Monday, 27 July 2015

The Poverty of America’s Two-Party System


There is an underlying assumption that the more political parties a country has the more democracy it has, and that the more democracy it has the more social justice and egalitarianism it enjoys. If this were indeed the case, then a number of countries around the world with many political parties, including Italy and Greece, Israel and India, Philippines and Romania, to name a few, must be Paradise on earth. There is no correlation between a multiparty system and greater “democracy” any more than there is a correlation between greater social justice and bourgeois democracy. This is a 19th century north-Western European concept when the urban middle class and capitalists were mainly Liberal while the aristocracy and rural classes were conservative, thus the two-party system reflected a socioeconomic and cultural divide where religion played a role in the rural areas and education in the urban ones.

A product of the European Enlightenment, the US followed the European political trends of creating bourgeois political parties representing capital. When the working class movement became a force in society owing to the changing division of labor under industrial capitalism, new ideologies emerged from Socialism to Anarchism and varieties of others on the left as well as extreme right wing ones, including Fascism that has its origins in the late 19th century. The evolution of bourgeois society gave birth to social groups that did not find expression in the traditional political parties and wanted to have their own voice at a time that minorities, women and workers were not represented. Despite pressure from the grassroots for representation, in the US the mainstream political parties always managed to co-opt third party movements protesting a particular facet of society.

Whether a country developed a two-party system or a multi-party system, popular rule expressing individual rights remained a core value of bourgeois democracy, rather than government taking into account collective interests. Under the political umbrella of any democratic system that has ever existed, capitalism has been at its core and this means a social order based on hierarchy of capital. During the 20th century, democracy became synonymous with capitalism not just in the US but in most countries around the world. One reason for the success of political parties claiming their allegiance to “democracy” is their embracing of a pluralistic value system under an open society where the consumer is synonymous with the citizen. The US has led the way in the effort to identify democracy with capitalism and the citizen with the consumer.

The phenomenal success of the two-party system rests in convincing the majority of the people that this is “the democratic process”, rather than representative of capitalist class interest factions. This has been achieved in the name of “nationalism” and “national interest” rhetoric, as the two-party system identifies itself with the nation-state and national interest that it equates with the market economy. At the same time, the two-party system projects the image that a political party representing the working class is outside the constitutional and societal purview of the “national interest”, therefore, it lacks legitimacy. This was as true before the Bolshevik Revolution as it was after when the bourgeois political parties in the US as well as throughout the Western World stigmatized working class political parties as representing labor unions, as though labor unions were an anathema to society and only pro-capitalist political parties enjoyed legitimacy.

The issue of legitimacy in the eyes of the public is of the utmost importance for a political party to succeed as much as is the need for the state claiming to be pluralistic to tolerate all voices to be heard. In the case of the US, this has not been the case throughout its history. Therefore, it is not surprising that a working class political party never developed. The government persecuted grassroots organizing of labor unions and political activists representing the working class, while the corporate media followed the government in doing its best to stigmatize any working class movement.

Having no political party to express their interests, the working class in the US and in many countries around the world turned to the two political parties representing capital. Labeling a political party “Labor” or “Socialist” as many have done in Europe and around the world is of course meaningless because their policies are anti-labor and anti-socialist as much as the policies of the US Democratic Party are hardly “democratic”. The median worth of a US congressman is $1 million and the total cost for the congressional races amounted to $3.7 billion in 2012, campaign contributions mostly from millionaires. Given the profile of the average US representative in Congress, and considering that a congressman has no chance of making a career unless s/he promotes capital through legislation to the detriment of middle class and workers’ interests how can such a representative claim to be anything other than an agent for capitalists?

Synoptic View of Third-Party Movements in America

Both George Washington and John Adams dreaded the idea of a two-party system, arguing that it was tantamount to a form of despotism for two factions to alternate power. John Adams wrote: There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. Is the two-party system the reason that the vast majority of the people never realize the mythical American Dream because the two parties represent the capitalist class, or does the problem rest elsewhere?

Unlike Europe, the US does not have a history of multi-party system primarily because the media and mainstream institutions limit their focus on the two major parties. However, even in Europe, there is a two-party system that essentially entails alternating in government. This is as true of Great Britain as of France and Germany, but also of most countries, including southern Europe, although all of these countries have more than two parties. The common factor between the US two-party system and the Europe is that on both sides of the Atlantic the ruling political parties represent the same socioeconomic elites that make sure there is policy continuity. In short, the political elites alternating power make certain that the interests of the privileged socioeconomic elites are not compromised by a third political force representing the working class.

Within the varied interests of the capitalist class in the last two centuries there have been political parties that tried to break the monopoly of the dominant two-party system.  In 1848, the Free Soil Party, the first major third party won 5% of the vote. The Republican Party quickly absorbed it because Abraham Lincoln after all became the champion of the anti-slave movement and the Civil War obviated the need for the Free Soil Party. In 1892, the Populist Party, which derived much of inspiration from Jeffersonian democracy, finally merged with the Democrat Party at the turn of the century. This was during the Gilded Age when the very rich were enjoying institutional hegemony and it was clear that both Republican and Democrat parties represented the wealthy to the neglect of the rest of citizens at a time that the depression of the 1890s caused immense hardship across America.

The most significant leftist leader in US history was Eugene Debs (1855 –1926) who started out as a union organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and was a Democrat member in his early political caeer in Indiana. A Socialist who had studied the works of Marx among other European Socialists, Debs founded the American Railway Union after the well-known Pullman strike in 1894. To break the strike and prevent future labor-management trouble, President Grover Cleveland used the army and sent Debs to prison. From 1900 until 1920, Debs ran for president, despite harrassment from the state and especially President Wilson who had him convicted in 1918 and sentenced for 10 years under the Espionage Act used to crack down on leftist trade unionists and political activists.  Opposing the First World War as one of imperialism backed by capital, Debs noted:
The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives.To turn your back on the corrupt Republican Party and the corrupt Democratic Party—the gold-dust lackeys of the ruling class—counts for something. It counts still join a minority party that has an ideal, that stands for a principle, and fights for a cause.
 Debs posed a greater threat for mobilizing workers into a leftist political movement than he did as a presidential candidate. However, the mainstream institutions and especially the press saw him as a threat that must be eliminated from the scene.
Throughout the 20th century, from the Progressive Era when the lower middle class demanded representation to the early 21st century when the Green movement became popular, all third-party political movements have been co-opted by one of the two dominant parties that have faithfully represented the institutional structure. Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to co-opt the leftists and de-radicalize the general population while securing Democrat Party dominance from 1932 until 1952. The same pattern of co-optation that has been true of left-wing movements Absorbed by the Democrat party also holds true of right-wing parties that the Republic Party absorbs. In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s State’s Rights Party constituency became part of the Republican Party, as did George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, although there were Democrat voters in both of those as there were in John Anderson’s Independent Party in 1980 and even in Ross Perot’s Reform party that was eventually absorbed by Republicans.   

In every election, there are many candidates for president, from serious to the absurd. The media, however, ignores all political parties, unless it is one that poses no threat to the status quo, such as the Libertarian or Green Party. By contrast, the Communist Party has usually run a candidate for national office, but no television, radio or print media would cover its issue. This does not mean that the Communist Party has always been serious about presenting a platform and candidates that would at least carry some political weight. However, about the only way the Communist Party could possibly receive media attention, even heavily biased one would be if it ran the Pope as a candidate.

Are Americans Hoping for a Messiah Politician? Donald Trump as a Self-Proclaimed Messiah

America has always romanticized what it calls its unique brand of “democracy” and the hero-politician that comes along to unify the country. Although there are the revered presidents that include Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, for the most part politics in America has always been fragmented and not just in the post-Cold War era as some have suggested. Using foreign policy and foreign enemies to rally public support behind the flag has its limitations in time of relative peace. For this reason, politicians focus on targeted enemies within the country. The Republicans in the 1850s focused on slave-owners, while two decades later the enemy was the labor organizer. The Democrats in the 1930s focused on strengthening the central government to preserve capitalism while creating a social safety net to prevent revolution, while a decade later they focused on combating Communism at home by bringing dissidents before Congressional committees that blacklisted people who refused to accept bourgeois consensus politics.
The hero-politician in American history was not necessarily a president, governor or senator who was committed to social justice, but one who managed to transcend the individual interest groups and forge popular consensus so that the political economy could continue to thrive. Toward this goal of building consensus in a society that is politically fragmented largely because a substantial segment of voters remains apathetic, the strategy that has worked is populism (popular cause or causes among a segment of the voters), especially on the part of the Republicans from the Barry Goldwater candidacy in the 1960s until the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party today. Populism works not just in the US but in all countries, because it projects an image of “reform” in the interest of the people, but in essence its goal is to secure the election and continue to serve capital as faithfully as ever. Billionaire Donald Trump is such a person today who has chosen xenophobia as the focus of his campaign to excite the Republican Party base.

Trump attracts attention for several reasons. First, he is a billionaire and a celebrity, something the mainstream media focuses on whether one is running for office or not because the purpose is to promote capitalism and its values. Second, Trump combined the traditional Rockefeller Republican because he is a New York billionaire with the appeal of a right-wing populist focused on xenophobia. Historically, the xenophobia issue has roots that date back to the 19th century and it also plays well not only with the racist crowd, but also the middle class that is looking for someone to blame given that the economy has recovered but living standards continue to decline amid a growing socioeconomic gap.  

In a recent essay I wrote that people not just in the US but around the world are looking for a Messiah politician and the one that presents himself or herself closer to the image will secure votes. On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton is simply not capable of presenting herself and does not even try to do so as a Messiah politician, whereas Trump does and actually appeals to a segment of the social conservatives who do not like “Washington insiders” and they do not like the other Republican candidates because they are not giving the right wing someone to blame for all the problems society suffers. Although it is highly unlikely he will ever be elected president, Trump has chosen the right wing populist issue xenophobia as catalytic for his presidential bid in 2016.

Xenophobia is a very clear issue that the average conservative voter understands as much in the US as in Europe where racism also runs very high among conservatives. Xenophobia serves as a cover for political, economic and social problems society faces, but which are difficult to solve under the existing system without harming the interests of capital. Running against Washington insiders as a protest candidate from the right, Trump is appealing to many Republicans especially since he is a billionaire who embraces the values of Wall Street. The idea that Trump is a deviation from the mainstream of the Republic Party is utterly absurd, because this is not the party of Eisenhower, but of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

In an interview, Trump vowed to “get the bad ones out,” meaning the bad illegal immigrants estimated at 11 million.  “I’m gonna get rid of the bad ones fast, and I’m gonna send them back. We’re not going to be putting them in prisons here and pay for them for the next 40 years.” Asked about the illegal aliens who are “not bad”, Trump replied:  “We’re going to see what we’re going to see. It’s a very hard thing from a moral standpoint, from a physical standpoint, you don’t get them out. …Some are going to have to go and some – Hey, we’re just going to see what happens. It’s a very, very big subject and a very complicated subject….The wall’s going to be built. We’re going to have a great border.”

This simplistic racist perspective, if not completely unrealistic and impractical approach to a very complex subject with economic and social ramifications is rather typical of how a right-wing populist proposes to solve what his political party perceives as a problem that must be solved so that all of America’s problems simply melt away and every citizen can finally enjoy the fruits of the American Dream. Although there are those who argue Trump is doing damage to the party, in fact he is energizing the racist, xenophobic, warmongering base that is motivated by fear that there is an enemy out there – the Mexican, the Muslim, the outside world that has intruded into the American way of life and threatening it. It is not the neoliberal policies and the corporate welfare system that is responsible for the decline of the middle class, but the “outsiders” and those intruding in US soil.  If only they did not exist, America would have no problems. The GOP cannot discredit Trump because he is the mirror of his party, as the preliminary polls indicate nationally as well as in several states.

If a third party is created what 5 main issues should it address? 

If a third party is created, it cannot be a single-issue party, like that of H. Ross Perot who focused on the debt and built all other issues around that theme. A political party must have a popular base, and in my view the growing lower middle class and workers constitute the largest popular base. They are not represented by either political party, no matter the rhetoric from any candidate. Bernie Sanders is closest to this profile, but even his platform is not much different than that of the Republican Party in 1956.  

If there were five top issues on which a new political party could form its platform, my list would include the following. Not that the issues I have listed have even the remotest possibility that a third political party would adopt them, but they are at the core of challenges that America faces in the 21st century.
     Social Justice
This is almost an alien concept in the political dialogue of American politicians from both parties. The rights and general welfare of all people, not just one small social class that finances political campaigns in return for legislation that keeps this social class privileged while the remainder of the population suffers, is an anathema in political discourse. In fact, not even mainstream academics raise this issue publicly, because they know it does not pay to offend the establishment. What is social justice? Is it a utopian fantasy that advocates equality not just of opportunity, but at all levels as judged by outcomes in the social, political, economic and cultural domains? Social justice in a bourgeois society expects that the basic economic needs of human beings are met, and that society is free of poverty and violence, of xenophobia and racism, of sexism and homophobia, of social inequalities that private and/or public institutions promote.

2.      Downward socioeconomic mobilization

It is no secret that downward socioeconomic mobility is a reality in American society in the last four decades. This is largely because of the Reagan neoliberal commitment to transfer massive wealth from the lower classes to the elites, and to transfer public resources from social welfare to corporate welfare. Social programs, education and health care, social security, affordable housing, minimum wage and a massive gap between the highest paid corporate executives and the average worker are some of the reasons for the downward mobility in America. Some politicians on both political parties agree there is a problem with the declining middle class but not a single one, except Bernie Sanders, blames the capitalist system for it. Instead, the fault rests with government, as though this is an entity that comes to Washington from Mars rather than the lobbyist peddling influence. 

3.      Human Rights, Civil Rights and Police State Methods

Rights of political prisoners, civil rights of minorities, crime and justice are inter-related issues and have to do with the correlation between the institutionalization of the “war on terror” that has had an impact on the decline of respect for human rights, civil rights and criminalizing minorities and the poor. Police harassing, arresting, and killings black and Latino youth in cold blood is not an isolated event, but a pattern of behavior across the country. The statistics on the US prison population speaks very clearly about the racist criminal justice system that exists, even under a black president. The US refusal to respect UN human right charter also speaks volumes of the arrogance and duplicity of US policy, because the same government in Washington demands compliance with UN human rights by other countries, including Cuba and Iran. It is amazing that the US media has no sense of self-reflection when it demands that all other countries respect human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and refrain from police state methods, but the US is guilty of the very things it accuses its adversaries. This is the ultimate absurdity of “American Exceptionalism”.

4.      Restructuring of the political system.

The existing political system is heavily dependent on financial contributions and lobbyists exerting policy influence. Despite many organizations trying to express their voice, everything from gay rights groups to environmental and labor unions ones, the voice that matters at the local, state and federal levels is that of large businesses. For example, if there is a choice for a city to invest in a new stadium for a football team versus public education, the money will go to subsidize the very wealthy owner of the football team at the expense of public education. Both the football franchise and education have their voices heard in government, but only that of the millionaire football owner matters. This is only a small sample of how government pours resources into the private sector at the expense of the public and calls it democracy.
Ending corporate control of the political process – campaign finance and government reform so that politicians are not accountable to the corporate sector but to the general public would go a long way in building democracy in America. All political candidates agree that the influence of money in politics is corrupting the system, but they have done nothing about it for decades. Beyond eliminating the direct role of private campaign money, the political system itself must be geared to serving ALL people and not merely the capitalist class as it has been and have the media call this democracy. 

5.      Foreign Policy and Defense

Foreign policy based on defense of the nation’s the territorial integrity ought to be the criteria and not “imperial” policies intended to expand US corporate interests throughout the world by any means necessary from direct military intervention to covert operations. The defense budget is the largest in the world for a country that clearly has very serious public debt problems eating away at the middle class socioeconomic fabric. The massive spending on defense intended to maintain the defense industries healthy and provide the illusion of security as well as leverage for the US to secure market share is unsustainable.
The reality of China as the world’ preeminent economic power in the 21st century is one the US helped create because it spent itself to second place during the Cold War and the manufactured “war on terror”. These are anachronistic policies, of the mid-20th century and have no place in our time. The behavior of the US in foreign affairs is very much reminiscent of the British Empire in its decline when it tried just about everything militarily, but still continued to decline. In the absence of crafting a new alliance system that rethinks the value of OAS, SEATO and NATO, the US will eventually spend itself to oblivion no differently than Great Britain.


The success of the major political parties in the US as well as in most countries around the world is indeed the co-optation strategy that manages to pay lip service to the middle class and workers but subordinates their interests to capital.  Democracy allows for open access into the system that projects the image of theoretical equal participation by all citizens and political movements when in reality participation is limited to representatives of capital. Given this reality, a multi-party system or a two-party system amounts to the same thing because ultimately the government will represent capital. If a government emerges in a country where it tries to compromise the interests of capital, the rest of the world, governments and international financial institutions, make it so difficult for such a government to succeed that it capitulates.

New political parties arise out of a need on the part of a segment in society that feels the existing political parties are not representative of all people. Influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Founding Fathers viewed political parties as factions unrepresentative of the general welfare. The reality of class politics meant that political parties were a necessary mechanism around which competing elites of the early American republic revolved to express their interests. Interestingly enough, throughout the republic’s two-hundred year history, many Americans unlike their European counterparts, do not have a strong party affiliation. Even today, between 40 and 50 percent of the citizens polled declare independent of party affiliation. This is in itself inactive that neither party particularly expresses their interests and aspirations, although most people vote their aspirations rather than actual interests.  
The third party in the US can either come from the conservative camp or from the left-of-center camp and it is highly unlikely to attract much popular support because the media inculcate into the public the idea that “consensus” politics is and must remain at the heart of American society. In other words, the implication is that a Socialist candidate whose platform could represent the majority of the population is not consensus because such a candidate would not incorporate the interests of the wealthiest Americans.  
We have evidence from history that small third parties act as spoilers for one or the other major parties, but they hardly make a dent in the political process or in society. In a country as large as the US, it takes an incredible amount of money under the existing system to finance a political campaign and run against the major parties that enjoy the backing not just of the media, but of the entire institutional structure. The two political parties have been operating on the assumption that the voters have two choices and of course both work within an existing political, economic and social structure intended to preserve the status quo, rather than change it. The entrenched two-party political system also serves capital that is behind the two political parties.

No matter how much these two try to differentiate themselves, their differences are mostly on social and cultural issues, rather than systemic economic and political ones. For example, even the platform of Democrat Bernie Sanders, a person the media sees as a Socialist, is actually about the same as that of the Republican Party in 1956 when Eisenhower was the incumbent president.  This is proof of how far to the right the left Democrats have moved and how far to the extreme right the Republicans have moved.
 Regardless of whether a third and a fourth party emerge in the US, the system will remain the same until such time as a major economic crisis results in a social crisis and the political system begins to crack while a new one emerges, presumably a system that better serves the majority and not just the top one-third of the population with one-percent owning most of the wealth and determining policy for the rest of the 99 percent because they are able to finance political campaigns.

A political party that is organized “top-down”, instead of emerging from the grassroots is obviously a reflection of the elites that created it to preserve and expand their interests. When a grassroots movement tries to organize because it feels marginalized in society, the result is that the mainstream quickly co-opts it and de-radicalizes its followers. This happened in the depression of the 1890s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The dominant political parties have the party machine tools at the local, state and national levels to bring any dissident movement into the mainstream. Otherwise, with the help of the media, they destroy it. Therefore, I do not see a viable third-party movement or movements until the next deep recession in America later this century, perhaps in the 2030s or 2040s. Because deep recessions or depressions cause economic polarization, the inevitable result will be social and political polarization, the ingredients which we see present in American society today that is much more polarized just beneath the surface than the “consensus-oriented” political, economic and media elites would have the public believe.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Iran as the de facto Hegemonic Power in the Middle East
Does the US-Iran agreement (14 June 2015) that calls for Iran to abandon nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for lifting of Western sanctions mean a new era in relations between the US and the Middle East? Syria, Turkey, and Egypt publicly praised the deal as a step forward because it would mean greater regional stability and greater economic integration that would benefit all the economies. The Palestinians are also hopeful that the international community would exert pressure on Israel for a political solution to settle the chronic dispute. Unlike Iran, however, the Palestinians have no leverage wile Israel enjoys enormous influence because the US is solidly behind it as it has been since the Truman presidency. 

There are those who applaud the US for ignoring Israel and its extreme right-wing allies in the US that have done everything in their power to sabotage the negotiations between Iran and the West. Naturally, there are the pro-defense industry elements that regret these developments as much as those hiding behind a right wing ideology to justify animosity of any kind of rapprochement between the West and Iran, an Islamic republic that has been openly anti-West since 1979. Others see this deal as an opportunity to contain Israel from pursuing military adventures, as well as Saudi Arabia funding jihadists while claiming to support the struggle of the Palestinians but all along siding with Israel on its opposition to Iran as the major power that has a dominant voice to determine the regional balance of power. 

No matter where one stands ideologically and politically, the Iran deal has sent a very strong signal across the world that the US and its EU partners finally acknowledge that Iran is the most important regional power in the Middle East after a power gap created by the US-led overt and covert military destruction of Iraq and Syria. After decades of trying to contain Iran and undermine it in every possible manner from economic sanctions to military action in surrounding countries, the US and its EU partners have finally acknowledged that Iran is the catalyst to the regional balance of power in the Middle East.  

On major issues that include stabilizing Iraq and defeating the jihadist ISIS fanatics that the US and its Arab and Turkish allies helped to create in order to bring down Syria’s Assad regime it is important to have Iran’s cooperation. Moreover, it is futile to isolate Iran from the Western World, given the increasing global position of China that has cordial relations with Iran. In short, the strategic and economic benefits to the Western countries and multinational corporations are such that it was simply detrimental to their interests to continue the sanctions when it was possible to use them as a bargaining chip for preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons.  

What does the Iran-US deal mean for the Palestinians? Israel was and remains adamantly against Iran-US rapprochement and has done everything it can to make sure it is never implemented. One reason is that it feels threatened, although it is Israel that actually possesses nuclear weapons today not Iran, and although the US guarantees its security. Israel simply does not want a US-Western acknowledgment that Iran is indeed the real regional power that has the capacity to contain its neighbors, including its arch enemy Saudi Arabia. The US, however, is driven by the reality of limited resources, including the prospect that foreign aid including aid to Israel must be trimmed back to realize savings to pay down the debt. In short, Israel sees the US as a less friendly than ever because Washington has failed to follow Tel Aviv in foreign policy, regardless of the US pledges about providing for Israel’s security. 

Does the new role of Iran as the presumably acknowledged hegemonic power of the Middle East mean a settlement of the Palestinian Question? Some may believe so, just as they did when the Cold War ended when there was no reason to hide behind the East-West confrontation as a pretext to perpetuate the status quo as the permanent occupation of Palestinians by Israel. Certainly, the South African apartheid system came down, the Irish conflict ended, so why not a solution for the plight of the Palestinians after seven decades? On the surface, it certainly appears that the Iran deal works in favor of the Palestinians, but it actually strengthens Israel because it is on the same side as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states, while Egypt is positioning itself to see what perks it can derive from any forthcoming deal on the Palestinian issue.
In the final analysis, major US and European corporations, top banks, airplane and energy, consumer product and pharmaceutical companies, all wanted to be a part of the rapidly growing Iranian economy in which China and Russia enjoy a role. In short, the benefits of integrating Iran are simply enormous for the 21st century. Can the same be true if Israel settles its chronic dispute with the Palestinians, or is it simply an issue of ensuring stability that defense contractors and right wing ideologues oppose in any case because this is contrary to their interests? 

Israel and Human Rights
Is there a chance that Israel will stop violating the human rights of Palestinians because of the Iran-US deal? On the contrary, my guess is that Israel will become even harsher. World-wide moral support for the Palestinians on the part of people, organizations such as the United Nations, and governments is very nice, but it hardly constitutes leverage to move the process forward. Boycotting Israeli businesses in the same manner as US businesses boycotted South African businesses shortly before Mandela is more tangible and some companies are doing as much, but this too is not having much impact because it is not like the Western sanctions on Iran. Precisely because Israel is adamantly opposed to any change in the domestic or regional status quo, it is more likely to move in the direction of military confrontations with the Palestinians than a political one based on the Iran-US deal. This means more human rights violations, no matter what the UN and world community say about Israel.

 On 23 July 2014, Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, announced that Israel's military action in Gaza during July may constitute a "war crime" because the targets were children and the demolition of houses. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has convened an emergency discussion on the matter. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the US will block any effort to bring to justice the war criminals, largely because Washington had given Israel the green light on the operations that resulted in war crimes.

There is no doubt that even the most monstrous human being that is still in possession of his faculties, a modicum of moral fiber, and just a touch of humanity would not admit that it is appropriate to kill children, that they are collateral damage victims, or any other excuse that we have heard from Tel Aviv and its supporters in the US and the West. This is not a lesson in moral absolutism, but at least human beings ought to agree on some basic principles, including killing of children is immoral and a war crime to be punished accordingly. The exact same principle is applied to all people, including Hamas when it too engages in killing Israeli children, and the same punishment must be accorded to that group as well for its war crimes. The World Court at the Hague has only proceeded with cases against Africans and some from the former Yugoslav Republic, leaving out anyone from the white-dominated Western World, thus making a mockery of the court.

At the root of this conflict is US complicity because of massive aid provided to Israel on a sustained basis, but also broader Western complicity that simply follows the US lead on Middle East policy. The other major issue is Arab indifference, largely because the West has been very successful in keeping the Arabs divided, and they have been using the Palestinian conflict largely as a pretext to maintain the status quo, while in essence cooperating with the US that always backs Israel no matter what war crimes it commits. In addition, Saudi Arabia sees Iran as an arch-enemy largely because it realizes that Iran is the hegemonic regional power. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has been financing jihadists in Syria and Yemen with the aim of undermining Iran, a futile endeavor that has gone nowhere, except to enrich Western defense contractors selling weapons to Saudis. 

The Israeli war and collective punishment of Palestinians that has women and children as the majority of the victims is causing a great deal of guilt among humane and rational secularist Israelis who want to see an end to the conflict and a permanent political solution. Demonstrating Arab indifference to Palestinians, an article in the Jerusalem Post noted that during the war (July 2014) the Arab media was more interested in the Soccer World Cup out of Brazil than it was on what Hamas and Israel were doing. The Israeli newspaper notes that with the ISIS Jihadists in Syria and Iraq attracting attention, a possible Kurdish declaration of independence from Iraq, and a host of other areas of conflict in Muslim countries, from Yemen and Libya to Afghanistan Arab media has not taken as much notice. This view was confirmed by Turkey’s Premier Erdogan who insisted that Arab indifference is as reprehensible as the silence of the US and the entire Western World over this issue.

It is estimated that in the last fourteen years, about 1400 Palestinian children have been killed and many more wounded; more than seven thousand children have been detained, interrogated and tortured by Israeli authorities; about half of the children exposed to intermittent war conditions suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders. Israeli policy under the current and past regimes has been that the only children taken into account as human are Israeli, while Palestinian children are those belonging to terrorists. This view was very clearly expressed in a letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu to Obama in December 2012 on the occasion of the Sandy Hook massacres in the US. Reverting to the “victimization” mindset and using the reprehensible holocaust of Jews by Nazis, the Israeli government gives itself license to engage in collective punishment and insist that it is beyond accountability of international war crimes laws. The reason for this is only because the US that enjoys military superpower status provides all the diplomatic, military, economic, and massive propaganda cover for Israel whose only issue is security for itself even if it means killing en masse and indiscriminately.

The more serious issue is how the US and Western media cover the slaughter of Palestinian children by Israel. Amid the mass destruction of Gaza, the US and most Western media outlets have been focusing on other stories. Even the New York Times that likes to claim “objectivity” has been almost silent on the massacre of Palestinian children, while devoting lots of space to the three Israeli teens missing since July 2, 2014. The three innocent Israeli teens deserve lots of coverage without question, but do the 1400 massacred Palestinian deserve any? Perhaps more absurd as well as grossly inaccurate is another New York Times story on why many Americans are siding with Israel the militarist aggressor intent on ethnic cleansing rather than the Palestinian victims. 

To justify its biased pro-Israel coverage, the New York Times argued that Arab Spring failed to bring about democracy in the Arab World, thus Israel stands alone as a “true democracy”, no matter its war crimes against Palestinians as the UN has concluded. In the entire history of Israel is there any time when war was launched against Palestinians and Arab neighbors that the US and the media-manipulated public opinion ever sided with Palestinians? Blatant racism on the basis of religion and skin color is very evident here, but even worse, we have a very clear case of journalism that is hardly worthy of the title.

The public would have far greater respect for such media outlets if they simply stated that they are mouthpieces of Tel Aviv and Washington, rather than projecting their reporting as “objective”. Instead, we have a double-standard practiced on a sustained basis not just by the US media, but the European as well, trying to find just about any pretext to demonize the victims in the conflict. Under such conditions, why is anyone surprised when Turkey’s premier Erdogan lashes out at racism of the West against Muslims? All studies show that Western media is heavily pro-Israel and anti-Muslim, depicting Muslims as terrorists with strong racist undertones and stereotyping them, while personalizing the stories of the Israelis. In short, there are no limits to the political propaganda promoting militarism and aggression and suppressing the option of a political solution when it comes to resolving the conflict in question. The role of the media is indeed an obstacle to cultivating a constructive climate to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians, especially in the absence of Palestinian leverage that Iran enjoys internationally.

This is not to argue that Hamas is made up of boy scouts that the Arabs are angels by nature and the Israelis are inherently evil. Nor does it help those interested in a Palestinian solution to argue that Israelis are the new Nazis in the Middle East, despite their policy of apartheid that is very similar to that of former South Africa. Israel has every right to self-defense and peace within its own borders. Because Israel never approved of US diplomatic solutions in Syria and Iran, nor US rapprochement with Iran, Obama had to give the green light to the Gaza military operations in July 2014, while in return promising as few million dollars to the Palestinians to take care of their medical and other needs.

The ultimate insult in military confrontations that Israel engages periodically is that the US, which has approved and backed them, steps in after mounting world protests to present itself as the "peacemaker" and objective intermediary. That the militarist super power behind Israel tries to present itself as the peace broker is insulting to all people, but especially to Palestinians who know that the US has had a role in killing their children and backing the status quo of no permanent peace on the Palestinian Question.
The media always projects the image of Israel as the real victim in the wars it launches against the Palestinians and the US as the peace broker. Anything that the UN does to condemn Israel has no impact because it enjoys US support in the Security Council where veto is readily exercised, no matter the magnitude of the problem, from war crimes to seizing land illegally. Although Israel has historically ignored the UN on many issues from seizing Palestinian land and resources to systematically violating human rights, it has suffered no consequences because the US as patron state is behind Israel. 

There are those who maintain that every conflict in which Israel has been engaged involves economic interests, directly or indirectly. For example, it is no secret that Israel controls the water resources, but it also has an interest in securing control of energy resources. It has been in negotiations with Cyprus for undersea explorations of natural gas and oil, and it has also been interested in undersea oil of Greece. When Russia decided to cut out Israel from the GAZPROM gas pipeline and run it from Syria and Lebanon to Gaza, Israel went to war in June 2014. The idea is to deprive Palestinians from having any access to natural resources that can be used as leverage or would make Palestinians more self-sufficient. 

One-State or Two-State Solution?
The two-state solution has failed because it brought nothing but war and destruction to the Palestinians for many decades. Moreover, the end of the Cold War with the US decision to replace the Cold War with the war on terror meant that the stigma of having the label “terrorist” as Israel and its right-wing allies in the US and Europe insisted on calling Palestinians cried out for a new strategy. Working within the system to support left wing Israeli parties as part of a coalition is one strategy to change the political dynamics inside Israel.
The failure of uprisings and guerilla military conflicts, combined with the absence of any Arab state backing Palestinians, the US insisting on blind support of Israel no matter how destructive its policies and detrimental to US interests have convinced some Palestinians that an internal solution is about the only leverage the people have left. Some view guerrilla war as a thing of the past, or they associate it with ISIS and al-Qaeda or other jihadists groups, rather than liberation armies. Of course, Israel and the Western press and governments go out of their way to portray Palestinians as terrorists simply because they are fighting for a homeland and against colonial oppression. 

Abandoning the armed struggle and working within the system would mean securing basic rights and sharing power at all institutional levels, at least in theory. This would then be the Palestinian leverage that is more powerful theoretically than anything coming from the outside world. If there is no leverage that the Palestinians can use to negotiate a solution to their satisfaction, then the only thing left to do is work within the Israeli parliamentary system. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the full support of right wing political elements is a committed Zionist who wants neither the two-state solution nor the single-state state solution as many Palestinians envision it. Palestinians know that the majority of Israeli Jews strongly oppose a single-state solution and it is not just the Zionists who want a religious identity to transcend the democratic image of the state. The Russia-Jewish influx has made the right wing parties more popular and a right wing coalition regime will probably remain in power for many years, unless an economic crisis impacts the country in a detrimental way. 

The rightist trend of Israeli politics has been a reality in the last two decades. This does not necessarily explain the unwillingness to find a solution to the Palestinian Question as some Jewish and Palestinian analysts believe because they hold hope for a solution with a leftist regime that favors a secular rather than a Zionist state. After, all, for decades the center-left was in power and the Palestinians suffered wars and repression just as they have under the right wing. That the center-left identified with the secularists and not the Zionists like the right wing is far more interested in co-opting the Palestinian population in total and extending the same rights and privileges is an attractive idea. However, even non-Zionists committed to Israel as a secular state may have a concern about integrating the entire Palestinian population that would then have a major voice in public policy and society’s direction. There is the fear that more than 3 million Palestinians who live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria would return and become the majority, a fear hardly justified by the reality of economic limitations within Israel for all of those people to make a living.  

A more likely scenario is that the Palestinians as a minority in society would meet a fate no different than black South Africans after Nelson Mandela ended apartheid. Another likely scenario is that the Palestinians would be no different than American blacks before the Civil Rights movement. I am not at all amazed that according to a public opinion poll in Israel, one-third to as many as one-half of Israelis do not want Palestinians working for them or work next to them. Denying Palestinians the right to live in peace and harmony because Zionist ideologues leading the country have convinced the masses to live in fear of the Palestinian “terrorist monster”, because a handful of weapons producers want to make greater profits by keeping conflict alive, because the Jewish Diaspora feels better  about themselves supporting militarist solutions with its checkbook, because the Israeli lobby is extremely powerful in US politics is at the core of maintaining the status quo that is as criminal as it was for the Christians to stand by and watch governments from the Black Death to the Third Reich persecute European Jews. 

Are there enough enlightened Israeli Jews to collaborate with Palestinians in finding common ground through the one-state solution process? My view is that it is worth further exploration because Palestinians have no friends in the outside world that would do anything for them other than express moral support. Palestinians must at least explore the solution from within and see how far they get while at the same time see who on the outside is able to offer assistance toward a solution both sides would accept. The two-state solution has run its course as has the idea of peace negotiations that Israel under the right wing regime will not accept without essentially forcing Palestinians to live in ghettos and reduced to the class of the “untouchables”. Integration within Israeli society will not be difficult because of profound suspicions on both sides, and in the end it may not work any better than Jim Crow laws in the US. 

Despite the Iran deal, US behavior in the Middle East has been to destabilize the region, to keep it as integrated as possible to the West by any means including military intervention, and to continue providing massive foreign aid to Israel that contributes to instability and opposes any kind of settlement with the Palestinians unless it is one that reduces the tiny occupies lands into an even worse ghetto than it has been. In short, US foreign policy does not offer hope for a Palestinian solution just because Iran struck a deal with the US and the West. 

The new role of China in global affairs may indeed change the dynamic inside Israel and force the US into a compromise. In August 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced China's five-point peace proposal on settling the Israel-Palestine conflict, which included abandoning military solutions and seeking a political settlement in order to advance regional and global stability. 

 It is of the utmost importance that all people recognize basic human rights laws as the UN has estiablished them, and this includes Arabs and Jews. Negotiations cannot take place otherwise. All forms of racism and disrimination must never be a part of a dialogue to settle any dispute, otherwise there cannot be a permanent solution, Hugging each other will not do it, but seeking a politically, socially, economically and culturally viable solution with which the majority - certainly not all people - will be able to live with is the goal. To do this, Israel must realize it is fighting the battles of the mid-20th century in the early 21st century. The only issue is to have Israeli government move forward with a solution based on human rights as well as social justice for all people who live in Israel and the Territories. The object is not to promote hatred on any side, not against the Jewish people not against Arabs, not against anyone, and certainly no double-dealing Saudi Arabian style. This too is a dead-end strategy and eventually it runs out of steam.

Unless there is goodwill to sit together and find a solution to this issue, I just do not see how this is in the interests of the the Palestinians but especially Israel that will find itself increasingly isolated by the world community as more governments and companies refuse to do business with it. Already, there are corporations under pressure to divest and China has set terms of its own in order to do business there. C hina wants Israeli technology, but it can get it elsewhere. Israel needs Chinese investment and does not wish to be left out. China is already economically nmber one in the world - PPP terms according to the IMF - and number one economic presence in Africa, As the century unfolds, China will replace US influence not just in Africa but in the Middle East. Unlike the US, China will not cave in to Israel's political will on the Palsestinian Question because the internal and international dynamics are very different for China than the US.
China is a prominent player in Africa and will be even more so in the 21st century, so it has a major interest in regional stability at a time the US has been working directly and indirectly to create instability. While China’s role can be significant and will become even more so in the decades ahead, without the US stepping forward to lead on this issue now, the otherwise politically divided Palestinians are left on their own to pursue varieties of solutions, which includes working within the Israeli parliamentary system to influence progressive politicians into reaching a permanent settlement.  Israel will be wise to look down the road and figure out if it wants peaceful co-existence with the world's number economic power as the US will cut aid to Tel Aviv, or whether it wants to pursue Zionism and hardhsip that comes with it in every respect.

Friday, 10 July 2015


Synoptic Description of Messiah Politics

In 2001 throughout the Western World, the Middle East and North Africa, grassroots movements challenged mainstream politics, in which category belongs 'Messiah politics' - I would also characterize it as 'Savior politics' or 'hero-worship politics'. This is not to suggest that the choice in “social contracts”, as Enlightenment thinkers defined the concept, is between 'Messiah politics' - salvation from a Savior acting as a benevolent master of the masses - or grassroots movements invariably linked to protest, dissidence and /or revolution -  salvation from below with the masses' participation. However, in the early 21st century when markets are imposing complete hegemony over all aspects of society from politics to culture, I am suggesting that the dichotomy between 'Messiah politics' and grassroots movements appears to be growing sharper owing to the huge gap between what "Messiah politics" pledges either under “democracy's” promising theoretical rhetoric vs. the reality of socioeconomic polarization, or under an authoritarian regime that pledges to act benevolently on behalf of the people, but in reality serves very narrow interests. Whether under the authoritarian 'one-man rule', or an elected representative model, in all cases and under disparate political and ideological models, ''Messiah politics" has the following three common denominators:

a) Benevolent ruler: Projecting the notion that society's welfare rests in the hands of one person (savior-political leader) theoretically acting on behalf of all citizens and invoking “national interest”.
b) Class Hegemony: The "Messiah" - elected for limited term or ruler for life - often represents the national and international socioeconomic elites to the detriment of the masses that Messiah politics claims it wishes to save.
c) Machiavellian Rule: The criteria for Messiah politics is not necessarily social justice or any moral foundation, let alone a benevolent goal, though it could be as a theoretical framework, but rather a practical Machiavellian projection of and the quest for power, glory and riches that people identify with the 'Savior politician'.

Does "Messiah politics" differ from 'apocalyptic' politics, and does it have an inordinate influence in the public mind during the age of mass politics both in Western countries and traditional/religious societies? Messiah politics transcends regime, ideology, political party, national, ethnic or religious identity, as well as historical epoch. While the focus of Messiah politics is on "saving" the nation-state (in the Westphalian sense of the term
sovereignty is the principle of international law that each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs”) from domestic and external forces trying to disrupt its sociopolitical consensus, there have also been Messiah political figures who have tried to save the region surrounding the nation-state, or the world at large through revolution, wars, imperialist (political, economic, cultural) policies intended to spread the values and institutions on a global scale with the goal of imposing hegemony. In other words, the charismatic element of the Messiah political figure is not limited to the status quo ruler, but extends to the dissident or rebel using the same means to mobilize grassroots support for regime change.

Apocalyptic Politics vs. Messiah Politics

The concept of a 'political savior' equated with a spiritual prophet (Messiah politics) in charge of society is as universal and as timeless as civilization and owes its origin to concentrated powers of defense (warfare) and society's welfare in the hands of a single person – the tribal war chieftain in early civilization, and later King and Emperor ruling with the military as the power base and the priests and nobility as the privileged popular base.

The origin of the state, which accounted for the division of labor and class-based society with institutions reflecting it, gave rise to the origin of Messiah politics that we have inherited and maintain five thousand years since the emergence of city-states in ancient Mesopotamia. The intersection of politics and religion accounts for the “messiah politics” phenomenon throughout history. Even in contemporary times when secular civilization is thoroughly materialistic, the general conceptualization of Messiah politics maintains its religious aura, regardless of religion or absence of it.  

The concept of Messiah politics differs from 'Apocalyptic politics', although in some cases there can be convergence. Apocalyptic politics is about predicting Armageddon resulting from the forces of good and evil, the struggle of morality or God as subjectively defined and the anti-Christ, for example. Christian "Apocalyptism" has a long history in the West, especially among fundamentalists who fear the strong state and deem that sin is measured by the scale of a strong public sector and a trend toward greater materialism, hedonism and moral relativism.

The solution for "Apocalyptism" is greater adherence to faith (institutionalized religion) and a messiah-style leader who protects religious traditions on which society is built and conducts policy on the basis of moral absolutes, targeting for elimination any threat to traditionalism - for example, mode of dress and behavior, gay rights, abortion, replacing scientific theories resting on physical cosmology with religious cosmology, etc. Furthermore, "Apocalyptism" in some cases provides a religiously-based legal system as a means of preventing the degradation of society that would otherwise be viewed as secular progress. If society is headed for ruin owing to the economic and political system in the hands of 'secularist sinners', then the essential problem of "Apocalyptic politics" is to propose a Messiah-on-earth solution to prevent, or at least postpone, Armageddon.

A Historical Overview of "Messiah Politics"

“Messiah politics” differs in scope from "Apocalyptic politics", in so far as the former is a much broader concept that includes rulers of any type with strong hegemonic role and societal acceptance that the individual can save society through divine inspiration or divine right principle, but not limited to those alone. Messiah politics is a concept as ancient as civilization when kings and emperors identified with deities and people engaged in worship of their leaders that they deemed closer to divinity than mere mortals. Hence, paternalism whether under the Czars of Russia, Chinese Emperors, modern-day dictators, or elected presidents is an integral part of Messiah politics. The ruler is the father of the country and embodies its welfare (Thomas Hobbes paternalistic concept of sovereignty), thus he must not be questioned by his subjects who are prone toward atomistic behavior.

With the advent of the Renaissance era's drastic change in Europe owing to the Commercial Revolution (transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture and long-distance trade), Messiah politics evolved as the idea of a savior leader  in the image of Machiavelli's "The Prince" of in Thomas Hobbes "The Leviathan". The emergence of capitalism and new division of labor – capitalist and worker replacing landlord and serf – accounted for modification of Messiah politics in so far as the monarch Messiah would have to cater to the interests of the bourgeoisie along with the nobility and upper clergy.

After the American and French Revolutions, elected officials emerged as guardian-saviors of the electoral system itself - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson embodied the concept of 'fathers of the nation'. The French Revolution was obviously broader in its definition of Messiah politics, considering that all Revolutionary leaders from the early more bourgeois ones to the later more egalitarians fell into the Messiah mold because some people and they saw themselves from that perspective. The Emperors Napoleon Bonaparte and half a century later Napoleon III were probably the two most important figures of messiah politicians representing the grandeur France was seeking in competing with industrialized Great Britain.

It can be argued, however, that Abraham Lincoln belonged in the same category, largely because of his impact to 'save' American society by ending slavery as an obstacle to progress domestically and internationally. Whether he “saved” black slaves or white capitalists - in essence helped end an archaic institution that was an obstacle to industrial capitalism operating under free wage labor rules – is another matter. After all, in 1861 Tsar Alexander II issued a decree freeing Russia’s serfs also as part of broader reforms to modernize society just as the US was working toward a similar goal at the same time. Than an absolutist monarch freed serfs about the same time as the democratically-elected US president is very telling not about Messiah politics but the top-down reforms necessary to modernize society and make it competitive with the rest of the world. Social justice did not result any more for the Russian serfs after 1861 than it did for the former American slaves after 1865.

In the 20th century there were a number of revolutionary leaders belonging to the category of 'Messiah politics' that they redefined. Those included Vladimir Lenin (leader of the Bolshevik Revolution), Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, (leader of the nationalist-reformist movement in Turkey), Mao Tse-tung (leader of the Chinese Communist revolution), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egyptian nationalist social reformer), revolutionary leaders Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ho Chi Minh the father of Communist-nationalist Vietnam, Sukarno the non-Aligned leader of Indonesia, and Fidel Castro who revolutionized Latin American politics by taking over Cuba and challenging US hemispheric hegemony. As leaders of the political opposition, they represented hope for social justice and progress. Their brand of Messiah politics rested on the hope that change would raise the dignity of their people amid massive changes owing to industrial, technological and scientific developments in the Western World exploiting labor and natural resources of the rest of the planet and imposing its economic and political hegemony.  

Liberal-democratic elected leaders Charles De Gaulle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama were swept into power as a result of Messiah politics mystique surrounding their leadership of forging middle class consensus while strengthening capitalism. Of course, it is true that there are degrees of popularity and power that individual leaders under the category of Messiah politics have enjoyed through the ages. One cannot possibly compare the popularity and power of Nasser ruler for life, for example, at home and globally with Obama. The first black US president was elected to office and had very constrictive institutional perimeters of power that he had to serve faithfully as a status quo leader. This is in sharp contrast with Egypt’s Nasser who came to power to change the status quo at home and regionally, while having the military as his power base and the broader social classes as his political base.

There are presidents like George Washington or leaders of movements like Mahatma Gandhi who have become demigod legends as part of the 'Messiah politics' mythology that surrounds their legacy that a majority of the population deems constructive for society. There vast differences between Washington who respected the international order based on European imperialism as long as the US as a free nation was not exploited, and Gandhi who opposed imperialism on political, economic, social, and moral grounds.

There are also leaders like North Korea's Kim Jong-il whose funeral (December 2011) revealed that Messiah politics can easily be transformed into 'demigod politics' in order to maintain a political system through a massive public relations campaign that the state stages. While it would not have surprised people if Kim’s funeral scene had taken place 3000 years ago, they found it eerie in the 21st century because it blatantly revealed the degree to which Messiah politics penetrates society. The psychology of a nation is very much dependent on image cultivation, more so today in the age of mass communications than in the Renaissance when Machiavelli and Hobbes crafted their political philosophy based on paternalism.

Nationalist populist politician Vladimir Putin appealing to the 'New Russia' of a rising middle class, and former president Hugo Chavez appealing to the working class and peasantry of Venezuela belong in the category of Messiah politics. Although the latter proved far more popular and with far more staying power in the country’s political culture than his Russian counterpart resting his political base on Russia’s wealthy class, the modality of power is not very different. Clearly, Chavez had a firm commitment to social justice rooted in Venezuela’s “caudillo” political tradition, while Putin merely cultivates nationalist sentiment given that the US and the West make it easy for him with hostile policies. While the goal in both Russia and Venezuela under Messiah political figures is image cultivation to forge a broad public consensus, class interests dominate as much in Venezuela where capitalists demand a dominant voice in policy to the detriment of the rest of society, as in Russia where the there are limitations to how far nationalism focused on external enemies can carry the self-styled Messiah political leader.

As we have seen in the last century, Messiah politics in modern times can entail a dictator imposed upon society, by heredity, military force, or manipulation of the electoral system based on massive amounts of campaign contributions from the wealthy as we have in the US and other countries. Regardless of how a Messiah leader comes to power, the idea is to project the image of indispensability to holding society together – forging political consensus while projecting the image of serving the general welfare. Such has been the case with a number of authoritarian rulers in many parts of the Middle East and Asia. Identifying their regime with the national interest, thus with the national welfare, these dictators can be ideologically right-wing or populist left wing, ruling on behalf of the armed forces and police for the benefit of a small segment in society, or ruling on behalf of a segment of the masses but in reality benefiting a small group linked to supporting the "Savior politician" who has no grassroots support.

Grassroots Movement's Challenge: the case of Italy

In the early 21st century, Italy seemed to be the birthplace of the 'anti-Messiah politics' movement. Grass-roots protest movements took place spread across the Western World and the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East initially appeared as grassroots movements that would end the era of dictators for life cultivating a cult of personality and serving the rich at home and foreign capital. In the age of NGO’s funded by governments and corporations, there is enormous manipulation of grassroots movements, as we have seen in the last ten years in a number of countries including those like Ukraine, Syria, etc. Until the dust settles, it is very difficult to know the difference between a genuine grassroots movement, and a well organized and government or business-financed group of people manipulating dissidents on behalf of narrow political and corporate interests.

It can be argued that grassroots politics has been around since the creation of organized society and popularized since fifth century Athens as Aristophanes explains in his satirical play "Lysistrata". In modern European history, the earliest evidence of a mass grassroots movement came in the Age of the Reformation with the “German Peasants’ War” (1524-1525) when capitalism was making cost of living very high for the lower classes amid greater wealth concentration. There were aspects of grassroots movements within the French Revolution that the middle class led and dominated, and increasingly in trade union organizing throughout the 19th century in Europe and US.

The evidence of grassroots organizing in the 20th century can be seen by the results of successful revolutions – Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba – all involving Messiah-styled leaders to whom the masses looked to bring social justice where was none. In the early 21st century, it appeared that Islamic countries would set the example for the rest of the world to follow when it came to ending Messiah politics and embracing grassroots movements. This proved another illusion because of the manipulation of these movements by domestic and foreign political and economic interests.

Italy presented itself as the country that could set the example of grassroots anti-Messiah politics, a movement that has the potential of spreading to other countries. Italy's Movement of National Liberation launched in October 2009 by Beppe Grillo, evolved into the Five Star Movement whose platform is anti-corruption, respect for the environment, and genuine democracy rooted on people and not the elites. The five stars stand for 1. environment, 2. water, 3. connectivity, 4. development, 5. transportation. Political candidates qualifying for the Five Star Movement needed to:
1. have no criminal record, 2. no political affiliation, 3. reside in the city that they represent, 4. have not previously held office for the position they are candidate, 5. refusal of government campaign funds.

One among dozens in Italy known for its dozens of national and regional political parties, the Five Star Movement is close to what I call the equivalent of the 'Cyber-Eco-Bourgeois' revolution in contemporary politics (see my four-part essay on cyber-eco-bourgeoisie and the future of revolutions). Using the web and blogging to raise consciousness attract followers, Beppe Grillo started the 'vendetta' or vengeance protest movement in 2007, pointing out Italian politicians who were not only corrupt but criminal, aiding and abetting murderers. Considering that organized crime has had a long history of involvement in Italy's politics and business, and considering that former Prime Minister Berlusconi, who owned a media empire, was in constant trouble with the law for various violations including collusion with the mafia, tax evasion, fraud, etc., it is understandable to see how corruption had a corroding impact on Italian society and not because of the prime minister's licentious lifestyle, but more because of the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. 

Circumventing government-subsidized media that Berlusconi and other millionaires control, the anti-Messiah grassroots movement petitioned for a Bill of Popular Initiative to remove known criminals who were members of parliament - criminals in politics also part of the Messiah political mystique. Although Berlusconi was able to continue buying votes so he can remain premier, more than two million people joined the anti-Messiah or V-Day movement against a corrupt and undemocratic regime that controlled the mainstream media and perpetuated messiah politics as embodied by "il Cavaliere". The success was largely to blogging, internet, cell phone and new technology that links people together and bypasses the mainstream media representing the elites.

While the party is primarily popular in the north that historically has been more progressive and more 'European' than the south where organized crime, politics and business play a larger role, the 'Anti-Messiah' grassroots movement, largely lower middle class with some working class elements, is in its nascent stage. It remains to be seen if it takes off in the next few years when Italy sinks deeper into recession and when the major political parties fail to deliver a political solution that takes into account not just finance capital and the markets, but the middle class and workers. It also remains to be seen if Italy's anti-Messiah movement, largely middle class (part of what I call cyber-eco-bourgeois) spreads to the rest of Europe and beyond. So far, the movement has fallen into the same mold of “politics as usual” and lost its luster as a genuine grassroots movement interested in promoting social justice. Clearly, the institutionalization of a political party that becomes part of the status quo entails co-optation and abandonment of its goals to serve the masses.

Somewhat similar to Italy, Greece after 2010 immersed itself in Messiah politics, seeking a savior either on the right or the left to lift the country out of austerity and deep recession that is not unlike the Great Depression of the 1930s. The majority opted for Alexis Tsipras of the center-left SYRIZA party that came to office in January 2015 promising salvation for the working class and the rapidly declining middle class. Five months later, the Greek Messiah Tsipras proved that he is unable and perhaps unwilling to abandon the commitment of the state faithfully serving domestic and foreign capital regardless of the cost to the workers and middle class. The irony here is that a large segment of the people will continue to embrace the Messiah politician regardless of the absolute and total abandonment of pledge to support social justice. The only thing that matters is the appearance of “salvation” from what actually may be far worse – the unknown!  

The Future of Messiah Politics and Grassroots Movements

The future of Messiah politics is safe, given that a segment of the population wants to believe in morally-motivated idealistic 'Savior politicians' that bring miracles to society on behalf of the people, at least appearing to do so in a Machiavellian sense. In this respect, both Machiavelli and Hobbes were correct regarding assumption about human nature and likely political behavior under the social contract. Messiah politics will continue to exist because the elites have the means to manipulate public opinion and co-opt just about everything in society.

It can be argued that Messiah politics, like religion represents the human soul (the spiritual craving of the human mind), and conditions will always deteriorate to the degree that a well-motivated person or an opportunistic demagogue will come along to promise deliverance from human suffering brought on by societal institutions. In open societies, Messiah politics will continue to thrive as long as there are powerful elites behind such political packaging, promoting, and delivering the 'Savior politician' to the voters for their approval, and as long as voters remain committed to worshiping power, at least mesmerized by it, even if it is to the detriment of their interests that the elites define for the masses.

At the same time, there will also be a rising trend toward grassroots movements that has swept across Europe, US, Australia and Islamic nations, Russia, and Latin America. Many politicians and analysts have argued that the deep recession of 1008-2011 resembled the Great Depression era in terms of the shock in the magnitude of economic global contraction and socioeconomic downward mobility. It is precisely such objective conditions that account for the rising popularity of grassroots movements that may or may not evolve into political parties, but will most definitely influence the political arena.

There are indications that ‘democracy’ as currently constituted is more authoritarian than democratic, something proved by the large number of voters who choose not to take part in voting process, to vote for small parties, or to decry the entire institutional structure by simply engaging in protests, as is the case with a segment of educated youth that does not have much hope for a bright future under the existing institutions favoring a small segment of the population benefiting from Messiah politics.

Anti-Messiah example may spread throughout Europe, Russia, US, Canada, Australia, and beyond. Europe is especially vulnerable, as the continent sinks deeper into a division between the rich northwest and the periphery across the south and east. A rejection of Messiah politics in favor of grassroots movements can continue assuming the following conditions:
a) One or more members of the eurozone leave the common currency, or if the EU disintegrates.
b) The parliamentary system that theoretically claims to represent all people continues to be undermined by the hegemonic economic system that caters to a small percentage of the rich, and the poor-rich gap widens with unemployment remaining in double-digits. The US is especially vulnerable because it is a quasi-police state society with strong indications of ideological polarization from a convergence of right wing elements adamantly opposed to maintaining a liberal consensus on domestic issues and foreign affairs.
c) The mainstream major parties - varieties of center--left, center, center-right, and right - fail to achieve political consensus and mobilize at least half of the voters, and especially the declining and weaker middle class.
d) Varieties of rightwing extremism are on the rise, especially nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-Islam sentiment translated into a stronger right wing movement and/or platform of political parties.
e) There is a growing perception that society will become relatively stagnant and there is a gap between the high expectations of the middle class and the lack of fulfillment of the social contract by regimes that rest largely on middle class votes for their support.
f) The contagion effect becomes a factor as one country's grassroots movement will emulate the other.
g) There is continued erosion of the middle class 'Liberal-democratic' consensus on which representative regimes are based, and a continued transfer of public wealth toward corporate welfare at the expense of the rest of society.