Immanuel Wallerstein http://iwallerstein.com Fri, 15 Jul 2016 15:48:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bastille Day: France’s Ultra-Confused Present http://iwallerstein.com/bastille-day-frances-ultra-confused-present/ Fri, 15 Jul 2016 04:00:57 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2060 Every year, France celebrates on July 14 the fall in 1789 of the Bastille, then the main prison in Paris. The celebration is meant to mark the end of the so-called Ancien Régime. It unifies the country around what are referred to today as Republican values.

The first time there was such a celebration was the very next year in 1790, one that was dedicated to peace and national unity. Bastille Day, however, did not become an annual celebration until 1880, when the legislature of the Third Republic proclaimed July 14 the fête nationale (national festivity), which it has remained up to today. But this year, the Republic is anything but unified, its immediate future could not be more uncertain, and there is much debate about exactly what constitute Republican values.

The present constitution is quasi-presidential, making the choice of a president politically crucial. However, at the same time, it establishes a system in which there are two rounds of voting, unless someone gets a clear majority on the first round. In the second round there are only two candidates, the two with the highest votes on the first round.

The object of this system is to allow for every political grouping to show its strength on the first round and then vote on the second round for one of the two principal parties (center-right versus center-left). The problem is that this system works if there are only two main parties. If there are three of approximately equal electoral strength (as there are at present), the system is transformed. In this case, the three main parties must stay united on the first round and urge the smaller parties to make a “useful” vote on the first round so that their preferred second-round party will actually be on the second-round ballot.

The result is confusion and havoc, first of all within the three main parties and then within the smaller political tendencies. Each of the current three main parties – the Socialists (center-left), the Republicans (center-right) and the National Front (far right) – is having an internal struggle over strategy and each risks secessions. At the same time, the smaller parties are splitting up precisely over whether they should cast “useful” votes on the first round or not. The biggest one on the further left has fallen apart over this issue.

One of the substantive issues under debate is the construction of Europe, including the euro as currency, the freedom of movement within the European Union (EU), and the reception and treatment of immigrants from outside the EU. This is of course a major debate everywhere in the EU. France’s position is somewhere in the middle of the range of European views, both that of the governments and that of public opinion.

In addition, France has had for a long time concern with maintaining and augmenting its role both in the world-system as a whole and within Europe. One of its strengths heretofore has been the de facto arrangement it has had with Germany to constitute a duo whose agreed-upon preferences became the basis of Europe’s collective policies. This worked as long as Germany was divided in two and France was the country with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N.’s Security Council. But in the last twenty years, Germany has become so comparatively strong economically that it needs far less the legitimation that a Franco-German duo offered Germany. The duo no longer makes EU rules and policies.

France’s relations with the United States has also been an issue since at least 1945. On the one hand, the United States, and particularly the U.S. Congress, have been very critical of what they considered France’s too accommodating attitude toward first the Soviet Union and now Russia. On the other hand, France has been highly critical of what it considered the U.S. abandonment of the defense of human rights (as for example in Syria).

The recent vote of Great Britain to leave the EU has provided still further uncertainty in France. Is this a plus or a minus for France? France is seeking to present itself as a good haven for businesses (and especially financial structures) that may be seeking a calmer, less unsure environment. But France is also worried about the quasi-forced repatriation of French citizens now resident and working in Great Britain. In the forthcoming negotiations of Great Britain and the EU, France is unsure if she should push for efforts to keep Great Britain still tied to the EU in some way, or not. The appointment of Boris Johnson as British Foreign Minister weakens any sentiment favorable to Great Britain.

So, the confusion returns us to the forthcoming presidential elections. The National Front has been seeking to draw votes from the two classical centrist parties by downplaying its racist language and actually ousting members who refuse to do this. Notably, its leader Marine LePen has purged her father and long-time leader of the National Front, Jean-Marie LePen, for refusing to do this. But this risks losing some of its previous supporters to breakaway parties or to abstentions.

The center-right Republican Party, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is trying to pick up National Front votes by shifting its rhetoric in their direction. This is strongly contested by two other candidates in the forthcoming party primary, Alain Juppé and François Fillon. If Sarkozy wins, Fillon may withdraw support from the party. Juppé is generally thought to be the one most likely to win the second-round national election because of his more “moderate” views on the main issues. But to be in the second round, he must win the party’s nomination in its primary, and to do this he has shifted his rhetoric to the right.

Finally, the current president François Hollande is in the most difficult position of all. The Socialist party is under pressure to participate in a primary that is a primary of the entire French left. Hollande doesn’t want such an “open” primary, as he seems quite likely to lose it. So, he is pushing for a decision to be made by the party’s convention on a more rightward platform that he believes will enable him to win the second round. He has thus pushed through new legislation that weakens trade-union rights. This is unpopular both with the left of the party who are grumbling and with two of his own presumed allies, Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, both of whom are maneuvering to become the Socialist candidate, if not in 2017 then in 2022. Macron feels that Hollande is not going far enough right.

The multiple uncertainties within the parties in France make the recent back-stabbing within the British Conservative Party pale by comparison. Given that France’s economy is also in parlous condition, 2016 seems hardly a moment to celebrate national festivities based on common Republican values.

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Brexit: Symptom, Not Cause, of Turmoil http://iwallerstein.com/brexit-symptom-not-cause-of-turmoil/ Fri, 01 Jul 2016 04:00:03 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2057 On June 23, the referendum on a British withdrawal from the European Union (EU) won by a clear margin. Politicians and pundits have treated this as an unprecedented and earth-shaking decision. They have been giving various and quite contradictory explanations about the causes of this event and the consequences of this event for Great Britain and the rest of the world.

The first thing to note is that no legal decision to exit the EU has yet been taken. The referendum was, in legal terms, merely advisory. In order to withdraw from the EU, the British government must formally inform the EU that it is invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which is what provides the right and the mode of withdrawal. No one has ever invoked Article 50, so yes, it would be unprecedented. No one therefore can be sure how it would work in practice. While it seems most unlikely that any British government would ignore the referendum, strangely there has been no major British politician who seemed in a hurry to invoke Article 50, an action that would be irreversible.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned against Brexit, has said it will not be he who invokes Article 50. Rather, he has announced his resignation as Prime Minister – however not immediately but when the Conservative Party chooses a new leader. Cameron believes this person should be the one who invokes Article 50. This seems on the surface to be sensible. Once Article 50 is invoked, there will be many issues about Great Britain’s future relations with the EU and with other countries that will have to be decided and it might be best that these decisions be made by his successor.

The first question therefore is who will be his successor and when will this person be chosen. There is considerable pressure from other countries in the EU that this succession be done as soon as possible. In response to this pressure, the Conservative Party has set the date as September 2. There were until June 29 two main candidates: Boris Johnson, a leading advocate of Brexit but not yet a member of parliament; and Theresa May, who opposed Brexit but who shares some part of the objectives of the supporters of Brexit. It is stunning to learn that Johnson actually expected to lose the vote and therefore did not prepare a political map for what he should do after the referendum.

It seemed that Johnson wanted to “negotiate” Britain’s withdrawal. Article 50 provides a two-year period for working out post-withdrawal arrangements. This seems to allow for such negotiations. It also says that, if no agreement is reached, the cutting of all ties is automatic. What Johnson apparently wanted was a deal in which Great Britain retained the advantages of a common market but would no longer be bound by the EU’s constraints on immigration and human rights. The other countries in the EU have been showing no sympathy for such an arrangement. As Germany’s quite conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said, they feel that “in is in and out is out.” Since “out” will have immediate negative consequences on the economic situation for most persons in Great Britain, and especially many of the supporters of Brexit, Johnson and others have been dragging their feet about invoking Article 50. This is probably what underlay Michael Gove’s last-minute decision to cease being Johnson’s campaign manager and to announce his own candidacy, backed immediately by most strong Brexit supporters. Gove, it seems, will not hesitate. Johnson has withdrawn his candidacy and is possibly quite relieved not to be the one who gets the blame for invoking Article 50.

What are the matters underlying this debate? There are essentially four: popular anger at the so-called Establishment and its parties; the geopolitical decline of the United States; the politics of austerity; and identity politics. All of them have contributed to the turmoil. But all of them have a long history that predates by far the Brexit referendum. The priorities among these four are different for the multiple actors, including the British who voted to leave Europe.

There is little doubt that popular anti-Establishment anger is a strong force. It has often erupted when economic conditions are uncertain, as they surely are today. If this seems a stronger motivation now than previously, it is probably because economic uncertainty is far greater than in the past.

Still it should be noted that anti-Establishment movements have not won out everywhere or consistently. The movements sometimes win out, and just as often do not. For successes, one can point to Brexit, Trump’s rise to being the de facto Republican presidential candidate in the United States, Syriza‘s becoming the governing party in Greece, and Rodrigo Duterte’s election as President of the Philippines. On the other hand, see the recent electoral defeat of Podemos in Spain or the signs of some voter remorse already in Great Britain. The life span of such movements seems to be relatively short. So, even if stronger today than in the past, it is not at all sure that such movements are the wave of the future.

The geopolitical consequences of Brexit are probably more important. Great Britain’s withdrawal from Europe deals a further blow to the ability of the United States to maintain its dominance in the world-system. Great Britain has been in many ways the indispensable geopolitical ally (or is it agent?) of the United States in Europe, in NATO, in the Middle East, and vis-à-vis Russia. There is no substitute. That is why President Obama strongly and publicly supported the Remain vote in Great Britain and, after the referendum, has sought to persuade Great Britain to remain a close ally. That is why Henry Kissinger, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journalof June 28, called for the United States to seek “to transform setback (the Brexit turmoil) into opportunity.” How? By reinforcing the “special relationship” with Great Britain and for the United States to redefine its role in “a new kind of leadership, moving from dominance to persuasion.” Kissinger is clearly worried. It sounds like whistling in the dark to me.

Austerity is obviously nobody’s desired policy, except for the ultra-rich who alone profit from it. The fear of increased austerity, as promised by the British government, surely contributed significantly to the move for Brexit, which was promoted as a way to reduce austerity and secure a better future for the vast majority of the population. Austerity is another theme that today is worldwide – both as practice and as cause for fear and anger. There is nothing special about the British situation in this regard. Modal income has been going down there for a quarter-century at least, as it has been everywhere.

The economic turmoil and the fears it provokes have resulted in the prominence of identity politics – Britain for the British (actually for the English), Russia for the Russians, South Africa for the South Africans, and of course Donald Trump’s America for the Americans. This underlies the call for controlling, even eliminating, immigration. As a bugaboo, there is nothing easier to use than immigration. But identity politics is a loose cannon. It doesn’t have to center on immigration. It can concentrate on secession – in Scotland, in Catalonia, in Chiapas. The list is long.

What shall we conclude from all these currents and countercurrents? Brexit is important as a symptom but not as a cause of turmoil. Since the turmoil is part of a chaotic structural crisis in the modern world-system, it is impossible to anticipate the many ways in which this scenario may play out in the next few years. The short run is too volatile. We are not paying enough attention to the middle run, where the long-run successor world-system (or systems) will be decided, and where the decision remains dependent on what we do in the middle-run struggle.

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Ethnicity: Impassioned, Impermanent, Important http://iwallerstein.com/ethnicity-impassioned-impermanent-important/ Wed, 15 Jun 2016 04:00:37 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2053 Ethnicity refers to one of the basic realities of the modern world-system. We are all embedded in one or several groups that have a presumed (if remote) kinship base. These days we tend to refer to such groups as “identities.” Quite often, our feelings of loyalty to such groups become quite impassioned. We seldom recognize how impermanent are the names and boundaries of such groups. What is sure is that our sentiments about our identities, which vary in intensity, are always a very important part of our current political realities.

Let us start with the impermanence of the groupings. The names of the groups are constantly changing. The names we assign to groups of which we claim to be a part are very often different from the names non-members assign to these groups. More important, names disappear, as groups blend into and assume the identity of other groups, often more powerful ones. This is sometimes called “assimilation.” But at the same time, new names are constantly being created, in part by the secession of members of a given group or by their expulsion from the group. This may be because of differing class interests of members of the group.

The very existence of a group can be a matter of great (and impassioned) debate. Are the Crimean Tatars Ukrainians or citizens of Russia? Political leaders in Myanmar insist that there are no Rohingya in the largely Buddhist country. They assert that the Muslim Rohingya are really Bengalis, who therefore are not indigenous to Myanmar/Burma. Golda Meir, then Israel’s Prime Minister, famously denied in the 1970s that there was such a group as the Palestinians. Japanese nationalists oppose recognizing the rights of ethnic Korean persons whose ancestors came or were taken to Japan four generations before.

And in the United States, we are currently debating who is an American. Is only a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) a true American? Is a Muslim born in the United States of Afghan legal immigrants a true American? Are Native Americans the true Americans, whose claims to property that was appropriated from them centuries ago pre-empt the rights of those current legally recognized owners?

Why such quarrels about names are important is that they bring with them immediate political consequences. The fundamental reality of the world is that no group anywhere has been in the same locality forever. They all migrated there from somewhere else at some time. In this sense there are no groups with unchallengeable claims to rights. These claims are all based on current narratives about past history. Furthermore, the boundaries of any particular group under discussion have almost certainly changed over time.

So, on what basis can one judge the reasonableness of claims of ethnicity? One way to do this is to support the demands of the least favored groups, the groups that are most currently oppressed. But this of course is hard to do. Those accused of being oppressors deny it vigorously on the basis of quite different historical narratives.

Here is where the passion enters the picture. Passion is not a constant. Groups that have peacefully co-existed and intermarried for a long time can suddenly be ignited to the point that they slaughter each other, and in particular those who are the offspring of an ethnic intermarriage. The so-called purity of one’s genealogy becomes the prime political consideration. Passion begets passion on both sides and we have what we call genocides. And the memory of such genocides becomes itself the subject of an impassioned debate and a justification for further violence.

The whole domain of identities and rights is a very tricky one to navigate. One cannot and should not ignore it. But one needs to analyze realities soberly, discounting the fables that intrude themselves into the narratives, and always trying to support the least powerful, the most immediately oppressed.

Ethnic passions have pervaded the modern world-system since its inception. They seem however to have become more ferocious and to consume more of our political energies in the last thirty years or so. This is probably because we have entered a period of great uncertainty, that of the structural crisis of our capitalist system and therefore the time of the political struggle about the successor system. The uncertainties and unpredictability seem to push many to seek to reinforce their commitments to their identities as a way of coping with the uncertainties. But this also diverts us from seeing what are the basic political decisions that we are facing and what moral choices they imply. Ergo, I say, ethnicity: caveat emptor!

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The Increasingly Unstable United States http://iwallerstein.com/the-increasingly-unstable-united-states/ Wed, 01 Jun 2016 04:00:37 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2049 We are used to thinking of instability in states as being located primarily in the global South. It is about those regions that pundits and politicians in the global North speak of “failed states” in which there are “civil wars.” Life is very uncertain for the inhabitants of these regions. There is massive displacement of populations and efforts to flee these regions to “safer” parts of the world. These safer parts are supposed to have more jobs and higher standards of living.

In particular, the United States has been seen as the migratory goal of a very large percentage of the world’s population. This was once largely true. In the period that ran roughly from 1945 to 1970, the United States was the hegemonic power in the world-system in which life was indeed better economically and socially for its inhabitants.

And while the frontiers for immigrants were not exactly open, those migrants who managed to arrive in one way or another were by and large content with what they regarded as their good fortune. And others from the countries of origin of the successful immigrants kept trying to follow in their footsteps. In this period, there was very little emigration from the United States other than on a temporary basis to take very well-paying employment as economic, political, or military mercenaries.

This golden era of U.S. dominance of the world-system began to come undone circa 1970 and has been unraveling ever since, and increasingly. What are the signs of this? There are many, some of them within the United States itself and some of them in changing attitudes of the rest of the world towards the United States.

In the United States, we are now living through a presidential campaign that almost everyone speaks of as unusual and transformational. There are a very large number of voters who have been mobilizing against the “Establishment,” many of them entering the voting process for the first time. In the Republican primary process, Donald J. Trump has built his search for the nomination precisely on riding the wave of such discontent, indeed by fanning the discontent. He seems to have succeeded, despite all the efforts of what might be thought of as “traditional” Republicans.

In the Democratic Party, the story is similar but not identical. A previously obscure Senator, Bernie Sanders, has been able to ride a discontent verbalized on a more left-wing rhetoric and, as of June 2016, has been conducting a very impressive campaign against the one-time supposedly unchallengeable candidature of Hillary Clinton. While it doesn’t seem he will get the nomination, he has forced Clinton (and the Democratic Party) much further left than seemed possible a few short months ago. And Sanders did this without ever having stood for election before as a Democrat.

But, you may think, all this will calm down, once the presidential election is decided, and “normal” centrist political judgments will prevail again. There are many who predict this. But what then will be the reaction of those who very vocally supported their candidates precisely because they were not advocating “normal” centrist policies? What if they are disillusioned with their current champions?

We need to look at another of the changes in the United States. The New York Times ran a long front-page article on May 23 about gun violence, which it called “unending but unheard.” The article was not about the well-reported massive gun shootings that we call massacres and that are considered shocking. Instead, the article pursues shootings that the police tend to call “incidents” and never get into newspapers. It describes one such incident in detail, and calls it “a snapshot of a different source of mass violence – one that erupts with such anesthetic regularity that it is rendered almost invisible, except to the mostly black victims, survivors and attackers.” And the numbers are going up.

As these “unending but unheard” deaths by violence go up, the possibility that they may go beyond the confines of Black ghettos to non-Black zones in which many of the disillusioned are located is not so far-fetched. After all, the disillusioned are right about one thing. Life in the United States is not as good as it once was. Trump has used as his slogan “make America great again.” The “again” refers to the golden era. And Sanders also seems to refer to a previously golden era in which jobs were not exported to the global South. Even Clinton now seems to look back at something lost.

And that is not to forget an even fiercer sort of violence – that propagated by a still very small band of deeply anti-state militias, who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom (CCF). They are the ones that have been defying the government’s closure of some land for their cattle or indeed for their usage. The CCF people say the government has no rights and is acting unconstitutionally.

The problem is that both the federal and local governments are unsure what to do. They “negotiate” for fear that asserting their authority will not be popular. But when the negotiations fail, the government finally uses its force. This more extreme version of action may soon spread. It is not a question of moving to the right but of moving towards more violent protest, towards a civil war.

All this time, the United States has been truly losing its authority in the rest of the world. It is indeed no longer hegemonic. The protestors and their candidates have been noting this but consider it reversible, which it is not. The United States is now considered a weak and unsure global partner.

This is not merely the view of states that have strongly opposed U.S. policies in the past, such as Russia, China, and Iran. It has now become true of presumably close allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, and Canada. On a worldwide scale, the feeling about the “reliability” of the U.S. in the geopolitical arena has moved from nearly 100% during the golden era to somewhere far, far lower. And it increases daily.

As it becomes less “safe” to live in the United States, look for a steady increase in emigration. It is not that other parts of the world are safe – just safer. It is not that the standard of living elsewhere is so high, but it has now become higher in many parts of the global North.

Not everyone can emigrate of course. There is a question of cost and a question of accessibility to other countries. Undoubtedly, the first group that may increase their emigration will be the most privileged sectors. But, as this comes to be noticed, the angers of the more middle-class “disillusioned” will grow. And growing, their reactions may take a more violent turn. And this more violent turn will feed back onto itself, increasing the angers.

Can nothing alleviate the attitudes about the transformation of the United States? If we were to stop trying to make America great again and start trying to make the world a better place for everyone, we could be part of the movement for “another world.” Changing the whole world would in fact transform the United States, but only if we stop longing to go back to a golden era, which was not so golden for most of the world.

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Brazil:  Coup or Fiasco? http://iwallerstein.com/brazil-coup-or-fiasco/ Sun, 15 May 2016 04:00:36 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2039 The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, has been suspended from her office while she goes on trial by the Senate. If convicted, she would be removed from office, which is what is meant in Brazil by “impeachment.” Anyone, even Brazilians, who have been trying to follow the last several months of political maneuvering may be excused if they are somewhat confused by the many turns this process has taken.

What is really at issue here? Is this a constitutional coup as Pres. Rousseff has called it repeatedly? Or is this a legitimate act of holding the president responsible for grave misdeeds by her and members of her cabinet and advisors, as the “opposition” claims? If the latter, why is this occurring only now and not, say, in Rousseff’s first term as president before she was easily re-elected in 2015 by a significant margin?

Rousseff is a member of the Partido dos Trabalhores (PT) that has been long led by her predecessor in office, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula). One way to view these events is to see it as part of the story of the PT – its coming to power and now, quite probably, its ouster from power.

What is the PT, and what has it represented in Brazilian politics? The PT was founded in 1980 as a party opposed to the military dictatorship that had ruled Brazil since the coup of 1964. It was a socialist, anti-imperialist party, bringing together Marxist groups, large civil associations like the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers Movement or MST), and Catholic movements of the liberation theology persuasion.

From the point of view both of the military and of the traditional Establishment parties in Brazil, the PT was a dangerous revolutionary party, which threatened the conservative economic and social structures of the country. The United States viewed its “anti-imperialism” as directed primarily at the U.S. dominant role in Latin American politics, which indeed it was.

The PT however did not seek power through guerrilla insurrection but rather through parliamentary elections, sustained and supported by extra-parliamentary demonstrations. It took four presidential elections to bring finally a PT candidate, Lula, to office in 2003. The Brazilian Establishment never expected this would actually happen and never accepted that it could possibly continue. They have devoted their energies ever since to bringing the PT down. They may have gotten their way in 2016. Historians in the future may look upon the period 2003-2016 as the fifteen-year PT interlude.

What in fact has happened in this interlude? The PT in office was something far less radical than the opponents of the PT feared, but still radical enough to have made them relentless in their desire to destroy the PT, not merely as the holders of the presidential office but as a movement with a legitimate place in Brazilian politics.

If the PT was able to come to electoral power in 2003, it was because of the combination of the growing attractiveness of its program and its rhetoric and the declining geopolitical strength of the United States. And what did the PT do with its time in office? On the one hand it sought to succor the poorest strata of Brazil through a redistributive program known as the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program that included the Bolsa familia (Family Allowance), which did indeed improve their income level and reduce the enormous inequalities from which Brazil suffered.

In addition, Brazil’s foreign policy under the PT marked a significant shift away from Brazil’s historic subservience to U.S. geopolitical imperatives. Brazil took the lead in creating autonomous Latin American structures that included Cuba and excluded the United States and Canada.

On the other hand, Brazil’s macroeconomic policies remained quite orthodox from the point of view of neoliberal emphases on market orientations of governmental policies. And the PT’s multiple promises to prevent environmental destruction were never seriously implemented. Nor did the PT ever carry out its promises of agrarian reform.

In short, its performance as a left movement was a mixed bag. As a result, groups within the party and in its larger political alliances were constantly defecting. This resulted in the weakened position that made it possible in 2015 for the enemies of the PT to implement a plan to destroy it.

The scenario was simple. It centered on charges of corruption. Corruption has been massive and endemic in Brazilian politics, and important figures of the PT itself were by no means exempt from the practice. The one person not subject to such charges was Dilma Rousseff. What then to do? The person who took the lead in the impeachment process, President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha (and an Evangelical Christian) was himself removed from office because he is being indicted for corruption. No matter! The process proceeded on the basis that Dilma Rousseff failed in her responsibility to contain the corruption. This led Boaventura dos Santos Sousa to summarize the situation as one in which the one honest politician was being ousted by the most corrupt.

Rousseff has been suspended from office and her Vice-President Michel Temer has assumed office as Interim President, immediately appointing a far-right cabinet. It seems almost certain that Rousseff will be impeached and removed permanently from office. She is not the real target. The real target is Lula. Under Brazilian law, no president can have more than two successive terms. It has been everyone’s expectation that Lula would be the PT candidate again in 2019.

Lula has been Brazil’s most popular politician for a long time now. And while his popularity has been somewhat tarnished by the corruption scandal, he seems to remain sufficiently popular that he would win the election. So the right forces will try now to have him actually charged with corruption and therefore ineligible to run.

What will happen then? No one is sure. The rightwing politicians will fight among themselves for the presidency. The army may decide once again to take power. What seems sure is that the PT is finished. The PT sought to exercise its power as a centrist government, balancing its program. But the serious budget deficit and the decline of world prices for oil and other Brazilian exports has disillusioned a large swatch of its voters. As in many other countries today, massive discontent leads to a rejection of normal centrist politics.

What a successor movement of the PT might do would be to return to its roots as a consistently left anti-imperialist movement. This will be no more easy than it was for the PT in 1980. The difference between 1980 and now is the degree to which the modern world-system is in structural crisis. The struggle is worldwide and the Brazilian left can either play a major role in it or slip into global irrelevance and national misery.

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The Spanish Drama http://iwallerstein.com/the-spanish-drama/ Sun, 01 May 2016 04:00:10 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2035 King Philip VI of Spain has announced that in the four months since the last elections, the elected members of parliament, and especially those representing the four main parties, were unable to make an agreement that would produce a viable government. He therefore announced new elections for June 26, 2016.

Spain, like governments in west European parliamentary systems, has long had two main parties: the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the social-democratic PSOE. They have been alternating in parliamentary majorities since the end of the Franco regime and sometimes they formed a coalition government. As in most such systems, other parties were essentially insignificant by-standers that could get at most a few concessions for their political objectives.

The last elections in Spain changed everything. A new party, Podemos (We Can), which had grown out of the oppositional street movement, the Indignados, emerged with a substantial number of elected deputies on an anti-austerity platform. This program was primarily aimed at the PP, the party in power, and its leader, Mariano Rajoy, which had been an unrelenting supporter of the neoliberal program imposed by outside lenders on the government.

There was a second new party that emerged with a smaller but still significant number of deputies. Its name was Ciudadanos (Citizens). It campaigned against the PP as well, but on the grounds of corruption, and espoused a centrist program.

The king initially asked the PP, as the party with the largest number of elected deputies (but with a smaller number than previously when it had had an outright majority) to try to form a government. After a short while, Rajoy recognized that none of the three other parties was willing to join in a government with the PP and informed the king that he was unable to form a government with a parliamentary majority.

The king then turned to the PSOE as the party with the second-largest number of deputies (but also with a smaller number than previously) to try to form a government. The leader of the PSOE, Pedro Sanchez, sought to create a coalition of PSOE, Podemos, and Ciudadanos whose combined votes were enough to create a majority. He acquired the agreement of Ciudadanos, but Podemos was not at all ready to join such a coalition.

The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, posed three conditions for entering a PSOE-led government. Number one was the appointment of Iglesias as deputy prime minister along with four key cabinet posts forPodemos deputies. Number two was support for a referendum on independence in Catalonia. And number three was the exclusion of Ciudadanos on the grounds that they were strongly opposed to holding such a referendum and supported the PP’s hard line on such referenda.

The PSOE rejected all three conditions, essentially because they were close to Ciudadanos on its positions, and saw the demands of Podemos as a move to replace it soon thereafter as the second, if not the first, party in parliament. In the face of the firm no of the PSOE, Podemos had to decide whether to vote for the PSOE government even if not a member or to vote against it. The question really was whether Podemos as a movement would seek power through parliament or through street action.

Iglesias was in favor of the first but knew he risked being ousted within his own party if he used his majority among the Podemos deputies to give passive support to a PSOE government. So he threw the question to the individual members of Podemos in an internal referendum, and the vote came out as a literal tie. Iglesias then announced that Podemos would vote against the PSOE proposal in its second try. The king, having made May 2 as a deadline for the whole process, called for a new election.

There were three side battles going on at the same time. One concerned Izquierda Unida (United Left or IU) and its relation with Podemos. IU was a coalition of Marxist and Green parties that had been active in theIndignados movement, within which it tended to clash with the more populist groups that later became Podemos. At a local level, IU had been ready to form coalitions with the PSOE. But now they have indicated that they might join forces with Podemos in the next parliamentary elections, which would strengthen the chances of Podemos.

The second was occurring within Catalonia. There were two main coalitions in the regional elections that favored a referendum. One was the politically centrist Junts pel Si (United for the Yes-vote), led by the outgoing regional president Artur Mas. The other was a left coalition called Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). The CUP made as a condition of its support to Junts in the regional parliament that Artur Mas step down, which he finally did. A compromise candidate was a little-known Carlos Puigdemont whose party was part of the Junts grouping. He promised to hold the referendum within eighteen months, thus forcing a showdown with the Spanish government, or at least with the PP and the PSOE, both considering such a referendum illegal.

The third side event by accidental timing was the developments in the Basque country.  For decades there has been a movement ETA seeking independence by armed conflict. There was always a party sympathetic to ETA which sought to operate legally. The Spanish government regularly outlawed such parties. The leader of one of them, Arnaldo Otegi, just at this moment finished a term in prison and was released. He is the head of Sortu, the latest version of a party operating legally. He was received as a hero in the Basque country, to the dismay of the Spanish government.

Otegi indicated that ETA might agree to end its armed uprising if there was some indication of willingness by the Spanish government to accede to a Basque autonomous government. He said somewhat bitterly that the PP and Rajoy had not been willing to move an inch. Of course, to the PP, Basque autonomy was even worse than Catalonian autonomy. And concessions now could feed support in Catalonia for the independence referendum. The PSOE was further embarrassed by this development.

So what may we conclude? Three things, possibly. The first is a question about the possibility of real success of populist anti-austerity movements. Podemos in many ways had modeled itself on Greece’s Syriza, and the difficulties the latter has been having has raised questions in Spain and elsewhere as to the consequences of such a movement, pursuing a parliamentary path.

The second is whether it is really possible for states to resist decentralizing pressures of ethno-national movements. For example, in Great Britain today, as it debates British withdrawal from the European Union, everyone is aware of the consequences of so-called Brexit for Scotland’s movement for further decentralization and eventual independence.

And thirdly, is there any way that any government is able to maintain an anti-austerity policy in the middle run, amidst the pressures that reduced government real revenues are imposing on states throughout the world?

Spain is in economic terms far more important for Europe and the world than Greece. As this drama plays out in Spain, the world will be watching, reacting, and drawing lessons.

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The Left Loses the Election in Peru http://iwallerstein.com/the-left-loses-the-election-in-peru/ Fri, 15 Apr 2016 04:00:34 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2027 Peru is one of the countries with a two-round presidential election. Unless one candidate obtains 50%+ on the first round, there is a second round with only the two candidates who had the most votes in the first round. And, as has been increasingly the case worldwide, when there are three candidates with significant support, there is a ferocious battle for second place on the first round of elections.

In Peru on April 10, 2016, the leading candidate was Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the notorious former president Alberto Fujimori, presently imprisoned for human rights abuses. Definitive figures are not yet issued, but it seems she has about 40% of the votes. Second place was won by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with probably 21%. Third place was occupied by Veronika Mendoza with about 19%.

What does this mean? A report by Reuters on the elections had a headline that summarized the views of most commentators: “Two pro-business candidates make Peru runoff.” The descriptive adjectives the media have been using about the three are “conservative” and “populist” for Fujimori, “center-right” for Kuczynski (who is a former World Bank economist), and “leftist” for Mendoza.

There seems virtually no difference between the two candidates in the runoff as far as priority to the so-called free market is concerned, and the stock market rewarded these commitments by an immediate jump after the first round. Their difference resides largely in Kuczynski’s more centrist views on social questions plus the fears that Fujimori arouses because of memories of her father’s authoritarian regime.

Turn the clock five years back to the previous election and the descriptive adjectives are quite different. The two candidates on the second round are again Fujimori (whose labels were the same) and Ollanta Humala who was said to be “left-leaning.” This label for him derives from the fact that, in still earlier times, he was endorsed by Hugo Chavez and seemed to many achavista.

Humala himself was sensitive to this charge and quite ostentatiously avowed being closer to Lula and the PT in Brazil than to Chavez. The truly conservative candidate Mario Vargas Llosa said that choosing between Fujimori and Humala was a choice between “AIDS and terminal cancer.” Nonetheless, he reluctantly endorsed Humala in the second round, deeming Fujimori the worst possible president.

Humala won the election very narrowly and promptly began moving to the right, opening Peru still further to the free market. He betrayed most of his promises, although he did make some improvements in the situation of the indigenous populations of Peru. In the current elections, Humala endorsed no one but certainly did not support Mendoza.

Flash back to 2006 and the descriptions are again different. It was a three-way race between Lourdes Flores Nano, said to be “conservative,” Humala described as a “staunch populist” and Alan Garcia who had been president previously (1985-1990) and who was the candidate of APRA (a party with long left-wing roots) and described in 2006 as “center-left.” Unlike 2016 where the second round is said to be a struggle between the populist right and the center-right, that of 2006 was said to be a struggle between the populist left and the center-left. Garcia won and again, once in office, moved steadily to the right.

Once again, go back to the previous election, that of 2002. It was witnessed by outside observers including Jimmy Carter and was said to be fair. It was won by Alejandro Toledo, a conservative but not a populist. The voters for third place center-right candidate Lourdes Flores seemed to throw their votes to Toledo rather than to Garcia.

That election took place after a long turmoil in Peru. In the 1980s in Peru, there were two guerilla uprisings of considerable severity. One was that of Sendero Luminoso, a self-proclaimed Maoist movement that succeeded in controlling various rural areas. It was led by Abimael Guzmán, previously a university professor in philosophy. Sendero used extreme violence against whomever they defined as being part of the political elites of Peru. The second movement, Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) was somewhat less violent and identified itself more with Cuba’s regime.

The struggle of the Peruvian government against these movements consumed their energies in the 1980s. In 1985, Alan Garcia of APRA was elected president. He was then a young star, and from APRA. He won the election easily against a “left” candidate, and received widespread endorsement throughout the world. Initially the economy took a positive upturn. But then he ran into difficulty both from the limits of his economic policies and the summit of guerilla strength. He went from a 90% popular approval level to 10-15%.

This was the context for the 1990 elections between Vargas Llosa running on a platform of neoliberal economics and the then obscure candidate of a populist and moderate coalition Fujimori, who was supposed to be unelectable. To great surprise, he won, and then to greater surprise he dissolved parliament in 1992 and undertook a vigorous and successful attempt to crush the guerilla movements, capturing the head of Sendero.

By 2001 he was so unpopular that he was threatened with impeachment. He escaped to Japan where he resumed his citizenship there. He was tried and convicted in absentia. In 1995, he went to Chile, assuming he would be safe there. But Chile extradited him to Peru, and he was then imprisoned, where he still is today.

All of this occurred in the context of one of the most radical regimes in recent Latin American history. On October 3, 1968, General Juan Velasco Alvarado, then Commander of the Armed Forces, led a bloodless coup against the then president Fernando Belaunde. Belaunde’s regime was beset by a scandal involving licenses to oil fields in northern Peru. Upon seizing power President of the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces, Velasco promptly nationalized the oil fields in question, to great internal applause.

Velasco pursued a program called Peruanismo and was considered “left-leaning.” In foreign policy, Velasco pulled away from ties to the United States and drew close to Cuba. Relations with Pinochet’s Chile were very strained. He undertook land reform and nationalized a number of industries. In reality however these economic efforts were not a great success. The agrarian and the fishing sectors ran into difficulty and the government ran into great debt. Inflation became hyperinflation and in 1975 there was a further military coup and Velasco was deposed.

And further back in Peru’s history there was the founding of APRA by José Carlos Mariategui in the 1920s as a Marxist movement committed to the rights of the indigenous communities. This radical program was miles apart from the program of his 1980s successor as head of APRA, Alan Garcia.

What we see in the continuing drama of Peruvian politics is that every time a so-called left or left-leaning government came to power, the regime soon thereafter moved to the right. Given Peru’s size, location, and economic importance, this has made Peru a prime battleground of Latin American politics. The story of each country has its particularities. But Peru’s history seems to embody the difficulties for the Latin American left. Why left regimes move rightward has long been a matter of debate in Latin America and throughout the world. But it has not been a matter of reunification and compromise among the left forces. In the coming decade, eyes will continue to be focused on the Peruvian left’s evolution in the worldwide struggle of the global left during the structural crisis of the modern world-system.

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Anti-Trumpism http://iwallerstein.com/anti-trumpism/ Fri, 01 Apr 2016 04:00:29 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2024 I have been as appalled as anyone at the style and content of Donald Trump’s search for the U.S. presidency. I have at no point been tempted in any way to support him. I do not intend to vote for him.

But there is something happening that needs to be explained. It is not Trumpism, but Anti-Trumpism. The explanations of Trumpism are virtually endless. No one could have missed them. I do not wish to discuss what accounts for Trumpism – both the level of his support and the fact that he seems to be a Teflon candidate. Every time he does something outrageous and receives criticism for it, the outcome seems to be that his poll numbers rise further just because of the criticism.

What is not discussed very much is the phenomenon of what I shall call Anti-Trumpism. It is of course normal that there are those who oppose the choice of a particular candidate. What is unusual and needs a closer look is why the opposition seems to take on an almost hysterical tone, in which there is a suggestion that the election of Trump would transform the world (or at least the United States) fundamentally and permanently.

There is a group of lifelong Republicans who say that the candidacy and actions of Donald Trump so offend their moral sensibilities that they could not under any circumstance vote for him. Were he the chosen candidate of the Republican convention, they would be forced to do something else than vote Republican. This means for some supporting a putative new ticket labeled Independent Republicans, for others abstention from voting for anyone, and for still others even voting for Hillary Clinton.

This group is possibly quite small, although it includes some very prominent conservative Republicans such as many associated with National Review, for a long time the principal journal speaking for neo-Conservatives. This group sees a Trump candidacy as a disaster for the Republican Party, one that could prove long-lasting.

There is a much larger group who say that everything conceivable must be done to prevent Trump from receiving the nomination. They too see a Trump candidacy as a disaster. This group emphasizes less the moral shame of a Trump candidacy and more the impact it would have both on the election of a Republican president in 2016 and on the ability of Republican candidates to win Senatorial seats in a number of closely contested elections, and therefore the majority in the Senate.

These persons are largely to be found in the so-called Establishment mainstream of the Republican Party. Like the morally repelled, this group also thinks that a Trump candidacy would have a long-lasting negative impact on the Republican Party, primarily by changing its internal structures and personnel in key positions. This group is divided into those who are supporting Ted Cruz as an acceptable, if less than perfect, alternative, and those (a smaller group) who support John Kasich. Cruz is of course more consistently far to the right than Trump but he is much more predictable.

Why then the hysteria? I think it is clearly that Donald Trump is truly a candidate who is not under the control of the so-called Establishment, which does not know what he would really do, were he the president. For example, at the moment, there is much debate and concern about the choice of a replacement for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Who knows who Trump would select, and whose advice (if anyone’s) he would solicit? That would not be true of any other person chosen as Republican candidate.

When these critics say that Trump as candidate would transform the Republican Party into something quite different from what it has been up to now, they are probably right. What is however most unlikely is that he would pursue a Tea Party agenda.

Look at all the hints he has thrown out about his actual agenda. He does not intend to send troops on the ground anywhere. He does not intend to support so-called free trade treaties. He does not intend to revoke the diplomatic opening to Cuba or the agreement with Iran. He is for a bi-state solution in Israel/Palestine. He will not change Social Security. He is not terribly concerned about issues like abortion. His latest outrage about punishing those who have abortions, and the swiftness with which he recanted when he saw the negative reaction his remarks evoked is actually further evidence about how little he cares about the subject. And perhaps most important of all, he is open to increasing taxes on the truly wealthy. Close your eyes for a moment and he sounds suspiciously like Hillary Clinton.

There is of course a real distinction to make between Trump and Clinton. The biggest difference is Trump’s unceasing use of anti-Muslim rhetoric, whereas Hillary Clinton is building her strategy around appealing not only to women but to non-White populations. The second difference is that Trump centers his discourse around the issue of immigration, which appeals in particular to the so-called Reagan Democrats, who are largely White and older voters, either unemployed or in great fear of becoming unemployed.

There is a third difference. Whenever a journalist or even a supporter challenges him on one of these hints, he tries immediately to change the subject or silence the challenger. Or if he doesn’t succeed, he backtracks on his hinted agenda. He wants the nomination desperately. Therefore he is very inconsistent and very pragmatic. But this is precisely what worries the Establishment. They don’t know what he will really do as president.

So, anti-Trumpism has indeed a rational foundation. But can it succeed? It seems at the moment most unlikely that Trump will fail to have the necessary majority of votes for the Republican nomination. What then will happen in the elections? Whether Trump as candidate will alienate enough traditional Republican voters to lose his campaign against the Democratic candidate and those of Republican senators in ten states or so, or rather attract more new voters to the Republican tickets as he claims, is yet to be seen.

But is a Trump candidacy an irrevocable catastrophe for the United States and/or for the Republican Party? This seems to me a great exaggeration, however you feel about Trump.

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Collapse of the European Union? A Skeptical View http://iwallerstein.com/collapse-of-the-european-union-a-skeptical-view/ Tue, 15 Mar 2016 04:00:38 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2019 One of the many games pundits and politicians are playing these days is to spell out why and how the European Union (EU) is going to collapse, is already collapsing. Anyone who follows the news worldwide knows all the standard explanations: Grexit and Brexit will only lead to other exits; nobody wants more migrants (refugees) in their country; Germany has too much power, or not enough; ultra-rightwing forces/parties are rising almost everywhere; the Schengen Agreement providing visa-less movement is being suspended in most countries that had adopted it; unemployment is unstoppably growing.

There is an underlying theme in this litany of pessimism (or is it optimism?). Europeans – both the sophisticated and the “ignorant” – have become impervious to rational arguments. They are almost all acting irrationally, responding to their emotions and not to reflective analyses. But is this so, Charlie Brown? It makes for a good comic strip, but does that mean the EU will actually cease to exist?

I am not here giving my views about whether the EU is good or bad, should or should not be supported or undermined. Rather, I wish to analyze what I think will actually happen. Will the institutions that now make up the European Union continue to exist ten or twenty years from now? I suspect they will. To see why I think so, let us review together what may make Europeans – both the sophisticated and the “ignorant” – hesitate about taking the fatal step of dismantling what they have been working so hard to create for the last seventy years or so. There are some reasons that one might call economic, others that are geopolitical, and finally still others that might be called cultural.

Let us begin with the economy. The situation in terms of current income, both for the states and for most individuals, is bad everywhere in the EU. The question is whether dismantling Europe would be likely to improve it, or in fact make it worse.

One subject of constant debate is the Eurozone – will it survive? Take for example what happened in Greece in the two 2015 elections there. Alexei Tsipras, the leader of the now-governing party Syriza, was elected in the first election on an anti-austerity platform. He then, in negotiating with the EU for a further loan, retreated on just about everything he had promised the Greek voters. He agreed to measures demanded by the EU that severely hurt the real income of the majority of the population. For this, he was denounced for betraying his promises by left forces within Syriza who withdrew from the party and established their own list. Yet in the next election called very swiftly by Tsipras, he received the mandate again. The Greek voters chose him rather than the left forces within Syriza.

It seems clear, at least to me, that the Greek voters paid no attention to the left denunciations because above all they did not want to leave the Eurozone. Tsipras had made maintaining the euro a priority and the left forces sought instead to resume an autonomous currency. Apparently, the Greek voters believed that the very real negatives of being in the Eurozone were, in their view, less than the probable greater negatives of recreating the drachma.

The situation is roughly the same concerning the so-called safety net features that European governments had installed, such as pensions and unemployment benefits. Virtually all the countries in the EU have been cutting the safety net back for lack of funds. These cuts have been resisted, sometimes successfully, by left or left-of-center parties. But is there any reason to suppose that, were the European Union to disappear tomorrow, these governments would have more funds to distribute? The left parties often say so, condemning what they see as the neoliberal pressures of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. But look around the world. Can you point to governments not under the purview of Brussels that have been able to increase welfare-state expenditures?

If there is no real advantage in terms of real income levels in dismantling the EU, are there other reasons to do it? The EU has played an important geopolitical role since its inception, and has been growing steadily in membership. The United States has been publicly supporting the rise and expansion of the EU but actually trying to undermine it. The United States has seen the EU as a major geopolitical danger. It is obvious to most observers that the EU’s geopolitical strength is the result of numbers. A dismantlement would end this strength and reduce the separate European states to no practical importance geopolitically.

In the end, most European leaders and movements understand this. However much some of them rail against the EU as a structure, are they ready in fact to yield the advantages that a large singular entity gives them? Rightwing groups, especially in eastern Europe, see the EU as one pressure on the United States to offer them military protection against a putatively aggressive Russia. Leftwing groups in other countries, such as France, use the strength of the EU to contain what they think are putatively aggressive actions by the United States. What would either of these groups gain by the dismantlement of the EU?

Finally, there are the so-called cultural links between the United States and Europe. They are publicly proclaimed and more quietly disdained as a remnant of U.S. hegemonic dominance in the first twenty-five years after 1945. Once again there are varying motivations. The left parties and movements want to use their unified structure as a mode of regaining the cultural autonomy (even superiority) they felt they had before 1945. The rightwing forces want to use their strength to insist upon their cultural autonomy on so-called human rights questions. Once again, in union there is strength.

What I see happening is more and more rhetoric and less and less real action. For good or bad, my sense is that the institutions of the EU will survive. This does not mean they won’t change. There is, and will continue to be, a real political struggle within the EU about the kind of collective institution it ought to be. This intra-European political struggle is one part of a worldwide struggle about the kind of world we wish to build as an outcome to the structural crisis of the modern world-system.

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Declining Demand: Is Reality Creeping In? http://iwallerstein.com/declining-demand-is-reality-creeping-in/ Tue, 01 Mar 2016 05:00:48 +0000 http://iwallerstein.com/?p=2016 Neoliberal ideology has dominated world discourse for the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century. The mantra has been that the only viable policy for governments and social movements was to give priority to something called the market. Resistance to this belief became minimal, as even parties and movements that called themselves left or at least left-of-center abandoned their traditional emphasis on welfare-state measures and accepted the validity of this market-oriented position. They argued that at most one could soften its impact by retaining some small part of the historic safety nets that states had built over more than 150 years.

The resulting policy was one that reduced the level of taxation radically on the wealthiest sectors of the population and thereby increased the income gap between this wealthiest sector and the rest of the population. Firms, especially large firms, were able to increase their profit levels by reducing and/or outsourcing jobs.

The justification offered by its proponents was that this policy would in time recreate the jobs that had been lost and that there would be some trickle-down effect of the increased value that would be created by allowing the “market” to prevail. Of course, allowing the market to prevail in fact necessitated political action at the level of the states. The so-called market was never a force independent of politics. But this elementary truth was sedulously unnoticed or, if ever discussed, ferociously denied.

Is that day over? Is there what a recent article in Le Monde called a “timid” return by Establishment institutions to concern about sustaining demand? There are at least two signs of this, both of considerable weight. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had long been the strongest pillar of neoliberal ideology, imposing its requirements on all governments that sought loans from it. However, in a memo released on Feb. 24, 2016, the IMF worried openly about how anemic world demand had become. It urged that finance ministers of the G-20 move beyond monetary policies to encourage investments rather than savings in order to sustain demand by creating jobs. This was quite a turn-around for the IMF.

At about the very same time (February 18), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a second major pillar of neoliberal ideology, released a memo that announced a similar turn-around. It said that it was urgent to engage “collectively” in actions that would sustain world demand.

So, my question, is reality creeping in? Well, yes, if only timidly. The fact is that, worldwide, the promised “growth” in value-added production has failed to occur. Of course, the decline is uneven. China is still “growing,” if at a much reduced pace, one that threatens to decline even further. The United States still seems to be “growing,” largely because the dollar still seems the relatively safest place for governments and the wealthy to park their money. But deflation seems to have become the dominant reality of most of Europe and most of the so-called emerging economies of the global South.

We are all now in a waiting game. Will the timid moves recommended by the IMF and the OECD stanch the reality of declining world demand? Will the dollar be able to resist a further loss of confidence in its ability to be a stable repository of value? Or are we moving toward a further, much more severe, wild swing in the so-called market, with all the political consequences this will undoubtedly entail?

Declining world demand is the direct consequence of declining world employment. In the past 200, even 500 years, every time there has been some technological change that did away with jobs in some productive sector, this was resisted by the workers who were losing out. The resistants engaged in so-called Luddite demands to maintain the previous technology.

Politically, Luddite resistance has always proved to be unsuccessful. Establishment forces always said that new jobs would be created to replace those lost, and growth would be renewed. They were right. New jobs were indeed created – but not among so-called blue-collar workers. Rather the new jobs were in so-called white-collar jobs. As a result, over the longer run, the world-economy saw a reduction of worldwide blue-collar jobs and a significant rise in the percentage of white-collar workers.

It was always assumed that white-collar jobs were exempt from elimination. These jobs presumably required a human interacting with other humans. It was thought that there were no machines that could replace the human worker. Well, this is no longer so.

There has been a great technological advance that permits machines to engage in calculations of enormous amounts of data hitherto the domain of lower-level financial advisors. Indeed, these machines can calculate data that it would take many lifetimes of an individual to calculate. The result is that these machines are in the process of eliminating the job positions of such lower-level “white-collar” jobs. To be sure, this has not yet affected what might be called the higher-level or supervisory positions. But one can see where the wind is blowing.

When “white-collar” positions were eliminated or reduced in number, they were indeed replaced by new “white-collar” positions. When, however, today, “white-collar” positions disappear, where is the container of new jobs to be created? And if they cannot be located, the overall effect is to diminish severely effective demand.

Effective demand however is the sine qua non of capitalism as an historical system. Without effective demand, there can be no capital accumulation. This is the reality that seems to be creeping in. There is no surprise then that concern is being expressed. It is not likely however that the “timid” attempts to deal with this new reality can in fact make a difference. The structural crisis of our system is in full bloom. The big question is not how to repair the system but with what to replace it.

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