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Monday, January 23, 2012

Theater of the Absurd

Talented artists are gifted with the ability to take some commonplace belief or unquestioned assumption and reveal underlying nonsense. Still others craft inventive works that expose fatuity lurking behind pomposity and platitudes.

But consider some of the events transpiring over the last few weeks. Reality is indeed stranger than fiction. These events rival any work of literature in illustrating hypocrisy and proud ignorance. And the real-life actors in this public theater know no shame or regret.

The Republican primary medicine show is low entertainment. Its candidates and their stage hands have amused liberal, but spineless commentators and shocked international observers with the primary debate inanities.

Within the arena of right-wing ultimate fighting, Gingrich has assailed Romney’s money making career as “vulture capitalism.” Romney sups at the table of Bain Capital, a private equity fund that preys on vulnerable businesses weighed by debt and burdened by marginally criminal mismanagement. Bain buys these businesses at a heavily discounted price by leveraging their substantial assets and then guts the victims chiefly of their employees, imposing a new draconian labor discipline, and reselling the polished product at an enormous profit. Indeed, "vulture capitalism" is the appropriate term for this parasitic process widely practiced among ambitious capitalists in the US.

But wait! This expos√© came from Newt Gingrich? Not from Paul Krugman? Joseph Stiglitz? Or any of the other economists or pundits arrayed around the liberal wing of the Democratic Party? None of the Party’s shrewd operatives rallied around President Obama? Or the President himself?

No, this exposé of vulture capitalism came from one of the icons of the ultra-right. Further, the ultra-right fed on the revelation that Romney only paid taxes at a rate of 15% or less compared to the much higher rates paid by most citizens.

Surely this is class warfare initiated from the right. And just as surely no prominent Democrat – representing the presumed Party of working people – joined the chorus. As David Bromwich noted, in The New York Review of Books (2-9-2012), “Gingrich… fleetingly placed himself to the left of President Obama, who has been careful to portray the financial collapse as a disaster without a villain.” Isn’t this an indictment of the hypocrisy and deception of the two-party circus?

Yes. Exposing a sector of capitalism as illegitimate is beyond the pale, beyond the two-party discourse, even though no one but Romney has rushed to defend it. Everyone knows that private equity firms – that have worked their black magic on over 3,200 firms – engage in wholesale destructive behavior (apologists call it “constructive destruction”) yet no one will say it – except Gingrich.

Similarly, Ron Paul, the only candidate in years with a set of internally consistent principles, has dared to challenge the two-party consensus on aggressive imperialism, arguing that the US should abandon its occupations and wars and let the rest of the world (including Iran) go its own way. Paul, the only Republican right-wing ideologue who believes what he says, stands for an anachronistic Republicanism favored by the Party before the New Deal. The target of liberal derision because of his appearance and mannerisms and discounted by conservatives because of his slender fund-raising, Paul continues to have his campaign energized by poll results and young volunteers impressed with his integrity. And he dares to speak heresy.

Of course those who respect the man’s integrity should consider the consequences of his free market and barely-breathing government principles before jumping on his bandwagon. Nineteenth-century nostrums are not the solution to twenty-first-century problems, regardless of Paul’s honesty.

It is incredible, however, that no one among the left of the Democratic Party’s luminaries has either defended Paul’s anti-imperialism or, at least, used it as a spring board for a tepid critique of US policies regarding Israel, Iran, or the rest of the Middle East. Again, writing in the New York Review of Books, David Bromwich ventures: “In addressing such issues, he has no rival among Republicans, and, after the death of Robert Byrd and the defeat of Russ Feingold, none among Democrats of national stature. On issues of national security and war, he is the American politician who speaks to Americans as if they were grownups interested in their own condition…”

But who speaks for “grownups” on the other urgent issues? Certainly not the Democrats. This is surely a measure of the untenable, unpopular and unsustainable US two-party system and its money-driven pre-election entertainment.

●●●

Hungary has its own Ron Paul in the body of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban. A political maverick born of the anti-Communist scramble for power after Hungary’s socialist government crumbled, Orban won election in 2010 representing the right-wing, nationalist Fidesz Party. Lacking Paul’s principles or any principles at all, Orban delights in playing to nationalist sentiments and defying the EU and the IMF. I wrote earlier of the outrage created by Orban when he dared to tax banks to reduce Hungary’s deficit. As I sarcastically noted, austerity programs to lower the deficit on the backs of working people are prescribed by these august bodies, but raising revenue by taxing banks is strictly forbidden, even though the deficit-lowering results would be the same! So much for the independence and objectivity of the EU and the IMF.

Orban struck again late last year securing a parliamentary law that slightly limits the powers of Hungary’s Central Bank. Like most Central Banks, Hungary’s enjoys a special status buffering it from any popular or governmental influence. In essence, capitalist Central banks are enormously powerful economic actors that are isolated from any kind of democratic control, pressure, or oversight. And the EU, the IMF, and capitalism, in general, want to keep it that way. It is capitalism’s ultimate economic tool immunized from the will of the people.

Orban’s parliament would place a government minister on the Bank’s monetary council, seemingly a small step towards democratizing the Bank, as well as requiring the Bank to share its meeting agenda with the parliament, another small step towards transparency. The move was met by righteous indignation from the European Commission (threatening to sue), the IMF (threatening to withhold funds) and the entire global financial hierarchy. They charged indignantly that the new law compromised the Central Bank’s “independence”.

Of course the question is independence from whom. Currently the Bank is independent from any sort of Hungarian popular governance, but it is hardly independent from outside influence, particularly the IMF, the EU, and financial markets. This is a strange sort of independence advocated and protected by foreign financial forces. To quote the famed philosopher, Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Financial elites occupy the same fantasy world created by Lewis Carroll.

●●●

US workers can breathe easier. The wholesale destruction of their living standards, benefits, and wages, coupled with a dramatic increase in the rate of exploitation over the last decade is paying dividends. But not dividends for them.

Recently Caterpillar Inc locked out its Canadian workers in London, Ontario, contending that the workers need to cut their pay dramatically. They point to the fact that Caterpillar pays its workers 50% less in Lagrange, Illinois. Quoting The Wall Street Journal (US: A Cheaper Labor Pool 1-6-2012): “…[B]ut instead of pointing to the usual models of cheap and pliant labor, such as China and Mexico, it is using a more surprising example: the US.”

So the tables are turning and today we find that US workers are setting miserable standards of pay and benefits against their Canadian and European counterparts. They, in turn, could repeat the same sad misguided tactic popular in the US by blaming poorly paid “foreigners” – in this case US workers or their government’s policies -- for the pressure on their living standards. US hourly compensation costs in manufacturing rose only 39% over the last decade, while average comparable labor costs grew by 74% in OECD countries and 91% in Canada.

Put differently, labor costs per unit of output in the US are 13% less than they were in manufacturing a decade earlier. In Germany they rose 2.3%, the Republic of Korea 15%, and Canada 18%. These figures are most telling because they reflect—assuming roughly similar levels of productive force development – differences in the relative rates of exploitation. Clearly US workers have surrendered far more than their international brothers and sisters while being squeezed much harder in the work place.

Instead of the divisive and diversionary tactic of blaming foreign governments or foreign workers for job losses or pay cuts – typically China – it’s time to target the trans-national corporations that exploit labor cost differentials to increase profits. Like the machine-breakers of yore, workers and their trade union leaders must correctly identify the enemy and embrace class struggle unionism if they have any hope of stopping this destructive game of competition to see who can offer the best wage deal to rapacious corporations.

●●●

Speaking of China, the Western media reported on January 17 an ominous drop in fourth quarter GDP in the Peoples Republic of China; quoting Reuters: “Growth of 8.9% over a year earlier was slightly [my emphasis] stronger than the 8.7% forecast by economists in a Reuters poll, but the data on Tuesday raised concerns about the immediate outlook and how much support China can offer a struggling global economy… Growth for all of 2012 slipped to 9.2%, a pace last seen in 2009… from 10.4% in 2010."

While it is true that the PRC GDP growth dropped slightly (5%) from the 3rd to the 4th quarter, it meant that that the PRC GDP would double, at that rate, in a little over eight years rather than a bit more than seven and a half – not a bad performance either way for the world’s second largest economy. Put into perspective, the OECD estimates that from 2011 through 2013 the collective OECD states (including PRC) will only average less than 2% growth. At that rate, it would take the entire OECD over 37 years to double its economic output!

But the Reuters report, like so many other media accounts of PRC 4th quarter GDP performance, masks two implicit points:

1. The Chinese economy is vigorous even in the midst of world wide economic turmoil (2009, for example, and now).

2. Most importantly, economic wizards concede that the health of the global capitalist economy depends critically on the continued vigor of that economy.


So it’s not the future of the Chinese people that so worries the pundits, but the impact of the Chinese economic engine on capitalism’s future. At the same time, they continue to demonize the policies that fuel that powerful engine. Strange, indeed.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

REVIEW: Post-Modern Imperialism—Geopolitics and the Great Games, by Eric Walberg

I confess that I cringe when I see the word “post-modern.” This word has obscured more discussions, confused more gullible readers, and conned more writers than any word since “existential” and its “-ism.” For the most part, it has served as a kind of fashionable linguistic operator that signals something radical and profound will follow. Almost always, what follows disappoints.

Eric Walberg’s book, Post-Modern Imperialism (Clarity Press, 2011), doesn’t change my general opinion of the word, though what follows the title certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Walberg has offered a welcome taxonomy of imperialism from its nineteenth century genesis until today; he has given a plausible explanation of imperialism’s contours since the exit of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism from the world stage; and he has convincingly described Israel’s unique role in the continuing reshaping of imperialism’s grasp for world domination.

One of the disappointments of recent Marxist thought is a neglect of the theory of imperialism. It is not that imperialism is questioned by Marxists; it would be hard to find an advocate who denied its existence or historical significance. Indeed, few Marxists dispute (since the Lenin-Kautsky debate) the fundamental elements of imperialism as outlined by Lenin and presaged by Hobson; but its historical trajectory -- deflected by wars (hot and cold), shifting balances of forces and alliances, and economic upheaval – has received only cursory attention. All acknowledge that the dominant imperial center of power has shifted from Britain before World War I to the USA after the Second World War. Outside of the bizarre pseudo-Marxism popularized in the post-Soviet period (Hardt and Negri’s Empire and theories of the decline of the nation-state and ascendancy of the trans-national corporation, for example), most left-of-center political thinkers would concede that imperialism – especially, as expressed by US imperialism -- is alive and well today. Yet, Marxist studies have yet to provide a full, overarching account of the material forces that have shaped imperialism’s evolution over the last century and a half. We see this failing in the world-wide confusion and tepid resistance to NATO’s Balkan aggressions, the various contrived color “revolutions,” and the wars and interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is to Walberg’s credit that he attempts to provide this account. While expressing respectful homage to the Leninist tradition, Walberg writes in an eclectic style that expropriates the terms of the agents of imperialism, both old and new. Following Lord Curzon in 1898 and Z. Brzezinski today, imperialism becomes the Great Game, an exercise in aggressive national self-interest that engages economic coercion, political manipulation, subversion, alliances, and, of course, war. And behind the curtain of “national self-interest” proclaimed by the ideologues of imperialism lies the real interests of monopoly and finance capital.

In Walberg’s account of the classic era of imperialism – dubbed Great Game I (GGI) – European powers and the US competed for the economic and political domination of the world, its resources, and its people. In this competition, the British Empire stood triumphant. This small island, thanks to its industrial might, its dominant navy, and its highly developed colonial apparatus, imposed its will globally. Other powers sought to undermine this dominance, resulting in the tensions and conflicts that climaxed in the Great War, World War I.

The Great War, in turn, spawned an anti-imperialist movement centered in revolutionary Russia, nascent Communist Parties, and nationalist movements aroused and supported by the liberated Euro-Asian power, the USSR. For Walberg, this event – the Bolshevik revolution—became the central event determining the course of imperialism. The crisis of imperialism identified with the unprecedented slaughter of 1914-1918 unleashed a new era of counter-revolution – or counter-anti-imperialism – with the locus of anti-imperialism to be found in the USSR.

Walberg calls this new era “GGII: Empire Against Communism”.

It is this assessment, this correct analysis, which separates him from the conventional view popularized on the left, center and right. Walberg is emphatically correct on two crucial counts.

First, he identifies the imperialist project as targeting the role of the Soviet Union in inspiring, supporting and sustaining the anti-imperialist movement after World War I. Those honest enough to recognize the decline of the anti-imperialist movement since the demise of the Soviet Union surely must recognize this point. From China’s liberation to the independence of the former African Portuguese colonies, from Egypt’s national movement to the Vietnamese victory over US aggression, from Cuba’s revolution to the destruction of apartheid in South Africa, the Soviet Union had devoted generous material and moral support to anti-imperialism. Because of this support, anti-Communism became the ideological, political and military pillar of imperialism.

Second, he discounts the view advanced by imperialists and the ultra-left that the Soviet Union was itself an imperialist power. While he voices criticisms of the USSR, he stops far short of characterizing its policies as imperialistic, a conclusion that he argues persuasively.

Between the two World Wars, the imperialist countries were saddled with a profound economic crisis that challenged the very viability of capitalism and strengthened the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements. In many countries, this challenge generated a ferocious and violent movement, fascism, expressing a new, more virulent, and aggressive strain of anti-Communism. Both in Europe and Asia, the primary goal of these movements, when securing power, was to remove the obstacle of Communism and anti-imperial nationalism in furthering their imperialist goals. In all cases, the Communists and anti-imperial nationalists were the backbone of domestic resistance to these aggressions.

After the Second World War and the defeat of fascism, the US engaged its economic and military might to lead the imperialist powers. At the same time, it organized and launched a new, more sophisticated attack on the strengthened, world-wide Communist and anti-imperialist movement. The lengthy Cold War, while proclaimed as a struggle between democracy and tyranny, was simply a continuance of imperialism in a new context. At stake was the economic exploitation of the resources and people of the world outside of the imperial club.

Walberg does a thorough job of demonstrating the role of the US dollar nexus in cementing the anti-Communist alliance, as well as describing the international institutions enabling and enforcing this dollar domination of world economic activity. He equally exposes the political and military institutions and alliances, such as NATO, created to both maintain US imperial goals and confront Communism and anti-imperialism.

Walberg’s narrative masterfully exposes the imaginative, but unscrupulous tactics devised to further the imperial goals. From engineered coups to CIA-backed intellectuals, from surrogate insurgents to phony human rights campaigns, Walberg dissects the tactics and reveals the hypocrisy behind imperialist intrigues. Most impressively, Walberg knits together the long standing, but seldom acknowledged, imperialist tactic of exploiting purist Islamic movements -- with its latent hostility to secular leftism and nationalism -- to oppose, divert, and even exterminate socialist and anti-imperialist movements in the Middle East and Asia. Of course this is not a new tactic; imperialism similarly used Christianity, especially Catholicism, to disable trade union movements and left parties in Europe and the US. But, Walberg brings much detail and historical continuity to the story of religious manipulation in the Islamic world. And he reveals Israel as a key player in this maneuver.

With the departure of the Soviet Union, a new phase of imperialism emerged, dubbed “Great Game III” by Walberg. The consequent triumphalism of the US and other imperialist powers was disguised as the promise of a global paradise based on economic fundamentalism, free trade, “democratic” governance and human rights. But in truth, this disguise masked a commitment to economic aggression, imperial intervention, and unfettered domination. A massive array of new or transformed institutions – the UN, NAFTA, countless NGOs, etc—eagerly aided the imperial program. And after September 11, 2001, imperialism found its alien scapegoat in Islam, the excuse to vigorously and openly mount military adventures, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

To Walberg’s praise, his deep understanding of the shifting currents of imperial aggression along with its historical continuities allows him to identify the anti-imperialist actors in each phase of imperialism’s development. He clearly understands that resistance to imperialism, regardless of its religious, ideological or political underpinnings, is objectively anti-imperialist. This is in sharp contrast to many on the left in Europe and the US who sided with imperialism or demonized the Islamic fighters who met the US on the battlefield. Blinded by their cultural distaste for what they saw as obscurantism, social backwardness, and intolerance, they betray anti-imperialist unity and objectively take the side of imperialism. Like previous supporters, seduced by Britain’s “civilizing mission,” they accede to apologists who portray the resistance as “Islamo-fascists.” This shallow understanding of imperialism accounts for the failure of many to recognize and reject the recent Libyan regime change and the current foreign interventions in Syria and Iran as imperialist actions. Leftist “purists” prefer standing on the sidelines to siding with the “tainted” Islamists who now militantly oppose imperial power.

Walberg places much emphasis on Israel’s role in the imperial project. His position as a Middle East-based writer for Cairo’s Al Ahram newspaper, coupled with his obvious prodigious research, gives him a privileged vantage point for commenting on this area. Readers will be impressed with his account of the history and ideology of Zionism. He brings great detail to the overt and covert activities of Israel both on behalf of US interests (as a policemen in the region) and in its own behalf (as a neo-colonial aggressor). His exposure of the role of US Zionists and their political partners in shaping US policies towards Israel (and the Middle East) is boldly and starkly presented, with little of the usual forbearance or timidity.

On the other hand, I believe his privileged position also brings a measure of myopia to his analysis. Throughout the book, he asserts a persistent importance of the Middle East and Central Asia that might unwittingly minimize the importance of other regions in imperialism’s grand designs. Certainly his demonstrated sensitivity to the shifting forces, policies and foci of imperialism would suggest that there is not one materially critical area of imperialist design. For example, through the first thirty years of the postwar period, imperialism was mostly directed to the Far East, with massive, brutal wars launched in Korea and Vietnam. And today, the staunch anti-imperialist advances in Central and South America cause deep concern and intense activity in the imperialist centers, especially the US. This area gets little coverage in Walberg’s fine book. Imperialism is indeed a scheme for complete global domination, wherever there are resources and people to exploit.

Also, I think that Walberg overstates the role of Israel in the imperialist order. Despite his excellent exposition of the “tail wagging the dog” behavior of Israel, it remains a junior partner in the imperialist picture. Israel still needs and expects the US to pull its chestnuts out of the fire.

In the same vein, it is an exaggeration to portray Islam (or any other religion) as inherently anti-imperialist: in his words, “The unyielding anti-imperialist nature of Islam, its rejection of the fundamental principles of capitalism concerning money, its refusal to be sidelined from economic and hence political life…” Surely, Walberg’s own account challenges this claim; Islamic movements in the Middle East have and continue to shift sides frequently in both the struggles between imperial powers, in support of imperialist powers, and its current leading role in resisting imperialism in the Middle East. I would suggest, rather, that religion adjusts (as with Catholic Liberation Theology) to the material, historical plight of its believers. In the case of the Middle East, half a century of Palestinian oppression is the wellspring of contemporary Islamic anti-imperialism.

“GGIII: Many Players, Many Games”—Walberg’s final chapter – is an immensely useful overview of how things stand at the moment in the Middle East-Central Asia “Great Game.” One will not find a better concise account of the forces, alliances and institutions at play in this contest, a contest best understood as between imperialism and its foes.

One final quibble: throughout Post-Modern Imperialism, Walberg insists on the division between pre-modern, modern, and post-modern states (hence, the title), a distinction he adopts from the influential work of Robert Cooper. Distinctions are neither true nor false; rather they are helpful, misleading or irrelevant. Despite its currency, Cooper’s distinction blurs instead of clarifying Walberg’s excellent account of imperialism.

That said, I can enthusiastically recommend Post-Modern Imperialism – the book is a serious contribution to our critical understanding of imperialism, its history, and, particularly, its expression in our era. By reading this study, both Marxist and non-Marxist activists will be better armed to confront the beast.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011-2012: Summing Up/Taking Stock

People across the political spectrum share one thing: they sense that we are living at a critical moment in the history of capitalism. Where the last decade of the twentieth century brought a near-universal and smug celebration of capitalism’s success, the second decade of the twenty-first century and beyond finds uncertainty, doubts, and fears in every conversation about global capitalism.

As recently as 1999, capitalism’s managers – look-alike, sound-alike politicians, media puppets, and swaggering corporate managers – enjoyed the confidence of all but obstinate skeptics and those many living on the margins.

True, the so-called “anti-globalization movement” gained traction at the end of the twentieth century, but as a scattered, unfocussed movement against capital’s excesses and not its mechanism.

Today, everything has changed. Confidence in capitalism and its institutions is at a low never seen in most our lifetimes. While I plead guilty as much as any Marxist in finding a “crisis” at every juncture, one can construct a plausible argument for locating profound contradictions in every bourgeois institution – the economy, the political system, ideology, and culture.

Few would argue that the global capitalist economy is healthy. Instead, leaders and thinkers of every stripe are occupied with offering road maps for delivery from the four years of intractable chaos. Little progress has been made.

The four years of economic turmoil has taken its toll on political legitimacy. The US political system and its two-party manifestation have likely never known such deep and popular disapproval. Alternative movements of left and right have boiled over to express this frustration.

The Obama administration, after three years, appears stuck in a historic rut slightly more activist than the Hoover administration in 1932, but far from the audacity and experimentation of the Roosevelt administration of 1933.

Looking back, it is easy to see the political revival of the right in 2010 as the obstacle and subsequent log jam to progress, but that abuses history. Armed with a Congressional majority, the Democrats could have moved decisively in 2008, but not with the cabal of neo-liberal advisors chosen by Obama to craft policy. One can better see the rise of the right as a measure of the disappointment with the Administration’s inadequate management of the economy.

In Europe, elected governments have ceded authority to technocrats approved by international financial interests. Frustration with social democratic impotence has lead to a series of “protest” victories by conservatives.

In the near future, there is a real chance that Germany will achieve, by peaceful means, the dominance of Europe that it sought in World War II.

Ideologically, most of the world’s leaders remain caught in the web of neo-liberalism – the worship of markets, balanced budgets, government restraint, and the sanctity of capital. Despite much sensationalist commentary early in the economic crisis about the death of neo-liberalism or the passing of the Thatcher-Reagan moment, political leaders, most economists, and too many labor leaders have failed to escape neo-liberal thinking.

Fundamentalist market dogma, enforced by an extortionate financial complex, breeds the crisis-deepening austerity favored by leaders in the US and Europe. And there is no escape in sight.

Culture, dominated by monopoly capital entertainment behemoths, has sunk to new levels of vulgarity and triviality. At the same time, it counts as the distraction that holds together the fragile politico-economic system. The coarseness of “reality” television, the violence and moral depravity of cinema, banal, soulless corporate-crafted music, and the faux-loyalties of spectator team sports pass as entertainment. Equally distracting is the ubiquitous cult of the celebrity.

The once-promising diversity of the internet is, thanks to commercial penetration, transforming into a medium of personal, individualistic self-indulgence.

The same monopolies that own the entertainment industry own the news media and employ the mass opinion makers. The result is timid, conformist coverage, slanted to respect officialdom and the corporate paymasters. Likewise, what passes for analysis is a useless brew of shallowness and deference to the rich and powerful.

Entering the New Year, dangers abound. Italy alone must refinance nearly a third of its national debt in 2012-2013—591.9 billion euros. Spain must refinance nearly half and Greece nearly two-thirds. None can sustain refinancing at current yields asked by financial markets without harsh, dramatic counter-cuts in spending. And these cuts necessarily will shrink economic growth, resulting in even greater debt as a percentage of GDP. Growth rates are already shrinking in the European Union: On December 16, Ireland announced a 1.9% drop in GDP for the 3rd quarter, well below expectations. Overall EU growth has slipped to .8% in the 3rd quarter from 3.1% in the 1st quarter. The politics of austerity will only exacerbate this trend in 2012.

In the US, the Federal Reserve reports that households’ net worth fell by $2.4 trillion from the second to third quarter of 2011. For the year, growth in personal disposable income has been flat or trending downward, while the personal savings rate has dropped dramatically and consumer credit debt is again on the upswing— mimicking the pre-crisis trend. Debt-driven consumer spending fuels what little economic growth is shown by the anemic US economy. These same consumers must contend with escalating food prices: year-over-year increases in food costs hit 4.6% in November.

September and October factory orders dropped and the index of service sector activity declined in November.

Unemployment remains dangerously and intransigently high despite minor adjustments in the official rate that reflect, at best, deep structural changes in the employment and compensation options available to those without work or underemployed. Even the Wall Street gasbags who fill the airwaves with Pollyanna optimism know that US standards of living have taken a radical and gloomy turn for the worse.

The electoral landscape in the US shows little to celebrate. While many on the left are again raising fears of a Republican Party in ascendancy, the truth is that the Republicans are engaged in an intense, bitter, and bloody struggle between the corporate wing and the no-nothing fanatics who occupy the Party’s extreme right. With Obama-mania now reduced to a tepid enthusiasm for blocking the crazies, corporate Republicans sense a real opportunity to win executive power as many of their European counterparts have in recent months. At the same time, they recognize that voters overwhelmingly reject the ranting of the extreme right Neanderthals. So far, corporate Republicans have used their financial resources and media control to turn back the tea-party pretenders: Palin, Bachman, Cain, Perry, and now Gingrich. Clearly, they want Mitt Romney, a man who can talk the tea-party talk, but walk the pro-corporate walk.

And just as clearly, the Democratic Party has its counterpart to Romney. Obama can skillfully rouse the liberal base by scoring the rich, the powerful, and the privileged while delivering for the corporations. The words are there, but where is peace, health care, EFCA, strengthened Social Security and Medicare, enlightened foreign policy, tax fairness, a robust social safety net, Constitutional guarantees and other “liberal” goals promised four years ago?

Obama and Romney are the designated hitters for the ruling class. Where do working people find their political voice in this charade?

Once again, the New Year promises intense struggles against imperialism, against exploitation, and for social justice and sovereignty. But again, the focus of these struggles will likely remain on the periphery of the most advanced capitalist countries where workers and the poor are more organizationally and ideologically advanced and fervent in their commitment. Despite healthy developments like the Occupy movement and only-too-rare labor militancy, North America seems destined to confine the fight to the corrupted field of electoral politics, especially in the US, where the Presidential election will soon overshadow all other action and siphon off oppositional energies.

The uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East were unexpected and important developments in 2011. They brought masses into the streets and shook ruling elites throughout the region. Yet observers overestimated their political impact and potential and underestimated the ability of imperialism to exploit these events for its own interests. The billions committed at the G-20 summit, the rapid response of the “soft” imperialist Western NGO’s, and the violent intervention of NATO quickly re-directed or superseded many of these movements with regime changes beneficial to the NATO allies, an attempt to create a reprise of the infamous “color revolutions.”

Libya was the clearest example of this, with Syria now fixed in imperialism’s sights. Egypt, another target of imperialist intervention, continues to resist the “helpful” hand of the US State Department and many US-funded NGO’s that hope to shape the political landscape in a way friendly to US interests.

The same kind of struggle is emerging in Russia after the strong showing of Communists and their allies in the Parliamentary elections. Enjoying little popular support and with much encouragement and resources from the West, Russia’s liberals have sought to bring down the Medvedev/Putin government through mass protests against electoral irregularities. While electoral fraud is a fact and directed mainly at Russia’s Communists, while the Communists support the struggle for transparent elections, the liberals are seizing on the issue as their own best chance to better their marginal role in Russian politics.

At the same time, in the time-honored bourgeois tradition, Vladimir Putin --the ruling class candidate for Russian President in the forthcoming elections – has thrown up a Trojan horse candidate disguised as the opposition: an expatriate, playboy billionaire who owns a US NBA basketball team. The hope, of course, is that the billionaire’s resources will generate a hollow media campaign to confuse and split the opposition.

The deceptions and ruses of imperialism and its liberal chess pieces ultimately serve imperialism. The broad masses astutely see the call for “democracy” or “free elections” as useful only insofar as they actually lead to their empowerment and well-being. For working people, this is, and should be, the litmus test for their support.

In Russia, as in the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the masses will rally against bad leadership under the banner of “democracy,” but they want more than a hollow procedural victory; they want peace, a better life, a promising future. Twenty-first century liberals offer only the meager morsel of elections and not the nourishment of justice and prosperity. That is why Russian and Egyptian liberals fared so poorly in recent elections. That is why Russian Communists made big gains.

My hope for the New Year is that working-class-oriented, working-class-based movements, especially Communist and Workers Parties, will bring this nourishment to all the peoples of the world.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com