Immanuel Wallerstein http://iwallerstein.com Mon, 20 Jul 2015 19:17:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Flags and Other Symbols: Do They Matter? http://iwallerstein.com/flags-and-other-symbols-do-they-matter/ http://iwallerstein.com/flags-and-other-symbols-do-they-matter/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 04:00:51 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1941 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.

Many people, especially in the Black population, have long argued that these symbols were racist and actually encouraged the frequent violence. They called for removing these symbols. However, for over a century, such calls were not only not heeded but actively denounced. The leading voice to retain these symbols was an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

The SCV asserted that these symbols merely honored the sacrifices of the individuals who fought in the war. This group held such great sway in these states that the whole issue had long been considered the third rail of politics in these states. Any White legislator who called for removing the symbols was sure to be defeated at the subsequent election.

Something astonishing happened now. The slaughter was so egregious and so obviously motivated by racism that major political leaders in South Carolina and throughout the neighboring states ignored the “third rail” and called for the removal of the symbols. And, rather swiftly, this occurred throughout these states.

The scene then passed to the national legislature, where many called for removing all the symbols honoring figures of the Confederacy from all structures controlled by the federal government. This is now being deliberated.

Lest one think that such a debate about symbols is solely a USA phenomenon, let us remember the large number of quite recent such debates elsewhere. In Ukraine, the Lyiv government has had a major debate about the inclusion of symbols that referred to the fascist government of Stepan Bandera. The same defense of such symbols was offered here, that the symbols predated Bandera and actually referred to a traditional Ukrainian flag of very long ago.

In Russia, there is a debate about reopening to public view Lenin’s tomb. In Venezuela, the opposition complains of the many uses by the government of symbols referring to Hugo Chavez. In France, the kind of headwear women may use in public has been a constant debate for at least the last twenty years. This French debate has now spread to many other countries of northern Europe. In Spain, there has been a debate about the remaining symbols referring to the Franco era. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for practice of yoga, which many consider a way of promoting Hindu values and pre-eminence. And one could go on.

It is very clear that flags and other symbols are never neutral terrain. They matter, and people know that they matter. But why do they matter? It is because symbols create attitudes as much as, or quite possibly more than, attitudes create (or are reflected in) the symbols.

Flags and other symbols are major socializing instruments of children. Children learn what they are supposed to believe from these symbols. Adults are reminded by these symbols of what they are supposed to believe. Groups feel justified in excluding (even killing) members who do not conform to the recognition of these symbols.

So yes, symbols matter. The next question is whether changing the symbols matter. Now that the flag of the Confederacy no longer flies in South Carolina, is there less racism? Will there be less violence against the Black population? Quite possibly not, in the short run. The racism may be more covert, but no less real. So why then bother about changing the symbols? Because it may matter in the longer run. It is a part of a continuing struggle about the world in which we live and hope to build. It is only a part of the struggle. But it needs to be pursued because it is an indispensable part of the struggle.

That brings us to the last danger. It is all too easy in the struggle against one noxious set of symbols to install in our collective value system another noxious set of symbols. There is no magic formula in the real world where many groups are struggling for their place in the sun, and we are all members of multiple, overlapping groups. We have to find the space for reasonable compromises about symbols.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/flags-and-other-symbols-do-they-matter/feed/ 0
The Latin American Left Moves Rightward http://iwallerstein.com/the-latin-american-left-moves-rightward/ http://iwallerstein.com/the-latin-american-left-moves-rightward/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 04:00:52 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1938 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.”

The initial collective enthusiasms began to fade on multiple fronts. Middle-class elements became increasingly disturbed not only by the rampant corruption in the left governments but by the increasingly harsh ways which these governments used to treat opposition forces. This shift rightward of some initial supporters of a leftward “change” was normal in the sense that it usually happens everywhere.

There was however a much more important problem facing these countries. There are, and have always been, essentially two Latin American lefts, not one. One is composed of those persons and movements that wish to overcome the lower standards of living in the countries of the South by using state power to “modernize” the economy and thereby “catch up” with the countries of the North.

The second, quite different, is composed of those underclasses who fear that such “modernization” will make things not better but worse for them, increasing the internal gaps between the better-off and the poorest strata of the country.

In Latin America, this latter group includes the indigenista populations, that is, those whose presence dates from before the time that various European powers sent their troops and settlers into the Western Hemisphere. It also includes the afrodescendentes, that is, those who were brought in from Africa by the Europeans as slaves.

These groups began to speak of promoting a civilizational change based on buen vivir – a translation from Incan languages meaning “living well.” They argued for a maintenance of traditional modes of living under the control of local populations.

The two visions – that of the modernizing left and that of the proponents of buen vivir – soon began to clash, and clash seriously. Whereas, in the first elections that the left won, the left forces had the support of the movements of the underclasses, that was no longer as true in the subsequent elections. Quite to the contrary! As time went on, the two groups spoke more and more angrily and uncompromisingly about each other.

The net result of this split is that both groups – the left parties and the underclasses – moved rightward. The representatives of the underclasses found themselves allied de facto with rightist forces. Their main demand began to be the overthrow of the left parties, and particularly its leader. This was something that would clearly result in rightist governments coming to power, parties that were no more interested in buen vivir than the left parties.

Meanwhile the left parties promoted developmentalist policies that ignored to a significant degree the negative ecological effects of their programs. In practice, their agricultural programs began to eliminate the small agricultural producers who had been the basis of internal consumption in favor of mega-corporate structures. Their programs began to resemble in many ways the programs of previous right governments.

In short, the progress of the Latin American left, so remarkable in recent years, is being undone by the bitter struggle between the two Latin American lefts. Those persons and groups that have tried to encourage a meaningful dialogue between the two lefts have been seen as very unwelcome by both sides. It is as though the two sides are saying that you are with us or against us, that there is no median path. It is very late, but it may not be too late for both sides to engage in intelligent reassessment of the situation and to rescue the Latin American left from self-destruction.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/the-latin-american-left-moves-rightward/feed/ 0
Turkey: Instability Ahead http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-instability-ahead/ http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-instability-ahead/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 04:00:33 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1934 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.”

Virtually all observers, within and outside Turkey, have been analyzing the elections with similar dramatic verbiage. To understand why, we have to go back to the beginning of Turkey’s history as an independent state in 1923. The Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923) ended with the Treaty of Lausanne. At that point, the interim parliament called for elections. This second parliament proclaimed the republic, accepted the Treaty of Lausanne, and abolished the caliphate. The new majority party, The Republican People’s Party (CHP in its Turkish initials), soon became the only party. It was led by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, until his death in 1938.

Ataturk’s policies were modeled in many ways on what he considered those of France. He was an anticlerical Jacobin who sought to “modernize” his country. Central to his Jacobinism was the French view of the relations between the state and religions, called laicité. The Turkish translation of this word is an invented cognate, laiklik.

The Jacobinism was expressed in Ataturk’s ferocious opposition to any kind of intermediary allegiances between the state and the individual, whether such intermediaries were religious, ethnic, or regional. There were four large possible intermediaries, and Ataturk took action against all four. The first was Islam – hence the abolition of the caliphate and the banning of Islamic vestments. The second was the Kurds – hence the denial of the use of their language and indeed of their very existence, calling them “mountain Turks.” The third was the Armenians – hence their slaughter and expulsion. The fourth was the Greek Orthodox population and church – hence the forced transfers to Greece in exchange for Turks resident in Greece.

Furthermore, for Ataturk and the CHP, the creation of a modern state implied a careful limitation of the boundaries of the Turkish state. This meant rejecting the ideology of pan-Turkism, which sought to unite all Turkic-speaking peoples. It rejected a fortiori so-called Turanism, which sought to unite all peoples that were linguistically descended from common roots, like Finns, Hungarians, Mongols, Koreans, and Japanese, among others.

Quite to the contrary. Ataturk sought to “purify” Turkish by rejecting all linguistic imports from Arabic, Persian, Greek, and Latin in Turkish, as used within the boundaries of Anatolia, which provided the basic boundaries of modern Turkey. He also ended the use of the Arabic alphabet, replacing it with the Latin alphabet.

Successive versions of the constitution all included the term “secular” in the description of the republic. In 1930, Ataturk wrote of the “erroneous appellations” by “co-nationals who has been incited to think of themselves as Kurds, Circassians, Laz or Bosnians.” They were rather, he said, “individual members of the nation.”

The second issue of continuing importance for Turkey was its geopolitical orientation. In the early days of the republic, Turkey entertained links with the Soviet Union. They shared a sense of being “revolutionary” and consequently not being accepted by the Western world. But for Ataturk, this alliance receded as he pursued his aspiration to create a modern state following the French model. Then, with the coming to power of Hitler, Turkey was courted by Germany. Hence, when the Second World War began, the Turkish state was torn between possible allegiances, and opted for neutrality, which was seen by the Allied powers as too pro-German.

In part to repair the relations with western Europe (and North America), Ataturk’s successor Ismet Inönü ended one-party rule in 1944 and called for elections. The CHP easily won the first election, but after that, it became a minority party. It proclaimed itself social-democratic and joined the Socialist international. It continued to be strongly nationalist but found its electoral strength in urban areas from middle-class professional and managerial elites. Its supporters pushed both for pro-Western policies (like joining NATO) and for greater civil liberties.

The CHP found itself beset by opponents. There were now the successive versions of a conservative party, which placed less emphasis on pro-Western policies. It had strong roots in rural areas and a somewhat more tolerant view of Islam. There was the army and the judiciary, who wanted to maintain a very strong state and were extremely vigilant in the defense of laicité, leading to several military takeovers. And there were the Kurds who began to organize politically and eventually started a military insurrection under a party/army known as the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK in its Turkish initials). This group, led by Abdullah Ocalan, originally proclaimed itself Marxist-Leninist but later evolved into a revised socialist orientation willing to integrate politically as an autonomous region within Turkey. Ocalan was captured with CIA assistance and condemned to death, which was commuted into lifetime imprisonment on a remote island.

The Muslim-based parties that emerged in this period were successively outlawed and their leaders either imprisoned or barred from politics. So, when Erdogan’s “moderate Islamic” party, the AKP, first came to power in 2002, it was seen as a veritable progressive revolution. It was still faced with strong opposition from many left “secularist” intellectuals and also faced the possibility of an army takeover. Erdogan carefully and successfully navigated all the shoals, and grew steadily stronger. At this point, Erdogan sought a parliament that would vote for a new constitution creating a very strong presidential system. The AKP that seemed to represent a progressive force in 2002 now seemed to be the potentially dictatorial party of the future.

Erdogan did however do one remarkable and surprising thing in his late term of office. He started negotiations with Ocalan to see if there could be some formula of devolution of power that would resolve the issue. He got great credit for this among the Kurds. However, he also pursued a new foreign policy that reinserted Turkey into the Middle Eastern arena. His ferocious opposition to Syria’s Bashir al-Assad led him to engage in negative behavior vis-a-vis Syrian Kurds who gave priority to opposing the Islamic State and were allied with the PKK.

Ergo, in these last elections, the latest legal Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP in its Turkish initials), pursued a new policy entirely. It created a progressive rainbow coalition. On its slate of candidates were persons from all major ethnic groups, the first openly gay candidate, and perhaps most important a large number of women. This party received over 13% of the vote nationally, enabling a Kurdish party for the very first time to exceed the high threshold of 10% needed to have seats in parliament.

Erdogan has no chance now of enacting his constitution. His immediate problem is whether to try to govern as a minority party (very difficult) or to ally with one of the three parties with the votes to give him a majority: the left HDP, the secularist CHP, or the far rightwing party. It is a very difficult choice for him, for his party, and for Turkey. The outcome will have a fundamental impact not only on the future of Turkey but on the geopolitics of the Middle East.

 

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-instability-ahead/feed/ 0
Protesting Mainstream Parties http://iwallerstein.com/protesting-mainstream-parties/ http://iwallerstein.com/protesting-mainstream-parties/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 04:00:16 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1925 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.

Alberta is not the only case. The Scottish National Party (SNP) swept elections in Scotland, after a history of being a marginal party. The ultra-rightwing Polish party, the Law and Justice Party, defeated the candidate of what had been considered a conservative pro-business party, the Civic Platform. Syriza in Greece, campaigning on an anti-austerity platform, is now in power and Prime Minister Alexei Tsipras is struggling to achieve its objectives. In Spain, Podemos, another anti-austerity party, is steadily rising in the polls and seems poised to make it difficult or impossible for the governing conservative party, the People’s Party, to remain in power. India is just celebrating the year in power of Narendra Modi, who ran on a platform of ousting Establishment parties and dynasties from power.

These protest elections all have something in common. They all utilized rhetoric in their campaigning that we call populist. This means that they asserted that they were fighting against the country’s elites, who have too much power and ignore the needs of the vast majority of the population. They emphasized the gaps in wealth and well-being between these elites and everyone else. They deplored the decline in the real income of the “middle” strata. They emphasized the need to provide jobs, usually in instances in which there had been a significant increase in unemployment.

In addition, these protest movements always pointed to corruption in the parties in power and they promised to check it, or at least seriously reduce it. And all of this together they packaged as a call for change, real change.

However, we should look more closely at these protests. They are in no way all alike. Indeed, there is a fundamental split among them, which we can notice as soon as we look at the rest of their rhetoric. Some of these protest movements are on the left – the NDP in Alberta, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the SNP in Scotland. And some are clearly on the right – Modi in India, the Law and Justice Party in Poland.

Those on the left focus their criticisms centrally around economic issues. They are class-based in their recruitment and their rhetoric. Those on the right primarily make nationalist assertions, usually with a xenophobic emphasis. Those on the left want to combat unemployment by government policies that would create the jobs, including of course greater taxation of the more wealthy. Those on the right want to combat unemployment by preventing immigration, even expelling immigrants.

Once in power, these protest movements, whether of the left or of the right, find it very difficult to fulfill the populist promises they have made to become elected. Large corporations have major tools with which to limit measures taken against them. They act through this mythical entity called the “market,” aided and abetted by other governments and international institutions. The protest movements find that, if they push too hard, government income is reduced, at least in the short run. But for those who have voted for them, the short run is their measure of continuing approval. The protest movements’ day of glory and power risks being very limited. So they “compromise,” which angers the most militant of their supporters.

One must always remember that the supporters of a change in government are a motley lot. Some are militants seeking extensive change in the world-system and their country’s role in it. Some are merely weary of the traditional mainstream parties, seen as having become tired and non-responsive. Some say that a new group in power couldn’t do anything worse than those previously in power. In short, these protest movements are not an organized army but an unstable floating alliance of many different groups.

There are three conclusions we can draw from this situation. The first is that national governments do not have unlimited power to do what they want. They are extremely constrained by the operation of the world-system as a whole.

The second conclusion is that, nonetheless, they can do something to alleviate the distress of ordinary persons. They can do this precisely by pursuing reallocations of income via taxation and other mechanisms. Such measures will “minimize the pain” of those who are the beneficiaries. The results may only be temporary. But once again I remind you that we all live in the short run and any help we can get in the short run is a plus, not a minus.

The third conclusion is that, if a protest movement is going to be a serious participant in changing the world-system, it must not limit itself to short-run populism but engage in middle-run organization to affect the worldwide struggle in this period of systemic crisis and transition to an alternative world-system, one that has already begun and is ongoing.

It is only when left protest movements learn how to combine short-run measures to “minimize the pain” with middle-run efforts to tilt the bifurcated struggle for a new system that we can have some hope of arriving at the outcome we desire – a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian world-system.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/protesting-mainstream-parties/feed/ 0
Post-Britain: Does It Matter? http://iwallerstein.com/post-britain-does-it-matter/ http://iwallerstein.com/post-britain-does-it-matter/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 04:00:55 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1922 In the middle of the seventeenth century, the United Provinces (more or less today’s Netherlands) was the hegemonic power of the capitalist world-system, which was then geographically smaller. Within this world-system, it was the wealthiest country with the most efficient industrial enterprises. It dominated the trade and finances of this world-system. It had the strongest military.

Then it started on its decline as a hegemonic power. And one by one it lost each of these advantages. To salvage as much as it could, it became the junior partner of Great Britain, an aspiring hegemon. The advantage that it held onto longest was its financial dominance. It held onto that until the 1780s. At that point one could have written a commentary entitled “Post-Netherlands: Does It Matter?”

The real question then for the Netherlands, as it is today for Great Britain, is for whom does it matter. If one studies the Netherlands since the 1780s, one will notice that it has remained one of the wealthier countries in the world. Life has been more materially comfortable there than for most countries in the world. But in every other way, the Netherlands became irrelevant. It has not been at the forefront of new technology. Yes, it has remained an important hub of world trade but by no means an indispensable one. It cannot impose its geopolitical preferences on other countries. Indeed, very few people even discuss the role of the Netherlands as a geopolitical actor. It has in effect faded into the background, coasting along as a minor beneficiary of the decisions of successive hegemonic powers – first Great Britain, then the United States. Great Britain has now reached the stage at which the Netherlands found itself in the 1780s, the stage of continuing relative wealth and definitive geopolitical irrelevance. The people most worried about this are Great Britain’s financial institutions, which until recently still were very powerful structures in the world-system.

The Financial Times, which serves more or less as the public voice of Britain’s financial elites, ran an editorial on May 5, 2015. Its headline was “After a famous win, the chance to restore the United Kingdom.” The “famous win” is of course the unexpected narrow but decisive majority earned by David Cameron and the Conservative Party in the recent British elections. The paper’s subheading of the editorial reads: “David Cameron’s task is to save the union and stay in Europe.”

The uncertainty is whether Cameron can accomplish the task. If he can he will extend the power of Britain’s financial institutions for another decade or so. But many people, in Great Britain and elsewhere, have other priorities. Saving the union means somehow keeping the Scottish National Party (SNP) from its announced objective of full sovereignty for Scotland. The SNP also did well, very well, in these elections. It won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the British Parliament. It is hard to think of a more resounding endorsement by public opinion, especially since the SNP had won only six seats in the prior elections.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the SNP would win an independence referendum. But it does give the SNP much bargaining power with Cameron, and they intend to use it. They have in effect a three-step program: (a) obtain right away significantly increased devolution of power within Great Britain; (b) hold a preferably authorized referendum on independence, worded in ways that would maximize a positive vote; (c) become a sovereign state but remain within the European Union (EU) and of course the United Nations. Cameron, and even more his parliamentary delegation, want to minimize step (a), firmly resist the idea of step (b), and never arrive at step (c).

If this were his only political problem, Cameron might win easily the struggle with the SNP and “save the union,” but it isn’t. At the very same time, Cameron is under great pressure to quit the European Union, a so-called Brexit (or British exit). There are said to be 60-100 Conservative members of Parliament who simply want out. In addition, the party dedicated to British withdrawal from the EU, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), received 12.6% of the vote, to become Great Britain’s third party in voting percentages.

So Cameron also has an implicit three-step program, just like the SNP. Step (a) is to press the EU to “defederalize” further, allowing Great Britain to exempt itself from even more requirements of membership. Step (b) is to call the referendum he has promised the Conservative Party by 2017, but as late as possible. Step (c) is to defeat the referendum, and thus remain in the EU.

SNP’s step (a) of significant devolution immediately is unlikely, and step (b) of a referendum, any kind of referendum, even more unlikely, and hence step (c) of a peacefully-negotiated full sovereignty is almost a mirage. Cameron’s step (a) of further exemptions from EU requirements is unlikely because of strong resistance from other EU members, and notably Germany. Step (b) of defeating the referendum thereby becomes even more unlikely. And therefore step (c) of a Brexit becomes highly likely.

If these appraisals make sense, then the objective of Great Britain’s financial elite – save the union and remain in the EU – would be a win on the first and a loss on the second. What would happen then? Would the SNP continue its path of peaceful negotiations, or would public opinion consider moving more forcefully?

To see the consequences of a Brexit, we have to turn away from looking at Great Britain and look instead at the rest of the world. The EU is already in difficulty. Its eurozone is facing a possible Grexit (Greek withdrawal) which, if it occurs, could well lead to an unraveling of the eurozone altogether. In addition, public opinion in more countries than Great Britain has become less and less enthusiastic about the EU and parties calling for a withdrawal are gaining strength. And the EU is divided about how to respond to Russia’s reaffirmation of its political role in Europe, especially in relation to Ukraine. Adding a Brexit to this mix of difficulties might be just too much for the EU. The EU and the eurozone are a house of cards, which might simply collapse.

However, a further crumbling of the EU, a fortiori its dissolution, would have consequences throughout the world. The United States, no longer an unquestioned hegemonic power, already can no longer count on the military support of Great Britain, which for the United States is a quite untimely development. This pushes the United States, or at least President Obama, even more urgently to seek a deal with Iran. This priority of Obama in turn pushes Saudi Arabia even more actively to delink from the United States and pursue a de facto anti-Iranian alliance with anyone and everyone, as King Salman is making very clear. And this in consequence strengthens further the geopolitical reassertion of Russia, with China perhaps deciding to become a geopolitical power broker in West Asia.

And let us not forget the parlous state of the world-economy, despite insistence on all sides that the world-economy is overcoming its difficulties. This public optimism is another mirage that may not last too much longer. To go back to the beginning of this analysis, Cameron should savor his unexpected victory in the British elections because he (and Great Britain’s financial elites) may actually come to regret it – quite soon.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/post-britain-does-it-matter/feed/ 0
The Greek Melodrama, or Who Really Wants What? http://iwallerstein.com/the-greek-melodrama-or-who-really-wants-what/ http://iwallerstein.com/the-greek-melodrama-or-who-really-wants-what/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 04:00:53 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1918 By any definition, what is going on in Greece today, or rather what is going on between Greece and outside countries and institutions, is a melodrama, a melodrama of epic proportions. What we mean by a melodrama is a dramatic encounter that is deliberately overacted by the many participants. They make threats, implicitly or sometimes explicitly. They draw public lines that cannot be crossed in the negotiations. They make dire predictions of the consequences of not following their recommendations. A melodrama heightens events and insists on moral dichotomies.

In a melodrama, the participants do just about everything they can to make others take the blame for past, present, and future negative consequences. The one thing they do not do is to confess their real priorities, and how their priorities are being served by participating in the melodrama instead of entering into sober discussions aimed at some resolution of the differences.

When and how did this particular encounter begin? The beginning date is precisely what is under contention. There are in fact at least three matters involved in the discussion: the present and future of Greece, the present and future of the eurozone, and the present and future of the European Union. Not all participants are interested in all three issues. And those that are interested have different views about them.

Let us start with Greece. In the years following 1945, the Greek economy seemed to prosper, as did that of a large number of countries. It was called the “Greek economic miracle.” But after the 1970s, Greece did less well, as again did most countries. Nonetheless, until the so-called “great recession” of 2008, there were seemingly few problems for the Greek government.

Greece was admitted to the eurozone in 2000, having supposedly met its formal criteria. When after 2008 government debt rose too much and Greece was thought to be under threat of default, Greece was offered “rescue packages” by outside institutions to enable the government to meet its debt obligations. Indeed there were seven such packages between 2010 and 2013.

The price of the loans was what is called austerity. Basically, this meant that at the very same time that the high rate of unemployment was becoming higher, the safety belt was disappearing. The Greek government pledged to reduce expenditures in a number of ways – the number of persons in its employ, the size of pensions, health benefits, and unemployment benefits. In addition, the government was required to privatize many government structures. The government thus obtained a one-time injection of the sales price but it allowed the privatized structure to practice further austerity measures. All these measures were to be closely supervised by a triad of institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank.

The bottom line was that the vast majority of Greek residents had their standard of living drastically reduced in order that Greek banks not default. Since these banks were in most cases owned in part by other European banks (especially in Germany and Austria), the austerity measures served the interest of these European banks.

An anti-austerity left political movement called Syriza emerged in Greece and finally won electoral power in 2014. The program of this party was to undo or reverse the austerity measures, reject the role of the triad in supervising Greek political life, but still remain a member of the eurozone. This program has proved extremely difficult to realize because it needs a further loan (or reduction of debt payments) in order to minimize the pain felt in the very short run by Greek residents. Although the Syriza Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, asserts confidence that an interim deal can be arranged before a mid-May deadline, most analysts are skeptical.

If a deal is not reached, there will be a so-called Grexit (a term coined to mean Greek exit from the eurozone). The question the world is discussing is what a Grexit would mean. There are three views: a catastrophe for the entire world-economy (and especially for the European Union); a relatively minor event (except of course for Greece); and total uncertainty about what will happen (that is, how the “market” will respond).

There are many actors (and notably Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaüble) who insist that a Grexit would be quite tolerable for the eurozone. These people are concerned primarily with one thing – that the principle of repayment of debts be an imperative priority for Greece and for everyone else in the world. Then there are actors who give priority to the survival of the eurozone and worry about a Grexit. In fact, the most notable person in this group is Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. She fears that a Grexit will not only lead to a disintegration of the eurozone but that in turn a collapse of the eurozone will lead to a collapse of the European Union. She is therefore willing to consider some kinds of accommodation to Syriza’s offer of a compromise.

The third view – the view of total uncertainty – is however the correct one. It is the only view that takes account of the fact that the world is in a chaotic bifurcation, in which there is no way of predicting how the “market” or any other institution will react. Since most investors are consumed with uncertainty, their reactions lead to wild oscillations and frequent freezes. One has therefore to choose one’s priorities. Syriza’s is to minimize the pain of the great majority. This seems to me a much more admirable priority than preserving the sanctity of debt repayment.

Of course, Syriza is juggling a very difficult series of short-run choices in order to realize its priority. It may make misjudgments or, even worse, serious concessions that negate its electoral promises. The next two months will tell.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/the-greek-melodrama-or-who-really-wants-what/feed/ 0
Negotiations and Their Enemies http://iwallerstein.com/negotiations-and-their-enemies/ http://iwallerstein.com/negotiations-and-their-enemies/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 04:00:21 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1916 Perhaps the correct title should be “negotiators and their enemies.” These days, negotiations are very much in the news. The United States is negotiating with Cuba, with Iran and, most recently it seems, with Venezuela. The government of Colombia is negotiating with a long-time anti-government movement, the FARC.

Then, there are the pre-negotiations that may not get to the stage of negotiation: Russia and the European Union (and within that, the Kiev government of Ukraine and the “autonomist” governments in Donetsk and Lutsk; China and the United States; the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

And finally, in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes’s mystery about “the dog that didn’t bark,” there are the negotiations that are NOT taking place: Israel and the Palestinians; Iran and Saudi Arabia; China and Japan.

What does a focus on such negotiations, including those that are not taking place, tell us about the state of the world? The first is that, the closer one is to real negotiations, the fiercer the opposition to an accord turns out to be. Those in favor are somewhat hesitant and always unsure that they can carry their own supporters along on any arrangement upon which there is a public accord with the other side. But those opposed are not at all hesitant. They are ferocious and very angry and use whatever leverage they have to block or sabotage the negotiations.

Are negotiations a good thing? That’s exactly what the argument is about. The greatest plus about negotiations that end in some kind of compromise accord is that they reduce – reduce, not eliminate – the suffering that continuing conflict imposes upon almost everybody. A second plus is that those who favor continuing the conflict constantly argue that the way to win is to increase the pressure – more military action, more blockades, more torture. As a result, there is a creeping increase in the violence over time, something that an accord stops, more or less.

But there is also a big negative. The other side survives, and sometimes even thrives. The accord legitimates them. And if they are attacked politically, they can argue – they do argue – that their accusers are trying to revive the conflict and undermine the accord. Peace, if that is what we call it, tends to be at the price of not challenging the underlying injustices that provoked the conflict in the first place. We see this in the post-accord role of the erstwhile revolutionaries in such countries as El Salvador and Guatemala.

When do such negotiations, such accords, occur? One crucial element is internal political exhaustion combined with military deadlock. But this is usually not enough. The second crucial element is outside geopolitical pressure. Countries not involved directly in the conflict, but somehow tied to one or the other of the two sides in a negotiation, find it in their third-country interest that the conflict should be terminated. They have acquired an interest in the conflict, their interest requiring that the conflict cease. If the United States and Cuba are negotiating today, the explanation lies in the combination of internal pressures in the case of Cuba and external pressures in the case of the United States.

If we look at the two most glaring absences of negotiations – Saudi Arabia and Iran, Japan and China – why the ever more angry rhetoric, why so much hostility? An anthropologist coming from Mars might find it hard to believe. Saudi Arabia and Iran share a deep commitment to an Islamic culture and a strong endorsement of shari’a. Japan and China share a long mutual commitment to an interlaced set of cultural values and even linguistic structures and symbols.

 

And yet they are denouncing each other, and are pursuing the geopolitical objective of weakening the other in terms of geopolitical power and influence. These days, they are deliberately invoking those parts of their cultural heritages that differentiate them from the other rather than those parts that in fact bring them together.

 

Why, why, why? One answer is that the leadership in each of these countries finds it in their internal interests to retain the image of the other as an enemy. Faced with deep internal schisms that could tear these countries apart, they appeal to national cohesion in the face of a presumed external threat. A second reason is that external forces urge on the conflict because it is in the interest of these third countries that the hostilities exist and are defined in certain ways.

 

Negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran would impair the interest of the United States, Turkey, Pakistan, Israel, and many others. Negotiations between China and Japan would upset not only the United States but India and perhaps Russia as well. Thus in these two putative negotiations we find conditions that are the exact opposite of the cases where negotiations are now going on. In the ongoing negotiations, there is positive internal pressure and positive external pressure. In the places where there are no signs of serious negotiations, we have negative internal pressures and negative external pressures.

 

Where then are we heading? We must always remember that geopolitics is a fluid game, and most particularly in this time of structural crisis of the modern world-system with its chaotic and rapid swings in all arenas, not least in geopolitical alignments. The ambiance can change, and quite unexpectedly. Remember that pre-negotiations tend to be secret – the more secret the more successful. For all we know, they are going on right now. It may be that only when the secret leaks and we know negotiations have started that the enemies will mobilize and try to sabotage them. And of course quite often the enemies of negotiations win out. They are working very hard right now to make the potential U.S.-Iranian accord fail. In the case of this potential accord, I hope an agreement is reached, since its positives far outweigh its negatives.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/negotiations-and-their-enemies/feed/ 0
Netanyahu: The Message is Clear http://iwallerstein.com/netanyahu-the-message-is-clear/ http://iwallerstein.com/netanyahu-the-message-is-clear/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 04:00:07 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1913 Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu won an impressive electoral victory in Israel on March 17. He did it by making two last-minute public statements. One was that there would be no Palestinian state while he is President. He thus formally reneged on his commitment to a two-state outcome to the negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestine Authority. The second statement was to “alert” voters to a significant Arab turnout in the elections. This of course was pure demagoguery, but it worked.

He has not only remained the most successful Israeli politician in the last few decades. But he did it all by careful calculation. The story started several weeks ago when Israeli polls showed a significant rise in the prospective vote for the so-called Zionist Union, led by the leader of Israel’s center-left Labor Party, Isaac Herzog. This group carefully avoided saying much about the Palestinians except that they would renew negotiations. Rather, they built their campaign on purely internal economic issues, promising more welfare state benefits.

First, Netanyahu responded to (possibly instigated) an invitation from U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner to address a Joint Session of Congress. This was a largely unprecedented intrusion of a foreign head of state in U.S. policy-making. President Obama was very upset and refused to meet Netanyahu during his brief visit to the United States.

Netanyahu spoke to an enthusiastic audience of Republicans along with a partial boycott of attendance by Democrats. The object for Netanyahu was to mobilize Jewish Israelis not to vote for other rightwing candidates in the first round of voting but to cast a “useful vote” for Netanyahu. In this he succeeded remarkably strongly.

In the process of course he deeply antagonized Obama, who said the United States would now have to re-evaluate its relations with Israel. Netanyahu then back-tracked slightly on his statement about further negotiations with the Palestinians, and apologized for his fear-mongering about Arab turnout for the elections. Obama was not appeased, saying the he took Netanyahu at his word about a two-state outcome.

So, what, everyone is asking, will happen now? Just before the elections, a group of distinguished Israeli security figures issued a statement, saying in effect that Netanyahu’s approach was alienating the United States and that this was desperately bad for Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Were they right? The answer is yes and no.

Let’s start with the basic dilemma of the majority of Jewish Israelis. They want neither a two-state nor a one-state outcome. They know that a two-state solution requires a major retreat on post-1973 Jewish settlements as well as a possibility for at least some Palestinians to return from exile. They find this unacceptable. And, given the demographic evolution, they fear that a two-state solution is simply a one-state solution that is delayed. As for the one-state solution, it means renouncing the basic Zionist idea of a Jewish state.

Faced with this dilemma, they like Netanyahu’s strategy: delay, delay, delay! And, if anyone tries to force the pace, be ready to fight militarily against whatever opponent poses itself as an immediate threat.

There is however one basic difficulty with this strategy: It is straining the world’s patience, and most critically the patience of those who have been more or less faithful supporters of the Israeli government’s positions – the major European states, the Palestinian Authority, so-called moderate Arab opinion, and yes, even the United States.

There has been a worldwide transformation of the perception of Israel as a “victim” to that of Israel as a “persecutor.” This is a nightmare for the Zionist cause in Israel. It can only get worse for Israel. There may even come a point, perhaps still a few years from now, that the United States will no longer be willing to veto resolutions in the U.N. Security Council that are critical of Israel.

Two things can happen then. The world can see a dramatic reconsideration of received verities on all sides, as seemed to have happened in South Africa. This reversal permitted a major political change combined with very little economic change. It however involved no bloodshed. Or, alternatively, this won’t happen. And there will be a major war, in which the Jewish Israelis will use all their military strength to defeat anything resembling another intifada.

The message from Netanyahu is clear. He prefers the major war, and so do the voters who elected him.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/netanyahu-the-message-is-clear/feed/ 0
Turkey and the Kurds: A Possible Agreement http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-and-the-kurds-a-possible-agreement/ http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-and-the-kurds-a-possible-agreement/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 04:00:16 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1910 There seems now to be a real possibility of an agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that would end the fierce struggle that dates at the least from the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

The issue has been quite straightforward from the beginning. In the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a group of Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) seized power and established a secular republic, whose boundaries included essentially the areas known as Anatolia and Thrace. Like most nationalists newly-arrived in power, this group was Jacobin in its ideology. It had established a republic of the Turks and basically only for the Turks.

The ethnic struggles with the Armenians are well known and of course subject to endless debate about what in fact happened. Today, most analysts worldwide accept the Armenian version of this history as more correct and consider that there was in effect an ethnic cleansing.

Kurdish-speaking populations are to be found today in four different states – Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Kurdish nationalists have long sought to achieve some kind of Kurdish state combining the groups in all four countries. Thus far, this attempt has not been successful and Kurdish nationalists in all four countries have reoriented their objectives to meaningful autonomy within each of the four states.

In the case of Turkey, the Kurdish speakers are concentrated in the southeastern corner of the Turkish state. In 1976, the banner of Kurdish nationalism was assumed by the PKK, which presented itself as a Marxist-Leninist movement ready to engage in insurrection against a Turkish government that was unwilling to accord any political, cultural, or linguistic rights to Kurdish speakers. Indeed, the Turkish government refused to recognize the very existence of Kurds, calling them Mountain Turks. An ongoing military struggle between the Turkish government and the PKK ensued.

In 1999, the leader of the PKK, Abdallah Ocalan, was captured by the Turkish government with the assistance of the CIA. He was tried for treason and terrorism and condemned to death. The sentence was then commuted to life imprisonment in total isolation in an island prison. Meanwhile, Ocalan’s worldview was evolving, and he ceased to believe that Marxism-Leninism should be the organizing ideology of the PKK. At the same time, various PKK groups continued the armed struggle.

In 2002, an Islamist political party, now called the AKP, came to power in Turkey, ousting the secular nationalists that had long dominated the parliament, and upsetting military leaders who were committed to strict secularism. The leader of the AKP, Recep Erdogan, has managed to win three successive elections and the AKP now seems securely in political control of the state.

To widespread surprise, in 2012 Erdogan began negotiations, which were initially secret, with the PKK and therefore with Ocalan. Both sides have been debating what might be an acceptable resolution of the conflict and the long-standing differences over Kurdish rights and autonomy. What seems to have impelled this attempt at a political settlement is the sense that both sides had begun to have that neither is capable of winning the military struggle outright. Like other civil wars, an element of exhaustion began to play a role leading rival forces to consider some kind of compromise.

Compromises are always painful and there are always militants on each side who find them unacceptable. The standard questions are what each side is actually getting in the prospective accord and the degree to which they can get the support of their political base.

In order to move forward, Turkey must adopt a new constitution. The AKP is anxious to expand considerably the power of the president, to which other parties are opposed. The PKK is anxious to include in such a new constitution various clauses that would recognize the Kurds as a people with rights equal to those of the Turks. The PKK wants some language in the constitution that would recognize the Kurds as a co-founding people of modern Turkey.

One difficult issue to resolve in detail is the cessation of hostilities. The Turkish government and the PKK have agreed to the withdrawal of PKK armed forces to the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq. This withdrawal has already begun. But there has been no disarmament, and the PKK units do not intend to disarm until more concrete progress is made. Whether Ocalan will be permitted to have his custody remitted to his own home in Turkey is one matter that is in discussion and seems likely.

The urgency for the PKK and the major achievement would be the recognition of Kurdish rights, although the term, autonomy, may not be included. The urgency for the AKP is that, in order to get the 75% in the Turkish parliament needed to adopt a new constitution, they may need the votes of Kurdish members of parliament.

So, amidst much caution and continuing mutual suspicion, the two sides are moving significantly closer to a deal. With some difficulty, Ocalan will probably be able to bring his base in line with the prospective arrangements. He remains a Kurdish hero. If the deal goes through, the Kurds will have achieved linguistic and cultural rights. It remains to be seen how much the economic situation of the ordinary Kurds will improve.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/turkey-and-the-kurds-a-possible-agreement/feed/ 0
Combating the Islamic State: The Real Options http://iwallerstein.com/combating-the-islamic-state-the-real-options/ http://iwallerstein.com/combating-the-islamic-state-the-real-options/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 05:00:49 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=1904 The Islamic State (IS) is pursuing its clearly stated objective of a greatly expanded caliphate by using extreme brutality deliberately. It expects that the extreme brutality will force others either to accede to their demands or to withdraw from the scene. Just about everyone in the Middle East and beyond are both horrified and deeply frightened by the successes thus far of the IS.

What has made it so difficult for opponents of the IS to make headway is their unwillingness to understand that it has been the follies and misplaced priorities of the opponents of the IS that have made it possible for IS to emerge and to pose such a threat.

The IS claims that it is acting out of religious motives ordained by the Koran. And most probably their adherents believe this, which of course makes it almost impossible to negotiate with them in any manner. This is what makes them different from previous so-called Salafist movements that have been around for some time. Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Taliban were all movements that combined militancy with pragmatism.

Today, the mainstream Arab Muslim movements, the governments of the Arab states, as well as the outside powers involved in the region (United States, western Europe, Russia, Turkey, Iran) all denounce the IS. However, it is widely believed that the IS has the support, or at least the benevolent neutrality, of the ordinary Sunni Muslims in the Islamic world, at least that of younger persons. These ordinary persons are streaming into zones controlled by the IS in great numbers. Persons involved in other Salafist movements are shifting allegiances to the IS.

What is it that is impelling this new attitude? It is not shar’ia law. That was after all there before. Shar’ia law is merely the covering to justify the brutal actions. Of course, once it gets a religious covering like this, it hardens the commitment. But the prime factor that underlies this impulse is a sense of hopelessness. Other movements and states – both secularist and Salafist – have failed to relieve significantly the oppression that these young Muslims feel. The IS offers hope. Perhaps one day the converts will be disillusioned, but that moment is not yet arrived.

Why then cannot there be a coalition of those who are opposed to the IS and its expansionary threats? The answer is very simple. They all have other priorities. The Egyptian government is fighting first of all the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi government is fighting first of all Iran and anyone who threatens their claim to leadership of Sunni Muslims in the Middle East. The Qataris are fighting first of all the Saudi government. The government of Bahrain gives priority to suppressing the Shias who are numerically the vast majority. The Iranian government is fighting first of all Sunni forces in Iraq. The Turkish government is fighting first of all Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Kurdish movements are fighting not only for their autonomy (or independence) but also each other. The Russian and the U.S. governments are both giving priority to their mutual quarrels. And the Israelis are fighting primarily Iran and the Palestinians. Name one that puts fighting the IS at the top of its list.

This is absolutely crazy. Can anything break through this irrational schema of false priorities? Obviously, there is a dire need to create conditions in which the Sunni-Shia schism is superseded by one in which whichever is the social minority in a given state has rights to reasonable participation in governance and reasonable social autonomy. Were an accord to be achieved between the United States and Iran, they could in fact do a lot militarily and politically together to retake northwest Iraq from the IS. But will their respective hardliners really permit this?

What, you may ask, about existing dictatorships? Should we not be struggling against them? The efforts to do so as the great priority has actually reinforced them. The fears created by the IS have actually reduced in major ways the civil rights of citizens and residents in the United States and western Europe. There is massive hypocrisy concerning which tyrants are being opposed. In effect, everyone protects the tyrants that are their geopolitical ally and denounces the tyrants that are not.

It is long past time to revise radically our priorities. The likelihood of doing this, I admit, seems small at the moment. But the fact is, there is no other choice.

]]>
http://iwallerstein.com/combating-the-islamic-state-the-real-options/feed/ 0