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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Imperialism's Trusted Governess

Her face is on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek (3/9-3/15/2015) next to a dramatic headline: Putin vs. the Accountant. Her name is Natalie Jaresko. And, if Bloomberg's Brett Forrest is to be believed, she and some of her colleagues may hold the fate of Western Ukraine in their hands. As the Minister of Finance, she must find a way to salvage an economy that is in free fall.
Forrest paints a flattering, sympathetic picture of a feisty expatriate determined to rescue Ukraine economically and from the clutches of the evil Putin. Jaresko is encountered visiting hospitalized Ukrainian troops wounded while attacking the resistance fighters in Eastern Ukraine or, as Forrest prefers: consoling “convalescing veterans of recent battles against Russian forces and their proxies in the Ukrainian East. 'When did you serve?' she asks, moving slowly from room to room.'How were you wounded?'”
Apart from recounting Jaresko's mimicking of the obsequious and opportunistic condescension of veterans displayed universally by Western politicians, Forrest offers a calculated adulation of the Minister that conjures many less laudatory questions and suspicions.
For someone who holds the fate of Ukraine in her hands, Jaresko appears to be somewhat of a carpetbagger. Her appointment to lead the Finance Ministry came before she was granted Ukrainian citizenship, a fact that would only be curious outside of a government where two other cabinet members were also not citizens when appointed: her counterpart in the Ministry of Economy and Trade, Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius, and Minister of Health, Georgian Alexander Kvitashvili. Jaresko, a US citizen, has two years to renounce her US citizenship. She and her other imported colleagues were appointed by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsunyuk, the infamous “Yats” vetted by foul-mouthed US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland.
Obviously the US and the EU had to scramble after they encouraged and supported the coup deposing the elected President in February of 2014. They had to reach outside Ukraine to find reliable clients to support the hastily elected candy baron, Petro Pershenko. The story of the clumsy construction of the post-coup government from non-nationals, careerists, and unstable rightists would make for an entertaining episode of House of Cards if Western journalists had the spine to tell it.
So what has Jaresko done to deserve a phone call from Nuland? Er, Pershenko?
Her credentials begin with a master's degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard, a training ground for those tasked with delivering the US ruling class message to friends and foes alike. Doors opened immediately at the State Department's Soviet Affairs division. She coordinated her work at the State Department with all of the big national and international trade and economic organizations. When Ukraine left the Soviet Union, Jaresko was perfectly suited to operate on the US State Department's behalf at the newly installed US Embassy. Her position-- Chief of the Economic Section-- was a trusted position of a type often calling for close collaboration with covert agencies.
She parlayed that experience into the creation of an “investment“ vehicle for Ukrainian businesses funded by USAID, again a position of great trust and associated in many countries with US influence peddling. Documentation of the modest seed capital from USAID-- $150 million-- can be found here. One would expect that a 30-year-old entrusted with this task surely had the confidence of highly placed officials in the US government.
Her 1995 venture was absorbed by a new investment management firm, Horizon Capital, which she founded in 2006. Journalist John Helmer documents the consistent losses of Horizon Capital in his detailed report on Dances with Bears (12-03-2014). Despite his discovering only two years of modest gains in a decade, both Bloomberg and Forbes laud the success of Horizon Capital.
Helmer also discovers the fallout from Jaresko's divorce from her spouse and business partner. Her former husband, Ihor Figlus, has accused her of saddling him with debt from “improper” loans. Their contentious relationship continues. Helmer comments: “It hasn’t been rare for American spouses to go into the asset management business in the former Soviet Union, and make profits underwritten by the US Government with information supplied from their US Government positions or contacts. It is exceptional for them to fall out over the loot.”
Jaresko's own account of her recruitment bears telling: “...representatives from a headhunting firm hired by the new government, WE partners, visited Jaresko at the Horizon Capital offices. They discussed candidates for various government posts before asking her if she would be willing to serve...” (Bloomberg Businessweek)
While some may find it odd that an independent, sovereign state would engage a US-based (parent company: Korn Ferry) headhunting firm to fill top political posts, Jaresko explains: “I think the president and prime minister wanted me to bring [my] experience.”
Within a week, she was vetted and appointed.
Anticipating skepticism, Bloomberg's reporter, Brett Forrest, notes that “Jaresko's appointment... provides fuel to conspiracy theorists...”
His apologetics continue: “No matter their origin, these ministers-- and the numerous Poles, Germans, Canadians, and other foreigners who've joined the government in senior and mid-level positions-- are pulling the same oar.” Forrest joins a host of Western journalists and commentators who find no contradiction in a rabidly nationalistic government staffed with foreigners.
Despite generous aid from the US, the EU, and the IMF, Ukraine has experienced a 21% loss of industrial production, a 69% drop in the value of the currency against the dollar and a 6.9% decline in GDP in the last year.
Estimates of Ukraine debt go as high as $40 billion. Recently, Jaresko announced that investors should expect a “haircut” which “...will probably involve a combination of maturity extensions, coupon reductions and principal reductions.”
Compare the matter-of-fact reporting of this announcement in papers like The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal to the hysterical media response to the faintest hint of a possible reduction in Greek sovereign debt. Clearly assuming client status, selling your sovereignty to imperialism, earns generous debt forgiveness.
Despite the media-spun fairy tales about Ukraine's struggle for democracy and independence, the facts challenge that narrative. Behind the curtain of deceit and fabrication is a motley crew of foreign agents, corrupted officials, oligarchs, and neo-Nazis. But one would never know it from the Western media.
Zoltan Zigedy

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Make-Believe Interview with Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is thought by some to be the US's greatest poet, certainly the most acclaimed expression of the nation's better spirit. What follows is a fictional interview with Whitman, with the quotes drawn from his 1871 Democratic Vistas ( Obviously liberty is taken with the context, though not with the text.

Mr. Whitman, would you care to comment on the current state of affairs existing in the US?
I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease. Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present, and here in the United States. Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believ'd in, (for all this hectic glow, and these melodramatic screamings,) nor is humanity itself believ'd in. What penetrating eye does not everywhere see through the mask? The spectacle is appaling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout.
What, in your opinion, stands behind the “hollowness at heart”?
From deceit in the spirit, the mother of all false deeds, the offspring is already incalculable. An acute and candid person, in the revenue department in Washington, who is led by the course of his employment to regularly visit the cities, north, south and west, to investigate frauds, has talk'd much with me about his discoveries. The depravity of the business classes of our country is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater. The official services of America, national, state, and municipal, in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted. The great cities reek with respectable as much as non-respectable robbery and scoundrelism. In fashionable life, flippancy, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time. In business, (this all-devouring modern word, business,) the one sole object is, by any means, pecuniary gain. The magician's serpent in the fable ate up all the other serpents; and money-making is our magician's serpent, remaining to-day sole master of the field.
Our country seems bent on expanding its influence far and wide, imposing its will on others. How do you view this?
I say that our New World democracy, however great a success in uplifting the masses out of their sloughs, in materialistic development, products, and in a certain highly-deceptive superficial popular intellectuality, is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary, and esthetic results. In vain do we march with unprecedented strides to empire so colossal, outvying the antique, beyond Alexander's, beyond the proudest sway of Rome. In vain have we annex'd Texas, California, Alaska, and reach north for Canada and south for Cuba. It is as if we were somehow being endow'd with a vast and more and more thoroughly-appointed body, and then left with little or no soul.
And your vision for the US?
The true gravitation-hold of liberalism in the United States will be a more universal ownership of property, general homesteads, general comfort -- a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth. As the human frame, or, indeed, any object in this manifold universe, is best kept together by the simple miracle of its own cohesion, and the necessity, exercise and profit thereof, so a great and varied nationality, occupying millions of square miles, were firmest held and knit by the principle of the safety and endurance of the aggregate of its middling property owners.
But surely other writers and thinkers share your vision of more “universal ownership” and the “safety and endurance of the aggregate”...
But at present, (judged by any higher scale than that which finds the chief ends of existence to be to feverishly make money during one-half of it, and by some "amusement," or perhaps foreign travel, flippantly kill time, the other half,) and consider'd with reference to purposes of patriotism, health, a noble personality, religion, and the democratic adjustments, all these swarms of poems, literary magazines, dramatic plays, resultant so far from American intellect, and the formation of our best ideas, are useless and a mockery. They strengthen and nourish no one, express nothing characteristic, give decision and purpose to no one, and suffice only the lowest level of vacant minds.
Is your vision attainable? Can it be more than a vista?
It is to the development, identification, and general prevalence of that fervid comradeship, (the adhesive love, at least rivaling the amative love hitherto possessing imaginative literature, if not going beyond it,) that I look for the counterbalance and offset of our materialistic and vulgar American democracy, and for the spiritualization thereof. Many will say it is a dream, and will not follow my inferences: but I confidently expect a time when there will be seen, running like a half-hid warp through all the myriad audible and visible worldly interests of America, threads of manly friendship, fond and loving, pure and sweet, strong and life-long, carried to degrees hitherto unknown -- not only giving tone to individual character, and making it unprecedently emotional, muscular, heroic, and refined, but having the deepest relations to general politics. I say democracy infers such loving comradeship, as its most inevitable twin or counterpart, without which it will be incomplete, in vain, and incapable of perpetuating itself.
But the people do not seem attuned to your vision. They seem absorbed in other matters. Do you envision a change of disposition?
It really seems to me the condition, not only of our future national and democratic development, but of our perpetuation. In the highly artificial and materialistic bases of modern civilization, with the corresponding arrangements and methods of living, the force-infusion of intellect alone, the depraving influences of riches just as much as poverty, the absence of all high ideals in character -- with the long series of tendencies, shapings, which few are strong enough to resist, and which now seem, with steam-engine speed, to be everywhere turning out the generations of humanity like uniform iron castings -- all of which, as compared with the feudal ages, we can yet do nothing better than accept, make the best of, and even welcome, upon the whole, for their oceanic practical grandeur, and their restless wholesale kneading of the masses -- I say of all this tremendous and dominant play of solely materialistic bearings upon current life in the United States, with the results as already seen, accumulating, and reaching far into the future, that they must either be confronted and met by at least an equally subtle and tremendous force-infusion for purposes of spiritualization, for the pure conscience, for genuine esthetics, and for absolute and primal manliness and womanliness -- or else our modern civilization, with all its improvements, is in vain, and we are on the road to a destiny, a status, equivalent, in its real world, to that of the fabled damned.
You seem wary of destiny, empire, and indifference to a common identity.
Even to-day, amid these whirls, incredible flippancy, and blind fury of parties, infidelity, entire lack of first-class captains and leaders, added to the plentiful meanness and vulgarity of the ostensible masses -- that problem, the labor question, beginning to open like a yawning gulf, rapidly widening every year -- what prospect have we? We sail a dangerous sea of seething currents, cross and under-currents, vortices -- all so dark, untried -- and whither shall we turn? It seems as if the Almighty had spread before this nation charts of imperial destinies, dazzling as the sun, yet with many a deep intestine difficulty, and human aggregate of cankerous imperfection, -- saying, lo! the roads, the only plans of development, long and varied with all terrible balks and ebullitions. You said in your soul, I will be empire of empires, overshadowing all else, past and present, putting the history of old-world dynasties, conquests behind me, as of no account -- making a new history, a history of democracy, making old history a dwarf -- I alone inaugurating largeness, culminating time. If these, O lands of America, are indeed the prizes, the determinations of your soul, be it so. But behold the cost, and already specimens of the cost. Thought you greatness was to ripen for you like a pear? If you would have greatness, know that you must conquer it through ages, centuries -- must pay for it with a proportionate price. For you too, as for all lands, the struggle, the traitor, the wily person in office, scrofulous wealth, the surfeit of prosperity, the demonism of greed, the hell of passion, the decay of faith, the long postponement, the fossil-like lethargy, the ceaseless need of revolutions, prophets, thunderstorms, deaths, births, new projections and invigorations of ideas and men.
So you fear arrogance and locate greatness in humane values and a renewal of ideas. Does not our electoral system, our system of checks and balances give us some guarantee that we will not succumb to willful arrogance and ensure the emergence of new ideas?
Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruits in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between men, and their beliefs -- in religion, literature, colleges, and schools -- democracy in all public and private life... I have intimated that, as a paramount scheme, it has yet few or no full realizers and believers. I do not see, either, that it owes any serious thanks to noted propagandists or champions, or has been essentially help'd, though often harm'd, by them. It has been and is carried on by all the moral forces, and by trade, finance, machinery, intercommunications, and, in fact, by all the developments of history, and can no more be stopp'd than the tides, or the earth in its orbit. Doubtless, also, it resides, crude and latent, well down in the hearts of the fair average of the American-born people, mainly in the agricultural regions. But it is not yet, there or anywhere, the fully-receiv'd, the fervid, the absolute faith.

So you think...
For America, type of progress, and of essential faith in man, above all his errors and wickedness -- few suspect how deep, how deep it really strikes. The world evidently supposes, and we have evidently supposed so too, that the States are merely to achieve the equal franchise, an elective government -- to inaugurate the respectability of labor, and become a nation of practical operatives, law-abiding, orderly and well off. Yes, those are indeed parts of the task of America; but they not only do not exhaust the progressive conception, but rather arise, teeming with it, as the mediums of deeper, higher progress.
Do you find this progress embedded in those steering the ship of state, directing our institutions, or commanding our economy?
The best class we show, is but a mob of fashionably dress'd speculators and vulgarians. True, indeed, behind this fantastic farce, enacted on the visible stage of society, solid things and stupendous labors are to be discover'd, existing crudely and going on in the background, to advance and tell themselves in time. Yet the truths are none the less terrible.
Is it possible that a better world lies ahead? Perhaps one more democratic and-- in your words-- a world with “a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth”?
We see, as in the universes of the material kosmos, after meteorological, vegetable, and animal cycles, man at last arises, born through them, to prove them, concentrate them, to turn upon them with wonder and love -- to command them, adorn them, and carry them upward into superior realms -- so, out of the series of the preceding social and political universes, now arise these States. We see that while many were supposing things established and completed, really the grandest things always remain; and discover that the work of the New World is not ended, but only fairly begun.
Whitman's Democratic Vistas is a collection of rambling, often disjointed observations about the US and democracy made nearly a century and a half ago. While it hopes for future progress toward noble goals, it well anticipates a process of decay, democratic erosion, and the ill-effects of “the demonism of greed” fostered by “business.”
His expression of mindless conformity-- “generations of humanity like uniform iron castings”-- is a memorable turn-of-phrase. His term “scrofulous wealth” leaves little doubt of his contempt for accumulation. And the wonderful words “hollowness of heart” are arguably a counterpart to the idea of “alienation.”
Is there any doubt that “universal ownership” and “safety and endurance of the aggregate” count as an approach toward the idea of socialism?
Yes, the interview is fake. Yes, it rips quotes out of context. But it highlights thoughts that demonstrate the unfortunate continuity of US decadence, the course of a young nation traveling on the rails of capitalism. Whitman's fears have been unfortunately exceeded today.
Zoltan Zigedy

Monday, February 23, 2015

Unemployment: A Report Card for Capitalism

Marx suggests in his articles for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung collected as Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 that the first order of business for the working class is to secure jobs, “but behind the right to work stands the power over capital; behind the power over capital, the appropriation of the means of production, their subjection to the associated working class and, therefore, the abolition of wage labour, of capital and of their mutual relations." It is through the struggle for a place in the capitalist system-- however lowly-- that the means for survival are won and the conditions are met for further challenges to the dominance of capital and even the very system of capitalism. But in a system of private appropriation and with labor as a commodity, life for those without capital begins with securing employment.
Because labor is a commodity, because labor must be a commodity in order for an economic formation to be capitalist, the right to a job cannot be enshrined in a capitalist constitution. Only socialist countries have or can endow everyone with the right to a job. That is why the right to a job is not included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A weak “right to work” (participate in the labor market), a right to “free choice of employment” (compete in the labor market), and a right “to protection against unemployment” (vague, nonspecific prophylaxes or amelioration) are there instead (Article 23). Without recognizing the right to a job, the Universal Declaration effectively turns a blind eye to the ravages of unemployment and the indignities and injustices of the buying and selling of human productive effort.
That is one reason that the USSR and other socialist countries abstained from ratifying the Declaration in 1948.
Without unemployment, the capitalist system would suffer persistent pressure on the rate of profit. When the commodity-- labor power-- becomes scarce, capitalists must pay more to secure it, as they would for any other commodity. And since labor remains the largest cost component of most productive capitalist enterprises, labor-cost inflation erodes capitalist profits. Capitalism and the system's beneficiaries will not, therefore, tolerate full employment. This is the nasty little truth that apologists and media windbags dare not speak.
Economists hide this truth by euphemistically coining terms like “marginal” or “frictional” unemployment or inventing obscurantist concepts like the “Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment” that set an increasingly low standard for “full” employment. By linguistic sleight-of-hand, the economics establishment offers cover for capitalist accumulation by ordaining an “acceptable” level of unemployment.
At the same time, this same establishment understands that unemployment is the greatest challenge to the stability of the capitalist system. The frequent sharp rises in unemployment brought on by dislocations, the business cycle, or systemic crisis dramatically increase the levels of social discontent and raise voices that question the system. For those who hold the reins of power, for those whose job is to contain dissatisfaction with capitalism, managing unemployment is essential.
From that perspective, the unemployment rate is arguably the best barometer of the health and viability of the capitalist system. Consequently reports of unemployment rates and trends are politically charged and subject to great differences in interpretation.
The official unemployment rate... amounts to a Big Lie.”
Recently, the political manipulation of the unemployment rate came under attack from an unlikely source. Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, the polling organization, challenged the notion that the “official” rate of unemployment bore any relation to the realities of unemployment. Indeed, he called the rate a “Big Lie.” It's worth examining his argument closely:
None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job -- if you are so hopelessly out of work that you've stopped looking over the past four weeks -- the Department of Labor doesn't count you as unemployed. That's right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news -- currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren't throwing parties to toast "falling" unemployment.
There's another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you're an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 -- maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn -- you're not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
Yet another figure of importance that doesn't get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find -- in other words, you are severely underemployed -- the government doesn't count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.
There's no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.
Though Clifton invokes the always suspect “Great American Dream” in his polemic, he fully appreciates the challenge unemployment mounts to the system's legitimacy:
And it's a lie that has consequences, because the great American dream is to have a good job, and in recent years, America has failed to deliver that dream more than it has at any time in recent memory. A good job is an individual's primary identity, their very self-worth, their dignity -- it establishes the relationship they have with their friends, community and country. When we fail to deliver a good job that fits a citizen's talents, training and experience, we are failing the great American dream.
We owe Clifton a thanks for speaking a rare and uncomfortable truth. And we must admire his bitter remonstrations against those who hide, distort, or slant capitalism's bad performance:
When the media, talking heads, the White House and Wall Street start reporting the truth -- the percent of Americans in good jobs; jobs that are full time and real -- then we will quit wondering why Americans aren't "feeling" something that doesn't remotely reflect the reality in their lives.
Capitalism's Report Card
Many liberal economists would agree with Clifton that the official rate understates unemployment. Like Clifton, some will concede that those marginally attached to the work force or discouraged from the work force should be counted along with those who have looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) extends the survey period to the prior twelve months to capture those unemployment figures. Using those numbers and the numbers of those working part-time for economic reasons, the unemployment rate rises to over 11%.
But it is worth questioning how the BLS defines the labor force. They simply count those as employed who work at some time in their survey period and count as unemployed those who show in their records as looking for work. They add the two up to constitute the labor force. They make no effort in this survey to determine the relationship to employment of the tens of millions of people in the US population not counted as in the labor force because they are neither somewhat employed nor present in the unemployment roles.
Have those left aside given up looking because they could find no job in the years prior to the last twelve months? Are they forced out because they can no longer afford child care or must care for relatives? Does neglected health due to lack of insurance preclude working? Are they victims of racial, gender, or age discrimination?
BLS does not ask and we do not know.
We do know, however, that the labor participation rate, relatively stable for two decades, has dropped precipitously since the 2007-2008 crisis. Roughly five to six million fewer people now count as engaged in the work force at any given time today than did eight years ago. Such a sharp drop in such a short time cannot be explained simply by changes in retirement patterns or work-force entry. Thus, it is not unreasonable to view this shift away from gainful employment negatively in our score card for capitalism.
If we were to count this loss in the labor force with the other sources of unemployment, US unemployment (and underemployment) would move to the vicinity of 15%.
But we can take a longer, deeper view. We can ask pointed questions about those engaged in certain categories of socially useless, even destructive forms of employment as well as those completely isolated from the conventional labor force.
For example, the million-and-a-half military personnel and the three-quarters of a million Defense Department employees constitute unproductive workers whose absorption would present a hurdle to the private sector. High youth unemployment and the expense of education have driven thousands of less advantaged youth to the military as an alternative to unemployment, thus serving as a safety valve to the social volatility of idleness.
Homeland Security and other security agencies have enjoyed bursts of employment thanks to the bogus war on terror. These agencies, too, constitute unneeded public-sector job creation that masks potential unemployment.
And of course there is the weapons industry, a massive private-profit-generating behemoth that engorges itself on public funds, stands apart from market forces and risks, and belches death-dealing instruments. Spawned by a desperate, but post-war fear of economic depression, US ruling elites embraced this perverse form of public-sector Keynesian demand-creation as a companion to Cold War hysteria. Military production drives and is driven by US jingoism. US imperialism and the military-industrial complex constitute a dialectical unity. While millions are employed by this juggernaut, capitalism would struggle to find work for them in a peace-friendly economy.
Undoubtedly the most insidious technique of hiding unemployment is the unfettered, soulless operation of the criminal justice system. Even the English workhouse answer to unemployment in the early eighteenth century was arguably more humane than the US judicial-penal complex,  complex. Inmates in state and federal punitive facilities (not including county and local jails) grew from 329,821 to 1,406,519 from 1980 to 2001! In the same period, the crime rate was relatively stable or declining. In 2010 the number of adults warehoused in so-called correctional facilities totaled almost 2,300,000.
The 2013 incarceration rate was six times the rate of 1925. Given the absence of virtually any social services or welfare, the high incidence of poverty, and the squalor of US urban areas in 1925, it is difficult to explain the explosion of incarceration in our era of relatively tame criminality without searching for political expediencies.
Half a million guards and administrators shepherd this population; another half a million churn the gears of questionable justice; and a million police harvest the inmates from the streets. Like the military-industrial complex, the police-judicial-prison industry removes millions from productive activity and warehouses hundreds of thousands of those potentially counted as unemployed. Whether the inmates turn to crime because they have no jobs or not, they effectively are dropped from the labor force. Moreover, nearly 5,000,000 US citizens are on parole or probation, a circumstance that lowers the prospect for employment dramatically. Certainly thousands, if not millions, of these people fall into that statistically ignored area beyond the BLS labor-force boundary. They, too, must be counted as part of the hidden unemployed.
Understanding that unemployment is the Achilles’s heel of the capitalist system, it is not surprising that the official rate is so highly politicized. But it is misleading to accept the official rate or even the useful corrections without also exposing the concealed institutional places where employment is linked to destructive, anti-social activities or where potential workers are forcibly excluded from the work force.
When carefully studied, capitalism's score on providing jobs is abysmal. Reformers who envision a capitalism divorced from militarism and its institutions, but robust with useful jobs, are naïve. The struggle against militarism, in the end, must take the road of a struggle against imperialism and its parent, capitalism --- a revolutionary and not reformist path. Only with socialism will alternative jobs be guaranteed.
Similarly, caging those who have been ill-equipped to fit into a savagely competitive employment scramble only foretells a similar fate for those who pose other challenges to the system. Liberals and reformers miss this point entirely. Nor do they have a plan to incorporate those warehoused by the judicial-penal system into the private capitalist economy.
As Marx anticipated, the quest for a decent job marks the first step in the journey to socialism.

Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Empire Follies

Remember Saddam Hussein? Muammar Gaddafi? They were, like others before them, labeled international pariahs, thanks to Western officialdom's demonization and an unrelenting media campaign painting them as evil incarnate. A careful observer may have noticed the contradictory shifts in elite opinion about these characters coincident with US and European interests. When Hussein was killing Iraqi Communists he wore a white hat. Similarly, when Gaddafi cooperated with Western oil interests, like the Italian Eni company, he wasn't such a bad chap.
After making the top of the US/NATO wanted posters, both were summarily executed, one quasi-legally and the other butchered by “freedom-loving” bandits.
The curious thing about the demise of these tyrants, supposedly hated by their own people, is that their respective countries collapsed into sectarianism, death, and despair as a result of the Western campaigns. What were once among the most secular and socially and economically advanced countries in the Middle East and Africa are now failed states, with violence, inadequate health and welfare services, and deteriorating living conditions touching almost every life. Of course no Western humanitarian democrat will take any responsibility for this catastrophe. It's a pity they can't blame Saddam or Gaddafi.
Today, the top wanted poster, the top name on the hit list is owned by Kim Jong-un, the current leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Kim, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the DPRK and a figure revered as a resistance leader against the Japanese occupiers, is the third generation of a family holding the leading post. Western opinion-makers invariably mock this penchant for hereditary secession, while conveniently overlooking over 80 years of hereditary rule in trusted ally, Saudi Arabia. The other Husseins, the family that has ruled Jordan since its independence, are never derided by the Western press, either. They, too, have been compliant friends of US and European leaders.
The DPRK has long followed a self-reliant, go-it-alone path that its leaders call Juche.
During the Soviet era, the DPRK maintained formal, but distant relations with the socialist community, insisting on blazing its own path. Many sympathetic observers saw this approach to Marxism-Leninism as excessively voluntarist, that is, overly confident in men and women's ability to master objective conditions, material impediments.
That said, the foreign policy of the DPRK has been a consistent application of Juche philosophy.
At the same time, DPRK posture toward other countries has been shaped profoundly by the experiences of the mid-century Korean War. The near total destruction of the northern part of the Korean peninsula by the US's air power and scorched earth policy left the DPRK with a determination to find a deterrent to a repeat of that catastrophe. They found that deterrent in the crash development of a nuclear-weapon capacity. Given the US and NATO's attempt to reorder the world in the Western image since the demise of Soviet power that decision seems, in retrospect, to be both wise and effective.
Despite the fact that the DPRK has remained at peace for over sixty years, the US government and its servile, spineless media have maintained an unrelenting campaign of slander and bellicosity.
Not unlike the fear-mongering and fantasies concocted against socialist Cuba, the DPRK has been depicted as a land of prisons and deprivation. Much of the hysterical imagery comes from defectors, in particular, Shin Dong-hyuk. Shin's story was compiled in a book by Washington Post writer, Blaine Harden, with the ominous title: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West. The book was favorably reviewed by nearly every major journal. A member of the United Nations' first commission of inquiry into human rights abuses of North Korea reportedly cited Shin as the world's "single strongest voice" on the atrocities inside North Korean camps.
DPRK officials answered by releasing a video of Shin's father and family members denouncing him as a falsifier, a fugitive from a rape charge.
Of course NO ONE in the toady capitalist media placed any credibility in this claim. Nor did any Western journalists seriously listen to the other defectors who challenged details claimed by Shin. The story is too good, too spectacular to question.
Unfortunately, it isn't. And unfortunately, nothing short of a confession would convince the shabby Western media, the UN, or the predisposed human rights groups. They got that confession on January 16 when Shin reported that portions of his harrowing tale were fiction. Sheepishly, he withdrew from further public comment, anticipating that further exposure would come forth.
The UK Independent reported: “Human rights activists said this could significantly set back the campaign to indict Kim for crimes against humanity.” One would hope so! One would hope that the fact that the primary source for demonizing Kim admitted to lying might encourage human rights groups to actually rethink the campaign. Could it be that some human rights groups are as corrupted as the major Western media that foisted the Shin farce on the public?
With scant evidence, the US and European commentariat constantly reminds us that the DPRK is a bleak, gloomy landscape populated by starving, freedom-hungry people. A Singapore commercial photographer, Aram Pan, had read and heard these harsh judgments. As reported by the conservative UK Daily Mail last May:
When a man from Singapore had his wish to visit North Korea granted, he braced himself for the scenes of 'barren lands' and 'really, really sad people' that he had seen via a BBC Panorama documentary.
But what he found blew his mind - for all the right reasons.
Inside the communist enclave in 2013, photographer Aram Pan witnessed bustling markets, men and women enjoying themselves at a Western looking water park and miles and miles of crops ready for harvest, shattering all of his illusions about what a holiday to North Korea would entail.
Though expecting to find it difficult to get into the supposedly secretive state, Mr Pan explained: “I sent several mails and faxes to multiple North Korean contacts, all of which are easily available online if you do a search. Then one day someone actually replied and I met their representative. It was a lot easier than I expected.”
After two visits, the incongruity of official and media accounts and what he actually saw troubled Mr. Pan:
Coming back from my second trip, many things still puzzle me. I've travelled from Pyongyang to Hyangsan to Wonsan to Kumgangsan, to Kaesong and back. The things I've seen and photographed tell me that the situation isn't as bad as I thought.
People seem to go about their daily lives and everything looks so incredibly normal. Some of my friends tell me that everything I've seen must be fake and all that I've photographed are a massive mock up.
But the more I think about that logic, the more it doesn't make any sense… would anyone mock up miles and miles of crops as far as my eyes can see and orchestrate thousands of people to seemingly go about their daily lives?
Mr. Pan's pictures can be seen here.
In another shining example of a US ally's firm grip on human rights and democratic principles, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the DPRK's capitalist neighbor to the south, was deporting Korean-American Shin Eun-Mi for “praising” the DPRK in lectures in Seoul. According to Deutsche Welle in an article last week, Ms. Shin, a California native and no relation to Shin Dong-hyuk, “... angered the South Korean authorities when she said a number of North Koreans living in South Korea would prefer to return to their home country because of the frustration with their lives in the South. She also said that many North Koreans were hopeful the communist nation's young leader Kim Jong-Un would improve the quality of life in the hermit state.”
The writer also praised North Korean beer, which she said was better than the South's ‘tasteless’ brews.”
Apparently, preferring the DPRK beer could put you in ROK prison for up to seven years.
Earlier, in December, Ms Shin was attacked by a high school student who threw a home-made explosive devise at her in protest of her speech. You can see the attack here. A conservative journalist immediately raised $17,000 for the terrorist's defense. Local police held Ms. Shin for questioning regarding her speeches, according to the Wall Street Journal. I suppose that's how US allies honor human rights.
Not surprisingly, these counter-narratives, accounts at odds with officialdom, are absent or buried in the back pages of Western media. But in the forefront is the flap over the hacking of entertainment giant Sony's internal data. After the bottom-feeding media squeezed all the scandal and gossip from the now-public data, a wave of indignation swept through the US. Through a tenuous link with another stupid, vulgar movie about to be released by Sony, officials and opinion-makers pointed an angry finger at the DPRK. They hacked Sony, President Obama proclaimed, and the government had the evidence.
Leading internet security companies, normally beholden to a prominent customer like the US government, insisted that the US government was mistaken. They cited many discrepancies that not only made it unlikely that the DPRK was involved, but that it could not have been the perpetrator. An inside job was indicated.
With its usual flippancy, the government countered that they knew differently, but they could not reveal how they knew without jeopardizing national security.
Later, government officials claimed that they had penetrated the DPRK's internet some time ago and to such an extent that the evidence was irrefutable. Oddly, the penetration was not sufficient to warn Sony in advance.
In a fit of pique worthy of a school-yard bully, the US government shut down the DPRK internet for a day or two, while refusing to admit or deny their action. Other sanctions ensued.
By contrast, DPRK officials, often charged with irrational bellicosity, calmly suggested that the two countries establish a joint commission to explore the DPRK's alleged role in the Sony hack. The suggestion was ignored.
An idiotic Sony film, The Interview, was pushed center stage in this dust up. Sony adroitly retired the film which depicts the gory assassination of Kim Jong-un supposedly out of fear that the DPRK would retaliate. Sony executives who travel in the same fantasy-movie world as former President Ronald Reagan sought to gin up the hysterical xenophobic madness of Hollywood's earlier Red Scare abominations: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn 1, and Red Dawn 2. In fact, you would have to reference Red Dawn 2 to conjure even the remotest idea of an improbable DPRK retaliation. Following the script of Red Dawn 2, Sony's bosses undoubtedly foresaw fanatical paratroopers descending upon their studios to punish them for the virtual assassination.
Media mavens swallowed the Sony bait. A campaign emerged to release the vulgar, inane movie and urge attendance as an act of defiance against the DPRK. It was as though we were being asked to tell fart jokes to demonstrate our devotion to freedom of speech.
Everyone involved in this travesty should be embarrassed.
Demeaning the DPRK is a diplomatic obsession. But the DPRK does not take slights or insults lightly. Nonetheless, they have offered to unconditionally repatriate US citizens charged or imprisoned for various illegal acts (Evangelical proselytizers are a frequent violator, determined to bring Christianity to the heathens. Like the missionaries of earlier empires, they serve both masters-- God and imperialism-- to tame the heathens). They have only asked in the past that the US send high ranking officials to facilitate the repatriation. To anyone attuned to diplomatic niceties, this is a gesture designed to bring parties together without either party suffering the appearance of submissiveness. Clearly, the DPRK sought to open conversation or negotiation. In every case, the US has used the occasion to ignore or rebuff the offer. Sometimes a powerless public figure would attend the repatriation. Other times, they would send a lowly government figure.
In November of last tear, the DPRK sought to release the last two remaining US citizens-- a provocateur and a religious zealot. They again asked for a cabinet-level official to receive the prisoners. Instead, the US sent James Clapper, the US national intelligence director. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Clapper made clear that the DPRK officials wanted to discuss serious matters: “The North Koreans seemed disappointed when he arrived without a broader peace overture in hand, he said. At the same time, they didn’t ask for anything specific in return for the prisoners’ release.” But Clapper had nothing. In his words: “They were expecting some big breakthrough. I was going to offer some big deal, I don’t know, a recognition, a peace treaty, whatever. Of course, I wasn’t there to do that, so they were disappointed, I’ll put it that way.”
After a three-hour dinner that followed his arrival, Mr. Clapper presented the officials with a curt letter from the US President written in English greeting the release of the prisoners as “a positive gesture.” “Gen. Kim Young Chol appeared to be taken aback when handed the letter, Mr. Clapper said.”
Is it any surprise that DPRK officials struggle to understand US motives? Are US administrators blunderers or unalterably committed to overthrowing the DRPK government? Decades of hostility would suggest the later.

Zoltan Zigedy

For three very good recent articles on the DPRK, please see:
(on The Interview)
and Framing the DPRK: the US Still Cannot be Rational, forthcoming in Marxism-Leninism Today
(on the DPRK economy)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Some End-of-the-Year Thoughts

Congratulations to the Cuban patriots (the Cuban Five), the remaining three of whom were finally released from US jails for the “crime” of making the world a safer place from US imperialism (How extensive and racially and economically selective must a prison system be before we can refer to the installations as concentration camps?) All fair-minded people should rejoice at the moving reunion of these internationalists with their families and their countrymen and women!
Before we are overwhelmed by adulation for President Obama's role in the release of the remaining Cuban Five, a fawning process that has begun in earnest, we should remind the adulators that it is bad form to praise someone for doing what he or she should have done long before. Nothing has really happened to precipitate a change in US-Cuban relations at this moment except the passing of Obama's final national election cycle-- a fact that suggests that Obama's welcome moves are more political expediency than any serious change of heart. Those who sense faux-liberal stroking in anticipation of the forthcoming election season are probably on solid ground. The U-turn regarding policy towards Cuba demonstrated recently on the editorial pages of the New York Times also point to a strategic shift in the thinking of key elements of the US ruling class.
John Pilger, by way of Michael Munk's always interesting blog, lastmarx, asks what became of Malaysian flight MH17, which crashed in the Eastern Ukraine. After the July disaster, the Western media proceeded to blame Eastern Ukrainian resistance fighters and Russia without a shred of hard evidence beyond “unnamed” Western intelligence “sources” (How do journalists acquire access to intelligence sources yet remain uncompromised?).
Despite recovering black boxes, debris and bodies, the Western investigators have been strangely silent since August. No evidence has come forth apart from Russian sources. No indictments from the notorious International Court of Justice (from which the US refused to honor its jurisdiction in 1986 despite having a permanent judge and frequently imposing jurisdiction on others). Compare this to the Western-induced hysteria surrounding earlier incidents like Korean Airlines 007, a media frenzy that demonized the Soviets for years. Even the crazed General Breedlove-- Pilger calls him NATO's “Dr. Strangelove”-- has remained relatively silent. Could it be that the facts are pointing the wrong way?
The 2014 Brazen Hypocrisy award goes to President Barack Obama for his two-faced appeal to the right of self defense. Esteemed Cuban blogger Manuel A. Yepe lauds research by Brandon Turbeville that recovers a statement from November 2012 by the self-righteous Peace Prize Winner. President Obama, in defense of Israeli aggression, argued: “... there is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Of course this is unabashed hypocrisy for a leader who daily signs off on drone, cruise missile, and bomb attacks on Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen, a glaring contradiction that Yepe credits Turbeville for exposing.
Certainly there are plenty of candidates for the Hypocrisy Award, most of whom nest in US seats of power: the recent sanctions imposed by a serial human rights violator (the US) against Venezuela for imaginary “human rights” violations count as first degree hypocrisy. Imagine a government that spies on ALL of its citizens, tortures foreigners, and allows militarized police forces to kill unarmed citizens punishing Venezuela and lecturing the rest of the world about good behavior.
Or consider the hypocrisy of ferreting out other countries deficient in democracy-- a favorite activity of US media pundits-- while never mentioning Japan, a country ruled by one party, the Liberal Democratic Party, since 1955 with less than four years of respite. Many of those dubbed “dictators” would be jealous.
And then there's the shameless Henry Blodget, the blue-blood, consummate Wall Street insider, who has been banned for life from the securities industry for fraud. Addicted to the celebrity spotlight, Blodget regarded the claim that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea hacked a US entertainment company as a sufficient basis for declaring the alleged  hack “effectively an act of war….” Blodget's panic arises from his concerns that the DPRK might “get into the money”: “'It’s not just they get some credit card numbers which we’ve been seeing forever. But they actually get into the money' at large corporations and banks” (Yahoo Finance, 12-19-14).
Truly, we swim in a sea of hypocrisy.
But hypocrisy is only tolerated because we refuse to hold public figures and the media accountable for their statements; as Gore Vidal put it, we reside in the “United States of Amnesia.” He drew attention to an adult population narcotized by shallow entertainments and denied any sense of history or continuity. Actually, Martha Gellhorn said it much earlier (1953) when she noted the “consensual amnesia” rampant in the US.
It is wrong, however, to blame the US people for the cowardice and lack of accountability of the media and academia. We cannot blame collective ignorance on the victims when it is the product of the massive, suffocating machinery of capitalist disinformation and vulgar culture.
Imagine if we could hold all of the opinion makers and policy pundits accountable for their slavish promotion of the unprovoked invasion of Iraq and the subsequent destabilization of the entire Middle East. Imagine if we could exile them to write for the Metropolis Daily Planet until they reclaimed their integrity. Soon, we would forget the names Friedman, Krauthammer, and the other cheerleaders of imperialism, maybe even the loudmouth, Cheney. Exactly what journalistic crimes must they commit, what disasters must they endorse before their bosses and colleagues turn them out?
Similarly, the economic collapse of 2007-2008, unpredicted and unsolved by the “wise men” of the economics profession, has spawned no new thinking or rejection of the old.
Sadly, most of our public intellectuals have become courtiers and not truth seekers.
We must not ignore the amnesia of the US left. Forgotten is the mass euphoria over the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Virtually all of the liberal and soft left was swept away by the overwhelming Democratic Party victory, affording a two-year window to pass a whole laundry list of legislation benefiting labor, minorities, women, the elderly, undocumented and other components of the Democratic Party coalition. Except for a health care initiative that has failed to live up to anyone's expectations other than insurance companies, none of these promises came to fruition, even to serious consideration. As the Democrats gin up for another Presidential campaign behind Hillary (after she disposes of the Quixote-like campaign of Elizabeth Warren), this miserable performance will be forgotten. With the Obama well running dry, liberal and the moderate left will drill a new Clinton well of hope. Memories are short.
While the signs of mass militancy are positive, most recently from the anger and activism springing from criminal police behavior, the left seems to find diversions and distractions that create speed bumps, if not detours, from clarity and united action.
The energy of the Occupy movement was welcome, but the embrace of the organizing principles of disorganization proved-- once again-- a damper on movement building. Seemingly, every generation must champion group therapy as an antidote to “hierarchies” and “leadership,” alleged features of the “old left,” “the establishment,” “elites” or other evils imagined by self-anointed ideological gurus.
The New Left of the sixties pioneered this posture, shattering enormous mass movements against racism and war into a thousand pieces. The shallow and idealistic emotions conjured by the words “participatory democracy” arise again and again with the same result.
The latest obstacle to ideological clarity and effective action is the amorphous and ideologically confounding “Sharing” Economy movement. The “New” or “Sharing” economy projects occupy two distinct poles.
At one pole are the liberal/left activists who have been shocked by the human carnage of economic crisis, but are afraid of or disillusioned with the socialist option. While many may see capitalism's flaws, they are cowed by the enormous task of defeating and replacing it. Rather than joining Marxists, who are confident and determined to revive the fight for a world without exploitation and without rule by the rich and powerful, they propose that we simply drop out of the global economy, that we live and work outside of it. In collectively owned cooperatives, they propose an alternative to capitalism. But is it really an alternative?
Certainly there is nothing, in principle, wrong with cooperatives. Indeed, they are sometimes an answer for small-holders to improve their destiny against large capitalist enterprises. That is, they can postpone, but rarely derail the laws of capitalist development, the tendency for the large to devour the small.
But it is silly to believe that cooperatives in any way challenge capitalism as we know it today. State-monopoly capitalism-- the merger of the power of the state with the largest, most economically dominant corporations-- will not shudder in the face of the cooperative movement. Nor should it. If cooperatives posed any kind of threat, the mega-corporations would swat them like flies.
Instead, the New Economy (cooperative) movement does offer an alternative-- an alternative to small businesses. Cooperatives, where they exist, compete against small businesses. They mesh a small-business mentality with an immature social consciousness, a program that only succeeds at the expense of those businesses marginally able to survive while leaving the rich and powerful untouched.
At best, the cooperative movement offers a safe haven for the few to hone their entrepreneurial skills in commercial combat against some of our potential allies in the anti-monopoly movement, the under-capitalized, marginal small business owner.
The other pole, however, is more insidious. The “sharing” economy, as exemplified by Uber and other creatively named Google-era projects, does not pretend to be anti-capitalist. While “sharing” poses as a kinder, gentler, freer capitalism, it really counts as a way for a new generation of entrepreneurs to pry open markets long dominated by well ensconced services. At the same time, this well-educated, supremely self-confident cabal have seduced many into believing that predation on these service industries is somehow “progressive.”
In fact, Uber and the sharing model are a step back to proto-capitalism, a return to the putting-out"system, where providing the labor and resources is the responsibility of others and not the capitalist. Uber, for example, uses the human capital (drivers) and fixed capital (their cars) of its “employees” to undermine services that are capital intensive (taxis, insurance, benefits, maintenance, fuel, etc) and available to even the most disadvantaged (subsidized public transportation). Like charter schools and package-delivery services, they cherry-pick the most profitable, least risky, or least costly niches of a service and leave the rest for someone else (most often, the public sector). In that way, they most resemble the hyper-exploitative cottage industries of the pre-industrial era. Like those industries, they rely upon sweated labor and forgo all worker protections.
Of course not all those embracing the sharing model begin as predators. Many see the internet as creating new opportunities for matching people and services. But centuries of capitalism teach us that every entrepreneur afforded the opportunity of matching people with services has leaped at the opportunity to commercialize it. Elite universities and business schools have not purged that tendency from their students.
Whether it is cooperatives or the “sharing” model of entrepreneurship, those looking for answers to the rapaciousness and vulgarity of our society must look elsewhere.
We will come no closer to achieving social justice and democracy until we understand the malignancy of capitalism. There are no other diagnoses.
Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is There Life After Social Democracy?

Labour's problems aren't very different from those of other Western social democratic parties... In this sense we are experiencing not merely a crisis of the British state but also a general crisis of social democracy” (Labour Vanishes, Ross McKibbin, London Review of Books, November 20, 2014).
McKibbin's summary assessment of social democracy is both keen and cogent. Social democracy, the political expression of twentieth-century anti-Communist reformism, has arrived at a juncture that challenges its vision as well as its political vitality. In McKibbin's words: “Over the last twenty or thirty years the great social democratic parties of Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand (and now France) have bled support...” One could add, though in a less dramatic way, the ersatz US social democratic party, the Democratic Party.
In a real sense, social democracy drew its energy from its posture as an alternative to Communism. For various reasons-- fear of change, anti-Communist demonology, ignorance, imagined self-interest-- many of those disadvantaged by capitalism took refuge in the tame, gradualist, and militantly anti-Communist parties claiming space on the left. By advocating an easy parliamentary approach, charting a cautious, non-confrontational road, and enveloping the effort with civility, social democratic thinkers believe they can win popularity and smooth the sharp edges of capitalism.
After the founding of the Soviet Union and the birth of international Communist parties-- many of them mass parties-- the old Socialist International hewed to a reformist line that separated it from Communism while posing as advocates on the side of the workers and for socialism. Parliamentary successes followed from the adoption of moderation and the condemnation of Communism, a lesson learned only too well by practical leaders.
The model for social democracy after the Bolshevik revolution was undoubtedly the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Assuming power after the abdication of the Kaiser, the SPD swiftly suppressed the revolutionary zeal of the masses and established a parliamentary regime. By suppressing Communism, the SPD sought to accommodate the hysterical fears of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, a tactic destined to permeate social democratic thinking to this day. Despite being the largest party bloc in the Reichstag until July of 1932, neither appeasement of the right nor “responsibly” overseeing a capitalist economy under great duress would rescue the SPD and Germany from the rise of Nazism. Social democrats are fond of blaming the SPD's failure on the militant left or right-wing extremism, but they willfully ignore the blatant fact-- equally true today-- that people turn away from centrist parties when they fail to keep their promises. Ruling Germany became more the goal of the SPD than ruling it well and in the interest of Germany's working people.
With Communists' resistance to fascism earning the respect and trust of the people, as it did throughout most of Europe, social democracy fared poorly after the War. It is well established today that where European social democratic parties were prepared to distance themselves loudly and forcefully from collaborating with Communists, “friends” in the US were only too happy to give them covert and overt aid. The CIA and the host of other acronymic entities created by the US government to subvert anti-capitalist and pro-labor activities worldwide found willing collaborators in social democratic parties, especially among those who clearly identified Communist success with social democratic failure. It was not long before the opportunism of anti-Communism infected the entire social democratic movement: In 1951, the Socialist International formally dissociated itself from Communism, characterizing it as terrorist, bureaucratic, imperialistic, and freedom-destroying. Articles 7, 8, 9, and 10 of the Frankfort Declaration excommunicate Communism, condemning it to the netherworld with all of the fervor of the Inquisition.
But opportunism begets opportunism. By 1959 any pretense of socialism was erased from the grandfather of social democratic parties, the SPD. With the Godesberg program, the SPD effectively renounced a commitment to socialism, replacing it with vague notions of social justice and allusions to democratic advances. German social democracy thus made its peace with capitalism, under the banner of anti-Communism, and would, henceforth, pledge to never stray from the path of reform.
Nearly all other socialist and social democratic parties followed suit. In place of socialism, the doctrine of social welfare emerged as a tepid surrogate for eliminating exploitation from social and economic relations. Social democracy created an artificial, divisive wall between marginally well-off working people-- the so-called “middle class”-- and their more destitute class brothers and sisters. Instead of expropriating the expropriators, social democracy insists that the burden of pacifying the poor should be borne socially, with much of that burden falling on working class families.
Class, like socialism, was relegated to the dustbin. In its place was the concept of civil society with markets determining social status, compensation, and the distribution of goods and services. Those who lacked the physical or mental assets to compete for the “opportunities” afforded by markets were supposed to be protected by a metaphorical societal “safety net,” a set of programs designed to guarantee a marginal life for those alleged to be lacking competitive skills or spirit. Thus, the cry of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” so inspirational in the French Revolution, was diluted centuries later to the liberty of markets, the equality of the jungle, and the selfishness of individualism. The only vestige of eighteenth-century humanism remaining in social democratic theory is a shabby, porous net that guarantees that “losers” in the game of life will remain losers.
For decades, the supposed shining star in the social democratic firmament was Sweden. The myth of Swedish “socialism” sustained the few claims to social justice remaining intact with the soft left's assumption of the role of capitalism's handmaiden. Whatever credibility this view might have enjoyed was devastatingly punctured by an article written by Peter Cohen in the July-August 1994 issue of Monthly Review (Sweden: The Model that Never Was). Taking two Pollyanna articles from the previous year to task, Cohen, a long-time resident of Sweden, states emphatically: “Like all European Social Democratic Parties, the SAP [Social Democratic Workers Party] not only accepts capitalism but defends it against any attempt at change. The party has always argued that what is good for Swedish corporations is good for the Swedish working class.”
Cohen presages the fate of the US and European working classes when he explains that the SAP has always accepted that class collaboration “requires the working class to accept cutbacks-- of all types-- when corporate profits decline, and even when they don't.” Cohen outlines the virulent anti-Communism in the SAP that led it to support internment of Communists in WWII and work hand-in-glove with US Cold Warriors, citing its support for Pinochet's government and hostility to Portugal's revolution.
The SAP instituted the so-called “solidarity wage policy,” a cynical leveling of workers' wages within the total wage package. Cohen explains: “The “solidarity wage” does not affect the imbalance of income between workers and capitalists. It only redistributes wages between different groups of workers. It also makes the SAP look like a dedicated defender of the workers' interests.”
Cohen documents the role of the SAP in introducing private schools into the Swedish education system, in pro-capitalist tax “reform,” and in weakening Swedish social insurance (the “safety net”).
He cites the SAP's call (now ubiquitous in all capitalist countries) to retard workers' compensation in the interests of “competitiveness.”
Cohen's remarkable article is uncannily prescient of the evolution of social democracy over the two decades to follow his article, an evolution of closer and closer class collaboration. In his words: “The table manners shown by the strong in the course of their meal may be more attractive in countries with Social Democratic governments, but the digestive process is the same.”
It is tempting to see this development as a mutation of the social democratic ideal, as a departure.
It is not.
Instead, it is the trajectory of social democracy in a world where the specter of Communism has ebbed. Without pressure from the left, social democratic parties shed all pretense of representing the working class against capital and political power. Today, social democratic parties-- like the US Democratic Party-- function under the illusion that Europe and North America are classless societies, while acknowledging the problem of poverty plaguing the so-called “underclass.” Absent an aggressive commitment to resource redistribution, the 2007-2008 economic crisis has caught the moderate left in the vise of either imposing additional burdens on the majority to help the poor or ignoring their increasing desperation. To a great extent, they have chosen to ignore growing poverty while aiding capital in its effort to extract itself from the mire of global crisis. In essence, social democrats believe that capitalism can be steered out of the crisis without seriously modifying the existing relationship between capital and workers.
For workers seduced by social democracy, the romance has proven truly tragic. A partnership with capital combined with a commitment to buffering capital's “excesses” proves to be an extravagant self-deception; capital accepts no such concession. Rather than delivering capitalism with a human face, the architects of anti-Communist reformism have delivered division, concession, austerity, hardship, and imperial aggression.
But even more tragically, the failure of the social democratic project drives far too many people, including disillusioned workers, toward the extreme right, fascism, and neo-Nazism. Throughout Europe and the US, working people thirsting for answers have been betrayed by reformism. Unfortunately, they far too often turn to the right, a turn that conjures eerie images of the rise of fascism between the Wars.
Workers deserve a better option.
Zoltan Zigedy