Cover Story, plus: Greece Links

by Chris Sturr | February 08, 2015

A large crowd gathers at LA Plaza, Los Angeles on  November 7, 1933 to participate in a Hunger March. The protest was organized by the Communist Party and the United Front Conference Against Hunger.   From the Los Angeles Public Library's Harry Quillen photo collection.  The photographer is Harry Quillen.

A large crowd gathers at LA Plaza, Los Angeles on November 7, 1933 to participate in a Hunger March. The protest was organized by the Communist Party and the United Front Conference Against Hunger. From the Los Angeles Public Library’s Harry Quillen photo collection. The photographer is Harry Quillen.

(1) Cover Story Posted: Where Are Today’s Mass Movements?:  We have posted the cover story for our current issue, Where Are Today’s Mass Movements?, by Trudy Goldberg.  The subtitle is “What we can learn from the millions who demonstrated for jobs, government relief, and collective bargaining rights in the 1930s,” and Trudy gives a detailed answer based on the organizing of the unemployed and in the labor movement. Three key differences between then and today are: that the numbers of unemployed increased much more precipitously in the 30s, and to much higher rates (to a high of 25%); that there was no government relief for the unemployed back then, whereas today food stamps, unemployment compensation, and other programs, themselves the inheritance of the activism that led to the New Deal, helped protect the unemployed from the worst ravages; and that there were “ideologically committed organizers”–especially from the Communist Party. (See the photo above from a Communist-led rally in Los Angeles in 1933; the placards are amazingly resonant today: “Soup Kitchens for Workers, Millions for Grafters”; “Tax the Rich”; etc.). Trudy also mentions the key role for the labor movement of government officials, like Robert Wagner, Frances Perkins, and FDR, who are even mildly supportive.

(2) Tom Engelhardt: Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America:  Tom Engelhart of TomDispatch has a piece there about a later era of mass movement action, the 60s and 70s: Remembrance of Wars Past: Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America.  The subtitle promises to answer a similar question to Trudy’s.  The piece is interesting as memoir–Engelhardt talks about the anti-war press, and I.F. Stone’s Weekly in particular, but his main conclusion seems to be that, in his own personal case at least, the call to serve one’s country, as embodied in JFK’s famous “Ask not…” from his inaugural, and disillusionment with the government, led to antiwar activism.  He describes his own early anti-war journalism for Pacifica, and then says:

None of this would have been most Americans’ idea of service, even then.  But it was mine.  I felt that my government had betrayed me, and that it was my duty as a citizen to do whatever I could to change its ways (as, in fact, I still do).  And so, in some upside-down, inside-out way, I maintained a connection to and a perverse faith in that government, or our ability to force change on it, as the Civil Rights Movement had done.

That, I suspect, is what’s gone missing in much of our American world and just bringing back the draft, often suggested as one answer to our war-making problems, would be no ultimate solution.  It would undoubtedly change the make-up of the U.S. military somewhat.  However, what’s missing in action isn’t the draft, but a faith in the idea of service to country, the essence of what once would have been defined as patriotism.  At an even more basic level, what may be gone is the very idea of the active citizen, not to speak of the democracy that went with such a conception of citizenship, as opposed to our present bizarro world of multi-billion-dollar 1% elections.

Very interesting as memoir, but I’m not sure it goes very far to answer the question of why there’s no antiwar movement today (or no mass movements in general).

(3) More on SYRIZA:  The European Central Bank is not playing nice with SYRIZA.  Mike Epitropoulos is working on another blog post for us, but in the meantime, here are some pieces on the situation:

The last one is a petition that you can sign (if you’re a scholar, I guess).  And Yves Smith has promised an update on the situation on Monday on Naked Capitalism.

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Links on Yanis Varoufakis

by Chris Sturr | January 31, 2015


One of the exciting things about the new SYRIZA government in Greece is that the new finance minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a left economist. I am familiar with him because he has been interviewed many times on Behind the News, the radio show of Left Business Observer editor Doug Henwood.

The latest episode of Behind the News compiles clips from five of those interviews, starting with one from 2008 in which he comments on the street demonstrations by students and unions, running through several interviews about the eurozone crisis, and ending (culminating?) in an interview from November in which Varoufakis talks about how SYRIZA should deal with its creditors if it takes power. Two questions and answers from the end of the interview are especially telling and interesting:

Doug Henwood: “Why has it taken so long for some kind of political response to what is now getting to be a fairly old crisis?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “When things go bad and families lose income, their members lose their jobs, it is a natural, I believe, reaction, of people to privatize their concerns and lick their wounds and try to do whatever they can in order to put food on the table. The result is that any radicalism just disappears and what you have is a wave of pessimism that numbs people and causes them to abandon the political–the public–sphere. But that doesn’t last forever, and at some point–especially if there is some hope of stabilization, even at very low levels of economic and social activity–something gives, some spark ignites a fire, especially amongst younger people, who just don’t believe they deserve to live in a world that treats them as fodder. One hopes that young people will at some point say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Doug Henwood: “What would SYRIZA do if it got in power or close to it?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “One word sums it up: negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. … But to negotiate, and be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you are not taken seriously.”

That first stage, when people are “numb,” is when Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine kicks in, I take it (and explains why it took so long for Occupy to happen). I recommend listening to the whole episode (it’s about an hour), and to the interviews the excerpts come from.  But if you want more quotes of some of the best bits, check out the piece in HuffPo with the inflammatory title, Greece’s New Finance Minister: ‘You Have To Be Prepared To Blow The Whole Thing Up’, which seems to have taken the episode as its main source.

There’s been some discussion of Varoufakis on the email list of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG), whose members Ron Baiman and Bill Barclay have blogged here.  That discussion produced more interesting background about Varoufakis, including an interesting blog post by the Australian economist Steve Keen (Steve wrote a piece on debt deflation for our Economic Crisis Reader; Varoufakis taught at Sydney University in the 1980s): My Friend Yanis the Greek Minister of Finance.  And Peter Dorman has a post (Greek Negotiations Begin with a Blast) about SYRIZA’s strategy of not engaging with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU)–the “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” of Doug’s interview, if you listen closely, is with other European governments, not the Troika. Dorman mentions Varoufakis’s background in game theory (though I gather he was mostly a critic of game theory); that is especially interesting given that Varoufakis recently had a consulting position with the video game company Valve Software (as discussed in this episode of Doug’s show).

Another good place to get information about Varoufakis is at his own blog, which is in English, and which he promises to keep posting to even as finance minister.



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