Feb 24, 2009

The Guardian UK: Britain faces summer of rage

Police are preparing for a "summer of rage" as victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions, the Guardian has learned.

Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming "footsoldiers" in a wave of potentially violent mass protests.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.

read more

Feb 19, 2009

Paretsky responds to Thinking and Acting

originally a comment, Paretsky's thoughtful and challenging comments deserve more attention, so we post them up as their own post. - c. alexander

It’s taken me a while to assemble some comments on Don’s challenging and dense piece. (The recent posts on TWF have helped motivate me to get this finished.) I still don’t have a handle on all the issues and strategic questions he addresses in the context of his critiques of the three articles. My own lack of experience in politically “thinking and acting in the real world” is part of the problem. There’s a lot to respond to, but my comments are concentrated on just a few points in this piece: the “Negri framework” and related ideas; “authoritarian capitalism” and “Global Social Democracy.” I’m afraid a lot what I have to say smacks of that academism and dilettantism that irritates revolutionaries. It is often tangential and digressive, possibly distracting attention from what Don considers the main issues. I apologize for my poor editing, poor grammar and limited vocabulary. Among the authors Don cites (in addition to Midnight Notes, Hanieh, and Akuno), I’m most acquainted with the work of Mike Davis, and I’ll refer to him a few times (I haven’t yet seen the Davis article that Akuno cites). Negri lost me after Domination and Sabotage.

The Negri Framework
I’ve been leery of Toni Negri for a while, for different reasons, and skeptical of his and Hardt’s Empire – perhaps unfairly because I haven’t actually read their book, only the negative reviews. But I like Don’s use of their argument about the breakdown and intermixing of spatial divisions between the First, Second, and Third Worlds. The sentence from the Empire quote, “Empire is characterized by the close proximity of extremely unequal populations, which creates a situation of permanent social danger,” is pregnant. It sounds correct that “the distinctive impact of this crisis will be the exacerbation of contradictions and political potentials through accelerating the compacting of increasing inequalities into closer and contact with each other” (dh). I’m not sure what is meant by the “potential and actual political relationships” (dh) that affected by this “compacting”. I agree with the implications Don draws, that the left needs to be alert to the “political breaks that can emerge anywhere within the global capitalist system,” especially in the center, where “the political circumstances are likely to change the most radically.” And I agree with the related assertions that the “defining impacts of this crisis will not be essentially displaced, they will come home.… politically and economically, the most significant qualitative impact of this crisis will be on the metropolitan capitalist center, not the ex-colonial periphery. The crucial impact will be in the ‘core’, rather than the ‘gap’.… it is in the core where this financial crisis will force the global ruling class to confront the reality that its old system of rule doesn’t fit the modern circumstances for capital accumulation and political equilibrium” (dh).

The relationship between the “core” and the “gap” isn’t completely clear to me. The “gap,” as I understand the term from Don’s exchange with Stan Goff over neoconservatism, refers to the “zones of chaos” where the rules of capitalism are not operating or being accepted. But in the Negri framework, it seems like “gaps” can appear within the “core,” the latter understood in the traditional spatial schema as the “First World” or metropolitan center.

Don’s a little vague about the nature of the “political breaks.” Maybe they will take different forms, have different levels of rupture with capitalism, have differing ideologies. They may involve street protests or strikes, in response to specific grievances, range from episodic protests, such as confrontations with the state triggered by such specific issues as police brutality combined with oppressive economic conditions, with the potential to develop into an enduring mass challenge to capitalist authority; to more radical, comprehensive breaks with capitalist society, involving social organization autonomous from capital and constituting some kind of dual power. And the breaks may be fascist, with mass fascist opposition to capitalist power and fascist dual power.

To me, the internal composition of these “extremely unequal populations” – and here I’m focusing on the subordinate populations – is complex, with different strata that may relate to each other in problematic ways. Don seems mostly concerned with the marginalized, whose growth is one of the “secular trends” of capitalism – the creation of a permanent surplus population as producers are expelled from capitalist or pre-capitalist social relations, with no prospect of their later being reincorporated into capitalist relations down the road. (Loren Goldner also sees increasing marginalization as feature of capitalism in what he calls its “decadent” phase.) But alongside the permanently unemployed, there are people still engaged in wage labor of various sorts, such as “informal” employment but also including low wage service sector employment, and a traditional working class engaged in manufacturing, like in the maquilidoras in Mexico, and China’s large industrial proletariat. In the center (the U.S. specifically), marginalization is occurring with an established, modern working class, so that we have the phenomenon of “structural employment,” so far seen mainly in the Black community, which historically provided much of the labor that built capitalist America; a low-wage “Wal-Martized” working class that has developed with “deindustrialization;” and a still-existing and strategically important traditional industrial working class. I think changes in the composition of the white working class in the U.S. need to be examined. Also, there are sectors of the working class that will remain in the “First World,” probably mostly white – e.g., technology and “knowledge” workers. I’m sorry if this sounds too much like sociology, but the nature and possibility of the “breaks” may be affected by differentiation within the “unequal populations.” How will the permanently unemployed and the employed wc related to one another. I’m not sure if I’m interpreting Don and Hardt-Negri correctly, and I don’t now where they place the traditional working class – maybe they think it’s part of the First World.

I agree that the “scrambling” of First, Second, and Third Worlds, is being accelerated by the current crisis. The loss of relatively decent-paying jobs now occurring in manufacturing may never be reversed, and the industrial base that emerges from the crisis will probably be more automated, with more of a “First World” character. But there seems a vast qualitative and quantitative difference between the mega-slums of Bombay, Sao Paulo, Nairobi, and Cairo, and the slums of Paris, Detroit, and other cities in the traditional center. Don says he is not talking about a leveling of conditions. On the other hand, these differences may complicate the efforts at global solidarity he sees as central.

I think Amin, or Frank, or both, or somebody else, had the notion of social formations and economies in the periphery being “disarticulated,” lacking some kind of coherence. Even before the onset of the crisis we were seeing this happen in American capitalist society. It’s been talked to death, but I’m thinking about the destruction of New Orleans – whether through deliberate or stupid neglect – and its aftermath: the internment of poor, mostly Black people in the Dome, and later the FEMA trailer parks. I heard coworkers saying things to the effect, “this isn’t supposed to be happening in America, this happens in Third World countries.” This episode was also a symptom of the “crisis of the law of value”: how people with no use value for capital are treated. (One could also see the casual sacrifice of a major American city that has represented and contributed to a rich stream of American culture as evidence for a U.S. ruling class that is globalizing and less concerned with the conditions in the territory of its historic home state.) Maybe not too much should be made of it as a symptom of secular disintegration; an Obama or even a McCain presidency would probably have dealt with the disaster differently.

What Mike Davis Has Said
A marxist who has probably done the most sociological investigation of the close proximity of “extremely unequal populations” inside the U.S. is Mike Davis, such as in his writings on Los Angeles. Writing during the 1980s in his Prisoners of the American Dream (Verso, 1986), Davis sketched the emerging class structure of “post-Fordist” American capitalism:

“What the Kerner Commission Report found to be ‘two societies, separate and unequal’, may by 1990 be three distinct societies, as segregated from one another as if apartheid were economic common law in the United States. At one pole will be the sumptuary suburbs and gentrified neighborhoods occupied by the middle classes, the rich and elements of the skilled white working class.…Outside, in the first circle of the damned, will be the ghettoes and barios, now joined by declasse and deindustrialized layers of the white working class,” a low wage working class with “‘citizen’ rights to a minimal social safety net”; and “a large outer perimeter of US society composed of workers without citizen rights or access to the political system at all: an American West Bank of terrorized illegal laborers.…a poor Latin American society thrust into the domestic economy” (pp.304-305).

Davis also briefly suggested the importance of transnational labor mobility in our neck of the global capitalist woods: “…the left in the United States will have to confront the fact that there is never likely be an ‘American revolution’.… If socialism is to arrive one day in North America, it is much more probable that it will be by virtue of a combined, hemispheric process of revolt that overlaps boundaries and interlaces movements” (ibid, p.314). Davis also calls for “more audacious projects of coordinated action and political cooperation among the popular lefts in all the countries of the Americas” (ibid). “the possibility for organizing mass solidarity must be one of the principal hopes of international socialism,” and in the US case, “between the liberation movements in Southern Africa and Latin America and movements of the Black and Hispanic communities in the USA” (ibid, p.313).

Davis (again, this is from something he wrote in the ‘80s) sees the leading edge of a renewed popular left in the US in a renewed movement among the Black and Hispanic working classes for social equality, which is no longer unfinished liberal business but a “‘revolutionary-democratic’” project that “that challenges the current political economy of capitalism”; “Substantive economic citizenship for Black and Hispanic American would require levels of change dangerously close to the threshold of socialist transformation” (ibid, pp.310-311). I don’t know how this fits with Don’s critique of the Akuno paper, his views on “revolution vs reform,” and the need for breaks with capital, not inclusion in capitalist society.

Davis’ important book on the worldwide epochal urban demographic shift and the growth of mega-slums, Planet of Slums (Verso, 2006), may offer insights into the conditions and political tendencies among the emerging marginalized in the center. (Planet of Slums seems to offer support for the idea of marginalization as a secular development in capitalism. Davis observes that “there is no official scenario for the reincorporation of this vast mass of surplus labor into the mainstream of the world economy,” and cites the view of one researcher, with regard to India, of the “reserve army” that “becomes stigmatized as a permanently redundant mass, an excessive burden that cannot be included now or in the future, in economy and society,” and which in this commentator’s view is “the real crisis of world capitalism” (ibid, p.199). However, Davis rejects the view that “urbanization without industrialization is an expression of an inexorable trend: the inherent tendency of silicon capitalism to delink the growth of production from that of employment” (ibid p.14). For Davis, the cause is “the legacy of a global political conjuncture,” the “IMF-led restructuring of Third World economies” after the debt crisis of the late ‘70s (ibid). )

Davis briefly considers the question of whether the marginalized urban poor posses “‘historical agency’” in the Marxist sense, which is to be the topic of another book by him. (Davis also briefly dismisses Negri and Hardt’s concepts, such as “the multitude,” as “portentous post-Marxist speculations” (ibid, p.201).) This has been a problem for me for some time, the potential of the marginalized to make a socialist revolution, in light of the standard marxist explanations for assigning the proletariat the unique role in leading the struggle for overthrowing capitalism and creating a classless society. Where do the marginalized stand when considering the Lordship & Bondage passage in Hegel’s Phenomonology of Mind that I think was important in STO’s and other leftist conceptions of the proletariat’s development of a consciousness as a potential ruling class.

The Epilogue to Planet of Slums, “Down Vietnam Street” deals with the Pentagon’s planning for urban counterinsurgency, termed Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT), and whose premise is is that “the ‘feral, failed cities’ of the third World – especially their slum outskirts – will be the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true ‘clash of civilizations’” (ibid, p.205). Davis suggests that this is the underlying meaning of the “war on terror.” While his discussion is focused on the slums of the South, the implications that the slums and ghettos of the U.S. will be or already the subject of similar military strategizing are clear. (There’s a DoD-sponsored website with links to articles in military journals on MOUT doctrine as applied to the US, including articles on the LA riots of 1991; I don’t have the address handy right now, but many of the links were to the Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned.)

The Strong State and Global Social Democracy
Turning to global social democracy (GSD). I think Don needs to further explain how an “increasingly authoritarian and repressive capitalism” is “politically defined” by GSD. In Don’s earlier writings on the secular crisis he argued that a social democratic response to the crisis could only be a transition to a conservative strong state – a state that would engage in planning, but planning “not based on, or aimed at creating a popular consensus” (dh, parapharase). Now Don believes that while keynesianism at the national level has run its course, there is “definite economic and political flexibility for capitalism as a world system” to make a global keynesianism viable. (I think that’s what he means.) I do see substantial ruling class support for some form of GSD (look, for instance, at the New America Foundation, http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=home), and see how some of its components, mainly a more economically active role for the state, could make it “the most viable ruling class option” and “a very likely outcome of the crisis.” I agree that all the policy options of the ruling class should be confronted by a radical left, and that there is a danger that a large part of the left will wind up supporting some variant of GSD. I’m having trouble understanding how social democratic governments can reconcile their legitimating ideologies and promises to their mass base with authoritarianism and repression, at least for very long, given secular trends for increasing marginalization and the “permanent social danger” of cores and peripheries grinding up against each other. And Don says he doubts contemporary capitalism’s capacity for significant reforms. I’m a little ignorant of the history of actual social democratic regimes, but I’m aware of their capacity for repression and commitment to preservation of capitalist hierarchies. (In his The State in Capitalist Society, Ralph Miliband quotes the socialist minister of the interior in France’s Popular Front government of the ‘30s, regarding widespread labor militance: “…my choice is made between order and anarchy. Against whosoever it may be, I shall maintain order”, p.103.) Liberal technocrats like Robert McNamara could bomb and napalm Vietnam and later blubber about helping the very same poor they had been trying to wipe out a few years previous.

I’m trying to envision how a repressive, authoritarian GSD would work; would it be a narrow class compact, with very privileged sectors of the working class; would it be the combination of reform and repression practiced in the U.S. during the ‘60s, only globally: a Great Society to coopt or relieve the pressure from mass movements + COINTELPRO to eliminate the radical challenges. For controlling the marginalized or the “gaps,” would it be like “Hearts & Minds” in Vietnam. I can see how the repression would be connected with a ruling class anti-fascism. (To cite Miliband again: in his State in Capitalist Society, while pondering what he viewed as the long-term drift of Western capitalist states away from bourgeois democracy to authoritarianism: “It is easily possible to conceive of forms of conservative authoritarianism which would not be ‘Fascist’, in the old sense, which would be claimed to be ‘democratic’ precisely because they were not ‘Fascist’, and whose establishment would be defended as in the best interests of ‘democracy’ itself,” p.272).

Leftists and Social Democratic Programs
I agree with the need “to clarify the line between a revolutionary challenge to capitalism and the range of proposed reforms and ameliorations that flower during all popular upheavals,” that there must be “a confrontation with capitalism as a system, rather than as a protest movement focused on grievances and abuses,” and that “vital issues of the relationship between revolution and reform, and between confrontation and accommodation, must be spelled out” (dh). (And for me, the question of revolution vs reform is not clear cut. I don’t want to rule out revolutionaries participating in reform struggles. Also, it seems like there’s potential for “confrontation[s] with capitalism as a system” to develop out of protest movements.) I think its true that social democratic proposals will, are, “emerg[ing] as implicit or explicit pro-capitalist initiatives within the popular movements where they will be actively and uncritically promoted by … ‘liberal and centrist forces’” (dh).

A case is the work of the think tank, New America Foundation, (http://www.newamerica.net/index.cfm?pg=home), whose board of directors is replete with financiers and members of the corporate elite, such as the Chairman of Google and a retired aerospace corporation chairman, and policy intellectuals from the Council on Foreign Relations. (And Francis Fukuyama.) A number of board members, such as the organization’s founder, Ted Halstead, are active in the World Economic Forum (Davos). The Foundation backs a new New Deal to recreate a strong middle class and advocates a “New Social Contract” to this end, among other things. But more to the point, members of its research staff are getting published in The Nation on topics such as green capitalism (“A Green Stimulus for the People,” By Lisa Margonelli, New America Foundation, The Nation | January 11, 2009), and “Democratizing Capital” (By Sherle R. Schwenninger, New America Foundation The Nation | March 20, 2008), the latter article talking about such things as “Using Public Investment to Lay the Foundation of a Middle Class Economy.”

Then we have a lot of leftist intellectuals, like some of those associated with New Left Review, who see no alternative to neoliberalism but a reformed capitalism. Take David Harvey, whose work on political economy I’ve really liked, and who used to have revolutionary politics: In a recent article, “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (posted at the Navigating the Storm site), Harvey urges “political leaders to stop preaching banalities…and get down to doing what has to be done to rescue capitalism from the capitalists and their false neoliberal ideology. And if that means socialism, nationalizations, strong state direction, binding international collaborations, and a new and far more inclusive (dare I say ‘democratic’) international financial architecture, then so be it.” Missing from these leftist reform scenarios is the working class movement, although it may be that this movement is what saves capitalism in the end, by forcing the necessary reforms, as it has in the past.

The Early Trilateral Commission Program
This leads to a digression. GSD, as outlined by Bello, sounds a lot like elements of the Trilateral Commission’s agenda during the 1970s for reshaping the international system in response to the economic crisis (expressed in the Commission’s reports, which are publicly available, and can be found at its website or any large library, and in statements by its leading spokespeople): a managerialism skeptical that market forces alone could maintain an “interdependent” international capitalist economy, featuring economic planning based on a corporatist “partnership” between government, business, and labor; government-supported and directed investment in growth industries, including alternative energy sources and energy conservation; economic transfers from North to South; regulation to ensure ecologically-sound growth. The Commission’s Crisis of Democracy report argued that growth and full employment were necessary for political stability, and endorsed a left-liberal proposal then circulating in the U.S. for national economic planning. One of the Commission’s leading intellectuals, Z. Brzezinski, advocated “programs of social redistribution,” and said that the U.S. should become “a society of increased participation – what is called an industrial democracy – which means a restructuring of the major responsibility and direction, if not ownership, of our society, to bring more participants into it. And that applies particularly to labor and management.” (I can provide citations on request.) While the Commission adjusted its stance to the “new capitalist consensus” that had developed by the end of the ‘70s, what became known as neoliberalism, it continued to maintain a more “regulationist” approach to capitalism than other ruling class policy-planning organizations. (Holly Sklar’s Trilateralism is a standard reference, but a valuable and overlooked book is Joseph Peschek’s Policy Planning Organizations (1987, Temple University), which provides a good overview of the Commission’s “managerialist” agenda.)

Trilateralism also had its authoritarian side. While Brzezinski spoke of “increased participation” and “industrial democracy,” the Crisis of Democracy report, in which Brzezinski was a participant, was all about restoring authority and “governability” to the advanced capitalist societies, that were suffering from the famous “excess of democracy.”

If we’re looking for ruling class templates for dealing with the crisis, and over the long run a new model of class rule and economic management, I think the Trilateral Comission’s proposed approach to the energy crisis of the mid-70s, offers a glimpse of things to come. A program of increased state intervention in the economy, that goes beyond keynesian demand management to intervene directly in the structure of production, combined with a strong dose of authoritarian rule, was outlined in a number of Commission reports on the energy situation. The report, Energy: The Imperative for a Trilateral Approach (Campbell, Carmoy, and Kondo, [1974a] 1977), stated that “Market forces will provide much of the motive power, but it is necessary to set the context within which private decisions on investment, for example, can be made and market forces can operate to the best advantage. The overall strategy must take the form of public policy…” (p.110). The report envisioned widespread state involvement in the restructuring of the Trilateral economies: “Within national economies, under pressure of high-cost energy, governments and peoples will have to take decisions on allocation of resources, on priorities among different forms of production and subsidies to investment, on revamping of transportation systems, and on patterns of location for industry, public services, and housing” (Ibid, p.105).

The Trilateral energy experts also the need for state control to spread throughout society: “Inflation, industrial slowdown and unemployment may bring social unrest, further loss of confidence in governments, and political disorder. …under these multifarious dislocations and pressures the lines between private decision and public control, between the freedom of individuals to live their own lives and the social requirement for rationality and equity in the use of scarce resources, will come under strain” (ibid, p.105). The populations of Trilateral societies “should be prepared to tighten their belts,” for which they needed “a wartime psychology” (ibid, p.121]. These themes were continued in the Trilateral report, Energy: A Strategy for Action (Campbell, Carmoy, and Kondo, [1974b] 1977). Discussing policy for energy conservation: “The long-term energy strategy recommended” will require “acceptance, voluntary or involuntary, of governmental regulation of an increased sector of personal life” (ibid, p.154). It was suggested that repression and a shift from bourgeois democracy would be necessary:

“It is a real question, therefore, whether the necessary sacrifices will in fact be accepted by powerful elements in the body politic, be they politicians, civil servants, trade unions, businessmen, or an undefined mass of ordinary citizens. In such cases, there is instability and turmoil whether a government tries to face the crisis or to avoid it. We foresee growing extremism, both of the right and of the left, which will feed on this instability.… Each nation, of course, will have to make its own decisions on how the necessary elements of social discipline, governmental control, and changes in customary modes of living can be reconciled with the vital need to preserve civic freedoms and democratic institutions” (ibid, pp. 154-155)

Notice that in the above quotation among the recalcitrant “elements in the body politic” that would have to be disciplined were other members of the ruling class and state personnel. I think this will be the case in the current crisis, one reason having to do with the conflict between the interests of global capital and nation-states, which Don has emphasized in a number of statements. (And although I have reservations about whether a truly global ruling class now exists, I believe there are tendencies in that direction; there are sectors of the bourgeoisie that are engaged in accumulation on a global scale, and while they continue to retain ties to their historic “home states,” they have a common interest in maintaining the stability and expansion of the global economy.) Certain sectors of capital, such as financial speculation, or industries that stand in the way of a crash program to slow global warming, or inefficient capitalists that have to be weeded out in order for profitable accumulation to resume, may have to be “creatively destroyed” through force. Thus, major contradictions within the ruling class and the state are a factor in the present crisis, which potentially provides opportunities to a revolutionary working class movement.

There are other issues I want to say something about, such as the nature of the crisis (I agree with the crisis of the law of value that Don has long theorized, insofar as I understand it, but I’m also becoming an adherent of a “breakdown” theory of capitalism based in Marx’s writings on the falling rate of profit), and the development of a global ruling class. But I have to put a stop to these comments.


I have little to contribute to a discussion of the tasks Don poses at the end of his piece or of his emphasis on developing a revolutionary anti-capitalist pole that runs throughout his analysis, except to highlight them, maybe more to help myself think and act clearly: the “development of categorical anti-capitalist alternatives to capitalism in crisis – revolutionary alternatives”, the need for “a revolutionary anti-capitalist core, not only in the form of ideas as a political stance, but also in the form of prefigurative collective political and cultural action and organization.” I agree that the internalization of power relationships and self-enforcement of subordination is a critical problem (although you don’t have to be a post-structuralist to believe this), that breaks will occur in this “internalization of subordination,” that the “rules of what is thinkable” will change. It sounds good that the role of the left is to generalize these “elements of epistemological break,” although I don’t understand how that works in practice. I think (hope) it’s true that “We’re in a period where the rules of what is possible can be washed away overnight and we must organize to take advantage; prepare to take risks, plan to develop capabilities.” But because I am not an experienced revolutionary, in fact am still in need of being revolutionized, I do not really know what this means, nor can I comment on the task of the left being to “organize itself, not the working class or the ‘people’.” I don’t know anything about the references to Lenin and his “anarchist” moments. The seasoned revolutionaries will have to figure this stuff out. But I do believe Don is posing some urgent, very serious strategic questions, which warrant more discussion.

The above post is a reply to Dan Hamerquist, "Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real World" (posted to Three Way Fight on January 27, 2009).

Feb 18, 2009

Responding to Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real world

posted at BTR

Hi Don,

First of all, thanks for doing this. We certainly need some clarity
about the crisis and what may be coming down the road. I had a few
comments – not really any differences that are very significant as far
as I understand the points you are making. But these points are
important to the way I am trying to understand things. Also, I have not
read the pieces you were commenting on nor have I read your entries on
fascism that I guess were posted on some anarchist blogs. So this is a
limitation of my response. I would particularly like to read the Akuno
paper. I got his blog “Navigating the Storm” but couldn’t seem to find
the paper you were referring to. Can you give me a web address and /or
citation for that?

First of all I think your criticism of the Midnight Notes formulation
that the crisis is a tactic to discipline the working class is very
important and could be even more of a focus for your piece. Clearly if
leftists don’t see this crisis as the appearance of capitalism’s
fundamental contradiction, then you can get very off base about what is
coming and what the left should be doing.

My own formulation of the contradiction is a little different from yours
but we are talking about the same thing. My formulation is heavily
influenced by the work of Loren G. and is that global capitalism
generates greater claims on the value that its workers produce than the
amount of value that can be produced with existing technology and
surplus accumulation mechanisms. This chokes off the surplus value that
capitalists can accumulate and leads to falling profit rates and general
economic crisis.

I also think it important to stress that this is distinct from the
normal “business cycle” of recession-upturn-recession. But it has
happened a number of times throughout the history of capitalism – three
times in our lifetime (last 70 years or so)—1929-46; 1974-82; 2008-?.
Each time the contradiction has appeared, global capitalism has
responded with a shift in the mode of accumulation including a new round
of primitive accumulation as capital goes outside of the capitalist
system or into a separate geo-bloc of capitalism to expropriate value,
super exploit labor or both. Preceding the shift there have been efforts
to destroy claims on value starting with the working classes but also
including businesses and sometimes physical destruction through warfare.
I think many of these elements are just around the corner now.
Importantly, historically the nature and process of a shift in the mode
of accumulation has shaped the direction of worker movements in
opposition and it will this time as well.

I agree with you that in the post 1982 shift, flexible labor was a key
element of the mode of accumulation. So was flexible production that
ended Fordism as a production process and enabled capitalist commodity
production to happen anywhere and everywhere . And U.S. foreign policy
and militarism has been guided by the goal of protecting multiple
production locals and access for both financial and industrial capital
to wherever they can accumulate surplus value. All of this in my view is
a form of primitive accumulation as it moves outside of the core of
capitalist production. Trade agreements and organizations like IMF,
World Bank, regional development banks and the WTO institutionalize the
mode of accumulation. The generation of huge amounts of fictitious
capital including so called “third world” debt, growing corporate and
household debt, corporate debt and government debt have played a key
role of fueling this mode of accumulation. But beyond this, debt/credit,
starting really in the late 80s to early 90s became treated like a
commodity and is uncoupled from the commodities that were supposed to
underlie them. Futures, options, collars, swaps, swaptions, credit
default swaps, and of course mortgage and debt back securities came into
their own and grew at a tremendous clip during the 1990s. And there was
absolutely no value behind these things. The policy that enabled this –
much during the Clinton administration was not simply bad policy but
vital to the mode of accumulation itself. The system also spawned the
Harry Madoffs and Robert Rubins.

The unraveling of all of this has brought us to a reappearance of the
capitalist contradiction. The nature of the shift will again shape
resistance. I think your perspective will helpful to leftists who want
to aid struggles that are moving in a positive direction.

In this regard I have several questions about the fascism discussion.
First I haven’t had access to the discussion you refer to in your piece.
I really liked your formulation of a “right wing ruling class
“anti-fascism” but wanted to see this spelled out a little more. Do you
see this as a part of Bello’s notion of GSD or in opposition to it?
Also, I don’t understand the term “neo fascism as a reactionary,
radical, anti bourgeois mass movement.” Where do we see this today and
why do you consider it “neo fascist”?

I think that militarism has taken a specific form in the present period
and that form lays the groundwork for military aspects of the coming
shift. I’ve written on this; a big topic in itself. Briefly my view is
that the super mobility of capital during the present period has
required a highly mobile military and many outposts that are linked to
the trade agreements (coalition of the willing). This can potentially be
the basis for a repressive apparatus in the coming period.

To me fascism has a very specific historic context that can’t easily be
transferred to today. The way I see it is that in the course of a shift,
blocs of capital have generally rallied around a new mode of
accumulation. But during the Great Depression, capital split into two
antagonistic blocs. One ended up codified in the Bretton Woods Agreement
– Fordism whose center was in the U.S. We agree on this I believe. In
Germany, however, industrial and finance capital united with the
military, eventually forming the Nazi Party. Their alternative was
nationalistic industrialism with a very necessary element of primitive
accumulation due to the devastation of WWI that was achieved by
plundering other capitalist nations in Europe. Russia was a third
capitalist bloc that had the alternative strategy that was essentially
state capitalist. Stalin at first was ready to ally with Germany
(Hitler-Stalin Pact) but after being attacked decided to go with the
rest of Europe. I can’t quite see fascism outside of this context. You
seemed to be saying that you don’t agree with the tendency to use
Fascism simply as a pejorative and a synonym for repressive militarism.
So I need a little more to understand. Perhaps you can send me something
you have written on that.

The only thing I see that is close to fascism is the route being pursued
by Sarcozy in France as pointed out by Bello. But I feel that the likely
rush of a global social democracy approach that Obama might institute
would overwhelm this fairly quickly. This is the biggest danger to us
who wish to seize the moment because we might find the potential of an
anti globalization movement that would cut off access to primitive
accumulation undermined as liberals embrace both Obama and his smiley
faced globalization. There is also a real danger in my view of a
militarism that would be directed at all who get in the way – both at
home and overseas. And I am thinking of the danger of some sort of right
wing anti globalization mass movement such as waged by Perot, Pat
Buchanan etc. Is this what you were talking about as neo fascism?

Anyway I would appreciate your response to this. I have not been
involved in blogs but could be. Also feel free to share these comments
if you feel it appropriate.

Best wishes,


The above post is a reply to Dan Hamerquist, "Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real World" (posted to Three Way Fight on January 27, 2009).

Why the U.S. Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail

from ZNet

By David Harvey
Source: The Bullet

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Much is to be gained by viewing the contemporary crisis as a surface eruption generated out of deep tectonic shifts in the spatio-temporal disposition of capitalist development. The tectonic plates are now accelerating their motion and the likelihood of more frequent and more violent crises of the sort that have been occurring since 1980 or so will almost certainly increase. The manner, form, spatiality and time of these surface disruptions are almost impossible to predict, but that they will occur with greater frequency and depth is almost certain. The events of 2008 have therefore to be situated in the context of a deeper pattern. Since these stresses are internal to the capitalist dynamic (which does not preclude some seemingly external disruptive event like a catastrophic pandemic also occurring), then what better argument could there be, as Marx once put it, "for capitalism to be gone and to make way for some alternative and more rational mode of production."

I begin with this conclusion since I still find it vital to emphasize if not dramatize, as I have sought to do over and over again in my writings over the years, that failure to understand the geographical dynamics of capitalism or to treat the geographical dimension as in some sense merely contingent or epiphenomenal, is to both lose the plot on how to understand capitalist uneven geographical development and to miss out on possibilities for constructing radical alternatives. But this poses an acute difficulty for analysis since we are constantly faced with trying to distill universal principles regarding the role of the production of spaces, places and environments in capitalism's dynamics, out of a sea of often volatile geographical particularities. So how, then, can we integrate geographical understandings into our theories of evolutionary change? Let us look more carefully at the tectonic shifts.

In November 2008, shortly after the election of a new President, the National Intelligence Council of the United States issued its Delphic estimates on what the world would be like in 2025. Perhaps for the first time, a quasi-official body in the United States predicted that by 2025 the United States, while still a powerful if not the most powerful single player in world affairs, would no longer be dominant. The world would be multi-polar and less centered and the power of non-state actors would increase. The report conceded that U.S. hegemony had been fading on and off for some time but that its economic, political and even military dominance was now systematically waning. Above all (and it is important to note that the report was prepared before the implosion of the U.S. and British financial systems), "the unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power roughly from West to East now under way will continue."

This "unprecedented shift" has reversed the long-standing drain of wealth from East, Southeast and South Asia to Europe and North America that had been occurring since the eighteenth century (a drain that even Adam Smith had noted with regret in The Wealth of Nations but which accelerated relentlessly throughout the nineteenth century). The rise of Japan in the 1960s followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong in the 1970s and then the rapid growth of China after 1980 later accompanied by industrialization spurts in Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia during the 1990s, has altered the center of gravity of capitalist development, although it has not done so smoothly (the East and South-East Asian financial crisis of 1997-8 saw wealth flow briefly but strongly back toward Wall Street and the European and Japanese banks). Economic hegemony seems to be moving toward some constellation of powers in East Asia and if crises, as we earlier argued, are moments of radical reconfigurations in capitalist development, then the fact that the United States is having to deficit finance its way out of its financial difficulties on such a huge scale and that the deficits are largely being covered by those countries with saved surpluses - Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Gulf states - suggests this may be the moment for such a shift to be consolidated.

Shifts of this sort have occurred before in the long history of capitalism. In Giovanni Arrighi's thorough account in The Long Twentieth Century, we see hegemony shifting from the city states of Genoa and Venice in the sixteenth century to Amsterdam and the Low Countries in the seventeenth before concentrating in Britain from the late eighteenth century until the United States eventually took control after 1945. There are a number of features to these transitions that Arrighi emphasizes and which are relevant to our analysis. Each shift, Arrighi notes, occurred in the wake of a strong phase of financialization (he cites with approval Braudel's maxim that financialization announces the autumn of some hegemonic configuration). But each shift also entailed a radical change of scale, from the small city states at the origin to the continent-wide economy of the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century. This change of scale makes sense given the capitalist rule of endless accumulation and compound growth of at least three per cent for ever. But hegemonic shifts, Arrighi argues, are not determined in advance. They depend upon the emergence of some power economically able and politically and militarily willing to take on the role of global hegemon (with its costs as well as its advantages). The reluctance of the United States to assume that role before World War II meant an interregnum of multi-polar tensions that could not halt the drift into war (Britain was no longer in a position to assert its prior hegemonic role). Much also depends on how the past hegemon behaves as it faces up to the diminution of its former role. It can pass peaceably or belligerently into history. From this perspective the fact that the United States still holds overwhelming military power (particularly from 30,000 feet up) in a context of its declining economic and financial power and increasingly shaky cultural and moral authority, creates worrying scenarios for any future transition. Furthermore, it is not obvious that the main candidate to displace the United States, China, has the capacity or the will to assert some hegemonic role, for while its population is certainly huge enough to meet the requirements of changing scale, neither its economy nor its political authority (or even its political will) point to any easy accession to the role of global hegemon. Given the nationalist divisions that exist, the idea that some association of East Asian Powers might do the job also appears unlikely as does the possibility for a fragmented and fractious European Union or the so-called BRIC powers (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to stay on a common path for long. For this reason, the prediction that we are headed into another interregnum of multi-polar and conflictual interests and potential global instability appears plausible.

Tectonic Shifts

But the tectonic shift away from United States dominance and hegemony that has been under way for some time is becoming much clearer. The thesis of both excessive financialization and "debt as a principal predictor of leading world powers' debilitation" has found popular voice in the writings of Kevin Phillips. Attempts now under way to re-build U.S. dominance through reforms in the architecture of both the national and the global state-finance nexus appear not to be working while the exclusions imposed on much of the rest of the world in seeking to re-shape that architecture are almost certain to provoke strong oppositions if not overt economic conflicts.

But tectonic shifts of this sort do not come about as if by magic. While the historical geography of a shifting hegemony as Arrighi describes it has a clear pattern and while it is also clear from the historical record that periods of financialization precede such shifts, Arrighi does not provide any deep analysis of the processes that produce such shifts in the first place. To be sure, he cites "endless accumulation" and therefore the growth syndrome (the three per cent compound growth rule) as critical to explaining the shifts. This implies that hegemony moves from smaller (i.e. Venice) to larger (e.g. the United States) political entities over time. And it also stands to reason that hegemony has to lie with that political entity within which much of the surplus is produced (or to which much of the surplus flows in the form of tribute or imperialist extractions). With total global output standing at $45-trillion as of 2005, the U.S. share of $15-trillion made it, as it were, the dominant and controlling share-holder in global capitalism able to dictate (as it typically does in its role as the chief shareholder in the international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF) global policies. The NCIS report in part based its prediction on loss of dominance but maintenance of a strong position on the falling share of global output in the U.S. relative to the rest of the world in general and China in particular.

But as Arrighi points out, the politics of such a shift are by no means certain. The United States bid for global hegemony under Woodrow Wilson during and immediately after World War I was thwarted by a domestic political preference in the United State for isolationism (hence the collapse of the League of Nations) and it was only after World War II (which the U.S. population was against entering until Pearl Harbor occurred) that the U.S. embraced its role as global hegemon through a bi-partisan foreign policy anchored by the Bretton Woods Agreements on how the post-War international order would be organized (in the face of the Cold War and the spreading threat to capitalism of international communism). That the United States had long been developing into a state that in principle could play the role of global hegemon is evident from relatively early days. It possessed relevant doctrines, such as "Manifest Destiny" (continental wide geographical expansion which eventually spilled over into the Pacific and Caribbean before going global without territorial acquisitions) or the Monroe Doctrine which warned European Powers to leave the Americas alone (the doctrine was actually formulated by the British Foreign Secretary Canning in the 1820s but adopted by the U.S. as its own almost immediately). The United States possessed the necessary dynamism to account for a growing share of global output and was quintessentially committed to some version of what can best be called "cornered market" or "monopoly" capitalism backed by an ideology of rugged individualism. So there is a sense in which the U.S. was, throughout much of its history, preparing itself to take on the role of global hegemon. The only surprise was that it took so long to do so and that it was the Second rather than the First World War that led it finally to take up the role leaving the inter-war years as years of multipolarity and chaotic competing imperial ambitions of the sort that the NCIS report fears will be the situation in 2025.

The tectonic shifts now under way are deeply influenced, however, by the radical geographical unevenness in the economic and political possibilities of responding to the current crisis. Let me illustrate how this unevenness is now working by way of a tangible example. As the depression that began in 2007 deepened, the argument was made by many that a full-fledged Keynesian solution was required to extract global capitalism from the mess it was in. To this end various stimulus packages and bank stabilization measures were proposed and to some degree taken up in different countries in different ways in the hope that these would resolve the difficulties. The variety of solutions on offer varied immensely depending upon the economic circumstances and the prevailing forms of political opinion (pitting, for example, Germany against Britain and France in the European Union). Consider, however, the different economic political possibilities in the United States and China and the potential consequences for both shifting hegemony and for the manner in which the crisis might be resolved.

In the United States, any attempt to find an adequate Keynesian solution has been doomed at the start by a number of economic and political barriers that are almost impossible to overcome. A Keynesian solution would require massive and prolonged deficit financing if it were to succeed. It has been correctly argued that Roosevelt's attempt to return to a balanced budget in 1937-8 plunged the United States back into depression and that it was, therefore, World War II that saved the situation and not Roosevelt's too timid approach to deficit financing in the New Deal. So even if the institutional reforms as well as the push toward a more egalitarian policy did lay the foundations for the Post World War II recovery, the New Deal in itself actually failed to resolve the crisis in the United States.

The problem for the United States in 2008-9 is that it starts from a position of chronic indebtedness to the rest of the world (it has been borrowing at the rate of more than $2-billion a day over the last ten years or more) and this poses an economic limitation upon the size of the extra deficit that can now be incurred. (This was not a serious problem for Roosevelt who began with a roughly balanced budget). There is also a geo-political limitation since the funding of any extra deficit is contingent upon the willingness of other powers (principally from East Asia and the Gulf States) to lend. On both counts, the economic stimulus available to the United States will almost certainly be neither large enough nor sustained enough to be up to the task of reflating the economy. This problem is exacerbated by ideological reluctance on the part of both political parties to embrace the huge amounts of deficit spending that will be required, ironically in part because the previous Republican administration worked on Dick Cheney's principle that "Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter." As Paul Krugman, the leading public advocate for a Keynesian solution, for one has argued, the $800-billion reluctantly voted on by Congress in 2009, while better than nothing, is nowhere near enough. It may take something of the order to $2-trillion to do the job and that is indeed excessive debt relative to where the U.S. deficit now stands. The only possible economic option, would be to replace the weak Keynesianism of excessive military expenditures by the much stronger Keynesianism of social programs. Cutting the U.S. defense budget in half (bringing it more in line with that of Europe in relation to proportion of GDP) might technically help but it would be, of course, political suicide, given the posture of the Republican Party as well as many Democrats, for anyone who proposed it.

The second barrier is more purely political. In order to work, the stimulus has to be administered in such a way as to guarantee that it will be spent on goods and services and so get the economy humming again. This means that any relief must be directed to those who will spend it, which means the lower classes, since even the middle classes, if they spend it at all, are more likely to spend it on bidding up asset values (buying up foreclosed houses, for example), rather than increasing their purchases of goods and services. In any case, when times are bad many people will tend to use any extra income they receive to retire debt or to save (as largely happened with the $600 rebate designed by the Bush Administration in the early summer of 2008).

What appears prudent and rational from the standpoint of the household bodes ill for the economy at large (in much the same way that the banks have rationally taken public money and either hoarded it or used it to buy assets rather than to lend). The prevailing hostility in the United States to "spreading the wealth around" and to administering any sort of relief other than tax cuts to individuals, arises out of hard core neoliberal ideological doctrine (centered in but by no means confined to the Republican Party) that "households know best." These doctrines have broadly been accepted as gospel by the American public at large after more than thirty years of neoliberal political indoctrination. We are, as I have argued elsewhere, "all neoliberals now" for the most part without even knowing it. There is a tacit acceptance, for example, that "wage repression" - a key component to the present problem - is a "normal" state of affairs in the United States. One of the three legs of a Keynesian solution, greater empowerment of labour, rising wages and redistribution toward the lower classes is politically impossible in the United States at this point in time. The very charge that some such program amounts to "socialism" sends shivers of terror through the political establishment. Labour is not strong enough (after thirty years of being battered by political forces) and no broad social movement is in sight that will force redistributions toward the working classes.

One other way to achieve Keynesian goals, is to provide collective goods. This has traditionally entailed investments in both physical and social infrastructures (the WPA programs of the 1930s is a forerunner). Hence the attempt to insert into the stimulus package programs to rebuild and extend physical infrastructures for transport and communications, power and other public works along with increasing expenditures on health care, education, municipal services, and the like. These collective goods do have the potential to generate multipliers for employment as well as for the effective demand for further goods and services. But the presumption is that these collective goods are, at some point, going to belong to the category of "productive state expenditures" (i.e. stimulate further growth) rather than become a series of public "white elephants" which, as Keynes long ago remarked, amounted to nothing more than putting people to work digging ditches and filling them in again. In other words, an infrastructural investment strategy has to be targeted toward systematic revival of three percent growth through, for example, systematic redesign of our urban infrastructures and ways of life. This will not work without sophisticated state planning plus an existing productive base that can take advantage of the new infrastructural configurations. Here, too, the long prior history of deindustrialization in the United States and the intense ideological opposition to state planning (elements of which were incorporated into Roosevelt's New Deal and which continued into the 1960s only to be abandoned in the face of the neoliberal assault upon that particular exercise of state power in the 1980s) and the obvious preference for tax cuts rather than infrastructural transformations makes the pursuit of a full-fledged Keynesian solution all but impossible in the United States.

In China, on the other hand, both the economic and political conditions exist where a full-fledged Keynesian solution would indeed be possible and where there are abundant signs that this path will likely be followed. To begin with, China has a vast reservoir of foreign cash surplus and it is easier to debt finance on that basis than it is with a vast already existing debt overhang as is the case in the United States. It is also worth noting that ever since the mid 1990s the "toxic assets" (the non performing loans) of the Chinese Banks (some estimates put them as high as 40 per cent of all loans in 2000) have been wiped off the banks' books by occasional infusions of surplus cash from the foreign exchange reserves. The Chinese have had a long-running equivalent of the TARP program in the United States and evidently know how to do it (even if many of the transactions are tainted by corruption). The Chinese have the economic wherewithal to engage in a massive deficit-finance program and have a centralized state-financial architecture to administer that program effectively if they care to use it. The banks, which were long state owned, may have been nominally privatized to satisfy WTO requirements and to lure in foreign capital and expertise, but they can still easily be bent to central state will whereas in the United States even the vaguest hint of state direction let alone nationalization creates a political furor.

There is likewise absolutely no ideological barrier to redistributing economic largesse to the neediest sectors of society though there may be some vested interests of wealthier party members and an emergent capitalist class to be overcome. The charge that this would amount to "socialism" or even worse to "communism" would simply be greeted with amusement in China. But in China the emergence of mass unemployment (at last report there were thought to be some 20-million unemployed as a result of the slow-down) and signs of widespread and rapidly escalating social unrest will almost certainly push the Communist Party to massive redistributions whether they are ideologically concerned to do so or not. As of early 2009, this seemed to be directed in the first instance to revitalizing the lagging rural areas to which many unemployed migrant workers have returned in frustration at the loss of jobs in manufacturing areas. In these regions where both social and physical infrastructures are lagging, a strong infusion of central government support will raise incomes, expand effective demand and begin upon the long process of consolidation of China's internal market.

There is, secondly, a strong predilection to undertake the massive infrastructural investments that are still lagging in China (whereas tax reductions have almost no political appeal). While some of these may turn into "white elephants" the likelihood is far less since there is still an immense amount of work to be done to integrate the Chinese national space and so to confront the problem of uneven geographical development between the coastal regions of high development and the impoverished interior provinces. The existence of an extensive though troubled industrial and manufacturing base in need of spatial rationalization, makes it more likely that the Chinese effort will fall into the category of productive state expenditures. For the Chinese, much of the surplus can be mopped up in the further production of space, even allowing for the fact that speculation in urban property markets in cities like Shanghai, as in the United States, is part of the problem and cannot therefore be part of the solution. Infrastructural expenditures, provided they are on a sufficiently large scale, will go a long way to both mopping up surplus labour and so reducing the possibility of social unrest, and again boosting the internal market.

These completely different opportunities to pursue a full-fledged Keynesian solution as represented by the contrast between the United States and China have profound international implications. If China uses more of its financial reserves to boost its internal market, as it is almost certainly bound to do for political reasons, so it will have less left over to lend to the United States. Reduced purchases of U.S. Treasury Bills will eventually force higher interest rates and impact U.S. internal demand negatively and, unless managed carefully, could trigger the one thing that everyone fears but which has so far been staved off: a run on the dollar. A gradual move away from reliance on U.S. markets and the substitution of the internal market in China as a source of effective demand for Chinese industry will alter power balances significantly (and, by the way, be stressful for both the Chinese and the United States). The Chinese currency will necessarily rise against the dollar (a move that the U.S. authorities have long sought but secretly feared) thus forcing the Chinese to rely even more on their internal market for aggregate demand. The dynamism that will result within China (as opposed to the prolonged recession conditions that will prevail in the United States) will draw more and more global suppliers of raw materials into the Chinese trade orbit and lessen the relative significance of the United States in international trade. The overall effect will be to accelerate the drift of wealth from West to East in the global economy and rapidly alter the balance of hegemonic economic power. The tectonic movement in the balance of global capitalist power will intensify with all manner of unpredictable political and economic ramifications in a world where the United States will no longer be in a dominant position even as it possesses significant power. The supreme irony, of course, is that the political and ideological barriers in the United States to any full-fledged Keynesian program will almost certainly hasten loss of U.S. dominance in global affairs even as the elites of the world (including those in China) would wish to preserve that dominance for as long as possible.

Whether or not true Keynesianism in China (along with some other states in a similar position) will be sufficient to compensate for the inevitable failure of reluctant Keynesianism in the West is an open question, but the unevenness coupled with fading U.S. hegemony may well be the precursor to a break up of the global economy into regional hegemonic structures which could just as easily fiercely compete with each other as collaborate on the miserable question of who is to bear the brunt of long-lasting depression. That is not a heartening thought but then thinking of such a prospect might just awaken much of the West to the urgency of the task before it and get political leaders to stop preaching banalities about restoring trust and confidence and get down to doing what has to be done to rescue capitalism from the capitalists and their false neoliberal ideology. And if that means socialism, nationalizations, strong state direction, binding international collaborations, and a new and far more inclusive (dare I say "democratic") international financial architecture, then so be it. •

David Harvey is Distinguished Professor in the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. He is author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism and maintains the Reading Marx's Capital blog

Feb 15, 2009

Germany: antifas march against Nazi's

from indymedia UK
In Dresden, Germany, some 4,000 anti-fascists demonstrated today against an annual march of 6,500 neo-Nazis, the biggest procession of its kind Europe-wide.
Already at the beginning of the demonstration by the Antifa-coalition 'No PasarĂ¡n', scuffles with the police broke out. Shortly before the scheduled arrival at the endpoint of the demonstration, there was massive assault by the police forces, so that the demo had to be disbanded.

'No PasarĂ¡n' had expected 2,000 participants – 4,000 came. The Antifa mobilisation was a remarkable success. However, despite 4,000 Antifas and thousands of other demonstrators of the bourgeois coalition ‘Go Think’, the Nazis could march in Dresden, however, largely without interruption

Like every year, now the ‘after-show’ has begun. Small groups of both sides are in the city and the police is, as always, completely overwhelmed.

from Bloomberg news

Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- German anti-immigrant, skinhead and neo-Nazi groups in the eastern city of Dresden staged one of their biggest demonstrations since German reunification in 1990 today, as 6,000 extremists marched through the streets, police said.

Groups tied to the National Democratic Party used the 64th anniversary of the 1945 firebombing of Dresden to hold a “mourning march” through the capital of the state of Saxony. Two counter-demonstrations, led by unions and political activists, drew almost 10,000, police spokesman Marko Laske said.

Feb 14, 2009

Future Shock, Pt. 2: British Wildcat Strikes - Class? Nation? Or Both?

Recent Wildcat strikes spread throughout Britain, Scotland and even in to the North of Ireland. Starting January 30th Wildcat’s hit at oil refineries, power stations and later into other trades - including construction. The strikes have been reported as actions against foreign workers, yet as the strikes continued it appears the reality is much more complex than the media has made it out to be.

The strikes have been a response to the influx of Italian and Portuguese skilled workers at the expense of local workers. Local workers let go by the companies were now being replaced by foreign workers for new building and operations jobs. The situation being that the companies - as is the case most everywhere in the global capitalist market - sought to cut costs and bring in the cheapest labor possible. In or out of the global economic crisis, the logic of capital is to reduce labor costs. Western Europe like the US have varying wage, health care and legacy benefits that represent a high price for business. A reduction of these benefits is what has been at the fore of the capitalist offensive - ie. “restructuring” - against labor.

Troubling with the strikes however was the mixing up of labor grievances with reactionary national chauvinist positions. Workers began showing up with British Union flags and signs reading, “British Jobs for British Workers.” Although a slogan oft used by British nationalists and the parliamentary-fascist party, the BNP, the workers claimed that their use of the quote was referencing a statement made by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The emergence of nationalist and seemingly anti-foreign worker politics opened a window for the BNP to send members in to the pickets.

“Yesterday was a great day for British nationalism,” said a spokesman for the far-right BNP.

As workers addressed a crowd of around 600 outside Lindsey one of the workers shouted: “Get the BNP rep up there” but he was quickly shouted down.

Future reports seem to indicate that open BNP activity has been challenged by many workers. But strong showings by BNP in recent elections across England highlight that there is growing support for the BNP’s anti-immigrant politics. The question is how much a dovetailing can occur of anti-immigrant politics and rage at growing redundancies of the workforce - or replacement of local labor with transplant labor, in this case the Italian and Portuguese.

Initially various Left positions regarding the Wildcats emerged - some for the strikes with some opposed. Those in favor saw intervention and pushing internationalist position necessary. Those against feared that the strikes represented shifts towards protectionism and national chauvinism, rather than a class view. Here is sampling (taken form comrades off of another forum):

[AGAINST Strike] Workers Power statement:

Normally Workers Power would energetically support strike action by workers – including unofficial strikes taken without the formal support of the union leaders. But this strike is different. We unreservedly oppose it. Why? Because the strikers target is not their employers but 100 Italian and Portuguese workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in North Killingholme, Lincolnshire.

[FOR Strike] Socialist Party UK statement:

The main issue is not that "foreign" workers are being brought in by the employers, as reported in the media, but that there are thousands of unemployed construction workers. The Socialist Party is raising the demand that any worker should be part of the national engineering construction agreements that cover the wages and conditions on the sites. A six-strong strike committee has been set up with a Socialist Party member on the committee. At the time of writing the strikes are spreading like wild fire according to the BBC, currently covering something like sixteen sites from Scotland to Wales and from Northern Ireland to Merseyside.

[AGAINST Strike] Socialist Workers Party statement:

We need a fightback, with strikes and protests, and the unions have been scandalously slow to offer any sort of resistance to the jobs massacre. But these strikes are based around the wrong slogans and target the wrong people. Everyone should ask themselves why Tory papers like the Express and the Sun and Mail – which hate union power and urge on privatisation – are sympathetic to the strikes.

[FOR Strike] Libcom statement:

It appears that this increasing insecurity for skilled workers is behind the protest, not racism. We should be wary of the way in which the media reports such disputes.

[AGAINST Strike] Alliance for Workers Liberty statement:

To deal with the global crisis, workers need not a "British-first" mentality, but workers' unity and solidarity across Europe and the world. Right-wing union officials who have waged no fight for jobs except to plead with employers to reduce their cutbacks have supported the strikers' demands. Unite, the union that organises the industry, has played a disgraceful role.

As the strikes progressed new positions emerged that have attempted to defend strikers as well as cut against chauvinist and anti-foreigner sentiment.

An example is a resolution put forward by a strike committee to the mass picket at the Lindsey refinery in North Lincolnshire, Monday 2 February 2009. The demands were:

* No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
* All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement.
* Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members, with nominating rights as work becomes available.
* Government and employer investment in proper training / apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers - fight for a future for young people.
* All Immigrant labour to be unionised.
* Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers - including interpreters - and access to Trade Union advice - to promote active integrated Trade Union Members.
* Build links with construction trade unions on the continent.

The mass meeting/picket overwhelmingly voted for the demands put to them by the strike committee.

Further on in the strikes more sympathy actions broke out. Significant was that polish workers walked off in support of strikers,

600 workers, including hundreds of Polish workers, have walked out from Langage Power Station near Plymouth in solidarity with the wildcat actions sweeping across Britain.

When five hundred site staff had failed to arrive by 10am, the small minority of other foreign labourers (themselves also mostly Polish) who had been bussed in were sent home by management, deciding it was unsafe for them to work by themselves.

Jerry Pickford, regional officer for Unite South West, said workers had walked out in "general sympathy with what’s happening in the construction industry… all the Polish workers have walked out as well, because this is not an issue against foreign workers.

“This is an issue against foreign employers using foreign workers to stop British workers getting jobs. Once they do that they will try and undermine the terms and conditions of employment in this country.”

It would be illegal for the union to support the strike or even hold a ballot, but workers are taking action off their own backs. Today strike action also spread to the Sellafield nuclear plant, while 400 contractors at Scottish Power’s Longannet power station in Fife (along with 80 workers at an Exxon Mobile plant there) and 130 at the Cockenzie Power Station extended their action until Friday.

The significance is that such action cut against the anti-foreign politics. Here we have foreign born workers seeing their interests tied up with those of “native” born workers. The Polish walk out could strengthen the position of labor and could draw out the needed internationalist perspectives.

The strikes seem to be a mix of varying sympathies. This is understandable. Were gonna see radical action mixing with reactionary positions. In many regions an anti-globalization and an anti-big business struggle takes on a nationalist and protectionist pitch. People see a trans national capital running over people at the local level. And in cases where a labor force migrates or an industry relocates, one sector focuses their anger on another sector of labor who are themselves being exploited by capital.

The mixing and confusion may also lead to a kinda reactionary social democratic politics. In the US this is quite evident in auto and heavy manufacturing struggles where socialist politics mesh with calls for, "Buy American" and much more explicitly anti-foreign politics. Without a protracted struggle to take on nationalist and reactionary positions, space is opened for - and legitimizes - the blunt racist and anti-immigrant ideas and movements already making headway in many areas. Their manifestation ranges from city ordinances against "illegal" workers to murders of immigrants to the ICE Raids to anti-immigrant paramilitary militia groups.

Rise in Jobless Poses Threat to Stability Worldwide

from the NYTimes.com
Published: February 14, 2009

"Worldwide job losses from the recession that started in the United States in December 2007 could hit a staggering 50 million by the end of 2009, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. The slowdown has already claimed 3.6 million American jobs.

High unemployment rates, especially among young workers, have led to protests in countries as varied as Latvia, Chile, Greece, Bulgaria and Iceland and contributed to strikes in Britain and France.

Last month, the government of Iceland, whose economy is expected to contract 10 percent this year, collapsed and the prime minister moved up national elections after weeks of protests by Icelanders angered by soaring unemployment and rising prices.

Just last week, the new United States director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, told Congress that instability caused by the global economic crisis had become the biggest security threat facing the United States, outpacing terrorism."

read more

Economy threatens security, intel chief warns

from The Seattle Times, Originally published Friday, February 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The nation's new intelligence chief warned Thursday that the global economic crisis is the most serious security peril facing the United States, threatening to topple governments, trigger waves of refugees and undermine the ability of the nation's allies to help in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

By Greg Miller

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The nation's new intelligence chief warned Thursday that the global economic crisis is the most serious security peril facing the United States, threatening to topple governments, trigger waves of refugees and undermine the ability of the nation's allies to help in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The economic collapse "already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not in centuries," said Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, in his first appearance before Congress as the top intelligence official in the Obama administration.

Blair's focus on the economic meltdown represents a change from the testimony of his predecessors, who devoted most of their attention in the annual threat-assessment hearing to terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Blair's conclusions figure to bolster President Obama's case for swift action on a $789 billion stimulus package nearing final approval. "Time is probably our greatest threat," Blair said. "The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests."

Blair said one-quarter of the world's nations have experienced low-level instability attributed to the economic downturn, including shifts in power. He cited anti-government demonstrations in Europe and Russia, and he warned that much of Latin America and the former Soviet satellite states lack sufficient cash to cope with the spreading crisis.

"The most likely potential fallout for U.S. interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations," Blair said.

The decline in oil prices in recent months might benefit consumers in the short term and "put the squeeze on the adventurism of producers like Iran and Venezuela," Blair said.

But he warned it also could lead to a supply crunch if prolonged price drops lead to cuts or delays in investment in oil development and infrastructure.

Other crises in recent decades have tended to be concentrated by region, making it possible for affected countries to rebuild by focusing on shipping more products offshore.

But "countries will not be able to export their way out of this one because of the global nature" of the crisis, Blair said.

U.S. intelligence analysts fear there could be a backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States.

Blair surveyed other security threats in his written testimony. The nation's most dangerous enemy remains al-Qaida, but Blair said the terrorist network "is less capable and effective than it was a year ago" because of the toll that U.S. missile strikes and other measures have taken on al-Qaida's sanctuary in Pakistan.

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