Feb 142017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

The Global South is growing unintelligible from the European South amid harsh austerity measures and other maneuverings that suit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and working class.

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil — Harsh austerity. A 20-year public spending freeze. A non-elected government. A coup backed by the United States and corporate world.

This is the new reality that Brazil has faced following the impeachment and ouster of the democratically-elected Dilma Rousseff in August of 2016 on charges of corruption and her replacement by vice-president Michel Temer, a favorite of Washington.

This is also a new reality that has been met by widespread disapproval, occasional large-scale protests, and a new economic uncertainty for a country which, just a few years ago, was seen as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse, along with the rest of the BRICS, the bloc composed of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This optimism has been quickly supplanted by an increasingly volatile social situation in Brazil and great pessimism for the future.

Much has been made in the media about the progressive credentials of the Rousseff government and that of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, both of whom represented the Workers’ Party (PT) of Brazil. Much has also been made of the mass protests which led to Rousseff’s outster, which bore similarities to protests seen in countries such as Venezuela against the Maduro regime, and the relative lack of protest that the Temer government has faced since ascending to power.

What is actually happening, though? As is often the case in such situations, reality is far more multifaceted and complex than frequently presented, while parallels can be drawn with other austerity-ravaged countries such as Greece.

A radical break or austerity lite?: The Rousseff and da Silva governments

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

The governments of da Silva and Rousseff were often compared to those of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, in representing a break with the doctrines of neoliberalism, economic austerity, and privatization that much of Latin America experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.

This claim is borne out by some policies and certain economic indicators. In a 2014 article, well-known commentator Pepe Escobar, who frequently focuses on the BRICS nations in his writing, pointed out the tripling of the minimum wage between 2002 and 2014, a decline in unemployment, increased GDP per capita, the repayment of Brazil’s debts to the International Monetary Fund, higher purchasing power, plus social programs which benefited almost 50 million Brazilians.

Similarly, in a 2014 interview with me for Dialogos Radio, investigative journalist Greg Palast cited da Silva’s refusal to privatize state banks and the national oil company, while creating the “Bolsa Familia,” or a minimum income offered to many Brazilians, in an effort to lift them out of poverty. According to Palast, these policies — the opposite of the privatizations and austerity dictated by the International Monetary Fund — fueled Brazil’s phenomenal growth during this time, reaching 7 to 9 percent annually at its peak.

But did da Silva and Rousseff go far enough? Numerous commentators have expressed doubts.

For instance, the Rousseff government appointed Joaquim Levy, known as a pro-austerity “fiscal hawk,” as finance minister (this, it should be noted, was when Temer was Rousseff’s vice president). Scholar and author James Petras, an expert on Latin America, pointed out in November that da Silva implemented IMF-mandated austerity programs soon after being elected, and he appointed neoliberal economists to his cabinet whilst supporting the interests of agribusiness and major oil and mining concerns — all while overseeing policies which left numerous peasant families landless.

The Brazilian “economic miracle,” according to Petras, was a mirage fueled by high export commodity prices which the Brazilian economy temporarily benefited from, enabling programs such as the “Bolsa Familia.”

This was echoed by Palast, who in a 2016 follow-up interview with Dialogos Radio cited the sharp decline of oil prices and collapse of its commodities trade with China, as factors in the Brazilian economic slowdown — and increased unrest in the country prior to Rousseff’s ouster. In turn, Escobar also cited Rousseff’s concessions to big banking and agribusiness interests and a swing to the center as mistakes which also led to the emerging middle class increasingly flirting with the right once economic difficulties began.

In an interview with MintPress, Kat Moreno, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science and visiting scholar for Global Workers’ Rights at the Penn State University, argued that the Rousseff government was quite austere, and that despite a militant, leftist background, the material conditions she faced pressured her to enact austerity policies during her reign.

A recent analysis published by TeleSUR further argues that austerity measures were implemented by the Rousseff government as a defense mechanism of sorts, in an effort to fend off Rousseff’s impeachment by appeasing the right.

In his 2014 interview, Palast cited Rousseff’s return to IMF-sponsored austerity policies and the reduction of pensions as factors which were disastrous for the Brazilian economy, calling the IMF “a society of poisoners,” while in his 2016 interview, he cited Rousseff’s political inexperience and her inability to effectively communicate with the public as factors which made her impeachment possible.

An uprising from below or from above?

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

2013 could be seen as a hallmark year for Brazil, one in which the tide began to turn against the ruling PT. The “Brazilian Spring” — following in the footsteps of the protests seen in Turkey that year, the Arab Spring, protests of the “indignants” in Spain and Greece, and the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 — emerged out of protests against public transportation fare increases and perceived government corruption. These protests could be seen as having served as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts for those which followed in 2015 and 2016, when fed-up Brazilians took to the streets en masse, including an estimated 7 million citizens during a March 2016 protest, to rally against worsening economic conditions and continued government corruption.

Or did they?

It has been pointed out that the protests of 2015-2016, leading up to the impeachment of Rousseff were not led by the impoverished or the working class, but by such groups as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) and Students of Liberty (EPL).

Who are these groups?

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

Largely consisting of well-to-do, white academic circles, it has been revealed that they were financed by the decidedly right-wing Atlas Economic Research Foundation, itself funded by the notorious Koch brothers.Pepe Escobar has described the events of 2015-2016 as a “white coup,” fueled by the country’s major media outlets, who were “salivating” for regime change.

This scenario closely mirrors the protests seen recently in Venezuela against the increasingly embattled Maduro regime. Venezuela, like Brazil, has been battered by falling commodities prices — especially the sharp decline in the price of oil. This has brought to the forefront protests, led by right-wing elements seeking regime change and sensing an opportunity to make it happen.

Such protests are also not confined to Latin America. Greece, itself embattled by years of economic depression and austerity, has begun to see occasional (but, for the time being, relatively small-scale) protests led by supporters of the center-right parties such as New Democracy.

Prior to the country’s July 2015 referendum on approving or rejecting an austerity package demanded by Greece’s European “partners,” these elements organized fairly large protests in favor of “yes” (accepting austerity in order to “remain in the European Union”). In turn, smaller protests in 2016, organized with such social media hashtags as ftanei pia (“enough already”) ironically protested the austerity measures imposed by the purportedly left-wing Syriza-led government whilst supporting closer EU ties and the New Democracy party.

Similar to Brazil, Greece’s major media groups — all owned by oligarchic interests with a huge stake in the country’s major economic sectors — have vehemently supported austerity and supported the “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum.

Speaking to MintPress, Guilherme Giuliano, at Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of São Paulo and member of the “Catso” social workers’ autonomous collective, described the 2016 protests as not having been solely against Rousseff or her government. Nevertheless, the protests were co-opted by certain parties and movements and used as a catalyst for the coup against Rousseff.

Kat Moreno described the MBL as one of the movements which freely took to the streets, while other protest movements not organized by formal actors and representing poorer strata of society were met with police repression.

Petras classifies the capitulation and eventual fall of the PT governments, led by da Silva and Rousseff, as another in a long string of failures of the left. These “failures” have also been evident in countries such as Greece, where Syriza was, in January 2015, elected on promises to “tear up” Greece’s memorandum agreements with its lenders and to put an end to austerity but has instead faithfully continued enforcing such policies and signed further austerity agreements with the country’s lenders, implementing further cuts and reneging on all of its pre-election pledges.

The ‘shock doctrine’ returns to Latin America

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

In her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine,” Naomi Klein highlights how the global capitalist class uses crises and disaster situations — both real and invented — as an opportunity to pounce upon suffering countries when they are at their weakest, imposing harsh austerity christened as “free market” policies and imposed, when necessary, by force, including police violence and brutality.

This has been characteristic of Brazil following Rousseff’s impeachment and Temer’s takeover.

It has also been characteristic of the crisis-hit countries of the European South, where protesters in Greece have been dispersed and stunned into submission by tear gas and police violence which invariably goes unpunished, while riot police enforcing home foreclosures is a common sight in Spain.

Klein traces the origins of the “shock doctrine” to the neoliberal doctrine first espoused by economists such as Milton Friedman, the father of the “Chicago School” of economics, which Latin American countries such as Chile became intimately familiar with under autocratic regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet.

It is ironic, therefore, that Klein openly and vocally supported the Syriza government prior to the January 2015 elections in Greece which first brought it to power. But she has remained conspicuously silent since then, while Syriza has continued the policies of its predecessors. Nevertheless, the “shock doctrine” serves as a useful guide to explain what is happening in such countries today, including Brazil.

In another one of his analyses on the Brazil situation, Escobar classified Brazil as a victim of a “hybrid war” launched by the world’s neoliberal elite one which is also targeting other BRICS nations such as Russia.

How has the “shock doctrine” unfolded in Brazil?

With a lot of shock, and a lot of awe, to say the least.

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

A 20-year federal freeze on public spending was almost immediately imposed by the Temer regime, placing caps on spending for health care, education, and social expenditures and shrinking a welfare state which, according to Moreno, was already much more limited than its European counterparts. This was followed up by the announcement of job cuts in the public sector (despite rising unemployment which has more than doubled since the country’s recent economic peak), and a special “Christmas gift” for Brazilian workers: the expansion of the workday from 8 to 12 hours, complete with a reduction in the lunch hour.

This closely resembles the sharp reduction in pay, dismantling of collective bargaining rights, and massive layoffs which have been seen in countries like Greece. (There, pensioners were treated to a “Christmas gift” of their own by the Syriza-led government: a paltry “Christmas bonus” used by the government as a ludicrous PR stunt after it had already slashed most pensions by approximately 50 percent in 2016 and announced further tax increases for 2017.) In Brazil, environmental regulations have also been scrapped or relaxed, posing a particular threat to the country’s indigenous peoples.

In a rare moment of frankness, Temer told an audience of business and foreign policy elite assembled in New York in September that Rousseff — who was no radical while in office — did not go “far enough” in implementing the harsh economic reforms demanded by Temer’s party.

The new Temer government does not feel itself constrained in any way in terms of going “far enough.” Corruption charges are now being faced by da Silva, who currently leads overwhelmingly in opinion polls for Brazil’s next presidential elections, and members of his family.

Not even bothering to keep up appearances, Temer’s appointed cabinet consists exclusively of wealthy white men, while his government attempted to legislate self-amnesty for itself in September — a privilege already enjoyed by members of the Greek parliament and Greek government ministers, who are immune from prosecution for any crimes committed while in office and who regularly “write off” internal parliamentary investigations into previous governments’ wrongdoings.

This comes as the Temer government, which led the ouster of Rousseff on corruption charges, is itself facing corruption scandals.

In such a climate, it is inevitable that corruption will “trickle down” to other sectors of society. Brazil is currently said to be experiencing a far-right resurgence, shattering the common image of the country as one of racial inclusiveness and harmony.

Tourists to Brazil now have the unique opportunity to visit a real-life plantation and be served by black “slaves.” Police violence, already a major problem under the Rousseff administration, continued to grow in 2016 and 2017. There’s also the increasing prison riot crisis, which has been encouraged by elements within Temer’s government who view it as an effective means of culling the population in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

How have Brazilians responded?

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

The spotlight of the international media was thrust upon Brazil in 2013 and again prior to Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, when protests sprung up in the streets—which may have been fueled, at least in part, by Koch-funded and wealthy elements in Brazilian society.

With a regime in place which may not be supported by the majority of Brazil’s population but is very much supported by the global banking and business elite and by Washington, protests against Temer’s government have not been afforded the same level of coverage, perhaps giving the impression that the Brazilian populace has resigned itself to a tacit acceptance of the new regime. Reality, however, seems to be a bit more nuanced.

There have been both strikes and protests on a fairly wide scale in Brazil since Temer’s takeover, including protests which erupted following the enactment of the 20-year public spending freeze, further significant protests against the Temer government on Brazil’s Independence Day, and a strike of workers at oil refineries all across the country at the end of the year.

These movements are accompanied by abysmal approval ratings for the new government in multiple public opinion surveys, even if approval ratings and poll numbers are often meaningless or inaccurate. Just look at the low approval ratings and exceptionally high re-election ratings for members of the U.S. Congress, for instance, or the multiple polls which all but assured a Hillary Clinton victory in the U.S. presidential elections, or the public opinion polls in Greece which have repeatedly been not just grossly inaccurate but always in a pro-austerity direction. For instance, Greek polling firms predicted a neck-and-neck referendum result in July 2015, when in fact, the “no” vote rejecting the European Union’s proposed austerity package received an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote.

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Despite the protests that have taken place ever since Temer took over in Brazil, Kat Moreno points out the factors that have prevented them from being more widespread or long-lived.

According to Moreno, some strata of society do not feel safe in taking to the streets, and Moreno cites fear as a “strong variable” to consider when examining responses to the political situation in the country, as a result of the high degree of police repression and brutality, which has been especially evident during protests of left-wing groups and protesters who are not affiliated with any major organization or party.

Such a situation could also be said to foster “protest fatigue,” which is often seen as a factor in the lack of wide-scale protest in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries of the European South in recent years. Following large-scale protests seen in the 2010-2012 period, which peaked with the movement of the “Indignants” in Spain and Greece in the spring and summer of 2011 and which were eventually met by a violent and heavy-handed police response, protests have largely disappeared or been confined to ephemeral and single-issue efforts without longevity.

In Greece, a common response to questions as to why Greeks no longer take to the streets is that protesters will simply get tear gassed again and sent back home. The “shock doctrine” described by Naomi Klein may also serve as another psychological factor: When protests turn out to be fruitless and unpopular policies are rammed through despite opposition, feelings of discouragement and despair become more prevalent and serve as obstacles to further action.

To some extent, Brazilian society may be experiencing some of these symptoms.

Familiar Tactics

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Escobar refers to the “toolbox” of tactics employed in Brazil leading up to Rousseff’s ouster. This set of strategies included the creation of manufactured consent amongst the populace, for the impeachment and the new regime.

This bears a great similarity to the cases of countries such as Greece, where public opinion polls conducted by polling firms which are not independent of the state and which are commissioned by pro-austerity media outlets have repeatedly shown vast majorities purportedly in favor of EU and eurozone membership at all costs, while the very few independent surveys conducted in Greece, such as those by Gallup International, have actually found such majorities to be slim or nonexistent.

Manufactured consent is used to legitimize the austerity policies which then follow, and to characterize any dissent as belonging to a small, marginal minority.

Indeed, similarities between the case of Brazil and the case of countries of the European South such as Greece abound. Just as the Temer government has not been elected and overthrew a government which apparently did not go “far enough” in its austerity regime, the EU imposed a non-elected technocrat prime minister, Lucas Papademos, a former banker, on Greece in late 2011 to ensure that a new package of austerity measures and “reforms” would be railroaded through parliament.

At around the same time, a non-elected prime minister, Mario Monti, was also installed in Italy, with the blessings of the EU — technocrats from which described this unelected government as “the best thing that ever happened to Italy” during a visit of mine to the EU in 2013 as part of a week-long academic program. Italy is now being governed by no less than its third consecutive non-elected prime minister.

The Greek referendum overwhelmingly rejecting EU-proposed austerity was shot down in short order, replaced by an austerity package even harsher than that which had originally been proposed, and even more onerous than the two prior memorandum agreements signed by Syriza’s predecessors, the New Democracy and PASOK (“socialist”) political parties.

The manufactured consent and “shock doctrine” which imposed the “bitter medicine” of austerity on Greece could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against any thoughts of “Grexit,” a Greek exodus from the Eurozone or even the EU, much like the “hybrid war” against countries like Brazil and Russia described earlier by Escobar.

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

Kat Moreno identifies certain parallels between the Global South, of which Brazil is part, and the European South, which has in recent years experienced much of the same IMF-supported austerity which Latin America is all too familiar with. She highlights the “clear relationship” between being a part of the Global South and being dependent on and the hostage of the international financial system.

And in looking to the future, it is difficult to say who can lead these countries, whether it is Brazil or Greece or Spain or Italy, out of their current death spiral unscathed. Guilherme Giuliano points out that what has been happening in Brazil, as in Greece, Argentina (where the Kirchner government was replaced by one much friendlier to Washington and to global capital), or even the United States, are symptoms of a global crisis — a crisis which, according to Giuliano, “nobody has a progressive way out.”

Indeed, many progressives and much of the global left seem to be focused more strongly on identity politics and a notion of a world without nations or states. In doing so, they have supported such undemocratic, austerity-driven institutions as the EU, while demonizing phenomena such as the “Brexit” as the exclusive realm of racists and xenophobes, widening their chasm with vast sections of the poor and working classes in the process.

Meanwhile, a blind eye has been turned to the actions of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who in conjunction with Wall Street, supported right-wing coups and electoral takeovers all across Latin America, from Brazil to Venezuela to the Honduras. In this vein, James Petras chastises “left politicians who speak to the workers and work for the bankers.”

As for Brazil, Moreno describes the country as finding itself at a crossroads.

“People are seeking autonomy over their destinies, but where it is going we are not sure,” she said. “It can lead to neo-fascism, or it could go towards leftist  positions.”

 

Mar 222015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Over the past year, what appeared as hopeful signs, that Left governments were emerging as powerful alternatives to right-wing pro-US regimes, is turning into a historic rout, which will relegate them to the dustbin of history for many years to come. The rise and rapid decay of left-wing governments in France, Greece and Brazil is not the result of a military coup, nor is it due to the machinations of the CIA. The debacle of left governments is a result of deliberate political decisions, which break decisively with the progressive programs, promises and commitments that political leaders had made to the great mass of working and middle class voters who elected them.

Increasingly, the electorate views the leftist rulers as traitors, who betrayed their supporters at the beck and call of their most egregious class enemies: the bankers, the capitalists and the neo-liberal ideologues.

Left Governments Commit Suicide

The self-destruction of the Left is an unanticipated victory for the most retrograde neo-liberal political forces. These forces have sought to destroy the welfare system, impose their rule via non-elected officials, widen and deepen inequalities, undermine labor rights and privatize and denationalize the most lucrative sectors of the economy.

Three cases of Left regime betrayal serve to highlight this process: The French Socialist regime of President Francois Hollande governing in the second leading power in Europe (2012-2015); Syriza, the left regime in Greece elected on January 25, 2015, portrayed as a sterling proponent of an alternative policy to ‘fiscal austerity’; and The Workers Party of Brazil, governing in the biggest Latin American country (2003-2015) and a leading member of the BRICS.

French ‘Socialism’: The Great Leap Backward

In his Presidential campaign, Francois Hollande promised to raise taxes on the rich up to 75%; lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 years; launch a massive public investment program to reduce unemployment; vastly increase public spending on education (hiring 60,000 new teachers), health and social housing; and withdraw French troops from Afghanistan as a first step toward reducing Paris’ role as an imperialist collaborator.

From 2012, when he was elected, to the present (March 2015), Francois Hollande has betrayed each and every political commitment: Public investments did not materialize and unemployment increased to over 3 million. His newly appointed Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron, a former partner of Rothschild Bank, sharply reduced business taxes by 50 billion euros. His newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a neo-liberal zealot, implemented major cuts in social programs, weakened government regulation of business and banking and eroded job security. Hollande appointed Laurence Boone from Bank of America as his top economic adviser.

The French ‘Socialist President’ sent troops to Mali, bombers to Libya, military advisers to the Ukraine junta and aided the so-called Syrian ‘rebels’ (mostly Jihadist mercenaries). He signed off on billion-euro military sales to the Saudi Arabian monarcho-dictatorship and reneged on a contracted sale of warships to Russia.

Hollande joined with Germany in demanding that the Greek government comply with full and prompt debt payments to private bankers and maintain its brutal ‘austerity program’.

As a result of defrauding French voters, betraying labor and embracing bankers, big business and militarists, less than 19% of the electorate has a positive view of the ‘socialist’ government, placing it in third place among the major parties. Hollande’s pro-Israel policies and his hardline on US- Iranian peace negotiations, Minister Vall’s Islamophobic raids in French Muslim suburbs and the support of military interventions against Islamic movements, have increasingly polarized French society and heightened ethno-religious violence in the country.

Greece:  Syriza’s Instant Transformation

From the moment in which Syriza won the Greek elections on January 25, 2015, to the middle of March, Alexis Tsipras, the Prime Minister and Yanis Varoufakis, his appointed Finance Minister, reneged in rapid order on every major and minor electoral program. They embraced the most retrograde measures, procedures and relations with the ‘Troika’, (the IMF, and European Commission at the European Central Bank), which Syriza had denounced in its Thessaloniki program a short time earlier.

Tsipras and Varoufakis repudiated the promise to reject the dictates of the ‘Troika’. In other words, they have accepted colonial rule and continued vassalage.

Typical of their demagogy and deceit, they sought to cover up their submission to the universally hated ‘Troika’ by dubbing it ‘the Institution’ – fooling nobody but themselves– and becoming the butt of cynical cackles from their EU overseers.

During the campaign, Syriza had promised to write off all or most of the Greek debt. In government, Tsipras and Varoufakis immediately assured the Troika that they recognized and promised to meet all of their debt obligations.

Syriza had promised to prioritize humanitarian spending over austerity – raising the minimum wage, rehiring public employees in health and education and raising pension payments. After two weeks of servile groveling, the ‘re-formed’ Tsipras and Varoufakis prioritized austerity – making debt payments and ‘postponing’ even the most meagre anti-poverty spending. When the Troika lent the Syriza regime $2 billion to feed hungry Greeks, Tsipras lauded his overseers and promised to submit a multi-billion euro list of regressive ‘reforms’.

Syriza had promised to re-examine the previous rightwing regime’s dubious privatization of lucrative public enterprises and to stop on-going and future privatizations. In government, Tsipras and Varoufakis quickly disavowed that promise. They approved past, present and future privatizations. In fact, they made overtures to procure new privatization ‘partners’, offering lucrative tax concessions in selling-out more public firms.

Syriza promised to tackle the depression level unemployment (26% national, 55% youth) via public spending and reduced debt payments. Tsipras and Varoufakis dutifully met debt payments and did not allocate any funds to create jobs!

Not only did Syriza continue the policies of its rightwing predecessors, but also it did so in a ludicrous style and substance: adopting ridiculous public postures and demagogic inconsequential gestures:

One day Tsipras would lay a wreath at the gravesite of 200 Greek partisans murdered by the Nazis during WW II. The next day he would grovel before the German bankers and concede to their demands for budget austerity, withholding public funds from 2 million unemployed Greeks.

One afternoon, Finance Minister Varoufakis would pose for a photo spread for Paris Match depicting him, cocktail in hand, on his penthouse terrace overlooking the Acropolis; and several hours later he would claim to speak for the impoverished masses!

Betrayal, deceit and demagogy all during the first two months in office, Syriza has established a record in its conversion from a leftist anti-austerity party to a conformist, servile vassal of the European Union.

Tsipras’ call for Germany to pay reparations for damages to Greece during WW II –a long overdue and righteous demand– is another phony demagogic ploy designed to distract the impoverished Greeks from Tsipras and Varoufakis sellout to German contemporary austerity demands. A cynical European Union official tells the Financial Times (12/3/15, p. 6), “He’s (Tsipras) giving them (Syriza militants) a bone to lick on”.

No one expects German leaders to alter their hardline because of past injustices, least of all because they come from interlocutors on bended knees. No one in the EU takes Tsipras demand at face value. They see it as more empty ‘radical’ rhetoric for domestic consumption.

Talking up 70-year German reparations avoids taking practical action today repudiating or reducing payments on illegitimate debt to German banks and repudiating Merckel’s dictates. The transparent betrayal of their most basic commitments to the impoverished Greek people has already divided Syriza. Over 40% of the central committee, including the President of the Parliament, repudiated the Tsipras –Varoufakis agreements with the Troika.

The vast majority of Greeks, who voted for Syriza, expected some immediate relief and reforms. They are increasingly disenchanted. They did not expect Tsipras to appoint Yanis Varoufakis, a former economic adviser to the corrupt neo-liberal PASOK leader George Papandreou, as Finance Minister. Nor did many voters abandon PASOK, en masse, over the past five years, only to find the same kleptocrats and unscrupulous opportunists occupying top positions in Syriza, thanks to Alexis Tsipras index finger.

Nor could the electorate expect any fight, resistance and willingness to break with the Troika from Tsipras’ appointments of ex-pat Anglo-Greek professors. These armchair leftists (‘Marxist seminarians’) neither engaged in mass struggles nor suffered the consequences of the prolonged depression.

Syriza is a party led by affluent upwardly mobile professionals, academics and intellectuals. They rule over (but in the name of) the impoverished working and salaried lower middle class, but in the interests of the Greek, and especially, German bankers.

They prioritize membership in the EU over an independent national economic policy. They abide by NATO, by backing the Kiev junta in the Ukraine, EU sanctions on Russia, NATO intervention in Syria/Iraq and maintain a loud silence on US military threats to Venezuela!

Brazil: Budget Cuts, Corruption and the Revolt of the Masses

Brazil’s self-styled Workers Party government in power an unlucky 13 years, has been one of the most corruption-ridden regimes in Latin America. Backed by one of the major labor confederations, and several landless rural workers’ organizations, and sharing power with center-left and center-right parties, it was able to attract tens of billions of dollars of foreign extractive, finance and agro-business capital. Thanks to a decade-long commodity boom in agro-mineral commodities, easy credit and low interest rates, it raised income, consumption and the minimum wage while multiplying profits for the economic elite.

Subsequent to the financial crises of 2009, and the decline of commodity prices, the economy stagnated, just as the new President Dilma Rousseff was elected. The Rousseff government, like her predecessor, Lula Da Silva, favored agro-business over the rural landless workers’ demands for land reform. Her regime promoted the timber barons and soya growers encroaching on the Indian communities and the Amazon rain forest.

Elected to a second term, Rousseff faced a major political and economic crises: a deepening economic recession, a fiscal deficit, and the arrest and prosecution of scores of corrupt Workers’ Party and allied congressional deputies and Petrobras oil executives.

Workers’ Party leaders and the Party’s campaign treasury received millions of dollars in kickbacks from construction companies securing contracts with the giant semi-public petroleum company. President Rousseff promised “to continue to support popular social programs”, and “to root out corruption”, during her election campaign. However, immediately after her election she embraced orthodox neo-liberal policies and appointed a cabinet of hard-right neo-liberals including Bradesco banker Joaquin Levy as Finance Minister. Levy proposed to reduce unemployment payments, pensions and public salaries. He argued for greater de-regulation of banks. He proposed to weaken job protection laws to attract capital. He sought to achieve a budget surplus and attract foreign investment at the expense of labor.

Rousseff, consistent with her embrace of neo-liberal orthodoxy, appointed Katia Abreu, a rightwing senator, a life-long leader of agro-business interests and sworn enemy of land reform, as the new Agricultural Minister. Crowned “Miss Deforestation” by Greenpeace, Senator Abreu was vehemently opposed by the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and the labor confederation to no avail. With Rousseff’s total backing Abreu set out on a course of ending even the minimal land redistribution carried out in Rousseff’s first term in office (establishing land settlements benefiting less than 10% of the landless squatters). Abreu endorsed regulations facilitating the expansion of genetically modified crops, and promises to forcefully evict Amazonian Indians occupying productive land in favor of large-scale agro-business corporations. Moreover, she promises to vigorously defend landlords from land occupations by landless rural workers.

Rousseff’s incapacity and/or unwillingness to fire and prosecute the Workers Party Treasurer, involved in a decade long billion-dollar kickback and bribery scandal, deepened and widened mass opposition.

On March 15, 2015 over a million Brazilians filled the streets across the country, led by rightist parties, but drawing support from the popular classes demanding immediate anti-corruption trials and stern sentences, and the revocation of Levy’s cuts in social expenditures.

The counter demonstration in support of Rousseff by the CUT labor confederation and the MST drew one-tenth that number – about 100,000 participants.

Rousseff responded by calling for ‘dialogue’ and claimed to be ‘open to proposals’ on the issue of corruption but explicitly rejected any changes in her regressive fiscal policies, neo-liberal cabinet appointmentsand her embrace of their agro-mineral agenda.

In less than two months, the Workers Party and its President has indelibly stained its leaders, policies and backers with the brush of corruption and socially regressive policies.

Popular support has plummeted. The right wing is growing. Even the authoritarian, pro-military coup activists were present in the mass demonstrations, carrying signs calling for ‘impeachment’ and a return of military rule.

As in most of Latin America, the authoritarian right in Brazil is a growing force, positioning itself to take power as the center-left adopts a neo-liberal agenda throughout the region. Parties dubbed ‘center-left’, like the Broad Front in Uruguay, the pro-government Party for Victory in Argentina, are deepening their ties with agro-mineral corporate capitalism.

Uninformed claims by leftist US writers like Noam Chomsky that, “Latin America is the vanguard against neo-liberalism” is at best a decade late, and certainly misleading. They are deceived by populist policy pronouncements and refuse to acknowledge the decay of the center –left regimes and thus fail to recognize how their neoliberal political actions are fostering mass popular discontent. Regimes, which adopt regressive socio-economic policies, do not constitute a vanguard for social emancipation.

Conclusion

What accounts for these abrupt reversals and swiftly broken promises by recently elected supposedly ‘left parties’ in Europe and Latin America?

One has come to expect this kind of behavior in North America from the Obama Democrats or the New Democratic Party in Canada . . . But we were led to believe that in France, with its red republican traditions, a Socialist regime backed (‘critically’) by anti-capitalists leftists; would at least implement progressive social reforms. We were told by an army of progressive bloggers that Syriza, with its charismatic leader, and radical rhetoric, would at least fulfill its most elementary promises by lifting the yoke of Troika domination and begin to end destitution and provide electricity to 300,000 candle-lit households. ‘Progressives’ had repeatedly told us that the Workers Party lifted 30 million out of poverty. They claimed that a former ‘honest auto worker’ (Lula Da Silva) would never allow the Workers Party to revert back to neo-liberal budget cuts and embrace its supposed ‘class enemies’. US leftist professors refused to give credence to the crass billion-dollar robbery of the Brazilian National Treasury under two Workers’ Party Presidents.

Several explanations for these political betrayals come to mind. First, despite their popular or ‘workerist’ claims, these parties were run by middle class lawyers, professionals and trade union bureaucrats, who were organically disconnected from their mass base. During election campaigns, seeking votes, they briefly embraced workers and the poor, and then spent the rest of their time in pricey restaurants working out “deals” with bankers, business bribe granters and overseas investors to finance their next election, their children’s private school and their mistresses luxury apartments.

For a time, when the economy was booming, big corporate profits, payoffs and bribes went hand in hand with wage increases and poverty programs. But when the crisis broke, the ‘popular’ leaders doffed their Party hats and pronounced ‘fiscal austerity was inevitable while going with their begging cups before their international financial overlords.

In all these countries faced with difficult times, the middle class leaders of the Left feared the problem (capitalist crisis) and feared the real solution (radical transformation). Instead they turned to the ‘only solution’: they approached capitalist leaders and sought to convince business associations and, above all their financial overlords, that they were ‘serious and responsible politicians’, willing to forsake social agendas and embrace fiscal discipline. For domestic consumption, they cursed and threatened the elites, providing a little theater to entertain their plebeian followers, before they capitulated!

None of the academics-turned-left-leaders have any deep and abiding links to the mass struggles. Their ‘activism’ involves reading papers at ‘social forums’, and giving papers at conferences on ‘emancipation and equality’. Political sellouts and fiscal austerity will not jeopardize their economic positions. If their Left parties are ousted by angry constituents and radical social movements, the left leaders pack their bags and return to comfortable tenured jobs or rejoin their law office. They do not have to worry about mass firings or reduced subsistence pensions. At their leisure they will find time to sit back and write another paper on the how the  ‘crisis of capitalism’ undermined their well-intentioned social agenda or how they experienced the ‘crisis of the Left’.

Because of their disconnect from the suffering of the impoverished, unemployed voters, the middle class leftists in office are blind to the need to make a break with the system. In reality, they share the worldview of their supposedly conservative adversaries: they too believe that ‘it’s capitalism or chaos’. This borrowed cliché is passed off as a deep insight into the dilemmas of democratic socialists. The middle class leftist officials and advisers always use the alibi of ‘institutional constraints’. They ‘theorize’ their political impotence – they never recognize the power of organized class movements.

Their political cowardice is structural and leads to easy moral betrayals: they plead, ‘Crisis is not a time to tinker with the system’.

For the middle class, ‘time’ becomes a political excuse. Middle class leaders of popular movements, without audacity or programs of struggle, always talk of change . . .  in the future.

Instead of mass struggle, they run to and fro, between the centers of financial power and their Central Committees, confusing ‘dialogues’ that end in submission, with consequential resistance.

In the end the people will re-pay them turning their backs and rejecting their pleas to re-elect them ‘for another chance’.

There will not be another chance. This ‘Left’ will be discredited in the eyes of those whose trust they betrayed.

The tragedy is that the entire left will be tarnished. Who can believe the fine words of ‘liberation’, ‘the will to hope’ and the ‘return of sovereignty’ after experiencing years of the opposite?

Left politics will be lost for an entire generation, at least in Brazil, France and Greece.

The Right will ridicule the open zipper of Hollande; the false humility of Rousseff; the hollow gestures of Tsipras and the clowning of Varoufakis.

The people will curse their memory and their betrayal of a noble cause.