Our “Grand” Revolution: Nom de guerre Biff

Three months my friends! Three months until the oh so “grand” revolution will come to an end. We have selected our candidates, our heroes, our saviors to emancipate this great nation from its recent sorrows and elevate it back to its former glory! Back to the good old days of stealing from poorer countries, and shitting on an “appropriate” amount of the domestic poor. Oh yes, the candidates were carefully selected. The best of the best. No one could do no better! After a grueling primary process, we are down to the final two….Winner take all!!

On one side, we watched the political queen ascend to her throne, and on the other, we watched the Oompa Loompa colored fellow with a blond toupee stapled into his head eat his challengers. It certainly was exciting! But now for the last leg of the race, but I hate to tell you folks… the fight has lost its edge. It is inevitable….we shall have our utopia! We were too successful. The question is which one will we have… in the final wrestling match will it be John Galt or those with the funny Octobered names?

Alas, I am mistaken. I have read the card wrong. Damn. Damn. Damn. No, instead our choices are a third (less immigrant friendly to be sure) term of George W. Bush or a third term of Barack Obama. After all the struggle, after building the momentum for change out of our financial ruin, we decided to choose between the people who caused the crisis, and ruined the lives of millions, and the ones who have not done enough to fix it. Stimulus my ass!

Well…at least we have our certainty. Our certainty that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after, and so on things will still be same. Oh, I’m sure CNN will have a delightful little segment about how unemployment has decreased by 0.2% and wages have increased by 0.05% and 85,000 jobs were created this month (never mind that they were brutal or temporary or damaging forms of work meant to pacify us from one day to the next). They will try to program you into thinking you’re okay and for many they will succeed. But remember when you take a look-see in your checking account or at your weekly paycheck, you probably will notice that your “market worth” is not enough to cover your skyrocketing education and healthcare costs, your mortgage, or your child’s future education. Look forward to a tomorrow without retirement, where doctors and arithmetic are permanently allocated to the wealthy.

I am disappointed. We all are. Last time we had a crisis this size, we made politics work for us! We made Social Security, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and real financial regulation. We created a social safety net that took care of our people before we tore it all down again. And this time….this time we rose up and put Biff in the driver’s seat. Our populist hero, our “man of the people,” is the greatest liar in political history, a phony, a fraud! As we enter the new Gilded Age, we have our celebrity billionaire to lead the way. Oh, he will make brilliant speeches about making this nation great again while he basks in his own greatness and lines his pockets with taxpayer money (aka tax expenditures- look into them when you have the time).

Some people overreact. He’s probably not the next Hitler. He probably won’t put bar codes on Muslims, surveil their places of worship, and conduct mass deportations that will kick out millions of people who call this country home. But it is unfortunate that there are probably Las Vegas betting odds on whether or not he starts WWIII or carries out a form of ethnic cleansing to make white America feel safe again. No, he may not be a maniac. He will probably be more of the same…

Revolutions do not succeed on a whim.  The systems of power and oppression are too strong to break when emancipatory forces suffer their first defeat. We will lose, and we will keep losing and losing until occasionally we win. However, to give up, to become disillusioned and cynical is not the way. It will just produce more of the same. True emancipation comes with sacrifice and dedication. Remember that.

Seeing Sartre in Europe: The Destruction and Rebirth of Liberation Movements

Sartre is not particularly well known for his political philosophy. He became an international superstar in the mid-20th century with his phenomenological theory of existentialism and radical freedom. Many criticized his groundbreaking philosophy for its deep-seated individualism. In Being and Nothingness, he saw all group activity as fundamentally alienating seemingly critical of social and political movements of all kinds. However, this was a misconception of Sartre’s work and his later thinking, which lead to an amalgamation of his old existentialism with Marxism, provided one of the most insightful theoretical examinations of political group formation.

 

According to Sartre, successful liberating movements progress through a series of stages, in which they end up becoming the very oppressive organization they initially sought to defeat. The common purpose that stirred members together to form the group is eventually replaced by the need to reproduce and sustain the group itself. For example, the United Kingdom’s Labor Party was initially an organization formed by Fabian socialists, social democrats, and Marxists to eliminate the evils of industrial capitalism through national planning. In 1945, after it gained a majority in Parliament, the Party nationalized healthcare and revolutionized insurance providing unemployment compensation, welfare benefits, pensions, and worker’s compensation across the country. Led by Clement Atlee, they also passed legislation that improved working conditions, collective bargaining, and the ability for low-income families to obtain adequate housing.

 

However, after the rise of Margaret Thatcher and numerous electoral losses, the Labour Party no longer thought about sticking with its foundational values. Instead, it embraced the Conservative Party’s neoliberal doctrine and was merely a hollow shell of its former self. Under Tony Blair, the Labour Party led privatization movements in healthcare and education as well as the financial sector. He also followed Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in their “tough on crime” approach increasing criminal penalties and domestic surveillance. No doubt, the original founders of the Labour Party would have viewed New Labour in disgust.

 

The ascendancy of Blair illustrates the brilliance of Sartre’s theory of collectives and the political lessons he teaches. No political party or group that becomes established and obtains power stays true to its emancipatory vision. Having power is counterintuitive to any organization on the Left. Its formation eventually leads to the preservation of the organization overtaking its original goals for liberation. It becomes an empty vessel with no firm principles. Blair began to move the Party right to gain traditionally conservative votes, and he won significantly by doing it. He wanted to save the Labour Party, the bureaucratic organization and established Party members. He did so by sacrificing its founding ideology that fought for working-class and low-income families. Blair’s victory was a triumph for the party faithful and elites not for the people displaced by the capitalist system.

 

Following Sartre, when an emancipatory political party begins to become oppressive itself, it is time for it to go. It is time to eradicate it and begin again by re-identifying the common purpose with the people before processes of institutionalization, hierarchy, and power restart the process of corruption. The goal is for it to form new leaders and groups to obtain power and pass legislation as soon as it can to further its aims before deteriorating into oppression. The destruction and rebirth of established political institutions are essential to democracy itself. In present-day Europe, this means new political parties such as Unidos Podemos and Syriza should be encouraged to replace the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). It also means disgruntled voters and activists should rise to challenge established left-of-centre and socialist parties that are not cutting it everywhere.

For a Better European Union: The Future of the Left

So far the highly praised European Union has been a failure. Instead of empowering participating nations by increasing labor mobility and lowering trade barriers, it has enslaved economically suffering countries to the whims of Germany and Brussels. It has scorned democracy and placed sovereignty in the hands of bureaucrats hundreds of miles away from democratic parliaments.
At the start of the 2007-08 financial crisis, the European Central Bank (ECB) did nothing to combat the economic meltdown while millions of Europeans lost their homes, jobs, and pensions. The institution was too weak to use countercyclical policies like quantitative easing or fiscal stimulus to help suffering countries get back on their feet. To make matters worse, during the 2009 debt crisis, they pushed brutal austerity programs on to member nations insisting on tax increases and public sector cuts. The only way to get debt relief was by taking a nearly fatal dose of neoliberalism that destroyed national social programs. Pensions were cut, minimum wages were reduced, collective bargaining was eliminated, public utilities were sold to private corporations, and value-added taxes were hiked. Instead of recovery, the austerity programs only generated further economic turmoil. Greece, for instance, lost nearly 25% of its GDP after adopting Troika policies. Furthermore, its debt-to-GDP ratio catapulted from 100% to over 180%. The higher taxes and reduced public support further crippled consumer purchasing power generating greater unemployment and lower incomes leaving nothing left to tax.

 

In 2015, the election of Syriza in Greece appeared as a symbol of hope for a more democratic and economically prosperous Europe. The Party was elected on a platform that rejected austerity and sought greater debt relief. However, the Troika would not budge. They forced the Party to further dismantle the nation’s public sector dismissing the will of the Greek people.

 

After resigning as Syriza’s finance minister and watching the Troika crush the hope Syriza brought to Greece, Yanis Varoufakis realized that a change in strategy was in order. The failure of the Greek Left to end austerity revealed the impotence of the nation-state. No longer could an anti-austerity group successfully demand change through a democratic mandate due to the superior bargaining position of the Troika. If Podemos or the ruling Portuguese Left demanded debt relief through the popular support of their people, Germany would make an example of them as well. Instead, Varoufakis believes that the best way to change the EU is by creating a pan-European movement.
Earlier this year, Varoufakis founded Diem25, an organization dedicated to democratizing the EU within the next decade. Since its creation, it has joined in solidarity with the Nuit debout movement in France as well as directly advised Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on the U.K’s upcoming referendum on staying in the European Union. Diem25 has three goals. In the short-term, it wants to establish transparency in all EU institutions. This includes live streaming EuroGroup, EconFin, and European Council meetings, publishing European Central Bank minutes, and the full disclosure of trade agreement documents, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Also, it wants to fundamentally alter the policies that foster debt-deflation, poor investment, and greater poverty. The ultimate goal is to form a pan-European assembly to debate over how to develop a federation that creates a sovereign parliament that respects the power of the nation-state.

Varoufakis is right on both points. No other radical anti-austerity party had as much support and control nationally as Syriza did in Greece. The Portuguese Left hold a thin majority, and Unidos Podemos will at best be a minority member in the new Spanish government. There is no reason to expect that they would do any better. Left-wing hardliners have argued that if the Troika won’t budge than leaving the EU would be better than accepting their draconian neoliberal policies. However, the exiting nation would have to redesign a new currency with little legitimacy leading to domestic and foreign capital flight crippling the country for decades and creating recessions across Europe.

Ultimately, the disintegration of the European Union would only generate economic disaster and strengthen the nationalistic xenophobic right. The National Front, Golden Dawn, Law and Justice, and Alternative for Germany political parties would grow in power reviving fascist movements for the first time since the 1940s. With the undemocratic and catastrophic economic solutions coming out of Brussels, left-wing euro-skepticism is justified. However, the solution should not be a return to the nation-state and protectionism, but a more democratic pan-European institution that is truly accountable to the people.

Podemos is Here to Stay!! Enjoy…

With voting for Spain’s national election only hours away, numerous pollsters have sought to project the likely result. If the flurry of polls is correct, then Spain’s national election tomorrow will up-end nearly four decades of status-quo dominance. No longer will power oscillate between its two establishment parties, the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the left-of-centre Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). Pablo Iglesias and Unidos Podemos will find a permanent place in Spanish politics and impact the nation’s policies for the foreseeable future. It is essential that we acknowledge the importance of this moment even if post-election negotiations end with another neoliberal coalition that continues Germany and Brussel’s austerity measures.

Since the agreement between Podemos, Equo, and the United Left, the newly created Unidos Podemos has consistently outpolled PSOE. If the polling is correct, then only the People’s Party and Unidos Podemos will have the support to lead a majority coalition. PSOE will likely play kingmaker either putting the conservatives back in power reinforcing their austerity measures and encouraging more, or giving room for UP’s progressive and potentially revolutionary political vision. However, do not fear! This role does not put PSOE in a position of power to demand concessions from UP and try to reestablish its dominance on the Left.

There are only two scenarios, and both are poor for PSOE. If they choose to form a coalition with PP and keep the conservatives in power, then they will only further confirm their sale-out status. Their bourgeois neoliberal inclinations were what provided the opportunity for Podemos to gain power by appealing to disgruntled leftists in the first place. This action will only alienate more of their followers further fueling UP in the future. Alternatively, they could align with UP as a minority partner. However, any success in an Iglesias-Sanchez government would primarily go to UP and likely lead to a gradual exodus of supporters from PSOE to UP. Whether you like it or not, Unidos Podiums is the future of social democracy and the Left in Spain, and this is cause for celebration!

No matter who is ultimately in power after negotiations following tomorrow’s results, it is important to acknowledge what Podemos has done. It has not revealed itself, as we feared, as a temporary moment of anger and populism condemned to fade away like another May of 1968. It will not end in further voter impotence as the established powers continue business as usual. No matter what, the Left has been reawakened and reinvigorated. Take solace in that! It is no small victory…