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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hope for a Left Revival?

Fifteen years have passed since the zenith of capitalist triumphalism, the peak moment of capital's successful penetration of nearly every inhabitable area of the globe. Not unlike the beginning of the last century, the wealthy and privileged saw few storm clouds on the horizon, a future of unlimited accumulation and placid rule. While there were some risings in the hinterlands and some rebelliousness in the air, they were easily suppressed or marginalized.

At the center of this capitalist utopia stood the world's gendarme-- the US Goliath-- with bases, military power, and unmatched technology, ensuring that the world was a secure haven for monopoly corporations. Moreover, the US sought and enforced international dominance. They pledged to bring “democracy” to the world with the same self-righteous hypocrisy and hubris that the earlier imperialists had masked their economic voraciousness behind religious missionary zeal.

But matters went awry in the new century.

The support for religious zealots organized by the US, NATO, and their allies against Middle Eastern secular, independent movements boomeranged. Unlike earlier puppets who were quickly jettisoned when their usefulness was exhausted, Islamic fundamentalists struck their erstwhile masters before they could be betrayed by them. Under the guise of a “war on terror,” a perpetual overt and covert war against Middle Eastern states and populations-- a veritable modern-day crusade-- continues to this day. The US, NATO, the EU, and a motley collection of scavengers cynically used the excuse of terrorism to reconfigure an entire region, destroying stable societies, killing millions, and leaving millions homeless.

At the same time, a global economy resting on the triumph of nineteenth-century bourgeois economic thought and practices began to falter. Faith in the bright future was shaken by the destruction of trillions of dollars of nominal value, a disaster brought on by the foolish speculations of a gang of the oracles of a new era of technological advance.

Before the effects of the so-called “dot-com” crisis subsided, the global economy was struck with another downturn, shaking the capitalist underpinnings like no other blow since the Great Depression. To answer this catastrophe, capitalism spun off millions of workers, stripped wages and benefits, and shredded an already meager social safety net. The wake of the 2007-2008 collapse continues to drown the hopes and aspirations of millions, with even more turbulence on the horizon.

To any sober observer, capitalism is in the throes of a deep, profound, multi-faceted crisis. The celebration of fifteen years ago was a hollow and unwarranted declaration of the unstoppable success of capitalism. War, deprivation, and uncertainty are the legacy of those hailing that moment. Few alive today know a time when the future looked so unsure.

The Basis for a Left Revival?

Years of disillusionment following the decline of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies produced an era of navel-gazing and an extreme dilution of the socialist vision for the left, especially in the US and Europe. Murky enemies like “globalization” or “empire” replaced “imperialism” and “capitalism” in public discourse. Gradualist programs, market-centered reforms, and a trivialization of diversity toward micro-identities guided a dispirited left. Revolutionary politics were smothered by a sense that a “humane capitalism” was the best that could be gotten.

Sure, the left rallied around the anti-imperialist project in Latin America, particularly the heroic rise of Hugo Chavez, and later, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. The broad-based defiance of the North American gendarmerie served to inspire millions who had lost hope. But the leftist “Spring” that swept through the South has yet to spawn a real replacement for capitalist economic relations, not to mention, a rock-solid socialism, such as that in Cuba.

Now with capitalism on the ropes, one might expect a left upsurge. With political and economic crisis-- endless war and near-depression-- one would expect a revitalized left to emerge today.

It hasn't happened.

In Europe and North America, two flawed, failed currents dominate the left ideological landscape: anarchism and social democracy. The anarchist tendency is not the revolutionary anarchism of Bakunin, but a tame version based on the utopian idea that all that stands in the way of a just and fair society is restraint on the freedom of the masses-- authority, and not capitalism, is the ultimate oppressor. For the modern day anarchists, social change lies in radical democracy, removing the encrusted bureaucracies that rule over our society-- civil servants, agencies, union leaders, politicians, etc.

Of course there is some truth in this critique, but without a greater vision, without a plan to replace capitalism, overturning a bureaucracy simply invites another one. And insofar as its enemy is authority, modern anarchism differs little from its anti-government counterpart on the extreme right. The social base for this contemporary strain is, as it was in the 1960s, students and the economically marginalized. The failures of the 1960s New Left are reproduced today in the meteoric rise and quick collapse of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its European counterparts. Its clarion calls, as in the past, are spontaneity and “horizontalism.”

A second dominant strain in our time is social democracy, a posture that traces its origins and draws its life from hostility to Bolshevism. As an antidote to revolutionary socialism, it attempts to awkwardly straddle the divide between working class advocacy and accommodation to capitalism. It offers an evolutionary road map-- a socialism-lite-- that depicts capitalism as gradually eroding and giving way to a growing public sector. Moreover, the mechanisms established to insure capitalist rule are to be somehow harnessed to this end. The social base for social democracy is the ossified union leadership, opportunist politicians, and a neutered, cowed working class made impervious to revolutionary ideology.

For much of the twentieth century, social democracy rivaled Marxism-Leninism. But after decades of advocating market solutions and supporting imperial belligerency, social democracy-- in the form of center-left political parties-- stands discredited and unpopular.

Where successful campaigns of anti-Communism and fear-mongering had taken root, social democratic parties did thrive. However, when periods of deep crisis appear, social democracy invariably fails the working class. We are in such a period now.

The last gasp of social democracy arose with the election of SYRIZA in Greece. Garbed in a militant swagger and an outlaw persona, SYRIZA quickly became both the darling and flag-bearer for the left wing of social democracy. For Die Linke, France's Left Party, Spain's PODEMOS, and other European movements seeking to revive the social democratic corpse, the Tsipras government of open-collared and casual intellectuals promised the rescue of a spent political philosophy.

But as quickly as SYRIZA rose, it crashed and burned, delivering the Greek people a fate even more onerous than that delivered by earlier governments. But more than a failure, the SYRIZA tenure was a fiasco with an ill-considered national referendum giving the party a mandate to resist, only to be followed immediately by a humiliating surrender.

Not to be deterred by the debacle, the admirers of SYRIZA--- the last bastions of social democracy-- spun a web of apologetics, excuses, and obfuscations worthy of the best confidence artists. Where sober-minded observers drew critical lessons, these sycophants chose to deflect and deny.

Writing in the Peoples World (9-11-2015), Sam Webb, recently retired chair of the Communist Party USA, wrote: “Nevertheless Tsipras still hoped that the large ‘no’ vote of the Greek people in a referendum a week before the negotiations began might give German leaders reason to pause, to reconsider their draconian bargaining posture, and maybe, just maybe, consider some form of debt relief.

Or, alternatively that the vote would nudge France and Italy, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to show some backbone and stand up to the German capitalist juggernaut.” (my emphases)

Nudge”? “Reason to pause”? “Reconsider”? “Maybe, just maybe...”?

Are these the considered negotiating objectives of serious leaders confronting the resolute and naked power of European monopoly capital? Do you “nudge” a bully? Do you chance that “maybe just maybe” a ruling class will show compassion? Webb sees history as not the history of class struggles, but the history of class “nudges.”

And then there is Oscar La Fontaine, the godfather of Germany's Die Linke party, writing on Jean-Luc Melanchon's blog (Melanchon is the leader of France's Left Party): “We have learned one thing [from the SYRIZA debacle]: while the European Central Bank, which claims to be independent and apolitical, can turn off the financial tap to a left government, a politics that is oriented towards democratic and social principles is impossible.

It is now necessary for the European left to develop a Plan B for the case where a member party arrives in a comparable situation.” (my emphases).

Claims to be independent”? Did La Fontaine only recently discover that the ECB is a tool of monopoly capital? Like the cynical Captain Renault in the film Casablanca, La Fontaine is shocked, shocked that the ECB is neither independent nor apolitical! And how dare the ECB deny “a politics that is oriented toward democratic and social principles...” That's not cricket! Like Webb, La Fontaine does not see monopoly capital as the enemy, but as a partner acting unreasonably.

It should be no surprise, accordingly, that La Fontaine's “Plan B” depends upon the EU oligarchs agreeing to disarm the ECB, an outcome as likely as their acceptance of SYRIZA's original plan. Thus, the circle is complete: the Euro-left needs to secure an agreement from the very same forces that “shockingly” denied a moderate agreement in the first place. Could anything be more futile?

Curiously, the former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, sees things differently and yet the same! In a long-winded speech in France (Festival of the Roses, 9-23-2015), Varoufakis locates the roots of Europe's problems in its unification: “Why? Because we let our rulers try to do something that cannot be done: to de-politicise money, to turn Brussels, the Eurogroup, the ECB, into politics-free zones.” (my emphasis). So where Germany's La Fontaine faults the European oligarchs for politicizing their decisions, his Greek counterpart faults Europe for de-politicizing its institutions! He goes on incoherently: “When politics and money are de-politicised what happens is that democracy dies. And when democracy dies, prosperity is confined to the very few who cannot even enjoy it behind the gates and the fences they need to build to protect themselves from their victims.

To counter this dystopia the people of Europe must believe again that democracy is not a luxury afforded to creditors and declined to debtors.”

So the debacle arose from a shortage of democracy. And the remedy is for the people of Europe to “...believe again that democracy is not a luxury afforded...” to the few. Varoufakis conveniently deflects the blame that he and his colleagues share for the Greek tragedy onto the people of Europe and their lost belief in democracy. “We do not have to agree on everything. Let us make a start with an agreement that the Eurozone needs to be democratised.”

If only there were more democracy! If only Europe's rulers would see the need to cooperate! And if only the people of Europe would make them act democratically! Smothered by Varoufarkis' petulant burst of disconnected ideas is the simple truth that rulers rule. They rule for their own interests and not to please or recognize supposed oppositional forces like SYRIZA or their ilk.

All three commentators, like many others who fawned after SYRIZA, are now left harboring wild illusions and offering shallow, unimaginative answers to the crises of capitalism.

A Path of Renewal

SYRIZA's harshest critic offers a different answer to the challenge of a wounded, but ruthless capitalism. From surveying most of the left press in Europe and North America, one would not know that the leaders of a Greek political party clearly analyzed the SYRIZA program and accurately predicted its failure. One would not know that only one Greek party now offers the only program even remotely hopeful of resisting the further impoverishment of the Greek people. One would not know that only one political force in Greece gives the Greek people a dignified path forward that does not depend on the “fair-mindedness” of monopoly capital or the condescension of European elites.

That party is the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), a party with both a long history and deep ties with the Greek people.

Shamefully, most of the leaders of the Western left ignore the KKE and its alternative program, a reflection of the deep strains of anti-Communism infecting political thought and the obdurate close-mindedness of the neo-anarchists and social democrats. Thus, the KKE is objectively blacklisted from the Western discussion of a road forward.

With Greek elections coming on September 20, KKE has adopted the campaign slogan: “You have tried them… Now the solution is to be found on the path to overthrow the system, joining forces with the KKE.” This slogan reminds the Greek people and others that finding a solution within capitalism is not only a bad idea, but a proven failure.

KKE is stressing that the people must not give a 'second chance' to the parties that support the path of capitalist development and the EU, the path that brings the memoranda and the anti-people measures. They must not approve the implementation of the new anti-people memorandum with their votes. They must not give a 'second chance' to those who, in the recent past as well, sowed illusions about the ‘humanization’ of capitalism.” With the Greek people's standards of living approaching the tragic levels found after the Second World War, we are witnessing a preview of where the capitalist crisis is taking the rest of the world. For those who are open to seeing it, the collapse of SYRIZA is a demonstration of the futility of finding a way out of the crisis within the system of capitalism. KKE understands this and offers an alternative; not an easy road, but one more promising than following the dead ends traveled in the past.

KKE electoral success this coming weekend will shorten that road immeasurably as well as provide an inspiration for those of us seeking an alternative to the bankrupt model of social democracy.

KKE gains will improve the chances for a real left revival.

Zoltan Zigedy

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Will China Save the Global Economy?

Understanding the People’s Republic of China (PRC) constitutes a formidable challenge to every Marxist. Of course it's not a challenge based on some racist notion of “oriental inscrutability” or even the task of unraveling the obstacles presented by size, diversity, and complexity. Instead, it is the perplexing doctrine of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that confounds many of us. While no one can contest that the Chinese Communist Party is the leading force in Chinese society, some see the Party as leading the PRC in the wrong direction-- along the path of capitalist restoration.
That capitalist relations of production exist and and have grown in the PRC is unquestionable. Both domestic private corporations and multinational capitalist enterprises have gained far more than a toe-hold in the national economy. Nonetheless, it is pointless to engage in the popular parlor game on the left of declaiming the PRC as socialist or capitalist. The more pertinent and useful question is: “Where is the PRC headed?”
I raised that question in an essay-- The Chinese Puzzle-- in December of 2011. Despite many reservations about the deceptively dubbed “reforms” accepted by the Chinese leadership, my judgment was that the socialist underpinnings of the economy, while dangerously weakened, were still intact: the state sector, relative to national annual product, was still five times greater than a typical European social democracy like France; the financial sector was predominantly state owned; and the planning mechanism was weak, but functional.
At the same time, I was fully cognizant of the many problems wrought by capitalist “reforms”:
The entry of capitalist features into the PRC economy has plagued it with the maladies that arise from the anarchy of markets: imbalances, speculative fervor and bubbles, inflation, labor unrest, grey and black markets, and labor market chaos. In the spring and summer of 2010, workers rose against low wages and working conditions in many areas. Again, this year [2011], there were significant actions for better pay, working conditions and against layoffs. In the fall, the PRC’s sovereign wealth fund was forced to buy shares in major Chinese banks. Despite the fact that private investors own a quarter or less of the country’s biggest banks, a sell-off by foreign investors caused a near panic met by the sovereign wealth funds’ intervention. Today, inflation, a construction bubble, and over reliance on exports weigh on the economy. (my emphasis)
But the PRC's economic stability during the worse years of the global economic crisis demonstrated, in my estimation, the existence and value of the remaining socialist base.
I concluded on a note of caution:
The country’s participation in global markets could present problems that even its remaining socialist tools cannot overcome. Moreover, it is not clear if the PRC will strengthen these safeguards or jettison them, as its leading Communist Party shapes this awkward mix of socialism and capitalism.
A Right Turn
Four months later, alarms sounded with the publication of a joint World Bank and the PRC State Council's Development Research Center report that urged an acceleration of privatization, deregulation, financial market liberalization, and openness to foreign corporate penetration. Of course this prescription is the conventional wisdom promoted by the World Bank. But most alarming was the endorsement of this agenda by such a prominent PRC body. The report urges:
In the financial sector, it would require commercializing the banking system, gradually allowing interest rates to be set by market forces, deepening the capital market, and developing the legal and supervisory infrastructure to ensure financial stability and build the credible foundations for the internationalization of China’s financial sector.
The study, China 2030, clearly represented the manifesto of the rightist “capitalist roaders” in the PRC leadership. As I noted at the time (The Battle for China's Future, 3-06-12), “...the leadership [walks] the thin, risky line between emerging capitalism and the remaining socialist institutions. But, clearly, The World Bank and its Chinese allies are determined to influence that direction. And there should be no doubt which direction China 2030 is intended to push those leaders.”
With the subsequent ascendency of the Xi Jinping leadership group, it became clear that further “reforms”-- economic liberalization-- were forthcoming. Xi sought to unleash market forces, diminish the power and size of the public sector, and court, in various ways, foreign capital and corporations. Keen to minimize the rampant corruption that accompanied the expansion of the private sector, the government also mounted an aggressive campaign to investigate and prosecute the most flagrant abusers. They hoped that this would dampen public resentment of economic inequities that invariably comes with the expansion of private profiteering.
Clearly, PRC's new generation of leaders have accepted the market dogma that further growth was threatened by regulation, a prominent public sector, and financial restraint. Clearly, they have been persuaded by liberal ideologues that more capitalism and less socialism is the order of the day.
And clearly, they have not foreseen the dangers lurking on that path.
The decision to go forward with liberalization was felt dramatically in PRC equity markets. PRC leaders urged investors to enrich themselves. Beginning in November of 2014, regulations against leveraging-- margin buying-- were relaxed, interest rates were cut, and international access to stock markets was expanded, resulting in the rapid advance of an already hot market. Initial public offerings (IPOs) multiplied; market capitalization increased five times in one year; margin loans doubled in six months, reaching 2.27 trillion yuan; individual investors surpassed 75 million, with even 31% of college students playing the market. The PRC leaders had unleashed a stock-market frenzy, resulting in Chinese combined equity markets, at their peak, becoming the largest in the world after the New York Stock Exchange.
The stock market “miracle” drove the benchmark Shanghai Composite index to a new high in mid-June of this year, reaching 5166 from 3334 at the end of last year.
But then the market collapsed. Less than a month later, $3.5 trillion in nominal value disappeared, with the market dropping to 3507. By late August it had further eroded to 3210.
Government measures to stem the crash were ineffectual. Despite suspending IPOs, suspending trading on many stocks, restraining margin buying, and allocating $19 billion to a market stabilization fund, the market continued to falter. Twenty-four million investors left the market, presumably after suffering large losses. To put a perspective on the losses, they were over 14 times the GDP of Greece.
Unlike in the past, the PRC had no socialist tools in their tool box (or they chose not to use them). Unlike in 2008 when the PRC leaders swiftly injected public funds into public enterprises and public projects to propel the economy away from the private folly of the global economy, the PRC leaders were overwhelmed by market forces that they were so eager to unleash.
In their enthusiasm to embrace markets, the leadership had pledged in February to allow the yuan's exchange rate against other currencies to float and remove controls on capital flows. Despite four quarters of capital outflows, the government freed the yuan exchange rate on August 11, unleashing a devaluation that promises to accelerate capital outflows. In the face of a collapse of the PRC equity markets, the leadership chose to answer with further market “reforms.” Moreover, Western commentators (see Paul Krugman, for example) bizarrely blame the rout on too few market reforms rather than the aggressive liberalization that overheated equity markets, an endorsement of a demonstrably failed policy. Capitalist bromides brought the PRC economy to this juncture. Will the PRC leaders continue to embrace them?
Global Turbulence
The current chaos in world-wide equity markets has made the PRC a convenient whipping boy. The commentariat sees economic problems in the world's second largest economy as dragging the global economy down. While China's economy is moving in the wrong direction and, consequently, contributing to the enduring capitalist crisis, it is far from the efficient or final cause of the painful throes of the capitalist system. Long developing, deeply embedded processes are working to undermine the capitalist system (see my The US Economy: A Midyear Report Card, 6-12-15).
But it is important to stress, nonetheless, that the Chinese economy-- even with its remaining socialist features-- is no longer able to rescue the global capitalist economy as it did, in part, in 2008. As Lingling Wei and Mark Magnier wrote in The Wall Street Journal (China to Flood Economy with Cash, 8-24-15):
Beijing’s struggles this summer have spooked many investors into viewing China as a threat to,
 rather than a rescuer of, global growth. During the financial crisis of 2008 and early 2009, China, with a colossal stimulus plan, acted as a shock absorber. Lately, it is China that is providing the shocks.
This is a stark and candid admission of the abandonment to the market of important, critical elements of the socialist economy by PRC leaders. One can only hope that they will come to their senses before they join others in trying to manage the unmanageable.

Zoltan Zigedy

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Honoring Nina Simone

I remember the first time that I heard Nina Simone’s voice and piano. My older sister bought the Bethlehem 45 rpm recording of I Loves You, Porgy in 1958. I was fascinated with the B-side recording of Love Me or Leave Me because of the intriguing piano bridge resembling a Bach fugue—it was both strange, yet oddly appropriate. I still have the record over fifty years later—worn, but still very playable.

I recall, some years later, anxiously stripping away the cellophane from a new arrival from the Record Club of America, the latest LP from Nina Simone. If you wanted to hear interesting music in a small town in the Midwest in the 1960s, that would be the way to do it. I fit the disc carefully on the spindle of the console in our living room and cranked up the volume. The recording, Nina Simone in Concert proved to be a milestone in the journey of Nina Simone, the political commentator and agitator. The last cut begins with Nina Simone stating emphatically, “The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam. And I mean every word of it....” My aunt, who was working in the kitchen and seldom listened to, and never commented on, my unconventional interests in music, drifted into the room and announced “she MEANS every word of it.”

That reflected the depth and intensity of Nina Simone's commitment to social justice. Mississippi Goddam rang with indignation, anger and righteousness. It made no accommodation to the audience’s delicate sensibilities or comfort. It shouted demands in a way that few artists' works before or since could match. And most importantly, it came at a time when the Civil Rights movement needed an anthem reaching beyond liberal pieties and calls for patience.

But my own favorite from the album was the brilliant adaptation of the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill collaboration, Pirate Jenny. Brecht typically imbued the song with a vengeful settling of accounts between the haughty elites and the common folk. But in Simone's interpretation, “Pirate Jenny” is transformed into an uncompromising act of anti-racism as well. Jenny is changed into a segregation-era Black cleaning woman fantasizing:
You people can watch while I'm scrubbing these floors
And I'm scrubbin' the floors while you're gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy Southern town
In this crummy old hotel
But you'll never guess to who you're talkin'.
No. You couldn't ever guess to who you're talkin'.
Jenny's fantasy envisions a pirate ship invading the town and destroying all but the hotel. The survivors puzzle over why the hotel is spared. The pirates round up the citizenry and, to their surprise, Jenny steps forth:
And you see me stepping out in the morning
Looking nice with a ribbon in my hair...
And they're chainin' up people
And they're bringin' em to me
Askin' me,
"Kill them NOW, or LATER?"
Askin' ME!
"Kill them now, or later?"

Noon by the clock
And so still by the dock
You can hear a foghorn miles away
And in that quiet of death
I'll say, "Right now.
Right now!"

Then they'll pile up the bodies
And I'll say,
"That'll learn ya!"
Somehow Simone draws on a well of righteous anger exceeding even the bitter wrath of Brecht's lyrics. While it is unpopular to speak this way in an era of hypocritical civility, her version displays a purity of violence, a chillingly brutal exacting of justice. You can hear it here.

Surely, since her death in 2003, Nina Simone is deserving of an homage, a tribute to her intense musical commitment to social justice. Unfortunately, the recently released documentary on Netflix What Happened, Miss Simone? is not that tribute. Instead, it is a vehicle for placing Simone's activism in the midst of a troubled life, sandwiched between a conflicted childhood and a psychological breakdown. Apart from archival footage, the principle commentators on her life are her vulgar, materialistic, and artless ex-husband and an estranged daughter. They too easily dismiss her activism to fault her for their own unvarnished complaints. In an earlier documentary, Simone's brother, Sam Waymon, who often performed with her, uncharacteristically called the ex-husband “a sonofabitch.” Thus, the new documentary is tainted by post-mortem grievances, an all-too-common opportunity for settling scores or self-aggrandizement.

Also, the film maker, Liz Garbus, shows a shallow grasp of the historical moment and the political gravity of Simone's profound synthesis of commitment and music-- in her interpretation, it is simply a product of Simone's demons. She fails to explore the deep and indelible influences of her political mentors: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, her neighbor, Malcolm X, and most of all the formidable Lorraine Hansberry. She described their discussions in her autobiography: “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution—real girls’ talk.” Hansberry was the inspiration for To be Young, Gifted, and Black.

Yes, Nina Simone was a revolutionary. She described her years as a movement's musical conductor as the best years of her life. And she attributed her subsequent expatriation to the death, exile, and pacification of other leaders of that generation. Much of the psycho-therapeutic speculation obsessing current commentaries of Ms. Simone's life misses the point (or evades the point). Simone's depression and sometimes erratic behavior was an understandable reaction for a serious, passionate woman experiencing both defeat and betrayal. Those who have not made commitments and sacrifices will struggle to understand.

It is painful to see the trivialization and sensationalizing of Nina Simone's life that accompanies the current “revival” (A biopic, and another documentary are coming). As with Paul Robeson, ML King Jr, and so many others, there is a veritable industry of parasitic writers devoted-- borrowing from the spiritual popularized by Robeson-- to “scandalizing her name.” A recent Rolling Stone article by Christina Lee (10 Things We Learned From New Nina Simone Doc, 6-29-15) typifies the banalities served up as pertinent to the Simone revival. Out of the many important elements in Nina Simone's life, author Lee is drawn to her sexual appetite, her lonely childhood, her emotional issues, and other irrelevancies, including her once performing on a Playboy-mansion location television show. Ms. Simone did not suffer fools.

Nina Simone was a unique voice, a great artist, an artist who drew strength from the deepest emotions of love and hate: love for the people and hatred of bigotry and exploitation. She was a beacon in her time, a messenger of revolutionary sentiment.

Those unfamiliar with her work and life might watch the earlier documentary, Nina Simone, The Legend, a competent European production from 1992. Also, there are numerous performances on YouTube, including this mix. And certainly the Netflix documentary is worth a look despite its flaws. One can only hope that the forthcoming documentary, The Amazing Nina Simone, created with the assistance of Simone's brother, Sam Waymon, will better represent her enduring legacy.

Zoltan Zigedy

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wake Me When It’s Over

Mainstream commentators-- both liberal and conservative-- would like us to believe that Presidential contests are like beauty pageants. Primaries allow the two-party “beauties” to appear before the judges (the voters) to show their wares. Televised debates are meant to expose the contestants’ political personalities. And, in the fine tradition of high-school-civics-book democracy, the people are allowed to decide the winners.
As polished and innocent as this shallow imagery appears, it hides a far more insidious process.
A far better comparison would be with the delightful humbuggery of the Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, we are deceived into confusing fantasy with reality. And our corporate media refuses to pull back the curtain to expose the deceit.
Take the Republican primary, for example. With 16 (or more) candidates announced as primary contestants, it looks like the textbook-picture of democracy: a political flavor for every Republican. Of course the truth is that most of the candidates have no hope of winning the nomination, but do hope to gain political advantage, jobs, or future consideration. Many candidates appeal to the storm troopers of the Republican Party, the angry bigots, religious zealots, and unhinged war mongers; these forces serve as a social base for a future fascism. But they present a painful contradiction for the Republican Party, a party first and foremost serving the interests of monopoly capital. They can, and have won regional and local power, but they will not win a national election. The leaders of the Republican Party know this. They also know that the vulgar xenophobic right will not necessarily or consistently carry out the corporate agenda.
That's why the Donald Trump campaign is such a problem for the Republicans.
A recent lengthy Wall Street Journal commentary (July 25/26, 2015) featured on the front page of the week-end Review section addresses this problem. Written by a prominent senior fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institute, Peter Berkowitz, the article expresses the tensions in the Party and calls for reconciliation, while promoting the interests of wealth and corporate power. Clearly, the Trump phenomenon is of big concern to Republican king makers. Berkowitz euphemistically distinguishes between “social conservatives” and “limited-government conservatives.”
His social conservatives are the Republican neo-fascists, the Doctor Strangeloves, who would like to boil minorities in oil, nuke the Iranians, and impose Old Testament law on the US. Since World War II, they have been both an essential element of the Republican electoral effort and a hindrance to winning national office. Republican leadership trumped nuke-happy General Douglas MacArthur with the saner, business-friendly, and genial General Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. When Barry Goldwater, a nuclear terrorist and neo-segregationist, won the 1964 nomination and was crushed in the general election, the point was driven home: the wacky-wing of the Republican Party must be mollified, but kept out of national contests.
While Reagan courted and appeased the social conservatives, his imprint is most felt with his restructuring of the relation of labor-to-capital, to the benefit of capital. To that extent, he was the ultimate limited-government (read: corporate) Republican. He served capital well, while fostering a small-town, Midwestern tradition-loving image to appease the rabid-right. While he may have been the ultimate con man, his ease in constructing images and his persuasiveness account for the respect won from supposed political adversaries like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Reagan approach-- attack taxes, unions, public services, benefits, pensions, etc. while coddling the haters and those rushing toward Armageddon-- served as the template for Republican national politics until our time. Unfortunately, Donald Trump-- a figure with B-grade acting chops rivaling Ronald Reagan's-- threatens to break the template. Trump's independence imperils Party stability. His open disdain for the rules and conventions demanded by the Republican leadership upsets the process. His imperviousness to Party criticism frightens the Party's watchdogs. His freedom from financial entanglements beyond his own resources erases possible leverage. But most of all, Trump's threat to run in the general election terrorizes Party big wigs.
Trump has brought Republican social conservatism to center stage, presenting a possibly fatal problem to the Party. While some polls show him with a lead, that lead constitutes, at best, 16% of the possible Republican primary voters. Republican leaders know that that will not translate into a majority in a general election, given an electorate largely hostile to the Republican Fringe. Berkowitz, fearing a debacle, urges moderation. He cites rising star Governor Nikki Haley as an example of the kind of tactical acumen needed in this campaign. Her ready sacrifice of the symbolic Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capital demonstrated her “maturity,” while safely securing the symbol for “...'those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property'.” The games our politicians play!
For Berkowitz, the options are clear. The candidates best representing Republican interests are the limited-government (corporate) candidates, namely, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker. At the same time he believes that they must be good at “blending and balancing the demands of both schools.”
No one should be confused by the conciliatory tone. Berkowitz and the Republican leadership prefer, insist upon a candidate dedicated first and foremost to serving monopoly capital. They will not allow a campaign sacrificed to nut-case principles. But insofar as Trump may provoke a bloody split or bolt the Party, they are filled with dread.
Undoubtedly, they will get a corporate candidate (likely Jeb Bush, who is raising funds at an unprecedented pace), but at what price?
Leftists can only wish that the Democratic Party had these issues. We can only imagine that Hillary Clinton wakes up every night in a cold sweat, dreading the next morning's news about Bernie Sanders. That is not happening.
Unlike the Trump campaign, there is no danger of the Party's left wing (the so-called “progressives”) bolting or disrupting the general election. Sanders has assured the Party establishment that he will not run independently of the Democratic Party or attack the Party or the primary victor. He guarantees that he will remain loyal to the Party throughout the general election-- a loyal soldier. He refuses to attack Clinton, arguing that he prefers the high road. In other words, he eschews Trump's independence.
Like Trump, Sanders polls as high as 16% among Democratic primary voters, far below Clinton's numbers. But unlike Trump, his most loyal followers pose no threat, make no demands on the Party leaders.
As millions of dollars flow into Clinton's campaign coffers, she benefits from both the Sanders and the Trump campaign. The afterglow of the Sanders' populist revival will deflect critics of her corporate allegiances and rabid foreign policy. Trump’s rousing of the Republican Taliban will rekindle the “defeat the ultra-right” crowd who always accept the Party's tacking to the right to win over the “vital” center. We've seen this script before.
So we stand in 2015 in the same position we stood in 2007. The media and commentariat are doing their best (hundreds of millions of advertising dollars are engaged) to create the excitement of a contest where the outcome will ultimately be decided more by fundraisers than by voters. Campaign veterans in both parties estimate that the winning candidate and (her) opponent will spend over a billion dollars before the election.
In this context, a polite “insurgency” within the Democratic Party will not leave a lasting mark on the political scene. To make a difference, an insurgent would need to begin years before an election and build a formidable mass base to counteract the power of money and the entrenched Democratic leadership. The candidate would need to commit to building a movement that would encompass state and local organizations while promising to sustain movement building beyond the current and even future elections. That has not happened in the past and appears most unlikely with the Sanders campaign.
For young idealists inspired by Sanders's departure from political banality, one can only hope that they will learn valuable lessons about the institutional inertia of the two parties and shed any illusions about “knights in shining armor.” Less optimistically, quixotic campaigns like Sanders's, and Howard Dean's before him, can leave a stain of cynicism and inaction.
Is Bernie-mania a second coming of Obama-mania, an exercise of fantasy politics on the part of the left? The test for Sanders supporters who are seasoned veterans of the political wars will come when Clinton wins the Democratic primaries. Will they docilely rally behind her and work for another pro-corporate, war-mongering candidate offering a dubious lesser-of-two-evils? Or will they seek a principled third party candidate (like Jill Stein) who offers a long, unsure, and arduous path, but a path possibly offering real change?
Zoltan Zigedy

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Greek Tragedy

They were young, attractive, well-educated, and the darlings of the non-Communist left (and even some Communists!). The leaders of the Greek party, SYRIZA, promised the Greek people an escape from the jaws of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission. Instead, they delivered the humiliating surrender of a people who only a week earlier had demonstrated a clear rejection of accommodation to the EU ruling classes.
The Financial Times headlined: “Greek PM likely to rely on opposition to pass most intrusive programme ever mounted by EU.” (My emphasis)
Regarding the SYRIZA surrender, The Real News commentator, Dmitri Lascaris, declared that “this is one of the worst political debacles in modern European history.”
Journalist and award-winning documentarian, John Pilger acidly commented: “An historic betrayal has consumed Greece. Having set aside the mandate of the Greek electorate, the Syriza government has willfully ignored last week’s landslide “No” vote and secretly agreed [to] a raft of repressive, impoverishing measures in return for a ‘bailout’ that means sinister foreign control and a warning to the world.”
Predictably, the non-revolutionary left scrambled to put an apologetic spin on the embarrassing collapse of the SYRIZA program. Before the draconian deal, the entire spectrum of the US left—from “progressive” Democrats to neo-Marxists and other hyphenated pseudo-Marxists---were swept into a love fest for SYRIZA unlike any since the orgy of Obama-mania. Typical of the post-referendum SYRIZA craze was the statement by the loquacious “Marxist” economist Richard Wolff on Democracy Now!
...And if Syriza can pull that off, the message sent to the comparable groups in every other European country is a staggering reconception of what the future of Europe may look like, where the words "anti-capitalism" become a unifying slogan for people across that continent...
You cannot impose economic structural reforms on a population that has voted 60 percent against them, with the television blaring out propaganda for them, every TV station and every newspaper, virtually, doing that. You just can’t do it. It’s not a question of argument; it’s a question of fact. (7-7-15)
Well, Professor Wolff, the Troika did it, thanks to the capitulation of SYRIZA.
Rather than heap deserved blame on the SYRIZA leadership, it is surely more useful to draw lessons from a fiasco that will have disastrous consequences for the Greek people. Of the many possible lessons, I offer the following three:
1. Social democracy offers no answer to the crisis of capitalism in its many manifestations. Whether it is the untenable strategy of overturning the neo-liberal model of capitalism and returning to the “golden age” of welfare statist policies, the once popular doctrine that “a rising tide raises all boats,” or the contradictory notion of democratizing capitalism, reformist programs that accommodate the bourgeois state and capitalist relations of production will fail to deliver the people from increasing immiseration and degradation. The European experience teaches nothing if not that.
Europeans have understandably lost patience with the evolution of their parliamentary systems toward two poles: tyranny of markets and tyranny of markets with a human face. They are turning instead to “radical” parties of the right and left. SYRIZA is an example of a “radical” party of the left that occupies the untenable space of defying the logic of capitalism while accepting its legitimacy. This is akin to diagnosing cancer while refusing treatment.
Clearly, the newly minted Euro-left parties that hide social democratic accommodation of capitalism behind the mask of “anti-capitalism” promise no more success than SYRIZA.
2. The Greek Communists (KKE) won a moral and ideological victory with their steadfast position that the SYRIZA program would end in disaster. They argued consistently that SYRIZA's attempt to “manage” capitalism would end badly. Speaking before a July 2 rally in Athens, General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas stated emphatically:
Both the YES and the NO mean the acceptance of a new memorandum of anti-people measures, perhaps the worst that we have seen up to now.
Both the YES and NO will lead the people to new torments and tragedies. •Both the YES and the No mean anti-worker, anti-people measures. •The referendum is an alibi for a new memorandum-agreement at the expense of the Greek people.
The KKE calls on the Greek people to reject all the blackmail, to cast its proposal into the ballot box and say:
Nearly 6% of the voters-- a remarkable write-in result-- complied with Koutsoumpas' call.
Not surprisingly, the bourgeois media ignored KKE's campaign against the maneuvers and manipulations of the SYRIZA-ANEL government; one would expect no less from the mouthpieces of the capitalist ruling classes. However, the nearly total disregard of the KKE critique and counter-program by the broad left is indefensible. Apart from a few Leninist organizations, KKE's position was either ignored or subjected to derision. Particularly in the US, intense anti-Communism and ideological conformity led to an almost complete misreading of the Greek tragedy, a development that could have been avoided with a measure of non-sectarian tolerance toward the KKE analysis.
With the collapse of SYRIZA as a left oppositional party, only KKE holds the banner of left resistance. Let's see if our “left” friends will support its struggle.
3. For those of us living in the US, those of us destined to suffer through a tortuous, sensationalized, but ultimately disappointingly predictable Federal electoral campaign, the SYRIZA debacle holds some interesting parallels. As a friend and comrade so astutely points out, the Bernie Sanders campaign is a similar Trojan horse channeling dissatisfaction with capitalist institutions away from truly radical, effective solutions.
Instead of mounting a truly independent campaign outside of the two-party black hole, Sanders chose to run in the Democratic primary while promising neither to bolt the Party nor to withhold support from the primary victor regardless of the outcome. Thus, when he falls in the primaries to Hilary Clinton's corporate coffers-- as every serious commentator acknowledges he will, Sanders will dutifully urge the Party's progressive wing to accept defeat and climb aboard Clinton's juggernaut.
Apologists for this quixotic campaign will argue that Sanders will at least move the campaign conversation leftward. Of course this flies in the face of every primary campaign in any voter’s memory. Every Democratic Party primary season swings leftward in deference to the hard-core base, only to swing even further rightward to accommodate the “centrists” that strategists hope to cultivate. More often than not this strategy backfires; yet it remains an irreproachable axiom in the age of television and the Internet.
Sanders says in his campaign literature: “...the billionaire class is spending huge amounts of money to buy candidates and elections. We are now witnessing the undermining of American democracy and the rapid movement towards oligarchy where a handful of very wealthy families and their Super PACs will control our government.”
Does he think this process will be suspended for the 2016 primary season? Does he not count the Clinton family, its foundation, and its massive fund-raising machine as part of that “oligarchy”?
If Senator Sanders believes his words, he would support a movement away from this trap and not lend his name to legitimizing a corrupted, bankrupt process.
Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Racism: Hidden in Full View

How Pundits and the Media Deflect Attention from the Cancer

The June 18 murder of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina was a racist act, a calculated political statement, an assassination, another instance of the pervasive racism that has seeped into everyday life.
It was not an act of derangement or a flag-inspired event. It was not a crime directed against religious practitioners or as an attention-getter. It was not caused by gun-mania. Nor was it terror-driven. It was not the inexplicable act of a lone, desperate gunman. Politicians, “experts,” and the media want you to believe it was any and all of these things.
They do not want you to see it for what it was: a deliberate, racist murder that springs from the politics, institutions, and culture of the United States.
For days, talk radio, NPR, network news, and the commentariat debated a civil war battle flag, as though racism would be extinguished if all the symbols associated with the losing side in a civil war concluded one hundred-fifty years ago were expunged from public display. Liberals talked of removing street signs and statues. Symbol watch dogs now ceaselessly scrutinize everything from Civil War re-enactors to license plates, as if a world absent these reminders of slavery would eradicate racism. The stench of racism is being taken for its fetid substance.
Gun control advocates reached out to remind us of the damage that a .45 caliber Glock pistol can do. They spin the assassination as enabled by the availability of lethal firearms, conveniently ignoring the ugly legacy of racist violence through lynchings, bombings, and burnings. In the minds of many commentators, the Charleston event was little different from unfortunate, everyday violence perpetrated with guns. Racism is swept under the rug.
And then there are the hair-splitters who want to press the description of “terrorist” on the young racist assassin, correctly noting the hypocrisy of applying it selectively for some acts and not others. But the word “terrorism” has no legitimate use. It is dishonestly stretched to include virtually every national liberation movement from the Algerian FLN, the Palestinian PLO, to the South African ANC, earning Nelson Mandela the dubious distinction of being labeled a terrorist. On the other hand, the term has been opportunistically shrunk to exclude the death squads in US-friendly nations and the death-dealing, genocidal invasions and aggressions of the US military and its NATO allies. “Terrorist” has become the emotive expletive reserved for the victims of the bullies of the world. Does it enlighten to include the racist killer in the corrupted category of terrorist?
Talk show hosts think so. They consult experts to debate the question. And the question of racism is again evaded.
Politicians speak earnestly of a conversation or a dialogue on race. They want no such discussion unless it skirts the question of societal, institutional racism. They do no want to raise the matter of African American joblessness or African American poverty. They do not want to acknowledge the fact that many if not most Northern Blacks live in urban ghettos akin to Apartheid Bantustans. While African Americans are not required to carry internal passports, their skin color serves the same purpose in modern-day North America.
The media windbags will not revisit the betrayal of school desegregation in the 1974 Supreme Court decision Milliken v Bradley which effectively eviscerated Brown v Board of Education. The Burger Court stopped the desegregation process at the city limits, stoking white flight, accelerating the neglect of urban schools, and stifling the opportunity for urban African Americans to get a decent, equal education.
No leader dares shed light on the mass incarceration of Blacks, a process that has left millions of African American males socially ostracized, disenfranchised, and removed from life-opportunities. The passing of draconian laws and the simultaneous militarization of the police forces have been enforced with a Nazi-like brutality, only now marginally recognized by a justice-impaired media.
Pundits and policy makers willfully ignore the extreme and asymmetrical effects of radical deindustrialization upon the Black working class in Midwestern cities since the 1980's. Once vital, neighborhoods are now in shambles. And throughout the United States the near absence of Black faces on building sites can only be overlooked by those choosing to ignore it.
Public spaces for candid discussion and debate are dominated by shrill voices of fear. Before there was a Red scare in the US, before there was hysterical fear of Islam, there was fear of Black people. Birth of a Nation and Willie Horton book-end a century of scurrilous demonization of African Americans. Like anti-Communism and Muslim-hating, the consciously contrived fear of Blacks distracts the majority from its own grievances, its own abuse at the hands of the rich and powerful.
It is a bitter irony that these fears once enriched realtors who used the Black scare to herd whites to the suburbs and exurbs. Their children are now “gentrifying” cities, forcing Blacks from formerly affordable housing and out of these same cities, a not-too-subtle form of ethnic cleansing worthy of the Israeli settler-colonists in Palestine.
And when Black people rise up, as they did in Ferguson, Baltimore, and hundreds of places earlier, they are labeled “thugs,” “looters,” and “rioters.” The same press that delivers only invective in response to African American insurgency hypocritically labels Nazis in Ukraine “freedom fighters.” The same press that celebrates US-instigated coups against elected governments in Honduras and Ukraine finds nothing noteworthy in the institutional disenfranchisement of Black people through electoral maneuvers.
It is not merely hypocrisy that infects our media and culture, but the malignancy of racism. Mass culture-- television, film, etc-- and news media almost universally depict urban African Americans as gangsters, drug dealers, addicts, and other purveyors of violence and vulgarity. True, mass culture occasionally portrays Blacks sympathetically, but as the exceptional character escaping dysfunctionality.
The example of a dramatic shift in popular acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates the power of a cultural shift, a mainstreaming of a minority. As the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows, in only six years-- from 2009 to 2015-- support for gay marriage grew by 20 points, from 40% to 60%. This remarkable turn-around surely shows the effects of depicting gays as sympathetic figures in movies, sitcoms, news print, etc.
While the media should be applauded for helping secure this welcome change, it must be roundly condemned for persisting in demonizing African Americans. No similar effort has been made to mainstream Blacks. Instead, the powers owning and controlling our news and entertainment corporations fuel the fear, disdain, and even hatred directed at African Americans. They depict a minority alien to the values of hard work, civility, and respect. By portraying Blacks (and Hispanics as well as other minorities) as unworthy, they support their ruling class brothers and sisters and sow disunity in order to guarantee low wages and benefits, a ravaged social safety net, and social and political stability. There is nothing that ruling class elites fear more than the dissolving of the divisions, prejudices, and ignorance that preclude a unified, clear-sighted working class.
The corporate cultural and news complex, more than a shabby Civil War symbol, is responsible for the tragic event of June 18.
Given centuries of oppression and exploitation, along with a relentless campaign of social rejection, it is no wonder that Blacks are the only social group in the US with a more positive view of socialism than capitalism (Pew Research Center, May 4, 2010). One would hope that this wisdom garnered from the harsh lash of capitalism will be welcomed by others who are appalled by our country's treatment of their fellow citizens.
Zoltan Zigedy

Monday, June 29, 2015

The “New Feudalism”?

At the dawn of the era of capitalism, when commodity production remained embedded in feudalism, many merchants established networks of disconnected peasant households desirous of extra incomes and possessing modest handiwork skills. They supplied these networks with raw materials and tools (capital), paid for the work, secured the products, and brought them to market, reaping a profit. This system of “cottage” or “putting out” commodity production was a factor in accumulating capital necessary for the later system of collecting workers under one roof, what we came to know as manufactory, a more efficient means of commodity production. In turn, primitive manufactory, with the further accumulation of capital and revolutionary changes in the productive forces, gave rise to an even more efficient system of production by joining human labor with machinery and seemingly inexhaustible and ever-available sources of power.
Just as the modern CEO and his or her corporate courtiers have inherited the role of the early merchant-entrepreneur, today's workers are the offspring of the peasant selling labor to the incipient capitalist.
Centuries after the proto-capitalism of putting out “jobs” to small, independent producers, the idea has returned. Ironically, twenty-first century capitalism is reviving the idea thanks to the ubiquitous technology of the smart phone and the computer. Modern entrepreneurs link services from isolated, unrelated providers with customers via the Internet. Arrangements and payments are made through the intermediary of an entrepreneurial organization that risks little and gains much. While the services have taken on tech-sounding brand names like Uber, Airbnb, Instacart, or TaskRabbit, advocates have dubbed the new enterprises “the sharing economy,” an expression that conjures the image of a utopian New Harmony of idealistic cooperators.
That would be a false image, however.
The “sharing economy” is nothing more than a new phase of monopoly capitalism in the service sector, a new mode of exploitation enabled by advances in the productive forces. As with the evolution of the factory system, higher forms of organization have concentrated industries and afforded higher rates of profit. Advances in technology have allowed a company like Uber to spread its corporate net both nationally and internationally, creating an enterprise much broader and more flexible than existing taxicab or other vehicle livery services. In a short time, the new wave of service start-ups have rivaled or surpassed in revenue or usage the long-standing traditionally organized business competitors. While their services rely upon dissociated, heterogeneous service providers, they are interlocked and dispatched with an efficiency only possible with the latest technological advances.
But even with these technological advances, it is the competitive edge won by lower prices that account for the explosive growth of the “sharing economy.” Customers are, first and foremost, flocking to Uber, Airbnb, etc. because they perceive a value. This has been especially appealing to those upper, upper-middle or want-to-be-upper stratum consumers who have been damaged by the economic crisis. The “sharing economy” thrives in the economic space between limousines (and taxis) and public transportation, between the Ritz-Carlton and Motel Six.
Lower prices are garnered in two very old-fashioned ways common to the history of capitalism: exploitation and side-stepping regulation.
By relying on informal employment and minimalist contracts, the “sharing economy” sidesteps the historically accumulated regulatory protections that have shaped the relevant industries (vehicle livery, hospitality, etc.) over many decades of practice. Without these protections, countless losses or injuries would have been suffered by both consumers and employees. Of course regulation comes at a price. Safety guarantees, training, maintaining humane working conditions, catastrophic insurance etc., all add to the costs of the final product. But billion-dollar corporations like Uber, hiding behind the “sharing” mantra, ignore or deny these regulations. And so far, corporate-friendly state and federal regulatory agencies have put up only meek resistance. Utility commissions and consumer protection agencies, always hesitant to step on corporate toes, have ignored the potential for abuse or negligence. Things will change dramatically when damages and legal actions begin to pile up.
But the “sharing” employment model adds even more to the bottom line. By using “free-lance” employees and selling the notion that they are independent contractors, “sharing economy” corporate moguls evade labor standards of any kind, depress payments on a whim, and allocate work on a totally capricious basis. As independent contractors, employees have virtually no supplemental workplace rights; the terms and conditions of employment are completely dictated by the boss. Wall Street Journal commentator Christopher Mims remarks how some have come to see the “sharing economy” as the “new feudalism” (How Everyone Misjudges the “Sharing” Economy, 5-24-2015). Given its commonalities with the 15th and 16th century putting-out system, one can appreciate the comparison.
In a Philadelphia study cited by Mims, Uber drivers, after expenses, averaged about ten dollars an hour. That figure will only go down when off-warranty repairs and damages and insurance liabilities catch up with extended usage. Moreover, Uber concedes that 51% of its drivers work less than 15 hours a week. And since Uber hires 20,000 new drivers a month internationally, per capita hours can only go down.
While Airbnb doesn't directly exploit workers, it does (or soon will) take jobs from the hospitality industry. Housekeepers, janitors, desk personnel, concierge, etc. are not part of the expenses associated with the Airbnb business model. Consequently, Airbnb enjoys a price competitive advantage (though the customers never really are assured of what he or she will get for the price). But like any competitive advantage, vultures are attracted. In many cities, speculators are purchasing properties explicitly to use for short-term Airbnb rentals. Others are counting on rentals to finance home purchases. Both practices are driving property values higher and higher, further feeding the ethnic and class cleansing of our major cities for the urban gentry.
As with the other elements of the “sharing economy,” the avoidance of regulatory protections, customary amenities, and consistent service will eventually challenge the business model. “Accidents,” sub-standard performance, and disputes are coming. When the aura of newness wears off, the attraction of lower costs will lose much of its glitz.
The workplace may change, but exploitation remains the same. How the labor movement responds will say a lot about the future of organized labor. Depressed labor costs, whether it nests in the fast-food industry or in the new “sharing economy,” imperils all of labor, organized or unorganized.
If labor leaders think that the Democrats will stem the dampening of wages and benefits, they should think again. David Plouffe, President Obama's former campaign manager now works for Uber and serves on its board of directors. Bill Clinton's long-time spokesperson, Matt McKenna, has also joined Uber. And then there is Jim Messina, head of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC associated with Hillary Clinton's Presidential aspirations. Messina works with both Uber and Airbnb to smooth the way with Democratic Party legislators. Fat chance Democratic leaders will stand in the way of the “sharing economy” juggernaut.
Let's hope organized labor has the foresight to tackle this emerging threat to working class living standards.

Zoltan Zigedy