Nazis in the Trump White House

ftn-miller

13 February 2017

Viewers of the Sunday morning television interview programs were given their first long look yesterday at a top Trump aide, Stephen Miller, the so-called “chief policy adviser” at the White House. What the American public saw was repulsive. If Hollywood casters are looking for someone to play the role of an SS officer in the next World War II movie, they’ve got their man in Miller.

Miller appeared on Fox News, ABC, NBC and CBS. Eyes fixed straight ahead in a glassy stare, his replies to questions consisted exclusively of pre-programmed lies about the unlimited powers of the president in the areas of immigration and national security. He denounced the federal judges who halted the enforcement of Trump’s executive order banning all refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was compelled to point out that Miller was lying through his teeth, and challenged him to provide a shred of evidence for his claims of massive vote fraud depriving Trump of a majority of the popular vote. Even Fox News interviewer Chris Wallace seemed taken aback by the performance.

Asked directly why Trump was leveling personal attacks on judges, the media and even fellow Republicans, Miller employed the central demagogic theme of the Trump cabal to justify its assault on democratic rights. “Our position is that we are the ally of millions of hard-working forgotten men and women all across this country,” he declared, “and President Trump is their champion. That’s our coalition. Our coalition is millions and millions and millions of decent patriotic citizens who just want a pay raise, who just want a good school, who just want a safe community.”

This was said, in bullying tones, about a billionaire president who opposes even an increase in the minimum wage, let alone a genuine rise in the living standards of working people, and whose cabinet picks are pledged to destroy Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, public education, workplace safety regulations and all other forms of social protection for working people.

And who is this “chief policy adviser?”

Miller was profiled by both the New York Times and Washington Post on Sunday. The 31-year-old aide has been an ultra-right activist since his teens. Born into an upper-middle class liberal Jewish family, something went seriously wrong in Miller’s personal development.

He developed a fascination with the extreme right. At Duke University he found a friend in Richard Spencer, the anti-Semitic white supremacist neo-Nazi who has been promoted by Breitbart News. After college, Miller went on to become a spokesman for a series of ultra-right figures in Congress, including Representative Michelle Bachmann and Senator Jeff Sessions. Early in 2016, he joined the Trump campaign, eventually becoming the candidate’s chief speechwriter and a frequent warm-up act at Trump campaign rallies.

Miller is one of a trio of high-profile fascists in the White House. The ultra-right views of White House “chief strategist” Stephen K. Bannon have been widely publicized in the American media, from cover stories in weekly magazines to profiles in major daily newspapers. Bannon ran the ultra-right Breitbart News until last August and made it a focal point for so-called alt-right.

A New York Times profile published Sunday noted Bannon’s familiarity with the work of Julius Evola, an Italian racist and anti-Semite whose writings were a staple of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, and who has been cited as an inspirer of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. Bannon cited Evola’s writings in a speech to a Vatican conference of right-wing Catholics in 2014.

A lesser-known but equally repugnant figure is Michael Anton, recently appointed as director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, making him the second-highest press spokesman for the White House after Sean Spicer. A former speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Anton was a Bush White House aide, in which capacity he fervently backed the decision to invade Iraq. He moved on to communications positions with right-wing publisher (and owner of Fox News) Rupert Murdoch and with Citibank, and then a post as a managing director of the huge hedge fund BlackRock.

Last week, William Kristol, publisher of the neo-conservative journal Weekly Standard, revealed that Anton was the author, under a pseudonym, of a screed issued last September and widely circulated in right-wing circles titled The Flight 93 Election. This essay portrayed a Trump victory as the sole hope for the survival of America (and implicitly compared Hillary Clinton to the Al Qaeda hijackers of the doomed United Airlines flight on September 11, 2001).

Anton made an explicitly racist appeal for support for Trump, claiming that “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.” As a result, he warned, the 2016 election was the last chance for “my people,” i.e., white Americans.

This argument is so openly racist and authoritarian that Kristol, himself a longtime right-wing Republican operative and warmonger, compared Anton to the jurist Carl Schmitt, a notorious Nazi apologist.

The White House has over the past half-century provided employment for many unsavory and criminal types. But the Trump administration represents an entirely unprecedented descent into the lower depths. The presence of political filth like Bannon and Miller in positions of great power and influence in the White House signifies a terminal crisis of American democracy.

There have already been suggestions, from New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Roger Cohen, among others, that the Trump administration plans to seize on the next terrorist incident as the justification for the abolition of democratic rights. Cohen even cited the precedent of the Reichstag Fire, the pretext manufactured by Hitler to impose emergency rule in Germany.

These columnists offer no explanation as to how this situation has arisen, let alone any proposal as to how the accelerating descent toward a police state can be stopped. As is typical of Democratic Party propagandists, they say nothing about the obvious connection between the breakdown of democracy and the socio-economic realities of contemporary capitalism.

The threat of dictatorship arises directly out of the oligarchic character of American society. Trump, Bannon, Miller and Anton did not emerge from a Munich beer hall, but from Wall Street and the corporate elite. Trump is a real estate and casino billionaire, with close ties to the media bosses. Bannon was a Goldman Sachs executive and his media venture, Breitbart, has been underwritten by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. Anton served Rupert Murdoch, then CitiBank, then BlackRock, the world’s largest hedge fund.

There is a growing movement against the Trump administration and its attacks on democratic rights and the social interests of the “bottom” 90 percent of society. This movement requires a clear political strategy and program. It must be anchored in the working class and armed with an uncompromising anti-capitalist and socialist perspective.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/13/pers-f13.html

Intolerant Liberals

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov

So Nicholas Christof, whom I am fond of, recently wrote an article that argues that Liberals are intolerant because there aren’t many Christians or conservatives teaching in universities. There is so much to be exhausted about right now, but this article connects too much with several thoughts that have been swirling around in my soul.

They mostly have to do with false equivalency. And relativism. And gas lighting.

Growing up as a conservative Christian, I was warned about secular, liberal relativism. Nothing’s really bad, who knows, it’s all relative. We had to be careful about such slippery slopes. After the gays got us to buy into such poor logic, then would come the goats, then the children, then the Satan worship would follow. But it turns out that this sort of relativism is entirely a myth of the right. The only people who ever try to implore relative logic (at this sort of crass level) are conservatives. Trying to play “gotcha” with liberals. And it’s exhausting.

I have some difficult news for everyone: Progressives aren’t interested in diversity. We aren’t interested in inclusion. We aren’t interested in tolerance. The progressives I know give exactly zero shits about those things.

We have no interest in everyone getting treated the same. We have no interest in giving all ideas equal airtime. We have no interest in “tolerating” all beliefs. I don’t know where this fairy tale comes from, but it’s completely disconnected from every experience I’ve had with progressive liberal folks in my lifetime.

When conservatives cross their arms and glare and shout “It’s not fair! You’re supposed to welcome everyone but you aren’t being nice to me!” it stings about as much as if they shouted, “It’s not fair, you’re supposed to be wearing tutus and juggling flaming donuts!”

The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice. It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us. I’m not fighting for diversity. I’m not fighting for tolerance. I’m fighting to overturn horrific systems of dehumanizing oppression.

Here’s a great example of a liberal relationship to diversity: when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough, she answered “When there are nine.” In response to the collective gasp of every conservative on earth, she elaborated. “For most of the country’s history, there were nine and they were all men. Nobody thought that was strange.”

Personally I’m not interested in a female president for the sake of “diversity.” Putting a woman in the white house in 2020 won’t mean that gender equality has arrived. We’ve had 43 presidents. It’s going to take 43 women serving as president before we even have a chance to reach parity.

Do you get it now?

If you want to pretend that the racial and gender horror in the world has already been righted, was righted in the 1960’s, is almost righted now, or can hope to come close to being righted in your lifetime (43 female presidents), you’re not getting the picture. We have a collective buildup of hundreds (thousands) of years of injustice to metabolize.

What We’re Actually Confronting

Take a few facts on race. White America is exhausted of Blacks invoking 200-year-old history as an excuse for their problems. They’ve had it just like whites since the Emancipation Proclamation. Or since MLK. Or since Obama made it into office.

Let’s pause on this. I live in Seattle, Washington. A liberal city if there ever was one. Full of cheery whites with “Black Lives Matter” signs in their windows. But in Seattle, Washington, black residents make less money than white ones. 5% less, 10% less? No. The average black Seattlite’s income is less than half of the average white Seattleite’s income.

Less than half.

So, either there are unspoken forces at play that make it twice as hard for black people in Seattle to earn money, or black people are exactly half as intelligent and hard-working as white folks. Take your pick. But be honest about which one you’re choosing.

How’s the country as a whole? Well, on average, white families have more wealth than black families. How much more? Is it 200%, like Seattle’s income disparity? 500%. No. White families in the US, on average have 1700% the wealth of black families.

How much progress have we made on racial equality in America? Well, apparently we’re 1/17 of the way there. Only 16/17 more to go.

I have a four-year-old white son. A black boy his age, in the same income bracket, same level of education, will live, on-average, 5 years less than him. Half a decade. Mysteriously.

That same black boy has a higher chance of spending time in prison than my son. How much higher? 110% the rate? 150% the rate? Nope, 500% as likely to be imprisoned.

Empowering the Oppressed

So am I worried that not enough Christian professors are getting hired at universities?

No.

Every single president of this country has been a Christian. Every. Single. President. Barack Obama’s presidency now means that it’s about 20 times easier to become president if you’re white than black. But it’s still infinitely easier to be president of the United States if you’re a Christian. 92% of the House and Senate are Christians. Try throwing a rock in either building and not hitting a Christian.

When your religion is represented by every President in history, and 92% of the governing body that rules your land, I’d say you’re doing okay in the whole representation thing. When conservative politicians have control of the White House, Senate, House, of the country with the most economic and military power in the history of our planet, I think crying ‘persecution’ of conservatives might be suspect.

But crying ‘persecution’ is what conservatives do with every single step towards gender equality, racial equality, any movement that seeks to treat all humans with the same dignity currently conferred on white men. The conservatives’ definition of a war on their rights is that gay people are allowed to get married and Latinx people are allowed to live in the same zip code. The false equivalency of straight white Christen men’s feelings with everyone else’s lives is absurd.

Poor Nazi soldiers, getting rounded up into prisoner of war camps while those Jewish people are getting let out of prisons by the same Allied soldiers! Jewish people get all the preferential treatment…

Furthermore, conservative Christians have allied themselves with racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, mass incarceration, war crimes, death sentences, and gun culture. These Christians work actively to undermine scientific thinking. Anti-evolution, anti-global warming, anti-intellectual, and anti-factual. None of these line up with the values most universities share.

Yes, it’s important to intellectual growth to have variety. It’s important that unpopular ideas get a hearing. It’s important for there to be debate, and changes of heart, and to allow sincere disagreements to continue to wrestle with one another for clarification. I have no interest in our universities being populated by people who think like me. But I do have an interest in them being populated with people who think.

All world views are not inherently equal. Conservative thinking is, by definition, bent on conserving the status quo. It is often regressive. A shrinking, a backward movement, a return to previous points in cultural, political, and intellectual development.

Universities aren’t bereft of conservatives and Evangelicals because of a vast left-wing conspiracy. They’re bereft of those people because people committed to those world views so rarely have anything to offer to an open-minded, inquiring, growing community. Universities are lacking in conservatives and fundamentalist Christians because the amount of education that it takes to become a professor is likely to expose Evangelicals and conservatives to enough good ideas that they’re no longer fundamentalist or conservative.

The fact that humanities departments are exceptionally lacking in conservatives and dogmatically religious people highlights this reality. Psychology, poetry, sociology, political science. People who have wrestled with the human condition, the human soul, literature and art, are the least likely to give credence to backwards ideas that are diminishing to human value and human dignity.

The Left’s Double Standard

When liberals storm the cities’ streets to protest, rally, and yes, riot, in response to a Trump election, conservatives cry foul. They cry double-standard. Liberals expect conservatives to accept election results they don’t like; why won’t the liberals accept election results that didn’t go in their favor? Why won’t the liberals be relativists, like we want them to be, and treat all outcomes as equally valid?

Because all political decisions aren’t equally right. Aren’t equally moral. Aren’t equally recognizing of human dignity and justice and freedom. Because liberals recognize that there are wrong and right decisions, because they parse good and evil, contrary to what my church taught me about them.

Because democracy isn’t the only value we hold. We don’t accept the 51% enslaving the 49% by popular vote. We believe in human rights. We believe in the Bill of Rights. Because we balance the will of the people with the sanctity of each individual life. And no, your right to not sell flowers doesn’t outweigh someone else’s right to get married. Because not all rights are equal.

Because Hitler was brought to power by a democratically elected government. Because American slavery was legal.

The Right is also willing to confront the government with action more direct than voting, holing themselves up with assault rifles to maintain unpaid access to grazing on public lands, or just because the government might seize those assault rifles. If the government takes our guns, we’ll have no way of stopping the government from taking our guns!

The Left meanwhile is roaring in the streets about the countless deaths of unarmed black Americans by the people charged with keeping them safe. Roaring in the streets about environmental devastation that the smartest humans among us agree poses a threat to all human life. Roaring in the streets about an admitted sexual predator being appointed as administer over our nation’s federal law enforcement.

Conservatives not having taken to the streets to riot when Obama was elected doesn’t prevent us from taking to the streets to direct as much resistance to Trump as humanly possible. Because Trump and Obama aren’t equal. Conservatives being deeply outraged and fearful when Obama was elected doesn’t negate or somehow counterbalance the outrage and fear on the Left right now. Because the Right was afraid of ridiculous, imagined fantasies of end times persecution and wildly inaccurate information. When the primary source of terror in living under an Obama administration is that he’s a Muslim, you don’t have one ounce of sympathy from me.

Meanwhile the Left is dealing with Donald Trump’s actually announced plans. To commit war crimes. To imprison his political opponents. Compel a religious minority to register themselves. To gut the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments. Donald Trump is actually appointing white nationalists to top positions. Actually sexually assaulting women. He’s a man who openly admires the most despotic regimes in the world. His vice president has actually worked to jail homosexuals for applying for a marriage license. Actually worked to redirect HIV treatment funding to Pray-The-Gay-Away™ conversion therapy.

But I have a right to my opinion!

Trump calls Mexicans rapists, liberals call Trump racist. The Right jumps in to defend poor Trump from liberal slanderers. Conservatives want to cry Free speech! Free speech! Forgetting that your right to swing your fist ends at your neighbor’s nose. Forgetting that shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater is both illegal and immoral.

Hillary Clinton thought Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.” Trump can’t believe Clinton would “attack, slander, smear, demean” those people with those comments. Well, I guess it’s a deadlock. There’s a 50/50 chance that either’s comments are actually harmful. Or Trump may be bad, but Hillary is bad too, don’t forget. She called racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia “deplorable.” Trump supporters might be racist, but at least they aren’t calling anyone racist.

Trump says we’re in the middle of a crime wave! I say crime’s the lowest it’s been in decades. Well darn. Back to that 50/50 chance either of us is right. We may never know.

Trump says undocumented immigrants are dangerous! I say they’re more law-abiding than citizens. Trump says they’re destroying our economy! I say they’re a benefit to our economy.

We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Because there’s no way to establish concrete facts or objective reality. Shucks.

This exactly the shoddy relativistic thinking my church warned me about growing up Ω


Postscript: I’m a straight white, male. I have a Master of Divinity from an Evangelical Christian seminary. I voted for W both times. I’m speaking from experience. And of course I have dear friends who are exceptions to my critique of Evangelical Christianity. And yes I am deeply, painfully aware of the Left’s failures. Of Hillary’s disappointing limitations. But the overall movement for dismantling kyriarchy, for human dignity, for restorative justice, is so stifled by so much bullshit misdirection and gaslighting.

View story at Medium.com

Revolt Is the Only Barrier to a Fascist America

Posted on Jan 22, 2017

By Chris Hedges

  On the verge: Donald Trump waits to assume power at the kickoff of the inauguration process in Washington on Friday. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

This is a transcript of a talk Chris Hedges gave at the Inaugurate the Resistance rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The ruling elites, terrified by the mobilization of the left in the 1960s, or by what [political scientist] Samuel P. Huntington called America’s “excess of democracy,” built counter-institutions to delegitimize and marginalize critics of corporate capitalism and imperialism. They bought the allegiances of the two main political parties. They imposed … obedience to the neoliberal ideology within academia and the press. This campaign, laid out by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memorandum titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was the blueprint for the creeping corporate coup d’état that 45 years later is complete.

The destruction of democratic institutions, places where the citizen has agency and a voice, is far graver than the ascendancy to the White House of the demagogue Donald Trump. The coup destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.

This coup also destroyed the credibility of liberal democracy. Self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate power. The revolt we see rippling across the country is a revolt not only against a corporate system that has betrayed workers, but also, for many, liberal democracy itself. This is very dangerous. It will allow the radical right under a Trump administration to cement into place an Americanized fascism.

“Ignorance allied with power,” James Baldwin wrote, “is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

It turns out, 45 years later, that those who truly hate us for our freedoms are not the array of dehumanized enemies cooked up by the war machine—the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians or even the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS. They are the financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism.

We are entering the twilight phase of capitalism. Wealth is no longer created by producing or manufacturing. It is created by manipulating the prices of stocks and commodities and imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public. Our casino capitalism has merged with the gambling industry. The entire system is parasitic. It is designed to prey on the desperate—young men and women burdened by student loans, underpaid workers burdened by credit card debt and mortgages, towns and cities forced to borrow to maintain municipal services.

Casino magnates such as Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund managers such as Robert Mercer add nothing of value to society. They do not generate money but instead redistribute it upwards to the 1 percent. They use lobbyists and campaign contributions to built monopolies—this is how the drug company Mylan raised the price of an “EpiPen,” used to treat allergy reactions, from $57 in 2007 to about $500—and to rewrite laws and regulations. They have given themselves the legal power to carry out a tax boycott, loot the U.S. Treasury, close factories and send the jobs overseas, gut social service programs and impose austerity. They have, at the same time, militarized our police, built the most sophisticated security and surveillance apparatus in human history and used judicial fiat to strip us of our civil liberties. They are ready should we rise up in defiance.

These mandarins are, if we speak in the language of God and country, traitors. They are parasites. Financial speculation in 17th-century England was a crime. Speculators were hanged. The heads of most of [today’s] banks and hedge funds and the executives of large corporations, such as Walmart and Gap, that run sweatshop death traps for impoverished workers overseas deserve prison far more than most of the poor students of color I teach within the prison system, people who never had a fair trial or a chance in life.

When a tiny cabal seizes power—monarchist, communist, fascist or corporate—it creates a mafia economy and a mafia state. Donald Trump is not an anomaly. He is the grotesque visage of a collapsed democracy. Trump and his coterie of billionaires, generals, half-wits, Christian fascists, criminals, racists and deviants play the role of the Snopes clan in some of William Faulkner’s novels. The Snopeses filled the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated, former slave-holding aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family—which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality—are fictional representations of the scum now elevated to the highest level of the federal government. They embody the moral rot unleashed by unfettered capitalism.

“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”

“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiks drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”

What comes next, history has shown, will not be pleasant. A corrupt and inept ruling elite, backed by the organs of state security and law enforcement, will unleash a naked kleptocracy. Workers will become serfs. The most benign dissent will be criminalized. The ravaging of the ecosystem propels us towards extinction. Hate talk will call for attacks against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, feminists, intellectuals, artists and dissidents, all of whom will be scapegoated for the country’s stagnation. Magical thinking will dominate our airwaves and be taught in our public schools. Art and culture will be degraded to nationalist kitsch. All the cultural and intellectual disciplines that allow us to view the world from the perspective of the other, that foster empathy, understanding and compassion, will be replaced by a grotesque and cruel hypermasculinity and hypermilitarism. Those in power will validate racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia.

Our only hope now is an unwavering noncooperation with the systems of corporate control. We must rebuild … democratic institutions from the ground up. We must not be seduced into trusting the power elites, including the Democratic Party, whose seven leading candidates to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee demonstrated the other night at George Washington University that they have no interest in defying corporate power or backing democratic populism. We must also acknowledge our own failures on the left, our elitism, arrogance and refusal to root our politics locally in our communities. Rosa Luxemburg understood that unless we first address the most pressing economic and physical needs of the destitute we will never gain credibility or build a resistance movement. Revolt, she said, is achieved only by building genuine relationships, including with people who do not think like us. Revolt surges up from below, exemplified by the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make power elites afraid do not succeed. The movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, suffragists, labor movement, communists, socialists, anarchists and civil rights and labor movements—developed a critical mass and militancy that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power is threatened does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.

We once had within our capitalist democracy liberal institutions—the press, labor unions, third parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities and a liberal wing of the Democratic Party—that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements. They did so imperfectly. They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to ameliorate the suffering of working men and women. This safety valve no longer works. When reform becomes impossible, revolution becomes inevitable.

The days ahead will be dark and frightening. But as Immanuel Kant reminded us, “if justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” We fight for the sacred. We fight for life. It is a fight we must not lose. To be a bystander is to be complicit in radical evil.

Revolt is a political necessity. It is a moral imperative. It is a defense of the sacred. It allows us to live in truth. It alone makes hope possible.

The moment we defy power, we are victorious. The moment we stand alongside the oppressed, and accept being treated like the oppressed, we are victorious. The moment we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see, we are victorious. The moment we thwart the building of a pipeline or a fracking site, we are victorious. And the moment those in power become frightened of us, we are victorious.

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/revolt_is_the_only_barrier_to_a_fascist_america_20170122

Wealth distribution in the United States and the politics of the pseudo-left

wealthdividecompressed

18 January 2017

A report published in December by University of California at Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman reveals unprecedented levels of social inequality in the United States.

The report documents an immense redistribution of wealth over a period of several decades from the working class to the rich. The bottom 50 percent’s pre-tax share of national income has fallen from 20 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2014, while the income share of the top 1 percent has almost doubled to 20 percent. The wealthiest 1 percent now owns over 37 percent of household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent—roughly 160 million people—owns almost nothing, a mere 0.1 percent.

Though the Piketty, Saez and Zucman report focuses on the top 1 percent, the underlying data sheds light on another phenomenon that is essential to understanding American society: the role of the 9 percent of the population that falls below the 1 percent (the “next 9 percent”). This layer consists, broadly speaking, of more affluent sections of the middle class.

Among the pseudo-left organizations that orbit the Democratic Party, it has become popular to refer to the need to build a “party of the 99 percent.”

The call for a party of the 99 percent conflates the interests of the 9 percent of the population that falls just below the top 1 percent with those of the bottom 90 percent. In fact, a chasm separates these two social layers. The WSWS has defined the pseudo-left as denoting “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.”

The material position of the next 9 percent

The next 9 percent is comprised of privileged individuals who possess net wealth of between $1 million and $8 million and whose household incomes are between $155,000 and $430,000. They are business executives, academics, successful attorneys, professionals, trade union executives and trust fund beneficiaries. Their social grievances are the product of their privileged position. In every index of quality of life—access to health care, life expectancy, water and air quality, housing and home location, college degrees, vacation time, etc.—they live a different existence from the bottom 90 percent.

Data from the UC Berkeley report shows that the next 9 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. The next 9 percent’s share of national income increased from 23.1 percent in 1970 to 27.6 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the national income of the bottom 90 percent decreased from 65.9 percent to 52.8 percent. The share of national income of the bottom 50 percent was cut in half over this period, from 19 percent to 10.3 percent. (These figures refer to “pre-tax factor income,” defined as the sum of all income flows before pensions, taxes and transfers. These are the only value sets for which data on the next 9 percent is available.)

In terms of net wealth (that is, total possessions, as opposed to annual income), the next 9 percent has also seen an increase since 1970. However, its share of household wealth is declining, but that is due entirely to the immensity of the increase in the share going to the top 1 percent. The share of household wealth of the next 9 percent has declined from 42.5 percent in 1970 to 34.9 percent today. Over this same period, the share of household wealth of the top 1 percent has increased from 22.5 percent to 37.2 percent. The bottom 90 percent’s share of wealth has declined to just over one quarter.

The next 9 percent acquires its wealth in a manner that increasingly parallels the parasitic and speculative methods of the top 1 percent. From 1970 to 2014, the next 9 percent’s share of total fiscal income increased from 24 percent to 28.6 percent.

This increase parallels the financialization of the top 1 percent’s earnings profile (though at a slower rate), but contrasts with the bottom 90 percent, which relies less and less on stocks and capital gains. While the top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of all stock, about 70 percent is owned by the top 5 percent. In contrast, 53 percent of households own no stock.

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

The political outlook of the next 9 percent is based on this economic reality. In aggregate, this social layer owes its position to rising share values, the exploitation of the working class and the dominant global position of American capitalism. At the same time, it regards the 1 percent as having acquired an unfair portion of the spoils. The ideology and politics of the next 9 percent dominate at the universities, where many members of this social layer serve as professors, administrators and department heads.

The extent of the chasm separating the bottom 90 percent from the top 10 percent endows the next 9 percent’s struggle for privilege with a ferocious character. Figures from prior studies show that in the United States, the gross income of a member of the 90th percentile (i.e., the lowest end of the next 9 percent group) is nearly 60 percent higher than a member of the 50th percentile. The gap in terms of net wealth is much higher. The margin in the United States has expanded significantly in recent decades and far outpaces similar statistics in other advanced countries.

Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Reeves noted in his September 2015 article titled “The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class”:

“The American upper middle class is separating, slowly but surely, from the rest of society… For many, the most attractive class dividing line is the one between those at the very, very top and everybody else. It is true that the top 1 percent is pulling away very dramatically from the bottom 99 percent. But the top 1 percent is by definition a small group. It is not plausible to claim that the individual or family in the 95th or 99th percentile is in any way part of mainstream America.” Two further studies co-authored by Reeves provide insight into how this social distance has produced a high degree of social anxiety among the privileged next 9 percent:

“America is becoming a more class-stratified society… This separation of the upper middle class by income, wealth, occupation and neighborhood has created a social distance between those of us who have been prospering in recent decades, and those who are feeling left behind, angry and resentful, and more likely to vote for To-Hell-With-Them-All populist politicians,” one report notes.

Another study titled “Why rich parents are terrified their kids will fall into the ‘middle class’” explains: “As the income gap has widened at the top, the consequences of falling out of the upper middle class have worsened. So the incentives of the upper middle class to keep themselves, and their children, up at the top have strengthened.”

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

In the face of these powerful pressures, identity politics becomes an important mechanism for increasing status and financial position.

The main impact of racial politics, including affirmative action, has been the elevation of a small layer of minority groups into the next 9 percent and the top 1 percent. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that from 2005 to 2009, the share of total wealth held by the top 10 percent of households among different racial groups increased drastically across races. The concentration of wealth is most acute among Hispanics, where the share of wealth controlled by the top 10 percent rose from 56 percent to 72 percent over this period, and among blacks, where the figure rose from 59 percent to 67 percent.

The Piketty, Saez and Zucman report also shows that among the top 10 percent, the share of women has risen steadily over the past four decades to roughly 27 percent. But women make up only about 16 percent of the employed population in the top 1 percent. Among the most affluent, the authors write, “the glass ceiling is not yet close to being shattered.” This helps explain why women in the next 9 percent saw Hillary Clinton’s pro-war, pro-Wall Street presidential campaign as a vehicle for advancing their own struggle for wealth and privilege.

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

The pseudo-left opposes any politics based on an analysis of economic class. This is the political basis for the call by pseudo-left organizations for a “party of the 99 percent.” Socialist Alternative, for example, has called for the building of a “multi-class” party. It published an article in the aftermath of the US presidential election titled “We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99 percent,” which read: “We must start today to build a genuine political alternative for the 99 percent against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.”

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has also called for “a mass, left alternative” comprised of “unions, movements and left parties.” It regularly advances the slogan of the “99 percent,” writing in 2014: “[W]e need a new party for the 99 Percent to confront the two parties of the 1 percent.” Other pseudo-left groups and publications like Jacobin and New Politics have echoed these slogans.

The use of this language is not accidental. The pseudo-left’s call for a “party of the 99 percent” serves two interrelated purposes.

First, the pseudo-left is seeking to subordinate the working class to the interests and grievances of the most affluent sections of the middle class, closest to the bourgeoisie. They are opposed to a socialist reorganization of society and even any measures that would significantly impact the distribution of wealth. Second, by employing empty “left” phraseology devoid of class content, the next 9 percent attempts to politically disarm the working class and channel social opposition behind the Democratic Party.

The pseudo-left’s orientation toward the Democratic Party is an essential component of its fight to advance its social interests. The Democratic Party is receptive to the use of race, gender and sexual orientation because it has rejected any program of social reform and instead appeals to the roughly 21 million people who comprise the next 9 percent as the constituency for a broader base.

Clearly, the vast majority of the population does not have the same economic interests as those whose net worth is over $1 million. The wealthiest 10 percent has acquired its wealth through the exploitation of the working class in the US and internationally. Vast levels of social inequality are not the product of an accidental process, but of definite policies implemented by both the Democratic and Republican parties and by their bourgeois counterparts around the world. Private profit is the product of the exploitation of the working class, and this is the rule under capitalism.

Extreme social polarization is an international phenomenon. A report published January 16 by Oxfam shows that eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people. The wealthiest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined. A November 2016 Credit Suisse report showed that the top 10 percent controlled 89 percent of international wealth.

The class analysis made here with regard to the “party of the 99 percent” applies to similar populist appeals by the pseudo-left in countries all over the world.

The working class comprises the vast majority of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants and produces all of the world’s wealth. It possesses immense potential power. But it can advance its own interests only if it is armed with an anticapitalist and socialist program based on the class struggle. In advancing the slogan for a party of the 99 percent, the pseudo-left is perpetrating a fraud aimed at preventing the development of such a struggle and preserving the capitalist system.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/18/pers-j18.html

Eight billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population

Oxfam issues report on eve of Davos conference

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17 January 2016

Eight billionaires, six of them from the United States, own as much combined wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people, according to the latest report on global inequality from the British-based advocacy group Oxfam.

The report was released Monday, on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum in the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, at which many of the ultra-rich will converge this week. The Oxfam document contains a range of figures that highlight the staggering growth of social inequality, showing that the income and wealth gap between a tiny financial elite and the rest of the world’s people is widening at an accelerating rate.

New data made available to Oxfam reveals that wealth is even more concentrated than the organization had previously believed. Last year, Oxfam reported that 62 people controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. In its latest report, the charity notes that “had this new data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet.”

Oxfam writes that since 2015, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population has owned more than the rest of the world put together, and that over the past quarter century, the top 1 percent has gained more income than the bottom 50 percent combined.

“Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” the report states. It notes that the 1,810 dollar billionaires on the Forbes 2016 rich list own $6.5 trillion, “as much wealth as the bottom 70 percent of humanity.”

Over the next 20 years, some 500 people will hand over to their heirs more than $2.1 trillion, an amount larger than the gross domestic product of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.

Oxfam cites recent research by the economist Thomas Piketty and others showing that in the United States, over the past 30 years the growth in incomes of the bottom 50 percent has been zero, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have risen by 300 percent.

The same process is taking place in the world’s poorest countries. Oxfam notes that Vietnam’s richest man earns more in a day than the country’s poorest person earns in 10 years.

The report points to the systematic character of the siphoning of global wealth to the heights of society. The business sector is focused on delivering “ever higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives,” with companies “structured to dodge taxes, drive down workers’ wages and squeeze producers.”

This involves the most barbaric and criminal practices. Oxfam cites a report by the International Labour Organisation estimating that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating $150 billion in profits every year. The world’s largest garment companies all have links to cotton-spinning mills in India that routinely use the forced labour of girls.

Small farmers are also being driven into poverty: in the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18 percent of the value of a chocolate bar, compared to just 6 percent today.

The extent of corporate power is highlighted in a number of telling statistics. In terms of revenue, 69 of the world’s largest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. The world’s 10 largest companies, including firms such as Wal-Mart, Shell and Apple, have combined revenue greater than the total government revenue of 180 countries.

Although the authors avoid any condemnation of the profit system per se, the information provided in their report amounts to a stunning verdict on the capitalist system. It highlights in facts and figures two central processes delineated by Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism.

In Capital, Marx explains that the objective logic of the capitalist system, based on the drive for profit, is to produce ever greater wealth at one pole and poverty, misery and degradation at the other. In the Communist Manifesto, he explains that all governments are but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist class.

This is exemplified in the tax policies and other “business-friendly” measures undertaken by governments around the world. The Oxfam report notes that technology giant Apple is alleged to have paid a tax of just 0.005 percent on its European profits.

Developing countries lose around $100 billion a year as a result of outright tax dodging and the exemptions granted to companies. In Kenya, $1.1 billion is lost to government revenue every year because of exemptions, an amount nearly twice the country’s annual health budget.

Government tax policies work hand in hand with tax dodging and criminality. The report cites economist Gabriel Zucman’s estimate that $7.6 trillion of global wealth is hidden in offshore tax havens. Africa alone loses $14 billion in annual revenues because of the use of tax havens: enough to pay for health care that would save the lives of four million children and employ enough teachers to ensure that every African child went to school.

There is one significant omission from Oxfam’s discussion of accelerating inequality. It makes no mention of the critical role of the policies of the world’s major governments and central banks in handing over trillions of dollars to the banks, major corporations and financial elites through bank bailouts and the policies of “quantitative easing” since the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A discussion of these facts would raise uncomfortable political issues. The report opens by favourably citing remarks by US President Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly in 2016 that a world in which 1 percent of the population owns as much as the other 99 percent can never be stable.

But the very policies of the Obama administration have played a key role in creating this world. After rescuing the financial oligarchs from the results of their own criminal actions with massive bank bailouts, the Obama administration and the US central bank ensured their further enrichment by providing a supply of ultra-cheap money that boosted the value of their assets.

Under Obama, the decades-long growth of inequality accelerated, along with the descent of the ruling class into parasitism and criminality. He paved the way for the financial oligarchy to directly seize the reins of power, embodied in the imminent presidency of casino and real estate billionaire Donald Trump, to whom Obama will hand over the keys to the White House on Friday.

The overriding motivation behind the Oxfam report is fear of the political consequences of ever-rising inequality and a desire to deflect mounting anger over its consequences into harmless channels. It advances the perspective of a “human economy,” but maintains that this can be achieved on the basis of the capitalist market, provided corporations and governments change their mindsets.

The absurdity of this perspective, based on the long-discredited outlook of British Fabianism, which has dominated the thinking of the English middle classes for well over a century, can be seen from the fact that the report is directed to the global financial elites gathered at the Davos summit this week, with a call for them to change their ways.

The bankruptcy of this outlook is demonstrated not only by present-day facts and figures, but by historical experience. A quarter century ago, following the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the air was filled with capitalist triumphalism. Freed from the encumbrance of the USSR, and able to dominate the globe, liberal capitalist democracy was going to show humanity what it could do.

And it certainly has, creating a world marked by ever-rising inequality, the accumulation of wealth to truly obscene levels, oppression and anti-democratic forms of rule, criminality at the very heights of society, and the increasingly ominous prospect of a third world war.

This history brings into focus another anniversary: the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Despite its subsequent betrayal at the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Russian Revolution demonstrated imperishably, and for all time, that a world beyond capitalism and all its social ills and malignancies is both possible and necessary. Its lessons must inform the guiding perspective for the immense social struggles that are going to erupt out of the social conditions detailed in the Oxfam report.

Nick Beams

WSWS 

Obama’s farewell address: One last round of clichés and lies

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By Niles Niemuth
11 January 2017

President Barack Obama capped his eight years in office with a vacuous and hypocritical farewell address Tuesday night delivered at the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago.

The first-ever presidential farewell address delivered outside of Washington, DC had the atmospherics of an overblown, cheap spectacle. Obama strode onto the stage like a rock star, flanked by oversized American flags, a massive illuminated presidential seal and an introductory soundtrack by the rock band U2.

As with every address Obama has delivered over the last eight years, his speech in Chicago was full of clichés, his rhetoric padded with empty phrases and delivered with a false gravitas, signaled by his trademark pursed lips and affected whisper.

The speech was rife with contradictions, the starkest being the juxtaposition of Obama’s boasting of the great social progress achieved by his administration and his warning of threats to American democracy arising from ever-growing social inequality and economic insecurity.

The president declared: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history… if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11… if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens—you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

He made no attempt to explain why, given this impressive record of social progress and foreign policy success, his party was routed in the elections and the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump was preparing to succeed him in the White House.

A basic component of the answer, of course, is the grotesquely false rendering of his record and the state of American society as he leaves office. Hardly a week goes by without a new report on signs of extreme social crisis or ever-more obscene levels of wealth among the financial elite. Just in the past month, studies have been published showing the first decline in US life expectancy in 23 years, plunging pay for young adults, a 72 percent surge in deaths from synthetic opioids, and home ownership rates at historic lows for young people.

Other surveys have documented a $237 billion increase in the wealth of the world’s richest 200 billionaires, driven largely by the US stock market boom under Obama, and an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the bottom half of the US population to the top one percent.

In boasting of presiding over a record number of consecutive monthly job increases, Obama neglected to mention that 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last eight years have been either part-time or temporary.

Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of the social conditions in the city where he was speaking, which is ravaged by high levels of poverty and unemployment, an epidemic of police killings and violence, and a skyrocketing homicide rate.

He lamented in general terms the growth of social inequality and the dangers it poses to American democracy—that is, the threat of a social explosion in the United States.

“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind—the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills—convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful—a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

As always, he spoke as if none of these social ills had anything to do with the policies pursued by his administration, including severe cuts in social spending on the one side and the bailout of the banks and flooding of money into the stock market on the other.

Another piece of monumental hypocrisy was Obama’s pose of fighting to defend democracy when he has done more to destroy it than perhaps any other US president.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he declared. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.”

This is from a president who has personally authorized the assassination of American citizens and thousands of others around the world with drones-fired missiles, protected and promoted those in the CIA responsible for torture, kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open, persecuted journalists and jailed whistleblowers, militarized the police, and expanded the illegal surveillance of electronic communications.

Obama also used his farewell address take parting shots at Russia and China, lumping the war against ISIS with efforts to counter both countries, and arguing that aggressive action against the world’s second- and third-largest nuclear-armed powers was the only way to avoid war.

“[T]he fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression,” he said. “If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

Obama spent his eight years in office waging war abroad and war on the working class at home. With Tuesday’s speech, he passed the reins to Trump with a shrug.

WSWS

Economic nationalism and the breakdown of the post-war order

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11 January 2017

In contrast to 2016, the new year has opened with relative stability in global financial markets. A year ago, markets experienced considerable turbulence in the context of the US Federal Reserve’s decision to lift interest rates by 0.25 percentage points, a sharp downturn in the price of oil, and a plunge in bank shares.

Thus far in 2017, it has been all quiet on the financial front, with US markets continuing to hover around the record highs they reached in December in the surge triggered by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

Behind the appearance of relative calm, however, major shifts have taken place that will have far-reaching consequences, not just for financial markets, but for the world economy more broadly.

One of the most significant features of 2016 was the rise of economic nationalism and the growth of right-wing nationalist and populist movements. The turn to economic nationalism is reflected in many areas of the world, but has found its sharpest expression in the “America First” policies espoused by incoming President Trump and the appointment to his cabinet of figures who openly advance this agenda, with China designated as one of the central targets.

The shift in orientation by the US ruling class has profound historical significance. One of the lessons drawn by the American ruling elites following the disasters produced by the decade of the 1930s, when the division of the world economy into currency and trading blocs led to World War II, was the need to base the post-war order on free trade, with protectionism eschewed at all cost.

What was called the “liberal” trade agenda was itself based on, and underwritten by, the unchallenged global economic dominance of American capitalism, which emerged relatively unscathed from the carnage of the Second World War, in contrast to the devastation of Europe and much of Asia. The war amplified the already dominant position of US industry and finance. American capitalism sponsored the establishment of a set of institutions and programmes—the dollar-based Bretton Woods monetary system, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Marshall Plan—to stabilise and pry open the world market to its exports and investments and facilitate the profit-making of US corporations.

Today, after decades of protracted decline, US economic hegemony is a thing of the past and American capitalism finds itself threatened by the rise, in particular, of China. This is fundamentally what underlies the breakdown of the post-war economic order and the turn of the American ruling class to unbridled economic nationalism.

This has given rise to considerable concern about where the global economic system, and with it the entire system of political relations on which the stability of world capitalism has rested, is now headed.

Fears about the new US orientation were voiced in a column by Financial Times economics correspondent Martin Wolf published on January 6. It was headlined “The long and painful journey to world disorder.”

“It is not true that humanity cannot learn from history,” Wolf began. “It can and, in the case of the lessons of the dark period between 1914 and 1945, the west did. But it seems to have forgotten those lessons. We are living, once again, in an era of strident nationalism and xenophobia. The hopes of a brave new world of progress, harmony and democracy, raised by the market opening of the 1980s and the collapse of Soviet communism between 1989 and 1991, have turned to ashes.”

What lies ahead, he asked, for the US under a president who repudiates permanent alliances and embraces protectionism, and a battered European Union facing “illiberal democracy” in the east, Brexit, and the possibility that Marine Le Pen could be elected to the presidency in France?

Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman also devoted his first piece of the year to the same processes. Before Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” he wrote, China, Russia and Turkey had already turned to what he called “nostalgic nationalism.” In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was leading an energetic campaign for “national revival,” while in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was combining a push to “modernise India” with an appeal to “Hindu pride.”

There was also a strong appeal to nationalism in the Brexit referendum, with the Leave campaign’s stress on a “Global Britain,” an attempt to appeal to “memories of the time when the UK was a dominant world power, not just a member of the club of 28 European nations.”

Rachman noted that it was somewhat difficult for any party in Germany to openly campaign on the slogan “Make Germany Great Again.” But while the slogan might be absent, at least to this point, similar forces are at work there—above all in key foreign policy, military and academic circles, where the assertion is heard repeatedly that Germany cannot simply function as a power within Europe, but must exercise its influence on a global scale.

The turn to economic nationalism is not rooted in the personality or psychology of Trump, Le Pen or any of the other political leaders. Nor is it simply a device by various politicians to exploit seething popular dissatisfaction with the existing economic and political order and use it for their own political advantage.

Such calculations are present, of course. But underneath the political manoeuvres and propaganda, profound objective forces are at work. These forces can be identified by reviewing the course of the world economy since the eruption of the US-based global financial crisis of 2008. This, as the World Socialist Web Site stressed at the time, was not a conjunctural downturn, but a breakdown in the functioning of the world capitalist economy.

At their first meeting in 2009, the leaders of the G-20 group of nations, representing 85 percent of the world economy, in confronting the most severe financial crisis since 1929, recognised the inherent dangers of a return to the conditions of the 1930s. From the outset, and at all subsequent meetings, they pledged to avoid protectionist and trade war measures. But the contradictions of the capitalist economy have proven to be more powerful than the pledges of capitalist politicians.

The policies enacted in response to the financial meltdown and the ensuing Great Recession were based on so-called quantitative easing, under which the world’s major central banks—the US Fed, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan—pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system. These measures were accompanied in China by a massive stimulus package, based on government spending and the rapid expansion of credit.

The policies of the major central banks averted a total financial meltdown, while the Chinese stimulus provided a significant boost for commodity-exporting countries, from Latin America and Africa to Australia. For a brief period, this created the illusion that the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—could provide a new base of stability for world capitalism. That prospect proved to be short-lived.

The unprecedented injection of money into the financial system did little or nothing to promote real economic growth in the major economies, on which the BRICS countries are ultimately dependent, but simply enriched a global financial oligarchy, while the broad mass of the working class were forced to pay for the financial largesse through cuts in real wages, social programmes and living standards, amid a rise in social inequality to record levels.

In the years following the financial crisis, the central bankers and capitalist politicians insisted that the financial measures they had enacted would eventually bring about an economic recovery. But this fiction has now been well and truly exposed. Investment, the key driver of the economy, remains persistently below pre-crisis trends. Productivity is falling. Deflation has become widespread. And, most significantly, world trade growth has slowed markedly. Last September, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) noted that in 2016, the growth in world trade would fall below the rate of growth in global gross domestic product, only the second such occurrence since 1982.

The overall situation is graphically depicted by the fact that the world economy as a whole is one sixth smaller than it would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

In response to this situation, the past year has seen, as the WTO noted, the increased use of protectionist measures, especially by the major economies, notwithstanding all the pledges to the contrary. It is within this broad economic context that Trump and his “America First” agenda, and the turn to such economic nationalist policies by other major powers, must be placed.

In the final analysis, they are the response by the ruling elites to their inability to devise any measures to promote sustainable economic growth. Consequently, the world market is increasingly becoming a battleground—a development that will become ever more apparent in the coming year.

There are striking historical parallels here. In the aftermath of the economic breakdown that led to World War I, there were numerous efforts in the decade of the 1920s to devise measures to revive the belle époque that had preceded the war. All of them failed, and the major powers responded to the contraction of the world market with a war of each against all, leading ultimately to World War II.

There are many differences between the situation today and that of 90 years ago. But the basic trends remain the same. In fact, the basic contradiction between the development of an interdependent global economy and its division into rival and conflicting nation-states has intensified.

This is reflected in the lamentations of bourgeois economic commentators such as Martin Wolf over the breakdown of globalisation. Just over a century ago, the international capitalist elites implemented their response to the breakdown of the nation-state system, unleashing on mankind the horrors of world war. Three years later, the international working class, through the conscious leadership provided by the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Trotsky, gave its response to the crisis—the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, the first shot in the world socialist revolution.

There are, indeed, lessons of history that must be drawn. If mankind is to avert another catastrophe, the deepening social hostility to the present economic and political order must be transformed into a conscious struggle by the working class for the programme of international socialism, not as some kind of distant hope, but as the only viable and practical programme of the day.

Nick Beams

WSWS