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Archive for August, 2016

The rebirth of social democracy-Donny Gluckstein

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2016 Comments Off on The rebirth of social democracy-Donny Gluckstein


The arrival of radical politics on the parliamentary stage across many countries has been spectacular. From Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party in the United States to the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the emergence of powerful new parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and electoral breakthroughs in Ireland and Portugal, the prominence of left wing electoral projects creates exciting new opportunities for socialists, but also raise many questions.

Why now? And what are the prospects ahead? This article will argue that we are witnessing the repeat of a cycle driven by contradictions within mass consciousness. In the late 19th century this gave birth to social democracy which ran out of steam 100 years later. Today the forces behind that evolution have reappeared, but in very different circumstances.

A reformist life cycle—birth

Under capitalism most ordinary people are subject to the ideological influence of the system, but find that reality fails to conform to this illusion. This is like a daily enactment of Voltaire’s Candide. In that novel the hero begins by believing that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” but is faced with a reality that brings one disaster after another. Therefore, among those at the bottom of society partial adaptation to, or acceptance of, ruling class ideas is blended with partial rejection and a wish for change. For example, “class interest” and “national interest” are deemed compatible, as are “social justice” and “economic (eg capitalist) efficiency”.

Contradictory consciousness supplies an eternal wellspring of mass reformist potential. It is the reason why, even in countries with virtually no organisational tradition of reformism, the opening up of popular politics seems almost spontaneously to produce enormous support for it. An example is Russia in 1917: Tsarist repression had allowed very little space for any working class politics (whether revolutionary or reformist). When the February Revolution in Petrograd overthrew the Tsar, the Bolsheviks, who had been the most active, consistent and leading force among workers, found themselves with only 60 delegates out of 1,000 in the democratically elected soviet. The rest were reformists. A similar development occurred in Portugal in 1974 where revolution toppled the world’s longest fascist dictatorship. Despite having done nothing to bring about the overturn, a moribund Socialist Party appeared on the stage and soon dominated politically, thus saving capitalism. This pattern has been repeated again and again.

It would be wrong to conclude that revolutionaries can never win the majority, but doing so depends on a process that wins large numbers to going beyond the halfway stage of acceptance/resistance. It took the Bolsheviks six months to “patiently explain” why the revolution had to continue and, through gaining a majority in the soviets, carry out the October 1917 insurrection.

Identifying the basis for mass reformist beliefs is an important first step, though on its own it does not explain very much. No class society has achieved 100 percent acceptance of the status quo; all have had to rely on some level of coercion. Feudalism relied on both the priest and the castle dungeon to sustain “the divine right of kings”. While an unstable combination of ideas exists at all times, it acquires a more durable concrete form when crystallised into particular institutions such as political parties. But this process is by no means automatic. The US has lacked a major reformist political party. Britain had the world’s first industrial working class but took well over a century to see the establishment of the Labour Party. In places occupied by imperialism contradictory consciousness was often channelled through movements and parties focused primarily on national independence, economic growth, and so on.

Reformist parties initially developed in western Europe where the growth of suffrage encouraged the belief that a “neutral” state was open to capture via elections. In 1875 two currents merged to create Germany’s Social Democratic Party. France’s Socialist Party appeared in 1880, the Dutch Social Democratic League in 1881, the Belgian in 1885, the Norwegian in 1887, and the Italian in 1892. Britain’s Labour Party followed in 1900. Together these parties formed the Second International. These developments occurred alongside the rise of trade unions which share at their core the same combination of adaptation and resistance to capitalism. The technical division of labour between party and union conformed to the capitalist notion of a split between economics and politics.

Traumatic adolescence

Once launched, organised social democracy developed with a remorseless logic. It was at this point that the distinction between those at the base and at the head of reformist structures emerged. Each occupied a different place within society and therefore evaluated it differently. The rank and file were motivated by a desire for equality and social justice, and opposition to exploitation and oppression. In contrast, those charged with meeting these goals were operating within the framework of the system. However much they originally shared the aspirations of the rank and file, they were ultimately shaped by established capitalist institutions.

Considering where social democratic parties have ended up today it is all too easy to forget how radical many were at their inception, and how prominent was hostility to capitalism, even if the means chosen to abolish it were flawed. Thus in 1903 the largest of the Second International parties, Germany’s Social Democrats, passed the following resolution:

The party rejects all responsibility of any sort under the political and economic conditions based on capitalist production, and therefore can in no wise countenance any measure tending to maintain in power the dominant class… Social Democracy can strive for no participation in the Government under bourgeois society.1

However, without a high level of mass struggle or a clear organisational alternative to the existing state, growing dominance by the right and elected deputies was difficult to avoid. Capitalism was expanding so the prospect of improvement over time seemed possible in spite of the enormous suffering. With the exception of Russia, adaptation and resistance could comfortably co-exist inside the “broad church” of early social democracy. There was a simultaneous development of a left and a right, maximum and minimum programmes, rank and file membership and parliamentary parties. The level of tension between them waxed and waned depending on circumstances, but it tended to increase over time. If the leaders felt the rupture between Marxist theory and their daily practice, most reconciled themselves. Erhard Auer, a German social democrat, famously talked of how the party might speak in radical terms, but what it did was quite different.

In 1914 world war posed the question of whether it was possible to reconcile ruling class and working class interests, because the murderous demands of national states cost the lives of millions. Under this pressure, and with the Bolsheviks coming to power in 1917, the contradiction unravelled. During the war the various components of the Second International fractured, the majority siding with their own governments while the minority eventually formed revolutionary Communist parties.

Only in Russia was a workers’ state founded because here the earlier split from social democracy allowed an alternative leadership to step forward. Elsewhere revolutionaries organised themselves later and were weaker, while social democratic leaders proved influential enough to stem the radical tide. Nonetheless, it required strong rhetoric to limit the ascendance of resistance over adaptation. In Germany the SPD promoted socialisation of enterprises, while in Britain Labour adopted the socialist Clause 4 in its constitution, which called for “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. These steps were not enough to prevent a mass shift to the ranks of the revolutionaries. In France, for example, a majority of the Socialist Party voted to join the Communists in 1920. But for every member who split away from social democracy, an even greater number of voters arrived from elsewhere. These were either engaged in politics for the first time or won from the old, overtly pro-capitalist parties. As a consequence the Swedish Social Democrats became the largest party in 1917. Britain’s Labour became “His Majesty’s Opposition” in 1918 and was able to take office in 1924 and again in 1929. After the overthrow of the Kaiser in 1918 Germany’s first president was a Social Democrat. Norway’s Labour Party got the most votes in 1927, and a socialist—Léon Blum—became French premier in 1936.

Despite such electoral success the gains for workers in the midst of inter-war economic turmoil were meagre. Germany’s SPD gained a few reforms in return for destroying the revolution, but any benefits were swiftly outweighed by the rise of Adolf Hitler. The 1929 British Labour government collapsed in disarray in 1931 when prime minister Ramsay MacDonald went into coalition with the Tories. Despite great hopes after a strike wave in 1936, France’s Socialist-led government failed to challenge a state machine that willingly collaborated with Nazi invaders. Three quarters of French Socialist deputies voted for Vichy’s Marshal Pétain in 1940.

Coming of age

The Second World War meant an even more barbarous clash of imperialist forces than the first. Through the course of the war, resistance movements such as in Italy and Greece, along with anti-colonial struggles elsewhere, showed the potential for a new radical wave. Yet once again reformism was re-established, and much more easily than after the First World War. That was due to the restraint Stalinism exerted over the Communist Parties. Had they provided a different leadership international revolution would have been on the cards.

The ending of war in 1945 did not reproduce the split of 1918. Instead it was the prelude to a reformist golden age that appeared to square the circle and resolve the contradiction between bosses’ interests and the rest of society. This was indeed no more than an appearance, but certain factors sustained the illusion and meant that the deep disappointments of the 1918-1939 period were not repeated. In contrast to the horrors of the depression, capitalism enjoyed its longest period of growth. Business required a healthy, well-educated workforce, plus repairs to war-damaged infrastructure, and this neatly overlapped with reformist hopes for welfare and nationalisation. Following the twin (Liberal Party) gods of John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge, Britain’s Labour government presided over full employment, a “cradle-to-grave” welfare system, the NHS, and state control of coal and other utilities. In France reformist governments delivered improvements in pensions, compensation for war injured, limits to the working week and social security. Sweden’s Social Democrats won elections consistently from 1932 to 1976 and after the Second World War ran a welfare system admired worldwide. West German workers got a nominal say in their workplaces through works councils (Betriebsräte) and workers’ participation (Mitbestimmung).

If the post-war period was a triumph (à la Ken Loach’s film The Spirit of ’45) it also cemented the trajectory towards adapting to the system. Reforms bolstered the idea that the bourgeois state was both neutral and malleable, and that capitalism could be tamed by its action. That made it even harder for reformist party leaders to withstand the pressures when the boom ended.

Decrepit old age

Although the golden age seemed to overcome the contradiction within mass consciousness it was not long before the process began to unravel once more. At first the traditional wellspring continually replenished electoral fortunes, only to see them depleted by the social democrats’ record in office. But with the return of crisis since the 1970s this process became ever more haphazard. The pattern of intermittent booms and slumps, and now prolonged stagnation, affected both reformist leaders and their traditional supporters, but in different ways.

For the leaders reformism is their life. And since they regard capitalism as the only possible mechanism for generating resources for improvements, everything is subordinated to its needs. When bosses complain state spending is too great and falling rates of profit require a readjustment of wealth towards the rich, then the very advances that social democracy introduced are abandoned. The first life cycle had now run its course. The governments of Tony Blair, François Hollande, George Papandreou and the rest were the result. This was reformism, but largely without reforms.

For potential supporters the experience of reformism without reforms made it hard to distinguish social democracy from openly pro-capitalist parties and led to feelings of confusion and alienation. The completion of the life cycle exposed the supposed neutrality of the capitalist state which ceased to offer progress, withdrew past gains, and became increasingly authoritarian and oppressive. This contributed to a cynicism towards parliamentary politics in general. But voters, unlike leaders, could go elsewhere. What political pundits identified as a trend towards “partisan dealignment” in the 1980s was followed by a period of falling electoral participation rates, along with a turn by some on the left towards autonomism and movementism. Unfortunately, the failure of traditional social democracy in the face of capitalist crisis can also push people in a reactionary direction. The recent Austrian presidential election saw the collapse of Social Democratic Party support, with blue collar workers prominent in voting for the fascist Freedom Party’s candidate.


But herein lies the conundrum. Old age prepares the way for new birth. While the evidence suggests hopes of serious reform through exclusive focus on parliament are obsolete, the enduring combination of adaptation and resistance from below still regenerates hope that reforms are possible. The wellspring that gave life to social democracy long ago still pours forth and will find a channel for expression if given the opportunity, whether that be in Syriza, Corbyn or another vessel. What we are witnessing, therefore, is an episode not dissimilar to the late 19th century.

However, there cannot be a simple repetition of the golden age. This revival of enthusiasm for reformist politics is occurring under very different circumstances and there is no equivalent revival in reformist leadership or coherent ideology.

The current economic crisis is intractable and so the system is unwilling to make concessions—rather it is intent on withdrawing them and extracting the last drop of profit available through privatisation. The growth in size of units of capital compared to the national state is such that elected reformist leaders now have less confidence that they can shape developments. Clement Attlee’s 1945 Labour government embarked on a major programme of nationalisation, council house building and welfare provision at a time when government debt was five times Britain’s GDP. Today debt is one third of that level, yet in March 2016 John McDonnell made a speech arguing: “There is nothing left wing about excessive spending, nothing socialist about too much debt”.2

Furthermore, what seemed plausible before 1945, that workers can gradually advance to socialism via the sort of nationalisation propounded in Clause 4, has been discredited internationally. The inability of Eastern bloc economies to compete with untrammelled market economies led to the collapse of Stalinism. This deprived Western reformists of a model of “socialism from above” that they drew inspiration from, in spite of reservations about the Soviet Union. Public sector workers rightly reject privatisation because it drives down living standards, but none believe they are working in a socialist nirvana.3

Understanding that the upsurge in political reformism is a general phenomenon does not mean it manifests itself in the same way everywhere. Syriza’s rise was closely connected to waves of general strikes. The success of Podemos is unthinkable without the radicalising effect of the movement of the squares. Yet no matter how un-parliamentary general strikes are, or how anti-parliamentary the movement of the squares seemed, many of those involved now relate to elections and parliament. One might therefore conclude that rebirth depends on extra-parliamentary movements and activities. But though the level of class struggle in Britain and the United States has been low, the break with the recent past represented by mass backing for Corbyn and Sanders is also undeniable.

Local differences do have an impact, however. Voting patterns and parliamentary politics are influenced by events between elections and outside parliament. What is heard inside the chamber is the distant echo of the battle, and in the case of Syriza, for example, the volume was louder than elsewhere. As a result the Greek party not only developed independently, free of the drag of the established reformist party Pasok, but rode to power. Syriza’s 2013 congress declared the party to be a unification of “the communist, radical, renovative, anti-capitalist, revolutionary, and liberationist left”.4 By contrast, in Britain the revival has tended to be more passive and develop within the shell of official politics. So Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as leader at a Labour Party conference introduced his shadow cabinet as “an inclusive team from all political wings of our party”.5 Notwithstanding these differences, if the end point is a central place given to parliament in bringing change, the doleful consequences that flow from that will be shared.

The fact that prospects for delivering reforms are worse than last time round does not mean that reforms cannot be won, or that electoral work is futile. The bridge linking extra-parliamentary action to the debating chamber can be crossed in both directions. If electoral success comes from mass campaigns, as has been seen recently in Ireland over water charges, parliamentary representatives can use their voices to strengthen the movement outside. The Syriza government did not have to capitulate to the Troika eight days after the “Oxi” referendum. It could have called on enormous support at home, and relieved the pressure of capital on Greek workers by inspiring mass resistance to austerity abroad. However, that required more than rhetorical allegiance to “communist, radical, renovative, anti-capitalist, revolutionary and liberationist” politics.

The point is that the juggling trick that benefits workers and bosses simultaneously is more difficult to sustain now, even though the blend of adaptation and resistance continues to be deeply rooted. It took over 100 years to fully work through the first reformist life cycle (with many significant bumps along the way). As Greece has tragically proved, the time between youth and old age is now shorter. This should warn revolutionaries against illusions in how durable the new politics may be, but by the same token impart an urgency to winning supporters of reformism to go beyond parliamentary illusions. The very public manifestation of mass contradictory consciousness that has produced the phenomenon of Syriza, Corbyn, Podemos and Sanders can evolve towards adaptation to capitalism, but it can equally evolve towards resistance.

And one parallel from the past is particularly instructive: what happened after the First World War. The current economic impasse may be a less dramatic indictment of capitalism than mass slaughter in the trenches; but the fundamental choices that led to a split in social democracy, and the emergence of mass revolutionary parties, can appear once more. To a great extent that depends on the activities of revolutionaries and how they relate through united front work.

Donny Gluckstein teaches history in Edinburgh College, is a member of the SWP and is FE salaries convenor of the EIS teachers’ union.


1 The Dresden Resolution—go to www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1903/dresden-resolution.htm#amsterdam

2 BBC News, 2016.

3 Belief in nationalisation as a gradual route to socialism must not be confused with defensive state takeovers that have been popular with governments since 2008. These were explicitly framed as no more than a means to avoiding the total collapse of “too big to fail” sectors.

4 left.gr, 2013.

5 Corbyn, 2015.


BBC News, 2016, “McDonnell vows ‘Responsible’ Rules to Control Labour Spending” (11 March), www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35783047

Corbyn, Jeremy, 2015, “Labour Press Speech by Jeremy Corbyn to Labour Party Annual Conference 2015” (29 September), http://press.labour.org.uk/post/130135691169/speech-by-jeremy-corbyn-to-labour-party-annual

left.gr, 2013, “The political resolution of the 1st congress of SYRIZA” (5 August), https://left.gr/news/political-resolution-1st-congress-syriza

Is Pakistan “on the brink”?-Snehal Shingavi

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2016 Comments Off on Is Pakistan “on the brink”?-Snehal Shingavi


UNDER INTENSE pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military has engaged in a major offensive in the Swat Valley of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). While the stated objective is to root out the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TeT), the Pakistani variant of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the bombings and gunfights have killed thousands and produced a massive outpouring of refugees from the NWFP into other parts of Pakistan. The indiscriminate violence is also paving the way for the Taliban and other Islamist outfits to grow.

In fact, the reason that the state deals with Islamist organizations through military means is because it is unwilling to address the underlying reasons that political Islam has grown in the NWFP—massive inequality and corruption, the genuine grievances of the Pashtun minority, and the collaboration of the Pakistani state with the American imperial project.

Soon after bombings of TeT installations began on May 8, major cities in Pakistan were flooded with refugees. The country’s internal refugee population was already quite large, estimated at about a million before April 2009, since the NWFP is not new to militancy or to Pakistani military operations. The UN now estimates that the refugee crisis is larger than the one in Darfur, Sudan, as three million internally displaced Pakistanis crowd into under-resourced camps. The economy of Swat has been devastated and entire villages have been depopulated.

As it became harder to ignore the refugee crisis produced by military operations, international aid agencies began requesting serious aid for relief efforts. On May 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even pleaded with Americans to send aid to Swat through a text message program organized by the United Nations. Her interest in Swati refugees would be admirable if it weren’t dripping with hypocrisy. Of the $1.9 billion in American aid that has been pledged for “humanitarian relief” to Pakistan, $900 million will be spent on building the American embassy in Islamabad.

What’s more, it was the current American administration that pressured the Pakistani government to take “decisive” action to “eliminate and expel” the Pakistani TeT. American drones bear responsibility for some of the refugee crisis as it is. More than 700 people have been killed since 2006, with 164 killed in 14 attacks since the beginning of the Obama administration. But things will only get worse. As American impatience to pacify Afghanistan builds, more and more people in the border region will feel the pain of the pincer action of Americans in the west and Pakistani military from the east, not to mention the violence against non-Pashtun minorities by members of the Taliban.

Between two allies—the U.S. and the Islamists
The Pakistani ruling class is not innocent either. It has a long-established pattern of hitching its wagon to the United States. It is the worst kind of irony, perhaps, that the Taliban grew into a significant force in the 1990s with the help of the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence agency (ISI) as part of a project that began in the 1980s to develop a proxy army to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Benazir Bhutto’s government was the first to normalize relations between Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, a decision that proved very costly for her.

Today, two decades after the Soviets left, the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan are now awash with guns, training camps, and militant organizations. The current crisis in Pakistan is the making of the cynical policies of its ruling clique, who have used militant Islam to attack their secular opponents in places like the NWFP and Balochistan, where nationalist parties have attempted to organize secessionist movements.

Some speculate that the army may have intentionally allowed the TeT to grow to levels that would necessitate a heavy intervention. It was only a short while ago when the armed forces were forced out of politics and back into the barracks; the growth of the Taliban allows the Pakistani military to pose itself as the nation’s savior.

But the military’s policy is two-sided, since it relies on militant Islam to unbalance both its regional competition, such as India and the USSR, and its domestic political opponents. This is why their efforts against the Taliban have always been half-hearted. As Farooq Tariq of the Labor Party Pakistan (LPP) explained:

The military operation in Swat covers up the reality that the Pakistan military considers the Taliban an asset and is not willing to sacrifice that asset to please the USA. While [the] army is flushing the Taliban out of Swat, the Jihadi-infrastructure (training camps, seminaries, newspapers, charities; the fronts for the Taliban) remain intact in other parts of the country.1

In fact, Pakistan’s military has used the threat from these militant groups to retain its power, to repeatedly undermine civilian governments and to keep the spigot of aid flowing from the United States. In the process, it funds, trains, and arms these groups to make sure that it has a regional foothold in Afghanistan and Kashmir, where the growth of Indian influence has cut into Pakistani ambitions. While this is the fourth anti-militant military campaign in three years—and the most heavy-handed—the Pakistani army has no interest in fully dismantling the Taliban. The army also hesitates to press a decisive campaign against homegrown militants because a sizeable section of the rank and file is recruited from the NWFP.

Every past operation to root out the various Islamist organizations from the region has ended with the military making concessions. In February, it gave a green light to the Awami National Party (the ruling party in the NWFP) to negotiate with the Taliban and arrived at a cease-fire in exchange for agreeing to the controversial Nizam-e-Adl legislation, which would have allowed the Taliban to establish a variant of sharia law in the NWFP. The terms of the deal have been public for at least a year, since they were part of the election platform of the ANP when it ran for office in partnership with the Pakistan People’s Party, the party of Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the current president of Pakistan.

Alarm about the Taliban
Despite the hesitance to break with Islamist militants in general, the army and the civilian government have successfully been painting the TeT as a particularly virulent strain of Islam bent on wrecking national institutions and challenging the rule of law in order to explain why this time things will be different. Ahmed Rashid, perhaps the most vocal holder of this view, recently wrote in the New York Review of Books:

Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit.2

The particular fear of the TeT, though, is taken from the American playbook about Islam in general. Rashid continues:

The accord followed the defeat in Swat last year of 12,000 government troops at the hands of some three thousand Taliban after bloody fighting, the blowing up of over one hundred girls’ schools, heavy civilian casualties, and the mass exodus of one-third of Swat’s 1.5 million people. The Taliban swiftly imposed their brutal interpretation of sharia, which allowed for executions, floggings, and destruction of people’s homes and girls’ schools, as well as preventing women from leaving their homes and wiping out the families that had earlier resisted them.3

This is, of course, not an incorrect picture of the Taliban, but the problem is what Rashid advocates as a solution, namely calling on the Pakistani state and its military to resolve the crisis that they clearly have no interest in resolving. As Saadia Toor has argued,

The principled position is always to be anti-army—not just on an abstract level, but drawing on the actual history of the relation of the army to groups like the Taliban and the Pakistani people. To anyone following these developments, it boggles the mind that someone would call on and expect the army to protect the people.4

It is also important to note, against Rashid, that most of the refugees interviewed in the media have explained that they are fleeing American and Pakistani bombs rather than the Taliban. Focusing on Islam instead of the social dynamics of the region helps Rashid make the entirely implausible case that the military can succeed in routing the militants, even though, just next door in Afghanistan, nearly eight years of NATO and U.S. bombing have not been able to point the way to such an end.

Most Pakistanis up until this point had been opposed to American bombs being dropped on Pakistani soil. The alarms about the TeT that have been repeated in the Pakistani news media, however, have won some popular support for a renewed campaign. It was, incidentally, only after Pakistani public sentiment shifted against the Taliban and it became clear that American aid would require more serious restrictions on the Taliban that the civilian government and the military went on the offensive.

This change in public opinion is a feat in itself, given that just a few months ago Zardari’s government was on the verge of collapse as a powerful lawyers’ movement and a stubborn opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), made serious challenges to the credibility of the regime. Now, however, the media, most civil society organizations, all major parties, and leading members of the Muslim clergy have lined up behind the military incursions into Swat. It’s likely that this support will continue as Zardari pursues his intentions to spread the zone of engagement to Buner and then Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Why is there a Pakistani Taliban?
There are several reasons for the growth of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, but they are sociological and political, rather than the result of some virulent strain of Islamic thought.

First of all, when the Pakistani elite used Islam throughout the 1980s to recruit Pashtuns to the cause of Afghanistan, they also aimed to undermine secular nationalism in an ethnic region that had growing secessionist demands. The state cultivated religious leaders, funded madrassahs (religious schools) in the region, and organized training camps to help carry arms and information across the border into Afghanistan.

These efforts weakened the credibility and vitality of secular and progressive forces to the point that, in 2002, a coalition of Islamist parties—the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)—won a majority of seats in the provincial assembly of NWFP. In Balochistan, the other province bordering Afghanistan, the MMA won enough seats to rule in coalition with the party of dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

Secondly, the American war in Afghanistan has devastated the country and ruined the lives of countless Pashtuns, the ethnic group on both sides of the border from which the Taliban recruits. Thousands of Pakistanis have joined the Taliban to repel the Americans since the war began in 2001. When American drone attacks began in the NWFP, Pashtuns joined with the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border. And as the Pakistani state sidled up to the Americans, the TeT had new bones to pick with the domestic policies of the government. The Islamists have been consistent in their opposition to the American operation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani collaboration with it, a position that brought it into conflict with the government of General Musharraf and now of President Zardari.

Third, there is a class dimension to the growth of the Taliban. As Kamran Asdar Ali, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas wrote:

The Taliban have plainly appealed to smoldering anti-feudal resentments in the Swat valley in recruiting their cadre. A handful of families own the fruit orchards and cow pastures that are the main sources of livelihood in the valley, and their agreements with tenant farmers are often honored in the breach. Wages for rural labor are low. The large landlords (khans) are also likely to hold the concessions for the timber forests and the contracts to operate the gemstone mines that also employ the working class of Swat. “Paradise on earth” or not, the Swat valley has seen a large percentage of its able-bodied men out-migrate since the 1950s.5

This is not to argue that the Taliban are waging a class war, but that part of the reason that they are growing has to do with the long-term systemic inequality in the region. A small class of landlords controls the lion’s share of the economy and runs the main political party, the ANP, which has led to rampant corruption in the police and judiciary. At least in part, the Nizam-e-Adl legislation was designed to turn the courts over to local control and allow for a more swift dispensation of justice.

Moreover, the Taliban took over the emerald mines in Swat in March of this year, displacing the owners and entering into a profit-sharing agreement with the laborers. It is also not surprising, therefore, that a large proportion of the assassinations carried out by the Taliban are directed at large landlords and officials accused of corruption. The economic and social grievances of the landless poor in Swat are aimed at the state and the rich, and as long as the Taliban appears to be fighting those forces, they continue to earn the support of at least a section of the valley’s residents.

Neither the Taliban nor the Pakistani state, however, has any real interest in systemic overhaul of the economic situation in the valley. The Taliban would happily welcome back the khans and the maliks (tribal chiefs who have benefited from state patronage) if they were to agree to their rate of taxation. This was the policy adopted by the TeT’s Afghan counterparts, after all.

It is clear that the expansion of U.S. military intervention will embolden a resistance, and as long as the Pakistani elite continues to rely on Islamist outfits at the expense of secular parties, the Islamists will be the beneficiaries of the anger against the American-Pakistani war on terror. Even if the Pakistani state is successful in routing the Taliban, the underlying social grievances which gave rise to them will not go away without a real reorganization of the economy, mass improvements in education, substantive land reform, and genuine social mobility for women. Regrettably, the record of the Pakistani government on all of these fronts has been abysmal.

There are important efforts underway to help the war’s refugees, like the Labor Relief Campaign initiative of the LPP, which couples political demands (reduction in the military budget, increased spending on education, land reform) with real relief efforts (establishing camps, collecting donations and food). Systemic change, though, remains a long way off as the left in Pakistan continues to be quite small. But still, it remains the only viable option for meaningful change. As the last month has shown, President Barack Obama’s “comprehensive strategy” for the region—revealed now as a major expansion of the anti-Taliban war into Pakistan—is no less deadly or devastating than his predecessor’s.

Tariq Ali and Farooq Tariq, “Help fight against Taliban and military operations,”International Viewpoint online, May 2009, www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?…
Ahmed Rashid, “Pakistan on the brink,” New York Review of Books, June 11, 2009.
Saadia Toor (interview), “Behind the nightmare in Swat,” SocialistWorker.org, May 22, 2009, www.socialistworker.org/2009/05/22/behin…
Kamran Asdar Ali, “Pakistan¹s troubled ‘paradise on earth,'” April 29, 2009, Middle East Report online, www.merip.org/mero/mero042909.html.


The multiple crises of neoliberal capitalism and the need for a global working class response-Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2016 Comments Off on The multiple crises of neoliberal capitalism and the need for a global working class response-Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian


Noam Chomsky, by any measure, has led a most extraordinary life. In addition to his pioneering work in linguistics, he has been a leading voice for peace and social justice for many decades. Chris Hedges says he is “America’s greatest intellectual,” who “makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.” At eighty-seven, he is still active, lecturing, and writing. He is the author of scores of books, including Propaganda and the Public Mind, How the World Works, and Power Systems, with David Barsamian. Barsamian interviewed him in Cambridge, MA, on January 22, 2016.
To what extent do you think the environmental challenges we face are an issue for the labor movement? And also, how can the labor movement work with the environmental movement to deal with the issues that we face?

The environmental movement is important to everybody who wants to survive. It’s not a joke. We might be entering the last century of human survival in any decent form.

If you follow the science journals, practically every day there’s a more threatening discovery. The Greenland ice, which was thought to be moored to the ground, turns out to be floating, which means it’s going to melt faster, which means the sea level will rise higher. As you probably noticed, last year was the warmest year on record, not just by a small, but by a huge amount, because it’s accelerating. In fact, the rate of warming now is apparently higher than it’s ever been in the whole geological record by a factor of about 100, or maybe even 1,000. We’re getting into extremely dangerous territory. Unless something is pretty quickly done to get off fossil fuels, the future looks pretty dim. There was a study that was reported in the MIT Technology Review last month saying that at this latitude the current average temperature rise is equivalent to moving south about ten meters a day. That’s pretty fast.

So is it important to the labor movement? Sure. It’s important to everyone, in fact, crucial. There’s a special problem that the labor movement has to face, that getting off fossil fuels is going to have a big effect unless something serious is done. It runs into a conflict with pressures for maintaining jobs and wages. That’s a problem that the labor movement has to deal with.

It’s not a fundamental problem, because there’s plenty of work that could be done that would be helpful to the environment—I mean simple things like weatherization of homes. The US is way behind other countries. There was a company in England that was working on weatherization, but it had essentially finished, so it tried to move to the US. And it couldn’t get started because there is not enough interest. High-speed rail. The US is practically the only country in the world that has no high-speed rail. It has a collapsing transportation system. Alternative energy projects generate jobs, from high-level tech to manufacturing. So there’s plenty of opportunities for other kinds of work and decent jobs and salaries.

But it’s a wrench to move from what exists, like, say, mining, to something totally new. It would require a serious government initiative. And that requires a pretty radical change in our political system, which is by now so far skewed to the right that things that are just taken for granted in other countries look impossibly radical here.

You might have seen a column by Paul Krugman a couple days ago opposing Bernie Sanders’s health-care program. What Bernie Sanders is advocating is what practically every other country in the world has. The US is almost alone in not having national health care. The US is ranked lowest among the wealthy countries, the OECD countries, in quality of health care, with about twice the per capita costs. Krugman’s argument is basically, well, it sort of sounds nice, but we can’t manage it here because of the power of financial institutions. What about the public? The public is strongly in favor of it. Even though practically nobody publicly advocates for it in the mainstream, still you have roughly 60 percent support for it, among Democrats about 80 percent. And this goes way back. Go back to the Reagan years. A large majority of the population thought it should be in the Constitution because it’s such an obvious necessity, and about 40 percent of the population thought it was in the Constitution. This is in the Reagan era. And it’s been steady all the way since. But it’s politically impossible to achieve because the country is not a functioning democracy. It’s a plutocracy run by financial institutions and others, so therefore we can’t do what every other country does. You can take a high-speed train from Beijing to Kazakhstan but not from Boston to New York.

So there are real social and political changes that have to take place internally in the country before we can even talk about the things that have to be done, and have to be done fast. It’s not a matter of the distant future. These are things that are vital for the next generation. So, yes, it’s serious, and it’s a very serious problem for the labor movement. A functioning, lively labor movement ought to be in the forefront of working on this.

A question about globalization. We find ourselves always competing, it feels like, against nonunion workers in developing countries. Do you see positive movement happening in organization in the developing countries like China that we find ourselves in competition with? And in what ways could we in the developed world move that forward?

Unions are called internationals, and there is a reason for that in history. If they can become internationals, that, I think, would be the answer. There’s tens of thousands of labor struggles going on every year in China, fighting for decent working conditions, for higher wages, for social and political issues. Western labor movements ought to be contributing to that. I think that is the way of addressing the question of competition: Develop reasonable working conditions, labor conditions, and take over factories in the developing countries like China, support the workers who are fighting hard for this. That’s to the benefit of American workers too, and the best approach, I think. Competition is what power centers want to drive wages and working conditions down. Cooperation internationally is what working people ought to want, just as domestically.

We’re often slaughtered in the public view by right-wing, anti-union extremists, and often they’re turning union members against their own interests. They do it through anger and hate, because that’s easier than education. I just want to know, do you have any suggestions for helping to get through to these people to listen to facts?

That’s no small matter, not just in the US. The same is happening in Europe and elsewhere. You’re right, it’s much easier to fire people up with shrieks and imprecations and hatred and kick somebody in the face who is even lower than you rather than to try to reason your way through these things. That’s always been true. And that’s the goal of serious organizing to overcome that.

And here what you’ve described is quite right. I have to say that what’s going on here now—I don’t want to draw the analogy too closely—but it does begin to remind me of my childhood. I was a child in the 1930s. I could listen to Hitler’s speeches at the Nuremberg rallies over the radio when I was seven- or eight-years old. I didn’t understand the words, but there was no mistaking the nature of the rhetoric and the popular response to it. There’s something similar happening now to what happened in Germany. This is not Germany, and I don’t want to draw the analogy too closely, but it is worth thinking about. In the 1920s Germany was the peak of Western civilization in the arts, in the sciences. It was considered a model of democracy, had huge labor movements, socialist movements, and so on. In 1928 Hitler got less than 3 percent of the vote. Five years later Germany was plunging into becoming the worst country in human history. It doesn’t take much. It’s worth thinking about.

And, yes, the state that we’re in now is kind of like that. There’s a lot of anger. It’s mostly directed against people who are even worse victims than those who are angry. Welfare cheats, for example. Reagan succeeded in demonizing welfare. And if you believe the Reaganite-style stories, yes, you should be against welfare. Who wants Black women in chauffeured limousines coming to the welfare office and stealing your check? I don’t want that. In fact, if you look at people’s attitudes since those years, polls show support for welfare has gone way down. On the other hand, support for what welfare does is quite high. Should you have money for women with dependent children? Sure. Should you have welfare? No. What about kicking immigrants in the face? That’s easy. There are a lot of questions to talk about. But it is easy to incite angry people, to try to focus their anger on people who are suffering even more than they are, and who have absolutely nothing to do with their plight. That’s what’s happening here and in Europe and elsewhere. You have to struggle against that.

The only way to do it is slow, patient explanation and organizing. No other way. And it can work. The labor movement is pretty much down now, but that’s not the first time. In the 1920s the labor movement was virtually destroyed in the US. Then in the 1930s it picked up. It became a lively, significant force. It’s the main force that drove the New Deal measures, not marvelous, but pretty good. It made a big difference in people’s lives. We’re now at a point where anyone who advocates New Deal measures is considered a radical leftist. So Sanders, for example, is basically an old-fashioned New Dealer. He’s considered by some to be way out on the left. However, you go back to Eisenhower, who said that anyone who doesn’t accept New Deal legislation just can’t be in the American political system. That’s where we’ve come in the last thirty years. But it can return. It’s not going to be easy.

The majority of refugees coming out of Syria appear to be landing in Europe, particularly Germany. It appears that other parts of the developed world aren’t willing to help out. Do you think there’s a better way to spread those refugees for prosperity rather than creating ghettos in Germany again and the disparity that comes with that? And what sort of risk does that cause within Europe?

Germany is a rich country of over eighty million people, and it’s a country that needs immigrants desperately. Its fertility is declining, the population is going to decline. That’s an almost automatic consequence of educating women. It’s happened all over the world, poor countries and rich countries. They do need an immigrant force, a work force, to contribute to the economy and so on. Germany and Sweden are practically the only countries that at least temporarily accept refugees.

Take Lebanon. It’s a poor country, just torn by all kinds of strife. About a quarter of the population are Syrian immigrants. That’s in addition to millions of people who are the descendants of those who were driven out by the establishment of the state of Israel and others. Maybe a third of the population is immigrant, in a poor country with plenty of problems. They somehow manage to absorb them. They don’t need immigrants; quite the contrary. Turkey has over two million Syrians. What the European Union is trying to do now is to pressure or bribe Turkey to keep the Syrian refugees, who are really fleeing from miserable, horrendous circumstances, far from Europe’s borders. So you take care of them. Keep them in Turkey, keep them in Lebanon, keep them in Jordan, poor countries. But keep them away from us.

Which is exactly what the US is doing. The Obama policies are to try to pressure Mexico to keep Central American immigrants from coming anywhere near us. Who are the Central American immigrants? These are people fleeing from the wreckage left by US government policies. There was a moving front-page story in the Boston Globe a couple days ago, about a Guatemalan who had been here for twenty-five years, who had a family, and was working. He was just deported. He had come from the highlands in Guatemala where there was virtual genocide, strongly supported by the US, though Congress had prevented Reagan from sending arms and troops to accelerate the slaughter. So he organized an international terror network. The US is a powerful state. When we organize terrorism, it’s not individuals, it’s terrorist states, big guys. So Israel provided most of the arms and training, Taiwan got into the act, Saudi Arabia funded it. And, yes, it was virtual genocide. The immigrant was fleeing a total disaster. There are many immigrants right out here, around Lynn, around Providence and so on, Mayans and others, still fleeing from that wreckage.

The largest percentage of the refugees in the last couple of years has been from Honduras. Honduras has been a wreck for years. It got much worse in 2009. There was a slightly reformist president, Zelaya, who was thrown out in a military coup, and then the military ran a kind of a fake election. Practically nobody recognized it except the US. Since then the murder rate has shot up, terror attacks on women have increased. It’s become even more horrible than before. So they were the plurality of refugees. But US government policy aims to send them back, or get Mexico to push them back.

That’s the analogue to what’s happening in Syria. The Lebanese aren’t responsible for the Syrian crisis. The Jordanians aren’t responsible. Actually, we have a lot of responsibility for it, not total, but significant. The US-British invasion of Iraq was kind of like hitting a devastated country with a sledgehammer. By now Iraq is ranked as the unhappiest country in the world in international polls. The country is a catastrophe. There are Iraqi refugees fleeing again. From the Iraq war itself there were maybe two million people who fled to the neighboring countries, who absorbed them. Not us. One of the consequences of the war was to incite a sectarian conflict, which had not existed before. When you hear about the Sunni and Shi’a fighting for 1500 years, that’s not true. They lived pretty much in peace. In fact, in Iraq before the war there was intermarriage, living in the same neighborhoods, often people didn’t even know who was who. Now it’s a war to the death, tearing the region apart, not just in Iraq but the whole region. And one of the outgrowths of it is the Islamic State. Well, that’s part of what’s wrecking Syria. Not all of it. Syria is also being wrecked by the murderous Assad regime, by the terrorist jihadi forces, which are being supported by our allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.

But they’re fleeing from total wreckage. And what Europe is saying is, “We don’t want you. We can’t handle it. We’re rich, powerful countries, but we can’t handle it.”

Europe is also getting refugees from Africa, a big flood of refugees. Why? There’s a history. The immediate reason is another sledgehammer—smashing up Libya. Here France was in the lead. France, England, and the US virtually destroyed Libya. The country itself is just a chaos of warring militias. Among other things, it opened a funnel for refugees to flood to Europe. That’s the least of it. It also spread weapons and radical Islamist jihadis all over West Africa, all the way to the Middle East. By now the worst terrorist crimes are in West Africa, most of it flowing out of the Libyan crimes.

And there’s a further history—not very pretty. Take one country, Belgium. It is now groaning under the weight of a refugee problem, a lot of it African. What about Belgium and Africa? Congo is the richest country in Africa. It should be a rich, developed country. It has enormous resources. It was run by the Belgians, who were even more brutal and vicious than their competitors. And it’s not ancient history. Congo finally was liberated in 1960, and it could have gone on to become a rich, developed country, a country that could drive African development. It had one of the most effective, maybe the most effective, leader in Africa, Patrice Lumumba, a very promising young nationalist leader. What happened? He was targeted for assassination by the CIA, but the Belgians managed to kill him first. We’re not like ISIS. We don’t cut off people’s heads. Rather, his body was hacked into pieces and dissolved in sulfuric acid. That took care of him. We then supported the kleptomaniac murderer Mobutu, who destroyed the country.

By now the worst crimes in the world are taking place in Congo. Millions of people are being killed in eastern Congo. One of the main actors—maybe the main local actor—is our ally, Rwanda, which is murdering people and stealing resources. There are warring militias, which are trying to steal precious minerals, with the multinationals looking over their shoulder so they can get hold of them quickly, for your cellphone, for example, and other high-tech marvels that we like. And Belgium has a refugee problem. Does it come from nowhere?

This generalizes all over. The countries that are responsible, basically, for creating the refugees are rich and developed in no small measure because of the atrocities they carried out. And they can’t handle the weight of refugees. The same as the US and Latin America. Germany is unique in that it tried to do something. The whole situation, in my view, is really a scandal.

It’s hard to talk about it here, because the US record is the worst. The only question here is, if Syrian refugees try to escape the horror, should we make them wait three years while they’re being vetted to make sure that one of them isn’t a jihadi pretending to be a doctor, or should we just keep them all out? Or maybe we should just carpet-bomb them, like Ted Cruz says. That’s the debate here.

We have a role in the recent destruction of Africa, too. Look at the record. The US was not a big player in Africa until recently. In fact, at the end of World War II, when the State Department was kind of parceling out the world and assigning functions to different parts of the world within the US-dominated world system, the leading planner in charge was George Kennan, the famous, revered statesman. He was head of the Policy Planning Board. There are important documents, which have been declassified for some time, where he describes the function of every region of the world. Like the function of Southeast Asia is to provide resources and raw materials for the former colonial masters so that they will have dollars so they can purchase excess US production, things like that. When he got to Africa, he said, “We’re not all that interested in Africa, so we’ll hand it over to Europe to exploit,” his word, “for its reconstruction.” If you look at the relationship between Europe and Africa over the past century, you might imagine a different relationship, but that was never even discussed. Africa has to be handed over to Europe to “exploit for its reconstruction.” That’s history. Ten years later comes the murder of Lumumba and all the other horrors.

So we can say, let’s forget about it. It’s none of our business. In fact, Winston Churchill at the end of World War II wrote kind of a history of the war and what the future should be like. He has a wonderful paragraph in it. I wish I could quote it verbatim—the rhetoric was lovely—but it was something like this: We, the Europeans and the Americans, are rich and happy. We are like rich men living within our habitations, which it is true we have gained by force and violence, but that’s the way it is. And we just don’t want to be disturbed by all these other people. We want to be rich men living peacefully in our habitations. So we’re not causing any problems in the world; they’re causing the problems.

What are the chances for a global democracy?

We’re not going to have a global democracy until we have local democracies. It’s worth thinking about what’s happened since World War II, but let’s start now, at this time, and go back a little. In roughly the last generation, the neoliberal period, there has been a major attack against democracy—in the US and even worse in Europe. In Europe democracy is declining radically. Decisions are being made by the Eurocrats, the Brussels bureaucracy, the Troika,* with the northern banks looking over their shoulders. In fact, The Wall Street Journal had an article about a year or so ago in which it pointed out that whatever government is elected in a European country, from right to left, they follow the same policies, because the policies aren’t made in that country, they’re made in the Eurocrat bureaucracy, basically the northern banks.

The decline of democracy is so extreme, for example, in Greece, which is being utterly devastated by the economic policies of the Troika—policies designed to reduce the debt, but, instead, are increasing the debt. The debt relative to GDP is going up, because they killed the productive capacity. There’s something called debt relief that goes to Greece. It actually goes to the northern banks. Greece is a funnel through which European taxpayer money goes to pay the bad debts of German and French banks. A couple of months ago the prime minister did suggest that Greeks should be asked what their opinion is about the policies that are being applied to them. Europe just went crazy. They couldn’t believe the impudence of these people in Greece, which happens to be the country where democracy was born long ago—the impudence of their actually daring to ask the population just what their opinion is. The Troika’s reaction was utterly savage. They instituted even harsher policies than before, not just to punish the Greeks but to make sure that nobody else gets these funny ideas about maybe people ought to be asked about their future.

That’s what’s been happening in Europe. It’s very hard to imagine any economic justification for the policies that have been imposed, the austerity during recession. Even the IMF economists think this is crazy. But it does make sense as class war. It is undermining Europe’s great achievement in the postwar period: some decent level of social democracy. And in countries like Greece and the weaker countries, it’s devastating. It’s okay for the investor class, the banks and so on. They’re doing fine.

In the US something similar has happened. It’s not as severe as Europe but it’s severe. So, for example, there was an interesting study that just came out a couple months ago—you may have seen it—by a very good political economist here, Tom Ferguson, and Walter Dean Burnham, a leading political scientist who has dealt with political history and political economy for decades. They did a very careful analysis of the election in 2014—the last election—of what the voting was like. The results were pretty spectacular. It turned out that voting in the 2014 election was very similar to voting in the elections around 1820, when voting was restricted to propertied white males. That’s where we are. Burnham himself had years ago done close analysis of the record of abstention. The US has a high record of abstention in elections. What’s the socioeconomic profile of people who abstain? As he pointed out, it turns out to be very similar to people in Europe who vote for the social democratic or laborite parties, which don’t exist here. So people just don’t vote.

And they have other reasons not to vote. Most people don’t read the academic political science literature, but they don’t have to because they see it in their lives. What the literature shows very strikingly is that roughly 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the income/wealth scale, are completely disenfranchised, whether they vote or not. Their representatives pay no attention to their attitudes. So there’s essentially no correlation between what they want as shown by polls and what their representatives do. As you move up the wealth/income scale, you begin to slowly get a little correlation, meaning a little influence. By the time you get to the top, which is actually probably a fraction of 1 percent, policy is made. What does this have to do with democracy? It’s a plutocracy, straight out. There is a little pressure around the edges, but mostly on matters that are kind of peripheral to the centers of power. That’s the US. None of this is engraved in stone.

If you go back to the end of World War II, there was a wave of radical democracy over the whole world. The anti-fascist struggle that inspired people took one form or another: communist, socialist, laborite. And the first goal of the victors, the US and Britain, was to crush it. The history is really worth looking at. It started early on. Britain after 1945 was under the Labour Party. The American and British forces, took the first action in North Africa, where the US imposed basically the Vichy government, including a Nazi sympathizer, Admiral Darlan.

In Italy, there was a strong resistance movement. It was actually holding down six German divisions, not a small thing, not just blowing up a train here and there. In fact, the Italian resistance pretty much liberated a good deal of Italy before the Allied forces got there. The first thing the US and Britain did was to try to reconstitute the traditional system, bring back the king. Field Marshal Badoglio, who was a fascist general, was put back in charge.

As they moved up to the north, which had really been liberated by the resistance and had built their own society, a worker-based, radical democratic society—worker-owned enterprises, cooperatives, the whole business. The British Labour Party was utterly horrified, the Americans even more so. They dismantled it and forcefully restored the traditional order. In 1948 there was going to be an election, and the Allies were petrified that the Left would win. So the U.S.—by then Britain was kind of out of it—poured in money, all kinds of subversion, and threatened to withhold aid—Italy was starving—unless they voted the “right” way, namely, for the Christian Democrats. Go back to the State Department documents which say, “We have to institute policies so clear that the dumbest wop will understand.” They managed to drive the election to the right. For the next twenty or thirty years, Italy was maybe the main target of CIA manipulation to try to keep the country to the right.

Greece also had a very strong resistance movement, which again was holding down several Nazi divisions. The British went in first, in 1944. Churchill ordered the British forces to treat Athens like a conquered city, smash up the domestic forces and reconstitute the traditional quasi-fascist order, the collaborators with the fascists. The British couldn’t hold it down, they didn’t have the forces at that point, so they asked the US to step in. We did, starting in 1946–1947, under the famous Truman Doctrine. It ended up with a civil war where maybe 150,000 Greeks were killed. The Left was wiped out. There was a restoration of pretty much the traditional order, including fascist elements. It went on like that. Finally in the early 1960s there was a literal fascist takeover—the first restoration of a fascist regime in Europe. The US strongly supported it, in fact, kept supporting it until it was overthrown in 1974. That’s Greek democracy.

In Germany the US was very concerned about the labor movement, a lot of it inspired from the east. In fact, George Kennan, again, the great planner and statesman, proposed building a wall to separate Eastern Germany from infecting the West. A nice image when you think about what the future was like. It kind of goes on like that. Meanwhile, the Russians were playing their own rotten games in the east.

But there was a promise during World War II. It could have turned out differently. In some ways good things happened. The formation of the European Union—not the Euro currency, that’s something different—the European Union, the Schengen Agreement, those were real steps forward. And European social democracy was a step forward, now is being beaten back.

When you talk about social visions, that’s extremely important. That’s about as important as the environmental crisis. It’s pressing us towards a possible nuclear war, which means the end quickly. There were, not so much at the end of World War II, but in 1990, competing visions. The Soviet Union collapsed. What happens next? There were competing visions. One of them was Gorbachev’s: a Eurasian security system in which all would take part. There would be centers in Brussels and Moscow and Ankara and kind of a joint security system. Both military alliances would collapse—NATO and the Warsaw Pact. That’s Gorbachev.

The West wasn’t having it. The US in particular forced a different system in which the Warsaw Pact, of course, dissolved and NATO expanded. If you think about it, NATO was established, theoretically, in order to protect Western Europe from the Russian hordes. No more Russian hordes. So what do you do? You expand NATO and move NATO to the east, in violation of verbal promises, not written ones—they were careful not to write it down—verbal promises to Gorbachev. Gorbachev agreed to let a united Germany join NATO, a hostile military alliance, which is a pretty remarkable concession, if you look at history. But the condition, as he understood it, was that NATO would not move “one inch to the east,” meaning East Germany. It wasn’t written; it was a verbal promise. So it was immediately withdrawn.

In later years NATO moved further to the east. Now it’s moving to the geopolitical heartland of Russian security interests, Ukraine. There have been several explicit demands by NATO that Ukraine join NATO. No matter who was running Russia—even Gandhi—they wouldn’t accept this. That’s extremely dangerous. And NATO is right along the border now. It’s a very dangerous situation. Not long ago US military vehicles on maneuvers in Estonia were a couple hundred meters from the Russian border. A couple of months ago a Russian military plane with its transponder off practically hit a Danish commercial airliner, just barely missed it. These things are happening regularly. It’s building up tensions very seriously. Just recently there was an article by William Perry, a former defense secretary, kind of a conservative, serious military analyst, no dove at all, who warned that the danger of nuclear war now is higher than it was during the Cold War. Those are different visions coming from 1989, 1990. There were also different visions during World War II. These are class interests that overwhelm what populations might have wanted. Not a total loss, but not what it could have been. And I think these visions can be reconstituted. These things are not very far below people’s consciousness. They could be reawakened.

While the cost of living goes up, wages fall, and we keep seeing in each of our states the ability to have a secure retirement is also falling, while at the same time it seems the top 1% just keep getting richer. How long do you think we can sustain this trend before the system just breaks?

If you haven’t looked at it yet, you might pick it up on the Internet the latest Oxfam report. Oxfam comes out with a detailed analysis of global inequality every year. They just came out with their last one. It now turns out that in 2016 the 1% will own about half the world’s wealth, meaning they will have as much wealth as three and a half billion people. I think sixty families have practically all of it. It used to be ninety families. It’s getting smaller. And it has almost nothing to do with any contribution to the economy or even any achievement.

So, for example, a large percentage of the people in the top families, the top earners, are from the financial institutions, which are kind of parasitic. There was an IMF study about two years ago which studied the profits of, I think, six leading American banks. It turns out they almost all come from the taxpayer in one or another way. There is an implicit government insurance policy. It’s not on paper, but everyone understands it. Informally it’s called “too big to fail.” If you have a big institution, the government is not going to let it collapse. That does lead to the publicized bailouts.

But that’s the least of it. It means inflated credit ratings, access to cheap credit, which is a huge amount of money. It’s an incentive to carry out risky transactions, which are very profitable. And if they go bust, don’t worry about it. The taxpayer will bail you out. Bloomberg News, the business press, tried to put a number on it. They estimated an over $80 billion-a-year subsidy to the top financial institutions from taxpayers, basically their profit. And things have been set up so that with stock options and all sorts of other trickery, bankers’ incomes just shoot to the sky. There are all sorts of other devices.

The Oxfam report goes into the question of tax havens, which are by now a huge phenomenon. So Pfizer locates in Ireland or in the Cayman Islands. They have kind of an office in the Cayman Islands, let’s say, or in the Jersey Islands off England and don’t pay taxes. Which is a huge amount of money. There’s no economic justification for them, nor are they natural processes of any sort. These are just profit decisions.

So how long will this be tolerated? It’s a question you ought to be asking yourself. Meanwhile, wages stagnate or decline. There’s big talk about the minimum wage, should it go up to $12 or $15. As you probably know, in the 1950s and the 1960s, the minimum wage tracked productivity and GDP. If it had continued after the mid-1970s, it would probably be about $20 an hour now. That’s money that poor working people are handing over to the rich. And it goes on in case after case. So how long will it be tolerated? As long as people don’t want to rise up and overthrow it. It can stop. It’s not done by force, actually. It’s not a totalitarian dictatorship. We’re very free in many respects.

Even with that income inequality and the wage gap, we’re still not organizing these workers. I don’t want to use the word failure, but maybe shortcomings. What have we done wrong? What can we do internally, within our own union organizations, and what can we do externally to better message what the future role of unions is?

My feeling is that after World War II the American unions made a significant strategic error, namely, class collaboration. They were working with employers to obtain fairly decent wages, pensions, and benefits for themselves. Not for the society, for themselves. And class collaboration works as long as the masters let it work. By the late 1970s, they were saying, “Sorry, we’re done with this game.” In fact, there was a famous speech by Doug Fraser, the head of the UAW at the time, who was on some commission that Carter had set up for class collaboration, and he pulled out of it. He said, “The corporations are fighting a one-sided class war against us.” A big discovery! That’s their job. That’s what they always are doing: They are always fighting a class war, a bitter class war. If you don’t want to participate in it, they will roll over you. That’s what’s been happening in the last generation.

A brief comment: Canada and the US had essentially the same unions, but they acted differently. It became a significant issue in the 1950s with regard to health care. In the US the unions got health care for themselves, like the UAW got health care for auto workers. In Canada the same unions struggled for health care for everybody. And you see the difference. The Canadian system isn’t magnificent, it’s not the best one in the world by any means, but it’s way better than the US system. It has much better outcomes at about half the cost. And there are not tens of millions of uninsured people who can’t pay their bills.

There was a study a couple years ago by Harvard School of Public Health. It compared MGH, the leading hospital in Boston, maybe in the United States, with the comparable hospital in Toronto. They got to the point of studying the billing system. When you go to MGH, they have floors full of administrators, secretaries, and economists, all sorts of people working on billing, which is extremely complex and bureaucratic and expensive in the US. When they went into the Toronto hospital and they asked to see the billing department, at first there were kind of blank stares. Then finally they said, “Oh, yes, we have an office in the basement for Americans who come here.”

A lot of that goes back to the difference in attitudes of the unions, which is just one part of the system of class collaboration—“We’ll work things out for ourselves”—which is not a good strategy. Because it is true that the bosses are always fighting a vicious class war. They never stop. And we have a very class-conscious business community. Back in the 1930s, when the labor movement was really making great strides, the ownership class was petrified. When you read the journals of the National Association of Manufacturers—there’s good literature on this, a great book by Alex Carey an Australian social scientist, who quotes a lot of this stuff—they were going crazy. They didn’t know what to do. They were terrified by “the rising political power of the masses,” as they called it. They’re basically Marxists, just inverted. “The rising political power of the masses” is threatening our civilization. What are we going to do about it? There was a lot of popular labor-based activism at the time so that the owners couldn’t strike back directly. That’s when they begin with the scientific methods of strike breaking and what later became the corporations that figured out how to break strikes by introducing Americanism and harmony and propaganda. At the end of World War II anti-union strategies picked up with force, huge campaigns. Again, there’s pretty good literature on this. But working people ought to know it in their bones. And it’s led to what we see now.

But, as I said of before, this has happened in the past. The 1920s were a period of almost total destruction of the labor movement. And it had been a very lively, militant, active movement. Not just the labor movement, but the agricultural movement, too. You go back to the late nineteenth century, the populist movement, which actually began with farmers in Texas and Kansas and was very radical. They were fighting against the Northeastern banks and merchants. They wanted to have their own marketing, credit, and banks, and to takeover their own industries. They tried to make arrangements with the Knights of Labor, a major working-class movement, whose slogan was “The workers ought to own the factories.” It was a major popular movement, the biggest democratic movement in American history. They were running their own towns. In western Pennsylvania, the coal and mining towns were mostly run by labor. It was smashed, mostly by force, a lot of it by Woodrow Wilson’s Red Scare tactics, which drove out a lot of the activists. By the 1920s it was pretty much gone. In the 1930s it revived again. It can certainly happen again.

Can you give us some hope for the future?

Yes, I think there’s a lot. Somebody mentioned before the Arab Spring, which now looks like a disaster, but not if you look closely. Actually, I would recommend a book that just came out on Egypt by Jack Shenker. He was a journalist in Egypt through all these years, knows it very well. It’s called The Egyptians: A Radical Story. It’s a very detailed study of what actually went on through the Arab Spring and what’s left today under the bitter dictatorship. And it’s pretty hopeful. I’ve gone through this with some friends who are specialists, who really know Egypt very well, and they think it’s authentic. What he points out is mainly the role of the labor movement. The labor movement had a major role in the successes of the Arab Spring. There were efforts to crush it, but he gives plenty of evidence that it’s still very much alive and working on workers’ issues all over. He thinks there’s a basis for hope right in the middle of Egypt, which is under the worst dictatorship in its history.

I think the same is true in plenty of other places. Take a look at Europe, say. There is resistance to the attack on democracy and freedom and living standards. So there is Podemos in Spain. The left parties just won the election in Portugal. SYRIZA in Greece could have had successes, I think, if there had been support for them from the European Left. I think the Left played a big role in the destruction of Greece just by not supporting SYRIZA in its early stages, before it kind of sold out. The Corbyn victory in England is another case. The crowds that Bernie Sanders is getting are another one. There’s resistance all over the place. There’s a lot of dry kindling around. If it’s lighted, it could take off.

As global capital is united, global business is united, we need to unite our efforts and our strength and we have to do all our best to have a chance to act united as trade unions. And the only forum where we can institutionally act together is the International Labor Organization. Do you think it is a good chance for the trade union movement to put more efforts to focus there and to try to find additional power by our participation there?

If you have mobility of capital and not mobility of labor, already you have a problem. If you go back to the origins of free trade theory, like Adam Smith, he made it very clear that what he called the free circulation of labor is a foundation of free trade. If you restrict the movement of labor while allowing free movement of capital, there’s obvious trouble. That gets back to the immigration story. So, yes, there’s that question. And also I think you’re quite right, international solidarity can be very significant. You’re dealing with multinational corporations, after all. They may be based locally and rely on the taxpayers of a particular country for subsidies and protection, but they are international in their functioning, and they have to be confronted by international labor. Solidarity among working people in different countries can make a lot of difference.

Something came up before about China and the US. That’s a case in point. American workers ought to be cooperating closely with Chinese workers who are fighting for better conditions. First of all, it’s just humanly significant, and it’s significant for the lives and prosperity of American workers. That can happen all sorts of ways. American labor, for example, cooperated to some extent with South African labor movements. That was important. So, yes, I think that’s very important, and certainly possible. It can be done. In a world with easy communications, it’s a lot easier than it used to be.

* A term popularly used to refer to the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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