Jul 082017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Throughout the US and European corporate and state media, right and left, we are told that ‘populism’ has become the overarching threat to democracy, freedom and … free markets. The media’s ‘anti-populism’ campaign has been used and abused by ruling elites and their academic and intellectual camp followers as the principal weapon to distract, discredit and destroy the rising tide of mass discontent with ruling class-imposed austerity programs, the accelerating concentration of wealth and the deepening inequalities.

We will begin by examining the conceptual manipulation of ‘populism’ and its multiple usages. Then we will turn to the historic economic origins of populism and anti-populism. Finally, we will critically analyze the contemporary movements and parties dubbed ‘populist’ by the ideologues of ‘anti-populism’.

Conceptual Manipulation

In order to understand the current ideological manipulation accompanying ‘anti-populism’ it is necessary to examine the historical roots of populism as a popular movement.

Populism emerged during the 19th and 20th century as an ideology, movement and government in opposition to autocracy, feudalism, capitalism, imperialism and socialism. In the United States, populist leaders led agrarian struggles backed by millions of small farmers in opposition to bankers, railroad magnates and land speculators. Opposing monopolistic practices of the ‘robber barons’, the populist movement supported broad-based commercial agriculture, access to low interest farm credit and reduced transport costs.

In 19th century Russia, the populists opposed the Tsar, the moneylenders and the burgeoning commercial elites.

In early 20th century India and China, populism took the form of nationalist agrarian movements seeking to overthrow the imperial powers and their comprador collaborators.

In Latin America, from the 1930s onward, especially with the crises of export regimes, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, embraced a variety of populist, anti-imperialist governments. In Brazil, President Getulio Vargas’s term (1951-1954) was notable for the establishment of a national industrial program promoting the interests of urban industrial workers despite banning independent working class trade unions and Marxist parties. In Argentina, President Juan Peron’s first terms (1946-1954) promoted large-scale working class organization, advanced social welfare programs and embraced nationalist capitalist development.

In Bolivia, a worker-peasant revolution brought to power a nationalist party, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), which nationalized the tin mines, expropriated the latifundios and promoted national development during its rule from 1952-1964.

In Peru, under President Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975), the government expropriated the coastal sugar plantations and US oil fields and copper mines while promoting worker and agricultural cooperatives.

In all cases, the populist governments in Latin America were based on a coalition of nationalist capitalists, urban workers and the rural poor. In some notable cases, nationalist military officers brought populist governments to power. What they had in common was their opposition to foreign capital and its local supporters and exporters (‘compradores’), bankers and their elite military collaborators. Populists promoted ‘third way’ politics by opposing imperialism on the right, and socialism and communism on the left. The populists supported the redistribution of wealth but not the expropriation of property. They sought to reconcile national capitalists and urban workers. They opposed class struggle but supported state intervention in the economy and import-substitution as a development strategy.

Imperialist powers were the leading anti-populists of that period. They defended property privileges and condemned nationalism as ‘authoritarian’ and undemocratic. They demonized the mass support for populism as ‘a threat to Western Christian civilization’. Not infrequently, the anti-populists ideologues would label the national-populists as ‘fascists’ … even as they won numerous elections at different times and in a variety of countries.

The historical experience of populism, in theory and practice, has nothing to do with what today’s ‘anti-populists’ in the media are calling ‘populism’. In reality, current anti-populism is still a continuation of anti-communism, a political weapon to disarm working class and popular movements. It advances the class interest of the ruling class. Both ‘anti’s’ have been orchestrated by ruling class ideologues seeking to blur the real nature of their ‘pro-capitalist’ privileged agenda and practice. Presenting your program as ‘pro-capitalist’, pro-inequalities, pro-tax evasion and pro-state subsidies for the elite is more difficult to defend at the ballot box than to claim to be ‘anti-populist’.

‘Anti-populism’ is the simple ruling class formula for covering-up their real agenda, which is pro-militarist, pro-imperialist (globalization), pro-‘rebels’ (i.e. mercenary terrorists working for regime change), pro crisis makers and pro-financial swindlers.

The economic origins of ‘anti-populism’ are rooted in the deep and repeated crises of capitalism and the need to deflect and discredit mass discontent and demoralize the popular classes in struggle. By demonizing ‘populism’, the elites seek to undermine the rising tide of anger over the elite-imposed wage cuts, the rise of low-paid temporary jobs and the massive increase in the reserve army of cheap immigrant labor to compete with displaced native workers.

Historic ‘anti-populism’ has its roots in the inability of capitalism to secure popular consent via elections. It reflects their anger and frustration at their failure to grow the economy, to conquer and exploit independent countries and to finance growing fiscal deficits.

The Amalgamation of Historical Populism with the Contemporary Fabricated Populism

What the current anti-populists ideologues label ‘populism’ has little to do with the historical movements.

Unlike all of the past populist governments, which sought to nationalize strategic industries, none of the current movements and parties, denounced as ‘populist’ by the media, are anti-imperialists. In fact, the current ‘populists’ attack the lowest classes and defend the imperialist-allied capitalist elites. The so-called current ‘populists’ support imperialist wars and bank swindlers, unlike the historical populists who were anti-war and anti-bankers.

Ruling class ideologues simplistically conflate a motley collection of right-wing capitalist parties and organizations with the pro-welfare state, pro-worker and pro-farmer parties of the past in order to discredit and undermine the burgeoning popular multi-class movements and regimes.

Demonization of independent popular movements ignores the fundamental programmatic differences and class politics of genuine populist struggles compared with the contemporary right-wing capitalist political scarecrows and clowns.

One has only to compare the currently demonized ‘populist’ Donald Trump with the truly populist US President Franklin Roosevelt, who promoted social welfare, unionization, labor rights, increased taxes on the rich, income redistribution, and genuine health and workplace safety legislation within a multi-class coalition to see how absurd the current media campaign has become.

The anti-populist ideologues label President Trump a ‘populist’ when his policies and proposals are the exact opposite. Trump champions the repeal of all pro-labor and work safety regulation, as well as the slashing of public health insurance programs while reducing corporate taxes for the ultra-elite.

The media’s ‘anti-populists’ ideologues denounce pro-business right-wing racists as ‘populists’. In Italy, Finland, Holland, Austria, Germany and France anti-working class parties are called ‘populist’ for attacking immigrants instead of bankers and militarists.

In other words, the key to understanding contemporary ‘anti-populism’ is to see its role in preempting and undermining the emergence of authentic populist movements while convincing middle class voters to continue to vote for crisis-prone, austerity-imposing neo-liberal regimes. ‘Anti-populism’ has become the opium (or OxyContin) of frightened middle class voters.

The anti-populism of the ruling class serves to confuse the ‘right’ with the ‘left’; to sidelight the latter and promote the former; to amalgamate right-wing ‘rallies’ with working class strikes; and to conflate right-wing demagogues with popular mass leaders.

Unfortunately, too many leftist academics and pundits are loudly chanting in the ‘anti-populist’ chorus. They have failed to see themselves among the shock troops of the right. The left ideologues join the ruling class in condemning the corporate populists in the name of ‘anti-fascism’. Left-wing writers, claiming to ‘combat the far-right enemies of the people’, overlook the fact that they are ‘fellow-travelling’ with an anti-populist ruling class, which has imposed savage cuts in living standards, spread imperial wars of aggression resulting in millions of desperate refugees-not immigrants –and concentrated immense wealth.

The bankruptcy of today’s ‘anti-populist’ left will leave them sitting in their coffee shops, scratching at fleas, as the mass popular movements take to the streets!

James Petras is author of The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East. Read other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Mar 252017
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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Introduction

From their dismal swamps, US academic and financial journal editorialists, the mass media and contemporary ‘Asia experts’, Western progressive and conservative politicians croak in unison about China’s environmental and impending collapse.

They have variably proclaimed (1) China’s economy is in decline; (2) the debt is overwhelming; a Chinese real estate bubble is ready to burst; (3) the country is rife with corruption and poisoned with pollution; and (4) Chinese workers are staging paralyzing strikes and protests amid growing repression – the result of exploitation and sharp class inequality. The financial frogs croak about China as an imminent military threat to the security of the US and its Asian partners. Other frogs leap for that fly in the sky – arguing that the Chinese now threatens the entire universe!

The ‘China doomsters’ with ‘logs in their own eyes’ have systematically distorted reality, fabricated whimsical tales and paint vision, which, in truth, reflect their own societies.

As each false claim is refuted, the frogs alter their tunes: When predictions of imminent collapse fail to materialize, they add a year or even a decade to their crystal ball. When their warnings of negative national social, economic and structural trends instead move in a positive direction, their nimble fingers re-calibrate the scope and depth of the crisis, citing anecdotal ‘revelations’ from some village or town or taxi driver conversation.

As long-predicted failures fail to materialize, the experts re-hash the data by questioning the reliability of China’s official statistics.

Worst of all, Western ‘Asia’ experts and scholars try ‘role reversal’: While US bases and ships increasingly encircle China, the Chinese become the aggressors and the bellicose US imperialists whine about their victim-hood.

Cutting through the swamp of these fabrications, this essay aims to outline an alternative and more objective account of China’s current socio-economic and political realty.

China: Fiction and Fact

We repeatedly read about China’s ‘cheap wage’ economy and the brutal exploitation of its slaving workers by billionaire oligarchs and corrupt political officials. In fact, the average wage in China’s manufacturing sector has tripled during this decade. China’s labor force receives wages which exceed those of Latin America countries, with one dubious exception. Chinese manufacturing wages now approach those of the downwardly mobile countries in the EU. Meanwhile, the neo-liberal regimes, under EU and US pressure, have halved wages in Greece, and significantly reduced incomes in Brazil, Mexico and Portugal. In China, workers wages now surpass Argentina, Colombia and Thailand. While not high by US-EU standards, China’s 2015 wages stood at $3.60 per hour – improving the living standards of 1.4 billion workers. During the time that China tripled its workers ‘wages, the wages of Indian workers stagnate at $0.70 per hour and South African wages fell from $4.30 to $3.60 per hour.

This spectacular increase in Chinese worker’s wages is largely attributed to skyrocketing productivity, resulting from steady improvements in worker health, education and technical training, as well as sustained organized worker pressure and class struggle. President Xi Jinping’s successful campaign for the removal and arrest of hundreds of thousands of corrupt and exploitative officials and factory bosses has boosted worker power. Chinese workers are closing the gap with the US minimum wage. At the current rate of growth, the gap, which had narrowed from one tenth to one half the US wage in ten years, will disappear in the near future.

China is no longer merely a low-wage, unskilled, labor intensive, assembly plant and export-oriented economy. Today twenty thousand technical schools graduate millions of skilled workers. High tech factories are incorporating robotics on a massive scale to replace unskilled workers. The service sector is increasing to meet the domestic consumer market. Faced with growing US political and military hostility, China has diversified its export market, turning from the US to Russia, the EU, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Despite these impressive objective advances, the chorus of ‘crooked croakers’ continue to churn out annual predictions of China’s economic decline and decay. Their analyses are not altered by China’s 6.7% GNP growth in 2016; they jump on the 2017 forecast of ‘decline’ to 6.6% as proof of its looming collapse! Not be dissuaded by reality, the chorus of ‘Wall Street croakers’ wildly celebrate when the US announces a GNP increase from 1% to 1.5%!

While China has acknowledged its serious environmental problems, it is a leader in committing billions of dollars (2% of GNP) to reduce greenhouse gases – closing factories and mines. Their efforts far exceed those of the US and EU.

China, like the rest of Asia, as well as the US, needs to vastly increase investments in rebuilding its decaying or non-existent infrastructure. The Chinese government is alone among nations in keeping up with and even exceeding its growing transportation needs – spending $800 billion a year on high speed railroads, rail lines, seaports, airports subways and bridges.

While the US has rejected multi-national trade and investment treaties with eleven Pacific countries, China has promoted and financed global trade and investment treaties with more than fifty Asia-Pacific (minus Japan and the US), as well as African and European states.

China’s leadership under President Xi Jinping has launched an effective large-scale anti-corruption campaign leading to the arrest or ouster of over 200,000 business and public officials, including billionaires, and top politburo and Central Committee members. As a result of this national campaign, purchases of luxury items have significantly declined. The practice of using public funds for elaborate 12 course dinners and the ritual of gift giving and taking are on the wane.

Meanwhile, despite the political campaigns to ‘drain the swamp’ and successful populist referenda, nothing remotely resembling China’s anti-corruption campaign have taken root in the US and the UK despite daily reports of swindles and fraud involving the hundred leading investment banks in the Anglo-American world. China’s anti-corruption campaign may have succeeded in reducing inequalities. It clearly has earned the overwhelming support of the Chinese workers and farmers.

Journalists and academics, who like to parrot the Anglo-American and NATO Generals, warn that China’s military program poses a direct threat to the security of the US, Asia and indeed the rest of world.

Historical amnesia infects these most deep diving frogs. Forgotten is how the post WW2 US invaded and destroyed Korea and Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) killing over nine million inhabitants, both civilian and defenders. The US invaded, colonized and neo-colonized the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, killing up to one million inhabitants. It continues to build and expand its network of military bases encircling China, It recently moved powerful, nuclear armed THADD missiles to the North Korean border, capable of attacking Chinese and even Russian cities. The US is the world’s largest arms exporter, surpassing the collective production and sale of the next five leading merchants of death.

In contrast, China has not unilaterally attacked, invaded or occupied anyone in hundreds of years. It does not place nuclear missiles on the US coast or borders. In fact, it does not have a single overseas military base. Its own military bases, in the South China Sea, are established to protect its vital maritime routes from pirates and the increasingly provocative US naval armada. China’s military budget, scheduled to increase by 7% in 2017, is still less than one-fourth of the US budget.

For its part, the US promotes aggressive military alliances, points radar and satellite guided missiles at China, Iran and Russia, and threatens to obliterate North Korea. China’s military program has been and continues to be defensive. Its increase is based on its response to US provocation. China’s foreign imperial thrust is based on a global market strategy while Washington continues to pursue a militarist imperial strategy, designed to impose global domination by force.

Conclusion

The frogs of the Western intelligentsia have crocked loud and long. They strut and pose as the world’s leading fly catchers – but producing nothing credible in terms of objective analyses.

China has serious social, economic and structural problems, but they are systematically confronting them. The Chinese are committed to improving their society, economy and political system on their own terms. They seek to solve immensely challenging problems, while refusing to sacrifice their national sovereignty and the welfare of their people.

In confronting China as a world capitalist competitor, the US official policy is to surround China with military bases and threaten to disrupt its economy. As part of this strategy, Western media and so-called ‘experts’ magnify China’s problems and minimize their own.

Unlike China, the US is wallowing at less than 2% annual growth. Wages stagnate for decades; real wages and living standards decline. The costs of education and health care skyrocket, while the quality of these vital services decline dramatically. Costs are growing, unemployment is growing and worker suicide and mortality is growing. It is absolutely vital that the West acknowledge China’s impressive advances in order to learn, borrow and foster a similar pattern of positive growth and equity. Co-operation between China and the US is essential for promoting peace and justice in Asia.

Unfortunately, the previous US President Obama and the current President Trump have chosen the path of military confrontation and aggression. The two terms of Obama’s administration present a record of failing wars, financial crises, burgeoning prisons and declining domestic living standards. But for all their noise, these frogs, croaking in unison, will not change the real world.

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.