Friday, September 8, 2017

UN chief warns against the march to world war

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The warning issued Tuesday by the secretary general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, that the confrontation developing on the Korean peninsula increasingly resembles the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War over a century ago deserve to be taken with deadly seriousness.
“Wars usually do not start by a decision taken in a moment by the parties to go to war,” he said. “If you look at the history of the First World War, it was on a step-by-step basis, one party doing one thing, the other party doing another, and then an escalation taking place… This is the risk we need to avoid in relation to the situation of North Korea.”
Without mentioning Donald Trump and the cabal of active duty and retired generals who are overseeing the ever-more bellicose and reckless US policy by name, Guterres was clearly referring to them in warning that “Confrontational rhetoric may lead to unintended consequences. The solution must be political.” He added, “The potential consequences of military action are too horrific.”
While couched in the solicitous rhetoric that the United Nations reserves for dealing with the worldwide crimes and provocations of US imperialism, the significance of Guterres’ remarks was unmistakable. The “unintended consequences” of the provocative threats being made by Washington to launch a so-called “preventive war” against North Korea may prove to be a military clash that escalates into a global nuclear war.
The founding charter of the United Nations declared in its first sentence that the mission of the organization was “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” That the head of the organization warns humanity that it is facing such “untold sorrow” for a third time on a scale that would far eclipse the carnage of World War I and World War II is, one would think, a matter of no small public interest.
Nor are Guterres’ statements unique. Last month, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel compared the standoff between the US and North Korea to the descent of Europe into World War I. The danger, he said, was that “like in World War I, we will sleepwalk into war. Only this time it might be a nuclear war.”
Similarly last month, James Clapper, until January of this year the US Director of National Intelligence, stated in a television interview that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was “somewhat reminiscent to me of the history of World War I and how the world kind of blundered into that. I hope people learn from history here and don’t repeat that.”
These stark warnings, however, have largely fallen on deaf ears. There is no reporting or serious commentary concerning the threat of nuclear war and its implications for the population of the United States and the entire planet in the US corporate media. No major figure in either the Republican or Democratic Party has issued a warning or called for a debate over the intensely dangerous and provocative course being pursued by the Trump administration in relation to North Korea.
The various organizations and publications of the pseudo-left, which orbit around the Democratic Party, are maintaining strict radio silence on the war danger. None of them have any interests in exposing this threat to the American people, much less in fighting to organize a movement of workers and youth against it.
The grim reality of what is being prepared is being discussed more frankly in military think-tanks and publications. One such article, written by Rob Givens, a former Air Force general who served as the deputy assistant chief of staff for US military operations in Korea, warned that war on the Korean Peninsula “once unimaginable is becoming more possible.”
The opening of such a conflict, he writes, would see “US bombers from around the world” brought in, so that “Every square foot of North Korea would be in range.”
“North Korea’s casualties would be appalling,” he writes. “The estimates are that we would inflict 20,000 casualties on the North each day of combat.” At the same time, he writes, it is estimated that North Korea would “inflict 20,000 casualties a day just in Seoul during the first few days.”
Massive loss of human life, he warns, “would be unavoidable.”
“We will use cluster weapons that spread bomblets over areas the size of football fields,” he writes. “We will return artillery fire wherever enemy batteries are firing. When optimum for military conditions, we will hit targets in the middle of urban areas; it would be impossible to prevent civilian casualties. To fight effectively, we will have to bomb command facilities in the heart of neighborhoods. We will destroy missiles on mobile launchers even if they are placed in sensitive areas. Our ground forces will pour fire into the enemy without an excessive regard for damage. And, yes, we will bomb targets more widely than in recent decades.” The death toll, he affirms, would make the millions killed and maimed during “our last 16 years of active combat in the Middle East pale in comparison.”
What is described here is a war crime of Hitlerian dimensions. And yet, it is, in the insane calculus of modern imperialist war planners, the “best case scenario” in which a new Korean War involves neither an exchange of nuclear attacks, nor the drawing in of nuclear-armed China and Russia, which both border North Korea and are both locked in tense confrontations with Washington from the South China Sea, to Syria and Eastern Europe.
Avoiding either catastrophic eventuality is unlikely, as was made clear over the past two days, with the US deploying additional launchers Thursday for its THAAD missile defense system in the face of popular protest in South Korea and denunciations by Beijing that the system is really aimed at China, and would facilitate a nuclear first strike against it. Two days earlier, China tested its own anti-missile systems near the North Korean border. Signaling that the exercise was in preparation for confrontation with the US, the South China Morning Post quoted a Beijing-based naval expert as saying the drill demonstrated that “China is prepared and able to stop any power that threatens stability in the region.”
While the rapid escalation of military confrontation between June and August of 1914 that produced the slaughterhouse of World War I no doubt involved “unintended consequences” and “blunders,” on the part of the various ruling dynasties and bourgeois governments of Europe, the cause of the war was rooted in contradictions of the global capitalist system as a whole, above all between the global advance and integration of humanity’s productive forces and the continued division of the planet by the system of rival nation-states in which the capitalist system is rooted.
As Trotsky explained in The War and the International, written in 1915 in the midst of the war, the capitalist powers sought to resolve this contradiction not through the “intelligent, organised cooperation of all of humanity’s producers, but through the exploitation of the world’s economic system by the capitalist class of the victorious country.” The war, he wrote, represented “the most colossal breakdown in history of an economic system destroyed by its own inherent contradictions.”
A century later, these contradictions, far from being resolved, have been intensified by capitalist globalization and the unrelenting drive by US imperialism to counter its decline on the stage of world capitalism by asserting its global hegemony through the ever more aggressive and reckless use of military force.
But war is not the only expression of insoluble contradictions of the world capitalist system. They also lay the objective material foundations for social revolution. The taking of power by the Russian working class under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party 100 years ago sounded the death knell of the First World War.
The task confronting the working class today is to prevent the outbreak of a third world war, which could only end in a nuclear conflagration that humanity would not survive. The most urgent task is the development of a mass political movement of the working class in opposition to war and its source, the capitalist system.

If I Had a Hammer...

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Probably it's my age showing, but my taste in music is completely stuck in the mud. I see these new singers being promoted on TV, and I've never heard of a single one of them. Even my refuge radio station is getting weird on me. I was in the car the other day listening to WZLX, the classic rock station out of Boston, and they played "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction. I almost drove off the road. That's not classic rock! That's my music! I was annoyed, until I remembered that "Jane Says" came out 29 years ago, and then I was annoyed and a little sad.
Know what else is stuck in the mud, and has been for about the same amount of time? Wages. Your wages, mine, and just about everyone else's -- 70 percent of workers in the US -- haven't changed much at all for decades. Adjusted for inflation, your upward mobility and ability to save for the future are pretty much right where they were when Jane first said what she had to say.
They say time flies. When it comes to the so-called American Dream, however, time has been standing still.
The fact that wages in this country have not improved for two generations running has a whole lot to do with the ongoing and highly successful campaign fought against labor unions by the bosses of the world, including the one who's currently running the country. Today, only about 13 percent of US households are made up of union workers. The decline in the ranks of labor unions matches with cold precision the overall decline of the nation itself.
Unions represent and fight for what the United States should be, and more importantly, serve as a vital bulwark against the atrocities of this country's early labor history, right from its colonial beginnings. The 17th century aristocrat with the tobacco plantation -- constructed on stolen land -- profited largely from the labor of enslaved Africans, enslaved or indentured Indigenous people, as well as that of unpaid laborers scraped from the lowest rungs of British society. Both cases created profit for the few, with toil and misery for the many. That struggle, in one form or another, has been going on ever since. Organized labor has been a key component of the resistance to that old, ugly formula.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, one could not go more than a day without hearing candidate Trump rail about empty factories dotting the landscape like tombstones. This was, to put it mildly, a hoot, because it was his wealthy friends and their parents, and their parents' parents, who intentionally obliterated the manufacturing industry in the United States.
For many years, labor unions held the line against ownership's greed and actually made sure a factory worker could support a family. Their influence was growing, and that influence had to be stymied if profits were to be maximized. By deliberately sending our nation's manufacturing core -- steel, textiles, etc. -- overseas, where wages were lower, ownership pulled a checkmate move against labor unions, kneecapping their power.
They didn't care if such an act shattered the economy for the rest of us, because they still got paid. More importantly to them, they chopped down broader union influence with brutal effect. How are you going to organize if there are no more jobs? There's always work at Walmart, because ours is now a service economy -- but don't try to unionize.
Over a quarter of the nation's workers were in a union before Ronald Reagan famously fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers and crushed their union in 1981. After that, Reagan stacked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with avowed union-haters, which made screwing your workers easier and safer than getting the mail. Union enrollment plummeted after that, the years rolled by, wages stagnated, and none of it was an accident.
The first rule of non-union workers is, "The bosses don't care about you, you are disposable." They wrecked a very good economic model on purpose rather than live in a country where laborers can organize for a real living wage, and that is Pennsylvania steel-bound fact. They destroyed the village in order to save it … for themselves.
When it comes to wages and unions, we have all been trapped in a kind of feedback loop. It is this way because it has always been this way and will always be this way, because that's the way it is. Everything stays the same, including your sorry paycheck and your deflated opportunities for a better life.
If I had a hammer, I would smash that stilted owner-positive paradigm to shards and flinders.
Wait, I do have a hammer.
See, I'm in a union, an unusual thing these days. Some brave souls organized our shop years ago, and were able to succeed. Not every workplace that attempts unionization is able to follow this path. The problem is not that workers don't want to unionize. The problem is that the act of trying to unionize is practically revolutionary these days, and the forces arrayed against those who would organize are aggressive, repressive, well-funded and also organized themselves. Unionizing is not easy -- anything worth doing seldom is -- and often comes with danger, but unions, collective worker strength, is our hammer. It's time to pick it up and swing it again.

Diseases of Despair

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The opioid crisis, the frequent mass shootings, the rising rates of suicide, especially among middle-aged white males, the morbid obesity, the obsession with gambling, the investment of our emotional and intellectual life in tawdry spectacles and the allure of magical thinking, from the absurd promises of the Christian right to the belief that reality is never an impediment to our desires, are the pathologies of a diseased culture. They have risen from a decayed world where opportunity, which confers status, self-esteem and dignity, has dried up for most Americans. They are expressions of acute desperation and morbidity.

A loss of income causes more than financial distress. It severs, as the sociologist Émile Durkheim pointed out, the vital social bonds that give us meaning. A decline in status and power, an inability to advance, a lack of education and health care and a loss of hope are crippling forms of humiliation. This humiliation fuels loneliness, frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness. In short, when you are marginalized and rejected by society, life often has little meaning.

“When life is not worth living, everything becomes a pretext for ridding ourselves of it … ,” Durkheim wrote. “There is a collective mood, as there is an individual mood, that inclines nations to sadness. … For individuals are too closely involved in the life of society for it to be sick without their being affected. Its suffering inevitably becomes theirs.”

White men, more easily seduced by the myth of the American dream than people of color who understand how the capitalist system is rigged against them, often suffer feelings of failure and betrayal, in many cases when they are in their middle years. They expect, because of notions of white supremacy and capitalist platitudes about hard work leading to advancement, to be ascendant. They believe in success. When the American dream becomes a nightmare they are vulnerable to psychological collapse. This collapse, more than any political agenda, propelled Donald Trump into power. Trump embodies the decayed soul of America. He, like many of those who support him, has a childish yearning to be as omnipotent as the gods. This impossibility, as the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote, leads to a dark alternative: destroying like the gods.

In “Hitler and the Germans” the political philosopher Eric Voegelin dismissed the myth that Hitler—an uneducated mediocrity whose only strength was an ability to exploit political opportunities—mesmerized and seduced the German people. The Germans, he wrote, voted for Hitler and the “grotesque, marginal figures” surrounding him because he embodied the pathologies of a diseased society, one beset by economic collapse, hopelessness and violence. This sickness found its expression in the Nazis, as it has found its expression in the United States in Trump. 

Hannah Arendt said the rise of radical evil is caused by collective “thoughtlessness.” Desperate to escape from the prison of a failed society, willing to do anything and abuse anyone to advance, those who feel trapped see the people around them as objects to be exploited for self-advancement. This exploitation mirrors that carried out by corrupt ruling elites. Turning people into objects to be used to achieve wealth, power or sexual gratification is the core practice espoused by popular culture, from reality television to casino capitalism. Trump personifies this practice.

Plato wrote that the moral character of a society is determined by its members. When the society abandons the common good it unleashes amoral lusts—violence, greed and sexual exploitation—and fosters magical thinking. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus called those who severed themselves from the moral and reality-based universe idiotes. When these idiotes, whose worldview is often the product of relentless indoctrination, form a majority or a powerful minority, the demagogue rises from the morass.

The demagogue is the public face of collective stupidity. Voegelin defined stupidity as a “loss of reality.” This loss of reality meant people could not “rightly orient his [or her] action in the world, in which he [or she] lives.” The demagogue, who is always an idiote, is not a freak or a social mutation. The demagogue expresses the society’s demented zeitgeist. This was true in Nazi Germany. It is true in the United States.

“The fool in Hebrew, the nabal, who because of his folly, nebala, creates disorder in the society, is the man who is not a believer, in the Israelite terms of revelation,” Voegelin wrote. “The amathes, the irrationally ignorant man, is for Plato the man who just does not have the authority of reason or who cannot bow to it. The stultus for Thomas [Aquinas] is the fool, in the same sense as the amathia of Plato and the nebala of the Israelite prophets. This stultus now has suffered loss of reality and acts on the basis of a defective image of reality and thereby creates disorder. … If I have lost certain sectors of reality from my range of experience, I will also be lacking the language for appropriately characterizing them. That means that parallel to the loss of reality and to stupidity there is always the phenomenon of illiteracy.”

A society convulsed by disorder and chaos, as Voegelin pointed out, elevates and even celebrates the morally degenerate, those who are cunning, manipulative, deceitful and violent. In an open society these attributes are despised and criminalized. Those who exhibit them are condemned as stupid—“a man [or woman] who behaves in this way,” Voegelin notes, “will be socially boycotted.” But the social, cultural and moral norms in a diseased society are inverted. The attributes that sustain an open society—a concern for the common good, honesty, trust and self-sacrifice—are detrimental to existence in a diseased society. Today, those who exhibit these attributes are targeted and silenced.

The deep alienation experienced by most Americans, the loss of self-esteem and hope, has engendered what Durkheim referred to as a collective state of anomieAnomie is a psychological imbalance that leads to prolonged despair, lethargy and yearnings for self-annihilation. It is caused by a collapse of societal norms, ideals, values and standards. It is, in short, a loss of faith in the structures and beliefs that define a functioning democracy. The result is an obliteration of purpose and direction. It leads to what Friedrich Nietzschecalled an aggressive despiritualized nihilism. As Durkheim wrote in his book “On Suicide”:
It is sometimes said that, by virtue of his psychological make-up, man cannot live unless he attaches himself to an object that is greater than himself and outlives him, and this necessity has been attributed to a supposedly common need not to perish entirely. Life, they say, is only tolerable if one can see some purpose in it, if it has a goal and one that is worth pursuing. But the individual in himself is not sufficient as an end for himself. He is too small a thing. Not only is he confined in space, he is also narrowly limited in time. So when we have no other objective than ourselves, we cannot escape from the feeling our efforts are finally destined to vanish into nothing, since that is where we must return. But we recoil from the idea of annihilation. In such a state, we should not have the strength to live, that is to say to act and struggle, since nothing is to remain of all the trouble that we take. In a word, the state of egoism is in contradiction with human nature and hence too precarious to endure.
Pope John Paul II in 1981 issued an encyclical titled “Laborem exercens,” or “Through Work.” He attacked the idea, fundamental to capitalism, that work was merely an exchange of money for labor. Work, he wrote, should not be reduced to the commodification of human beings through wages. Workers were not impersonal instruments to be manipulated like inanimate objects to increase profit. Work was essential to human dignity and self-fulfillment. It gave us a sense of empowerment and identity. It allowed us to build a relationship with society in which we could feel we contributed to social harmony and social cohesion, a relationship in which we had purpose.

The pope castigated unemployment, underemployment, inadequate wages, automation and a lack of job security as violations of human dignity. These conditions, he wrote, were forces that negated self-esteem, personal satisfaction, responsibility and creativity. The exaltation of the machine, he warned, reduced human beings to the status of slaves. He called for full employment, a minimum wage large enough to support a family, the right of a parent to stay home with children, and jobs and a living wage for the disabled. He advocated, in order to sustain strong families, universal health insurance, pensions, accident insurance and work schedules that permitted free time and vacations. He wrote that all workers should have the right to form unions with the ability to strike.

The encyclical said:
[In spite of toil]—perhaps, in a sense, because of it—work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.”
Work, the pope pointed out, “constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to. These two spheres of values—one linked to work and the other consequent on the family nature of human life—must be properly united and must properly permeate each other. In a way, work is a condition for making it possible to found a family, since the family requires the means of subsistence which man normally gains through work. Work and industriousness also influence the whole process of education in the family, for the very reason that everyone ‘becomes a human being’ through, among other things, work, and becoming a human being is precisely the main purpose of the whole process of education. Obviously, two aspects of work in a sense come into play here: the one making family life and its upkeep possible, and the other making possible the achievement of the purposes of the family, especially education. Nevertheless, these two aspects of work are linked to one another and are mutually complementary in various points.”

“It must be remembered and affirmed that the family constitutes one of the most important terms of reference for shaping the social and ethical order of human work,” the encyclical continued. “The teaching of the Church has always devoted special attention to this question, and in the present document we shall have to return to it. In fact, the family is simultaneously a community made possible by work and the first school of work, within the home, for every person.”

We will not bring those who have fled a reality-based world back into our fold through argument. We will not coerce them into submission. We will not find salvation for them or ourselves by supporting the Democratic Party. Whole segments of American society are bent on self-immolation. They despise this world and what it has done to them. Their personal and political behavior is willfully suicidal. They seek to destroy, even if destruction leads to death. We must organize our communities to create a new socialist order and overthrow the corporate state through sustained acts of mass civil disobedience. We must achieve full employment, guaranteed minimum incomes, health insurance, free education at all levels, robust protection of the natural world and an end to militarism and imperialism. We must create the possibility for a life of dignity, purpose and self-esteem. If we do not, the idiotes will ensure our obliteration.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Behind the political warfare in the US: Rising fears of financial collapse, social unrest

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There are growing concerns in US and global financial circles that the rise in the US stock market that accelerated with the election of Donald Trump is heading for a major downturn. These concerns shed a revealing light on some of the underlying forces driving the virtual civil war in the US political establishment.
The growing view among Wall Street speculators and corporate executives is that the “Trump trade”, which sent the Dow Jones and other market indexes to record highs, has run its course, with the president increasingly becoming an economic liability. The tipping point in business sentiment came in the wake of the conflict over the Charlottesville Nazi rampage. Trump’s remarks defending neo-Nazis were seen as undermining the interests of American imperialism internationally and threatening to unleash social and political instability at home.
However, concerns over the instability caused by Trump reflect deeper fears. The American ruling class confronts problems that extend far beyond the current occupant of the White House.
In a comment published yesterday, Ray Dalio, the head of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, said that politics was now set to “probably play a greater role than we have experienced before in a manner that is broadly similar to 1937.” Whether the US was able to overcome political conflicts would have a greater effect on the economy than “classic monetary and fiscal policies.”
The reference to 1937 is significant. The first half of that year saw a major downturn in the US economy—the decline took place at an even faster rate than in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. The year also saw the eruption of the class struggle in the auto and steel industries.
Dalio wrote that the economic and social divisions in the US are similar to the revolutionary upheavals of this previous period. “During such times conflicts (both internal and external) increase, populism emerges, democracies are threatened and wars can occur.” He added that he could not say how bad it would get, but he was not encouraged. “Conflicts have now intensified to the point that fighting to the death is probably more likely than reconciliation.”
Almost 170 years ago, in his work The Class Struggles in France, Marx noted that the eruption of the class struggle has a major impact on the financial system because it calls into question confidence in the very viability of the economic system over which the ruling class presides.
In his comment, Dalio wrote that, when one looked at average figures, “one might conclude that the United States economy is doing just fine, yet when one looks at the numbers that comprise those averages, it’s clear that some are doing extraordinarily well and others are doing terribly, with gaps in wealth and income being the greatest since the 1930s.”
Dalio and others couch references to the growing social and political divide in terms of “populism,” but their real fear is the emergence of overt class conflict. “The majority of Americans,” he wrote, “appear to be strongly and intransigently in disagreement about our leadership and the direction of our country” and were “more inclined to fight for what they believe in than to try to figure out how to get beyond their disagreements to work productively based on shared principles.”
In other words, the nostrums of the “American dream” and America as the “land of economic opportunity,” which functioned historically as a kind of political glue, have disintegrated. What terrifies the ruling class is that the working class will intervene, under conditions in which all signs point to a collapse of the financial bubble created by the world’s central banks since the financial crisis of 2008.
The complete disintegration of financial markets nine years ago was only prevented by the injection of trillions of dollars into the global financial system—the US Fed alone poured in more than $4 trillion. But the chief effect of these measures has not been to stimulate a significant recovery in the “real” economy—investment rates in the US and other major economies remain at historically low levels—but to facilitate a financial market boom.
The latest expression of the speculative mania is the rise of the crypto currency Bitcoin. After taking more than 3,000 days to reach a level of $2,000, the currency, which is used in Internet trading, went from $2,000 to more than $4,000 in just 85 days. The overall market valuation of Bitcoins has expanded to $140 billion, as major investors, including Goldman Sachs, move in.
This is only one expression of bubbles that have developed in virtually every financial asset.
With the provision of ultra-cheap money by the Fed and other central banks, one of the chief mechanisms by which companies have been able to maintain share values is by using borrowed funds to organise share buybacks. But this process is reaching its limit, as already over-leveraged companies cannot borrow more to sustain their share values.
As the Financial Times noted in a comment yesterday, based on longer term historical valuations, US stocks “appear more expensive than at any time bar the months before the great crash of 1929, and the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2000.”
Under what were once considered to be “normal” circumstances, money would move into bond markets to take advantage of higher rates of return. However, bond markets are also in a bubble, trading at historical highs, with interest rates (which move in an inverse relationship to the price) at record lows.
In 2008, the American ruling class responded to the financial collapse through political and economic mechanisms. On the one hand, they installed Obama to the US presidency—proclaiming the “audacity of hope” and “change you can believe in”—with the support of the trade union bureaucracy and the various organisations of the privileged middle class, who hailed his election as a “transformative” moment.
On the other, they undertook the greatest injection of money into the financial system seen in economic history to finance an orgy of speculation and organize a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. Far from resolving the contradictions, these measures have reproduced them at a higher level.
While sections of the ruling class are terrified of the growth of class conflict, they can propose no measures to address the conditions that are leading inexorably toward social explosions. While Trump has pursued a policy of developing an extra-parliamentary movement of the extreme right, his critics within the ruling class are working to reorganize his administration to place it even more firmly under the direction of the military and the financial elite.
A new period of economic and political convulsion is emerging, for which the working class must prepare through the building of a revolutionary leadership, based on an internationalist and socialist program, to resolve the historic crisis of the capitalist profit system in its interests.

Trump’s speech on Afghanistan: The military in command

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Trump’s new policy in Afghanistan, unveiled in a nationally televised address Monday evening, is a declaration of open-ended and unrestrained military violence against a country that has suffered sixteen years of unbroken American aggression.
Since the Bush administration launched the US invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, 175,000 people have been killed, according to conservative estimates, and millions more driven from their homes. Under Bush, Obama and now Trump, the US military has carried out countless atrocities and war crimes—from the November 2001 massacre of 800 Taliban prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif, to the 2002 slaughter of 48 people at a wedding party in Kakarak, the murder of 42 medical personnel and patients at a Doctors Without Borders medical center in Kunduz in 2015, and the dropping of the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb, the largest nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal, in Nangarhar Province this past April.
This violence will be dramatically escalated, with a carte blanche commitment by Trump to provide whatever troops and resources the US military command deems necessary. Trump declared that he will give the military “the necessary tools and rules of engagement” to defeat any resistance. All restrictions on operations “that prevented the secretary of defense and commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy” will be lifted.
In other words, the carnage already inflicted on the Afghan people will pale in comparison to what is coming.
Trump’s speech, however, was not simply about Afghanistan. It was, in effect, a declaration of war on the world. Trump threatened Pakistan and sided openly with India amidst mounting conflicts between the two countries and between India and China. The growing tensions between the United States and its nominal allies in Europe were reflected in Trump’s demand that NATO countries contribute more troops and resources to an expanded Afghan war.
The speech was delivered as the administration debates launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. In an ominous warning of what is being planned, Trump proclaimed that under his administration “many billions of dollars more is being spent on our military, and this includes vast amounts being spent on our nuclear arsenal and missile defense.”
Behind all the bombast, a combination of demoralization and fear pervaded Trump’s speech. Everywhere the American ruling class looks it sees current or potential enemies. There is a large element of derangement in the notion that American imperialism can resolve its mounting economic, social and geopolitical crises by dropping more bombs and killing more people.
This very delusion, over the course of 25 years of unending war since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, has produced one debacle after another for the American ruling class—across the Middle East, in North Africa and beyond. This includes Afghanistan, where successive US governments have failed to establish control through bloody violence. Increasingly, American imperialism is directing its focus on larger competitors such as Russia, China and even Germany.
The ruling class is acutely aware that it confronts its greatest enemy within the United States in the form of the American working class.
Trump’s speech was most significant for its assertion of what amounts to a presidential-military dictatorship. The president upheld as a principle the insistence that the American people will be told nothing about what is being planned, how many troops will be sent or how long they will remain. All decisions will be made by the military, without even the pretense of Congressional oversight or approval. Trump delivered his speech not to the American people, but to an audience of soldiers dressed in battle fatigues and subject to military discipline.
The most remarkable passages in Trump’s speech came at the beginning. He delivered a paean to the military as the essential force for controlling a divided nation. The military is an instrument of “absolutely perfect cohesion,” Trump declared. “The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget,” he said. “The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.”
The events in Charlottesville were the immediate context for these statements. Trump’s declaration that the military “transcends every line of race, ethnicity, creed and color” largely adopted the pseudo-democratic comments of the top generals on the fascist rampage in Charlottesville. The military brass, concerned over the consequences of Trump’s open sympathy for the neo-Nazis, felt obliged to distance themselves, the better to prosecute wars of aggression in behalf of the US corporate elite that are invariably presented as wars for “democracy” and “freedom.”
Trump’s statements have profoundly sinister implications. They portray the military as the unifier of a fractured country, a force for structure, discipline—and repression. Under conditions of mounting social and political conflicts within the United States, his speech is a declaration of the central role of the military not only in waging war abroad, but maintaining order at home.
From the beginning of the Trump administration, the military has taken direct control of much of the state apparatus, in the form of retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, active-duty Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security advisor and retired Gen. John Kelly, first as Department of Homeland Security secretary and now as White House chief of staff.
The Trump administration, however, is not the cause but a symptom of an underlying disease. Unending war and four decades of social counterrevolution have fatally eroded the foundations of democratic forms of rule in the United States. Top generals act as kingmakers. They have developed the closest ties to the financial aristocracy and are universally praised in the media and the political establishment. Terrified of social unrest, the ruling class turns to its bodies of armed men—the military and police—backed by the intelligence agencies.
Far from opposing the influence of the military, it is to Kelly, Mattis and McMaster that Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party have turned in the hope that they will stabilize the Trump administration and compel it to continue and escalate the Obama administration’s policy of confrontation with Russia. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s homeland security secretary, expressed the general sentiment when asked over the weekend if Mattis and Kelly should resign. “Absolutely not… We need people like John Kelly, Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster to right the ship.”
The outcome of the political warfare in Washington, culminating in the dismissal of Trump’s fascistic chief strategist Stephen Bannon last week, has been to strengthen the direct domination of the military and Wall Street over the Trump administration. Monday’s speech was an acknowledgement on Trump’s part of this shift in political forces.
In their conflict with Trump, the Democrats and their political allies have worked to bury beneath an endless series of diversionary issues—centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country torn by irreconcilable racial divisions—the most critical issues: social inequality, poverty, war and the unprecedented growth in the power of the military-industrial-financial complex, which represents the most serious threat to the democratic and social rights of the working class.
In response to Trump’s commitment to ever-greater military violence, a new antiwar movement must be built. The fight against imperialist war must be rooted in the working class, mobilized on an international basis in opposition to all the organizations and institutions of the ruling class and the capitalist system they defend.

Big business, military tighten their grip on Washington

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It is often the case that the outcome of events reveals the essential issues underlying political developments. This is true of the conflicts that erupted within the ruling class over the Nazi rampage in Charlottesville, which culminated in the dismissal Friday of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.
The corporate-controlled media has sought to portray the sequence of events entirely in racial terms, with Bannon and other advocates of “white nationalism” now purged, leaving political control of the White House and the Trump administration in steadier and more “moderate” political hands: a group of generals and ex-generals, headed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, together with Wall Street financiers such as Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The New York Times has led the way, with an editorial Sunday declaring that “Americans accustomed constitutionally and politically to civilian leadership now find themselves relying on three current and former generals—John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense—to stop Mr. Trump from going completely off the rails. Experienced and educated, well-versed in the terrible costs of global confrontation and driven by an impulse toward public service that Mr. Trump doesn’t possess, these three, it is hoped, can counter his worst instincts.”
In the same edition of the Times, a news analysis celebrates what its headline calls “The Moral Voice of Corporate America.” In this account, “a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.”
Among those named as part of this “chorus” of “moral” leaders are such corporate criminals as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, one of those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse; Mary Barra of General Motors, who oversaw the cover-up of an ignition-switch defect that killed hundreds of people; and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is a synonym for low-wage exploitation.
The ruling elite saw Trump’s incautious remarks defending the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville as a serious threat to the interests of American imperialism abroad as well as the maintenance of social and political stability at home. Powerful corporate interests feared the implications for Trump’s agenda of corporate tax cuts, the removal of business regulations, a profit windfall in the guise of infrastructure reform and the gutting of Medicaid and other social programs.
Trump’s self-exposure of his efforts to build an extra-parliamentary fascistic base increased the nervousness in financial circles over the danger of a collapse of the speculative bubble that has been built up since the 2008 Wall Street crash.
The response, laid out most clearly by the Times, has been to increase the grip of the military and corporate America over the government to an extent unprecedented in US history. It is 56 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned of the dangers to democracy posed by the rise of the “military-industrial complex.” He could have no conception of the size, power and degree of dominance exercised by the vast military/intelligence/corporate complex of today.
The first result of this consolidation was the announcement that Trump will deliver a nationwide address tonight, unveiling plans for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan.
What the ruling elite fears above all is the growth of working-class opposition to the Trump administration and the entire political system. Thus, excised from the official narrative promoted by the media is any reference to the reality of social life in America—a country in which 20 individuals control as much wealth as the poorest half of the population—as well as the reactionary agenda of the Trump administration itself. Nor is there any discussion of war and the crimes carried out by “responsible” leaders such as Mattis, who won his appellation “Mad Dog” for his role in destroying the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
This is replaced with a series of diversionary issues, centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country seething with racial intolerance and an exaggerated picture of the strength and influence of neo-Nazi and racist forces. Hence one has the apparently contradictory but in fact compatible phenomena, ubiquitous in the Democratic Party-aligned media, of the promotion of identity politics alongside respectful and even admiring portrayals of the white supremacist thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville.
Typical was a newsletter released Sunday by the New Yorker under the headline, “White Supremacy in America.” In an introduction, David Remnick, author of the hagiographic biography of Obama, The Bridge, proclaims, “Make no mistake: neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now at the forefront of American politics.”
Among the featured articles is one by author Toni Morrison titled “Making America White Again,” which insists that “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” In line with the Democratic Party and its various appendages among the pseudo-left organizations of the privileged middle class, Morrison explains the election of Trump as the product of the racism of “white America”:
On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.
This effort to portray all whites, and particularly white men, as secret supporters of the KKK is a political fraud. Racism does exist. However, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are a tiny minority who are regarded with deep revulsion by the vast majority of working people. A nationwide mobilization could dredge up only a few hundred proponents of this barbaric ideology. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of all races have marched to denounce both Trump and the fascists he defends.
Trump is president today, not because of a mass vote for racism, but because he more successfully appealed to social discontent than the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the personification of the alliance between Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, who did not attempt to conceal her complacent contempt for the plight of tens of millions of working people struggling to survive.
The racialist narrative is being used to demonize large sections of the population, buttress the identity politics of privileged layers of the middle class, provide political cover for a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, rally support for a virtual palace coup by the generals and corporate billionaires, and, above all, divert and suppress an independent movement of the working class.
The overriding threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of fascist thugs, but from the very alliance of Wall Street and the Pentagon that is being touted as the antidote to the racists in the streets.
As for the Times and the various affiliates of the Democratic Party, they see the real threat coming not from neo-Nazis, but from a movement of the working class.