at the Nuremberg trials in 1948. This did not prevent the federal government from appointing him head of the defence ministry press office in 1966.

Another such case is that of Ulrich de Maizière, father of current Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who persistently calls for comprehensive upgrading of the police force and secret services. The Brown Book states: “De Maizière enjoyed the special confidence of Hitler and the fascist Wehrmacht (German army) leadership. He was called to serve in the Führerbunker (Hitler’s Berlin air-raid shelter) in February 1945. There, as a lieutenant colonel and staff officer of the general staff’s operations department, he regularly reported to Hitler on the deteriorating situation and arranged for the effective administration of Hitler’s, Bormann’s and Goebbels’ beleaguered ‘command post’.”

After 1945, de Maizière’s father was on the staff of the so-called “Office Blank”, the covert predecessor of the federal defence ministry that was eventually inaugurated in 1955. It was from Office Blank that the rebirth and rearming of a German army were initially driven. Ulrich de Maizière strove to secure the involvement of infamous Hitler generals such as Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel in the project.

Fifty years after publication of the Brown Book, the upper ranks of today’s military and members of the political establishment are still dominated by a caste whose ancestors were deeply involved in the worst crimes known to humanity. These forces are intent on following in their footsteps of their forebears.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/07/nazi-j07.html

Europe never existed. It was a story made up to deal with the legacies of war  

Has Europe lost its hold on our collective imagination?

Is European unity an unsustainable myth?
Is European unity an unsustainable myth? Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

When I was a teenager in Dublin in the early 1970s, the phrase “We’re into Europe!” gained a peculiar currency. It was half-jokey but not really sardonic. You used it for good things that promised even better things – when a girl you fancied smiled at you or your team scored the first goal.

It came from what was (in retrospect quite amazingly) a popular TV show calledInto Europe that the state broadcaster put on to educate the populace of a peripheral nation that was going to join the European Economic Community in 1973. I remember documentaries about farm consolidation in Denmark or students sitting around some castle in Germany discussing “What does it mean to be European?” It seemed terribly exciting that we, too, would soon be able to discuss that question with the same earnest enthusiasm. We were into Europe.

But what did “Europe” mean in this sense? It was not a physical place. Ireland had, after all, always been part of Europe. And the EEC was not, in any case, Europe – it was a small fraction of the continent. But it wasn’t a mere set of trading and institutional arrangements either. It was a story, an imaginative fiction of the kind that Yuval Noah Harari evokes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He makes the point that the capacity to believe in fictional constructs is a defining element of what makes us human, because without it we cannot co-operate with people we do not know: “At the heart of our mass co-operation networks, you will always find fictional stories that exist only in people’s collective imagination… There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”

One of these enabling fictions is “Europe”. It is a story that most of the central and western nations of the continent agreed to tell themselves and each other in order to deal with the legacies of the second world war and the cold war. And like all stories, it sustained itself, if not exactly with belief, then at least with a willing suspension of disbelief. The question now is whether it still exists at all, whether “Europe” has lost its hold on our collective imagination. All the evidence suggests that it has.

In a remarkable outburst reported last week by the Observer, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, denounced the failure of his fellow EU leaders to agree on more than a voluntary plan to deal with the thousands of refugees and migrants landing on his country’s shores: “If this is your idea of Europe, keep it for yourself… you do not deserve to call yourself Europe. Either we have solidarity or we waste our time!”

In recent weeks, too, the appeals by leaders of Syriza in Greece to “our shared European values” have come to seem not just desperate but naive. It is as if the Greeks were appealing to medieval codes of chivalry or expecting Premier League footballers to respect 19th-century Corinthian values. “Europe” and “European values” seem, even as rhetorical gestures, entirely hollow. They are evoked now only to underline their absence.

One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.

Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency? Formulaic expressions of sympathy aside, there is little sense that the European Union as a whole finds it intolerable that hundreds of thousands of Greeks are living without electricity or that millions have no access to public health care.

The “ever closer union” envisaged by the EU’s founders has been replaced in effect by a deeply incoherent mixture of one-size-fits-all thinking and double standards. On the one hand, there is the absolute insistence that there can be no challenge to the technocratic formula for solving the eurozone crisis: austerity plus massive bank bailouts plus privatisation and the dismantling of social and labour protections.

On the other, there is a sharp moral and political divide between the creditor states and the debtor states, with a supposedly virtuous, prudent and righteous core beset by a feckless, reckless periphery. Or, if viewed from that periphery, between victimised citizens and a European political elite bent on punishing them for sins they did not commit on their own.

There is no “collective imagination” of the crisis – in one Europe, it is respectable, hard-working people being exploited by chaotic layabouts from the hot south; in the other, it is hard-pressed and equally hard-working people being sucked dry to feed foreign banks. The stories Europeans are telling themselves about what’s going on around them are not just different but mutually exclusive and mutually antagonistic.

Nor is this collapse of the collective imagination just a product of the eurozone crisis. It has deeper roots. The idea of “Europe” that animated the EU depended on the conflicts that gave it birth. The Second World War, fascism and the Holocaust created a deep appreciation of the fragility of peace, democracy and human rights. The Cold War made it imperative for western democracies to compete with communism on its own terms by showing that market economies could deliver, not just prosperity, but social justice, equality and security.

But the Cold War ended, the rivalry with communism ceased, and the generation of leaders with memories of the Second World War – the likes of Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterand and Jacques Delors – passed on. With them has gone the urgency of imagining a European story, not as an abstract fable, but as a necessary alternative to the other European stories of Hitler and Stalin.

Their benign fiction also had a powerful subtext – the need to contain Germany. It is not accidental that it was Schmidt, who was 14 when Hitler came to power, who issued what he called “a serious and carefully considered warning” to his compatriots three years ago: “If we Germans allow ourselves to be seduced into claiming a political leading role in Europe or at least playing first among equals, based on our economic strength, an increasing majority of our neighbours will effectively resist this. The concern of the periphery about an all too powerful European centre would soon come racing back. The possible consequences of such a development would be crippling.”

Schmidt was right – and he was also ignored. No one watching the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in recent weeks can have picked up the slightest hint of anxiety about being “first among equals”. There is only the absolute certainty that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, Greece can and must be beaten until it learns to become more German.

In the technocratic mindset that has filled the vacuum where “Europe” used to be, the old story is just a sentimental romance. But there’s always a story – the old fable of democracy, solidarity and decency hasn’t been replaced by simple dull reality. What has taken its place is a narrative that poses as hard-headed realism but that is actually much more fantastical than the one that was constructed by the postwar generation. It has a wildly improbable plot in which years of austerity magically produce economic growth; mountains of public debt are paid off by shrinking economies; unaccountable experts know more about other countries than their own elected governments; and everyone lives happily ever after. The good are rewarded. The bad are punished but they repent in the end and return to the fold. There’s certainly a lot of imagination in this story. But its ability to sustain a collective enterprise among 28 stubbornly individual nations is negligible.

It is not entirely true, of course, that no one at all believes the old story of Europe. The last true believers are on rickety boats in the Mediterranean, trying to make their way to an imagined continent of compassion, solidarity and security. If they ever get to shore, they will find at best a grudging welcome. But those who purport to share their belief in what Europe means badly need some of their desperate optimism.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/05/europe-fictional-construct-legacies-of-war?CMP=fb_gu

 

Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communality

By Jerome Roos On July 4, 2015

Post image for Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communalityWhatever the outcome of the referendum, tough times are ahead. To survive, Greek society will need to reinvigorate the commons and communal solidarity.

Image: A solidarity kitchen in Greece. The poster in the back reads “Free Food for All” (by Marko Djurika).

As the Greek debt crisis enters its dramatic apotheosis — with an unprecedented default on the IMF last Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters taking to the streets on Friday, and a historic referendum scheduled for Sunday — concerns are growing over the state of the Greek economy.

The decision by the European creditors and the European Central Bank to basically cut off Greece’s banking system from continued emergency support has forced the government to close all private banks and impose far-reaching capital controls. As a result, Greek companies can no longer pay foreign suppliers and are already starting to run short on food, pharmaceuticals and other key imports. Some pensioners are struggling to obtain their much-needed cash.

Sunday’s referendum, for all its flaws and limitations, marks a triumph for democracy. Still, it won’t bring an immediate end to the turmoil. Whatever the outcome, tough times are ahead. After nearly six years of brutal austerity, the Greek economy is devastated while the “welfare state” remains anemic and dysfunctional. Unemployment and misery are rife. Needless to say, none of this will change overnight. Indeed, as the creditors intensify their vicious campaign of financial asphyxiation, things are likely to get significantly worse.

A rupture with endless austerity, debt servitude and the straitjacket of the single currency would certainly restore a degree of autonomy and improve Greece’s economic prospects in the long run. But it would also come at a very high immediate cost. Both the government and Greek society would need to be highly organized and well-prepared to weather the stormy transition it would entail.

It should therefore be emphasized that the referendum is not a panacea. A friend of a friend described it as a choice between “poverty with servitude” and “poverty with freedom.” Moreover, this choice has to be made under the intense pressure of the creditors’ financial blackmail and the media’s campaign of fear andoutright lies. It is hard to imagine more adverse circumstances for the NO camp.

The problems are further compounded by the lack of clarity about the consequences of either choice. What will happen in case YES wins? Will the government resign? Will we see a return to an unelected technocracy? And what in case of a NO vote? Will Tsipras really continue negotiating in good faith with the creditors? Will the creditors even trust him to reach an agreement and carry out further reforms? Or will they force Greece out of the euro? These are all monumental questions — none of which have been properly answered.

All we know is this: over the past couple of years, the debate within Syriza on how to resolve the crisis has essentially revolved around two poles: the government’s original plan A — to end austerity within the eurozone — and the more radical alternative originally proposed by the party’s left faction, whose Plan B envisions a unilateral default and Grexit as a way out of the misery. We also know that the latter plan has gained more and more support from Syriza cadres (even those close to Tsipras) as the negotiations with creditors stalled.

The two plans always appeared to be diametrically opposed to one another. In truth, the strong dichotomy between them obscures a shared premise. Ultimately, both Plan A and Plan B revolve around the belief that, if only the government can succeed in executing its chosen top-down program, recovery will be swift and things will quickly go back to the way they were before.

This is a dangerous illusion. With or without Grexit, for the majority of Greeks (as for the majority of Europeans and Americans) there will be no going back to the halcyon days of credit-fueled consumerism. Both Plan A and Plan B — however successful either may be — will still be accompanied by future hardship and deprivation. Plan A would result in endless austerity, forever, while Plan B would produce an extremely painful short-term shock to the economy.

In the medium-term, debt cancellation and currency devaluation would likely have a positive effect on economic recovery and social well-being. Still, neither Greece’s dysfunctional state apparatus nor its uncompetitive economy will be able to fully restore the status quo ante, or even meet the needs and desires of the millions of workers, pensioners and unemployed youth who have been dispossessed and immiserated over the course of the crisis. Besides facing a structural crisis of its own, Greek capitalism will always be inserted into the European and world economy under highly disadvantageous terms.

Clearly, if the government and society were well-prepared, Plan B would be superior to Plan A. But merely advocating a rupture is far from enough. In fact, it would be particularly irresponsible if done without the proper preparations — and right now it doesn’t really look like Syriza is properly prepared. Where, then, should we be looking for further options and alternatives?

Undoubtedly, grassroots movements and solidarity initiatives will have a critical role to play as both the crisis and the struggle intensify. Without a fresh upsurge in self-organized popular mobilization in the streets, workplaces and communities, the prospects of positive change will remain grim.

In this respect, it is remarkable how rapidly the radical horizon has shrunk in recent years. During the mass mobilizations of 2010-’12, especially theMovement of the Squares in 2011, the political imagination was still brimming over with original ideas, practices and organizational forms — many of them centered on an anti-capitalist conception of the commons, defined by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis as:

… autonomous spaces from which to reclaim control over our life and the conditions of our reproduction, and to provide resources on the basis of sharing and equal access; but also bases from which to counter the processes of enclosure and increasingly disentangle our lives from the market and the state.

While we have since seen a remarkable proliferation of such commons — think of solidarity kitchens, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, and so on — the urgency of the negotiations and the preoccupation with the “high politics” of Grexit and debt relief has largely overshadowed the deeper questions raised in these grassroots initiatives: What about the day after? What kind of country do we really want to build together? Can capitalism still fulfill our needs and desires?

These are the questions that would be addressed by an anti-capitalist Plan C: a reinvigorated project of the commons and communal solidarity. In contrast to both Plan A and Plan B, Plan C would be a bottom-up project organized by local communities that would situate itself directly on the terrain of everyday life. Its main contributions would be threefold. First, through solidarity networks and communal support systems, it would enhance popular resilience by securing the means of social reproduction under conditions of extreme precarity.

Second, by creating new and strengthening existing organs of popular power, the commons would collectively act as bases for continued grassroots resistance to further austerity and dispossession. History has shown that, without powerful grassroots movements exerting pressure from below, even left governments are easily led astray by the siren call of domestic and international capital. To prevent this, the still relatively small and dispersed movement of commoners will have to become an organized force of political opposition.

Third, a project of the commons has revolutionary potential insofar as its protagonists manage to reclaim the means of production and reproduction; democratize workplaces, communities and existing political institutions; and contribute to a fundamental transformation of social relations from below. All of this is clearly still a far way off, but Plan C is precisely about cultivating this sense of perspective and direction — taking the struggle far beyond the stale dichotomies of state and market, euro and drachma.

Needless to say, Sunday’s referendum will mark a historic moment for Greece and for Europe. Only a proud and dignified NO can begin to liberate Greek society from the endless suffocation, blackmail and humiliation at the hands of the country’s creditors. But whatever the outcome of the plebiscite may be, the left should not limit its political imagination to the terms of a new bailout agreement or the denomination of the national currency.

Deal or no deal, euro or no euro, one thing is clear: a long fight still lies ahead. As the creditors’ assault intensifies, only a reinvigoration of the struggle from below can save beleaguered Greece — and turn it, once again, into a proud beacon of democracy and solidarity for the rest of the world.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. He tweets about the Greek crisis at @JeromeRoos.

A slightly different version of this article (in Greek) appeared in this month’s issue of Unfollow Magazine. Credit for the original idea and inspiration behind the piece goes to Bue Rübner Hansen in Barcelona.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/greece-plan-c-commons-solidarity/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

US income inequality continued to soar in 2014

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By Andre Damon
2 July 2015

Income inequality in the United States continued to grow in 2014, according to updated figures released last week by University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.

According to Saez’s report, the top one percent of income earners increased their share of total income from 20.1 percent in 2013 to 21.2 in 2014 percent.

The income shares of the highest-earning 10 percent, 1 percent, and 0.1 percent of income earners all grew in 2014. The top ten percent of earners received 49.9 percent of income in 2014, more than any other year besides 2012.

Saez noted that the top 1 percent of earners received 58 percent of income gains during the so-called economic “recovery” between 2009 and 2014. The incomes of the bottom 99 percent grew by just 4.3 percent during that period.

The figures for 2014 mark the first year that real incomes for the bottom 99 percent of earners increased by any significant amount since the 2008 financial crisis. Incomes for the bottom 99 percent grew at a rate of 3.8 percent last year.

Saez wrote that “the incomes of most American families are still far from having recovered from the losses of the Great Recession.” He added that by 2014, the bottom 99 percent of income earners had recovered less than 40 percent of the annual income they had lost during the 2007-2009 recession.

The modest growth in incomes for the bottom 99 percent was dwarfed by the increase in the incomes of the super-rich. The incomes for the top 1 percent of earners grew at a rate of 10.8 percent last year, more than three times faster than the average for the bottom 99 percent.

While the growth of social inequality has dramatically accelerated following the 2008 crash, this is a continuation of a decades-long process. The report notes, “Top 1 percent incomes grew by 80.0% from 1993 to 2014. This implies that top 1 percent incomes captured almost 60% of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2014.”

Saez warns that the growth of inequality is not likely to slow down, noting, “Based on the US historical record, falls in income concentration due to economic downturns are temporary unless drastic regulation and tax policy changes are implemented and prevent income concentration from bouncing back. Such policy changes took place after the Great Depression during the New Deal and permanently reduced income concentration until the 1970s.”

He notes, “The policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Recession… are modest relative to the policy changes that took place coming out of the Great Depression. Therefore, it seems unlikely that US income concentration will fall much in the coming years, absent more drastic policy changes.”

In fact, the US government’s response to the 2008 crash has been dedicated to inflating the wealth of the super-rich while driving down incomes for the vast majority of the population. The White House has protected Wall Street executives from legal prosecution, while the Federal Reserve has handed out trillions of dollars in cheap money through “quantitative easing” programs, leading share values to triple on major US exchanges.

Saez notes that a significant contributor to the growth of income inequality has been the growth of the salaries for top earners, particularly top executives. He observes, “The income composition pattern at the very top has changed considerably over the century. The share of wage and salary income has increased sharply from the 1920s to the present, and especially since the 1970s. Therefore, a significant fraction of the surge in top incomes since 1970 is due to an explosion of top wages and salaries.” He adds that, by some estimates, “the share of total wages and salaries earned by the top 1 percent wage income earners has jumped from 5.1 percent in 1970 to 12.4 percent in 2007.”

There are signs that this process is accelerating. The same day that Saez published his report, the Wall Street Journal published a separate survey of executive pay, which found that CEOs at major corporations it surveyed had their pay increase by 13.5 percent in 2014, hitting $13.6 million.

The soaring wealth of the financial elite, driven by surging stock prices and executive pay, is driving demand for luxury goods and housing in major financial centers. Manhattan real estate prices have reached an all time high, with the average home price hitting $1.87 million, according to reports cited by the New York Times Wednesday. The Times noted that real estate developers are scrambling to create enormous multi-million-dollar high-rise apartments, which are being snapped up by members of the financial elite.

Meanwhile, the housing situation for the great majority of the population has only worsened since 2008. Last week a study by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies found that the share of the US population that owned a home hit the lowest level in two decades, with the homeownership rate for those aged 35-44 plunging to the lowest level since the 1960s. The report attributed the fall in home ownership to falling incomes for typical US households, noting that median household income in the US remained 8 percent below its level in 2007.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama plans to unveil what he has called a major new policy initiative in a speech in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The proposal entails new federal rules that would make an additional 3 percent of the US population eligible for overtime pay. If adopted, the change would add a mere $1.3 billion to worker’s wages annually. This is a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars that have been transferred to the financial elite since the 2008 financial crisis.

To put things in perspective; Obama’s program would transfer less income to working people each year than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in a single day last year.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/02/saez-j02.html