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10 Reasons to #leave #brexit

1.   Northern Ireland  … Economy The EU subsidies in the form of Regional Grants,  Structural Funds, Farm Payments and money for local ‘Peace Process’ activities  are, in fact, UK taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels.  The UK is a major net contributor to the EU Budget, so that local EU projects which people think

Why #Brexit?

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre 24 Crawford Avenue Dublin 9 Tel.: 01-8305792 Thursday 21 April 2016   Dear Sinn Fein Friends                                     Lost Opportunities? For Sinn Fein to embrace the European Union at its Ard Fheis

Capitalism is bad for your health

By David Hugh Hartery Taken from http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-health.html Going hand in hand with a reduction in the stigma attached to mental illness is a growth in diagnoses. Some of this can be attributed to better health education, leading to fewer sick people going untreated; but with unprecedented numbers now receiving treatment, we have to ask, What part

Interview with Prof Ben Fine, SOAS

www.politicaleconomy.ie interview with Professor of Economics Ben Fine of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. PDF version of interview Interview with Ben Fine Prof Economics SOAS Thank you Ben for taking the time to do this interview. Can you briefly outline for us what you think the causes of the great 2008 crash

Book Review: The Empire and Ukraine

MP_Ukraine_A5_TXT_Q9_1_MP

The recent Manifesto Press book by Andrew Murray The Empire and Ukraine has been well received in the United States. This review by Joe Jamison appeared at http://mltoday.com This is a crucial book for antiwar activists in the US and others on the Left to study.   The Empire and Ukraine will be of greatest use

10 Reasons to #leave #brexit

1.   Northern Ireland  … Economy
The EU subsidies in the form of Regional Grants,  Structural Funds, Farm Payments and money for local ‘Peace Process’ activities  are, in fact, UK taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels.  The UK is a major net contributor to the EU Budget, so that local EU projects which people think Brussels is funding are really being paid for by UK taxpayers. Voting ‘Leave’ would in principle make possible increases, not reductions, in all such funding.
2.   Northern Ireland …The Peace Process
Claims that a ‘Leave’ vote would endanger the Northern Ireland peace process are wholly unfounded. This is part of ‘Project Fear’.  Remember 1999 and the threats of job losses and economic ruin if Britain did not abolish the pound sterling and adopt the euro?  Or 2011 when Germany’s Chancellor Merkel claimed that peace in Europe was under threat if the Banks were not bailed out to protect the euro-currency?
3.   The Anglo-Irish Common Travel Area
The long-established Anglo-Irish common travel area, which goes back to 1923, is  a matter exclusively for the British and Irish Governments and is not an EU matter.  Irish people will continue to move freely between the two islands and across the North-South border inside Ireland as they have always done.
4.   Social benefits and Wages
If people vote ‘Remain’ David Cameron’s recent EU agreement will be implemented, which means that new immigrants to the UK will have lower social benefits than those already there. It will be impossible under EU law to differentiate between Irish immigrants on the one hand and non-Irish ones on the other. So that new Irish immigrants to the UK must face cuts in social benefits too.
Under EU law  any of the 500 million people who are citizens of the EU can come and live and work in the UK if they wish. This leads to cheap labour, lower wages and reductions  in social standards. This is the main reason why so many employers, especially big ones, want to remain in the EU.
5.  National independence
Remaining in the EU means obeying EU laws made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats without the ability of either Britain or Ireland to change a single one of them. These laws  and regulations serve the interest of EU-based Transnational Banks and Big Business and not the ordinary people of Britain or Ireland. Brussels can impose heavy fines on any State that disobeys. Is this “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” which the men and women of the 1916 Easter Rising aspired to in the Proclamation?  Is this democracy?  Irish people have a proud record of standing for the national independence of whatever country they are living in. That is why they should show solidarity with the British people by voting ‘Leave’ in the June referendum.
6.   Free Trade
Free trade does not require the supremacy of EU law. Free trade will continue between Ireland and the UK under all realistic ‘Leave’ scenarios, so there will be no customs posts on the North-South border within Ireland, no passport controls or anything like that. Such claims are simply scaremongering. If the ‘Remain’ side wins it means the job-destroying TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is inevitable. This was negotiated by the EU on behalf of its 28 Member States, with its dangerous Private Investor-State Dispute Settlement Tribunals –  instead of Britain independently negotiating its own trade treaties with the 170 States in the world that are outside the EU.
7. More money in one’s pocket
Over the past decade the UK paid over £150 billion to the EU budget – far more than it gets back. It sends £350 million to Brussels every week. This is about half the English schools budget and some ten times the Northern Ireland schools budget. If the vote is  ‘Remain’ it will make this payment permanent and people cannot change it. Why not put this money back in one’s pocket by voting ‘Leave’?
8. This is where the jobs are
Only 1/10th of the UK economy is involved in exports to the EIU. The other 9/10ths  are involved in domestic UK business and in exporting outside the EU.  This is where the jobs are – in the domestic economy, freed from job-destroying EU regulation, and in the export business, with Britain trading with the five continents and with the far-flung English-speaking world.  The EU is an inward-looking shrinking market mired in recession, with a disfunctional currency and hugh unemployment.  The EU is far more dependent on the UK economy than the UK is on it.  By taking back control from the EU Britain can become an economically booming Singapore of Europe.
9.  Hamstrung indefinitely or free?
Do you want to be part of a manifestly failing experiment in continent-wide federalization to be run by non-elected committees in Brussels?  Or to regain control over our fishing industry, tax, economic regulation, energy and food bills, migration, crime and civil liberties by voting ‘Leave’?   By voting ‘Remain’ you copperfasten control of your life and those of your children  for the indefinite future by an increasingly  German-dominated EU.  By voting ‘Leave’ you bring back control to the democratically-elected centuries-old British Parliament.  You regain the right to make your own laws, which Britain helped restore to the rest of Europe in two World Wars. In these circumstances voting ‘Leave’ is clearly the safer optiom.
10.  Human Rights Courts
Membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, which 55 European countries subscribe to, underpins various freedoms but has nothing to do with the European Union. The European Court of Human Rights is a separate body entirely from the EU’s Court of Justice, so that voting Leave will not affect the human rights protections of people in the UK and Ireland.

 

Anthony Coughlin

Why #Brexit?

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre

24 Crawford Avenue
Dublin 9
Tel.: 01-8305792
Thursday 21 April 2016
 
Dear Sinn Fein Friends
                                    Lost Opportunities?
For Sinn Fein to embrace the European Union at its Ard Fheis on the very centenary weekend of the Easter Rising, behind a rhetoric of working to turn the EU into a ‘Social Europe’ – with Ireland’s 1% EU Council vote? –  and to commit itself to ‘campaigning vigorously against Brexit’ in the UK’s June referendum on the EU, is assuredly deeply ironical.
It would be so partly because Sinn Fein has opposed handing over Irish sovereignty to the EU in every EU referendum from that on the original EEC Accession Treaty in 1972, through those on the Single European Act 1987, the Maastricht Treaty 1992, the Amsterdam Treaty 1998, the Nice Treaty 2001 and 2002, the Lisbon Treaty 2008 and 2009, up to the Fiscal Stability Treaty of 2012 … And partly because the EU is in such a mess these days – and getting messier, with the euro-currency crisis, the migration crisis and the ‘Brexit’ crisis.

I make these points in this ‘open letter’ to you and your Sinn Fein colleagues as a lifelong Left Republican who was involved in setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and who took part in the 1968/9 Northern civil rights marches before ever Provisional Sinn Fein was established, and as someone who has had no party political involvement since my student days and who has supported the ‘peace process’ over the years.

By taking such a course, with seemingly minimal discussion among the party’s members, the Sinn Fein leadership, behind a screen of leftist rhetoric, would be moving decisively down the same road as the erstwhile ‘Stickies’, using similar slogans and demands as they did in their time, and abandoning the possibility of offering a genuinely alternative course for the Irish people on the principal issue of the day in our part of the world – the issue of national independence and democracy vis-a-vis the EU.
Sinn Fein would be throwing away two political opportunities by this development.
The only way to bring about a United Ireland over time is to win over a section of current Unionist opininion to that position, however long that may take, so as to bring about eventually a majority in the North for ending Partition.  For if the Unionists are Irish – as they are – that should in principle be possible.
If Sinn Fein supported ‘Brexit’ it would enable Republicans to side with such Unionists as the DUP against the mainstream policy of the British Government and Prime Minister David Cameron. The latter is being supported by the most reactionary forces in Europe and the USA, from Goldman Sachs* and Wall Street to the German and other EU Governments, the American Government, the Brussels Commission, and EU-based High Finance and Transnational Capital against those people on the Left, Right and Centre of British politics who want to get back the right to decide their own laws and international policies.
If Sinn Fein had adopted such a course it would open other opportunities for influencing hard-line Unionist opinion in a more progressive direction over time.
Instead Sinn Fein seems set on siding with the Goldman Sachses and Prime Minister Camerons of this world – something which Bobby Sands and his H-Block comrades would surely never have credited could happen!
I am well aware that for Sinn Fein to advocate ‘Brexit’ would be politically tricky in presentational terms, but it could be done.   Of course it would not be so tricky if the Sinn Fein leadership had carried out a sustained campaign of education in the party’s own ranks and amongst the wider Irish public on the reactionary and anti-democratic character of the EU over the years: building on its record of referendum opposition to the successive EU Treaties.  But the Sinn Fein leadership has not been telling people that.
For anyone who looks objectively at the facts, Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone is the very opposite of ‘the unfettered control of Irish destinies’, the genuinely independent Irish Republic, which the men and women of 1916 set out to establish a hundred years ago.
The second opportunity being thrown away by this policy volte-face on the part of the Sinn Fein leadership is the maintenance of a significant policy distinction between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.  For once Sinn Fein embraces the EU there is no objective basis for Irish voters to prefer Fianna Fail ‘Lite’ as against Fianna Fail ‘Heavy’.  By removing the one significant distinction between real political Republicanism on the one hand and  bogus Fianna Fail Republicanism on the other, Sinn Fein is copper-fastening objectively the revival of Fianna Fail.
That great Socialist Republican Peadar O’Donnell used often say that Republicanism was the most ‘left-wing’ thing in Ireland until the country had attained real national independence and unity.  By that he meant that any ‘leftist’ or radical-sounding talk that does not give priority to establishing real national independence is just so much codology, meant to deceive the gullible.
At the present time the EU’s euro-currency and migration crises are making the ‘national question’,  the issue of national independence and democracy, the big issue of politics right across the EU – including for former imperial countries like Britain, Germany and France which for generations caused national problems for others.
This is happening as these different nations discover the drawbacks of having their laws made for them by people they do not elect, and as citizens everywhere begin to react against how their mainstream politicians have allowed their Nation States to be hollowed out by means of successive EU Treaties – all of which Sinn Fein opposed over the years.
This is not a time when Sinn Fein should effectively abandon Republicanism behind a rhetoric of advocating a so-called ‘Social Europe’ and ‘leading the Left’.  It is not a time when sensible Republicans should abandon the one significant feature that had hitherto differentiated them from Fianna Fail and all the other parties in the Dail – namely criticism of and opposition to the EU/Eurozone – that being the one policy feature which objectively justifies Sinn Fein’s claim to be offering the Irish people a genuinely alternative course of national policy.
Of course one can pretend that talk about ‘leading the Left’, standing for ‘a Republic of Equals’ and advocacy of more radically redistributive tax and spend policies, provide a real policy alternative to the Irish people; but they do not.  Labour in opposition, Fianna Fail in opposition, the Social Democrats, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the rest will all be doing the same thing in the coming period, with minor variations between them, while at the same time they support Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone and all that necessarily goes with that.
I send you three items below in support of the points made in this letter. The document ‘Tackling the EU Empire’, which gives the basic facts about the EU/Eurozone and what it is all about, has already been sent to you by letter post.
The first item below is ten points on why Irish people in Britain and the North should vote ‘Leave’ in June.The second is an article, originally published in Village Magazine, which shows how the EU, by  eroding national independence and democracy, is the very opposite of the independent Republic that the men and women of 1916 whom we commemorate on this centenary weekend set out to achieve.  And the third  is an article on what the EU/Eurozone policy of a genuine political Left rather than a bogus one should be.
That would be a Left in the James Connolly tradition which gives political primacy to achieving real national independence and unity as against the national sell-out policy of the Social Democrat and neo-Trotskyite parties of one kind or another, all of which embrace the EU and submit to its laws and rules while using Left-sounding slogans and rhetoric to cover their accommodation to it.
Syriza’s former Finance Minister Janis Varoufakis is currently a prime example of this as he campaigns alongside David Cameron, Goldman Sachs, the City of London and the most reactionary economic and political forces in the Western world against those British democrats on the political Left and Right who who seek to regain their national democracy and independence by supporting ‘Brexit’.
And is Sinn Fein now set to join the anti-democratic side?
Yours faithfully
Anthony Coughlan
Director
 
* On 22 January the Financial Times reported that Goldman Sachs on Wall Street was donating £500,000 towards the anti-Brexit campaign in Britain. This is the same Goldman Sachs as is behind the threatened Tyrrelstown evictions in Dublin.

Capitalism is bad for your health

By David Hugh Hartery

Taken from http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-health.html

Going hand in hand with a reduction in the stigma attached to mental illness is a growth in diagnoses. Some of this can be attributed to better health education, leading to fewer sick people going untreated; but with unprecedented numbers now receiving treatment, we have to ask, What part of modern society is making us ill?

This article does not aim to critique the practice of mental health treatment under capitalism—though Peadar O’Grady’s excellent “Stop making sense: Alienation and mental health” in Irish Marxist Review (no. 11, 2014) provides that analysis (and some of it is relied on here); instead it tries to explain why the capitalist system necessarily causes stresses—leading to mental illnesses—and how the very response to that phenomenon has been weaponised by capital.

Firstly, part of the reason for an increase in diagnoses is a definitional one. Increasingly, normal aspects of life under late capitalism are medicalised. Stress, anxiety and uncertainty are often foundational (even laudatory) aspects of the capitalist system, with the precariousness of workers’ contracts seen as a boon to bosses and working yourself to your stress limits seen as dedication, which will be rewarded.

In this way, it could be argued that the anxious, medicated, CBT-practising precarious worker is in fact the ideal citizen of late capitalism.

Marx’s assumption is that humanity is defined by how it labours: there is a drive to create new surpluses, new needs, new value. Alienation from labour, however, is obviously a precondition of capitalism, necessary for the extraction of surplus value.

However, such alienation has takes a psychic toll, with a survey by the British government showing that workers at lower rungs of professions exhibit higher levels of stress than their bosses. Similarly, the report of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for 2006 shows that workers who were given more autonomy showed less signs of mental illness. Alienation, then, is a scale, and when the degree of alienation increases we see more mental illness or distress, and when it wanes, workers should see mental and physical benefits.

However, such forces have existed since the advent of capitalism. What has led to the surge in mental illnesses in late capitalism? The tendency of the rate of profit to fall—and its effect on the balance between work and life—has a lot to do with this. In the modern neo-liberal order, work is increasingly precarious and highly specific: this is necessary to get the maximum productive value from each worker, as capitalists try to arrest this fall in profit. The advent of zero-hour contracts and an app-based service economy has provided a new way to circumvent hard-won employment protections and introduce a culture of scientific management through the back door.

Even the liberal paragon of employment, the tech start-up, inculcates a culture of absolute devotion through the provision of sleeping areas, free food, and on-site leisure facilities. Tech companies exploit the passion of computer enthusiasts to create a culture of competition—and long working hours. The increasing use of productivity micro-targets in all work-places also adds another stress factor to employment.

When combined with long commuting times, poor nutrition from convenience food and a highly sedentary life-style, this mix of stress and poor self-care is toxic to mental health. Sleep, long established as one of the primary factors in preserving our mental resilience, is also affected by these long, stressful days—with Silicon Valley investigating pills that would defer the need for rest, allowing capital to further colonise sleep. Coffee, however, is our current substitute.

In the face of these factors, these stressors, there is an understandable outbreak of mental illness.

The culture of individuality, so prominent in the economic sphere since the 1980s, is also the predominant mode of combating mental illness. It’s impossible for health to be conceptualised within the wider socio-economic framework when the “blame” for mental illness is individualised. We are told to “Please talk” or to watch the “little things” that will foster better mental health, but there is no talk of the systemic factors that lead to illness. The closest that practice will come to understanding how capital divorces us from our human nature is to talk of the importance of “occupation,” a term that practitioners strive to keep “apolitical” and often a synonym for busywork.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is perhaps the most egregious example of this. It works through teaching patients to think about their life differently, positing that through thinking more “factually” about events and behaviour we can learn to stop “negative automatic thoughts” and improve the quality of life.

CBT is cheap, short, and scalable, so it has become the poster-child for the neo-liberal health model. It does work for a lot of people—though, as the excellent article “Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud” by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian (7 January 2016) explains, the success rates are dropping continuously; but it is a sticking-plaster for a social ill. The increasing use of programmed CBT artificial intelligences in many health services, or drop-in centres dispensing CBT worksheets without access to a practitioner, shows how the CBT practice is becoming increasingly cold and inhuman.

We cannot “fix” mental illness by socialising more, arbitrarily choosing to think differently, or making token life-style changes. This amounts to mere commodity consumption, something that can superficially fill the gaps in our human needs, but does not fix the underlying problems of alienation. Our position within the socio-economic system dictates whether we can meet our needs through satisfying work or whether we are left to seek fleeting relief through rituals of consumption.

When we look at the incidence of mental health among homeless people, the incarceration of vast swathes of “undesirables” in mental health asylums throughout Irish history, the tragedy of addiction and the prevalence of mental health issues among the working class, we can see that mental health is undeniably a class issue, and one that is getting worse.

Instead of celebrities enriching themselves through bourgeois calls for “awareness” we need to form a comprehensive, politically aware response to this crisis.

Interview with Prof Ben Fine, SOAS

www.politicaleconomy.ie interview with Professor of Economics Ben Fine of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

PDF version of interview Interview with Ben Fine Prof Economics SOAS

Thank you Ben for taking the time to do this interview.

  1. Can you briefly outline for us what you think the causes of the great 2008 crash and subsequent years of crisis were?

Over the past thirty years, the volume of global financial assets to GDP has risen three times. That means that each unit of output has involved three times the level of financing than previously, something that would have been deplored had it been anything else underpinning provision, such as energy to produce electricity, steel to produce cars, and so on. It is hardly surprising that such a system should blow at some point, ultimately globally, with ever larger and uncontainable crises emerging at earlier points along the way.

But something else, and deeper, is involved than the increasing ratio of finance to production, and the increasing proliferation of the types of assets. What we have seen is the increasing role of finance in what might be termed economic and social restructuring and accumulation of capital. Thus, within the capitalist economy itself, more and more finance has been involved, together with financial motives and operations in what firms do. In the USA, for example, non-financial firms make as much money out of their financial dealings as they do out of their real operations. Such, what is termed financialisation, has meant, for example, increasing pursuit of short-term profitability at the expense of long-term investments for increasing productivity and wages. Together with corresponding worsening to extremes of income inequality also over the last three decades, and the priority in policymaking to restore not only the profitability of finance but of its continuing operations, it is hardly surprising that, following the global financial crisis, there should be no signs of rapid recovery.

These processes of financialisation, and their effects, are uneven within and across countries and within and across sectors of the economy. They have also, as indicated, been extended to social restructuring, by which is meant the ways and means by which social provisioning takes place, economic and social infrastructure in general and health, education, welfare, etc, in particular. Not least through privatisation directly, and through all sorts of other mechanisms indirectly such as user charges, public private partnership and contracting out of government services, financialisation has increasingly become embroiled in social reproduction, something that is vital for the rhythm and pace of accumulation.

All in all, the result has been a slower pace of growth across the capitalist world, following the collapse of the post-war boom in the 1970s, with globalised, financialised neoliberalism ultimately suffering a global crisis from which it can barely recover growth in prosperity despite the enormous interventions on behalf of finance as both the levels and efficacy of accumulation and the conditions under which it occurs have been increasingly dictated to by financial motives and markets.

  1. You defend the more traditional Marxist declining rate of profit theory which has come under some scrutiny by Marxian economists in recent time. Can you explain the theory first and then why you see it as still a strong tendency in the system?

Let me answer this question indirectly. Broadly, debate over Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (and, for me at least, its counteracting tendencies, CTs) have, again for me, been based upon two false framings. The first is does the rate of profit empirically fall or not for some theoretical reason or other. The second is that given the rate of profit has fallen, for whatever reason, does this give rise to a crisis. Answers to the first question have resulted in huge debates across method, conceptualisation and theory, especially concerning the validity of Marx’s value theory and its application. Much empirical work has also been devoted to the issue of whether the rate of profit has fallen or not over particular periods for particular countries, with the presumption that crises can be explained by falling profitability (although capitalists themselves at the time did not have the benefit  of these retrospective calculations). For me, Marx’s law and CTs do not revolve around either of these framings, at least directly. Rather he is concerned with underlying forces that necessarily accompany accumulation and what I have termed restructuring of capital in answering the previous question. The law concerns increases in productivity that arise out of the accumulation of capital; the CTs concern the realisation of these developments in or through exchange. For Marx, this interaction is always contradictory rather than a simple sum in terms of profit going up or down. The issue is less this than whether the market (and non-market) mechanisms for accumulating and restructuring capital can be sustained without an economic and/or social crisis.

Now, if parodying, some argue that Marx’s law resulted in the end of the post-war boom and that the resulting crisis has yet to be resolved so that the current crisis is not a financial crisis at all but an unresolved crisis of profitability. Others argue that, especially in the USA with stagnant wages, profitability was fully restored and so the current crisis is purely financial (arising out of undue speculation and/or insufficient demand because of low wage income). These are wrong or limited, respectively, as the current crisis is one of inability to sustain and renew accumulation and restructuring of capital through what has become the major mechanism for doing so, financialisation.

  1. How do you see the recent years of austerity across Europe in terms of class? Why was it imposed and who did it benefit?

Everyone knows the bankers were to blame but they have got off scot free more or less – socialism for the bankers, capitalism for the rest of us. The imposition of austerity is indicative of the priority to restoring finance in the wake of its crisis so that the working class has been particularly hard hit even though arguments blaming them concerning unduly high economic and social wages do not hold true (although they are offered in case of the EU periphery in general and Greece in particular).

  1. I have to ask you now also about the upcoming referendum on Brexit. How would like it go? and what way do you think it will go?

The single most important thing about Brexit is political. For whatever reasons, the most horrendous coalition of forces is being put together to support Brexit and it would be disastrous if they were to win in terms of strengthening their political position, that is of the right more generally. More substantively, if a little over-simple, Brexit is about whether we want to be ruled directly by a European (predominantly German) capitalist class (think what has been done to Greece, although Britain has not offered any counterweight) or by a British one (think finance). It is hardly a choice that offers anything to working people, with the longer-term prospect being whether British finance is best served (by being eroded) in or outside the EU (as with membership of the Euro itself).

  1. Without doubt there has been a renewed interest in Marx and Marxist analysis in recent years do you see this translating into a raised level of class consciousness in Britain and, if so, will this translate into a rebalancing of forces in the country over the coming years in favour of working people?

I suspect the main direction of causation is in the opposite direction with interest in Marxism responding to developments rather than vice-versa. So the prominence and impact of Marxism will depend upon the growing strength and organisation of working people for which the unexpected and fortuitous rise of Corbyn is a welcome if fragile first step until such strength and organisation emerges and is consolidated.

Book Review: The Empire and Ukraine

MP_Ukraine_A5_TXT_Q9_1_MP

The recent Manifesto Press book by Andrew Murray The Empire and Ukraine has been well received in the United States.

This review by Joe Jamison appeared at http://mltoday.com

This is a crucial book for antiwar activists in the US and others on the Left to study.   The Empire and Ukraine will be of greatest use to the antiwar movements and solidarity organizations in Britain, but its clear-eyed analysis can strengthen the antiwar movement here, still the main lair of the beast.

The title  would seem to suggest a study of one crisis only – Ukraine — but it offers more. The book sets the Ukraine crisis in a more general context of post-1991 world politics. Andrew Murray proposes a theoretical framework for deciding the question of the differences and similarities between imperialism a century ago and now. Then he expounds the complexities of the case of Ukraine. From the analysis flow recommendations on how the political Left, the labor movement and anti-war campaigns should respond to multiple war dangers.

In 138 pages Murray examines the international setting – the nature of contemporary imperialism, the role of NATO and the European Union, the place of Britain in the world order and the impact of the economic crisis that began in 2008 on world politics – and how they relate to Ukraine.

The two main parts of the book are “21st Century Imperialism”  and “The Ukraine in Five Questions”  There are  also three appendices, “Attacking ‘Stop the War’ – Two Polemics,” “How Imperialism Marks Major Anniversaries,” and “The Georgian War of 2008.”

His section on ideological confusions on the British Left depicts a scene not unlike that prevailing in the US. The bibliography of key works on imperialism could be a syllabus for the self-education of antiwar activists.

1916 versus 2016

How does the imperialism of 2016 different from the imperialism of 1916? Apparently many are taking up this question. Yesterday this reviewer received in an email an advertisement for 21st Century imperialism by John Smith from Monthly Review. There is also a new book from a US Left group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, 21st Century Imperialism.

“Imperialism ” is one of those words from outside Marxism that Marxism has absorbed and made its own.

The word “imperialism” was first heard  from  the mouths of the imperialists themselves, plunderers such as Cecil Rhodes who carved up what remained of still-unconquered Africa and Asia and loudly defended their piratical gains.

Criticism of imperialism, fueled by opposition to the Boer War (1899-1902) took theoretical shape in the book Imperialism by the liberal British writer J. A. Hobson (1902). In the US, opposition to the Spanish-American War (1898) in which the US seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, included well-known Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and  Samuel Gompers organized in the Anti-Imperialist League. But when Marxism took over  the concept,  word imperialism largely was dropped in  respectable bourgeois discourse, until a few years ago.

Marx anticipated the qualitative change from free competition to monopoly that occurred at the end of 19th century in  his discussion in Das Kapital of the Laws of the Concentration and Centralization of Capital. Marxists such as Hilferding (in Finance Capital, 1910) and Bukharin (in Imperialism and World Economy, 1915) represented the beginning of Marxism’s theoretical absorption of the new reality. Karl Kautsky struggled with it, defining imperialism  as merely a policy of the advanced industrial countries toward the weaker agricultural countries. Kautsky argued that that imperialism is developing into a peaceful “ultra-imperialism” in which transnational capitalism supersedes national-based monopoly capitalism.

Rejecting Kautsky’s faulty formulations and conclusions, Lenin arrived at the classic Marxist understanding in Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) seemingly a modest “popular” pamphlet of 130 pages. In fact the pamphlet was the distillation of his Notebooks on Imperialism, which run to over 800 hundred pages and now make up Volume 39 of his Collected Works. Thus several decades of debate preceded Lenin’s famous work.

By defining imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism, not a mere policy, Lenin accomplished  the  grafting of the new reality  onto a consistent body of Marxist theory. That does not always happen; nowadays some Marxists all too readily use half-digested terms such as “capitalist globalization ” or “financialization.”

But, Murray argues, too many Marxists have been content to leave the analysis there, as if nothing had happened since Lenin’s  classic writing. Yet there have been obvious changes: the dominant power has changed (Britain in the decades before 1914; the US from 1945-present). The role of the state in capitalism has changed (modest a century ago except in wartime; massive, at all times, now). The main rival, ascending power has changed (Germany challenging Britain in 1914; People’s China challenging the US now)

A century ago, the revolutionary position was to reject both imperialist coalitions. In the First World War revolutionaries waged an uphill battle to convince  the working class to reject  misleaders who sided with “their own” imperialists. Lenin and the Bolsheviks advanced the slogan, “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war.” On the other side of Europe, in colonial Ireland, James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army declared in the Easter 1916 Rebellion, “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.”

Since 1989-91, obviously, the world balance of forces has changed.  The downfall of the USSR has removed the powerful restraint of the socialist camp on imperialism. Some things remain the same.  There is still inter-imperialist rivalry — there always has been — since imperialism emerged.  The law of uneven development of capitalism still persists.

Does the end of socialism in East Europe and the USSR in 1989-81 mean we simply are back to the world of the First World War and before, when two coalitions of imperialist states, one led by Britain and the other led by a rising Germany, vied for supremacy in the world?

Such a stance, Murray argues,  ignores dialectics. The monopoly stage of capitalism (like the competitive stage before it, from which it evolved) is not static. Murray proposes a framework to enable us to see the imperialist system in its contradictory motion, in its development tendencies, in a word, dialectically.

Affirming his essential continuity with Lenin’s analysis, Murray rejects the notion that nothing has changed. He contends that three concepts that came out of the grafting process can shed light on what has changed in the intervening century.

“Three different abstract political “models” could be consistent with this general order and the prevailing balance of economic power – super-imperialism; inter-imperialist rivalry; and ultra-imperialism.

Super-imperialism assumes the world system is dominated by a single imperialist power, which rules all the rest, from lesser imperialist powers down to states which are not really powers at all, even perhaps within their own national borders.

Inter-imperialist competition argues for a continuing struggle for markets, influence and control by several powers, or blocs of powers, within a world system that tries to resolve their antagonisms on a bilateral or multilateral basis, but without either an overarching hegemonic regulator or combined authoritative mediating structures.

Ultra-imperialism postulates the merging of competing imperialisms into one integrated system, somewhat analogous to monopoly capitalist mergers. It differs from super-imperialism in that there is no one power commanding the others, and assumes a radical diminution of the capacity of the nation-state as a point of organization and power for capital accumulation. Lenin used the terms ‘superimperialism’ and ‘ultra-imperialism’ interchangeably – understandably so, since the idea of a single imperial power overwhelming all others, rather than all of them fusing together, was inconceivable 100 years ago.

Here we make a distinction between the drive for undisputed world hegemony by the US (super-imperialism), and the process of the elaboration of institutions and policies which embody the collective interests of world imperialism (ultra-imperialism), closely entwined as these two concepts evidently are.

In reality, since the emergence of modern capitalist imperialism in the late 19th century, the world system has always been a mixture of all three aspects, and it is so today – never has the world order corresponded entirely to one or the other.” [1]

But there is more to say, surely, in evaluating contemporary imperialism. The  still dominant US  is arguably declining, at least in some ways. US  power is ebbing economically and to some extent politically. But in a military sense,  the world is  still living in a Pax Americana . The US is still dominant in global  economic institutions (IMF , World Bank) , though its sway is challenged  by faster growing capitalist states (progressive ones such as Bolivarian Venezuela and some not so progressive such as India) and by People’s China  (with its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to name only one initiative)

Such states are striving to build up an alternative architecture of international economic relations. Moreover, in 1914 there was no EU. The EU is both a rival and subordinate in relation to the US,  augmenting and sometimes restraining US power.

So what is the new configuration of contemporary imperialism , of the “world system” today? Murray states that elements of all three: “super”, “ultra”, and “inter” are present:

As a number of people have noted in recent times, the unipolar moment in international affairs has passed. Its tombstone will probably read : 1991-2008. A combination of the disasters and defeats of the “war on terror” and the economic crisis of neo-liberalism, together with the bounding growth of Chinese power and the steady returning of strength to the atrophied sinews of Russian authority, have turned the “one superpower” world into something more like “one-megapower” and quite-a-few rising powers planet – all in flat contradiction to the programme of the once-notorious Project for a New American Century which specifically enjoined US administrations to exert every effort to prevent any such pluralism of power emerging. Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all done their best in one way or another, but returning history has proved stronger. [2]

The Cause of the Ukraine Crisis

There is boundless arrogance in US policy toward Russia since the 1990s. US Administrations, of both parties, have dismissed Russian security concerns about invasion from the West, an astonishing position, given the 20th century history of the USSR, with 27 million dead in 1941-45 alone.

The relentless US drive eastward, bringing missiles ever closer to the borders of Russia , forgetting pledges made to the Gobachev leadership in 1990 not to push NATO eastward , is at the root of the Ukraine crisis.

…the crisis has in large measure been provoked by the continuing drive eastward in Europe by the USA and the European Union, the main props and beneficiaries of the post-1991 “new world order”. It is often said, and rightly, that the “unipolar moment” of unchallenged US world domination is passing; nevertheless US power, abetted in this case by the EU, is best seen as undermined and in relative decline, but it remains the only contender for a global hegemonic role. Even as it is troubled in the Middle East, and “pivoting” its immense military resources to the Far East to contain and confront ascendant China, it still looks to incorporate other countries within its zones of control (influence is too kind a word), that is to say, the formal and informal structures of the “New World Order”. [3]

Andrew Murray, calling Putinism a mix of “social conservatism, chauvinism, and nostalgia” but not a “dictatorship,”  [4] He quotes at great length – four pages –  a 2014 Putin speech laying out the logic of the Russian policy on Crimea. This long excerpt makes sense  on this side of the Atlantic. The US public is subjected , perhaps more than a British public, to unceasing demonization of Putin in the corporate media.  Television viewers here will have seen an endless loop  of mocking video footage of Putin  naked from the waist up riding a horse, but they will rarely have been exposed to his actual political views, which are quite rational.

Murray’s detailed summary of Ukraine’s complex history points out that Ukraine’ s borders have always been fluid and contested. He cites this example: before 1914 someone born in the city of Uzhgorod (in western Ukraine) could have lived, by 1992,  in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the western Ukrainian and then the Ukrainian national republics after World War I, Czechoslovakia ,Hungary, the USSR, and independent Ukraine, “all without moving house.” [5]

Here and there in the impressive summary of Ukrainian history an idea intrudes that one could question. “The collectivization of Soviet agriculture was a trauma from which Soviet society arguably and farm productivity undoubtedly never fully recovered.”  [6] But if collectivized agriculture was not more efficient than private agriculture, where did the surplus come from that paid for rapid Soviet industrialization in 1929-41? It’s an important debate about Soviet history, but a minor flaw, if a flaw at all, in a superb book.

Murray regards US “relative decline,” though real, as potentially reversible, a useful caution. US relative decline has been prematurely predicted before.

The Empire and Ukraine  will educate readers on the reactionary nature of the EU. Even the politically attentive classes in the US have a weak grasp of how central the question of the EU is in the politics of the continent. To be sure, knowledge is better now than it once was. The austerity hell through which Germany and its bankers have put Greece and other weaker states has improved understanding.

Attitudes  to the EU are the fault line of European politics dividing in the Left from the Center. The Left rejects the EU as imperialist and a bulwark of capitalism. Center forces — social democrats of the old and new variety — believe that the EU can be an agency of attaining “Social Europe.” They favor “critical engagement” with the EU.

The book is not for beginners. The reader should know something about foreign policy. Murray ‘s  writing is sophisticated and  passionate. This reviewer found delightful  the many flashes of irony and wit.

Andrew Murray has not only been doing excellent antiwar organizing, but also thinking deeply about antiwar strategy  too.  The depth of his thought  is on display in this luminous book.

Endnotes

[1] The Empire and Ukraine, 13.

{2] Ibid., 108.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.,  48.

[5 ] ibid., 52.

[6]  Ibid., 57.

The Empire and Ukraine

Manifesto Press, Britain, 2015

Preface by John Foster

ISBN 978-1-907464-13-3, 139 pp.

http://www.manifestopress.org.uk

Is Another Europe possible?

Danny Nicol: Is Another Europe possible?

Taken from https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2016/02/29/danny-nicol-is-another-europe-possible/

Is the European Union an empty vessel into which any political content may be poured? Can it accommodate not just neoliberal conservatism but also Keynesian social democracy, hard-line greenery and even pro-nationalisation democratic socialism? A new UK campaign, “Another Europe is Possible”, would have us believe this, and is touting for votes in the EU referendum on the basis that the Union can be changed into a more socialistic entity, “not [by] a network of politicians but grassroots activists across the UK”. The same optimism is apparent in the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 2025) in which Mr Yanis Varoufakis looms large. With the ferocity of tigers protecting their young, these progressives attack those who single out the EU as a hotbed of neoliberalism. ‘Can you name an institution not dominated by neoliberalism?’ argued Marina Prentoulis of Syriza UK at the launch of “Another Europe”: ‘National governments are pushing a neoliberal agenda too’.

It speaks volumes that Syriza, a party implementing austerity at the EU’s behest, is accorded star billing in this supposedly anti-neoliberal venture. Overlooked are theconstitutional differences between the EU and most European states. The possibilities for progressive or socialistic advance in any political community depend to a significant extent on the constitutional structure of that entity. If those seeking such advance are serious about achieving a more equal society, they need carefully to weigh up the institutional potential of any given polity. In fact in the context of the European Union there has been no such debate on the British Left. This is hardly surprising. The long record of failure of British socialists may be attributed at least in part to a perennial unwillingness to engage seriously in questions of strategy.

Yet outside the fairyland inhabited by “Another Europe is Possible”, constitutions domatter. Take the USA for example: a country with a constitution which is difficult to amend, save by judicial reinterpretation. Its system of government is famously one of checks and balances, though with normally no check on the Supreme Court beyond its sense of self-restraint. As a result progressivism has been constantly placed at a disadvantage. The New Deal, public healthcare and gun control have all in turn been dogged and retarded by various aspects of the American constitution. However, the US system of government shines as almost a beacon of hope by comparison with EU structures.

Treaty revision

This is because the EU Treaties not only contain procedural protections for capitalism, as is the case in the US Constitution: they also entrench substantive policies which correspond to the basic tenets of neoliberalism.  Let me give a few examples. First, Articles 107-8 TFEU empower the European Commission to vet state aids for their compatibility with the single market. This includes state aids to the public sector. The system also allows private corporations to challenge grants of state aid on competition grounds. Secondly, free movement provisions of the Treaties have been interpreted by the Court of Justice as prohibiting industrial action which “disproportionately” obstructs the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers – see the Viking and Rüffertrulings of the EU’s Court of Justice. Thirdly Article 49 TFEU grants companies the right of freedom of establishment. This includes the right to establish branches and subsidiaries in other Member States. It is difficult to imagine how nationalisation of branches and subsidiaries of companies based in other Member States would constitute a lawful limitation on freedom of establishment. For good measure Article 106 TFEU gives corporations the right to sue governments whenever any public monopoly infringes EU competition rules – including within the NHS.

None of this would matter very much if these provisions were easy to amend or repeal. However, being Treaty provisions, these policies may only be changed by agreement of all Member States. The methods of Treaty amendment are laid down in Article 48 TEU. Under the ordinary revision procedure the Member States must agree by common accord the amendments to be made to the Treaties. Under the simplified revision procedures (used to revise Union policies) the European Council shall act by unanimity. In each case the changes must be confirmed by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. Crucially, irrespective of which procedure is used, it only takes a single national government to veto treaty change. One would have to await a complete absence of neoliberal governments in order to change the Treaties in a socialistic direction. Such is the stuff of fantasy.

EU legislation and the TTIP

It might be thought that outside the realm of Treaty revision, life for progressives might be easier. With friends in the European Parliament and some in the Council, EU secondary legislation might somehow provide a means of socialistic advance. I am not so confident.

Take the privatisation of public utilities. The socialist position would surely be that Member States should determine the size of their own public sectors. However, the EU liberalisation legislation tends to consolidate privatisation. Nationalising sectors such as gas, electricity, telecommunications and postal services is forbidden by giving rights of market access to corporations.   This prohibits the sort of extension of public ownership brought in by the 1945 Labour government. New public enterprises have to compete with private firms in a capitalist market. But this arrangement is not socialist: it equates to the “competitive public ownership” craved by Anthony Crosland in his efforts to wean the Labour Party onto capitalism after the 1945 era (See C.A. Crosland, The Future of Socialism, London: Constable, 2006).   Publicly owned companies are thereby compelled to act more as if they were private companies, particular when the Treaty provisions on state aids are taken into account. Similar legislation on railways is presently going through the EU institutions.

It might be argued that liberalisation legislation is the product of EU democracy and could be repealed by democratic means. However the Council and European Parliament do not operate in an ideologically-impartial constitutional environment. Whilst the liberalisation measures were enacted by qualified majority voting on the Council, their repeal would be harder to achieve, because of the complication of identifying the correct legal base for any such legislation. Imagine that a national government sought to introduce EU legislation to allow all Member States a free choice over the public or private ownership of their energy, postal, telecommunications and rail sectors. It would have to rely on the Commission – the very architect of EU liberalisation – putting forward a proposal to the Council and Parliament. Furthermore the only legal base which is in any way credible would be Article 352 TFEU which requires the Council to act unanimously. We are back to square one: a single national government can veto socialistic advance.

Another measure which animates socialist circles is the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated with the USA. There is concern that TTIP will enable companies to sue governments where state measures harm profits.   Assuming TTIP is agreed before the next UK general election, the prospects of the EU discarding it rely on even more outlandish fantasies. Assuming withdrawal is permissible, there is no provision in the TEU and TFEU specifying how the EU goes about withdrawing from a treaty. Would one have to fall back on Article 352 TFEU, with its unanimity requirement, once again allowing a single neoliberal government to save the EU’s adhesion to the TTIP? It may be that the only way to discard TTIP is – horror of horrors – to violate international law, something far easier for a state to undertake than for the EU.

Conclusion

There have always been parts of the British Left which have elected to deny the significance of constitutional provisions in making their strategic choices. Instead they have clung to a belief in spontaneous combustion. With the zeal of born-again evangelistic sects (with whom they have much in common), they convince themselves that the people will somehow rise up from below and sweep aside all obstacles to social justice, including constitutional ones. The passage of decades, even centuries, when this doesn’t happen does nothing to dampen their faith.

Against this backdrop whilst there can be no objection to people pressing to make the EU more left-wing, such campaigners bear the responsibility of explaining how they will achieve their objectives in the face of the requirements of unanimity and common accord. As it presently stands, these requirements make substantial socialistic advance virtually impossible to achieve. Unless those who seek such change face up to the constitutional obstacle that confronts them, the only progressive reforms to materialise will be confined to the realms of their own minds.

Danny Nicol is Professor of Public Law at the University of Westminster.

Whose Europe? Theirs or ours?

Taken from http://rs21.org.uk/2016/03/29/whose-europe-theirs-or-ours/

Socialists do not have the luxury of choosing the conditions in which we fight; however unfavourable the current balance of forces, our task it to argue for an exit from the un-reformable EU on left terms, write Jen Wilkinson and Paul O’Connell.

I. Introduction:

The referendum on whether or not Britain should remain within the European Union (EU) is now fully underway. This debate confronts socialists with a series of pressing tactical and strategic challenges, the two key questions being: (i) should socialists intervene in this debate and (ii) if so, what position(s) should we advance. The position defended here is that, in all the circumstances, individuals and groups committed to the fundamental transformation of society have to come out strongly against Britain’s continued membership of the EU. We should do this on the basis of our commitments to democracy, genuine egalitarianism, solidarity and anti-racist internationalism. The Brexit debate provides an entry point for the bigger contest between defenders of a Europe in the service of capital, and the protagonists of a radically different Europe for the Twenty-First Century.

II. Dirtying Our Hands:

It is undeniably true that issues of immigration have, so far, dominated the referendum debate in the UK, and that the dominant narratives are, for all intents and purposes, slight variations on shared xenophobic and racist themes. In this sense, then, the choice between voting to stay in with Cameron or leave with Johnson/Farage is an empty choice between competing strands of racism that many people are not willing to engage in any substantial way. There is, of course, a section of the left (centred around the Labour Party/Green Party and certain trade unions) that are also making the case to stay in the EU, on the basis that voting to leave would jeopardise various legal rights guaranteed to workers and migrants by the EU.

Given the constrained character of the debate so far, many socialists in Britain have adopted one, or a combination, of the following positions: this is a fight between different factions of the Tory party, and not something that socialists should expend energy and resources on; the debate is unmistakably and irredeemably framed in racist terms, therefore socialists should not get involved in arguing for one or other side of the racist coin; whatever its limitations, the EU has provided important legal protections for the rights of workers and migrants and we should not campaign or argue for a position that would lead to a loss of such rights; and in the event that Britain does leave the EU, we will be confronted by a triumphant and fundamentally unconstrained Tory government, which will accelerate its attacks on workers’ rights and on migrants and refugees.

Each of these arguments or reservations reflects legitimate concerns about the current political conjuncture in Britain, and Europe more broadly, but they are not sufficient arguments against socialist intervention in the debate. A concern for many on the left is that the Brexit campaign has been launched to appease the more reactionary wing of the Tory party; consequently, the dominant discourses on either side of the In/Out-Stay/Leave debate are irredeemably racist. As a result the entire debate on the issue has become toxic, and it is impossible for socialists to make a meaningful, principled, anti-racist and pro-migrant intervention into the debate, because the populist howling of the reactionaries on both sides will drown it out. The problem with this argument is that ultimately it is a counsel of despair, and invites a level of resignation that socialists simply cannot afford.

Reframed slightly, the argument runs as follows: the narrative is controlled by the reactionary forces of the establishment, and whatever the outcome it will be interpreted by them (and spun by their media) in a way which reinforces their narrative. This of course is true, but if we accept this as an invitation to sit out this particular fight, then we may as well hang up our gloves entirely. The simple reality is that in modern capitalist democracies, with the various complex means of producing and reproducing consent and control, establishment forces will invariably set the terms of almost every debate. The onus, then, is on us to intervene in spite of their rhetoric, their mystifications and their lies, and to set out principled, revolutionary arguments as to why, in the instant case, we should stay in or leave the EU.

Choosing, instead, to concede the terrain of battle before the fight has even begun is an abdication of our responsibility as individuals and organisations committed to the radical and fundamental transformation of society. In the midst of the biggest crisis in world capitalism since the 1930s, we cannot abandon working people to the demagoguery of the right. As recent election results in France, Germany and Slovakia (and the large numbers of people voting for UKIP in the last UK general elections) show, reactionary and racist right wing movements are benefiting from the dislocation and frustration that many people feel as a result of the crises of capitalism. If we take the high ground and refuse to engage in the Brexit debate because we see it as an inter-racist turf war, we also abandon working people at a time at which the intervention of socialists is most sorely needed. And if we fail to engage, this, in turn, does not weaken the right, but rather gives them a free run to spread their noxious easy answers. Daniel Singer offers an instructive and timely warning on this point in Their Millennium or Ours (94): ‘if frustrated people see no progressive solution and have no rational explanations for their fate, they opt for irrationality and the search for scapegoats’.

Refusing to engage in this debate because it has, so far, been dominated by reactionary and racist positions does not, in any way, undermine the reactionaries and racists; rather it allows them to operate freely, at a time at which they should be fought for every inch of ground on the ideological and political terrain. The plight of refugees in Calais and elsewhere in Europe, or migrants facing racism in the UK is not in anyway improved by socialists sitting this fight out; if anything, it will likely make their position worse. As Singer (276) warned, ‘politics abhors a void. If the left fails to provide rational, progressive solutions to the growing economic and social traumas, the extreme right will come up with reactionary and irrational ones, playing on the fears aroused by globalization and on prejudices reinforced by apprehension’. All we have is the conjuncture before us, and we have to enter the fray. We do not have the luxury of waiting for more propitious circumstances of our own choosing before acting to make our own history.

III. Politics Without Illusions:

Whatever the arguments of the various segments of the right in the Brexit debate, what is crucial is that socialists advance their own principled arguments about the EU. The argument here is quite simple: the prospects for the radical, necessary changes to combat the crises of capitalism within Britain and Europe more broadly are dramatically inhibited by the existence of the EU. Therefore, we should seek a fundamental rupture with the institutions of the EU, so as to free up the potential to develop more radical politics grounded in genuine internationalism, not the truncated solidarity that the project of European capital offers. To make this intervention, we have to address three key arguments from those on the left who argue we should stay within the EU: (i) the EU guarantees numerous rights for workers, migrants and others that we should defend; (ii) whatever the shortcomings of the EU, Britain should remain a member state and socialists should fight within the existing structures to pursue ‘another Europe’; and (iii) even if we accept that leaving the EU might be necessary in the long run, now is not the right time because the right in Britain (and across Europe) is on the rise, while working people and the political left seem ill-prepared to resist them.

(i) Rights and Struggle

One of the central arguments for remaining within the EU is that membership of the EU has led to the development of substantial protection of workers rights, as well as the rights of consumers and the environment. This argument has been advanced in the current debate by, among others, the TUC and Jeremy Corbyn. A further element to this argument is that, as Corbyn says, ‘the Tories would use a vote to leave as the chance for a bonfire of rights in its aftermath’. There are three key responses to this line of argument. The first is that the rights protected by EU law are not the result of a gift from Jacques Delors and the benevolent institutions of ‘Social Europe’. Rather, the most important workers’ rights protected by the EU were won through the struggles of working people across Europe throughout the early- and mid-twentieth century. The legal structures of the EU, like all legal structures, reflect the crystallisation of particular struggles and conflicts, and the key workers, migrant and consumer rights protected by the EU were wrested from European capital by the collective action of working people.

This leads to a second, crucial point, which is that these formal legal guarantees were conceded at a point in time when European capitalism could afford to commit to such rights, and European workers were strong enough to demand such rights. The current conjuncture in Europe, in contrast, is one in which capital is on the offensive, and is necessarily seeking to break down all barriers to the pursuit of profit. In line with this, it is a period where the logic of neoliberalism has, since at least the mid-1980s, been encoded into the DNA of the EUs constitutional architecture. The last eight years of austerity have seen a dramatic acceleration in the undermining of workers’ rights and the living standards of working people. As Asbjørn Wahl notes:

In several EU countries—the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Hungary—wages, working conditions, and pensions have been severely weakened. Pensions have been cut 15–20 percent in many countries, while wages in the public sector have been reduced from 5 percent in Spain to over 40 percent in the Baltic. In Greece, the number of public employees has already been reduced by more than 20 percent. And still more is demanded: in Spain only one in every ten vacant positions in the public sector is filled, one in every five in Italy, and one in every two in France. In Germany 10,000 public-sector jobs have already been cut, and in the United Kingdom it has been decided to cut close to half a million jobs, which in effect will involve about the same number of jobs in the private sector.

Such has been the assault on workers rights and living standards, that both the Council of Europe(separate from the EU, but with responsibility for monitoring human rights protection across Europe), and the European Parliament have published reports documenting how the policies of the EU have led to the dramatic erosion of the entire corpus of rights.

Coupled with these developments, the highest court in the EU, the European Court of Justice (even before the onset of the economic crisis) has issued a series of judgments, starting with theViking and Laval cases, which dramatically undermine the right to strike, so as to protect the rights of companies. That these judgments pre-date the economic crisis is important. The accelerated assault on workers rights in the era of austerity is not an aberration, or a break with some mythical ‘social Europe’; rather it is the opportunistic intensification of tendencies inherent in the era of neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberalism is a response to the crises of capitalism. It is, first and foremost, a political project to reassert the interests of capital and capitalists worldwide. For this reason, the rights of workers were being systematically hollowed out prior to the US housing bubble bursting in 2008 and the assault on these rights has been facilitated, not restrained, by the institutions of the EU. This tendency can be seen further in the ongoing negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US, which will further weaken workers rights in the interests of capital. In short: given the trajectory of global capitalism, the EU is more likely to facilitate the undermining of fundamental rights, than act as a bulwark against their erosion.

This leads to a final point on this issue. The concern that leaving the EU would lead to an unrestrained Tory party engaging in a bonfire of rights is based on two flawed premises: the first is that formal legal guarantees effectively protect people from the vicissitudes of capitalism and the second is that the working class in Britain is unable or at least unlikely to mobilise to defend their rights. As to the first point, reference by proponents of the ‘remain’ side in the debate to the much-vaunted Working Time Directive (which is by no means unimportant) conveniently ignore the fact that British employees are allowed to negotiate with (read pressure”) their workers to opt out of the protections provided by this law, and thousands of workers do so annually. Furthermore, many British workers are faced, in the current crisis, not with being forced to work too many hours, but with having too few hours. A recent report shows that more than 800,000British workers are on zero-hour contracts, with all the insecurity, working poverty and precarity that that brings. The existing legal regime is virtually silent on this matter.

It is interesting to note that in New Zealand, such contracts have recently been outlawed, not as a result of some benevolent regional integration regime, but because of the sustained struggle of working class people there. In recent years in the UK, teachers, nurses, transport workers, junior doctors, migrants, refugees and their communities and supporters have come out in their tens thousands to assert and defend their rights. The loss of faith by some on the left in the capacity of the working class in Britain to fight to defend their rights, and the rights of migrants and refugees, ignores the history of struggle here, and the potential of ongoing struggles. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Tories and their ilk will continue to wage war on working people and migrants; the challenge is to be part of these struggles, and to trust in the capacity of people to fight to defend their interests, as the only real guarantee of the rights we have.

(ii) Reform or Revolution

It may well be that the rigid binaries of the early-twentieth century do not quite hold at the dawn of a new millennium, but there is, on the left, a sharp distinction between those who argue that we can and should remain within the EU to fight to make ‘another Europe possible’, and those who argue that commitment to socialist principles require us to break with the EU. The former position is represented well by the foundation of the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25), which leads with the tagline that the ‘European Union will be democratise or it will disintegrate!’. Led by Yanis Varoufakis and others, DiEM25 argues, correctly, that the EU as constituted is fundamentally undemocratic, and that it needs a ‘surge of democracy’ to save it from a steady slide into disintegration. In the same way, many on the left in Britain argue that while the EU has its faults, we should nonetheless stay and fight to reform it from within. Another Europe, they argue, is possible, and the EU’s democratic shortcomings can be overcome piecemeal.

It is interesting, given events in Europe over the last five years that a former Greek Finance Minister should be to the fore in a movement that claims the EU can be salvaged through democratisation. If anything, the treatment of the Greek people at the hands of the Troika provides a signal lesson, if one were needed, of the inherent antagonism between democracy and the functioning of the EU. In 2015, having suffered under some of the worst (EU-sponsored) austerity policies of the last decade, it appeared as if the Greek people would vote in a Syriza government to reject the economic and social policy prescriptions of the Troika. In response to this, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned the Greek people that

To suggest that everything is going to change because there’s a new government in Athens is to mistake dreams for reality … There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.

The fact that Juncker invoked the treaties on which the EU is founded in his contemptuous dismissal of democracy is instructive. Since at least the Maastricht Treaty, the EU’s constitutional arrangements have been revised to do two crucial things: (i) lock in the economic logic of neoliberalism and (ii) insulate the real decision making bodies with the EU from democratic control and accountability.

The most powerful actors within the EU, the European Commission and European Central Bank, are also the least accountable. This is not accidental, but the product of intentional choices to constitutionally lock-in the logic of neoliberalism to advance the interests of capital, and make it virtually impossible for the public at large to meaningfully impact on the decision-making processes at the heart of the EU. It is for this reason that mainstream law and political science journals are now replete with articles that characterise the EU project as an example of authoritarian statism or authoritarian liberalism. The contemptuous treatment of the Greek people in 2015 is just the most brutal, recent example of tendencies latent within the EU, and manifested in the discarding of the initial decisions of the Irish people on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties and of the French and Dutch people after they rejected the proposed constitution for Europe.

The EU is constitutionally undemocratic, and intentionally so. The calls to democratise the EU, though laudable, fundamentally misunderstand the character of the project. It is not the case that the dream of social Europe has been captured and derailed by evil technocrats in Brussels. Rather, the crises of capitalism necessitate a break for the ruling class with the post-War consensus in terms of social policy, and a rupture with the inhibiting limitations of democracy. These imperatives have been encoded into the constitutional architecture of the EU over the last twenty years. These constitutional arrangements constrain national governments that might wish to pursue some modest social democratic reforms (let alone institute radical social change); they make the functioning and operation of the leading EU institutions opaque and unaccountable; and, through the principle of unanimity enshrined in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union, make it virtually impossible to revise (or democratise) these arrangements. The upshot of this is, as Wahl notes, is that ‘the possibility of changing any of the EU treaties in a progressive direction through ordinary political processes is virtually nonexistent. One right-wing government in one member state can prevent this’.

The recognition by DiEM25 and others that the EU is fundamentally undemocratic is correct, but the belief that it can be democratised, in any meaningful sense, is fundamentally mistaken. You cannot use a flame thrower to put out a fire: the EU has been transformed over the last 20 years to lock-in the victories of capital over workers, and to constitutionalise Margaret Thatcher’s idea that There Is No Alternative. On this point, Samir Amin cuts through all of the sophistry when he writes that ‘the European Union can be nothing else than what it is, and as such is unviable’. Another Europe may well be possible, but another EU is not. A Europe committed to democracy, solidarity, egalitarianism and genuine internationalism will only be brought about in spite of, not through, the EU.

(iii) Bringing the War Home

The final objection to deal with here is the idea that even if we accept that the EU is flawed, perhaps fundamentally so, voting to leave now would be a retreat into narrow nationalism at a time at which the right in Britain, and across Europe, is ascendant and there is little prospect of a coherent, left alternative to it. This whole argument turns on matters of faith: on the one hand it reflects a misplaced faith in the possibility and potential of transformative, transnational politics and on the other it represents a loss of faith in the capacity of working people, and of the political left, to genuinely transform the political and social landscape. The first sort of faith is reflected, again, in the DiEM25 initiative, which wants to build a ‘Europe of Peoples’ beyond the nation state, and has as one of its medium-term aims the convening of a Constitutional Assembly to develop ideas and institutions to govern the peoples of Europe. Such transnationalism, a form of liberal cosmopolitanism, counter-poses its own progressive character with the spectre of retreating into ‘the cocoons’ of narrow nationalism.

There are a number of problems with this argument. The first is that (notwithstanding the rhetoric of popular participation) it seeks, unwittingly perhaps, to substitute the top-down rule of one set of technocrats for another. The premise behind this line of argument is that the EU, as such, was positive and progressive to start with, until the bad, neoliberal technocrats captured it. It can be salvaged by the good, social democratic technocrats leading the peoples of Europe, from above, into the light of a more enlightened set of social and economic policies. This is ironic, yes, but also fundamentally problematic. It seeks to put the cart before the horse, and develop a Europe of peoples through the agency of a few prominent personages. Charismatic, top-down leadership geared towards salvaging the EU is not a break or rupture with the logic of neoliberalism capitalism, but a variation on it – and as such, will be riddled with the same shortcomings and contradictions.

The only alternative to the EU, with its neoliberal and fundamentally undemocratic character, is the self-organisation and mobilisation of working people in Europe (in all of their variety). Such a movement cannot be conjured up at the transnational level, but must begin at the local level. AsSinger (210) succinctly put it, ‘the nation-state is still the ground on which the movement begins, power is seized, and the radical transformation of society is initiated’. Notwithstanding the delusions of post-nationalists (whether of the neoliberal or social democratic variety), movements for fundamental social change have to be built at the local level, and the nation state remains the basic unit of political action in this regard. In this respect, the EU, again, acts more as a restraint than an aid. As Wahl puts it, ‘the European Union itself creates a number of impediments, not only for economic and social development in Europe, but also for the social struggle’. Faith in the institutions of the EU and the possibilities of transnational politics to bring about the changes that are needed is misplaced. At present, the ‘working class, the trade unions, and other popular forces are now facing a brutal power struggle, which was started from above’.This assault has been facilitated by the institutions of the EU. The fight back against it will, of necessity, be mounted at the domestic level (while also building and relying on internationalist solidarity) and in this context the need to rupture with the institutions of the EU will become increasingly apparent.

Finally, then, is the loss of faith in the capacity of the working class in Britain and of the political left to develop the sort of politics necessary to confront the rise of the right and the crises of capitalism. There is not space enough here to deal with every aspect of this issue, but it can be one of the positive upshots of the Brexit debate if it forces socialists in Britain to face up to the organisational and political malaise which they now find themselves in. It is patently true that in Britain, and elsewhere around Europe, the working class and the political left are in bad shape, and the biggest crisis in capitalism since the 1930s has not, yet, produced a dramatic change in fortunes in this regard. It is understandable that such a vista could induce a degree of melancholy, resignation and defeatism amongst socialists, even while they continue to espouse the slogans they inherited from the Twentieth century. But the Brexit debate is an invitation to break with this malaise. In much the same way as the referendum about Scottish independence in 2014 became a thoroughgoing debate about what sort of Scotland, and what sort of future people wanted, the Brexit debate can provide a space in which socialists advance principled, revolutionary arguments about the nature of capitalism and the EU and invite working people to become the active protagonists in the construction of a different future.

We can turn away in dismay at the number of votes that went to UKIP in the last general election, or we can focus on the fact that a recent study shows that a majority of people in Britain have recently said they prefer socialism to capitalism. Focus on the fact that crises in capitalism can open up space for political developments that seemed impossible not long before. The choice confronting us now is between two distinct approaches to politics. We can, as Samir Amin argues, approach the current conjuncture as opportunists, who understand politics as ‘the art ofbenefiting from the balance of power, such as it is’, or we approach it as principled socialists, for whom politics is ‘the art of transforming the balance of power’. In a similar vein, Marta Harneckerargues that ‘for revolutionaries politics is the art of making the impossible possible, not from some voluntarist urge to change things but because our efforts should be realistically focused on changing the current balance of power so that what appears to be impossible today becomes possible tomorrow’. Entering the fray and arguing, on principled, anti-racist lines, for Britain to exit the EU and seeking to clarify the real issues facing working people is the crucial role of socialists in this conjuncture.

IV. Conclusions

If we could choose our own battles—or to paraphrase, choose the conditions in which we are called upon to make our own history—then many socialists would not put a debate about Britain’s continued membership of the EU top of their list. But that is the fight before us now. It may well be that this debate has its origins in Tory civil war politics, and that the mainstream debate will be dominated by racist, economistic and other misplaced narratives, but none of that absolves us of the responsibility to set out a principled socialist position on the debate. We can and must engage people and make clear that: (i) the EU now does as much to undermine peoples rights and living conditions as it does to protect them; (ii) the entire edifice is constitutionally and irredeemably undemocratic and neoliberal; and (iii) the thousands of dead men, women and children at the bottom of the Aegean and the despicable deal recently struck between the EU and Turkey are not an aberration, not a breach with mythical European values – instead they reflect Europe and the EU as it is. As such, we can and should break with the EU. If we do so there are no guarantees of what will come next: we do not get guarantees. But there are opportunities to imagine and fight for an entirely different Europe; that’s our challenge and we must prove ourselves worthy of it

Vote for withdrawing from the European Union

Starry Plough

Statement by the Communist Party of Ireland

1 March 2016

The Communist Party of Ireland expresses its solidarity with all progressive forces in Britain, and in particular with the Communist Party of Britain, in the forthcoming campaign for Britain to withdraw from the European Union. In particular we call on working people in the north-east of our country to vote for leaving the EU.

A vote to leave can be a vote for a different way forward, a vote against the deepening global militarisation of which the EU is one of the driving forces—not alone within the wider European continent but around the world.

A vote to leave would also call into question the southern Irish state’s continuing membership of the EU and reopen opportunities for working-class struggle on the national level.

We should not be distracted by the fact that very reactionary and chauvinist forces, nostalgic for the days of the British Empire, are also opposed to the European Union. We support the demand for withdrawal not on some narrow nationalist grounds but rather from a working-class internationalist position. There is a need to break the unity of the European monopolies, to break the unity of the European employers’ network of control, by dividing them, which can only weaken the whole. A withdrawal by Britain could well trigger a response from working people in other member-states to campaign also for withdrawal. It would break the fear that the EU has so successfully propagated, that outside the EU lies economic disaster.

The deal worked out between the British state and the EU institutions is a further attack on the rights of workers throughout Europe, especially migrant workers, the most vulnerable section of the working class.

The struggle against the European Union is essentially a struggle for democracy and sovereignty. It is an anti-imperialist struggle, one that some formerly anti-EU forces in the north-east of our country have walked away from, retreating into an idealised “critical engagement” with imperialism.

We reject the illusions being peddled in support of these arguments. They undermine the potential for bringing unity to our people on a progressive basis. It is wrong to present the idea that the EU is a potential bulwark against attacks on workers and environmental rights. These are false arguments. The EU and the treaties since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 have been for institutionalising austerity, consolidating the interests, influence and power of the big European monopolies specifically but also monopoly capitalism in general.

The attacks on workers in all Ireland will continue, inside or outside the European Union. Membership does not guarantee protection from attacks on workers’ rights and conditions—far from it: all the central institutions are above democratic control and are accountable to no-one, as designed by treaty.

The EU Central Bank, which is the central institution for imposing EU economic and monetary policy, is run by and for finance houses and big banks. The EU Commission is the guardian of conformity with the fiscal, political and military strategy of the EU. Attacks on workers, fiscal control and the primacy of the “market” above all else are hot-wired into the EU.

We do not accept that the EU is the source of, or has the potential for, progressive social and economic change, either at a transnational or the national level. EU laws, directives and institutions are designed to prevent and block change at the European and the national level. The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 consolidated the power and ideological influence of big business over the policies and the institutions of the EU. It enshrined the primacy of EU directives (i.e. laws) over national laws, in effect making illegal any progressive alternative economic or social policies. As far as the EU is concerned, there will be no way back to any serious democracy at the national level.

The anti-democratic nature of the EU and the absolute power of European big business over it will be further consolidated with the adoption of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The Communist Party of Ireland calls for the broadest coalition of progressive forces to campaign for British and also for Irish withdrawal from the European Union.

Time to step up the struggle for water

sv

The water movement, in all its manifestations and sometimes confusion, has been the biggest and most successful working class mobilisation in decades. This is in large part thanks to the thousands of activists all over Ireland. The movement is urban and rural. It has been an education process for everyone involved and opened many eyes to just how rotten the capitalist system and Irish State are. It is vital that momentum isnt lost just as the movement is on the very of victory. It is vital the movement remains on the street and the politics of the movement remains in the grassroots. If we allow, or pass to, elected representatives the political power this movement holds it will be a disaster for both the immediate goal but also the long term need to build on this great political class mobilisation.

Below is the editorial from the March issue of Socialist Voice available online at http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/index.html and is an important read for activists.

It is a matter of urgency for working people once again to mobilise, to get back on the streets to press home our demands for an end to water charges and, most importantly, for a constitutional amendment to enshrine the people’s ownership of water—not state ownership, because the state belongs to the rich and powerful.
Regardless of the negotiations now under way about the formation of a new government, which will only continue the policies of the previous two, we must not allow ourselves to bargain away all our hard work, the early-morning blocking of the installation of water meters, the local and national mass demonstrations.
Water activists urgently need to rally together to impose our agenda on the current political flux, and not allow them to impose their agenda on us. Fianna Fáil say they want to postpone charges for five years and to break up Irish Water; this is only a tactical matter for them in order to squeeze the momentum out of the mass mobilisation.
The establishment is mounting a counter-attack on those opposed to water charges. Its strategy is to play the long game and break the people’s resistance. Although the manner in which this valuable resource is managed is important, it is not the central question we face. What is central is the ownership of our water resources; our demand is therefore for a constitutional amendment. This is the only way to block privatisation. It becomes even more urgent when we realise that the TTIP and CETA, once enacted, could make this impossible.
We have to take advantage of the current political situation and use it to our advantage. Teachtaí Dála have been elected on the promise to end water charges and secure a constitutional amendment. They must be held to account. We cannot allow our struggle to be wasted on tactical manoeuvring for perceived political advantage, nor to be sidetracked by political sectarianism and petty point-scoring.
As the dust from the elections begins to settle, a number of things are becoming much clearer. Certainly the continued growth in the anti-establishment vote is to be welcomed, especially if we add to it the significant numbers of people who did not come out to vote at all because of their disillusionment with the politics presented to them.
All the main electoral parties and blocs, including those that stood on an anti-establishment platform, argued very much within the existing system. They allowed themselves to be corralled within the narrow ideological framework, some of them presenting their alternative economic and social policies with the boast that they had been fully costed by the Department of Finance! This implies that the Department of Finance and the state in general are neutral, above the cut and thrust of politics, above siding with any particular class interests. The reality is that the Department of Finance is the guardian of the interests of the economic system as a whole, that it takes direct orders from Brussels and Berlin.
A big effort now, especially before a new government emerges from the whisperings in Leinster House, can achieve not merely a moratorium on water charges but a major victory, consolidated with a constitutional amendment.

 

 

A Moment Charged with Possibility

Below is an article taken from Blogger Zoltan Zigedy worth reading on the US elections. The article looks at the question that is Sanders looses to Clinton, which now appears very likely, will his supporters and backers vote for Clinton? If not, is there a potential for a new party or movement to form to the left of the Democrats. Could Sanders loosing actually be beneficial to the left in challenging the two-party establishment?

Writing in the Los Angeles Times (If Bernie Sanders loses, his backers may not be there for Hillary Clinton in November, February 5), Evan Halper and Michael A Memola report:

Gio Zanecchia is so enamored of Bernie Sanders that he made a five-hour drive with his wife and infant son from South Jersey on Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of the progressive firebrand.

But what if Sanders loses the Democratic nomination? Asked whether he will be there to vote for the Democrat in November should Sanders falter, the 34-year-old union mechanic reacts as if the question is insane. There is not a chance, he insists, that he would ever support Hillary Clinton.

“She’s establishment,” Zanecchia said. “Most of the guys I work with think she’s a criminal.”…

This is not a group that is particularly loyal to the Democratic Party. While liberal Democrats make up a big chunk of Sanders’ support, many other backers are independents. Some mistrust the party so much that Sanders supporters booed the party chair when she took the stage Friday night at a dinner at which the candidates spoke.

Zanecchia’s second choice for president is Donald Trump.

Attempting to interpret the electorate for the Wall Street Journal (The Life of the Party, January 30-31), John O’Sullivan, a prominent writer, highly regarded in conservative circles, agrees that Democratic Party loyalty plays a diminished role in this electoral cycle. He sees changes in the Democratic Party as creating a gulf: “These changes have orphaned a very large class of voters. Working-class Americans no longer feel well represented by the Democrats…”

But he sees a similar gulf lurking in a significant section of the Republican Party, producing: “ the people now saying that they will vote Trump for president. Early media analyses tended to assume that these voters were Tea Partiers under a new flag. But… Philip Bump… found that Trump supporters were younger, poorer, less educated, less conservative, more moderate, more likely to call themselves Republican, less likely to call themselves independent…, more likely to be white and less likely to be evangelical than were Tea Party supporters on all these points.”

Mr. O’Sullivan is troubled because these Republican-in-name voters are less willing to carry the water for the corporate Republicans. They eschew the anti-government dogma that welds corporate Republicanism together with the Tea-Party: “Tea Partiers stress constitutional limits on what government can and should do; Trump supporters are enthusiastic for getting things done and aren’t too particular about how that happens.”

The Trumpets and Trumpettes lack enthusiasm for free-market ideology: “[L]ibertarianism and its prophet, Sen. Rand Paul, have been pushed aside by the rush of popular support to Mr. Trump, who represents, if anything, a movement from libertarianism to activist government.”

And most alarming to Mr. O’Sullivan and the corporate Republicans, “…Mr. Trump has sweepingly promised to preserve entitlements against… reforms, discouraging other Republicans from making this tough case.”

Thus, the Trump segment of Republican voters departs sharply from the corporate Republican playbook and represents somewhat of a challenge to the core corporate ideology of Republican Party bosses.

Of course the Trump constituency openly embraces the anti-immigrant racism stirring in all the elements of the Republican base. O’Sullivan sees this more of a tactical issue than a principled difference.

Something is stirring in the US electorate

Dissatisfaction within the two parties is not new. The desire for a break from the past, for change, drove the Obama election. And the rise of the Tea Party signaled turmoil within the Republican Party. While Obama and the Tea Party were both responses to a continued deterioration of confidence in US institutions and politicians, the challenges never threatened the two parties’ pro-corporate programs– the Obama phenomena never eroded the dominance of big business or the banks, nor did it pretend to do so; the Tea Party never distracted the Republican Party from its mission to promote capital, big and small. Both parties were confident that they could stage manage dissatisfaction and tame dissent in the final act.

The Sanders and Trump successes suggest that voters are not appeased by the thin gruel offered by the party elites this go-round. But something more profound is occurring—a refusal to settle for the usual charade. Moreover, party loyalty is unusually thin this time, challenging party leaders’ ability to count on a transfer from one candidate to another. What the pundits call “unpredictability” is actually the exercise of a new level of political maturity and independence.

A recent Pew Research Center poll (December 8-13, 2015) bears out the mood of voter alienation: 62% of all respondents maintain that “the federal government does not do enough for middle-class people.” Thus, the notion that anti-government sentiment runs deep in the populace is a media-inspired illusion. Instead, people want better government.

Furthermore, the respondents harbor no illusions about the political parties. Sixty-two percent (62%) believe that the Republican Party favors the rich. And only 32% of the public believe that the Democratic Party favors the “middle class.”

One should not be fooled by the dodgy term “middle class,” so popular with class-conflict deniers. Respondents understand the term as roughly synonymous with “working class”: “When it comes to what it takes to be middle class, there is near unanimity in the public that a secure job and the ability to save money are essential for middle-class status.” (Pew)

Thus dissatisfaction is understandable when “middle class” is coupled with the finding that “Majorities of self-identified middle-class (58%) and lower-class adults (73%) say that good jobs are difficult to find.”

An even more recent Pew poll (released 2-10-16) shows a remarkably strong unhappiness with the US economic system (presumably capitalism!): “A substantial majority of Americans – 65% – say the economic system in this country ‘unfairly favors powerful interests.’” Fewer than half as many (31%) say the system “is generally fair to most Americans.”

While rejection of “the establishment” and “business-as-usual” marks a new level of political maturity, it is not accompanied by a comparable ideological clarity; the public shares only a murky vision of alternatives. The expression of dissent through such diverse electoral vehicles as Sanders and Trump demonstrates this point.

Nonetheless, the successes of the Sanders campaign, despite many weaknesses, open up an opportunity for the left in the US. Sanders has successfully and unapologetically embraced words like “socialism” and “revolution” in his campaign narrative. Never mind that he may use the words in a modest, unthreatening way; they have been effectively banned from main stream US political discourse for most of our lives. To the shock of many, a Boston Globe survey of New Hampshire Democratic Party primary voters prior to the February 9 vote found that 31% described themselves as “socialist,” over half of those between the ages of 17 and 34 did so as well.

Certainly many only have a hazy idea of socialism, but any one afraid to discuss socialism with others in this climate should surrender her or his leftist badge.

The failure of intense red-baiting to gain traction at this moment is equally remarkable. Consequently, the occasion to interact with an angry electorate looking for fresh answers should not be lost to the socialist left.

While Democratic Party values have inexorably moved rightward over the last 25 years or more, its loyal followers have just as deliberately moved leftward. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Democrats describing themselves as “Very Liberal” rose from a mere 9% in the Bill Clinton era (1992) to 22% in 2016. Whatever “Very Liberal” means, it should be fallow ground for those of us offering a fresh alternative. It is surely apparent that the barrier to moving politics leftward is the Democratic Party establishment and the two-party stranglehold on change.

Lest anyone harbor illusions, the insurgencies are very far from victory. The two party establishments are not going to surrender—they will fight ferociously to the end. After all, the two parties belong to the elites and their corporate partners.

On the Republican side, should a corporate Republican fail to rise to successfully challenge Trump, Michael Bloomberg stands in the wings with a threatened independent run. The party’s corporate masters would rather he scuttle the ship temporarily than see Trump set back Republican chances for the next decade, especially with the emerging minority majority.

Should Clinton falter on the Democratic side, Biden is waiting in the wings, ready to accept a hand off. Rigged primaries, media assaults, and other traps lie ahead for Sanders before a stacked convention. We must remember that the Democratic Party doesn’t belong to the people.

The left must offer ideas of substance and clarity, along with bold alternatives, to the young idealists supporting Sanders’ quixotic campaign or they may retreat to indifference and inaction. A lot is possible.

Zoltan Zigedy

zoltanzigedy@gmail.com