På miljöspaning: föråldrad teknik, den nya generationens bilar och progressiva aktörer


Av Salvador Perez

 

För lite mer än en vecka sedan rapporterade SvD Näringsliv (23/3) om att Geely, det vill säga Volvo Personvagnars kinesiska moderbolag, är involverat i ett projekt med syfte att ersätta Londons fossildrivna taxibilar med laddhybrider. Den nya generationens taxibilar kan köras enbart på el och har Volvos trecylindriga motor, som tillverkas i Kina, som räckviddsförlängare. När motorn är igång laddas batteriet. Enligt talespersoner på Geely ska de nya taxibilarna, tack vare eldriften, klara sig på en bensintank om dagen och därför minska utsläppen i staden. Bilarna kommer byggas i en nyöppnad fabrik nära Coventry och fabriken förväntas ge 1 000 nya jobb. Produktion sägs starta i höst och de nya miljövänligare taxibilarna kommer därefter att ersätta de äldre.

Bakgrunden till att bilarna byts ut är nya regler som kräver extremt låga utsläpp för taxibilar i London från och med 1 januari. En anledning till de nya reglerna är ökad kritik mot den dåliga luften i staden. Luftkvaliteten har uppmärksammats under en längre tid och luften är på sina håll värre än i Peking vilket väcker stor uppmärksamhet och folklig opinion om att något måste göras. Ett huvudskäl till föroreningarna är vägtrafiken. Särskilt dieselbilar sägs ligga bakom de hälsofarliga partiklarna. Det är av det skälet som stadens beslutsfattare valt skärpa reglerna för taxifordonen. Tanken är att stadens tusentals taxifordon ska visa att utsläppsminskningar är möjliga och driva på en större omställningsprocess av fordonsflottan.

Ambitionerna är stora och sträcker sig bortom taxiflottan. Tillsammans med andra storstäder som Paris, Mexiko City, Madrid och Aten planerar London ett förbud mot dieselmotorer – vars negativa konsekvenser för luftmiljön och hälsan nu är uppenbara. Många städer runt om i världen har redan eller planerar bilfria zoner. I Sverige diskuteras frågan av Transportstyrelsen, och det är framförallt luftkvaliteten som är främsta orsaken men ytterligare en anledning är att sådana zoner skulle kunna bidra till att skapa en trevligare stadsmiljö.

Det står klart att beslutsfattare runt om i världen inte längre kan ignorera luftföroreningarna. I och med att de negativa hälsoeffekterna blir mer kända sätts beslutsfattare, särskilt lokala sådana, under press. Beslutsfattarna tvingas göra något åt situationen eftersom luftföroreningarna drabbar alla, såväl fattiga som rika. Det finns många exempel på detta. Ett är situationen i de flesta kinesiska städer. Den dåliga luftkvaliteten i städerna – bland annat orsakad av ständigt växande vägtrafik – beskrivs i utländska medier som en “airpocalypse” – en sammansättning av de engelska orden för luft och apokalyps. Luftföroreningarna ökar risken för luftvägssjukdomar och förtida död. I London sägs långtidsexponering mot luftföroreningar, och då särskilt mot mindre partiklar som sätter sig i lungor och blodet, orsaka 9 5000 förtida dödsfall varje år. Enligt Världshälsoorganisationen, WHO, orsakar dålig inomhusluft, 3,7 miljoner förtida dödsfall årligen runt om i världen. Antalet förtida dödsfall är som högst i Kina och Indien och andra länder i samma region. Kina står ensamt för ungefär 1 miljon av de förtida dödsfallen. Detta får också ekonomiska konsekvenser. Bland annat innebär det att chefer och andra nyckelpersoner inte vill bosätta sig eller jobba i de förorenade städerna. Utländska företag, inklusive svenska sådana, har svårt att rekrytera personal till positioner i landet. Även kineser väljer, om de kan, bort de mest förorenade städerna, även om det bara är för en kort tid. I det sammanhanget är smog-flyktingar är ett högst relevant begrepp. Luftföroreningar och andra miljöproblem är också en av de främsta anledningarna till att välbärgade kineser bosätter sig utomlands.

Vi bör se luftföroreningarna och tillhörande konsekvenser som något orsakat av användningen av föråldrad teknologi. Med föråldrad teknologi menas att det idag finns fullgoda alternativ till den förbränningsmotorn som driver 99 procent av världens personbilar. Alternativen stavas el och vätgas. Dessa tekniker är mogna för vardagsbruk. Personbilar som nyttjar dessa tekniker finns på marknaden, de är mycket uppskattade av användare och genomgår hela tiden utveckling till det bättre. Eventuella begränsningar, som räckvidd för elbilar, är verkliga bekymmer men det är också sådant som kan lösas. Bättre batterier kommer att ge längre räckvidd. Redan idag räcker räckvidden i en genomsnittlig elbil för vardagsanvändning. Enligt Trafikverket är hälften av bilresorna i Sverige kortare än 5 kilometer. I tätorter är 80 procent av resorna kortare än 3 kilometer. Samtidigt har nästan alla elbilar på marknaden en räckvidd på minst 150 kilometer, i många fall mycket mer. Vissa toppmodeller uppges ha en räckvidd på runt 600 kilometer, även om sådana uppgifter är osäkra. Idag finns också snabbladdare som kan ladda vissa batterier från helt tomma till nästan helt fulla på några minuter. För andra batterier gäller upp till en timme – det vill säga tillräckligt för att äta ett mål mat och sträcka på benen. Nu finns dessa laddare inte överallt men de finns på ställen som bedöms underlätta för längre resor, just för att elbilar ska vara attraktiva för fler och för att det inte ska finnas några tveksamheter om teknikens möjligheter. Med vätgasdrivna bilar är räckvidden inte något problem. En sådan bil tankas precis om en fossildriven. Vätgastekniken har stor potential, inte minst för yrkestrafiken och tunga transporter – det vill säga där elbilen ännu inte räcker till.

Ett centralt problem med el- och vätgasbilarna är att de är väsentligt dyrare än motsvarande traditionella fossilbilar. Visserligen sägs lägre driftkostnader tala till den nya teknikens fördel men det råder också stor oklarhet kring sådant som andrahandsvärde och, när det gäller elbilar, batteriernas livslängd. För att ställa om fordonsflottan behövs olika former av incitament för att få konsumenter att välja de nya teknikerna. Mycket talar för att stödsystem hjälper till på traven. I Norge finns ordentliga stödsystem och där finns också betydligt fler elbilar än i Sverige. Att köpa och äga elbil i Norge är väldigt förmånligt. Den som köper elbil behöver inte betala skatt på 25 procent, köparen slipper också registreringsavgiften på i snitt 100 000 norska kronor, bilen är undantagen vägtull, parkerar gratis på offentliga parkeringsplatser samt får resa utan kostnad på många vägfärjor. Ett resultat av den ambitiösa politiken är att var fjärde nyregistrerad bil i Norge förra året var en elbil.

I Sverige talar vi vackert och har sedan länge insett behovet av att ställa om vår transportsektor. Faktum är att transportsektorn sammantaget har en väsentligt stor klimatpåverkan, särskilt med tanke på att elproduktionen, med stora delar vatten och kärnkraft, sticker ut som särdeles ren ur klimatsynpunkt. Transporterna är den sektor som orsakar huvudbry. Personbilarna i Sverige, nästan 4,7 miljoner till antalet, är också tyngre och törstigare än på den europeiska kontinenten. Sverige är också ett land där mycket lastbilstransporter äger rum, och det ökar vårt klimatavtryck. Samtidigt är vi väl medvetna om att vår transportsektor är, tillsammans med utlandsresor och vår konsumtion, vårt största klimatbov. En del debattörer ser just en eventuell omställning av hela transportsektorn, det vill alltså säga även av den tunga trafiken, som Sveriges viktigaste bidrag i den globala klimatkampen. Omställning av transportsektorn är också central för att Sverige ska kunna nå sina ambitiösa klimatmål om en fossiloberoende fordonsflotta och därtill vara en ännu större förebild ur klimatsynpunkt.

Idag är vi inte riktigt där. Tvärtom talar mycket för att utvecklingen är den rakt motsatta. Värre än att vi ligger efter Norge är att nybilsförsäljningen i Sverige slår rekord. Förra året (2016) registrerades 372 000 nya personbilar, 51 600 nya lätta lastbilar och 58 000 nya lastbilar. Det är för alla tre kategorier rekord. Dessutom var mycket få personbilar supermiljöbilar, det vill säga den kategori som inkluderar elbilar, vätgasbilar och bränslesnåla laddhybrider. I den kategorin registrerades 13 000 nya fordon, vilket bara motsvarar 3,5 procent av marknaden. Det är långt från var femte nyregisterad bil som Norge kan stoltsera med. Enligt branschorganisationen Bil Sweden spås även 2017 bli ett bra år för branschen.

För att nå målen om en fossiloberoende fordonsflotta behövs sannolikt större offentliga ansträngningar. Att Centerpartiet gått ut med att de kan tänka sig att höja supermiljöbilspremien till 100 000 kr istället för dagens 40 000 kr är ett steg på vägen. Välkommet är också att Centerpartiet öppnar för att införa en engångsavgift på mellan 25 000 till 50 000 kr på bilar med höga växthusutsläpp. Allt detta lär sänka tröskeln för att byta ut fossilbilar mot miljövänligare bilar. Andra förmåner likt de i Norge kan rimligtvis också göra en hel del för omställningen. Ännu mer radikalt vore givetvis om städerna inför förbud mot miljö och hälsofarlig teknik – precis som London och andra städer planerar att göra. I samma linje ligger också att stadens alla taxibilar bör vara antingen hybrider, som i London, eller rena elbilar. Den offentliga sektorn bör utreda möjligheterna i att enbart upphandla transporttjänster från aktörer som har en fordonsflotta som uppfyller högt ställda miljökrav. I vilket fall som helst förefaller ledningen i Stockholms Stad ha liknande miljö-och klimatambitioner, även om styret ännu inte vill gå så långt som London och andra.

Givetvis är kollektivtrafik att föredra. Personbilstrafiken är problematisk. Infrastrukturen är kostsam och tar upp plats i stadsrummet. Förtätning och grön stadsplanering är rimligare utgångspunkter. Ändå är personbilar något som finns och något vi kommer att behöva förhålla oss till under mycket lång tid. Ordentlig kollektivtrafik är också något som fungerar bäst i städerna. I många delar av Sverige kräver livspusslet helt enkelt tillgång till minst en personbil. I detta ljus måste miljövänliga personbilar, det vill säga el och vätgasbilar, betraktas som långt bättre än mindre miljövänliga personbilar, det vill säga fossilbilar. Därtill måste Sverige satsa på riktigt om ambitionen verkligen är att ha en fossiloberoende fordonsflotta redan år 2030. Politiken hade sannolikt varit mer ambitiös om vi hade inhemska elbilstillverkare som lobbade mot politikerna och vars tillverkning i omställningsprocessen skapade arbetstillfällen. Förekomsten av ett sådant industrikomplex, det vill säga ett kopplat till grön teknik, med tillhörande export, vore i alla lägen bättre än det nuvarande militärindustriella komplexet kopplat till Saab och andra försvarsföretag. Man kan tänka sig att ingenjörerna på Saab kan göra mer nytta för världen inom en grön sektor. I vilket fall som helst finns det potential för lastbilstillverkarna Volvo och Scania att med hjälp av offentliga stödsystem för forskning och utveckling tillämpa vätgastekniken på dessa större fordon och göra tekniken kommersiellt konkurrenskraftig. Det skulle innebära en stor framgång.

För att återgå till taxibilarna i London finns det några saker att ta fasta på. Som jag nämnde tidigare byts taxibilarna ut för att lösa ett problem, det vill säga få ordning på luftkvaliteten i staden. Därtill hoppas tillverkaren att erfarenheterna från taxibilarna kan överföras på andra bilar. Geely säljer redan idag rena elbilar – det vill säga inte hybrider – i Kina. En särskilt spännande modell uppges ha en räckvidd på 250 km och ser ut som vilken genomsnittlig europeisk bilmodell som helst. Exemplet med Geely och  London visar att städer är villiga att tackla sina miljöproblem.

De senaste åren har det sålts runt 70 miljoner personbilar i världen årligen. Bara drygt en procent av den årliga försäljningen i världen är elbilar. Samtidigt finns det totalt 1,1 miljarder personbilar i världen. Bara drygt två miljoner av dessa är elbilar. Det innebär att antalet elbilar i världen utgör lite mer än en promille, det vill säga en tusendel, av världens totala personbilsflotta. Enligt prognoser kommer antalet personbilar och lastbilar i världen dubbleras till år 2040. Det är högst oklart hur många av dessa fordon som kommer att vara eldrivna men industrier kopplade till fossila drivmedel spås alltjämt en ljus framtid.

Om man bortser från entusiasmen för “elbilsrevolutionen” och den uppmärksamhet som riktas mot den nya tekniken visar dessa siffror vilken monumental utmaning som ligger framför oss. Samtidigt som allt fler biltillverkare lanserar elbilar och talar om att det är där framtiden finns baseras deras affärsmodeller och vinster fortfarande på de fossilbilar som bidrar till att förstöra miljön och klimatet. Vi kan helt enkelt inte lita på att biljättarna är villiga att snabba på den nödvändiga omställningen. I varje fall kan vi inte utgå från att det kommer ske utan hårt tryck. Därtill sitter ett annat industrikomplex, petroleumindustrin, i samma båt och är villig att göra allt i sin makt för att försvara sin affärsmodell, att tillhandahålla det bränsle som underminerar den mänskliga civilisationens fortlevnad.

Det finns idag ett antal städer i Londons storlek runt om i världen. Likaså finns det gott om städer med dålig luftkvalité till följd av vägtrafiken. En radikal tanke är att styrande i sådana städer, säg London, Peking, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Mexiko City, Lagos, New Delhi, Kapstaden, Moskva, Buenos Aires med flera går ihop i ett projekt, förslagsvis med en aktör i branschen (som i fallet London), och tar fram en kompakt och överkomlig elbil för det tjugoförsta århundradet. Ett sådant projekt vore verkligen en del i ett Apollo-projekt med syfte att rädda klimatet och världen.

Referenser

Economic, Social and Political Dimensions of Bolivia under the Morales-Administration (2006-2016) and Key Challenges Ahead

Evo Morales in 2008, two years into the presidency. Photo by Joel Alvarez.*

This year marks the tenth in office for President Evo Morales, the MAS-party (Movimiento Hacia el Socialismo, or in English: Movement Towards Socialism) and the administrations self-ascribed socialist revolution. The aim of this essay is to describe and reflect upon some key economic, social and political dimensions of Bolivia under the Morales-administration. The essay also looks towards the future and some key challenges facing the country.


By Salvador Perez

 

The Economic Dimension: Re-nationalization, Economic Growth and Increased Policy Space 

 

Starting with the economy, the country has experienced a sharp turn-around. At an average growth rate of 3 percent under the Morales-administration, the performance of the economy differs significantly from the interchanging periods of stagnation, poor growth or general instability during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. In a more recent context, the economy has fared well despite ongoing economic instability in the region. Present recessions in both Brazil and Argentina – two major trade partners – are yet to affect Bolivia. In fact, the World Bank predicts that Bolivia, unlike other countries, is not going to be seriously affected by turndown in the region – although growth is expected to slow down a bit (see Table 2). As a result, Bolivia is now among the fastest growing and most stable economies in the region, which is by all means a true achievement considering the country’s turbulent history.

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Against this background a justified follow-up question is: how did the change in economic fortune come about? First of all the Morales-administration has pursued a development agenda that involves significant state involvement in the economy. The key policy in this agenda has been re-nationalization of the country’s vast petro-industries, industries that previously were in the hands of the usual Western multinationals. As a result of poor governance, the industries, which were highly profitable, filled the pockets of foreign owners and domestic elites instead of contributing to overall development in Bolivia.

Although pressure to do something about these industries existed well before Morales came into power, he quickly seized the opportunity to translate words into action. Indeed one of the first moves made by Morales was to take control over the industries. Morales conducted the take-overs by decree but the policies had, nevertheless, overwhelming public support. A referendum in 2004, one year before Morales was elected to the presidency and roughly two years before take-overs began, revealed overwhelming support (80 percent) for increased state control over the industries. This means that the ball was set in motion before Morales came into power but his administration, let’s not forget, translated momentum into actual policies. Needless to say the re-nationalization infuriated the Western multinationals and, of course, their home governments – including the United States, with whom relations have been, so say the least, frosty.

As a result of the re-nationalization and two other crucial factors: (1) a new policy framework guiding the use and redistribution of the rents and (2) favorable market conditions (meaning being able to charge high prices on oil and gas exports) the administration has been able to fill the state coffers. The increased revenues from the petroleum industry have been a game changer. Revenues have increased macroeconomic policy space, and thus allowing reforms. These include social reforms, investments in much needed infrastructure and, more recently, efforts towards strengthening the basis of the economy through industrialization (however the scale and nature of the later types of investments are contested). Revenues from the petro-industries have also, once again spurred by favorable market conditions, helped build up international reserves. Impressive reserves have been built up to the point of Bolivia having the largest reserves in the region, in relation to the size of the economy. What this means should not be underestimated. Previously always at risk of external shocks, or in the violence of Western financial institutions, the reserves now provide a buffer and, at least in theory, increased foreign policy space.

The Social Dimension: Declining Poverty, Engineering Social Reforms and the Politics of Inclusion and Diversity

 

As mentioned before, revenues from the petro-industry have created space for social reforms. A number of measures have been undertaken to deal with social problems that have haunted Bolivian society. One such problem is widespread poverty. Various types of welfare programs now assist those in need. Social safety nets, consisting of various types of insurances, most importantly tied to health-care, are now present and facilitate the lives of many people, including children and the elderly. Although these insurances are far from as well functioning, far-reaching and general in their reach as Western equivalents, the achievements are still significant.

To be clear, Bolivia remains one of the very poorest countries in the region, but it is no longer the poorest – which has been the case during most parts of its history. In fact, some aspects of the social progress have been so remarkable, given the preconditions, that international analysts have paid attention and singled out Bolivia as an example of inclusive development. According to official statistics poverty has declined by 25 percent and extreme poverty by 45 percent under the Morales-administration. Economic inequality has also (remember economic inequality is often considered a hallmark of Latin American countries) decreased as low income sectors have fared better than high income ones. This historical shift can, to a large extent, be explained by a rapid increase in real (inflation-adjusted) minimum wage. All in all the minimum wage, set by policymakers, has increased by 87 percent from year 2005 to 2014. Moreover, Morales has announced further increases are planned, provided that economy growth continues. Although the opposition and others opposed to the new policies do their best to argue that statistics are manipulated, as they have been in Venezuela and elsewhere, there is little actual proof to substantiate such claims. Instead economic growth and poverty reduction are so visible that no one with knowledge about the past can question the progress.

Nonetheless the economic development, especially considering the boom and the country’s lack of experience with actually growing for such a long period of time, has created problems. As in other developing countries, development has been messy and, to give one example, the increased number of motorized vehicles, often second-hand ones imported from more developed countries in the region, namely Chile, Brazil and Argentina, has resulted in urban areas being crowded with air-polluting cars and motorbikes. Although this does not deviate from trajectories in other developing countries, and although decision makers and other authorities are becoming increasingly aware of the problems and try to clear things up, it is still a legitimate concern and a symptom of a type of more or less unfettered development.

Most importantly, from an economic point of view, the Morales-administration has engineered social reforms to also advance economic ends. For example, the increases in minimum wage previously mentioned have not only affected vulnerable households positively in terms of quality of life and more, but have also meant that these households have more means to consume – which they do. In fact much of the increase in domestic consumption under the Morales-administration is explained by social policies such as the minimum wage one. Furthermore, and this is also important from an economic point of view, the Morales-administration has advanced policies to favor products made in Bolivia. Some policies are even designed to benefit domestic industries. These industries are often, but exclusively, tied to the state. One concrete example of such a policy involves support for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Every woman either pregnant or breastfeeding is entitled to a variety of free and healthy foodstuffs of a combined value of a minimum of 20 to as much as 100 euros each month until the child turns 1 years old. The products they are entitled to are made by state industries, which gives the industries a stable domestic market while some of them also pursuit export strategies.

The by far greatest social progress during the Morales-administration concerns the status of the large indigenous populations. Bolivia holds the largest indigenous populations in the region (second is Peru, which also happens to be one of the historically poorest countries in the region). According to censuses around 60 percent (thus a majority) of the population in Bolivia, meaning 6 out of a total of 11 million, self-identify as belonging to an indigenous people.

Previously kept at a safe distance from political power by a mix of poverty, inequality and blatant racism, first and foremost by the elites but also by the well-off non-indigenous sectors, the Morales-administration has been a true game changer. Carried to the presidency by the “repressed majority”, which includes the indigenous populations but also, importantly, non-indigenous urban and rural poor, Morales (he himself of indigenous decent) has returned the favor. Now many of society’s institutions, including those of power, are – for the first time – open and at least more than ever before: accessible for the indigenous. As a result, parliamentary sessions now feature more than the usual “white men in suits.” Now men and women of indigenous decent, in large numbers, attend sessions as elected members of parliament. They attend the sessions proudly wearing traditional clothing. Miners also, from the important mining sector, attend sessions wearing their helmets. Coca-farmers also, another important sector, attend sessions. Of these newcomers to the highest political scene many are on the MAS-ticket, but not all.

The indigenous have also been granted some autonomy to pursuit practices according to their cultures, including “tribal” courts. The Morales-administration also, early on, promised to protect the indigenous traditional lands, making concern for “mother earth” and cultural diversity a key concern. Indeed in 2009 Bolivia changed its official name from “Republic of Bolivar”, originating from regional independence hero Simon Bolivar, to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia.” Under the new constitution, enacted in 2009, the state recognizes 36 cultures, each with their own language. These developments have been opposed with the argument that Morales is polarizing the country along ethnic lines. This makes some sense. The alternative however – to keep what in fact is the majority of the population banished to the margins – is daunting.

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Indigenous “cholitas” in traditional clothing, a very common sight. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

This leads to another important point concerning political engagement. As some scholars have pointed out, the Morales-administration, through policies of inclusion and diversity, reactivated sectors of the population, not only the indigenous, that previously were far removed or alienated from politics. These new sectors, which before could be manipulated by elites to facilitate non-progressive ends that fundamentally opposed their class-interest, have now reached a significant degree of political confidence. As a result portions of these sectors have come to actively oppose government policies when these policies are perceived to act against them. The new sectors increasingly try to hold the government and other authorities accountable when they are perceived as corrupt or simply fail to follow laws. One key example involves the indigenous peoples and the above-mentioned autonomy and “right” and/or “protection” of their lands. As it happens many of these lands hold valuable underground natural gas fields. This means trouble. As the current fields deplete and exporting conditions have worsened (more on this later) the government has pursued efforts to find new fields, plan ahead and ultimately keep the petro-based economic development model on track. The results of these policies can be quite tragic. As human rights organizations and parts of the domestic press have observed the indigenous are sometimes driven from their lands in order for the authorities to lay their hands on existing, or possible, natural gas fields. It should be emphasized that these abuses are deeply at odds with the laws passed by the administration. The indigenous have the legal right to their lands. As of now it is somewhat unclear how large this phenomenon is, but it does occur and is deeply troubling. Also concerning is that the authorities go to great lengths to avoid documentation of repression. Activities are now conducted at night, thus allowing the acts to be filmed with cellphones and other devices. This example of repression can be seen as side effects of the country’s development model and the pressure it creates to continue to deliver the “goods” that other, non-affected, sectors of the population have grown accustomed to. Nonetheless, some evidence suggests that instances, like the above, can or already have, come to affect the political legitimacy of the Morales-administration, not only among those affected or those who feel strong solidarity with them but also, more importantly, among broader sectors of the population that dislike and understand the dangers associated with authorities abuse of power.

The Political Dimension: Regional Tensions, Press Freedom and Concerns on Power 

 

The political side has been, and continues to be, a mixed bag. Although the Morales-administration has managed to govern and maintain stability in a notoriously unstable country, there have been occasions that nonetheless have challenged the administration. An ongoing and significant issue involves the tensions between different regions, in particular the central government and the region of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is by far the richest region in the country. It ranks second in total population, produces nearly 35 percent of GDP and receives about 40 percent of foreign direct investment. In 2008, a regional referendum to increase the region’s autonomy was held. The result showed overwhelming support (85 versus 15 percent) for efforts to distance the region from the central government. Although the tendency of Santa Cruz to pull away from the poorer regions has a long history, the tensions between the region and the central government have reached new highs under the Morales-administration. Policy-makers, business elites as well as the more affluent sectors in Santa Cruz are generally very skeptical or outright hostile to Morales socialist-inspired policies. A key part of the criticism lies in the strong policy framework for economic redistribution between regions. Concretely this framework means that Santa Cruz, being the “economic engine” of the country, has to share its wealth with other less “successful” regions – which is hard to accept among the above-mentioned sectors in Santa Cruz. The 2008 referendum resulted in that tension reached unprecedented levels. The National Electoral Court rapidly declared the referendum illegal and unconstitutional but the struggle continues, flares up at times and then settles down. Nonetheless the region, and in particular the city of Santa Cruz, remains the center of organized opposition, although recent events, like the latest referendum, suggest that opposition, or at least criticism, is more wide-spread among regions than before. Yet Anti-Morales and anti-MAS sentiments are generally stronger in Santa Cruz than anywhere else. As a result, all major dealings with Santa Cruz by the central government are very sensitive and subject to deep scrutiny.

Press freedom is another concern. Although Bolivia is on par with much of the region on this matter, at least according to authoritative sources as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, overall development is to the worse. Without going into how press freedom was under right-wing governments, who were more or less repressive in nature, the situation in Bolivia is worsening. The country has fallen in rankings. Although these rankings have limits they are still indicative enough to raise concerns about developments. In year 2006, when the Morales-administration started its work, Bolivia was best placed among the category of “less-developed countries.” In fact Bolivia ranked 16th in the world, above countries as Canada, Denmark, Germany and the UK. Yet, in all fairness rankings can vary considerably from one year to another, which should be considered. For example in year 2005 Bolivia was ranked 45th but one year before, in 2004 it was ranked 76th. Nevertheless the trend is clearly negative with rankings around the 100th since year 2008. As mentioned before, much of the region is the same. This means that there are countries that perform better, say Chile and Uruguay, and countries that do worse, say Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay and so on.

A few factors can help explain the negative developments in Bolivia. To be clear the legal environment for the press resembles that of practically any well-functioning democracy that can come to mind. The laws themselves, as observers state, guarantee press freedom that mirror the most free countries. The problem however is not the laws, but the realities that shape day to day work as a journalist. One such reality is the polarized political environment. As there are, to quote Freedom House latest report on press freedom in Bolivia, “strong rivalries between pro-and anti-government media outlets”, journalists tend to be the frontline victims. More and more journalists, predominantly in the anti-government camp feel threatened, and there have been clear cases of violence and intimidations, even killings during the last ten years. The 2015 report states “attacks where fewer than in recent years” but press freedom, however, has to be monitored closely in coming years as stakes gets higher.

There are more recent events that tie into some of the above. Despite increasing controversy Morales has search for ways to extend his powers. One argument the administration uses to legitimize the attempts is the need to speed up the “social revolution.” Another one is to make reforms more permanent so that changes cannot be “unraveled” by political forces to the right or/and the “servants of empire.” Early this year, 2016, Morales lost an important constitutional referendum. The referendum was aimed at allowing him to run for office for another fourth straight term, something currently hindered by the constitution. Although the proposal was voted down, albeit with a small margin of 51 to 49 percent, Morales was hesitant to fully accept the defeat, calling for a tie or even a re-referendum. The uncertainty clearly resulted in fueling the opposition’s suspicion that Morales is seeking to hold on to power despite legal constraints. A common fear is that Morales’ intention is to steer the country in a more authoritarian direction, modeling the “revolutionary” left regimes in Venezuela and Cuba – regimes that happen to be at least ideological and in some senses political allies of Morales (although the links between these countries are not as deep as one would or could think). However, what is certain is that the polarization caused by run-up towards the referendum and the aftermath, briefly described above, further increased tensions along the usual line of class, ethnicity and regional rivalry, to mention a few. As a result the coming 2019 general election might be a risky one.

New Foreign Policy Alliances, The Left Decade, Regional Cooperation and Necessary Critical Remarks

 

Although some foreign policy moves by the Morales-administration have been relatively well covered by Western media outlets, others are not. Business deals and closer alliances with states such as China and Russia, as well as dealings with Venezuela or Cuba, get a reasonable amount of coverage and analysis, for various reasons. These interactions are real and interesting, in particular what goes on with the regimes in China and Russia, as these countries constitute new partners. To be brief, both are making investments in Bolivia. The Chinese are present throughout the economy, but the largest investments revolve around infrastructure and, as usual, extraction of raw materials, most notably lithium (more later). The Chinese were also given the task of building, launching and providing credit for Bolivia’s first satellite, which according to government sources will “serve telecommunications in Bolivia” and allow it to “sell services to the private sector as well as neighboring countries” and thereby “bring incomes of up to 40 million dollars a year to the state.” The Russians are, through the state-owned company Rosatom, involved in setting up Bolivia’s first nuclear power program, which include, as of this date, one commercial and one research reactor for medial use. The cost of this project is stated to be 300 million dollars and is very controversial.

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President Vladmir Putin and president Evo Morales in Kremlin, 2013. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

As stated some things get less coverage. The same goes for in depth analysis. One key issue that is often omitted and deserves a mention is Bolivia’s relation to the surrounding region. It is also crucial to reflect upon how the relations to the region have developed during the Morales-administration, in particular how relations developed under the Morales-administration and under what is sometimes called Latin Americas “left decade” or “second independence.” One should state that there are different points of views, however, the critical one deserves some attention – especially considering it gets far less attention and, also, deviates from common perception. On the critical side, some scholars argue, quite convincingly, that regional cooperation has either declined or not evolved as much as expected considering that a major part of the countries in the region, at one point or another during the past decade, were governed by administrations to the political left who stated the value of “regional cooperation” and “mutual interests.” The key is that for a significant number of years, nearly 300 million of the regions total of a little more than 400 million people were governed by administrations to the left.

Considering this historical “awakening” and “liberation” of Latin America from the North American overcoat (the United States was either bogged down in the Middle East or more interested in, for many reasons, East Asia or the “Pacific”), these scholars argue that one could have expected that governments who confessed to “regional unity” and “cooperation” would have taken more concrete steps to make these things real. The critical scholars argue that the successful, yet resource based development models, have because of resource based patterns, undermined any deeper cooperation. The key thing to understand is that these countries in the region, be it Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile or any else, are still to a substantial degree, suppliers of raw-materials in the larger context of the world economy. Many of these countries also sell more or less the same raw-materials, with slight variations. What this means is essentially that the countries in the region compete with one another, sometimes less and sometimes more. Yet on a fundamental level they are locked in the mode of competition rather than cooperation. According to critical scholars the region cannot advance any form of more meaningful cooperation as long as these resource-dependent patters dominate the economies in the region, which they have done historically. One should note, once again, that the left administrations have founded their development projects on these patterns and many of these administrations have been more or less unsuccessful or reluctant to diversifying their economies as long as they could transfer export earnings to the social programs that have legitimized their rule. Problems with these development models, and the deep vested interests in the political economies of the countries might become ever more apparent, but these are, nonetheless, problems many countries in the region have dealt with historically and, one could argue, have learned very little from, in particular the political elites – which, generally, have benefited from the status-quo.

According to critical scholars, what is outlined above is somewhat of a “lost opportunity” and somewhat “tragic”. One should not understate the social advancements, which are, on a regional level stunning, but one could and should, also ask critical questions about the long-term foundations for those advancements and if advancements can continue in less beneficial conditions and – meaning administrations cannot longer benefit from export booms. One could also, as a larger perhaps overarching reflection, think about the role of Latin America in the world economy. As of now, one could very well draw the conclusion that Latin America, under administrations to the left, has accentuated its role as a more or less subordinate supplier of raw materials to the wonders of others in the world economy. This is not to take away the advancements but the, albeit gloomy, take on the fundamentals of the “left decade” and its limits, does deserve contemplation.

Corruption: Part of Life and Source of Tension

 

Before diving into more depth about the challenges of the future, it is essential to deal with corruption, a key source of tension. Although it is somewhat unclear if the Morales-administration stands out vis-à-vis previous administrations on issues of corruption, there are a few things that might influence expectations and therefore popular reactions to the, undeniable corruption that exists. First of all, Morales made early promises to crack-down on corrupt officials. This was a cornerstone of his campaign. Second, it is also reasonable for people to expect that an administration that claims to be “one of the people and for the people,” is scrutinized accordingly. Third, the last ten years of growing public funds, much because of petro-industry revenues, have created a pool of resources that many would like to have a piece of, legally or illegally. To be clear: everyday corruption has always been a part of life in Bolivia and Latin America in general. In fact everyday type of corruption might cause occasional irritation but is, nonetheless accepted within certain boundaries (for example it is a common practice to drive to a party, enjoy alcoholic beverages and then drive home intoxicated – if the police happens to stop you a small bribe will solve the problem – problems only arise if you happen to hurt someone severely). Still, high-level corruption within the political and legal apparatus is, unlike everyday corruption, a constant source of anger. As a result, there is a widespread and reasonably grounded belief that corruption with high-level sectors is close to endemic, especially as officials (many of them at the local levels) try to make the best of their, often limited, time in power. Media outlets, almost exclusively the ones tied to the opposition, also spend a considerable amount of resources to uncover stories of corruption or other illegal practices by officials. This is typically where journalists put themselves in danger.

Looking into the future there are fundamental questions to be asked about the economy and the long term basis for it. As stated before growth and social programs, and thus also poverty reduction, have been facilitated by revenues from a few key sources, mainly the petro-industry. To be clear about how important the petro-industry is one should consider the following: it accounts for about a third of government revenues, 80 percent of exports, and 18 percent of GDP. This is, as countless amounts of evidence suggest, a very vulnerable position for any economy. Consider also the following: Bolivia has, during the last decade, been selling vast quantities of natural gas to Brazil and Argentina. These sales have financed the “socialist revolution.” The problem however is that market conditions have changed drastically. Sure natural gas (Bolivia’s main export) has not taken the same deep plunge as crude oil but prices have nevertheless dropped enough to cause concern. At the moment, deals with Brazil and Argentina are regulated by long term agreements, ending in 2019 (yet another reason besides the general election for 2019 being a key year). In line with the current agreements, which were signed when market conditions were much more favorable (and both Brazil and Argentina had governments to the left), Bolivia is currently selling natural gas at inflated prices, roughly twice market prices (although minor adjustments are made continuously). Meanwhile both Brazil and Argentina have made efforts to be less dependent on Bolivia in the future. Although the policies by trade partners can change (for better or worse) due to many factors (the state of the economy in these countries, resource depletion, geopolitics and so on) the future of any country should, ideally, not be so dependent on a few resources or political developments elsewhere, as Bolivia currently is. Furthermore, as elaborated above, other countries in region basically compete with the same raw materials.

Of course the political leadership is well aware of that the economy should be less resource dependent. As a result there are ambitious investments to industrialize and diversify the economy. However, as more critically inclined scholars have pointed out the vast majority of these investments, particularly in terms of size, are in one way or another tied to keeping the petro-industry going. Investments of such a nature can be infrastructure (pipelines and so on), investments to further increase production (tied to productivity) or to make more sellable products out of the petroleum itself (example: chemicals or plastics). Fundamentally this means revenues from the petro-industry are, to a very high extent, being re-invested in the industry itself or in investments highly related to it. To be fair, some of these investments make sense. Reasonable investments tied to the petro-industry are ones that add value, which in the case of the petro-industry means creating more refined products that can be exported at a higher price. One such refined product is standardized LPG (liquefied natural gas). Following this logic, among the major investments of the Morales-administration are in so called liquid separation plants. These plants, explained very briefly, are used to produce LPG as well as other high value liquids that are used in various industrial processes. If once considers that Bolivia should try to make the best of the raw materials it is already committed to extracting, these investments make sense. However, one could easily, by looking at the size of other investments into “new” industries not tied to the petro one, conclude that not enough has been done, especially considering the administration has had ten years at its disposal. Despite that some of the “new industries” serve important domestic needs, particularly the ones tied to food industry, it remains unclear if these industries are competitive enough to expand on regional or international markets.

In this context one should also mention that the country is in the final steps of making use of its vast lithium resources, a step that has been awaited for some time. Lithium is essential when producing high capacity batteries used to power a variety of modern products, including smartphones and – herein lie the expectations for Bolivia – electric cars and, equally important, battery based energy storage systems. Given that Bolivia has up to 70 percent of the world’s lithium resources, the Morales-administration is confident that the country holds the key to its own future. Morales has even stated that Bolivian lithium is “the hope of humanity.” Extraction, however, is tricky. First of all, Bolivia is not even close to having the technology needed to extract these resources without foreign involvement. Thus, a foreign partner is inevitable. Up to recently, only Western companies, which Morales has a hard time with and vice-versa, had the necessary technology. Now the Chinese are involved, which Morales finds is a better alternative. Consequently the first shipments, no large quantities but still significant, went to China. Second, environmental concerns have been raised about extraction of lithium. These concerns are serious and evidence suggests extraction might be very harmful if not conducted properly. Third, the site where the resource is concentrated, the salt lake of Uyuni, is a major tourist attraction and is widely considered a national treasure. This makes extraction an even more sensitive matter. Nonetheless extraction has begun. What the future holds, and to what extent extraction adds up to the “raw-material”-export dependency pattern, remains to be seen. At the very least efforts must be made, by the Morales-administration and future administrations, to make something else that can sustain the country beyond or along side current raw materials.

Demography: Putting the Young to Work

 

Another, often overseen, but nevertheless key issue concerning the future is demography. As many developing countries, Bolivia has a favorable demographic profile. This means a large portion of the population has either just entered the workforce or is about to. It also means a relatively small portion of the population is elderly (or rather “not in the workforce”). As a result, a small portion of the population is in need of often costly support systems and the like. Of course turning “favorable demographic profile” into something substantial, like economic growth, depends on policies but the profile does indicate one thing: potential.

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On that note we should consider the following. Although Bolivia now enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region (numbers vary from slightly under 3 percent to 7 percent depending on source and measure), this does not take into account underemployment. As larger portions of the youth go through the education system, in particular higher education (thanks to social reforms), they then have expectations and skills which have to be accommodated within the economy in order for them to contribute and be of use. In a growing economy, such as the current one, they might find a way to accommodate themselves. However, any change in economic fortune (as outlined before), carries great risk for both the individuals and the society as a whole. Sure the performance of the economy has led to an increase of business units by a factor of four (or more) the last ten years, which in theory could accommodate new additions to the workforce. Yet, it is highly unclear what these new businesses are exactly and what kinds of skills work in them require. As hinted before it is difficult to know how solid and successful programs of industrialization and diversification really are until the economic tide has turned.

Final notes: Globalization, Development and the Role of the State

 

Despite these uncertainties (and they should be taken seriously) there are perhaps more general implications or say lessons from the Bolivian “turn-around.” First of all, it goes to show that resources can, if properly managed, be used to advance social goods. Moreover, the active state policies undertaken by the Morales-administration have proved successful in combating the often disruptive and dystopian forces of neoliberal globalization of which Bolivia has had its fair share. All in all what has taken place in Bolivia, despite its limitations, provides ammunition for an updated discourse on globalization, development and the role of the state.

The author is interested in different interpretations of the developments in Bolivia. He can be reached at: salvador.perez.sp@gmail.com

*Joel Alvarez, who was kind enough to let me use the first photo without charge, is a Swedish photojournalist and university lecturer based in Mexico City. His work can be found at: www.joel-alvarez.com

En hyllning till John “Tito” Gerassi

Gerassi förklarade en gång att de radikala lider av två dilemman. Det första dilemmat består i att de antingen blir så absorberade av att skaffa sig makt att de sugs upp av systemet eller så gör de sig själva ofarliga genom att inte ha någon makt alls. Det andra dilemmat är att de blir så rädda för att sälja ut sig att de blir helt och hållet marginaliserade. Mellan det utspädda varumärket socialdemokrati och infantil vänsterism måste det finnas en tredje väg att gå.


Av Jonathan M. Feldman

Människor som vi tar för givna kan tas ifrån oss. Vissa av dem är hjältar, mentorer, referenspunkter. De är som solsystem för oss, vi cirkulerar runt dem eller de runt oss. De skapar ett slags bakgrund för oss att mäta världen mot, de hjälper oss att se var saker och ting är och hur vi kan hitta dem. Vi engagerar de här personerna. De engagerar oss. Det finns ett slags balans, till och med en logik, som vi kan använda oss av när vi tänker på det förflutna, nuet och framtiden. John Gerassi var för mig en sådan person. En mentor, vän och politisk kompass. Den sortens person som man inte alltid håller med trots att man vet att man oftast är den som har fel när man är oense. Ett slags profet som ofta sa och gjorde impopulära saker, nödvändiga saker. Han var karismatisk, utmanade sina studenter, men visade alltid respekt och vann över många som anammade hans syn på politiskt engagemang.

John Gerassi dog den 26 juli 2012 i New York. Han var en brygga för många av sina studenter och för de som kände honom mellan amerikansk radikalism å ena sidan och engagerad politik stöpt av vänsterintellektuella i Paris, latinamerikanska revolutionärer och 1960-talets afrikansk-amerikanska militanter å andra sidan. Han föddes i Paris den 12 juli 1931, mitt emot ett kafé där hans pappa Fernando Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre, konstnärerna André Breton, Marc Chagall och Joan Miró satt samlade. Han kom till USA med sina föräldrar 1940. För sina vänner var han känd som ”Tito” och hans karriär började som konstkritiker och journalist, senare blev han akademiker och aktivist, särskilt aktiv i rörelsen mot Vietnamkriget och rasismen i USA. Gerassi skrev för flera tidningar och publikationer, däribland The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Saturday Evening Post och The Guardian. Han var korrespondent för The New York Times och för Time Magazine där han vid tjugofyra års ålder blev den yngsta skribenten någonsin. Gerassi undervisade vid New York University, San Fransisco State University, The University of Paris (XII Vincennes), the JFK Institute of the Free University of Berlin, UC Irvine, Bard College och i slutet av sin akademiska karriär framförallt på Queens College. Gerassi stakade ut politiska positioner långt vänster om de flesta av sina kollegor. Hans sätt att resonera var djupt och filosofiskt, uppbackat av erfarenheter från ”the highs and lows” under efterkrigstiden.

Gerassi var utmanande och skrytsam, överdrev ibland, och naggade stundtals på fakta, men det borde inte tolkas som karaktärsbrister utan snarare som uttryck för det faktum att han tyckte om att leva på gränsen mellan konst och politik där allt var möjligt och där kreativiteten skapade sina egna fakta. Gerassi skrev pjäser och publicerade en politisk roman med titeln The Anarchronists. När Gerassis pappa blev general i det spanska inbördeskriget tvingades han lägga ner sina målarpenslar och bli en politisk man. Den här korsningen mellan konst och politik hjälpte Gerassi att förstå drivkraften bakom Sartres idé om politiskt engangemang.

Gerassi erkände att han hade ärvt sitt politiska medvetande av sina föräldrar. Hans pappa hade insisterat på att Gerassi skulle studera vid en fransk skola eftersom han såg att Gerassi höll på att glömma bort sin franska. På skolan sa Gerassi till en präst, Père Farine, att han ville bli katolik på grund av Dorothy Days arbete som katolik. Prästen presenterade Gerassi för Dorothy Day som skickade honom att arbeta på ett ”Friendship House” där han lärde känna Thomas Merton, förmodligen den viktigaste filosofen inom katolicismen. Gerassi beskrev den franska skolan som en vändpunkt där han blev politiskt aktiv. Trots att Gerassi själv inte var religiös beundrade han religiösa människor som Farine och Day därför att de kämpade för någonting: ”By putting themselves into a context larger than themselves, which in their case is a God, they are able to appeal to the general public.” Gerassis fransklärare insisterade på att han skulle söka till Columbia University och han blev antagen på grund av sina kunskaper om författare som Dostojevskij, Dos Passos och Faulkner. Att läsa Richard Wrights Black Boy (en självbiografi publicerad 1945), Dos Passos och Hemingway gjorde att Gerassi politiserades. Han förklarade att man kan inte läsa sådana författare och böcker och ”not have politics.”

Gerassi skrev och redigerade böcker om Sartre, Camilo Torres, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, om de amerikanska bombningarna i Vietnam, Latinamerika och om brotten som eliterna begår. Hans mest välkända bok The Great Fear in Latin America publicerades 1963 och handlade om imperialism och exploatering i Latinamerika. Boken ledde till han blev känd bland latinamerikanska och amerikanska vänsterkretsar. Gerassi var inte bara Jean-Paul Sartres “non-godson” utan han kom också genom sitt arbete som journalist i kontakt med en rad kända intellektuella, konstnärer och aktivister. På Londonkonferensen ”Dialectics of Liberation” var Gerassi en av talarna på en talarlista som innefattade personer som Stokely Carmichael, Paul Goodman, Allen Ginsburg, R. D. Laing, Herbert Marcuse och Paul Sweezy. Det var juli 1967, och Gerassi vara bara trettiosex år gammal.

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Gerassi kastade sig in i kampen mot Vietnamkriget. Det var på många sätt hans avgörande ögonblick, hans personliga motsvarighet till Sartres kamp mot fascism, engagemang och la résistance française. Gerassi var flytande i engelska, franska och spanska och reste och upplevde stora delar av världen; gatorna i New York som tonåring, kaféerna i Paris med Sartre och Beauvoir, den latinamerikanska djungeln med revolutionärer, och London där han förde ett slags exiltillvaro (delvis som en reaktion på den våg av underkuvelse som följde antikrigsrörelsen).

Gerassi växte upp i centrum av den konstnärliga och politiska världen i Europa. Hans pappa, Fernando Gerassi, var en konstnär som härstammade från en av de judiska familjerna som drivits ut ur Spanien av inkvisitionen. Vid ett tillfälle sa Sartre att Fernando hade påverkat honom mer än någon annan levande man. Hans mamma hette Stepha Awkykowich, var av ukrainskt-polskt ursprung och nära vän till Simone de Beauvoir. Eftersom Gerassi växte upp i ett politiskt hem valde han till en början att distansera sig från politiken. Han förklarade att det var ett slags revolt mot en revolt. Men med en familj som var tätt knuten till kretsen runt Sartre, Beauvoir och Picasso var Gerassi aldrig långt bort från politiken.

På Columbia University gick Gerassi på föreläsningar av C. Wright Mills, den intellektuella föregångaren till The New Left (en bred politisk rörelse i USA under 60- och 70-talen). Liksom Sartre ansåg Mills att etik måste dominera politiken och inte rätta sig efter den. Det här etiska förhållningssättet krävde ett politiskt engagemang – ett engagemang för att bryta mot förtryckande normalitet, för att knyta band med andra, och för att överskrida individualism och passivitet.

Engagemang och motsägelser

Under en period av sitt liv levde Gerassi vad han själv ansåg vara ett normalt och borgerligt liv som definierades av hans äktenskap, hans välbetalda arbete på Newsweek magazine, en bekväm bostad, och en distans från det slags risker som existentiella radikaler anser göra livet meningsfullt. Enligt Sartre och Gerassi borde en ”man of action” riskera sådana förhållanden medan han engagerar sig i politiska rörelser som gör ett borgerligt liv svårt att upprätthålla. Gerassi sa att man måste döma individer utifrån hur de lever. Hur vi konsumerar och lever våra privata liv avslöjar trots allt mycket mer om oss än våra politiska engagemang. Men det finns givetvis undantag. Människor som lever motsägelsefulla liv, som omfamnar systemet samtidigt som de opponerar sig mot det. Hans mentor, Sartre, var symbolen för ett sådant motsägelsefullt liv. De här konstrasterna och motsägelserna förklarar hur medelklassen kunde leda revolutionära protester och därmed gå emot sin egen samhällsklass. Vissa levde luxuösa liv samtidigt som de protesterade mot det system som gjorde deras liv i överflöd möjligt.

Gerassis liv förändrades när Vietnamkriget började. Han kunde inte fortsätta att leva som han gjorde. Han åkte till Nordvietnam för att dokumentera de amerikanska krigsbrotten; bombningarna av skolor och sjukhus, napalmen som föll över vietnameser, den totala förödelsen av civila områden. Vid ett tillfälle gömde han sig medan amerikanska bomber föll omkring honom; sitt eget lands potentiella offer. Vietnam lämnade bestående intryck på Gerassi och han ville inte återvända till USA och fortsätta leva ett liv utan riktigt engagemang. Han blev betraktad som ledaren för ett studentuppror på San Franscisco State University. Under en demonstration skadades han av en polis och skadan skulle komma att bli livslång och resultera i hälsoproblem. Gerassi kände andra radikaler som bröt mot lagen och som fängslades. De såg hela tiden kontrasten mellan det normala livets rationalitet i irrationella och absurda tidevarv.

En sommar berättade Gerassi för mig att en ganska välkänd New Left intellektuell, känd för att predika mot vänsterns överflöd, hade kontaktat honom och frågat om han ville ansluta sig till The Weather Underground (en militant revolutionär vänstergrupp verksam under 60- och 70-talen) . ”Gör inte sånt”, sa Gerassi. ”Skriv bara istället. Du är mer effektiv på det sättet.” Det var ironiskt med tanke på hans inställning i andra sammanhang som verkat antyda att det måste finns ett val mellan den intellektuelles återhållsamma politik och den radikales intensiva politik. Det existentiella valet mellan politiskt engagemang och borgerlig normalitet hade utvecklats till något absurt.

Gerassi förklarade en gång att de radikala lider av två dilemman. Det första dilemmat består i att de antingen blir så absorberade av att skaffa sig makt att de sugs upp av systemet eller så gör de sig själva ofarliga genom att inte ha någon makt alls. Det andra dilemmat är att de blir så rädda för att sälja ut sig att de blir helt och hållet marginaliserade. Mellan det utspädda varumärket socialdemokrati och infantil vänsterism måste det finnas en tredje väg att gå.

Logik och känslor: mellan frihet och våld

DG Cooper skrev i en text om Sartre att ”our roles are always future structures. They are tasks to be carried out, traps to be avoided and so on.” Erich Fromm förklarade den politiska betydelsen av sådana roller i ”Disobedience as a Psychological Problem”:

The organization man has loss the capacity to disobey, he is not even aware of the fact that he obeys. At this point in history the capacity to doubt, to criticize, and to disobey may be all that stands between a future for mankind and the end of civilization.

Gerassi levde enligt den här principen. Han kämpade mot ett system som främjade våld, försämrade civila fri- och rättigheter, elitens växande dominans, och eskalerande militarism. Han reste till både Vietnam och Iran när USA var på väg att införa sanktioner mot båda länderna och det amerikanska justitiedepartementet varnade att de som bröt mot reseförbudet riskerade att få upp till tio års fängelse och 50,000$ i böter. Gerassis olydnad reflekterade ett sätt att leva och vara.

När Gerassi berättade varför Sartre valde honom till att skriva sin självbiografi skrev han:

I think Sartre chose me to write his biography because in his eyes, without sounding too arrogant, I was first of all a doer, a political activist, a philosophy student turned journalist and then ”militant” who thought about theory at his desk alone, and did his writing as a consequence of his praxis, as a consequence of analyzing the forces in battle in a world basically dominated by the rich and the rogues, by greed and guile.

Gerassi reagerade och agerade först, sedan analyserade han. Sartre förklarade vid ett tillfälle för en grupp av Gerassis studenter:

It’s always those who have power who say ’calm down, let’s talk rationally, let’s be sensible.’ It is always those with power that insist being emotional is being weak. In the home, the powerful are men. That’s why the best way for a housewife to argue against her calm, rational ’provider’ is to throw the plate of rice in his face.

Gerassi sa en gång något liknande: ”The liberal thinks only in terms of logic. The fascist only in terms of emotions.” Tricket var att på något sätt kunna göra både och: tänka i logik och känslor samtidigt. Gerassis kritiker ansåg att han agerade utan att tänka men genom känslomässig logik och empati fullföljde Gerassi handlingar som konformismens logik bedrägligt enkelt kan förvrida till något irrationellt. Gerassi bröt mot den liberala logiken på San Fransisco State University där han anslöt sig till studenter som utmanade en konformistisk rationalitet som berövat afroamerikanska studenter deras medborgerliga rättigheter och som rättfärdigade universitetets militära samarbeten.

Att kämpa mot systemet var alltid det första steget mot att undfly dess avhumaniserande rationalitet. Gerassi menade att ”the rationale for revolutions is usually not for anything but against something”. Här framträder behovet av både logik och känslor tydligt. Gerassi skriver: ”the spontaneous rejection of an established order or structure is first motivated by anger, frustration, injustice and/or inequality, which are all negative.” The New Left i USA var ett resultat av att medelklassen också hade börjat opponera sig mot systemet på samma sätt som marginaliserade grupper hade gjort långt innan. Gerassi skrev att efter 1950-talet visste Amerikas unga redan vilket slutet samhälle deras land hade blivit. De kände att systemet ville att de skulle bli lydiga och avhumaniserade kugghjul. Och människor inom The New Left upplevde att systemet kvävde dem. ”The air they must breathe”, skrev Gerassi, ”precisely because they are middle class was the air of ’not by bread alone’.” Det gjorde The New Lefts uppror till ett medelklassuppror men det gjorde det varken mindre äkta eller mindre seriöst. Några, som till skillnad från sina föräldrar inte var traumatiserade efter den stora depressionen, protesterade genom att dra sig ur systemet. Andra offrade sin samhällsstatus och prioriterade solidaritet framför de privilegium som deras samhällsklass medförde. Gerassi ansåg att det som hände i Oakland i oktober 1967 under Stop-the-Draft Week och under strejken på San Fransisco State University senare samma år var av särskild betydelse därför att båda händelserna demonstrerade en solidaritet mellan vita och svarta, där vita riskerade sina privilegium genom att protestera mot systemet med hjälp av ännu mer militanta aktioner än tidigare.

Gerassi skrev senare: ”Historically, progress has always come about through violence.” Han trodde att revolutioners och sociala rörelsers våld i regel var ett slags självförsvar, en reaktion på systemets våld. Ändå var det inte så enkelt. 1969 skrev Gerassi att ”New Left kids who are too impatient with the system and want to overthrow it […] destroy private property, hurt innocent bystanders, and even resort to sabotage and terrorism […] they were setting up new values which carry with them a basic disrespect not only for law and order, but also for the worth of individual men.” Flera år senare kritiserade han The New Left rörelsen för att ha varit passiv när Martin Luther King mördades: ”100 US cities on fire and every black community vented its rage. But the white movement stayed home, watching on TV. The black-white alliance which had emerged in Oakland and San Fransisco by students opposed to war and racism was destroyed.”

I maj 1970 sköts fyra vita studenter ihjäl av Ohio’s National Guard medan de demonstrerade fredligt mot att deras universitet understödde kriget. Deras död resulterade i ett klimat av rädsla. Några veckor senare, under en middag i Greenwich Village, sa Jerry Rubin (tidigare en nära vän till Gerassi): ”I’m going to quit. They’ve always been able to kill blacks. But now, Kent state shows they’re willing to kill whites to keep their power. I don’t want to die.”

Risktagande, mening och engagemang

Jag kom i kontakt med ”the politics of commitment” för första gången som ung student på Bard College. Det innebar utmaningar för mig som person men det var nödvändiga utmaningar. Nödvändigt svårt. Jag var ganska naiv och Gerassi skrev i en kommentar till en av mina första uppsatser att jag hade en tendens att tänka i klichéer. Att bryta sig loss från etablerade tankemönster var inte alltid så lätt.

Gerassi observerade att revolutionärer som Jesus, Martin Luther King och Malcolm X var marginaliserade, om inte ignorerade, medan de levde men blev glorifierade och placerade på piedestaler efter sin död. Att göra uppoffringar innebär att man kan förlöjligas, bli avvisad, marginaliserad, eller ännu värre – dödad. Men både Sartre och Gerassi menade att acceptera normalitet och spela död när man faktiskt är vid liv är att riskera att drabbas av ett slags äckel för sig själv och för världen, ett slags intighet som vi rationaliserar bort som normalt.

Finns det en väg ut? Gerassi blev allt mer cynisk inför möjligheterna till att förändra USA. Han såg utvecklingen, eller bristen på utveckling, under Obamas tid som president, hur civila fri- och rättigheter hela tiden begränsas, hur det militärindustriella komplexets makt och inflytande fortsätter växa. Gerassi ansåg att Occupy rörelsen i allt väsentligt hade dött. Han levde fortfarande när polisen i New York attackerade Occupy läger i Zuccotti Park. Gerassi hade personligen upplevt flera politiska cykler av förtryck och proteströrelser. Han hade sett samma saker upprepas tidigare, kanske hade han blivit trött på bakslagen som väntade bakom framgångarna.

Gerassi noterade att ett centralt organisatoriskt problem hos sociala rörelser som The New Left består i att de måste kunna balansera nödvändigt tillskansande av makt med de problem som maktcentralisering leder till. I en intervju sa han:

I guess the question for present and future revolutionaries is: how do you democratize a movement that is involved in the seizure of power where, by definition, power corrupts?

Aktiviströrelser måste kunna transformera sig till institutioner som fungerar mer effektivt än institutionerna som de vill bekämpa. Gerassi observerade att man inom The New Left associerade organisering med stalinism men han menade ändå att någon form av organisering var nödvändig därför att utan organisation ”we remain isolated and thus ineffective […] and without an organization we can be eliminated either by being bought or by being physically silenced.” Han motsatte sig den sortens centralisering som marxister och leninister propagerade för och trodde istället på att ledarnas uppgift är ”to convince the people to take part in the process, to realize that they are the process, to help instill consciousness.”

Gerassi trodde på utopiska alternativ och i likhet med Paul Goodman skissade han på förslag på hur samhället kan omorganiseras och rekonstrueras. Mycket av hans fokus upptogs av imperialism, revolution, förtryck, orättvisor men han motiverades också av idéer om hur ett alternativt samhälle skulle kunna se ut. Han inspirerades av vad Che Guevara skrivit i ”Man and Socialism in Cuba” där Guevara talade om att ”an ideological and cultural mechanism must be developed which will permit experimentation.” Gerassi ansåg att ett sådant experiment skulle innebära ”getting rid of all cars and planting trees in the middle of Fifth Avenue.”

Ett levande arv efter Gerassi är alla de studenter som han hade genom åren. När jag hade Gerassi som lärare hade han några år tidigare avslutat en serie djupgående intervjuer med Sartre. En betydande del av ”post-Sartre New Left” rörelsen har nu tynat bort. Men Gerassi importerade essentiella delar av den franska versionen av The New Left till USA och förde vidare Sartres idéer till en ny generation av studenter och aktivister på andra sidan Atlanten.

Sartre sa att vi bör döma tidevarvet utifrån människan och människan utifrån tidevarvet. Gerassis liv och hans sista bok Talking with Sartre ger oss ledtrådar till hur vi kan uppta ett intellektuellt och politiskt utrymme, ett engagerat tredje utrymme, som stärker demokratin. Det här utrymmet måste baseras på tron att individer kan göra skillnad, att liv inte endast definieras av ansiktslösa strukturer och byråkratier, att människor är fria att välja efter givna omständigheter. Nyckeln till frigörelse ligger i att veta och känna att sådana val existerar, och att valfriheten innebär utrymme för handling. Genom att kritiskt analysera samhället erbjöd Gerassi sådan kunskap och känsla till sina studenter och läsare. Genom att förklara ansvarets existentiella logik och genom att leva ett liv präglat av politiskt engagemang inspirerade han känslor som fortfarande kan leda till handling istället för passivitet. Vi behöver intellektuella hjältar, män och kvinnor, som väljer att utnyttja det engagerade tredje utrymmet för handling och som därigenom blir våra förebilder. En sådan person var Tito Gerassi. Han har inspirerat många och kampen fortsätter.

Beyond Brexit and Lexit

 

The idea that remaining within the EU will automatically provide benefits and resolve problems is a kind of magical thinking. It has ultimately proved dangerous with the evidence being the systematic rise of far Right parties, austerity, a limited system to save and integrate immigrants or prevent the wars or economic disasters which accelerated immigration. Nevertheless, citizens can mobilize nationally via their states and put pressure on the EU. If anything the Brexit vote clearly shows contingency vis-à-vis the European Union.


By Jonathan M. Feldman

 

The basic problems at hand are the following. First, part of Cosmopolitanism is associated with an anti-racist, pro-migration set of policies. Call that progressive or Left Cosmopolitanism. Second, part of Cosmopolitanism is associated with using migration, free movement of capital, and globalization to break the power of unions and reduce living standards. Call that reactionary or Right Cosmopolitanism. The two are related and partially overlap. In theory, a solidarity system would strengthen the former at the expense of the later, but these systems can’t come from traditional trade union approaches (other than organizing the unorganized) and don’t naturally or necessarily occur within the European Union Framework. Some elements of identity politics and new social movements are perfectly happy with the synergies between Left and Right Cosmopolitanism. They engage in bad faith.

Second, part of Nationalism is associated with racism, xenophobia and the embrace of national capitalism and capitalists. Call this Reactionary Nationalism. Third, part of Nationalism is associated with managed trade, regulations, industrial policy and using the state to control or limit capitalism, advanced public services and needs. Call this Progressive Nationalism. The two are related as even some far Right groups call for national controls over who controls and owns industry. Yet, a nationally-owned industry can sell out its workers just as well as a foreign-owned industry (sometimes the foreign-owned industry is better able to preserve jobs). Some elements of the so-called Trotskyite left engage in a de facto rhetorical alliance that profits from the synergies between Left and Right Nationalism. They too engage in bad faith.

The Political Scarcity of the Left versus Reconstruction

 

The limits of Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism as paradigms are self-evident, even as each potentially has progressive elements to them. The bad faith illustrated above is part of the problem. Each element of bad faith is based on the politics of scarcity in the political accumulation of capital (be it economic, political or media capital). What is needed is an agenda to support: a) solidarity, b) the disarmament and alternative foreign policy regimes that would limit wars, arms exports fueling them, and hence a fair share of migration, c) the promotion of a sustainable society based on coalitions linking labor, environmentalists, immigrants, the children or grand children of immigrants, peace groups, and some elements of socially responsible businesses, and the progressive elements of the welfare state among other parties, d) economic democracy, media democracy and political democracy based on the ensemble of power that links networks of cooperatives, citizens’ controlled banks, face to face deliberative and media networked forms in a kind of local political space that is integrated regionally, nationally, and internationally, and e) the progressive integration of consumption and production, in which cooperative forms of each sustain one another. Yet, remaining or exiting the EU does not automatically produce these.

The alternative agenda discussed above is what we mean by “Economic and Social Reconstruction.” It is an agenda that embraces economic reconstruction and new forms of democratic engagement based on the use of political organizing, media organizing, the use of a political canvassing system, study circles, and a series of new institutions be they cooperatives, peoples’ universities, alternative banks, consumption federations and multi-product firms making needed alternative energy and mass transportation systems. Reconstruction requires new spatial arrangements, alternative planning regimes and a political engagement with these.

A Plague on Both their Houses

 

Is Brexit automatically Social and Economic Reconstruction? No, it is not. It is a political platform which far Right groups can easily exploit resulting in a political vacuum generated by leaving the European Union, unless we are talking about the Scottish response which is not Brexit but Scotenter, the Scottish entry into the European Union on its own terms. Does this mean that nationalism is automatically bad? No, as I already indicated there are progressive elements to nationalism in the form of managed trade, (national) industrial policies and the like. The problem is that Brexit involves an unholy alliance between reactionary and progressive Nationalism that basically represents a faustian bargain. It is a faustian bargain because exiting the EU does not automatically promise wonderful things as the political and economic elites can just as well embrace neoliberalism within the EU as outside of it if there is no Social and Economic Reconstruction. Does this mean that leaving the EU does not provide theoretically advantages? No, it does not mean that. Yet, when you Brexit without Social and Economic Reconstruction you basically engage in magical thinking that in my opinion is dangerous, even as I respect elements of the Brexit position.

Is remaining within the European Union automatically Social and Economic Reconstruction? No it is not, it is a political platform dominated by transnational corporations, political elites and forces of neo-liberal capitalism. The idea that remaining within the EU will automatically provide benefits and resolve problems is a kind of magical thinking. It has ultimately proved dangerous with the evidence being the systematic rise of far Right parties, austerity, a limited system to save and integrate immigrants or prevent the wars or economic disasters which accelerated immigration. These wars were partially triggered by U.S. militarism but received some assistance from various EU nations (via arms exports, cooperation with NATO, or reactionary foreign policies that would likely exist with or without the EU).

As we can see, either side of this debate can engage in magical thinking. Either side can claim elements of logic to their side, but neither really can promote the high road for Europe or the global community.

Can we argue that the EU facilitates Social and Economic Reconstruction? There are some research programs within the EU that can do this, but in actuality the constraints placed on independent national state actions are highly problematic. There should be demands placed on the EU to make changes.

Can we argue that the EU cannot be reformed ever and is a dead weight on progressive social and economic alternatives? Can we argue that the EU blocks Social and Economic Reconstruction? There is some truth to this position perhaps, but it may confuse a discursive, political, economic and media space with the forces that control this space. Thus, assuming that an institution like the Democratic Party is always militarist, global capitalist, and the like when the Bernie Sanders campaign showed how to contest who controls that space reveals a kind of dialectical quality to such spaces. Yes, the EU was an elite project and the Democratic Party was not simply an elite project. Nevertheless, citizens can mobilize nationally via their states and put pressure on the EU. If anything the Brexit vote clearly shows contingency vis-à-vis the European Union. Please note this is not necessarily a progressive contingency, with the probability for that enhanced by Social and Economic Reconstruction. Also note that the Sanders campaign (or the Left in cooperation with it) could have done far more to promote Social and Economic Reconstruction as outlined here.

As exiting does not necessarily lead to Social and Economic Reconstruction and could very well empower the far Right (if it had not done this already), one can’t easily argue that remaining in the EU changes the balance of forces within the EU. Even if the elites want to keep the EU as their vehicle does not mean that it is impossible to create alternatives to that vehicle. If the Left really had its act together, pressed seriously for Social and Economic Reconstruction, and mobilized in a variety of ways and then failed to reform the EU, then it would make sense to promote a Lexit, a left-exit to the EU in which the Left dominated the discourse around exit and the creation of an alternative pan-European if not global network supporting Social and Economic Reconstruction. Yet, the Lexit forces of today skipped that stage, engaging in a kind of opportunistic alliance with the far Right. This opportunism was based on some reasoned arguments and a gloss over the failures of the British Left to systematically engage in Social and Economic Reconstruction.

The Detractors and Follow Up Analysis:

More Dead Ends?

 

I now apply the above ideas by reviewing just two articles related to this whole debate. Let us start with Elliot Murphy’s, “Another Tamriel is Possible: Brexit Proposals vs. Solutions” as published in Counterpunch. Murphy writes that “virtually the entire British political elite is in favour of remaining in the European Union. Aside from a handful of Tory careerists like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who see a disagreement with David Cameron’s leadership as a way to secure their own position within the party, the forces of reaction and business across the wingspan of British politics are flocking to support the EU.” I am not sure what Murphy’s point is here. The balance of the elite are also against forms of racism, does this make their position less valid? And, Cameron’s attack on London’s new mayor was a kind of racist attack, but hardly consistent with the EU’s line or hardly opposed by embracing the very forces aligned with Islamophobia.

Murphy writes “a vote to Leave would pull the EU in a considerably less neoliberal direction, likely benefiting other European countries – not to the mention the global South, in particular Africa, which has enjoyed a fundamentally exploitative relation with the EU since its inception.” I don’t see any evidence for this whatsoever. It is clear that the Brexit vote potentially pushes the EU in a progressive direction, but not necessarily so. Certainly, it is not so without Social and Economic Reconstruction, in any meaningful extent. Britain enjoyed a long history of imperialism and neocolonialism without the EU if Murphy cared to notice.

Murphy criticizes the AEiP movement as follows: “When Michael Chessum, a major organiser of the pro-Remain ‘Another Europe is Possible’ (AEiP) movement, is questioned about what concrete ‘changes’ he would like to see in EU, he simply dodges the question. Chessum’s behaviour generalises. To my knowledge, not a single supporter of Remain has presented a satisfying answer to the question of how we are supposed to go about reforming the EU.” The answer, however, is rather straightforward. One builds up structures and power outside the EU and applies pressure to the UK state and EU. If after trying to build up such structures and power, reform becomes impossible you have at least three options: a) demand concessions if you gain control over the UK state, b) exit if after gaining power or control over that state, you fail, c) use the base of power you accumulate through Social and Economic Reconstruction to strike the best deal with the EU possible, inside or outside the EU. So, the answer is relatively straight forward. Again, one can consider the endless possibilities associated with the New Economy Virtuous Cycle that usually exceed the imagination of the political left. When the Brexit folks embrace this agenda, then please let me know.

Murphy’s critique of Yanis Varoufakis, Ed Rooksby and trade union leaders in Britain all point to the same failure of imagination by both this group and Murphy himself. So, the failure of imagination is quite ubiquitous. Murphy may understand this as when he writes: “It is not as if another EU is inherently unreachable, but rather that without any posited, realistic steps to achieve it, the hopes of the Remain camp will quickly dissolve after June 23rd, no matter which side wins.” He continues, “Concrete solutions are lacking, then, as it is no good for the Left camp of Remain to simply point voters in the direction of Owen Jones columns and Caroline Lucas YouTube videos instead.”

Murphy continues, “the foundational pro-austerity, market liberalisation principles of the EU are established by the same treaties, which can be modified only by a unanimous agreement by all 28 member states.” This might be true but then we saw how Cameron was able to gain some concessions from the EU despite one state being up against a number of other EU states. What if it was not Cameron, but a Labour Party Prime Minister backed by a transnational social movement? Could he have gotten more concessions? Capitalism with or without the EU represents barriers. Leaving the EU does not eliminate capitalism or Neoliberalism, it just creates a different arena to fight within. But, the fight must be had and is not triggered or generated automatically by Brexit.

Let us now turn to Murphy’s analysis of Noam Chomsky’s arguments: “The Left Remain camp have also recently been galvanised by Noam Chomsky’s tenuous support for their cause, with Owen Jones and AEiP posting quotations of the professor’s brief statements on the matter. Chomsky’s reasons for supporting Remain are extremely weak and don’t stand up to much scrutiny. His reasoning is as follows: The racist Right is in favour of Leave, therefore we should Remain. But the racist Right is also in favour of Remain. Chomsky’s logic seems to be as follows: If P, therefore Q, so why not Z?” Here Murphy engages in bad faith. He does not understand that the discursive moment is largely tied to a right-wing anti-immigrant agenda tied to a reaction to austerity. They are linked. It does not matter that the number of voters supporting exit far outnumber the far Right voters. Why? Because the Far Right has triggered a larger discourse which mainstream parties, particularly on the Right, react to. The media embrace and legitimize large aspects of the Far Right discourse and that influences far more persons than the number of Far Right voters. This discourse is based on the coupling of anti-austerity with Brexit. This coupling is made possible by the failures of the Left as exploited by the Right. Brexit does not decouple anti-austerity and anti-racism. This is Chomsky’s larger argument which Murphy buries.

It is true that a racist and anti-immigrant vote is not the sole driver of the Brexit campaign and many hurt by austerity had what they felt to be good reasons for voting against the EU. Rather, as Billy Bragg explains, this was certainly true and just as true was the fact that the Far Right are net gainers from Brexit. The coupling of anti-austerity and racism is based on the “Socialism of Fools,” or more charitably a kind of false promise that a victory over austerity necessarily simply follows by beating the horse of Reactionary Cosmopolitanism.

Murphy continues by suggesting that Obama’s opposition to Brexit does not mean that a Brexit vote would leave Britain more subordinate to US power. Here again, his logic fails him. First, Obama and the U.S. military industrial complex are not quite the same thing. The former is less powerful than the latter. Obama’s whole election and administration accommodated this power. So, it may be that Obama wants the UK in the EU to bolster something economically (or US blocking a closer Chinese alliance with the UK that would also make the UK that more military dependent on the US) whereas the military industrial complex would gain from Brexit. Look at Germany, economically aligned with Russia on gas pipelines, military aligned with NATO. UK remains in NATO but is outside of EU in Brexit. So, Brexit could benefit the US militarily but not economically, with Obama himself being more concerned with the economic implications. In any case, it is something of an open question and Chomsky is not necessarily wrong.

Murphy correctly points out limitations to the EU: “State aid to declining industries, along with renationalisation, are not permitted by current EU laws (under directive 2012/34/EU), and any mildly progressive government which managed to get elected in 2020 would be hindered from the outset by the EU. Considerable reforms of the energy market would also be illegal under EU directives 2009/72EU and 2009/73/EU.” This is true, but in Sweden the government created a somewhat significant pharmaceutical R&D center for displaced technical workers from that sector and the EU did not block that. The EU did not block the wind energy cooperatives that exit in Sweden either. So, the EU is hardly blocking all the elements of a research-linked industrial policy or progressive aspects of energy policy. Thus, Murphy is correct to point these things out but can’t explain why the Danes who are in the EU have a vibrant wind production sector and thousands of green jobs, whereas UK green job production in some areas is less impressive. Rather, he selectively cherry picks the worst case arguments but leaves out the necessary counterfactual arguments.

Murphy continues to provide negative examples, but does not think them through logically. For example, he writes: “McDonnell’s plans for People’s Quantitative Easing? Outlawed by Article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.” Does the EU prevent a progressive bank like JAK bank in Sweden? No. Does the EU prevent the organization of millions of left voters to patronize and support this bank? No. Does the EU prevent unions from organizing their members to patronize JAK and use it as a bank to extend industrial cooperatives? No. Over and over, we see how the EU despite its great limitations becomes for Lexit or Murphy the fulcrum of all (or most) of the Left’s failures when it is the Left itself which is most to blame. Or, how Brexit was to be a necessary condition for success, but Brexit’s reactionary pitfalls are papered over.

Here is another Murphy argument: “The series of anti-trade union laws introduced in Britain over the past few decades? The EU has no qualms with these whatsoever, showing no interest in providing even modest forms of protection for workers.” Yes, but this simply shows how British Neoliberalism can thrive even without the EU, thank you very much! Murphy seems to acknowledge as much: “Given the sheer dominance of the traditional forces of international finance on both sides of the mainstream debate, talk of a Lexit or a Left Remain become highly misleading: There will be only a ‘Rexit’ or a right-dominated Remain – at least in the short term.” Murphy acknowledges Chomsky’s arguments later on (creating a puzzling inconsistency): “Brexit will likely boost the anti-immigrant Tory, UKIP and Labour base in the short term.” Nevertheless, he quickly runs over to magical thinking: “Yet over the coming years it will permit a future Labour-run Britain to implement mildly social democratic reforms much more easily, to be otherwise hindered by the EU’s strictures – that is, if Corbyn goes on the offensive and exploits the Tory’s weaknesses to a greater extent than he currently seems willing to do. A Corbyn-led Britain (or at least a Corbynite-influenced Labour Britain) outside the EU would be free from the direct influence of the European Central Bank, which is legally committed to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. Government aid to failing industries is barred…” What if the far Right is empowered at the expense of Lexit? How does Brexit politically empower Corbyn to do anything? There is no natural or logical connection here because this is thinking by non-sequitor.

Recent evidence suggests that Brexit led to divisions in the Labour Party, but only time will tell. Brexit encouraged a revolt in the Labour Party by what some consider the Tony Blair wing of the party, although others point to poll data that suggests that Labour gained at the expense of UKIP and the Conservatives. If UKIP and the Conservatives lost support because of a backlash against Brexit and/or the immediate economic fallout of Brexit, then greater Labour support for these reasons hardly bolsters the case for Brexit. A wave of racist incidents followed Brexit as documented by The Washington Post and The Guardian, which reveals far right opportunism but also the ways in which the discursive space is exploited even if UKIP’s poll numbers decreased. These shifts and turns in British politics might be explained by the lack of political understanding of what the European Union even is, even though voters for Brexit suffering from austerity certainly reacted to that.

We have reason to suspect the non-sequitor when Murphy later writes: “leaving the EU would by no means result in immediately significant changes or wins for the European Left.” The next sentence is telling, “but it would crucially open up an entirely different kind of debate from the one inevitably resulting from a Remain vote (especially given the bizarre fixation of the Remain campaigns – including AEiP – solely on the virtues of the EU, and not its considerable shortcomings). In addition, it would lead to the kind of debate in which leftists would no longer feel compelled to recycle myths about how David Cameron is somehow ‘better’ on immigration issues than Boris Johnson.” What is the problem with Murphy’s logic here? He confuses a discursive shift with the generation of an alternative media platform. Unlike the U.S., with its network of community and Pacifica or radical radio stations, the U.K. lacks any such equivalent. The BBC is under pressure from the Right, further constraining that space. The country is littered with reactionary tabloids. A few bright spots, like The Guardian and The Independent, are often outgunned in media power. Here we see clearly the magical thinking which conflates discursive openings with the hard work of Social and Economic Reconstruction.

Murphy still engages in the kind of bean counting approach to measuring the far Right’s power which I have already criticized. Let us look at one example: “The sight of Johnson trying to lead an increasingly fractured and rebellious party, forced into a number of substantial retreats, would be nothing less than a gift to the entirety of the UK Left.” Here is a confusion between individual politicians and personalities and the larger framework of far Right discursive power. As I stated, the far Right leverages power by its own numbers and by its effects on the other Right parties and (I can now add) by the politics of scarcity, i.e. the Left does not have a comprehensive integration policy for immigrants (linked to cooperatives, efficiency in skills trading and skills banks, facilitating self-organization and the like), and the role played by mass media. While Johnson himself might find problems in ruling the conservatives, that does not mitigate all these other advantages of the far Right. The Brexit victory will be leveraged effectively by a larger network of forces that is far larger than just one politician.

Murphy turns to arguments by Baroness Jenny Jones, a prominent Green Party member, in a Fabian Society essay, “A Fork in the Road.” She writes, “Personally, I fear [the EU] is unreformable…And latterly I’ve been horrified too by the deep influence of big business – corporate lobbyists outnumber NGO lobbyists by 15-1. What chance is there of tough progressive action on poverty or the environment.” This is a very important and interesting argument, but applied to Brexit, it leaves many questions unanswered.

First, does the Left in the UK do everything it could do to increase its political, economic, and media power leverage? No, it does not. It does not create a radical media space to challenge entrenched corporate interests. It does not link its consumptive power to generate cooperatives on the production side whose profits could be used to patronize this media.

Second, by failing to accumulate such power, it does not allow itself to advance a progressive agenda within the potential of its power accumulation trajectory inside or outside the EU.

Third, leaving the EU does not change the balance of power with big corporate lobbyists in any significant way. More tedious and specious mind-numbing logic. Murphy concludes, “a vote for Leave isn’t just a vote against the neoliberal forces of the Troika: It is also a vote against our own ruling classes.” No, it is a vote against the preferences of your ruling class, but it does not and will not defeat them; it will only displace the battles you have with them to new terrains, new terrains where you will lose the battle without Social and Economic Reconstruction.

Paul Mason and Brexit.2

 

Paul Mason wrote a kind of political obituary for the the UK’s links to the EU in “Britain is not a rainy, fascist island–here’s my plan for ProgrExit,” published in The Guardian. The gist of this article is that the gig is up, i.e. it’s too late to put the pieces together again of a now fragmented British romance with the EU. Mason writes, “We must prevent the Conservative Right using the Brexit negotiations to reshape Britain into a rule-free space for corporations; we need to take control of the process whereby the rights of the citizen are redefined against those of a newly sovereign state.” Mason calls for making the most of the fait accompli of exit: “we can and must fight to place social justice and democracy at the heart of the Brexit negotiations. I call this ProgrExit – progressive exit. It can be done, but only if all the progressive parties of Britain set aside some of what divides them and unite around a common objective.”

While Mason is clearly one of Britain’s most sophisticated analysts of political and economic affairs, there are a few questions one might want to ask about this article.

First, one can ask whether or not Mason understands the limits of majoritarian democracy. Mason writes, “Labour must clearly accept Brexit. There can be no second referendum, no legal sabotage effort. Labour has to become a party designed to deliver social justice outside the EU. It should, for the foreseeable future, abandon the objective of a return to EU membership. We are out, and must make the best of it.” If 48 percent opposed Brexit, the acceptance of the 52 percent who supported are hardly representative of all opinions. In Social and Economic Reconstruction the logic is not based on majorities but critical minorities who attempt to convince and influence majorities. Siding with 52 percent is hardly a sufficient response.

Second, while Mason is correct that the Left has to put its spin on things, we have an interesting situation in which the real winner is the far Right. After all, both the Conservative and Labour Party leaders opposed and UKIP embraced Brexit. Therefore, embracing Brexit objectively aligns one with UKIP’s agenda even as you scramble to come up with a Left response to UKIP. Rather than force something that UKIP has to respond to, the Left’s immediate thought is to react to what UKIP helped set into motion. This means that a Left response is going to partially be reactive, no matter how “proactive” it may seem in design or intentions.

Third, Mason calls for early elections, but here he appears to put the cart before the horse. I have already suggested that political mobilizations without media and economic mobilizations will always be limited affairs. Rather than get the Labour Party on a track to create and implement such comprehensive mobilizations, Mason wants to rush Labour into an election. I don’t understand the logic of such thinking at all. Labour could be organizing the public through town meetings and an ad hoc virtual town hall system of cities using the Internet and progressive media such as exists in the UK. He need not have an election to do this.

Fourth, Labour is in a bind if Brexit leads Scotland to leave the UK. Mason writes, “Labour – which cannot govern what is left of the UK alone, once Scotland leaves – should accede to [proportional representation].” If Scotland’s departure weakens the Left’s political power or possibilities of a political majority within the UK, I don’t see that the natural war of position” as being the electoral route. Rather, to repeat again and again, the natural war of position is in the organization of an alternative economic and media space as well as through a system of direct democracy. Does the UK even have a labor radio network like WINS, the U.S.-based radio network? How does the Left mobilizing for an election or putting a progressive spin on Brexit lead to the creation of such institutions? Answer, they don’t lead to this of necessity.

Finally, while Mason is correct that Scotland is on its way out of the UK or is likely to leave, the real questions for us should rather be the following (none of which Mason takes up): (a) If Scotland leaves the UK, can the new Scottish state create a progressive bank which is aligned with the cooperative banks of Mondragon and banks like JAK in Sweden? Could this bank be used to leverage the creation of cooperatives in Scotland and the balance of the UK? (b) If Scotland creates cooperatives that are part of large networks, could these federations start organizing sustainable industries and work in the areas abandoned by transnational capitalists in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? (c) Can Scotland create a Left broadcasting network similar in format to RT (Russian Television) or Al Jazeera which broadcasts progressive programming into the UK and competes with the BBC from the Left? Are we just going to view Scotland’s decisions as some sort of political variable and leave out all the important questions related to economic, banking, and media power?

Conclusions:  The Short-Term, Medium-Term and Long-Term Solutions are the Same

 

Brexit or Lexit, either way you slice it, we have a victory for the far Right and only a theoretical opportunity for the Left of the UK or Europe. The same magical thinking that always puts a progressive gloss on everything the EU does finds analogous thinking in the magical thinking that assumes that Brexit translates into a stunning defeat for Neoliberalism. Rather, Neoliberalism, simply can shift its attentions to ruling the UK without the EU. There is no substitute for the primitive accumulation of the economic, media and political capital necessary for Social and Economic Reconstruction. Remaining in the EU or exiting the EU does not automatically produce such power accumulation systems on behalf of democratic impulse, autonomy, and the creation of a sustainable society. The Right and Left each search for short cuts. The far Left is totally naive about their capacities and ability to control or manipulate the situation because their deconstructive discourse about the EU is largely divorced from a reconstructive discourse. The far Right have shown themselves clever in manipulating or setting the agenda for the mass media and large electoral blocks by marrying anti-austerity with racist xenophobia. The far Left may try to fantasize itself out of its objective alliance with this unholy marriage by projecting things that they hope they can do, but probably will never accomplish without a far more radical program that they themselves hardly (or ever) embrace.

In summary, staying in the EU or exiting it does not or did not produce the necessary outcomes in and of itself. The far Left commits a tactical error by aligning themselves objectively (but not subjectively) with the far Right. They can’t produce any meaningful anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, or anti-austerity agenda simply by leaving the EU. Either way you look at it (a radical alternative outside the EU or a reformed EU which accommodates reconstruction), you need reconstruction and the agenda outlined in this essay. And guess what? The Left fails over and over and over to give us the discourse we need, with a few notable exceptions.

Beyond Public Racism

Beyond Public Racism and Deconstruction

While the campaign launched by various activists against the SD posters in the subway was an important first step in trying to reform this society, there are limits to this initiative and its political language which are important to describe. The activists have to be given much credit for broadening the understanding of the limits of SL’s policies. Ultimately, this campaign was an important counter-reaction to the repressive tolerance of public racism, but a broader kind of discourse is needed to transform SL, challenge SD, and ultimately remake Swedish society.


By Jonathan M. Feldman

 

The racist and demagogic poster campaign aimed at Swedish tourists and centered in the Östermalm undergound station is part of a larger problem which is the repressive tolerance of Sweden’s political elite towards not only racism, but the inequality in media, political and economic power. Groups like the peace movement, anti-racist organizations, environmentalists and mass transportation advocates have less power. Even when these groups are granted access to the media, media representation proves insufficient for sufficiently accumulating power to address underlying problems. While parts of the elite have tried to represent a decent and fair Sweden, the actions of SL (Storstockholms Lokaltrafik) and its apologists reveal a rather indecent Sweden. SL is the transport agency running the greater Stockholm collective transportation system. The larger problem, however, is not just racism in Swedish society and inequality in the distribution of resources, but also the ideological system of repressive tolerance and displacement which also supports militarism and perpetuates myths about democracy and equity. Simply put, repression is tolerated and tolerance becomes perverse as the language of rights, lawyers and judiciaries is used to legitimate a system that cannot properly police its own racism.

SD-posters2

While the recent campaign against the posters launched by various activists was an important first step in trying to reform this society, there are limits to this initiative and its political language which are important to describe. The activists have to be given much credit for broadening the understanding of the limits of SL’s policies and actively helping to challenge these policies and SD propaganda. Ultimately, this campaign was an important counter-reaction to the repressive tolerance of public racism, but a broader kind of discourse is needed to transform SL, challenge SD, and ultimately remake Swedish society.

This discourse involves an exposition of the links between Swedish mythology, militarism and racism, each tied to a concentration of media, political and economic power in the hands of the Swedish power elite. This elite sustains its power by filtering out larger realities and justifying itself in the name of established laws, democracy, free speech and sometimes even gender equality, even if that sometimes involves using women to help sell military products to developing nations. We also see that one key problem is that ethics takes the form of an investment in the mainstream corporate society which helps to regulate advertising, even when such corporate-financed regulators potentially find fault with SD’s campaign. The background issues show us how the political and cultural elites’ language of free speech, free commerce and openness is also tied to both militarist and racist cultures.

Even when an investment form of ethics (to be described below) is not applied, the Swedish legal system and politicians who help shape it have been largely ineffective in limiting the political trajectory of the racist far right or even continuing racist attacks. The impression one has is that the far right recedes when economic times are good and when the integration system works. Given new economic developments, expanded immigration and the limits of the current integration model, racism and xenophobia are on the rise. One key problem is the unemployment which contributes to SD’s vote share and power. The other is the absence of a discourse supporting policies that would link immigrants to higher qualified jobs, particularly for persons with immigrant backgrounds who don’t come to Sweden with advanced skills. The families of such persons also potentially risk marginalization, even if second generation Swedes can do better on the labor market. This discourse about integrating such new Swedes into the higher qualified labor market is not an important part of the immigration debate, existing only at the margins. Nor do we see a significant debate about de-industrialization and how that might affect the rise of both SD and the limits of economic equality. While newspapers like Dagens Nyheter have shown linkages between SD’s rise and layoffs from companies, they don’t really explain what could be done about this. If one wants to know why highly educated persons also support SD, one has to consider the logic of displacement explained below.

The Logic of Displacement

 

The political, economic and cultural elites of Sweden can be defined by: the top politicians, the heads of various agencies and their lieutenants, the heads of corporations and trade organizations, the leading newspapers of the country, the large mass media outlets, the dominant discourses in the university system, and a core group of spokespersons who repeatedly show up in public media commentary. There have been past investigations of this power structure and some have called for a new study of the power elite. In any case, the elite have created and sustained very powerful displacement systems vis-à-vis Sweden being: a) militaristic and b) racist. By “displacement” I mean a system which pushes something to the sidelines by emphasizing something else in its place, i.e. Sweden as anti-militaristic and anti-racist. I will use selected examples to illustrate a larger phenomena at work. It is true that these elites do not work in entirely the same way at the same time. There is no one homogeneous consensus that works that same way among all people at the same time. Nevertheless, clear patterns emerge in history regarding what can best be referred to as “sins of omission.” In an earlier study, I have thoroughly documented these sins when it comes to Swedish foreign policy.

Mainstream Society and Displacement

 

These displacements work in the following fashion. First, the mainstream society covers up its own dirty laundry by using the language of “objectivity,” law, bureaucratic procedures, and ignoring or aborting the language of morality, critical engagement, sociological principles concerning racism or militarism, or the historical legacy of a Sweden which partially tolerated its own indigenous Nazi movement and anti-Semitism or ties to German defense contractors (within limits). In the academic system, there is a refrain among many academics to strive for “objectivity” and to reveal various competing intellectual positions. This is partially desirable but usually what is ignored is the greater media and representational power of orthodox and liberal elite opinion. Also, pure objectivity is impossible as every choice to use a book, article or film in a course necessarily involves a point of view regarding what should be included and excluded and what the standard of objectivity is, e.g. does showing “both sides” assume that there are only two sides, when the number of different opinions is much greater than two factions, with great heterogeneity within the Left as well as Right. Another thing that is ignored is the soundbite culture that dilutes and marginalizes more complex arguments in the mass media.

Sometimes the worst aspects of racism and arms exports are addressed by half measures, or measures which limit but do not obliterate the cancer of anti-Semitism, racism, objectification of minority groups and militarism. The cancer then resurfaces and expands, particularly when it can be joined to the host of economic crises and scarcity politics or economic opportunism tied to profit making (see below). The language used by politicians to defend this system sometimes centers on law and procedures. Yet, these laws often reflect the accumulation of political power by persons who sweep problems under the rug. Or, in some cases the architecture of really existing laws turns out to be insufficient to address racist problems, hence it functions as a kind of alibi system. At different periods in its history, Jewish activists concerned with Nazis or anti-Semitic practices in Sweden have tried to put pressure on the country. Among such activists in places like the United States, or holocaust hunters in Israel, the repressive tolerance of Swedish elites is not accepted and often condemned. This phenomena is echoed in the fact that elite outlets like The New York Times are not bound by the moral and political code of Swedish nationalism, having their own American nationalist code to abide by. This shows up in the history of Times coverage of Sweden’s immigration and foreign policies.

Kristoffer Tamsons, the Chairman of the Traffic Committee of the Stockholm County Council, the group that is responsible for overseeing SL, argued: “when it comes to political advertising, it is our fundamental laws, the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, which controls what gets said and appear in public space.” These “fundamental laws” have sustained repressive tolerance, tied to a political system that continually substitutes law for moral judgments tied to any critical thinking. The failures of the Swedish legal system to irradicate anti-Semitism should be proof enough for the interested reader. These failures are not just evident in the problems of Jews in contemporary Malmö, but also extend to the history of Jews in 20th Century Sweden.

Sweden never accommodated the worst aspects of an indigenous Nazi presence, although it did create great leeway for various anti-Semitic activities. This is made clear in a study by Heléne Lööw, called “Incitement of Racial Hatred,” published in the Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Crimonology and Crime Prevention, Vol. 1, Issue 2: 2000: 109-129. When it came to anti-Semitism, “there was no legislation on the incitement of racial hatred during the period between the two world wars,” although anti-Semites, racists and National Socialists were “sentenced for calumny or disorderly conduct for what today would be considered as incitement of racial hatred” (Lööw, 2000: 109). The case of Einar Åberg, a well-known anti-Semite, illustrates how the legal system did not quite tolerate yet made possible his activities. In 1942, Åberg was prosecuted for anti-Semitic calumnies and utterance. The police court, however, rejected this prosecution, leading the prosecutor to appeal to the Stockholm Court of Appeal, which then “changed the sentence to a fine for disorderly conduct.” In the period between 1941 and 1945, Åberg “was sentenced on nine different occasions and fined for his anti-Semitic agitation” (Lööw, 2000: 110-111). Sweden was also not terribly cooperative of efforts to hunt down living Nazis during the period from 1986 to 2002. In sum, the system has a tendency to make adjustments but leaves the larger problems in place.

The ability to act against the posters in legal terms suffers because of a displacement system that limits the political cultural capital within the Swedish population. Because the racism found in the posters was based on coded language, the Justice Ministry decided after the protests that no laws were broken. Also, the Justice Ministry might want to ban political advertising by any organization whose origins are based on the concerted organizing activities of Nazis, but de-Nazification in Sweden did and does not involve a sufficiently deep educational process, e.g. aspects of Swedish culture that may have facilitated the rise of the Nazis in Sweden is considered less important than expositions on the Holocaust. Of course, education about the Holocaust and other genocidal actions is important, but education against the Holocaust has been used to displace other significant education related to Swedish actions, responsibilities, and the history of its far right.

When making proclamations about its advertising policy SL does not address the Nazi origins of SD, although its treatment of SD is consistent with the pattern of repressive tolerance documented by Lööw. The key forces which limit, resist or challenge the accompany system supporting repressive tolerance include scandals and direct action as well as long-term lobbying or social movement campaigns. For example, the Social Democratic government and Swedish parliament admirably called for limiting arms exports to dictatorships. This comes against the backdrop of scandals tarnishing Sweden’s reputation because of potential or actual weapons transfers to countries like China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. Here we have a victory, but what will be displaced is the problems caused by arm sales to countries like South Africa, a country with massive poverty and thus where arms sales represent an opportunity cost against equitable economic development.

Displacement and Swedish Social Movements

 

Second, even oppositional movements can directly (if sometimes unconsciously) engage in sins of omission even as they gain victories. Anti-racist and anti-militaristic movements exist on the margins, building on an historical legacy which can be seen in various ways, for example the anti-racist protest in Stockholm which took place August 4th against a series of political posters designed by the right-wing Swedish Democrats. The protest can be seen in the first photograph above, directed at the posters or political wall paper depicted in part in the second photograph. The protest aimed to challenge the normalization of racist opinions represented by these posters. The posters use coded language that make allusions to poor Roma who are forced by economic necessity to beg for money and food in more affluent European countries.

Amie Brammie Sey, one of the organizers of the protest, was quoted in Dagens Nyheter as follows: “We are many who reacted strongly against the new SD advertising in our underground, where beggars —who everyone knows are mainly Roma—are portrayed as parasites in our society. We turn towards the normalization of racism and wonder about where SL puts limits on these activities. It is completely incomprehensible.” The problem is that this normalization is comprehensible and this comprehension is what is displaced by elements of the Left’s own discourse. The comprehension is based on the larger logic of repressive tolerance and mainstream morality which conceals as much as it reveals as I will also demonstrate below. Thus, the Left has a language which sometimes in limited in its ability to describe what is actually happening.

This is a generalizable phenomenon. Social movements like the Swedish peace movement have focused on limiting arms sales to dictatorships as an important tactical argument. While they have noted the economic costs of arms sales to countries like South Africa, some of the peace movement’s rhetoric has not sufficiently addressed these costs. These costs are thereby displaced. A related issue is that by opposing arms exports to dictators and not saying much about civilian economic conversion of Swedish defense firms, the cutback in arms exports that the peace movement has proposed risks a backlash effect. As defense companies lose sales and fire workers, these companies and workers may mobilize against the political incumbents backing arms sales regulations. Or, the companies may simply expand their military operations in another country. With disarmament and economic conversion, such military commitments would be reduced. General and complete disarmament reduces all military markets, conversion creates new economic opportunities for firms and workers in the civilian market. The spread of militarism and possibilities for alternative civilian planning are thereby displaced by a narrow focus on ending Swedish arms exports to dictators.

What the Swedish peace movement and Swedish politicians making these reforms gain, the military industry workers and citizens in potential countries in which their state gets weapons from different suppliers potentially lose. Of course, the Swedish decision on arms exports is a victory, but the limits to the current design of educational campaigns prevent even further victories. In contrast, by understanding the language and logic of displacement, we can achieve more comprehensive victories.

Using Social Movements as Tools to Defend the Status Quo

 

Third, these marginalized movements concerned with racism and militarism are expropriated by the majority society as a kind of alibi. The alibi takes the form of propaganda to cover up or displace the mainstream society’s very own militarism, racism and attempts to normalize the far-right. This kind of substitution system where bad and good are equated (or can easily be substituted for one another) is part of the logic of equivalences spelled out long ago by Herbert Marcuse. The logic of equivalences treats all public opinion the same, whether it be liberal, fascist, racist, or anti-racist. Everything is treated as being the same, although the mainstream society tries to marginalize the most direct forms of fascism and racism, it clearly accepts its “softer” variants as demonstrated by SL’s granting space for SD’s continuing wave of propaganda campaigns. The Ministry of Justice’s recent decision also embraces soft forms of racism A very superficial notion of democracy and “free speech” guides politicians who find more complicated understandings of power, militarism and racism inconvenient to their larger agendas of staying in power by promoting the lowest moral common denominator. The far right in turn has skillfully used the electoral and mass media systems for its own ends.

Thus, while the Left often enters into even mainstream debates, outside of these debates its ability to frame the larger context in which such debates are understood by the mass public is limited. One reason for these limits is that the Left often uses a kind of insurrectionist rhetoric which the mass media has trained itself to filter out. While the Left could make more legitimate sounding argument about cooperatives and creation of new institutions, instead it bashes the existing system. It is not wrong on moral grounds to bash the system, but it is meaningless verbiage if meaningful institutional designs for alternatives does not accompany the bashing. Sometimes, as in the August 4th protest, the blunt rhetoric that the system is irrational, racist, etc. is warranted. Yet, the inability to use sustained economic power to create an alternative media framing system makes Left appearances in the mass media a double-edged sword. Until persons marginalized by ethnicity, gender, class or (most importantly) ideology are given their own autonomy (or greater representational power) in news programming, we can expect that the debates organized by the mass media which let the Left in will partially broaden the discourse while potentially narrowing the scope of proactive action. One piece of evidence for this position is that the far Left parties usually get far less than ten percent of the vote. The Collapse of the Swedish Left can be seen in an analysis of the share of total votes received by the Feminist, Green and Left parties combined as a proportion of the total votes received by the Swedish Democrats. What the data I have collected show is that the combined vote total of the three left parties went from 4459% of SD’s total in 1998 to only 122% in 2004. Is somebody asleep at the wheel? Yes. These statistics can be explained in part by the Left’s political language, with these limits also a part of Swedish political methodology (only the Left’s variant of the mythology). Many Left intellectuals who understand these realities respond by being depressed, not breaking the taboos within the Left, or simply try dance their way around a political mythology that provides at best incremental change.

The Displacement Cycle: From Repressive Tolerance to Clean Hands Branding

 

Let us first examine how the system works with respect to questions of militarism. The cycle of displacement begins with the elites playing first the card of repressive tolerance and that hand is played over and over until the scandals or political pressure produce a new synthesis. The new synthesis is clean hands branding which combines reform and Swedish nationalism, but does not question the control over economic decision making of the larger, global institutional base of militarism that is the alleged trigger for reforms.

In the case of the peace movement, the Left’s rhetoric about the limits to arms exports to dictatorships is used to justify the newly reformed status quo that may end up limiting such exports. This victory (associated in part with Left or peace movement discourse) will displace other questions of militarism, economic planning, and the concerns of victims of militarism tied to arms exports from other countries. Therefore, we have to both acknowledge the victory in a potential reform in Swedish arms exports policy and also the limits of this victory. Sweden emerges with cleaner hands, but the global system is continually defined by dirty hands. Sweden sets an example for the world, but the example is not one of how a country promotes the conversion of defense industries to civilian production. We see a kind of clean hands branding which leaves in place the larger institutional power of militarism.

With clean hands branding, we solve an immediate problem which is how Sweden or some other organization no longer engages in the most publicly illegitimate form of behavior that causes the public to become angry or causes the state/organization to lose legitimacy. Yet, while Sweden or the organization having their legitimacy threatened get their reputations partially restored, the larger problems are swept under the rug. In the case of the arms export crisis, the larger problem is global militarism and the need for national examples of how to take national military assets and convert them into civilian-serving pursuits. In the case of the racist SD poster campaign, the larger problem is SD’s growing political power and the foundations for that power. In each case, clean hands branding is a victory, but if the victory makes people complacent it is not a sufficient victory for addressing the larger problems. In one case, the Swedish state looks better but the dictators getting weapons get them from somewhere else. The larger problem is not solved. In the other case, the racist posters are swept clean and SL looks better, but the larger problem of institutionalized far right power accumulation is not solved.

The potentially new Swedish policy on arms exports and the removal of SD’s posters from the Östermalmstorg underground station are also victories which potentially form the basis for new victories. We saw the collapse of repressive tolerance and a fighting spirit among protestors to expose its bureaucratic champions. This collapse and spirit create positive precedents for further reforms and are not simply negative developments. I am not engaged here in a far left, nihilist analysis. Rather, I am trying to create a new political language that would promote more thorough or deeper political victories. I don’t believe actually existing political parties and social movements do a very good job in promoting this language. The reason is that critical intellectuals, political parties and social movements tend to be separated, in part for reasons specified by C. Wright Mills as well as because of the limits of what often passes as postmodern analysis. Mills not only pointed to the divide between intellectuals and sources of power. He also showed why the university system tended to produce intellectuals who were stuck in accepted or popular intellectual fashions or paradigms. Ironically, Michel Foucault himself examined displacement systems (although not like I have done), but this part of his work has not been extended.

Left activists and intellectuals are often limited in their ability to promote political innovations. There is a kind of implicit escalator clause within the Left such that if one says things the Left wants to hear, then it gets escalated. There must be a demand for an idea before there is a supply. The Left has its own definitions of popularity which often put style over substance, even or especially a radical brand which lacks a radical content. This emptying out is how capitalism colonizes the formal aspects of the left, such that a radical sounding language can have very little actual radical contents. There is a secondary gain from this manipulation of language, it follows the logic of popularity contests everywhere, i.e. there is nothing organically linking the Left to critical thinking. In contrast, the Left might figure out how to produce ideas for which there is not yet a demand, analogous to supply push innovations.

A Case Study in Media Displacement: The Microscope as Refraction

The Blow Up Analogy

 

Given the continuing crises associated with racism, the environment, the distribution of economic wealth, and militarism, a deeper understanding is needed regarding how social movements, the Left, the media and the Swedish power elite interact with one another. When things are put under the microscope, our very analysis of them can be misleading as various philosophies of science and Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up suggests. The media’s treatment of the anti-poster campaign is instructive. On August 4th, 2015, SVT’s leading news program broadcast at 9:00 pm, Aktuellt, burried the story in a short report, although the local Stockholm news goes far deeper. The webpage for the the program, accessed on August 5th, strangely portrays the campaign as if it is the lead story (see photo below). TV4, in contrast, led with the anti-poster protest and placed it higher on its media agenda. TV4 also showed footage of protestors tearing down posters. The journalistic routines focus clearly by putting the posters under the microscope and linking the protests to the posters (as seen in the photograph below). The larger questions about how the society allowed these events to transpire are usually never addressed. The problem of SD’s growing power advantage over the Left electorally is not addressed, nor how SVT’s relatively uncritical view of SD helps promote SD. Thus, SD, SL, the media, and to a certain extent the Left, all are complicit in the logic of displacement (with the Left the least guilty and often in the forefront of resisting the worst aspects of the displacement system). The image of the camera focused on the posters is the perfect metaphor for a media system that conceals as it reveals; this is the essence of the logic of displacement.

By August 5, Aktuellt did better and organized a debate on the poster campaign as part of its coverage. The debate raised important questions about who can afford to organize poster campaigns and whether the posters promoted racism. Yet, the larger questions of the long history of moral inversion that lies behind the poster campaign was not actually addressed. SD’s growing power in comparison to the Left was not addressed.

These debates rarely provide any historical context so that each new controversy that is debated seems like a new or ephemeral event. The mass media loves topicality and usually this love involves a repression of historical analysis. Unfortunately, the Left is often taken up by this same topicality love as it is partially shaped by the media spotlight. The anti-poster campaign is not exactly a campaign to eliminate the foundations of SD’s power, even if it is a good stepping stone for such a movement. Yet, this stepping stone will probably not function well unless the Left’s political language changes. The mass media will probably not assist this language transformation, although news outlets like Arbetaren, Etc., Ordfront, Sveriges Radio, and others could play such a role. If an intellectual argument is too complicated or profound, it rarely has a place on Swedish TV.

The Advertising Ombudsman: Morality as an Investment Process

 

On August 5th, SVT also provided coverage of the decision-making by the Advertising Ombudsman’s office called RO (Reklamombudsmannen), in which Elisabeth Trotzig is the ombudsman. According to the webpage, RO is “a self-regulatory organization founded by the industry.” The organization was established after politicians began to threaten the advertising industry with harsher laws concerning, for example, sexist advertising. RO is supported financially by various companies and Trotzig suggests on Aktuellt that the SD’s campaign could be considered problematic. She also said in 2010 that she hoped her agency would be “self-financed.” It is remarkable that an ombudsman’s office to regulate advertising is supported by funding from the very companies which in theory it should and could be regulating. The RO webpage states: “A well-functioning self-regulation requires that companies take responsibility for a high ethical standard in advertising. Reklamombudsmannen is funded on a voluntary basis through an annual fee from advertisers, advertising agencies and media.” The webpage also says: “Contribute to a high ethical standard…Any company can contribute to RO and the fee is related to the companies’ annual media spending, according to TNS SIFO’s advertising measurements. Minimum fee is SEK 10 000 and the maximum fee is 70 000 per year.” Ethics takes the form of an investment that clearly not everyone can afford. This kind of “self-policing” suggests a clear conflict of interest, e.g. how does the financing structure influence directly or indirectly who is hired to work for this organization? Yet, RO’s decisions are represented by Aktuellt as part of the legitimate institutions to consider when assessing how moral judgments are made with respect to political posters. The news program may have contained an implicit criticism of RO (that is hard to tell), but the key thing is who gets invited to the party. Clearly there is a need for a more enlightened and proactive version of RO.

SL’s commercial (capitalist) logic in granting advertising space to erstwhile Nazi groups is mirrored in moral policing that is backed by private investment monies. The anti-poster protest focused in part on the system of racism and the for-profit orientation of SL. This organization has used what should be public space to support a campaign organized by the Swedish Democrats against public begging and implicitly the Roma people living in Sweden. SD’s political support, however, is not simply based on racism, but also on failed economic policies of the established parties, something recognized by many of the speakers. Nevertheless, none of the August 4th protest speakers spelled out a comprehensive program for challenging SD. Instead, the synthesis or reaction to these racist posters (or wallpaper) was either to offer anti-racist chants or to tear them down, leaving in place the constellation of forces which allows SD to recruit members, accumulate funds, and further promote its political program. One exception is that some on August 4th spoke of legal challenges to these posters, but the SD poster campaign very much plays a role similar to the Confederate Flag in the United States, i.e. the posters are just the tip of the iceberg, albeit a rather offensive tip with a significant public display function.

Disrupt the System or Organize an Alternative Basis of Power?

 

The tearing down of the posters was a kind of victory against this display function which nevertheless sidestepped the larger challenges of: (a) forcing SL to directly revoke the posters on political (as opposed to technocratic security) grounds and (b) the legitimacy which these posters and SL’s repressive tolerance policy have conveyed on SD. This legitimacy was thereby left in tact by activists doing what was actually the responsibility of SL and the County Council which governs them. Incremental ad hoc actions against SL are also part of the logic of the Planka movement which attempts to defund the public transportation system through individual actions of refusal to pay for it. The basic idea of Planka is that public transportation is too expensive, so direct individualized attacks on the system are expected to transform it. Planka has tried to also broaden its outlook to promote alternative transportation modes, but they really should figure out how to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of actual transportation users instead of alienating many of them.

One of the speakers said the SL must be disrupted if they failed to revoke their racist policies. Here we have a key problem, i.e. what happens when an important public utility is hijacked by narrow public or private interests and suffers from an under-financing by the national government? Do we rebel against this entity or attempt to resocialize it? Resocialization involves deeper strategies of expanding popular control rather that rebelling against the control system.

The individualized or even collective rebellion against SL leaves in place the larger decision-making structures, ownership patterns and monopolies of service provision. This system is responsible for not just racist media projections but also systematic incompetence, e.g. it has been unable to properly organize the signalling system on the newest light rail line. Instead, we should turn SL into a cooperative owned by the state and its users and governed by academic experts, citizen elected representatives, cooperative owners, and administrators vetted by the public. Cooperative owners of a new SL must be given more power because the leading politicians who now supervise SL now are closely tied to Sweden’s automotive industrial complex. Shares in a new SL should be distributed relatively equally and controlled by a trust, so that no one user accumulates an ownership share that is too great and so that shares are not sold out to narrow, private interests. Users can accumulate shares in part based on deductions from their contributions to their own monthly SL cards.

It would have helped if the speakers at the demonstration made a comprehensive list of the names of the persons actually running SL or the politicians who are ultimately responsible for SL’s managers. As is typical of much Swedish so-called “hard left” rhetoric, the scale of focus is microscopic (posters) or macroscopic (capitalism, racism), with the meso level decision-making structures usually ignored. The larger framing system here represents a combination of syndicalism, the logic of absenteeism and consumer boycotts (exit options), which does not take aim at the local power structure (through voice) but merely attempts to sabotage it. Such exit options are one form of power, but will never lead to the systemic accumulation of power via elections, dominance of the airwaves and formation of companies.

The far right has made significant inroads into the first two means and what will this politics of exit accomplish when the far right begins to organize the economy locally as well? If SD manages to achieve 15 to 20 percent of the vote without directly organizing economic power, is it unreasonable to think that their organizing economic power will not get them an additional 10 percent or more of the vote? Does the Left have a strategy in response to SD’s political innovations, i.e. beyond reacting to their next move?

Of course, tearing down the posters was a rational response to a system of bureaucracy, repressive tolerance, and liberal objectivity which rationalizes away racist and repressive discourse in the name of “free speech,” commerce and “legal procedures.” This logic of legality, bureaucratic regulations, and free commerce is precisely the same approach used to rationalize away both arms exports to dictators and the larger phenomena of the Swedish military industrial complex. Thus, the problem at hand is much larger than racism, SL, or SD for that matter. Some of the speakers recognized the complicity of the larger parties, but the language of eliminating racism is partially a necessary but hardly a sufficient discourse for limiting the power of the larger institutions that actually project racism.

Yet, it should be noted that the politicians were put under pressure and began to discuss a possible rethink of their political advertising policy as a response to: a) the protest taking place on August 4th, and b) the collective movement to rip down the posters. Thus, disruption potentially works by putting pressure on bureaucrats who want to restore a continually changing version of what they define as “normalcy.” The metaphor of a wind up toy robot that propels forward and continues on its path until pushed in a new direction seems apt. Thus, the safety criteria the were used to end this specific poster campaign are very much linked to a robot that does not want to tip over although if blocked could simply propel itself somewhere else. We have a kind of robot psychology encased in flowery language about democracy which is marred by the larger system’s historical record of arms deals with German defense contractors, indigenous Nazis, and White Power music exported across the globe.

As SL does business with SD, whose origins lie in the Swedish Nazis, German militarism and pan-European racism, it is not difficult to understand that SL is itself part of this larger logic supervised and orchestrated by political, economic and cultural elites. The larger institutions that project racism are tied to the mass media, the educational system, the class of owners and job organizers, and the politics of scarcity in which immigrants and people of color are set up as the cause of contemporary economic difficulties. The Latin Kings in their song Krossa Rasismen (“Crush Racism”) have a line that goes: Latinos, araber, afrikaner och turkar i massmedia alltid utpekade som skurkar (“Latinos, Arabs, Africans and Turks are always depicted as villains in the media”).

Eliminating racism, like eliminating war, requires alternatives to the existing system. While many speakers spoke against capitalism, they hardly operationalized how they would eliminate capitalism, i.e. this kind of discourse amounts to a form of “name calling” and “deconstruction,” which in its worst forms (not necessarily present at the demonstration) effectively simplifies issues to get an expected affirmative response from an audience.

The demonstration also replicates a kind of hierarchical politics, which the Occupy Movement tried to move beyond by taking a protest moment and turning it into an ongoing teaching experience and space for democratic engagement. This hierarchy is a long-standing convention in the Swedish political Left and is hardly new or unique, although it is somewhat obsolete. The protest was effective, however, in galvanizing a counter-pole to mainstream society’s complacency with patently offensive, racist demagoguery so in this sense was a partial victory. Many of the speakers represented new Swedes, who are marginalized by some parts of the Swedish Left. The mass media in their coverage of the poster campaign did give such persons representational power, but only within the confines of statements related to the poster campaign. Much of the media did not reproduce the most radical sounding statements of the speakers at the protest; they were filtered out as being inconvenient for the dominant frame, i.e. a localized incident regarding SD’s posters and SL’s policies.

The educational (and parts of the racist monitoring) system promotes racism by treating it largely as an ethical breach or a problem of cultural attitudes. Even when academics discuss racism as part of a larger system of economic or political power, they rarely connect that representation of systemic power to ideas about organizing a counter-power. Such counter-power requires the design and promotion of new media, political and economic institutions. This in turn depends on reconstructionist and utopian thinking, not deconstructionist and dystopian critiques of the system as racist, capitalist or sexist, i.e. vocal complaints. Therefore, radical sounding language—like mass media reports—conceals as much as it reveals. As SD has more quickly accumulated power, the superficiality of the Left (while impolite to discuss in certain circles) represents a dangerous intellectual vacuum.

The Case of the Vietnam War, Swedish Militarism and the Plight of the Roma

 

Another way to understand the larger system of displacement is to examine Swedish cultural elites’ view of Sweden as a peace loving country. Exhibit A is an exchange of letters between a U.S. businessman who visited Sweden and reacted to its opposition to the U.S. genocidal venture in Vietnam. The next three photographs represent the letter of the businessman which appears in a museum exhibit currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm (summer 2015).

The most interesting part of this letter by Hendrik C. Gillebaard, President of the Holland Import Company, is not his ranting about “Swedish” anti-Americanism and his support for the tragic Vietnam War, but his argument that Sweden can not honestly face its own treatment of the Roma people, i.e. Swedes are hypocrites because they too are racists, not just Americans. The response of the Swedish Consulate General in Houston to Gillebaard’s letter is rather interesting. The Swedish official writes, “Virtually everybody in Sweden abhors war. Most Swedes are critical of the U.S. engagement in Vietnam.” His letter in response to Gillebaard is reproduced below.

The Swede’s letter is certainly accurate as a critique of most of Gillebaard’s aguments. Note the following key points, however. First, nothing is said about Sweden’s treatment of the Roma people. Second, Swedes’ formal opposition to the Vietnam war is addressed, but not Swedes’ support for the war in Vietnam. This took place in two ways. First, some Swedes actually served in Vietnam in support of the American side against the Vietnamese people. Second, Swedish weapons were used against the Vietnamese by Australians who got Swedish weapons after Sweden broke its own embargo. At one point, Sweden attempted to ban weapon sales to the U.S., but this did not prevent the Swedish military contribution to the forces fighting against Vietnamese liberation. While Olof Palme spoke against the Vietnam War in public demonstrations, this is not the only side of Swedish realities. Yet, this is the side of things many want to represent. In contrast, the Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström (whose artworks are now on display at the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art) shows in a piece not part of the current exhibit that Swedish realities are filled with contradictions. He exposes the myths of “Swedish neutrality” and reports on how radical journalists in Sweden have written about how Sweden cooperated with foreign spy agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. Fahlström has largely been forgotten or is largely unknown to the younger generations of Swedes, although one has to give credit to the Swedish Museum of Modern Art for trying to revive interest in this important artist. Fahlstöm’s work shows how the display function can be used to convey a richer intellectual content.

The Unfortunate Continuing Hegemony of New Left Ideology in the Swedish Left

 

We now come to one of the more controversial aspects of our story, at least controversial for parts of the Left. I have tried to show that SD growth is part of an emergency which the present Left trajectory cannot hope to stop. I have shown that the Left’s very language limits its ability to promote comprehensive change are reverse the power of SD. Yet, behind the Left’s discourse are Left institutions and political myths. While parts of the New Left embraced reconstruction, the dominant part of that movement settled for a rebellion against the system and favored deconstructionist rhetoric. There were currents in the New Left supporting cooperatives then and now, but the hegemonic New Left position became part of a trajectory linked to deconstruction, identity politics, resistance and rebellion.

The larger problem is that the dominant discourse of Fahlström’s era and that of today is one that seems to be defined by various closures. First, there are the reactionaries in the Swedish Democrats who correctly point to the failures of existing parties, but are unable to offer anything but a dumbed-down version of solutions through racist and demagogic scape-goating. They blame immigrants, refugees and poor Roma for European, Romanian and Swedish failure to properly absorb them. The money spent for just one JAS military fighter could be used to create business cooperatives for Roma that could be carried back to their home countries, but no leading politician has ever raised such an idea (at least in a way that would be noticed). The Left political parties which resist military spending increases don’t connect issues very well, somewhat obediently following the mass media’s preference for treating every problem as atomized and separate. I have already shown how trying to explain the connections by speaking about “capitalism” is not very useful because the Left does not have a language that shows how to limit, get rid of or even systematically reform capitalism.

Second, there is the mainstream society which refuses to offer a systematic economic alternative to the status quo defined by deindustrialization, globalization, and class polarization. This constellation has closed off opportunities for many Swedes even as it enriches others. The cultural elites don’t really challenge the larger economic system even if they champion the fight against the symptoms of these problems. To a certain extent, racism is a long standing problem in Sweden and can’t just be reduced to economic problems. Yet, the displacement of economic inequality and an inequality in economic power by a discourse of anti-racism is clearly and similarly problematic.

Third, there is the “loyal opposition” which opposes the first and second groups, but has usually been unable to speak the language of policy alternatives and social innovations. The constituency of the Feminist, Left and Green parties (together with supporters) is something on the order of one million persons, more than enough to build a movement and process to re-organize the Swedish economy on far more democratic lines. Instead, the discourse of the Left is often simply anti-racist or anti-capitalistic, but not sufficiently reconstructonist, i.e. it is not a discourse that operationalizes how to build new legal, media, economic and political institutions, but seemingly rebels against the far-right and repressive tolerant status quo. Rhetoric that bashes capitalism as an evil system amounts to a kind of Freudian “talking cure” or a kind of magical thinking in which saying words produces systemic transformations. This talking cure is only natural in a Left society in which cultural framing has gained ascendency over radical economic language. So-called “Marxists” and “Anarchists” who do not address the meso level of power discussed above, further contribute to the intellectual vacuum. They are politically innocuous even as they rant about capitalism and the like.

It is not a coincidence that those embracing what sounds like a radical position gain entry into the Left’s own version of a cultural elite, its own voices and celebrities whom we hear from over and over again, and who seem to have mis-educated or misled the new generation of activists. Among this group, the New Left and reincarnations of the political styles of previous Left protest groups seem hegemonic. One can debate the fine points about the advantages or disadvantages of the Feminist, Green, Left and Social Democratic Parties. However that debate ends, the most important fact is that SD is collectively kicking their ass in the electoral arena as seen in the data presented above.

The Left does not seem to understand that it has its own hegemonic, filtering and propaganda systems embracing a dysfunctional political mythology. If the New Left (the environmentalists, anti-racists and anti-sexists) challenged the Old Left (the Communists, Socialists and Social Democrats), is it any surprise that we need a new movement that challenges the New Left itself (or its legacy)? In many ways, the Swedish Left (like counterparts elsewhere) seems to resemble the movie scripts of V for Vendetta or Equilibrium, scripts in which there are “good guys” and “bad guys.”

The Left is tied to a version of Millenialism which seems to be a kind of recycled (yet in many ways inferior) copy of Christianity but framed with Socialist, Feminist or Anarchist logos in which operational interventions like: a) cooperatives, b) media accountability organizations, c) civilian conversion of defense firms, d) new budget priorities, e) industrial policy, f) cooperative or green public procurement, etc. are nowhere to be found. These alternatives are often unpopular in rhetorical discourse because no one knows about them, particularly in the younger generation. These discourses rarely have any peer buzz and can’t be tied to political fashions.

Fewer persons in the younger generation know about them because of the ways in which the university and academic system have marginalized the economic reconstructionist discourse. It is an intentional marginalization in which radical lite trumps a deeper understanding, creating an intellectual vacuum which the far right has been rather successful in filling (if power accumulation is the measure). I’m not saying that racism, the gender system, and capitalism are not promoting the very problems I analyze. Rather, I am saying that this intersectional approach (which usually leaves out militarism which is reduced to some other problem), is hardly sufficient for challenging SD or building counter-power. There are some movements tied to alternative banking and environmental transformation that go deeper, but they remain isolated from the mainstream Left discourse.

A kind of diluted or pseudo-anarchism which involves rhetorical bashing of the system (rebellion and revolutionary sounding rhetoric), actually displaces real, transformative if not revolutionary anarchism of the variety which once thrived in Spain. Perhaps this is the byproduct of a Left Party whose origins lie in the Communist Party and not the anarchist movement. Or a syndicalism centered on trade union power and not economic democracy defined by consumer and producer cooperatives. Or even the university which likes to label things rather than remake society. Or a reflex action against a mainstream stupidity among those who are emotionally satisfied and are perched at the highest rungs of the economic, political or cultural ladders. Or foundations and educational institutions that recycle intellectual conventions and support intellectual inbreeding.

This hegemony of the 1970s-era New Left, recycled by various left movements in Sweden (like the mirror copies in the United States), contributes to a now failed trajectory which continually recycles itself. The recycling is successful because the now dated and incomplete rhetoric of the past fits nicely as a deconstruction of the far right racist and/or mainstream repressive tolerant society. Unfortunately, just as the racists and mainstream repressive tolerant “silent majority” displace larger truths, so too does the “loyal opposition.” For example, reactive resistance and identity politics are no match for far-right ideologies that show connections among diverse issues, albeit in the completely wrong way.

This cultural and political log jam must be broken as the relative success of the far right exposes the political weakness and inabilities of this opposition. One promising development is criticisms of the Left Party’s anti-racist strategy as a failure by two activists in the party, Abe Bergegårdh and Anders Jarfjord. They diagnose the failure and try to ask deeper questions. One question which should of course be asked is how the “New Sweden” or Swedes with immigrant backgrounds can move beyond being just potential victims or champions of anti-racism, to constructors of a new set of institutions that would more fully democratize Sweden. At the rhetorical level, the loyal opposition supports a more fundamental conception of democracy, even if this conception is not very well articulated. The August 4th protest wisely asked us to rethink what actually existing democracy in Sweden really means. In terms of protest rhetoric, there were certain advances over the norm, despite the obvious limitations.

Who is Immediately Responsible? From the County Council to SL as a Prime Countractor to Nazi-Originating Parties and the U.S. Media-Military Industrial Complex

 

The politicians who are ultimately responsible for the advertising policy of SL are the members of the traffic committee of the Stockholm County Council (ordinarie ledamöter i trafiknämnden, Stockholms läns landsting). I have reproduced the list of these persons below, together with their contact details (see Appendix I below). At the very least a campaign should be organized to identify those supporting the policies permitting the current advertising policy of SL and then one should work towards the defeat of these candidates and their political parties. One should also direct protests against the political parties that sustain these advertising campaigns, rather than simply against SL. The Social Democratic Party at least has gone on record against these policies, although they still support the use of the public space for political advertisements. Given that these political advertisements offer very little useful information, my own view is that such political advertisements should be removed from the public space. As it is SL states that it can not treat the political parties differently in its advertising policy, so it should then treat them the same by keeping their superficial political discourse out of the mass transit system. This newer, alternative policy alternative was not supported by the Social Democrats in their critique of SL.

On August 5th, SL decided to stop SD’s poster campaign at the Östermalmstorg underground station for security reasons. These reasons were based on how those standing on the escalator dividers trying to take down the posters could hurt themselves or other passengers. Nevertheless, a report in Dagens Nyheter noted: “discussions are ongoing between the company Clear Channel who provide advertising space in the subway and the Sweden Democrats on the continuation of the ad campaign.” The Left Party also criticized SL’s advertising policies. SL said nothing about how its support for a poster campaign with a group linked to the Nazis might be bad for Swedish security.

The Clear Channel company, based in the United States, helped organize rallies in support of the disastrous Iraq war. As a report in The Guardian explained then: “They look like spontaneous expressions of pro-war sentiment, ‘patriotic rallies’ drawing crowds of tens of thousands across the American heartland. In a counterpoint to anti-war demonstrations, supporters of war in Iraq have descended on cities from Fort Wayne to Cleveland, and Atlanta to Philadelphia. They wave flags, messages of support for the troops – and also banners attacking liberals, excoriating the UN, and in one case, advising: ‘Bomb France Now.’ But many of the rallies, it turns out, have been organised and paid for by Clear Channel Inc—the country’s largest radio conglomerate, owning 1,200 stations—which is not only reporting on the war at the same time, but whose close links with President Bush stretch back to his earliest, much-criticised financial dealings as governor of Texas. The company has paid advertising costs and for the hire of musicians for the rallies.” In sum, SL which does business with these people is part of the extension of the profit-making system for the war culture.

The Clear Channel company and SL also get money from Electronic Arts, the company that promotes video games in which the user is invited to drop napalm on Vietnam. As a web announcement states clearly: “Grab your M-16, ready the Napalm, and prepare to enter some of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.” In other words, SL has entered into contracts with a key part of the U.S. media-military-industrial complex as well as making deals with a political party whose origins lie in Sweden’s indigenous Nazi movement. SL’s relationship with Clear Channel has been discussed in the media, with a focus on the former’s long-term commitment to the latter. An article in Dagens Media shows how the American media giant has corporate opponents or competitors within Sweden, i.e. the basis for an interesting alliance or dialogue.

SL’s public space is now used to embrace video games which basically support the Vietnam War, an irony which very few seem to notice, given Swedish elites’ previous identification with rhetorically opposing that war. If the public space were to convey useful information about politicians, then the mass media might contribute by vetting statements by politicians through a committee of academic experts, rather than simply allowing journalists to play the key role of ideological, ethical and political gatekeepers. In this role, the mass media have proven as incompetent as SL, as they have provided a sounding board for SD.

The broader Left might wake up, pool their money, and actually run intellectually-rich and deep advertisements as an alternative to the status quo. For example, could not large numbers of persons at the demonstration on August 4th have donated money towards an alternative poster campaign? Couldn’t this be easily accomplished by donations from the thousands of persons in attendance? Yes, but that idea is not part of the current political language of the loyal opposition. The dominant narrative is about the evils of SD, SL, capitalism, unfairness, justice, etc., but rarely about how to build tactics that create alternative means of projecting power.

Such alternative advertisements could call for a new governance system to run SL, to promote cooperatives and new media platforms that would challenge the cultural, economic and political elites with meso level reconstructive reforms. Or perhaps a poster campaign to support a new media accountability organization against racist and militarist advertising, i.e. a left alternative to the mainstream RO? Such truly radical ideas are actually far more subversive than Left complaints about capitalism and racism or the tokenistic appearances of the peace movement in the mainstream media itself.