Resurgence of the World Left?

Commentary No. 410, October 1, 2015

The sweeping triumph on September 24 of Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader of Great Britain’s Labour Party was stunning and totally unexpected. He entered the race with barely enough support to be put on the ballot. He ran on an uncompromisingly left platform. And then, standing against three more conventional candidates, he won 59.5% of the vote in an election that had an unusually high turnout of 76 percent.

Immediately, the pundits and the press opined that his leadership and platform guaranteed that the Conservative Party would win the next election. Is this so sure? Or does Corbyn’s performance indicate a resurgence of the left? And if it does, is this true only of Great Britain?

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U.S. Presidential Elections

Commentary No. 408, Sept. 1, 2015

If one follows the media, and especially U.S. media, the prospective 2016 presidential elections in the United States are showing a striking shift in tone and process from anything previously known. I don’t believe that is true. To see why, I propose to review the alleged special features of this latest electoral cycle.

The major characteristics to which the media point in making this argument are two: The first is the unusually large polling figures thus far for two “outsiders” in the campaign – Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. The second is the seemingly unmovable deadlock in the U.S. Congress, where compromise seems to have become a dirty word, especially to a sizable group of Republican members of the House of Representatives as well as to some Republican Senators.

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Free-Trade Treaties are Anti-Free Trade

Commentary No. 407, August 15, 2014

Free trade is one of the principal mantras of capitalism as an historical system. Free trade is preached as the optimal arrangement for expanding production, lowering costs of production and therefore prices for consumption, and increasing income equality over the long run. This all may be true. We shall never know since we have never ever known a world of free trade. Protectionism has always been the dominant mode of economic relations between states.

But, you may think, are not states constantly ratifying treaties that are termed free-trade treaties? Yes, they are. But such treaties are not really based on free trade but rather on protectionism. Let us start with the first basic fact. There is no such thing as free trade that does not include every state in the world-system.

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Greece: Who’s to Blame, and For What?

Commentary No. 406, August 1, 2015

Anyone who has been following world events recently could not have failed to read endless analyses in the media concerning economic realities in Greece. The most remarkable thing about these analyses is how radically different they are, the ones from the others. They nonetheless can be divided into two main camps.

There is one group who say that Greece’s difficulties are self-created because successive Greek governments and Greek citizens have spent recklessly money they didn’t have in order to sustain a collective life style beyond their level of collective income. This group has a simple solution for Greece’s ills. It is to cut sharply Greece’s collective expenditures in order for it to repay its extensive loans. The advocates of this position call this proposed program “reform” and say that over time Greece will emerge stronger. This view is held to varying degrees by most members of the Eurozone of the European Union. Its most vocal and uncompromising spokesperson has been Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. He has been making two main arguments: Greece should leave the Eurozone “temporarily” and Greece should be held to the strict payment of all outstanding debts.

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Flags and Other Symbols: Do They Matter?

Commentary No. 405, July 15, 2015

The short answer is: very much. The United States as a whole, and in particular the states in the south that were part of the attempted secession in 1861 called the Confederacy, have been embroiled in a passionate debate for several weeks now. On June 17, a young man named Dylaan Roof, a self-avowed White supremacist, killed eight persons and wounded many others at the Emanuel AME church, a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Among the dead was the pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was a member of the South Carolina State Senate.

Violence against Black persons is not unusual throughout these states. It has indeed been frequent and rarely punished seriously. What has also been true in the states of the former Confederacy is the persistent use in legal symbols of the flag of the Confederacy. It was used as part of state flags and as part of state automobile license plates. There were many statues on state grounds of persons prominent in the secession.

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The Latin American Left Moves Rightward

Commentary No. 404, July 1, 2015

The last fifteen years or so has seen a major shift in Latin America’s political orientation. In a large number of countries, left parties have come to power. Their programs have emphasized redistribution of resources to aid the poorer segments of the population. They have also sought to create and strengthen those regional structures that included all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean but excluded the United States and Canada.

Initially, these parties succeeded in bringing together multiple groups and movements that sought a change from the traditional parties that were oriented to right politics and close ties with the United States. They sought to prove, in the slogan of the World Social Forum, that “another world is possible.”

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Turkey: Instability Ahead

Commentary No. 403, June 15, 2015

Turkey held parliamentary elections on June 7, 2015. Against the expectations of virtually everyone, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP in its Turkish initials) lost its absolute majority. This was seen as a major defeat both for the party and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The correspondent of the Financial Times called the results “seismic” and cited a commentator/critic of Erdogan who said: “There’s no risk-free path for him at the moment; anything he chooses will be a gamble.” The headline of this article says Erdogan has a “post-poll choice: step back or forge ahead.”

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Protesting Mainstream Parties

Commentary No. 402, June 1, 2015

In countries with contested elections, there are usually two mainstream parties considered as being somewhere in or near the center of the views of the voters in that country. In the last few years, there have been a relatively large number of elections in which a protest movement has either won the election or at least won enough seats such that their support must be obtained in order that a mainstream party govern.

The latest example of this is Alberta in Canada, where the National Democratic Party (NDP), running on a platform reasonably far to the left, surprisingly and unexpectedly ousted from power the Progressive Conservatives, a rightwing party that had governed the province without difficulty for a very long time. What made this all the more surprising was that Alberta has the reputation of being the most conservative province in Canada, and is the base of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, in office since 2006. The NPD even won 14 of 25 seats in Calgary, Harper’s own residence and stronghold.

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