Monday, January 18, 2016

Reliving the tragic 1930s... this time as farce

"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." Antonio Gramsci

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”  Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 
Most newsaholics tend to limit their reading to people they agree with... I think that is a big mistake, especially for anyone who is trying to make a serious analysis of reality. Why? Because it's always interesting, instructive... and creatively disturbing when you find that someone you detest is saying something that makes a lot of sense.

For example, an arch-villain of any progressive citizen, Charles Koch, (yes one of the brothers who are busy corrupting the entire US democracy in order to discredit climate science), is here found talking much sense about the "War on Terror":
“We have been doing this for a dozen years. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. Has that made us safer? Has that made the world safer? It seems like we’re more worried about it now than we were then, so we need to examine these strategies.” (...) “I’ve studied revolutionaries a lot,” he says. “Mao said that the people are the sea in which the revolutionary swims. Not that we don’t need to defend ourselves and have better intelligence and all that, but how do we create an unfriendly sea for the terrorists in the Muslim communities? We haven’t done a good job of that.” With about 1.6bn Muslims worldwide “in country after country. What,” he asks, “are we going to do: go bomb each one of them?". Lunch with Charles Koch - Financial Times
Koch quotes Chairman Mao! How is that for chutzpah?

In an odd sort of way Koch practices what he preaches; for example by trying to create an "unfriendly sea" for ecologists and climate scientists in America's mainstream media and the US Congress. Having said that, what he affirms in the quote above is one of the most sensible thing that I can remember having read about America's "War on Terror". It will be interesting to see how the Koch brothers, with all their oil interests, will react if Muslim-baiter, Donald Trump, is finally the Republican nominee.

...Morbid symptoms appear

There are reputable analysts who today are predicting a worse recession than 2008.

For example: if  Lehman Brothers' collapse  in 2008 was 1929's tragedy repeated as farce, where we are moving right now could be seen as a priapistic version of the same thing.  
Three of the biggest US banks revealed the damage wrought by a plunging oil price this week, disclosing big jumps in costs for bad energy loans and fears of contagion in other portfolios. Financial Times

Cleaning up the aftermath of financial mistakes — a depressingly familiar experience — is just a part of the challenge the world confronts. Equally important is finding a powerful new engine of demand as old ones splutter and die. It is not at all obvious where this is to be found. But the rest of the world is hoping, probably over-optimistically, that the US will provide what it seeks. Unfortunately, it will not do so.  Martin Wolf - Financial Times
We seem to have come to a dead end.
There has always been a tension at the heart of capitalism. (...) Its self-regulating properties, contrary to the efforts of generations of economists trying to prove otherwise, are weak.(...) A low oil price historically presages economic good times. Instead, the markets are panicking. They are panicking because what is driving the lower oil price is global disorder, which capitalism is powerless to correct. Indeed, it is capitalism running amok that is one of the reasons for the disorder. Profits as a share of national income in Britain and the US touch all-time highs; wages touch an all-time low as the power of organized labor diminishes and the gig economy of short-term contracts takes hold.(...) All this requires a new generation of political leaders prepared to throw off the categories in which thinking has been cast since 1980(...).  Will Hutton - The Guardian

The Unborn

Another commentator who is often worth reading, despite being even further to the right than the Koch brothers is Pat Buchanan. He is a paleolithic-conservative, pre-conciliar Catholic and the adviser behind Nixon's "Southern Strategy", which has probably been the most noxiously successful and sinister political ploy since the disenfranchisement of African-Americans ending Reconstruction.

To give you an idea of how far to the right Buchanan is, none other than Donald Trump (way back in the 1990s) considered him a "Nazi-whacko".

This is how Pat Buchanan sums up the present situation:
Everyone sees clearly now the de-industrialization of America, the cost in blood and treasure from decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pervasive presence of illegal immigrants. (...) (W)hen you see Bernie Sanders running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire and Trump and Ted Cruz with a majority of Republican voters. Not to put too fine a point on it, the revolution is at hand. Pat Buchanan - Washington Post
What is Trump's reaction to Pat Buchanan in 2016?
Donald J. Trump 
Pat Buchanan gave a fantastic interview this morning on @CNN - way to go Pat, way ahead of your time!

How is that for chutzpah?

What is interesting for me in the Buchanan quote above is that he groups both Sanders and Trump as "revolutionaries". The old is dying and the new is yet unborn.

Lets hear from Bernie:
“If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now,” Sanders said in a television interview in June 2007. But in his current campaign for president, Sanders has been unequivocally in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he has spoken passionately on protecting families from deportation. Many immigration activists note that Sanders’ plan is more detailed than Hillary Clinton’s. Time Magazine
What we see here from Sanders is nuance: recognizing that massive third world immigration is a huge problem for underpaid American workers and at the same time compassion and practical solutions for the problems of the immigrants already in the USA, who are also helpless, innocent, victims of the globalization process.

And now here's Trump's official position on immigration:
When politicians talk about “immigration reform” they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders. The Schumer-Rubio immigration bill was nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties. Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first – not wealthy globetrotting donors. We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own. Donald Trump's official webpage
Notice all the dog-whistle words: "amnesty", "cheap labor", "wealthy globetrotting donors" ("rootless cosmopolitans"?), "needs of other nations". That vocabulary and not the actual content is the real message

Now Sanders on China:
One of Bernie’s key goals is to end our disastrous trade policies with China which force American workers to compete against low-wage labor, which serves largely to benefit already wealthy corporations. Feel the Bern
Now Trump:
We have been too afraid to protect and advance American interests and to challenge China to live up to its obligations. We need smart negotiators who will serve the interests of American workers – not Wall Street insiders that want to move U.S. manufacturing and investment offshore. Donald Trump's official webpage
 Again, notice the word choice: "afraid",  "protect", "challenge", "live up to", "smart", "insiders", "offshore", etc.


At the top of the page I put: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce"  and "The old is dying and the new cannot be born". Those two quotes could well define the historical period we live in.
Where Buchanan may be on to something is in calling both Trump and Sanders "revolutionaries"; revolutionaries in the same sense that both Adolf Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt were revolutionaries in the context of the 1930s,.

FDR changed the classic capitalism practiced by  the Republicans beyond recognition and saved America from the sort of turbulence that  tore Europe apart.

Hitler, on the other hand rode that turbulence to power and literally destroyed Germany and most of Europe with it.

Here is a definition of Hitler's method of taking power, from Adam Gopnik's New Yorker  piece on the new edition of Mein KampfSee if you can observe a formula that is still in use:
"The faith in a strong man; the love of the exceptional character of one nation above all others; the selection of a helpless group to be hated, who can be blamed for feelings of national humiliation. He didn’t invent these arguments. He adapted them" 
Sound familiar? It should, it is being used every day and not just by Donald Trump, even nominal liberals have invoked "American exceptionalism" in recent memory to justify interfering in the internal affairs of other countries or even voting in favor of "wars of choice".

Rhyme or farce?

Back in the 1930s the Republican party's laissez faire, hands off, version of capitalism was finished (for the moment). The choice of a way forward then was between Hitler/Mussolini, Joseph Stalin... or FDR.

Now the Nazis and the fascisti are long gone and Stalin's Marxist-Leninism is on the ash heap.

Today the categories of "ists" and "isms" are different:  Now Russia's ruling ideology is Putinist-Hands-in-the-cookie-jar-ism, while China is following Friedmanist-Leninism and apparently is entering into some kind of a shitstorm with it.

Meanwhile the United States and all who sail in her seem to be experiencing a terminal crisis in the economic policies that have been in favor since the 1980s, which we might call Reaganist-Thatcherism or Clintonist-Blairist-Bushism.

However, this not the 1930s, Pope Francis is not Pius XII, Stalin is gone, with no one to follow. Donald Trump is a Monty Python parody of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini, Hillary Clinton is not Herbert Hoover and Bernie Sanders is not (yet) Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But, as Mark Twain said,"History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes". This is the interregnum that Gramsci spoke of, with all its morbid symptoms, the old is dying... and the new, whatever that might be... Can it be born? DS

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