'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Reflections on the German Election: Leftists Need Not Apply 

The recent German election again highlights the resurgence of the left in Europe and South America. Looking South, Chavez has prevailed in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil, and mass protest movements have emerged in response to the failure of pro-American economic policies of austerity and privatization in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina.

In Europe, a conservative, pro-American, Spanish government that supported the war in Iraq, and engaged in mililtary exercises in 2001, conducting a mock assault in which the United States and allied countries simulated an attack on western Venezuela from bases in Panama and Colombia, has been replaced by a socialist one that now ships CS gas there, commonly used for riot control, but possibly very useful in the event that US Marines decide to enter Caracas.

Meanwhile, the French have rejected a proposed European Union ("EU") constitution that would have enshrined neoliberal economic values and given the United States control over European foreign policy. Equally important, the Germans, in an election prior to the launching of the war in Iraq, reelected a socialist prime minister, Gerhard Schroeder, who vigorously opposed German participation in the impending conflict under any conditions, and, last week, although you would never know based upon US media reports, again provided center-left parties a majority of the seats in parliament. As noted by Apostate Windbag in his excellent commentaries, Germans rejected neoliberalism in an election that became a referendum on it.

Anti-imperialism, resistance to the avowed intention of the neo-conservatives to militarily and economically dominate the world, is the coarse thread that runs through all of these political developments. But Germany will not have a left government. Instead, despite a left majority, it has, in the words of the Guardian, "been plunged into uncertainty". Why? Because the Social Democratic Party, the SPD, and the Greens have flatly rejected the prospect of such a government, as has, admittedly, the new left party, the Linkspartei. Naturally, the media generally expresses the view that it is more acceptable for the SPD to enter into a coalition with its right wing opponent, the Christian Democratic Union, than with a party more ideologically compatible, the Linkspartei. While the refusal of the Linkspartei can probably be attributable to campaign necessity (after all, how can a small, new party hope to gain support if it starts with the proposition of displaying a willingness to enter into a coalition with ideologically similar parties that it purports to reject?), the refusal of the SPD and the Greens raises profound questions about the extent to which liberal democracies are intentionally structered to disenfranchise the left.

"Well, of course!" interject impatient readers. "Who doesn't know that liberal democracies are controlled by money, by corporate interests that use them to impose a neoliberal, finance capital economic model on the rest of the world?" Indeed, there is much truth to this, but, perhaps, the more indulgent will agree that a more thoughtful analysis is required. Based upon recent history, it is possible to understand the methods by which this disenfranchisement is accomplished.

A Preference for Two Party Federal Systems Over Parliamentary Ones

Here, the focus is, naturally, on the US and the Americas. The benefits are obvious: leftists find themselves submerged within a socially liberal, pro-business party, such as, in the US, the Democrats, which then proceeds to spend much of its time, frequently more than it spends confronting the opposition party, marginalizing them, to the extent that many economic liberals are likewise ostracized. Through their friends in the media, the general public is persuaded that there are no meaningful political organizations or political ideas outside these parties. Finding common ground on the desirability of militarism and neoliberal economics, despite substantial domestic opposition, the parties fight elections over local issues and personality conflicts. Anyone with the influence to challenge this system, like, say, the mildly reformist Ralph Nader, is subjected to the most embarassing forms of character assassination while paradoxically described as irrelevant. It appears that this kind of system, sometimes called a "duopoly", can only be successfully transformed as the result of an extensive social and economic meltdown, combined with very effective political organization, as occurred in Venezuela.

Within Parliamentary Systems, the Left is Ostracized

In Britain, New Labour was created on this principle, while in France, the left was subjected to hysterical political and media attacks during the referendum on the proposed EU constitution. As a result, there is really no electoral voice for Britons who oppose the shared Labour/Tory vision of a society based upon lesser protections for workers and human rights than provided in the EU. Meanwhile, in France, a substantial part of the left, even within the Socialist Party and the trade unions associated with it, find themselves trapped within institutions that malign its own members as xenophobes bent upon facilitating a resurgence of fascism. Likewise, most recently, in Germany, a similar phenomenon occurred, although one of the Linkspartei leaders, Oskar LaFontaine, did make some anti-immigration statements during the campaign, although, curiously, such opportunism is accepted, and even encouraged as a prophylactic measure against bigotry and possible violence, when parties such as Labour and the French Socialists engage in the practice. Again, the media, increasing concentrated in fewer and fewer hands globally, plays a central role, as in the US, by blaring a uniform message of social absurdity and unacceptability when it comes to left politics.

If the Left Wins, Steal the Election

No, I'm not talking about Al Gore and the 2000 election here, and the vicious struggles that sometimes erupt between competing governing elites. Indeed, the more common response to an electoral dispute, as both sides fear the loss of public confidence in the system more than a temporary loss of power, is John Kerry's refusal to contest the results in Ohio in 2004, despite having raised, and saved, millions of dollars to do it.

Instead, I am speaking of situations like the 1988 election in Mexico, where it is generally acknowledged that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas won the election, but was deprived of the Mexican presidency through a "computer shutdown" and widespread vote fraud. The United States accepted the election of Carlos Salinas, because NAFTA loomed just over the horizon, and Salinas rewarded them generously, denationalizing the banks, devaluing the peso, eliminating common land ownership, permitting foreign control of Mexican businesses, and, of course, approving NAFTA. For these actions, Salinas is, not surprisingly, viewed favorably in the US, even as he finds himself voluntarily exiled as a result of possible criminal prosecution and extremely unpopular in Mexico. One can only hope that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has a strategy for avoiding Cardenas' fate in next year's election.

If the Left Wins and You Can't Steal the Election, Destabilize the Regime

Anyone still remember Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, the Contras, and the enormous sums of money the National Endowment for Democracy poured into the country? Another, more recent, equally tragic example, is the destabilization and removal by force of President Aristide in Haiti, and the violent suppression of his Lavalas supporters with the connivance of UN peacekeepers in advance of the upcoming elections. If violence is ineffective in preventing a Lavalas victory, expect recourse to the type of fraud experienced by Cardenas.

If the Left Wins, You Can't Steal the Election and You Can't Destabilize the Regime, Slander the Ruler as a "Strongman"

Of course, I am speaking of Chavez and Venezuela here. Chavez has won three presidential elections, survived a referendum for his recall with strong support and enacted a new constitution approved by the electorate. He has survived a coup in April 2002 and a strike/sabotage in the oil industry in the winter of 2002 and 2003, both of which were supported by the US. With this record, the US perpetually describes democracy to be at risk in Venezuela, describes Venezuela as a threat to its neighbors, predictably, in, you guessed it, Bolivia and Ecuador, and attempts to organize the members of the Organization of American States in support of possible military intervention.

By contrast, President Bush has launched a wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, continues to occupy both countries, continues to control the resources of both countries as the populace lives in poverty, captures people described as "terrorists" around the world and incarcerates them indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay under brutal conditions without charge and curtails the liberties of his subjects at home. If the US overthrows Chavez's government or kills him, it will no doubt lead many people around the world to believe that Lenin and the Bolsheviks weren't so wrong after all.

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