Tuesday, 24 October 2017

No Is Not Enough

Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough is on the best sellers lists. I had read and admired her two previous books: The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything. As she points out, this is a very different book. It is a popular tract on how we need to work together to oppose and replace Donald Trump as the President of the United States. The answer is not found in one-day marches on single issues but in bringing people together in an organized way to build an alternative movement.

If you regularly read the paper, follow the news on television or go online you will be familiar with the Trump phenomenon. In Canada it has been reported that most people now watch CNN and not the CBC or CTV. 

    It is only when you get to th last 40 pages of the book that Canada enters the picture: a look at the formation of the Leap Manifesto as one example of an effort to bring people together in a new progressive political formation. But there is no real examination of the experience of the Leap Manifesto. For example, none of the four candidates for the leadership of the New Democratic Party, a very moderate social democratic party, were willing to back the Manifesto. There is no evidence that any serious organization is being done around the manifesto.

Naomi Klein has deep ties to the USA. While born in Montreal, her parents are both American and she has dual citizenship. She writes for many publications but is a Contributing Editor to The Nation magazine. In the 2016 US presidential campaign both The Nation and Klein supported the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.    

The financial crisis of 2009 and the Centre-Left    

Where is the analysis of the Democrat Party? Even before entering the White House, Barrack Obama revealed his true colours. He took time off from the presidential campaign in October to go to Washington to pressure Democrats in Congress to support President Bush’s TARP program for bailing out the banks. Without majority support in Congress from the Democrats TARP would not have passed . The majority of the Republicans voted to let the market do its job, destroy the weak banks and let the strong ones survive. “Creative destruction” as Schumpeter called it.

Klein comments “What if the Democrats had used the leverage they had in 2009 and 2010 to make serious, substantive restructuring demands of the banks and the auto giants in exchange for continuing to bail them out.” Why would the Democrats do that? They are known as “the party of Wall Street” for good reason.

This is one of the frustrations with this book. We all saw on TV the massive support that came to Bernie Sanders during his left wing presidential campaign. When it became clear that the establishment of the Democratic Party was not going to let him get the nomination, Jill Stein offered to step down and let Sanders take her role as the presidential candidate of the Green Party. This would permit his “political revolution” to continue and confront the “Duopoly” of the American political-economic Establishment. Instead, Sanders declined the offer and  told his supporters to join the Democratic Party and to support Hillary Clinton. Klein avoids any comment on this crucial political shift. The radical democratic movement behind Sanders vanished.

What about American militarism?

There is another key issue which the progressive democratic left must confront: the militarism and imperialism of the Anglo-American alliance. Bernie Sanders was rightly criticized for almost completely ignoring this in his campaign. Some will remember that in his presidential campaign Trump argued that NATO was obsolete and should be shut down and that if he were elected President he would put an end to the politics of regime change. He would “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Public opinion polls in the USA showed that the majority of Americans were opposed to more wars. President Obama had bombed seven Muslim countries. Klein has dodged this key issue. In contrast, Martin Luther King insisted that racism and poverty in the USA were tied to militarism and imperialism and the US had to end the war in Vietnam. Soon after he was assassinated. 

Social Democracy and the rise of right wing nationalism
In the fall of this year there were two important elections in Europe. In September 2017 there was a national election in Germany. Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats lost 65 seats in the legislature and saw their popular vote total fell by 8. Percentage points. The Social Democrats (SPD) lost 40 seats and saw their share of the vote fall to 20%, the lowest total since the end of WWII. The new right wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 94 seats and 12.6% of the vote.

In the general election in Austria in October the Social Democrats (SPO) won 27% of the vote and 52 seats in the legislature. But the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), a right wing nationalist party, won  26% of the votes and 51 seats in the legislature. In both these countries the social democratic parties had supported a neoliberal austerity program that had a dramatic negative impact on their trade union partners. To what extent is the rise of the new nationalist right wing parties due to the very significant move to the right by the social democratic parties? Klein does not get in to this, perhaps because the book is directed to a US audience.

Canada’s example of building a political alliance

There is one recent example of working together to build a new political alliance. In the late 1980s in both Canada and the USA popular organizations, led by the trade union movements, were formed –  broad political alliances to oppose the free trade agreements. In Canada there also was the formation of provincial Coalitions for Social Justice. Many popular groups joined in these alliances. Members of these groups individually chose to focus their political work in these coalitions. A similar organization was formed in Mexico in the 1990s.

One problem with these coalitions was that they were formed to try to defeat a precise political agenda put forth by big business. There was no attempt to formulate a positive alternative vision. Many saw the  coalitions as an arm of the social democratic parties. The Sanders movement demonstrated that this is now possible. But it would not work in the Democratic Party or in a Tony Blair-Bill Clinton neoliberal formation called The New Democrats. Unfortunately Klein chose not to assess this example.

No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. By Naomi Klein. Toronto: Knopf Canada , 2017


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