Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Gowans’

The Rise of Fascism and the Failure of Neoliberal Capitalism

September 30, 2017

Today Mike put up a very good piece attacking Theresa May’s speech praising capitalism as the greatest force in human history for raising people out of poverty. In fact, as Mike shows, the type of neoliberal crony capitalism May is really in favour of, has done nothing but reduce people to poverty. The force that raised living standards in Britain and gave British people the highest standard of living that they enjoyed in 1977 was the mixed economy of democratic socialism and the welfare state introduced after the War, and which the Tories have been trying to destroy ever since the rise of Thatcher.

This should come as no surprise. The Korean economist, Ha=Joon Chang, makes pretty much the same case in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Chang is also an admirer of capitalism, but his book is a sustained attack on Thatcherite neoliberalism. He shows that every country in the world has begun its rise to economic prosperity through protectionism, and that the countries with the most flexible labour markets and stable, prosperous industries are those with a mixed economy of socialized and private industries and a welfare state. And this includes those countries, where the industries may not be nationalized, but the workers have a share in the management, such as in Germany and Austria.

And the decline of socialism and communism in Europe has had terrible consequences. On Tuesday Counterpunch published a lengthy article by Gregory Barrett commenting on the rise on votes for the Nazi Alternative fuer Deutschland, The German Election: The West’s Nervous Breakdown Continues. He makes the point that this was assisted by the massive poverty and disillusionment caused by the failure of western capitalism to improve the lives of people in eastern Europe. He writes

As Stephen Gowans writes in his recent essay “We Lived Better Then”:

‘Of course, none of the great promises of the counterrevolution were kept. While at the time the demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was proclaimed as a great victory for humanity, not least by leftist intellectuals in the United States, two decades later there’s little to celebrate. The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm, not only in the former socialist countries, but throughout the Western world, as well. Countless millions have been plunged deep into poverty, imperialism has been given a free hand, and wages and benefits in the West have bowed under the pressure of intensified competition for jobs and industry unleashed by a flood of jobless from the former socialist countries, where joblessness once, rightly, was considered an obscenity. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them — and from humanity as a whole: “We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.” And with the threat of jobs migrating to low-wage, high unemployment countries of Eastern Europe, workers in Western Europe have been forced to accept a longer working day, lower pay, and degraded benefits. Today, they fight a desperate rearguard action, where the victories are few, the defeats many. They too lived better — once.’

While the often racist and xenophobic manner in which East Germans and Eastern Europeans express their anger at what they see as an influx of foreigners who go to the front of the line for Western largesse — while the 30-year betrayal of the promises and misleading propaganda directed at themselves from 1989 to 1991 continues, although unacknowledged — is ugly and despicable, it is not hard to understand in its historical context. Somehow the assurances of the good life for all, thanks to the benevolent “invisible hand of the free market”, and the forecasts of blooming landscapes of prosperity across Eastern Europe, have failed to materialize. After more than a quarter of a century, prosperous areas exist but are exceedingly rare. In East Germany many small towns and villages are dying, and the population is shrinking as many follow the jobs westward, since few major employers have chosen to come eastward to them. Unemployment is much higher than in West Germany, and the cultural divisions between the citizens of the old DDR and West Germans have proven very stubborn and difficult to overcome. But the damage has not been confined to those in the formerly socialist countries. As Stephen Gowans points out:

‘But that’s only part of the story. For others, for investors and corporations, who’ve found new markets and opportunities for profitable investment, and can reap the benefits of the lower labor costs that attend intensified competition for jobs, the overthrow of socialism has, indeed, been something to celebrate. Equally, it has been welcomed by the landowning and industrial elite of the pre-socialist regimes whose estates and industrial concerns have been recovered and privatized. But they’re a minority. Why should the rest of us celebrate our own mugging?

This poverty hasn’t been confined to eastern Europe. It’s led to us in the west being forced to work harder, for less pay, and fewer welfare benefits. Otherwise capital simply outsources our jobs to one of the eastern European nations.

He then examines the way Merkel and the Christian Democrats, and the other right-wing parties have persuaded their workers to vote for policies which only benefit the rich industrialists. This is by stressing ‘innere sicherheit’, ‘internal security’, and the threat to it posed by crime and immigrants. Just like the Tories, Kippers and other parties of the right over here. She also took credit for many of the welfare reforms initiated by the SDP, the German equivalent of our Labour party. This has led to the SDP being reduced to only 20 per cent of the vote, and they have said that they are no longer available as coalition partners. Barrett is extremely pessimistic, stating it is probably too late, with the exception of Britain, to save Europe’s Social Democratic heritage. Germany now joins the Netherlands as a country, whose political landscape is a mosaic of competing parties. A landscape in which one element is the extreme right, who believe she betrayed Germany by allowing an influx of migrants.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/26/the-german-election-the-wests-nervous-breakdown-continues/

There isn’t much to add to this, except that the SPD could probably save themselves by scrapping the heritage of Gerhard Schroeder and moving leftwards, as Labour has over here. Schroeder was the German equivalent of Tony Blair, and just as Blair tried to remake Labour as a party of the neoliberal right, so did Schroeder try to do something similar with the German Social Democrats.

As for Merkel, I think her mistake was announcing that one million immigrants from Syria and the Middle East could settle in Germany. She meant well, and I think it was a genuinely liberal, generous gesture intended to show how non-Nazi and welcoming modern Germany was. But she failed to take into account some of the simmering racial tensions in Germany. The German birthrate is falling, so that when I was at school in the 1980s, there were headlines in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany’s paper of record, stating that there would be 30 million fewer Germans by the year 2000. Of course, this was before reunification boosted the country’s total population. The Germans have also been worried about Turkish Germans creating a parallel society, in which they needn’t speak German, because they’re surrounded by Turkish businesses and Turkish language broadcasters. And some German Turkish writers have also written about how the authorities in their communities placed pressure on the young in their community not to become friends or associate with ethnic Germans, or to see themselves as Germans, but to remain Turks and isolate themselves from mainstream society.

Of course Germany isn’t the only country facing such issues. Our government has similarly expressed fears about the immigrant, and particularly Muslim communities over here, as have the French across le Manche.

Even so, I think some of the xenophobia that led to the increased voting for the AfD could have been avoided, if Germany had not suffered the 200-odd spate of rapes committed by Syrian or North African immigrants the other Christmas. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that most rapists in Germany are ethnic Germans, just as the majority of child molesters over here are White Brits, and not Pakistanis or other Muslim Asians. But just as resentment over the rapes and abuse committed by the Asian paedophiles in Rotherham, and the failure of the local authorities to act against it, aided UKIP, so did the rape attacks aid the far right in Germany.

And also, it should be said, the rest of the world. They were widely reported to the point where a new word, ‘rapefugee’, was coined by the Islamophobic right.

Across Europe and America, immigrants and decent, ordinary people are facing the threat of renewed Fascism. It will need determined action by anti-Fascists to defeat it and support genuine anti-racist, tolerant and pluralistic societies. At the same time, we also need to recognize the role of neoliberalism in creating the poverty and insecurity, which leads to so many traditional White Europeans fearing for their future, and the way Conservatives and Fascists across Europe and America are exploiting this to keep themselves in power by misdirecting these fears onto immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, Roma and Jews.

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