The American Crisis – What is rightwing populism?

It is difficult to fully define anything – there are always exceptions to the rule – and I am not a fan of dictionary explanations of certain things (there are many Whites for example who refuse to recognise structural racism, insisting instead only on a narrow dictionary definition of racism, restricting it solely to overt racial discrimination, for example).

However, it is important to get at least a general outline of what rightwing populism is, and more specifically how it manifests in the USA. This is what I attempt to do here.

I am going to follow the lead of Margaret Canovan where she argues that all forms of populism “involve some kind of exaltation and appeal to ‘the people’, and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist.” And I also agree with the sentiments of Berlet & Lyons (2000) in their excellent book (which informs much of this series on this matter) where they develop a working definition of populism as:

  1. Involves a celebration of ‘the people’; and
  2. Some form of anti-elitism.

They go on to distinguish a populist movement from populist appeals with the qualification that a populist movement uses populist themes to mobilise a mass constituency as a sustained political or social force.

There are of course both rightwing and leftwing forms of populist movements (and I suppose there may also be centrist populist movements). Additionally, they may be authoritarian or egalitarian in nature, and based on a charismatic cult of a central leader or a decentralised movement based around a motivating idea. They may be advocates of a new future system, or conservatives that romanticise a fabled past ‘golden age’ that they seek to reassert. Further, what falls under the concept of ‘the people’ can be inclusive or it can be ethnic or other identity based. Some may be based on an actual critique of real existing social structures (such as class or structural racism), or they may be based on absurd conspiracy theories (i.e. lizard people or Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

Additionally, populist movements may be repressive in nature or emancipatory. A repressive populist movement is one that mixes anti-elite rhetoric (and scapegoating) with efforts to create, maintain or intensify systems of social privilege and power. Such as race or sex. Often they involve channeling popular discontent away from emancipatory, positive social change and towards oppressing marginalised or vulnerable groups (ethnic or other minorities, immigrants – so, for example, against Filipino workers but away from the bosses who exploit them to depress the general wage of labour…).

Sara Diamond offers what I think is a succinct definition for determining a rightwing from a leftwing movement: “To be rightwing means to support the State in its capacity as an enforcer of order and to oppose the State as a distributor of wealth and power downward and more equitably in society.”

I also agree with Berlett & Lyon’s argument that a rightwing populist movement “is a repressive populist movement motivated or defined centrally by a backlash against liberation movements, social reform, or revolution. This does not mean that rightwing populism’s goals are only defensive or reactive, but rather that its growth is fueled in a central way by fears of the Left and its political gains.”

It is not hard to see much of the rightwing populist movement, throughout the USA’s history, as fitting the above. One need only look at the KKK as a reaction to Black empowerment during the reconstruction era, and since, especially during the civil rights era. Or the Tea Party (and Trumpism) as a reaction to the election of a Black President and gains made by the Democrats in the 2008 (such as the Affordable Care Act).

What do you think – is the above a good working introduction to what rightwing populism is?

For those interested, I strongly recommend Berlet and Lyon (2000) Right-Wing Populism in America – Too Close For Comfort (The Guilford Press). I picked it up early on in the Trump regime and have found it very informative; much of the early part of this series The American Crisis is indebted to the insights of this book.

Also cited above are:

Canovan, M. (1981) Populism. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

Diamond, S. (1995) Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements & Political Power in the United States. The Guilford Press.

The American Crisis – Key Theses

There is a lot to cover regarding the American crisis, and my analysis will likely change as the crisis continues to develop and as I look more deeper into things. This post seeks solely to provide a skeleton look at my thinking at the moment. Subsequent articles will look to expand on these issues; I just want to put down in writing my current thinking and for readers to have a birds-eye view of it.

  1. The American crisis is in the immediate sense a result of the success of the neoliberal revolution against the social democratic state in Europe and its equivalent in the USA, the Keynesian compromise that grounded the social compact between capital and labour.
  2. Having said that, currents of rightwing populism have existed in the US since its creation. One can trace the thread of rightwing populism from the earliest colonial times, with the genocidal wars against the indigenous people, to the building of slavery, through to the civil war, the KKK, the racial massacres following WW1, the growth of the fascist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, McCarthyism, the struggles of the civil rights era, the economic nationalism of Pat Buchanan, the growth of Christian evangelism, the development of the militia movement in the 1980s and 1990s, the jingoism of the War on Terror, the emergence of the Tea Party movement in reaction to the election of Obama and right through to the Trumpian mess we have today.
  3. The essence of this rightwing populism in the USA is (i) mid-level groups who have a stake in traditional social privilege but feel their position is precarious while also resent the power of groups above them, ‘the elites’; and (ii) factions of the ‘elite’ who use forms of anti-elitism to either curry more power for their faction or as a tool to deflect potential threats to the social order (and thus their own – and for all elites – welfare). It goes without saying that a good chunk of this is based on White supremacy, as well as patriarchy.
  4. The failure of the USA left – already weakened by the McCarthyism of the Cold War – to counter the neoliberal revolution and to advance an alternative, has led to a vacuum within the working class which the right has exploited; it has produced fertile ground for rightwing populism to grow.
  5. The coup attempt of January 6th was more the heralding of a new era of rightwing activism. There will be further insurrectionary attempts in the near future (January 17th and January 20th in particular), followed by a move to the underground by the more militant elements (think domestic terrorist attacks along the lines of assassinations, bombings and occupations a la Malheur Refuge).
  6. The militant right is the immediate threat, and the left will have to mobilise to defend against it.
  7. However, the greater threat in the long-term is a return to a ‘business-as-usual’ Democrat regime. The social and economic pressures that birthed the rightwing populist threat must be addressed, otherwise one has the dilemma that Hercules faced fighting the giant Antaeus. No matter how defeated the giant was, once it touched the ground it was able to renew its strength and fight back. The American crisis cannot be ended with band-aids. It requires a radical restructuring of American society.
  8. As such, the left cannot be complacent and expect a return to normalcy under a Biden Presidency. The left must continue to mobilise within and without the Democratic Party. This means a focus to rebuild union power in the USA, while also building alliances (and in this there are lessons from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Corbyn’s Labour in the UK) with social movements such as BLM.
  9. The coming struggle is thus on two sides; the immediate threat is combating the rightwing populist threat, but the struggle against establishment Democrats and/or the construction of a new force must not be ignored.
  10. The Republican Party also cannot be ignored. In the immediate term they risk a fracture between the far-right and the relatively more moderate right.
  11. It is possible the Trumpian faction might spin-off completely to form a new party, not dissimilar to the rise of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany which absorbed to more right-wing of the Christian Democrats.
  12. It seems likely that the more moderate faction will search for a new ideological approach. My intuition is that the project centered around Oren Cass, the American Compass, with it’s conservative labour approach is well placed here, and their ideology needs to be examined and countered.
  13. There are consequences for Bermuda here as well. Any advances in the US left struggle invariably will have ramifications for us. Wins in the USA give the left in Bermuda the energy to advance leftist struggles here. Furthermore, there are questions related to our constitutional relationship with the UK which the Trump era, in particular following the coup attempt (and the potential for a more successful coup in the future), that we need to prepare for. It is abundantly clear that a Brexit UK was happy to cosy up to a fascist in the White House for its own interests, and that has consequences for Bermuda to consider going forward.
  14. We must also consider what the coup attempt, and the continuation of the American crisis means globally, both in terms of economics and geopolitics. This must include the impact of Brexit and the rise of China.
  15. While the American Empire is in decline, it would be a mistake to write them off. The new regime under Biden will likely look to try and reestablish American hegemony, and this will have ramifications of its own, even if it is only temporarily successful.

The American Crisis – Views from the 14th Colony

I confess that when, on New Year’s Eve, I wrote about my blogging plans for 2021, I had not envisioned that an attempted coup in the USA would happen on January 6th.

To be clear, it was obvious since early December that the far-right around Trump were looking to organise a protest in early January. They were not exactly subtle about their intentions, including their ambition to storm the Capitol. However, I assumed that this was more bluster than anything – that the US security forces would be reading the same things I was and would put in sufficient security so that all that would happen would be a noisy protest outside.

My biggest concern was that the more militant elements of this mob would seek to provoke a response from anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, with the intention of giving Trump an excuse to execute some form of martial law, and do a coup through that way. I was confident they would fail in their attempt to provoke such a reaction.

Well, here we are, four days after the attempted coup. It happened, but not in the way I expected.

In light of the attempted coup, I have decided to try my hand at a series, The American Crisis. My objectives in this series will be to:

  1. Explore the origins and nature of the fascist/rightwing populist movement in the USA.
  2. The likely development of this movement in at least 2021, as a result of the attempted coup.
  3. The likely development of the post-Trump Republican Party (and the internal conflicts shaping this).
  4. The likely development of the post-Trump Democratic Party (and the internal conflicts shaping this).
  5. The opportunity for a revolutionary offensive (noting it might not be a revolution, but the opportunity to advance class positions against the right all the same).
  6. The potential implications of the attempted coup and the ongoing American crisis for Bermuda – and what we, in Bermuda, might do. This includes a look at our own issues of class and race, as well as our constitutional relationship with the UK.

It will take me some time to cover all of these issues. I will seek to first publish a skeleton article hitting my key points, which I will then expand in respective articles

I have taken the name of the series from the work of the same name by my favourite US Founding Father, Thomas Paine.

Additionally, while the US mythos speaks of the 13 colonies that launched the revolutionary war in the first British Empire, a war that ended in their war of independence, there were actually other colonies in the Americas. Bermuda was actually the 14th colony. Only our geography – isolation and small size – and a large British military garrison prevented us being one of the founding States. We have, of course, diverged since. However, we have always remained interlinked with the US. Like Mexico, we are too far from heaven and too close to the USA; in practical terms we remain a British colony formally, but an American colony in reality.

Smoke surrounds the Capitol Building during the January 6th attempted coup. Photo by Heather Khalifa, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Other World News – Weekly Round Up (week of Oct 5th, 2020)

I’ve decided to trial doing a weekly round-up of major news events in a handful of countries that generally don’t receive a lot of coverage on our media. Obviously, I can’t cover every country, so I’ve randomly selected the following:

  1. Cuba
  2. Romania
  3. Yemen

Cuba

With the Trump regime having reversed the easing of restrictions started under the Obama regime, Cuba has seen increasing economic challenges. The covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these, just as it has in Bermuda and other Caribbean nations that rely on tourism for a substantial portion of their economy.

Prime Minister Marrero, noting that Cuba is entering its peak tourism season of November to March, as well as noting Cuba’s success in containing the pandemic, announced on Thursday, October 8th, that 13 of Cuba’s 16 provinces will reopen for international tourism starting next week. Unfortunately, the capital, Havana, will remain closed due to recent covid-19 rates detected there.

Regarding covid-19, 5 new cases were reported this week (out of 7,066 tests), leading to a total of 5,948 confirmed cases in the country. There are 4,755 people currently in hospital for observation. Overall, Cuba has seen 123 deaths from covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee convened on October 6th-7th, presided over by First Secretary Raul Castro. The agenda was focused on a review of several laws to be submitted to the National Assembly of People’s Power:

  • Law of the President and the Vice President of the Republic.
  • One governing the revocation of elected members of People’s Power bodies.
  • The law establishing Organisation & Functioning of the Provincial Government of People’s Power.
  • The Law of Municipal Administration Council Organisation & Functioning.

Also considered was an update to the Covid-19 Confrontation Plan, and preparations for the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, scheduled for 2021.

On October 8th, the President of the National Assembly, Juan Esteban Lazo Hernandez, announced the convoking of the Fifth Ordinary Session of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power. The session will begin on October 28th.

There are indications that the long-discussed currency reforms are likely to be initiated in the coming months. This is a topic deserving a special review later, however essentially it concerns the unification of Cuban Peso and the Convertible Peso (pegged to the US$).

The Capitol Building in Havana

Romania

The main news from Romania this week has been their ongoing struggle to contain covid-19. Like much of Europe, Romania is seeing a second wave and, with daily cases reaching up to 3,000 over the last week. The bulk of these cases are in the capital Bucharest (with almost the double rate compared to the rest of the country), although increases are being observed around the country.

The second wave has prompted the authorities to initiate new restrictions, with Bucharest in particular facing the most extensive restrictions. After only just reopening in September, following almost six months of covid closure, restaurants, cafes, bars, discos, cinemas, theatres and casinos are all to be closed until the covid-19 rate of infection reduces to under 1.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. The current rate in Bucharest is 2.1, compared to the country average of 1.1.

These closures have not been welcomed, with workers from the affected industries organising protests to call for more economic support. Many of the affected businesses are already economically stressed from the six-month long closure, and the workers are concerned that these new restrictions will lead to mass unemployment unless more financial assistance is provided.

In political news, the minority centre-right PNL (National Liberal Party), which came to power through a vote of no confidence a year ago (overthrowing the then governing Social Democratic Party) introduced legislation to reverse the judicial reforms introduced by the previous government.

The situation behind these judicial reforms, and the counter-reforms proposed by the current government, are, in many ways, central to the political discourse in Romania at the moment – and were a key part of the no confidence vote that brought the PNL to power last October. In general, the EU and the PNL argued that the SDP’s judicial reforms risked undermining the independence of the judiciary. The SDP reforms sought to introduce a special tribunal to investigate corruption within the judiciary, but the PNL and the EU considered that as being a tool to exert political pressure.

The PNL’s counter-reforms won’t be debated in parliament until March 2021 however. And parliamentary elections are required this year, so the PNL is gambling on winning a majority to see this legislation through. In last month’s municipal elections, the PNL and it’s center-right ally the USR PLUS, heavily defeated the SDP, and is being seen as indicative of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The USA has entered into a new military agreement with Romania as they seek to counter the expansion of Russian military power in the Black Sea following their occupation of Crimea. As part of this deal, the Romanians purchased new Patriot surface-to-air missile systems in September, and the USA has increased its troop deployments at their two air force bases located there.

In related news, the USA has been able to force the Romanians to eject the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) which had hitherto been assisting with the development of Romania’s two new nuclear power plants. Instead, the US AECom company will take over this role. The Chinese had been assisting Romania with this project since 2014, and this move may be seen as part of the growing cold war between the USA and China under the Trump regime.

Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest

Yemen

Fighting has resumed around Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port. The city is held by the Houthi, who control much of central and northern Yemen, and is the main port of entry for about 80% of all goods, particularly humanitarian aide. The UN has called for an immediate ceasefire following an upsurge of fighting in the area, which saw numerous civilians killed.

The war in Yemen is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Iran supporting the Houthi, while both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent troops to combat them, currently occupying much of the south and east of Yemen. The war, starting in 2015, has seen at least 100,000 people killed, numerous atrocities (especially from Saudi air raids) and has left Yemen, already the poorest Arab country, with millions suffering from food and medical shortages.

So far there have been 2,045 confirmed cases of covid-19, with 718 active cases and 593 deaths. Of course, the war has made it impossible to properly measure the impact of covid-19 on Yemen to date.

Al Saleh masjid, Sanaa, Yemen

Becky’s Beach Glass Design – An Example of Irresponsible Tourism?

This is a news story that has developed over the last few days in local media.

Basically, a US tourist, who happens to be a jeweler specialising in incorporating sea glass into her works, came to Bermuda, scooped up about 70 pounds (about 32 kilograms) of sea glass from Bermudian waters, and took it to the USA where she’s made a handsome profit from it. By her own admission she came to Bermuda explicitly for this purpose, as part of her business.

Now, there’s a few problems with her actions here.

For one thing, that she came to Bermuda for this explicit purpose breaches our laws regarding work permits. She would have required at least a temporary work permit for this action – it was illegal for her to do what she did as a tourist.

More importantly, it is against Bermudian law to remove sea glass from the beach in the first place, and it’s also against the law to export this.

The relevant legislation in question can be found here…

Now, Ms Fox, the jeweler, has since compounded matters, by being quite frank in the US media about what she did, and then blocking, and deleting comments by, Bermudians and others who have been critical of her actions and pointed out how she broke the law and has been quite insulting to our people.

She’s also playing the victim here and telling folk she’s being bullied and people are making things up. As she’s deleting comments pointing out exactly how she broke the law and refusing people the right of reply, some of her readers are indeed believing that she is being bullied and has done nothing wrong.

Now, I don’t intend to get into a whole discussion about Ms Fox here.

Quite frankly, she broke the law, she’s acted very insultingly to Bermuda and Bermudians, and her behavior has been quite poor and disappointing. I think she could have defused the whole thing immediately after her wrong-doing was pointed out to her. She could have simply said something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I did was wrong and clearly misunderstood the laws of Bermuda. I am sorry to anyone that I have hurt and will be contacting the Bermudian authorities to work out how best to resolve this issue in an amicable way, and all the profits that from sale of Bermuda glass jewellery is being donated to these environmental charities in Bermuda. Lesson learned.”

That would have been enough I think.

Our people are largely forgiving, and an honest recognition of making a mistake and taking steps to make good would have been welcomed. Heck, we probably would have helped advertise her wares – it would raise money for our charities, boost awareness of our local artisans and be a good little tourism advertisement for Bermuda. Her refusal to even accept any wrong-doing and compounding it by insulting our people and trying to silence us, yeah, that’s left a rather sour taste and won’t be forgotten.

I for one hope that our Government will be taking steps to:

  • Seek compensation from Ms Fox;
  • Tighten up regulations concerning sea glass and other artifacts;
  • Boost local artisans;
  • Ramp up inspections.

Responsible Tourism

However, I digress. There’s really not much more that can be said on this story that hasn’t been said already in the media or by hordes of my righteously irate compatriots on various social media.

What I find most interesting about this incident, other than the imperialist mindset of a White American tourist in appropriating other peoples natural and cultural resources, is how this allows us to really focus on what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda, and what are the possible consequences/impacts of tourism in Bermuda?

The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.

I think that’s a pretty decent definition, and should really be the ideal form of tourism that we want – and the kind of tourists we should be when we travel.

Now this definition is not simply ‘green’ tourism. One can build a resort with the latest green tech, or go on an explicitly nature vacation (hiking in a natural park, etc), without meeting this criteria. It also has to ensure economic benefit to ordinary people and not threaten or undermine the local economy and culture.

If one were to apply this concept to this particular incident, then not taking our sea glass was the responsible thing to do. Supporting local artisans was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps asking to work with some of our local sea glass artisans would have been the right things to do, and even arranging to help sell their products in the USA through her site would have been the responsible thing to do.

Doing all this would have ensured the sustainability of our sea glass beaches (certainly a lot more than carting away 70 pounds of it!) and boosted the local economy and artisans.

This principle can apply to tourism in general for Bermuda. It means making sure that the impact on our environment and infrastructure is sustainable, that it doesn’t destroy the very nature that attracts tourists here in the first place (and environment here means more than just beaches, clear blue waters and greenery – it extends to pollution, litter, energy use, waste management, food, water, traffic, etc).

And it also means that tourism should benefit ordinary people. I don’t mean the bank accounts of the elite, of the 1%. I mean ordinary people overall. We all recognise that there is some degree of trickle down from tourism, even if it’s just revenue collected by the government and used for public services.

However, I’m thinking more in terms or increasing local economic links and reducing leakage of the tourist dollar overseas (or into the bank accounts of the elite), and this means ensuring the tourist dollar is more equitable spread (through using local entertainers, boosting local artisans, using small businesses as much as possible, relying on local farmers as much as possible). Doing this – and shifting to renewable energy – all keeps the tourist dollar local and spreads it around more equitably, while also supporting local enterprise and culture.

Starting a Conversation?

There’s A LOT that can be written about responsible tourism and how it can be applied to the benefit of Bermuda.

I’ve already written a longer piece than I like writing – I just think that if some good is to come out of this incident it is that we might be able to start a conversation about tourism in Bermuda – what are it’s negative impacts, how do we address them, what kind of sustainable tourism do we want and how do we go about realising it? Just for starters…

 

Terror & Tragedy

A Terrorised World… 

There’s a lot of terrorism and tragedy in the world today, be it the atrocities of Da’esh in Syria/Iraq, the brutal assault on Yemen by Saudi Arabia, the quagmire of Libya, ongoing terrorist drone attacks by the US, state terrorism and Apartheid from Israel, and so on and so forth. Far too many for me to really address in detail in a single post. xxi-century-civilization-2-1365278-m

I do want to touch on this morning’s terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina though, primarily because it allows a segue into Bermuda’s racial issues.  I don’t mean at all to ignore, or diminish, the terror attacks elsewhere, such as the tragedy that befell San’aa yesterday on the eve of Ramadan.

Terror or Tragedy?

Was the attack on the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston a terrorist attack?  I think so.  It seems pretty clearly pre-meditated and designed to spread terror and targeted civilians.  I’m not sure how else to describe it other than being a terrorist attack, and the perpetrator, a young White male, fits the bill as a terrorist.

While the State and media representation of what constitutes a ‘terrorist attack’ and a ‘terrorist’ generally colours it as an attack by an Islamic extremist and by someone who is non-White, Muslim and likely wearing a beard or a hijab/niqab/burqa, personally I see such as only one version of terrorism/terrorists, and at that probably not even the dominant form.

I reckon the true face of terror is actually quite White, male and clean-shaven – be they far-right extremists like Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik or Dylann Roof, or State terrorists in the form of Western (including Israeli and Russian) military commanders and politicians, or even economic terrorists that dominate Wall Street.

So, was it terrorism?  Yes.  I don’t see how one can possibly rationalise it as not terrorism.

I won’t be holding my breath for the perpetrator to be whisked off to Gitmo or otherwise charged with terrorism offences though, and I’m fully prepared to see explanations of the individual being ‘mentally disturbed’, while those more representative of the American narrative of terrorists (non-White and Muslim) don’t get such apologisms.

Was it a tragedy?  Yes, of course.

It was a tragedy for those personally involved, for their surviving loved ones, and for the wider community, no question.

A Wider Tragedy

The wider tragedy though is that the underlying structural racism in the USA (and this is where a parallel can be drawn with Bermuda) has not been addressed; this structural racism is a direct result of a failure to address the legacy of both slavery and segregation, as well as overt but non-State racial discrimination of the past.

By failing to address this legacy, structural racism provides the latent potential to re-create and/or sustain ‘traditional’ racism.

Covert ‘unconcsious’ racism, which is one way of looking at structural racism, serves as a refuge or generator for overt ‘conscious’ racism. The two cannot be eradicated without addressing both simultaneously.

In Bermuda, a good chunk of the population, of both races (although one gets the impression it is most pervasive within the White population) seems to think that because we’ve got away from official racism, that we’ve established racial equality in a legal sense, that we are no longer a racist society.  And that those who still cling to overtly racist beliefs are an aged and dying group who had their prejudices formed in a different era.

Personally, I think there’s a lot more ‘traditional’ racists out there, but many of them have convinced themselves that their views aren’t racist.

Nonetheless, that we continue to not address the legacy of our overtly racist past and live in a very racist (structurally) society, there continues to be the potential for ‘traditional’ racism to reproduce itself in new generations.

I’m not saying at all that we’re likely to see a similar racial terrorist incident in Bermuda.  Not at all.

Just recognising that we do risk seeing new generations holding racist beliefs as long as we fail to tackle structural racism in Bermuda.  And this is doubly so in the USA.

Yemen – Hypocrisy in Action?

As regular visitors to this site will know, I haven’t been posting all that regularly of late.  Quite frankly, I’m too busy with my research at the moment to invest the time and energy in regular posting at the moment.

I did, however, want to make a very quick post about the developing situation in Yemen.

First off, I find it hypocritical and straight up disgusting that these various Arab powers (with Pakistan mobilising ground forces to assist with an invasion too) are able to cobble together a massive military campaign, led by the richest Arab state (Saudi Arabia) against the poorest Arab state (Yemen), but have completely failed to actively defend Palestinians against Israeli aggression.  Where the heck was this massive military power to stop Israel in its war against Gaza last year?  No where.

Pan-Arab solidarity, my foot.

Saudi Arabia and its allies are willing to sacrifice the lives of Palestinians simply to appease Israel and slaughter Hamas as a Muslim Brotherhood threat to their interests.

And the intervention isn’t about restoring democracy or defending human rights.  The vast majority (if not all) of the States involved in this obscene intervention are guilty of some of the worst atrocities in these areas of any countries on the planet.  One need only look at the Saudi-engineered coup in Egypt, complete with the a greater massacre than Tiananmen Square in the form of Rabaa.

This is rather just another reflection of the Saudi-led fears of Iran.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The Saudis live in fear of their own Shia populations (primarily found in their oil rich provinces) and the risk of losing this economic resource.

I’ll write in more detail about this later.

Right now, what’s important is that innocent people are being killed and terrorised by this military intervention, and lots more blood is going to flow before it’s other.  All the while these same military resources are being diverted away (if they were even directed in the first place) away from the war against Da’esh (which has its own problems), and Palestinians remain under occupation with Israel having a carte blanche to do as it pleases there.

There is a massive risk of this conflict escalating, not simply in Yemen itself, but in the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, Iraq, Syria, Iran and even Afghanistan all getting mixed up, as the various proxy wars for control and influence between Saudi and Iranian interests gets blurred into a single regional conflict spanning North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

It would have been better to let the Houthi’s try to govern and fail, than to make them into martyrs.  There will be no military solution to this, only the peace of the graveyard – and even then the ghosts will haunt the living for decades to come.

The Year Ahead? International

Crystal Balls…

It’s tempting to put forward predictions about what to expect over the next twelve months, even though predictions are almost always wrong – and only notable for the fluke occasion of coming true.

What does 2015 have in store for us?

What does 2015 have in store for us?

I’ll put forward some rather general predictions of what I expect to see in 2015, and I welcome readers own suggestions too.  Maybe a year from now we can look back and see how badly wrong or right we were!

International

Russia Versus West

I think the biggest focus of 2015, in terms of geopolitics, will be the continued cold war between the West and Russia, although I don’t really see this as approaching anything like we saw in terms of the West versus the Soviet Union.  Russia is a much weaker state than the CCCP ever was, and it’s really being hit hard by the drop in oil prices.  I see Russia’s actions over 2014 as primarily reactionary defensiveness, and I think that’s going to continue into 2015.  The West is encircling Russia and Russia will react to that.  The problem with a wounded animal, which I think can be applied to Russia, being taunted and bullied by the West, is that it’s actions can become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.

Ukraine will remain the most obvious flash-point, followed by Syria.  I also expect new flash-points in the Caucases region and Central Asia.

Russia will consolidate its hold over eastern Ukraine and Crimea and seek to assert its power elsewhere too.  Moldova will be interesting, however I think Central Asia will be the main focus in 2015.  I also expect some developments in Belarus too, specifically some sort of attempted regime change and Russia seeking to counter that.

Russia’s not blameless – under Putin we’re seeing a strengthening of the police state there.  I just see the main antagonists here as being the West taking advantage of Russia’s weakness and missteps.  I think Russia miscalculated the West’s reaction to the Crimea issue, although I think Russia felt it was under an existential threat and acted defensively there, in reaction to the Western backed uprising in Kiev.

One key issue will be the Russian Far East in terms of its industrialisation and/or resource extraction to support the still impressive economic growth of China, and there’s also the key strategic question of the meeting of China, Russia and North Korea there.

North Korea, China and Japan

It may be simply the focus on North Korea from the whole The Interview incident, however I do feel this coming year will be dominated also by the issue of North Korea.  I think that’s going to be a huge military and diplomatic focus for the USA, although I feel the true target of such actions will be China, as the USA seeks to contain and control a potential rival.

China’s already stepped back from supporting North Korea – relations are now quite frosty and Pyongyang is instead developing greater ties with Russia (which itself might be strategically interesting going forward, harkening back to the Chinese-Russian rivalry of the Sino-Soviet split).  However, positioning resources to deal with North Korea also doubles to deal with China.  And with increased tension between Japan and China over territorial claims, and a resurgent hawkish Japan under Abe, well, I can see a new push by the US and its allies in the region to encircle and contain China.

To be clear, I’m not expecting war with China.  Maybe a developing cold-war like situation over the next few decades.  I’m just expecting 2015 to be a year of growing consolidation of forces against China, to vary degrees of overtness.

Da’ish & Syriana – MENA Generally

I think it’s obvious that 2015 will be also largely dominated by the war against Da’ish in Syria/Iraq, and, more widely, the growing rivalry between a Saudi-led ‘Sunni’ bloc against Iran and Shi’a Islam throughout the Middle East region.

While I expect Da’ish to be rolled back in some areas, this war is going to be a bit of a quagmire, and I see a real danger of mission creep here, sucking in more and more countries.  The impact of the oil price crash on Russia and Iran (two key supporters of the Syrian Government) will be interesting there, although I really don’t see Assad being defeated.

What I see as the most likely outcome of this year is a continued balkanisation of Syria, with a rump state of Assad continuing to hold on in the south-west, west and north-west of Syria, a continued presence of Da’ish and other forces elsewhere in Syria, a la Somalia.

I’d expect Da’ish to lose ground in Iraq, but expand into Jordan and – depending on Turkey’s actions – Turkey.

Yemen, while not directly part of the Da’ish issue, is a part of the wider Sunni-Shi’a proxy war, as is Bahrain.  I expect greater Saudi intervention there, in Yemen.

Moving to North Africa, the Saudi-installed dictatorship of al-Sisi will seek to reinforce its power, and possibly distract attention with an expanded counter-insurgency in the Sinai and intervention in Libya, supporting the faction led by General Haftar.  Conceivably Egypt might also turn its attention to long-running territorial issues with Sudan too, and there’s been long-running tension between Egypt and countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia over matters affecting the Nile.

Libya will continue to be balkanised along the lines we saw in Somalia for years (and still today).  I can easily see some break-away states along the lines of Puntland and Somaliland, mostly being enclaves (or buffer states) supported by Tunisa, Algeria or Egypt.  I find it unlikely that Libya will end its chaos this year, or even this decade, and it will continue to be a source of instability for North Africa and the Sahel region.

Algeria is a big question mark.  I find it unlikely that Bouteflika will remain in power for much longer – many would question if he’s even in power as is.  The transition to a new leader can have consequences for the entire North African and Sahelian region, notably as relates to Morocco and Mali, as well as Libya.

Americas

I expect Cuban-US relations to continue to develop, albeit rather rockily.  I don’t see a smooth transition to normalisation.  Cuba itself will be going through some key economic reforms this year, and I expect a key focus will be monetary reforms – unifying the Cuban peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso into a single currency.

The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, meeting in 2011, designated 2016 as the deadline for some key economic reforms.  As such, 2015 is a key year for Cuban reforms, and I’m hoping to devote quite a bit of detailed attention to Cuba over the next twelve months.  The 2015 summer Summit of the Americas will be a key public highlight to watch too, with Cuba likely to attend for the first time.

Another key story of 2015 will be Venezuela.  Since the death of Chavez the new President, Maduro, has struggled to maintain hegemony there, both internally within the PSUV (Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela) and nationally.  The riots of 2014 shook the government, and the recent collapse of the oil price cannot but help cause economic problems for the government – which in turn will have social consequences.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all at an eruption of new Opposition led protests there in 2015, and possibly even a coup attempt.  Friction between Maduro and Cabello (Speaker of the National Assembly) might be exploited here too.  2015 is going to prove a difficult year for the Bolivarian revolution, and there’s a chance of a counter-revolution there, which will have consequences throughout the region.

I do believe the decades-long war in Columbia has a good chance of coming to an end this year though.  I fully expect attempts to sabotage this by hardliners on both sides, however I’m optimistic that the civil war will end and this will greatly change the dynamics of Columbian politics – as well as the region overall.

Brazil still has a lot of unresolved issues from the riots last year in the run-up to the World Cup.  While President Roussef was returned to power, she’s got a lot of work to do to restore confidence with the people.  I don’t see a resurgence of the riots of 2014 this year, but I think the problems that led to them will remain and leave open the potential for a resurgence of these insurrections in some form sooner or later.

Matters in Guyana will likely come to a head in the next six months.  President Ramator used an obscure constitutional provision to suspend – without dissolving – parliament in November.  This was done to prevent a likely no-confidence vote by the Opposition.  Guyanese politics remains racialised, split between the Indo-Guyanese party of Ramator’s PPP and the Afro-Guyanese Opposition APNU.  The current crisis largely came about by a new 3rd Party, the AFC, which drew on supporters from both the PPP and the APNU in an attempt to transcend Guyana’s racial politics.  I expect a new election before the summer, and the decades long rule of the PPP to be replaced by a coalition between the APNU and the AFC.

Canada will see a federal election in October 2015, and this dominate the news for September too I reckon.  I am pessimistic at the potential for the NDP to remain the Official Opposition, or to form the Government.  Hypothetically I could see a Liberal-NDP coalition government, but I expect the Progressive Conservatives to retain power at the federal level.  If there is a change of government, I think the Liberals will return rather than the NDP assuming power.

The USA – and likely Bermudian political discourse as a result – will be consumed largely by the focus on the 2016 Presidential elections.  Jeb Bush is emerging as the early contender for the Republican Party (very early days yet!).  Other likely Republican contenders are Chris Christie (New Jersey Governor) and Ted Cruz (Texan Senator and Tea Party candidate).

From the Democrats Hilary Clinton is the main name being bandied around, although I think Elizabeth Warren is a more likely candidate (I think Ms Clinton’s opportunity is passed).  I can see Andrew Cuomo (NY Governor) as also a contender.  I don’t see current Vice President Joe Biden as a contender myself.

One interesting dynamic will be the independent – and socialist – Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.  He could very well run as a Ralph Nader type candidate for the US Green Party (or as a general independent), or agree to run on a Democratic ticket (either as a direct presidential candidate or as a vice-president ticket).

The Occupy movement has been sort-of reborn by the recent civil rights insurrections in the USA, and this may well push US politics to the left, at least from the Democratic side, and make it possible for a socialist such as Sanders, or a leftist liberal like Warren to make headway.

Africa

I’ve touched on Africa somewhat above regarding North Africa.  I think the Sahel region will continue to be unstable as a result of fall-out from the Western-backed overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and Western support for the dictatorship of al-Sisi in Egypt.

I expect the Ebola crisis to largely end by summer 2015, but there’ll be long-term consequences for those West African nations most directly impacted.  These will be primarily economic, but it’s possible we’ll see new conflicts in the region too.

I think the big story of Africa in 2015 will be Nigeria.  The ongoing insurgency of Boko Haram will continue to widen and likely draw in neighbouring countries into a regional war.  Nigeria itself goes to the polls to elect a new president in February (expect Boko Haram to launch attacks during it), and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the military – with a history of coups and demoralised by the fight against Boko Haram – considers some form of coup.  The Opposition All Progressives Congress is fielding former military dictator Buhari after all, and the military might consider him a better leader than the incumbent President Jonathan.  Add into the collapse of the oil price, which will greatly impact Nigeria, and Africa’s most populous country looks like it will have a very unstable 2015.

I expect Somalia to increasingly return to normal, with a Western-backed (particularly using Ethiopian and Kenyan proxies) government increasingly asserting control.  Al-Shabab is increasingly militarily defeated, but will retain its capacity to harass the new authorities.  Whether the new Somali Government can reunify with Puntland and Somaliland will be an open question however.

I expect the civil war in South Sudan to be largely resolved this year, likely through intervention from regional military powers.  Kenya and Ethiopia may play a key role there.

I think there’s still a lot of ongoing issues in the Central African Republic that can threaten the entire region.  The CAR has essentially been split into two, along sectarian and ethnic lines, and I can see that easily flaring up again, and even leading to regional wars.

Europe

I’ve already touched upon the West-Russia issue, and that’s of course going to dominate Europe in 2015.

Another key aspect will of course be the spectre of the ‘Grexit’, with Syriza likely to come out tops in the snap elections to be held in Greece later this month.  I don’t think they’ll get enough seats to complete a Grexit, but I think even them forming the government will have ramifications for the EU – and world finance.  The Greek economy itself is relatively insignificant to the EU, but the fear will be a domino effect, with Syriza like parties, such as Podemos in Spain, benefiting politically, or with a Grexit the logic of capital will lead to further EU exits (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, etc).  At the very least, Syriza threatens an alternative to the austerity model, and this alone will lead to hostility from the rest of the EU to Greece.

Another story of Europe will be the continued rise of extremists parties, such as UKIP in the UK, but also the National Front in France and the newly emerging Pegida movement in Germany.  A key theme of these groups is immigration anxiety and Islamophobia.

The UK General Election in May 2015 will of course dominate headlines.  Labour is set to be wiped out in Scotland, which greatly undermines the potential of Labour assuming power, however the news isn’t great for the Tories either, and the LibDems are likely to be greatly reduced too.  I’d expect either a minority Labour government propped up by a combination of the LibDems and the Celtic nationalist parties (the SNP and Plaid Cymru) or a full-on coalition government along the same lines.  How stable that will be and whether we’ll see a second UK General Election sooner than 2020 is an open question.  I do see UKIP winning seats, however I don’t see them winning enough to prop up the Tories in some sort of coalition.

Of course there’s a lot more international matters likely to feature over 2015, however this article is long enough as it is and I’ve only sought to cover what I see as the key things to look at for 2015.  What do you think?

Reflections on Cuba

Cautious Optimism?

I’ve written about Cuba previously on this site, however the recent thaw of relations between Cuba and the USA, announced yesterday by Presidents Castro and Obama, have given me cause to reflect on what this development might mean.

I’ve written a piece for Bernews on the announcement itself, so I’m going to try and not repeat myself here.

Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana.

Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana.

I am cautiously optimistic of this development.  There is no denying that the changes, as limited as they are (the embargo itself is unlikely to be lifted by a Republican controlled congress).  However, I see potential dangers for the revolution in this as well.

There’s no secret that there’s been a growing division within the USA’s ruling elite on how to best handle the Cuban problem.

They’ve tried armed invasion, they’ve tried assassination attempts, they’ve tried terrorism and they’ve tried – for over fifty years – the embargo regime.  And none of that has worked, leading to some of the elite to argue the proverbial ‘you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’ – dropping the embargo and outright hostility and trying to bring about regime change through engagement and co-optation (or corruption…).

The Cato Institute, 2005

Indeed, I remember back in 2005 reading a report from the neoliberal think tank the Cato Institute that advocated an end to the embargo and, almost word for word, for just the developments announced by President Obama.

This report blasted the embargo as counter-productive – as actually strengthening the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro.  It also noted that the embargo placed US companies at a disadvantage while other international companies reaped profits from trade with Cuba.

This report from the Cato Institute advocated:

  1. Lifting of the travel ban.  It argued this would ultimately boost entrepreneurism, subsequently weakening the government.
  2. Restrictions on remittances should be lifted.  As above, this would ‘fuel the private sector, encourage Cuba’s modest economic reforms, and promote independence from the government‘.
  3. US farmers and medical suppliers should be able to sell products to Cuba, with financing from private commercial lenders.  It doesn’t clearly state this, but to use Marxist terminology, this would be essentially using the ‘heavy artillery of cheap commodity prices’ to undermine domestic production and, through credit, make Cuba more dependent on free trade.
  4. Modifying or ending the embargo.  It argued that this ‘would not be a victory‘ for the Cuban ‘regime‘; rather, it would be an acknowledgement ‘that commercial engagement is the best way to encourage more open societies abroad‘.  ‘Open societies’ for the Cato Institute means open markets for capitalist purposes.

The report concluded that the ‘most powerful force for change in Cuba will not be more sanctions, but more daily interaction with free people bearing dollars and new ideas‘.  Or in other words, there’s more than one way – and a more effective way than overt hostility and economic aggression – to effect regime change in Cuba.

New York Times, 2014

Much more recently – and likely a deliberate plant to ‘set the stage’ for yesterdays announcement – the New York Times had an Editorial on Monday, December 14th (that is, four days ago) which pretty much rehashed the argument from the Cato report.

Essentially, it noted that the Cuban leadership was split between a reformist camp wanting to adopt a Chinese model of capitalist reforms and an ‘old guard’ that ‘views further liberalisation of the economy as an abdication of the socialist system’.  Based on this division – with Raul Castro being part of the reformist camp – it argues that (and it’s worth quoting this in full):

“President Obama could help expand the role of Cuba’s small but growing entrepreneurial class by relaxing sanctions through executive authority and working with the growing number of lawmakers who want to expand business with Cuba.  The White House could start that process by removing Cuba from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorist organisations and making it easier for Americans to provide start-up capital for independent small businesses.  Doing that would empower Cuban-Americans to play a more robust role in the island’s economic transformation.  More significantly, it would gradually erode the Cuban government’s ability to blame Washington for the shortcomings of an economy that is failing its citizens largely as a result of its own policies.”

And it concludes that:

“Washington could empower the reformist camp by making it easier for Cuban entrepreneurs to get external financing and business training.  That type of engagement is unlikely to succeed unless the United States abandons its policy of regime change.  Cuba’s economic transformation may be proceeding slowly, but it could well lead to a more open society.  For now, continued antagonism from Washington is only helping the old guard.”

I don’t know about other readers, but to me, I find it pretty contradictory to call for the US to abandon a policy of regime change in order to enact regime change (ensuring a victory for the reformist camp over the ‘old guard’ camp)…

Reformists Versus Old Guard (& 21st Century Socialists…)

Now, this division in the Cuban leadership is not, unfortunately, a fantasy of the New York Times.

I wrote about this myself in 2008, detailing my last visit to Cuba in 2006, where I was fortunate enough to participate in a joint meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, the higher ranking Cuban military officials and representatives of the Cuban international solidarity movement.

While there were a number of issues on the agenda, the underlying theme of this joint meeting was the debate between the reformists (who advocated the Chinese model), the ‘old guard’ who advocated the status quo and cautioned against capitalistic reforms that would undermine the revolution’s gains, and a third group, which I guess one could call Bolivarians or ’21st Century socialists’ who argued for a deepening of the revolution – essentially a turn towards revolutionary democratic socialism rather than the authoritarian lite socialism that was the status quo in Cuba.

Now, I haven’t been back to Cuba since, although I’ve certainly kept an eye on developments there.  My reading is that the reformist camp – advocates of a Chinese model – have become the dominant group within the government, led as they are by Raul Castro, who’s in a position to advance reformists throughout the state machinery.

The Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (Centro de Estudios de la Economia Cubana – CEEC), part of the University of Havana, has been a particular part of this reformist ascendancy.  For example, this article from April this year, or this interesting paper from late 2013, both originating from the CEEC, make some useful reading for understanding the approach of the reformists.

Be Watchful Always

So, yes, cautious optimism is I think the best way to describe my thinking on the US-Cuban thaw.

Optimism because I know it will benefit a lot of people in Cuba, and because I think it opens a potential for deepening the revolution (in case there’s any doubt, I was in the 21st Century Socialists faction in the joint meeting).

Cautious because I do believe that the USA is not dropping its policy of regime change at all, just adopting a different strategy to realise that goal.  I believe the USA’s new approach is to try and either boost the reformist camp to secure the Chinese model in Cuba (which they can work with, as we know) and so ‘co-opt’ or, rather, corrupt, the revolution; or to destablise the Cuban Government sufficiently to allow for a full-on counter-revolution.

In practice I don’t really see a difference between a counter-revolution proper and a de facto  counter-revolution through the entrenchment of the Chinese model in Cuba.

As I wrote in 2008, the key to Cuban revolutions future is the success or failure of the current revolutionary movements in Latin America, specifically Ecuador, Bolivia and, most importantly, Venezuela.

And at the moment those movements, particularly Venezuela, are experiencing a good degree of turbulence, be it from US orchestrated destabilisation attempts or the collapse of the oil price affecting the economy of oil-dependent Venezuela (which of course can also strengthen destabilisation attempts).  Not to mention that President Maduro has had trouble filling the big shoes left by Chavez’s death.

Now, if I was a pessimist I’d probably reckon the chances are, with a reformist camp in ascendancy in Havana and a troubled Venezuela, that this new strategy by the USA will, indeed, achieve the goal that fifty years of open hostility and blockades failed to do, that is achieve regime change.

However, I’m hopeful that the revolutionary movements in Latin America will rebound, and new revolutionary movements will develop elsewhere, contributing to a blossoming of neo-socialist thought everywhere, including in Cuba, mitigating the risks of the reformist path I fear Raul Castro’s government is heading in.

So, yes, cautious optimism…

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

 

 

 

Totally Swamped – And Brief Thoughts on OPEC & Geopolitics…

Still here, just busy!

My apologies to readers – the blog has been a bit dormant of late.  I have no excuse, I’ve just been completely swamped with things, and the blog has had to take a backseat accordingly…

OPEC & Geopolitics

I couldn’t help notice the insistence of OPEC – or, more specifically Saudi Arabia – on continuing to over-saturate the market with oil, leading to a collapse in oil prices (although I don’t expect that to be reflected in our BELCO bills anytime soon…).

Now, this has had an immediate effect, globally, on some key geopolitical actors that also happen to be overly reliant on petrochemicals.  In particular, I’m thinking of Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

All three of these countries have been, shall one say, ‘at odds’ with the interests of Saudi Arabia and the USA (Saudi Arabia and the USA also having some tension too).

Photo credit to 'Green & Gold News' of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Photo credit to ‘Green & Gold News’ of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Russia and Iran have been central to the proxy war in Syria-Iraq, providing key diplomatic, financial and military support to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and (more Iran here) the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.  Even Venezuela has played a minor role in criticising Western and Saudi interference in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have also been waging proxy wars, to various degrees, throughout the region, notably in Bahrain (where a de facto Saudi military invasion has prevented the overthrow of the minority Sunni dictatorship) and Yemen (where Shia Houthi rebels are increasingly the dominant power).

And despite a thawing of US-Iran relations, notably over the mutual opposition to Da’ish in Iraq, the US and Iran have been political rivals in the region for over three decades now.

Venezuela has been less of an issue to Saudi Arabia than it has to the USA, being as it is in closer proximity to the US and what the US regards as its ‘backyard’.

However, socialist Venezuela has developed strategic relationships with Iran (and Syria) and Russia, and been critical of Western and Saudi interference in North Africa and the Middle East (especially as regards the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and the Saudi financed coup against Morsi in Egypt).

Over-saturating the oil market, causing a collapse in the oil price, directly impacts Iran, Russia and Venezuela – it weakens them financially, which subsequently weakens them politically.  At least in Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Russia and Iran, this could lead to political ruptures, serving as a pretext for proxy actors to attempt a coup or psuedo-revolution.

Am I in tin-foil hat territory?  Perhaps.  However, we know the West has cynically hijacked legitimate democratic protests to effect regime change, and we know the West has engaged in economic terrorism to facilitate regime change – as has Saudi Arabia.

So, who knows?  Even if I am seeing a conspiracy where there’s none, who wants to bet the consequences will be the same – a weakened Iran, Russia and Venezuela, and even perhaps regime change?