We ignore the rise of the ultra-right at our own peril

Throughout the capitalist countries, the anti-immigrant ultra-right wing parties are making electoral advances and gaining new recruits to their brand of xenophobic hatred. We have ignored the rise of these parties at our own peril.

************

Frazier Glenn Miller, a neo-fascist organiser and member of several white supremacist organisations, gunned down three people outside a Jewish Community Centre in Kansas. He was shouting racist comments and anti-Semitic sentiments right up to the point he was arrested by the police. His opinions about race, history and the ‘racial war’ were long known to activist groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The details of his long career of racial hatred can be found here. A former US special forces soldier, he organised various white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan groups, and advocated his views in interviews he gave. The law enforcement authorities, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also knew of his activities as a violent white supremacist.

It is not necessary to go into all the details of his activities, but it was no secret that this person, with his track record, would one day turn his hatred and his guns on ethnic minorities in an anti-Semitic rage. What is interesting to note in this case is the reaction of the police chief responsible for the arrest of Miller. Police chief in Overland Park, John Douglass, gave Miller the benefit of the doubt – it was too early, Douglass said, to know for sure whether Miller was motivated by anti-Semitism. While the killing for which Miller was arrested was vicious, opined Douglass, it was doubtful whether the killing could be directly attributed to the anti-Semitic views that Miller held.

That is a telling reaction to a killing that was certainly motivated by an irrational xenophobic ethnic hatred. This is not necessarily completely wrong, because the motivations of criminal culprits must be thoroughly examined. However, this stands in stark contrast to the reaction against culprits from the Islamic faith.

April this year marked the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings – a terrorist atrocity that was an outrageous attack on humanity. The survivors are proving resilient and resourceful, there is no question of that. But while the commemorations are held, and the emotions run high, we should not forget the reaction of the authorities. The Boston marathon bombing served as a convenient pretext to further militarise American society, with thousands of police and troops deployed to lock down Boston city and provide a climate akin to martial law. Searching for the suspects is one thing; locking down the entire city and treating the population as hostile and ordering them to remain indoors because there are suspects on the streets is quite another. The irony of the situation is that the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found after the lockdown was lifted. His brother, Tamerlan, was killed by federal law enforcement agents in a shootout, the circumstances of which still remain murky.

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing, there was absolute unanimity on what motivated the culprits – their Muslim faith. It was their irrational, religiously-motivated hatred of everything Western and ‘democratic’ that drove them to kill and maim – so the mainstream media reported. The tidal wave of Islamophobia was unleashed – the corporate commentariat was united in its conclusion that Arabs and Muslims needed to be targeted and excluded. For example, Aziza Berg reported for an article in the Socialist Worker magazine that;

Tarek Mehanna, a Muslim American pharmacist from Sudbury, Mass., was approached by the FBI and asked to spy on his mosque [6]. He refused. He later found himself and the antiwar views he expressed online at the center of an FBI investigation.

Spying on and svurveillance of Muslim and Arab communities has continued apace, and students from Muslim backgrounds have found themselves the targets of electronic surveillance.

So there is no question that a Muslim perpetrator is uniquely motivated by an irrational faith to commit savage acts of violence. The distorting lens of Islamophobia, predated the Boston marathon bombings but also inflamed by them, is employed with fervour to denounce this act as a particular vicious example of Muslim barbarity. Perhaps, just maybe, this act was more in common with all the other unfortunate but sadly frequent mass shootings in the United States, where the perpetrators are white. The tragic yet common mass killings in the US all have multiple causes, among them social alienation, mental illness perhaps, internal familial instabilities – all possible causes left unexplored in the case of the Boston marathon attack.

Since that bombing, Boston’s Muslim community has been under siege, the victim of racist attacks. The Islamic Society of Boston has been targeted as an incubator of extremism and hatred. It is no secret that anti-Islamic campaigns directed at the Arab and Muslim communities have proceeded for a long time, and the Boston marathon attack only added more fuel to the fire. While the survivors of that attack are rebuilding their lives, the tragedy is that the Boston Islamic community are the unspoken victims of an organised backlash, facing a wave of repression and hostility promoted by a mainstream media eager to cultivate an aura of panic.

Khury Petersen-Smith, who was at the marathon the day of the bombing, documented the hateful outpourings that the media and authorities have helped to incite in a thoughtful article ‘Unspoken casualties of the Marathon bombing’. He wrote:

Two days after the Marathon, Heba Abolaban and her friend were physically assaulted by a white man as they walked with their children on the street in nearby Malden. Heba, who is Palestinian, told the Malden Patch that the man screamed, “Fuck you Muslims! You are terrorists!” as he punched her. Both Heba and her friend were wearing headscarves.

The criminal actions of Miller could only occur in a society where ultra-right extremism and anti-immigrant xenophobia is normalised. The United States has witnessed numerous protests by extreme right-wing groups – anti-immigration, against Obama because the latter is ‘socialist’ and ‘Muslim’ (?), against increasing taxes on the wealthier class, and against government-funded health care because, apparently, government-funding is reminiscent of ‘communism’. What is becoming normal is the expression of anti-Arab, and by extension anti-Islamic, venom. It is not just the fringe-dwellers, the outcasts, that are joining the anti-immigrant parties. In Galway, New York state;

Glendon Scott Crawford, a General Electric employee, was a prominent member of the community. He was married to the local high school’s librarian and taught Sunday school in a local church. But Crawford was also a member of a radically right-wing tea party/militia group called “Americans Demanding Liberty and Freedom” as well as a self-proclaimed (but unconfirmed) member of the KKK.

On June 20, 2013, Crawford was arrested on charges connected with domestic terrorism. He had been attempting to build a truck-mounted radiation gun that he believed could be used to poison people from a distance. His targets included Muslims and leftists. According to members of the community Crawford was outspoken against Islam, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, the presidency of Barack Obama and New York’s SAFE Act, a state gun control law passed in January.

As the economic crisis of capitalism continues, and more people find themselves unemployed, struggling to make ends meet, and generally sinking into poverty, they will become alienated. These are the potential recruits for the ultra-right parties and groups. We have seen the rise of far-right parties across Europe in the wake of the economic meltdown. That is the subject of the next article.

Advertisements

Do not believe the hype about recovery – unemployment and inequality are persistent and growing

Previously on this blog, the current author wrote about the issue of unemployment, and how it operates as the revolving door of the capitalist system. Following on from this subject, it is necessary to examine how unemployment has not only become recurrent, but also how the sheer scale of the problem, and the longevity of unemployment periods, have increased.

An article in the Workers World newspaper entitled “Marxism and long-term unemployment” has prompted an examination the role and impact of unemployment more closely, in particular, the increase in inequality. The article above references the work of economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, in particular her article on “Is there really a shortage of skilled workers?”

This article demolishes the myth, peddled by the corporate class and their media mouthpieces, that workers are unemployed because of a skills mismatch. The capitalist-corporatist class claims that workers do not have the necessary matching skills, or a wide enough range of skills, to meet the demands of the job market.  The study conducted by Shierholz found that no matter what the skill level of the workforce, unemployment has sharply increased over the years 2007 to 2013. Quote from the Workers World story;

The unemployment rate for workers with less than high school education was 10.3 percent in 2007 and 15.9 percent in 2013. For high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in 2007 and 9.6 percent in 2013. For workers with some college, the unemployment figures jumped dramatically from 4.0 percent in 2007 to 7.3 percent in 2013; for college graduates, it went up from 2.4 percent to 4.5 percent and for those with advanced degrees, it went from 1.7 percent to 3.2 percent, that is, almost double.

Courtesy of the Workers World newspaper article, we have the following chart, which demonstrates that at all levels of educational achievement, workers are experiencing high periods of unemployment:

High levels of unemployment

So no matter what the level of education achieved by the individual worker, unemployment remains high relative to 2007.

We can see the following chart from the Shierholz study;

High level of unemployment in all occupations

High unemployment is afflicting workers in all occupations, not just some selected industries. And it is not just that workers are being laid off in increasing numbers. The number of job openings is shrinking, while the number of unemployed is rising.

Shierholz, like the other economists at the Economic Policy Institute, is a Keynesian. That is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to analysing the capitalist market, but it does mean that the fundamentals of the capitalist orthodoxy remain untouched. The extent to which the capitalist economy has recovered since 2008 can be gauged by the following observation; the ruling class has still accumulated wealth, while the rest of us are struggling with unemployment, poverty and a growing difficulty to make ends meet. It is a recovery for the rich, but recessionary conditions for the rest of the population, as Richard Escow put it in an article for Common Dreams. The majority of us have missed out on sharing the wealth from this alleged recovery, and this leads to the next point – you do not have to be a Marxist to understand that we are being fooled by the one percent into believing that we are participating in this recovery – but it helps. Those are the introductory words of an article by Professor Richard Wolff, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While the large banking and financial corporations have recovered, indeed increased, their profits since 2008, the rest of us contend with high and persistent unemployment.

The purpose of citing the statistics above is to refute a long-standing claim of the capitalist economists; namely, that those who live a comfortable lifestyle and have ‘made it’ are the deserving recipients of wealth rewarded for their hardwork, business intelligence and financial wherewithal. In other words, the current unequal relations in the capitalist system reflect a meritocracy, where only the most diligent and conscientious are rewarded with financial success. That leads to the following conclusion, that those who are poor have only themselves to blame. Their laziness, lack of financial knowledge and apathy are the root cause of their dire financial circumstances.

Any discussion of persistent mass unemployment has to address the inequalities reproduced by the capitalist system. In the Socialist Worker online newspaper, Dylan Monahan wrote an article entitled ‘Snapshots of inequality’. In this overview, Monahan provides a compilation of observations about the growing levels of economic inequality in the United States. Responding to the claim that workers, through persistence and financial knowledge can lift themselves out of the working class and into the ruling elite – what economists grandiosely call ‘intergenerational earning elasticity’ – Monahan points out that the United States, and indeed the other European capitalist countries, has very low social mobility. In fact, it is social immobility that has become a defining feature of the capitalist system.

The snapshot of inequality provided by Monahan in his article also contains another compelling observation;

Since the 1970s, the productivity of U.S. workers has only increased while hourly compensation has remained more or less the same. This yawning gap between productivity and wages benefits the richest 1 percent, which owns 42 percent of the country’s financial wealth. The bottom 80 percent of the population, by contrast, owns barely 5 percent.

Taken together, these figures tell us that U.S. workers have worked harder and harder over decades, while gaining nothing more in wages–in fact, they have lost ground as a consequence of the Great Recession–nor in the financial wealth their labor produces.

It is not the case that the American worker has become ‘lazy’ or ‘inefficient’ and thus deserving of their impoverished status. You may find the detailed explanation that higher productivity does not result in higher wages here on the Washington Post’s economics and politics blog, hardly a bastion of pro-Communist Bolshevik propaganda.

The recovery hype serves multiple purposes – lulling the 99 percent into a false sense of security, soothing the anxieties of bourgeois economists whose careers have been built on promoting capitalist economics as the only sensible course, and reassuring those of us who are suffering that recovery is just around the corner and achievable. This has not meant that the recognition of unemployment and inequality has gone away – US President Barack Obama admits that poverty and inequality are still major issues in his speeches for public consumption. However, the explanation of the persistence of these problems is always reduced to the individual – after all, capitalism is a meritorious system, where the hardworking are justly rewarded, aren’t they?

There is another explanation about how and why unemployment persists at such high levels. This explanation was first elaborated more than one hundred years ago by a certain German philosopher and political economist. In his voluminous works about the capitalist system, he elaborated that the unemployed are a ‘reserve army of labour’, temporary workers to be used and discarded according to the imperative of profit maximisation by the capitalist class. Full employment is never the normal state of the capitalist system, notwithstanding the rhetorical commitment to such a goal by the politicians. Since the 2008 economic debacle, his analysis regarding the law of capitalist accumulation has received renewed consideration. The working class are partially replaceable by new technologies, automation and software. A portion of the workers can retrain and find some employment with the new technology, but the overall trend is to replace people with technological adaptations, robots and algorithms. Economic recoveries are increasingly jobless, with greater numbers of workers unemployed for longer periods. To understand unemployment and inequality in the capitalist system, we can do no better than by starting with the writings of the following person;

The heavyweight champion of the world
The heavyweight champion of the world