Sunday, 29 April 2018

May Day in a Neoliberal Society

A Forbes article entitled, On May Day, Communism Is A Much-Closeted Joke” proclaimed the triumph of neoliberalism and the end of celebrating workers as follows: Once its biggest self-celebration, May Day now signals Mayday for global communism. Just a half century ago, it seemed irrepressible, now communism is just reprehensible, with the relevance of a renaissance festival. Ironically, it is the Left who most want to forget... before the lesson behind communism's demise can be more broadly applied.”

By identifying the workers struggle for social justice with the Soviet regime, Forbes assumes that the rights of workers have no legitimacy in the social contract, unless otherwise subsumed by the neoliberal institutional structure. In a world of poignantly expressed “selfie” narcissistic pathology as a manifestation of how the hegemonic culture has triumphed over humanity, collectivist humane values are antithetical to the neoliberal status quo. The dominant culture indoctrinates the individual toward preoccupation with self and the rejection of the real community replaced by the virtual one where the self is itself a commodity and where misanthropic traits are inadvertently cultivated by the institutional structure that molds identity around material possessions as conduits to happiness. Despite widespread neglect, abuse and financial exploitation of the elderly in run-down nursing homes; and despite poorly educated children are a stark reality, as the rich-poor gap and poverty is rising amid a growing economy, the dominant culture incessantly conditions the individual to reject the welfare of humanity, and to focus only on the self and virtual reality of a "commoditized" world.

How has civilization degenerated to this level, just as its elites proclaim that everything is done in the name of “progress” for all of humanity? How has the world come to except systemic exploitation as normal within the context of a ‘democratic’ society identified with the market economy and with labor as its enemy? Beyond anti-unionism, a euphemism for pro-corporate-welfare capitalism, the dominant culture is misanthropic in practice no matter what the varieties of bourgeois liberals and conservatives proclaim, only to be contradicted by policies detrimental to working people who are constantly distracted by everything from nationalism, militarism, religion and all types of identity pollical issues intended to maintain the existing unjust social order and misanthropic culture.

Against the background of an open war on labor by capital and the state, a war that intensified after 1945 – advent of the Cold War - and became more openly hostile after 1980 – advent of neoliberalism - the significance of May Day has been diminished to such a degree that even the sixty-six countries still officially celebrating this day to honor workers, do so superficially, with vacuous populist rhetoric while public policy points toward a different direction. Governments pursue anti-labor policies in accordance with neoliberalism aimed to intensify capital accumulation at any cost to society, including wars that displace millions of people from their homes, and downward social mobility with all its consequences from poor health to lack of education and adequate housing.  To buttress private enterprise, which would otherwise collapse if it were not for government and its agencies acting as conduits for income transfer from the general population to the richest segment, the state constantly transfers income from social programs to corporate welfare, all in the name of economic growth synonymous with capitalist accumulation.

It is indeed ironic that the US, where May Day has its origin, government has never celebrated this day, but instead has declared it ‘law and order day’ since Eisenhower. This is indicative of contempt for workers by a capitalist-controlled state and the resolve to prevent labor from demanding a voice in public policy as it did in the 19th century when it confronted a violently hostile employer backed by the state. Today, many Republican and Democrats openly and unapologetically acknowledge capitalist monopoly over public policy.  Mick Mulvaney, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, unashamedly invited 1,300 bank executives to help him convert the agency that he heads into a pro-banking institution, more so than it is currently, by contributing money to politicians favoring banking deregulation and curbing consumer protection safeguards. “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress.  If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

An honest admission of the degree to which neoliberalism has triumphed, Mulvaney’s speech was indicative of the degree to which capital is now in an open politically-normalized war against labor and society. This is no different than it was in the post-Civil War era when the nascent labor movement in America confronted the combined forces of both employers and the state in the struggle for living wages, safety, and varieties of employer abuses of workers, including children and women. An estimated 35,000 workers, mostly Italian and Irish immigrants, went on strike in Chicago on May 1, 1886 in what became known as the Haymarket Massacre. They demanded an 8-hour workday, fair wages, work safety, abolition of child labor, and the end to labor exploitation by management in the workplace. The response was the police striking workers and government adopting harsh measures against any worker trying to organize in the aftermath. William J Adelman, founder of the Illinois Labor History Society and Vice President, correctly stated: "No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance."

As Adelman pointed out, American society is more anti-labor than many other advanced capitalist countries, though anti-labor policies have spread globally under neoliberalism since the 1980s. While the police are not out killing workers as they were in the 19th and early 20th century, the contemporary neoliberal state has adopted policies intended to crush organized labor and silence any voice of dissent to the corporate welfare state.  As a market-based institutional order impacting every aspect of society, including personal identity, neoliberal corporate welfare has replaced social welfare capitalism. The neoliberal goal is to turn the clock back to the early stages of capitalist development when labor had no rights and the state’s role was to act as a conduit for private capital accumulation. Although society’s institutional evolution does not permit for a return to 19th century social conditions, the trend is to erase as many of the vestiges of social welfare as possible in order to accelerate capital accumulation.

Whether neoliberalism operates under the pluralist model where vestiges of social welfare and diversity remain as part of the legal structure, or under the populist authoritarian model intended to erase pluralism and social welfare, the goal is capital accumulation through massive transfer of income from labor and the middle class to the richest tiny percentage in the world. Employers had no difficulty convincing the government to crush the labor movement in Chicago through violent means in the 1880s or to execute a number of labor leaders in the aftermath, thus sending a strong message to the world about the absence of workers’ rights, civil rights, human rights and social justice. The infamous Chicago Haymarket Massacre left a legacy of the class struggle with reverberations around the world, exposing the myth of bourgeois democracy as representative of anyone outside the capitalist class. Anti-union and anti-labor policies were characteristic of the US government from Haymarket until the Great Depression when Roosevelt cleverly broadened the labor movement in order to co-opt if as part of the Democratic party, thus deradicalizing workers and subordinating the class struggle to capital, in return for a social welfare state.

Post-Vietnam War progressive opposition to the misanthropic neoliberal culture in most countries has been co-opted by pluralist neoliberal political parties claiming to represent all classes within the context of the existing social order. Every identity group, from minorities, women, elderly, alternative lifestyle, environmental groups, etc. is represented under the larger umbrella of a pluralist political party. Similarly, the conservative to rightwing identity groups, religious, nationalist, militarist, xenophobic, racist, misogynist, etc. are under the umbrella of the populist/authoritarian neoliberal political camp as in Trump’s Republican Party. The left representing the working class – lower middle class included – has a very weak voice so marginalized a much in the historically anti-left America as in most of the Western World. Instead of joining the progressive leftist camp, the labor movement is itself co-opted by the neoliberal political parties of the pluralist or populist variety, thus society operates under a totalitarian canopy within which the choices are between the neoliberal pluralist or the populist pluralist parties, with variations in modalities, considering inherent conflicts among the political and financial elites choosing different camps.

President Macron representing the pluralist neoliberal camp in France is just as militaristic and anti-labor as Trump representing the populist neoliberal camp in the US. Labor’s representation in these governments is non-existent. Operating within the parliamentary system, France has an anti-capitalist non-revolutionary party, though it has not been put to the test and it has a very long way to go before it takes power. The myth about social welfare costs is easily disputed when considering that the US spends twice as much for corporate welfare. "The final totals are $59 billion, 3 percent of the total federal budget, for regular welfare and $92 billion, 5 percent of the total federal budget, for corporations. So, the government spends roughly 50% more on corporate welfare than it does on these particular public assistance programs."

In the neoliberal age that dominates life in all its aspects, the development of genuine socialism seems unattainable and people become fatalistic or apathetic. However, the contradictions of the neoliberal establishment, the countless of contradictions in the social order will produce the foundations of a new social order built on the ashes of the one decaying. The declarations of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in the last two decades point out some of the structural problems of the neoliberal status quo, as articulated by heads of state. However, these declarations remain mere rhetoric, as the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit of July 2016 illustrates.
Working for Inclusive, Just, and Equal Alternatives in Asia and Europe. AEPF11 tackled strategies on major themes or People’s Visions, representing the hopes of citizens of the two regions. These are:
  • Resource Justice, Land Rights, Equal Access to Water, and Participation - Going Beyond Extractivism
  • Food Sovereignty/Food Security – Beyond zero hunger
  • Climate Justice - Towards Sustainable Energy Production and Use, and Zero Waste
  • Socially Just Trade, Production and Investment
  • Social Justice – Social Protection for All, Decent Work and Sustainable Livelihoods, Tax Justice and other egalitarian Alternatives to Debt and Austerity
  • Peace Building and Human Security - Responses to Migration, and Fundamentalism and Terrorism
  • Participatory Democracy,  Gender Equality and Minority Rights

ASEM11 touches on some of the problems without analyzing their root causes, namely, globalist neoliberal policies that the same heads of state as signatories are pursuing.  While agreeing on the interlocking nature of the crises of capitalism, and acknowledging such crises are the cause of greater social polarization - poverty, inequality, joblessness, and insecurity – they are not willing to abandon the very system that gives rise to the crises. While they readily admit that “We are increasingly experiencing corporate capture”, whereby multinational and national corporations structure and determine our lives and livelihoods,” they are unwilling to do anything about it. No government is doing anything to encourage genuine grassroots progressive movements, labor and social movements that would become the foundation for a new social order rooted in social justice. On the contrary, the goal is to prevent labor mobilization, progressive social organizations, unless of course they are co-opted and subordinate to the goals of neoliberalism. That the US does not celebrate May Day to honor workers is a reflection of the dominant culture's contempt for labor. For those countries that officially celebrate May Day while pursuing neoliberal anti-labor policies, the holiday has been reduced to about the same level of hypocrisy as any national Independence Day – oppression remains a reality for workers, while equality and social justice are a distant dream.   

Thursday, 12 April 2018


1.   Trump Syrian Foreign Policy and its Consequences

The off-the-cuff remarks that Trump usually makes are based partly on his own instincts, partly on intelligence briefings, and partly on the advice and input he receives from multiple sources, in and outside of government. For several years, he has been on record in opposing “regime change” and embracing a rather curious combination of stronger military build up and neo-isolationism that goes hand-in-hand with his approach to international trade and opposition to multilateral commercial relations. Isolationism of course, does not preclude US unilateral action or invoking multilateralism when the US sees it to its advantage. His own problems with the investigation by Robert Mueller, mounting pressures from the strong bipartisan support for military interventionism both at home and from NATO and some Middle East countries, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia constantly forces Trump to consider military strikes as a way of appeasing disparate ideological, political, and of course defense industry groups. Trump is well aware of defense operation costs to the US budget, as he has repeatedly stated. However, he is hardly an expert on the multi-dimensional aspects and consequences of US military action, and the people with whom he surrounds himself are not interested in long-term consequences, only short-term political and strategic advantage. The larger question for the US political and defense establishment with all the corporate-funded thinks tanks advising them is what kind of relationship do they want with Russia and what limits are they willing to place on US military solutions, just as they expect the same of Russia. Unfortunately, these questions give way to immediate expediency for Trump but also to those in his cabinet and those in the State Department and Pentagon. At the same time, the inter-agency rivalry with the CIA carrying out its own operations simply adds another complication into the mix, especially given Trump’s distaste for the CIA as an agency.
2. Is the US Concerned about Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons?
People who are honest, above all with themselves if not with the public, will readily admit that empirical evidence must be furnished by an independent, UN-led mission to ascertain who has been using chemical weapons. Without independent confirmation to prove incontrovertibly that indeed Syria is responsible for using such weapons, we are left with conspiracy theories, speculation, propaganda and inability to work for a constructive foundation for US-Russia relations and a constructive political resolution to the Syrian civil war. If indeed the goal of the US is to bypass such a constructive relationship and continue with destabilization policies, then the present course is politically acceptable. However, it has multiple consequences for all parties concerned, including the US that in the end will be left with a larger foreign debt and smaller regional influence in the Middle East. For its part, Russia wants to retain Syria as a satellite to counterbalance the US-Saudi-Israeli influence. The problem for the US is that China leans more heavily toward the Russian position than the US. Beijing does not want US-NATO monopoly in the Middle East any more than Russia or Iran. If indeed the US does bomb Syrian targets, as it may in order to save face if nothing else, the goal will be a symbolic gesture to appease militarist adventurists in the US, placate multilateral militarists in the Western Alliance and the Middle East, and for Trump to receive a much-needed applause from both Republicans and Democrats alike and the mainstream media merely for demonstrating resolve and leadership because militarism is easily equated with leadership whereas diplomacy is seen as compromise. People who analyze foreign policy in order to promote an ideology or as an advertisement for the defense industry want military adventurism. Those interested in crisis-resolution know that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis which is complex owing to considerable foreign intervention as well as a reflection of disparate divisions within Syria that range from religious and tribal to socioeconomic and political. There is an opportunity for a solution, but the only consideration for the US political, defense and business establishment is what influence will the US have once the negotiations are finished.

3.   Russia has stated that it would shoot down US missiles fired over Syria, can this lead to a possible US-Russia confrontation? 

 Russia has spent several billions in the past seven years trying to act as a counterweight to the US and to retain the old Soviet-style influence with Syria, while also helping to defeat ISIS. It achieved the goal, but only with the help of Iran and late-in-the-game Turkish participation after Erdogan's disagreement with Saudi Arabia. The uncomfortable Moscow-Tehran-Ankara alliance to keep Syria out of US-NATO-Saudi influence could be at risk if an all-out military confrontation erupts between US and Russia even at the regional and very limited level. I believe that the Kremlin has to save face as much as Trump. However, Putin will think long and hard about how to avoid confrontation and what limits he is willing to put on the table as negotiating leverage, even if he has to return fire at a limited scope. Russia actually has a burden in Syria for it is not an easy thing carrying a satellite as the US knows – just ask the people who keep track of the costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite those itching for war in the media, Pentagon, intelligence agencies, business circles and think tanks, the US public has no appetite for a war or destabilization that drive markets down. The problem is finding a mutually-agreed route out the crisis, and this is an enigma because there are many players and they disagree sharply. US-Russian confrontation is more frightening to Americans than a confrontation with North Korea. 

4.   US allies such as the UK, Australia and France have stated that they will consider a missile strike on Syria, what can we expect from US Western allies?

 The Syrian crisis is where the EU can play a moderating role and actually mitigate it by demanding a political solution that does not also put at risk EU-Iranian relations. Surprisingly Germany, instead of France or the UK that present themselves as more progressive, could play that role partly because Germany has more to lose but also because Berlin sees its EU economic hegemony threatened by military adventures. The US could actually use the disagreements among NATO members as cover for military restraint, even if that means dropping a few bombs as show of strength and demonstration of superpower status. The nature of the highly integrated world economy, with China pulling so many strings from behind the scenes will help to avert a crisis. This does not mean that things cannot get out of control as they did with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the world is more integrated today in it was sixty years ago. The Western Alliance is somewhat fractured not only because of Trump’s criticism of it and his tendency to opt for unilateral diplomacy, but also because China wields so much economic power as the world’s number one economic power in PPP terms, while the US remains number one in nominal GDP. The gap between rising US military power and declining economic power, the latter which is filled by China, forces re-alignment in practice although in theory the Western Alliance remains solid. Countries economically dependent on China while military dependent on the US take into account their broader interests, considering that economic power is in itself considerable leverage on diplomacy. Because of this variable, US military power has limitations as it is not backed by economic power as it was under Truman and Eisenhower.
5.   Do you think it’s still likely that the US troops will withdraw from Syria in the short-term?

The US will not be withdrawing from Syria, no matter what Trump says. Of course, there could be some quid-pro-quo. Obama promised withdrawing from Afghanistan as well, but the US is still there in a highly dubious mission as a symbol of super-power status and little else. The CIA proxy war with Saudi Arabia providing financing to Syrian rebels, and Iran as a main target to be weakened as far as the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are concerned, make it necessary for the US to remain in Syria in some fashion. If one steps back from this heated crisis and examines it from a dispassionate perspective, it may actually best serve the interests of the Syrian people to have some US-NATO influence in Syria for the intermediate term, and Putin may actually negotiate such a role. Not that Syria can become the modern model of Tito's Yugoslavia, but given the circumstances, negotiating some role for the West at least to buy time and give the people of Syria breathing room for reconstruction and development is not a bad solution that may suit all sides. Longer-term, who knows what happens in Syria? Just take a look at all the North African countries that underwent uprisings and Western interventions ostensibly to improve the lives of the people? Are the people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, or Algeria better off today than they were before the uprisings?  The tragedy is one suffered by the people of Syria who are victims, while foreign powers position themselves to influence the regional balance of power.