Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Hippies Were Right

Paul Krugman and the Class War

Krugman’s February 28th New York Times column on austerity brings back a funny analogy that the sober uber-liberals of our day rarely make.  Krugman points out that opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 made one a ‘foolish hippie’ to the elite pro-war consensus.  Of course, as Krugman intimates, the ‘hippies’ were right about that one.  Ben Bernanke recently gave testimony to Congress that, in Krugman’s estimation, counsels against austerity as a solution to joblessness, foreclosures and poverty.  Krugman asks, “Has Bernanke joined the ranks of the hippies?”  Krugman hopes that, when one of the Beltway class disagrees with the consensus, there might be a chance that the bi-partisan ‘elite obsession with deficits’ can be curtailed. 

Don’t count on it.   They’ve been hating on hippies since 1965, and before that, beats, and before that, bohemians.  Yet, the hippies of the '60s and '70s were right about nearly everything.  Hippiedom was a world-wide phenomenon, not just limited to the U.S.  The hippies were right on the Vietnam War, on marijuana, on rock music, on environmentalism, on women’s liberation, on black revolution, on Chicano rights, on sexual freedom, on organic food, on the early roots of the internet.  Hell, even clothing – they made blue jeans a mass phenomenon. 

Which brings us back to Krugman.  The February 2013 Monthly Review quotes another Krugman column where Krugman the New-Born Hippie muses:  “Are we really back to talking about capital versus labor?  Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy?”  (Don't you love people who talk about the 'information economy" like we materially survive in an ethereal form by reading the internet!) In another blog entry he writes, “if you want to understand what’s happening to income distribution in the 21st century economy, you need to stop talking so much about ‘skills’ and start talking much more about profits and who owns capital. Mea culpa: I myself didn’t grasp this until recently. But it is really crucial.”  In another column he writes, “If income inequality continues to soar, we are looking at a ‘class-warfare future.’"

Welcome to the Hippie Club, Paul.  It might be noted that, in that day, tens of thousands of ‘hippies’ in the U.S., both western and formally 'Communist" eastern Europe, Mexico, Japan, Australia and other countries also supported Marxism in various forms.  So perhaps we were right about that, too.

If you want to look at the ‘class-war’ future, it is actually not in the future, it is now.  Across Europe, especially in the continuation of the revolution in Egypt, or in India and China, the working-class is stirring.  In Greece, Spain and soon perhaps Italy, mass demonstrations and strikes have been constant.  Attempts at an occupation of the Spanish parliament by the left was defeated by the police a few months ago.  Iberia Air workers recently seized the air terminal in Madrid.  However, no matter how many general strikes, massive demonstrations and anti-austerity parliamentary votes happen, unless the working class escalates, these tactics alone cannot win.  As Rosa Luxembourg pointed out (see review of “All Power to the Councils,” below) the parliamentary form of representative government is particularly suited to capitalism at its most efficient.  This form of government allows the capitalists to control the process through money, law, media and timing. It is what they used against feudalism. 

The working class has to develop its own form of government, which ultimately can be a form of dual power.  And that form of government is workers and popular councils, in worksites and in communities. That is ultimately how the working-classes can really control society.  This is what has happened in every single situation where capital is actually threatened.  Is it time now in Greece, in Spain, perhaps later in Italy or Latvia, that councils start forming as a form of political power over and against the discredited, unrepresentative and bankrupt parliamentary forms?

I think so.  If you see this happening, we will know that that ‘class-war future’ Krugman talked about has escalated another notch.  Of course, here in the U.S. there is a developing class consciousness, but no mass organizations capable of turning this into political gains.  The AFL-CIO and “Change to Win” federations sold their souls to the Democrats once again, and will not advance beyond what the Democrats decree.  The Democrats are a party of capital – nothing new here – so real progress cannot come through them.  The best thing that could happen is a split in that party, to form a left-populist labor-oriented party not allied with large capital. (See review of “The Democrats – A Critical History,” reviewed below.)  But that is unlikely in the near future.

Who is involved now?  It is the children of the original hippies who are now coming of age, in their 20s and early 30s.  It is the children especially, of the younger cohort of that group - the younger brothers and sisters of the 60s and 70s - who were always more radical than their older siblings.  These are the young activists all over Europe, the U.S. and in other parts of the world who see that the economic ruling class is not their friend. And is leading to a rebirth of political class consciousness and Marxism.

Krugman thinks that appealing to the Democratic Party is an effective strategy – it is the basis of almost every column he writes.  However, an educated NYT columnist and ‘economist,’ no matter how many Nobels he has, or how ‘respected’ he is, is not going to sway a machine that sees ‘fighting the deficit’ as a way to ‘fight the class war.’  Every fiscal emergency dreamed up by the two bankrupt political parties that dominate the political terrain, working the deficit like a ‘hard cop/soft cop’ routine, ultimately will cut ‘something’ to benefit the wealthy.  Which is why the elite, the Beltway, the Parties, will never listen to Paul Krugman. It is not in their financial interest to do so.

Red Frog
March 2, 2013

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