Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Lessons unlearned

Posted: August 10, 2022 in Uncategorized
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by Greg Godels

KARL MARX knew a thing or two about politics. Writing over a century-and-a-half ago, he studied the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions that sought to drive a stake in the vitals of the European monarchies and consolidate the rule of the emerging bourgeois classes.

Contrary to his critics – especially the dismissive scholars – he applied his critical historical theories with great nuance and subtlety, surveying the class forces, their actions, and their influence on the outcomes. While Marx conceded that the revolutions were suppressed in the short run, he was able to show how they importantly shaped the future.

Many would argue that Marx’s account of the aftermath of the rising in France, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, is the finest example of the application of the Marxist method – historical materialism – to actual events.

It is said that the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was a colleague in British intelligence of Soviet spy Kim Philby and a notorious windbag, was once asked if he ever suspected Philby, if Philby left any clues to his loyalties. After a pause, Trevor-Roper said that Philby had on an occasion insisted that The Eighteenth Brumaire was the greatest work of history ever written. More than a clue, and Philby may have been right.

The Eighteenth Brumaire sought to explain a great mystery: How a country undergoing a profound historic transition from one socio-politico-economic order (feudalism) to another (capitalism), could go from the popular overthrow of a monarch to a constituent republic and back again to the establishment of an emperor, Louis Bonaparte, in a few short years.

bitter irony

Marx couldn’t help but find a bitter irony in the fact that the coup installing Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew as emperor mirrored the uncle’s ascension to emperor after the French Revolution. With equally bitter sarcasm, Marx amended the old saying about history repeating itself with the phrase “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Where Napoleon I tragically hijacked the revolutionary process, Napoleon III brought the farcical manoeuvrers of a dysfunctional bourgeois parliament to a farcical end by creating a farcical empire.

At a time when our own political processes– executive, legislative, and judicial– resemble a crude farce, at a time when opinion polls confirm the popular disdain for these institutions, we may well find Marx’s analysis to be of some use.

Consider ex-President Trump, for example. He, like Napoleon III, represents a mediocrity, only known for his pretensions and his rank opportunism. Trump likes to portray himself as a great president who arose as a saviour, an agent for the restoration of US greatness.

• Louis Bonaparte disperses the Directory.

Based on nostalgia for his uncle, Napoleon I, the nephew ruled France with the promise of an expanding empire to be feared and admired for its spreading of enlightened ideas; Louis Bonaparte promised to restore the unity of France, lead it towards greatness, and stability.

But are Trump and Bonaparte unique individuals who pushed themselves onto the stage of history? Are they historical accidents? Larger-than-life personalities?

Marx would argue that, in fact, Bonaparte succeeded because he enjoyed the support of a class, specifically the conservative peasantry, “the peasant who wants to consolidate his holdings… those who, in stupefied seclusion within this old order, want to see themselves and their small holdings saved and favoured by the ghost of the empire.” Bonaparte’s supporters seek to save what they have and relive an earlier moment. In short, they want to make France [the Empire] great again. He answered the moment.

Marx explains: “In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organisation among them, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them from other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above… Historical tradition gave rise to the belief of the French peasants in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all the glory back to them”.

It must be noted that Marx is neither mocking nor condemning the conservative French peasantry for its support of the election of Louis Bonaparte (1849) or his coup (1851). Instead, he is explaining how and why Bonaparte could manage to rule, both legitimately and illegitimately, even after France had declared its second republic. The peasantry was, by far, the largest class. The peasantry had not yet recognised its existence as a class; it could not yet express its grievances, its interests, or its latent power in class terms; it could not produce its own class leaders. And it turned instead to a caricature, a small man with big aspirations, a toy Napoleon.


• Trump supporters – sadly deluded.

Like Napoleon III, Trump enjoyed class-based support: segments of both the petty bourgeoisie and the working class. The professionals and small business people who saw “elites” — typically urban elites– as threatening their way of life, culturally and economically, were drawn to Trump over the conventional corporate Republican leaders. Similarly, working-class voters victimised by deindustrialisation, twenty-first-century economic crises, insecurity, rising costs of healthcare, etc., looked for someone “as an authority over them,” to send “them rain and shine from above,” that is, a modern-day Napoleon. They could not find that with the Democrats. They thought that they found it in Donald Trump.

Workers in the US have lost what the French peasant had yet to achieve in 1851: “…no community, no national bond and no political organisation among them…They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name.” Nearly eighty years of red-baiting, business unionism, and Democratic Party supplication after a rich history of class struggle have left the US working class with little class consciousness, with little ability “to form a class.” It is no wonder that ‘Make America Great Again’ resonated with so many.

Both Louis Napoleon and Trump have their camp followers and thugs. Marx designated Louis Napoleon’s lumpen proletariat group of mischief-makers the Society of December 10th for the role they played in stirring the pot after his election. Trump has his ultra-nationalist, racist trouble-makers as well.

Marx saves his derision for the “so-called social-democratic party,” founded as a coalition of the petty-bourgeoisie and the workers. With the militant revolutionary workers killed, imprisoned, or exiled after the June, 1848 rising waged to establish a social and democratic republic, the workers accepted compromise and the parliamentary road.

joint programme

In Marx’s words: “A joint programme was drafted, joint election committees were set up and joint candidates put forward. From the social demands of the proletariat the revolutionary point was broken off and a democratic turn given to them; from the democratic claims of the petty bourgeoisie the purely political form was stripped off and their socialist point thrust forward. Thus arose the Social-Democracy…

The peculiar character of the Social-Democracy is epitomised in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not with doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony… This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie”.

“…within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie.” This description of the limits of an incipient social democratic party in 1849 could be applied fairly to the aspirations of the small left wing of the US Democratic Party today. A little more than one hundred fifty years later, workers are still being herded into a party that seeks, at best, the weakening of the antagonism between capital and labour and transforming it into harmony [paraphrasing Marx]. The Democrats assume the votes of the working class and the most oppressed, while intensely courting the support of the urban and suburban upper strata super-voters and super-donors. This has been their strategy since the loss of the reactionary South to the Republicans.

In nineteenth-century France, the proletariat/petty bourgeoisie alliance was short-lived. Faced with a blatant violation of the constitutional limits of presidential action, the alliance allowed its threats of militant action to melt away when Bonaparte called its bluff, revealing a paper tiger.

Marx identified the folly of workers uniting with the petty bourgeoisie: “…instead of gaining an accession of strength from it, the democratic party had infected the proletariat with its own weakness and, as is usual with the great deeds of democrats, the leaders had the satisfaction of being able to charge their “people” with desertion, and the people with the satisfaction of being able to charge its leaders with humbugging it… No party exaggerates its means more than the democratic, none deludes itself more light-mindedly over the situation.

“Not to be taken lightly for its defeat at the hands of Bonaparte and the bourgeois party, the petty-bourgeois took consolation with “the profound utterance: But if they dare to attack universal suffrage, well then – then, we’ll show them what we are made of!”

If this sounds eerily like the empty threats of the Democratic Party before the brazen actions of Trump, his friends, and the Supreme Court, then lesson learned!

If we see parallels with the politics of nineteenth-century France and the twenty-first-century US, then we surely are reminded of Marx’s quip that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Surely, only an allergy to history, a blindness to past tragedies, can account for the continuing allegiance of workers and their leaders to a spineless Democratic Party that continually betrays the interests of working people. Surely, we can do better. Marx thought so…

ML Today (USA)

Wintour and Watt blog

Allies of former prime minister regard darling of Tea Party movement as a frivolous figure unworthy of an audience

Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and handbag

Margaret Thatcher will attend the unveiling of a statue to Ronald Reagan but is not planning to meet Sarah Palin. Photograph: Barry Thumma/AP

Sarah Palin wants to show to the Republican right that she is the true keeper of the Ronald Reagan flame by meeting the late president’s closest ally on the world stage.

A meeting with Margaret Thatcher in the centenary year of Reagan’s birth would be the perfect way of launching her bid for the Republican nomination for the 2012 US presidential election.

This is what Palin told Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times:

I am going to Sudan in July and hope to stop in England on the way. I am just hoping Mrs Thatcher is well enough to see me as I so admire her.

It appears that the former prime minister has no intention of meeting the darling of the Tea Party movement. Andy McSmith reported in the Independent this morning that Palin is likely to be “thwarted” on the grounds that Thatcher, 86, rarely makes public appearances.

It would appear that the reasons go deeper than Thatcher’s frail health. Her allies believe that Palin is a frivolous figure who is unworthy of an audience with the Iron Lady. This is what one ally tells me:

Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.

Thatcher will show the level she punches at when she attends the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square on Independence day on 4 July. This is what her ally told me:

Margaret is focusing on Ronald Reagan and will attend the unveiling of the statue. That is her level.

No doubt a rebuff from Thatcher will delight Andrew Sullivan, the creator of The Dish blog, who regards Palin as a dangerous lightweight.

Glenn Greenwald 

Thursday, Jun 2, 2011 10:03 ET

The war in Libya growing more illegal by the day

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
A new cadet for the Libyan rebel army holds a pre Moammar Gadhafi flag after a graduation ceremony for new cadets in Benghazi, Libya, Sunday, May 29, 2011.

To the extent that the War Powers Resolution (WPR) authorized President Obama to fight a war in Libya for 60 days without Congressional approval — and, for reasons I described here, it did not — that 60-day period expired 12 days ago.  Since that date, the war has been unquestionably illegal even under the original justifications of Obama defenders, though I realize that objecting to “illegal wars” — or wars generally — is so very 2005.  After making clear that they intended to contrive “some plausible theory” to justify this illegal war, the White House finally settled on the claim that the war in Libya — despite featuring substantial U.S. military action with the goal of destroying a foreign army and removing that nation’s leader — is too small and limited to be a real “war” under the Constitution and the WPR. 

Even the White House seemed to recognize the absurdity of that excuse — the WRP explicitly appliesin any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced (1) into hostilities” — and the President thus subsequently requested a Resolution from Congress approving the war.  That authorization, however, never came, and now it seems that Congress is closer to doing the opposite: approving a bipartisan bill opposing the war:

On Wednesday, 74 days after U.S. forces joined the military operation in Libya, President Obama seemed to run out of goodwill on Capitol Hill.

A group of both liberals and conservatives — defying the leaders of both parties — threw their support behind a bill to pull the U.S. military out of the Libya operation. That prospect led GOP leaders to shelve the bill before it came to a vote. . . .

On Wednesday, the bill at issue was far more drastic. Introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), it would demand that Obama withdraw forces from the Libyan operation within 15 days. That would be a crippling loss for the NATO-led campaign, which relies heavily on U.S. air power.

The resolution looked, a week before, like a legislative long shot.

Then, on Wednesday, it wasn’t.

“There’s been disquiet for a long time,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of those who supported it. “Republicans have been too eager to support some military ventures abroad. And this, I think, is perhaps a little more consistent with traditional conservatism.”

Conservatives expressed support for the bill in a closed meeting, but GOP leaders put off the vote.

Waging a war for 74 days without Congressional approval is illegal enough.  Doing so when there is a growing bipartisan movement in Congress to compel an end to the war — rather than approve it — is even worse.  And note the individuals on whom Obama is now relying to protect him from this bipartisan effort to put an end to his illegal war:  “GOP House leaders” — John Boehner and Eric Cantor, who refused to allow the bill to come up for a vote despite ample support among conservative members of their caucus as well as numerous liberal House members.  Can we hear more now about how the two parties are so radically different that bipartisan cooperation is impossible?  The Emperor has decreed that we will fight this war, and thus we will — that seems to be the prevailing mindset.

* * * * * 

Last week, I delivered the keynote address to the ACLU in Massachusetts for their annual Bill of Rights dinner. The topic was the Bipartisan National Security State and President Obama’s continuation of it, and it obviously relates to the Libya issue. Those interested in listening to the 25-minute speech can do so here.

 Diplomatic cables reveal the U.S. has been launching strikes in Yemen, but attacks are claimed by local government

David Petraeus

Gen. David Petraeus

One of the most interesting items in the trove of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks confirms that the Obama Administration has secretly launched missile attacks on suspected terrorists in Yemen, strikes that have reportedly killed dozens of civilians. The government of Yemen takes responsibility for the attacks.

The January 2010 cable describes a meeting between Gen. David Petraeus and President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, in which they discuss U.S. airstrikes.

Here’s the key section (emphasis ours):

President Obama has approved providing U.S. intelligence in support of ROYG [Republic of Yemen government] ground operations against AQAP targets, General Petraeus informed Saleh. Saleh reacted coolly, however, to the General’s proposal to place USG [U.S. government] personnel inside the area of operations armed with real-time, direct feed intelligence from U.S. ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] platforms overhead. “You cannot enter the operations area and you must stay in the joint operations center,” Saleh responded. Any U.S. casualties in strikes against AQAP would harm future efforts, Saleh asserted. Saleh did not have any objection, however, to General Petraeus’ proposal to move away from the use of cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory, “out of sight,” and engage AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets when actionable intelligence became available. Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are “not very accurate” and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs instead. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just “lied” by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.

The three strikes mentioned at the end there each occurred in December 2009, the month before the cable was written. The Dec. 17 Abyan attack killed 55 people, 41 one of whom were civilians, including 21 children Amnesty International later reported. Amnesty had also suspected that a U.S. cruise missile was used in the attack because of images of debris found at the scene. This new cable seems to bear out that suspicion.

The Dec. 17 attack in the city of Arhab occurred the same day, though it’s not clear who was killed.

And finally, here is a contemporaneous report that mentions the Dec. 24 Shebwa attack. Here (.pdf) is the official Yemeni statement on that attack, which falsely claims rseponsibility. The Yemeni government said the strike targeted a meeting of Al Qaeda leaders, including the American-born Anwar Al-Awlaki. But he turned out either not to have been there, or not to have been killed. And again, it’s not clear whether any civilians were killed in the attack, which the government claimed killed 30 people.

There has been speculation that the Wikileaks revelation will spark a backlash against Saleh, but as of yet nothing has been reported.