By Ramin Mazaheri – for the Saker Blog
A party built around climate change is a luxury only the West can afford, and like most luxuries it is a corrupting influence.
While covering a protest in France several years ago a union member told me how she hoped Iran would stop selling its oil in order to protect the environment.
“Sure,” I told her, “how many billions of euros can we expect France to send us so we can buy food?” I assume she is still ignoring this inconvenient truth and enormous flaw in climate change demands on non-Western countries.
Nobody knows how things will shake out in May 2020 – just how bad the West’s Double Bubble + Great Lockdown economy will soon be – but prior to coronavirus green parties were poised to become a top two party across the West for the first time. In 2019 European Parliament elections they shockingly won 10% of seats and 13% of France’s.
That’s not a majority, but the up-to-the-minute reality is that everybody else has been discredited across the Eurozone: the conservatives, the fake-leftists/pseudo-socialists, the nouveau centrists like Emmanuel Macron, the real-but-disliked leftists. Voters who don’t go far-right have only one choice, and that’s a Green party.
The corona overreaction is throwing a spanner into the works, but are we really predicting a revolution in the Western political trajectory?
It’s certain that the neoliberal response cannot possibly satisfy the lower classes, thus incumbents aren’t going to survive their next election: the next five years should be the same as pre-corona – green parties will play the role of ineffectual opposition/status quo-enforcers to far-right corporate fascists who are more jingoistic than patriotic. That’s what politics will be in much of the West, though not in the two-party Anglophone world.
And yet greens will do what fake-leftists always do: screw up, sell out and falsely claim total ownership of the moral high ground.
Given that greens are the political force most poised to profit in the post-corona profit we should ask: Why are the greens such fake-leftists and so unable to provide adequate solutions for the Western lower classes?
Thomas Piketty and why we have to remind hippies that humans have feelings too, just like crystals do
On a moral level greens are human-hating Malthusians at heart – who could deny that? They put rocks and squirrels ahead of people.
On a political level the problem with handing the greens power amid an economic crisis is how very neoliberal their economics are: capitalism-imperialism fringed with a green garland is still rapacious capitalism-imperialism, after all. Perhaps because they are such animal and nature worshippers greens have totally swallowed the idea that “animal spirits” are the only thing which can possibly guide the economy. Which totem animal corresponds to the spirt of compound debt, I wonder?
We can now understand how very easy it will be for the Western 1% to pivot and embrace green parties as a “solution” to pacify the masses post-corona, much like Barry Obama rebranded the US in 2008.
To prove my point: take this extended interview from April 27 with economist-of-the-decade Thomas Piketty by The Intelligencer, which is part of the fake-leftist New York Media digital empire: here we can witness fake-leftist Westerners have it dawn on them that… oh yeah, it seems politics actually can shape economic outcomes?
Piketty is known as the “scholar of inequality”, and while such issues are the focus of leftists it does not mean he automatically is a socialist and not a capitalist. In the interview he discusses his new book and its solution to the Great Recession-cum-Great Depression 2: “participatory socialism”.
Much like Bernie Sanders (the Democratic Party chiefs he repeatedly bows to surely think: “Thank God we have a donkey like him!”) and his “democratic socialism”, Piketty also misunderstands socialism so very much that he thinks he needs a modifying adjective. At best, we can say that these fake-leftists only grasp the primary aspect of socialism (economic redistribution), but not its second, twin pillar (political power redistribution).
The idea that socialism is not “participatory” is easily and overwhelmingly disproven:
Last year Cuba approved a new constitution: “Some 133,680 meetings were held in neighborhoods and places of work and study. There were 8,945,521 participants, with an estimated two million attending more than one, so that the participation rate was approximately three-quarters of the population. There were 1,706,872 commentaries by the people, with 783,174 proposed modifications, additions, or eliminations. On the basis of the opinions and proposals of the people, the Constitutional Commission revised the draft. More than 50% of the proposals of the people were included in the modifications; nearly 60% of the articles were modified in some form.”
Is that not “participatory” enough?
Piketty seems to have swallowed the lie that socialism has no second pillar which upholds political empowerment of the humble citizen? We see how millions of Cuban hands wrote their constitution in a bottom-up manner, as opposed to the top-down technocracy/aristocracy of Western liberalism.
Fake-leftists fear socialism because they made no personal effort to understand it, thus their conception of socialism is based on ignorance, propaganda and self-interest, and not logic or history. We see all of these things on display from the otherwise estimable Piketty in this interview.
The West gives Piketty a chance: if he doesn’t seize the moment now then he is an idol in an ivory tower
What can we expect New York Media to say when confronted with the rapacity of neoliberalism anything but, “We had no idea?!”
We should expect more from Piketty – we can judge here if he is more than just a detached theoretician who poses no threat to status quo capitalism-imperialism.
The Intelligencer: “One of the main responses to the last book, at least among the American audience, was to treat r > g (Piketty’s shorthand for the fact that the returns to capital have been greater than the growth of the economy as a whole) as though it were a law of nature that could be modified only very occasionally through exceptional political change. But actually, the fact that a rich person’s bank account grows faster than the national GDP, that’s just a phenomenon created by a particular political structure too. It’s a creation of politics.”
This illustrates my point: Western fake-leftists – from those approved by investor banker scions to write for New York Media group to the greens – have no idea about how politics shapes economics even though this is the very stuff which socialism’s first pillar is made of. Yes, of course economics are created by a political structure! We see that the neoliberally-indoctrinated never question their core beliefs and “animal spirits” until it is too late.
Piketty’s mildest-of-responses – apologetic and inexplicably guilty – shows why he is so appealing to fake-leftist Westerners: the West’s favourite “leftist economist” shows how his values are not based around socialist critiques but the values of diversity drawn from cosmopolitanism, and culminating in a relativistic moral nihilism which is absolutely unacceptable in the black and white field of economics, with its measurable outcomes.
Piketty: It is.
Probably I was not sufficiently clear about that.
I must say in general I have learned a lot from all the discussion from my previous book. I have learned a lot by traveling to many countries to which I had not traveled sufficiently before. I think by broadening the scope of countries and historical trajectories I look at, it also made me realize this incredible diversity of human ideologies and human imagination to restructure all the time the societies. And that’s probably the main lesson of history, that the idea that there is only one way and there is no alternative is just wrong.
The Intelligencer: You heard that a lot starting in the 1990s and all through 2008: There’s only one way. (The standard formation of this is ‘TINA: There Is No Alternative (to neoliberalism and neo-imperialism)’.)
Piketty: It’s wrong.
We “heard that a lot” from Westerners – everywhere else people who were not aspiring to being Western clients/puppets were disagreeing… and getting bombed/blockaded for it.
Being “wrong” on this issue merits a lot of public admission of shame and guilt, but Piketty is content to allow decades of deadly mismanagement to be summarised with two words! I wish my teachers had been so leniently brief when I was wrong.
He doesn’t have to be a political firebrand or a raging poet, but we need more than just two words here: Piketty’s reticence is both culturally self-serving (Piketty is French) and also dangerous because the West’s refusal to let anyone go their own way has had such deadly and impoverishing results. Their conversation continues:
The Intelligencer: Since the crash, there has been a sort of acknowledgment from places like the IMF, World Bank, Financial Times, The Economist, all these voices of elite globalized neoliberalism saying, “Okay, there are some real problems here.” But they still aren’t thinking much about alternative models.
Piketty: If you look at how things happen, you’ll see a potential for political mobilization and historical change through social and economic and political processes, which always happen much faster than what the dominant discourse tends to imagine.
The journalist is essentially saying to Piketty: give us an alternative model, please! But Piketty backs away and exonerates those entities by saying, “Well, life moves fast.”
That’s his whole answer – it isn’t much. It’s as if Piketty wants to stay on the good side of these institutions and media – to keep getting book reviews, praise and invites to speak.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day – do you know the socialist version of what happened?
It only takes a few paragraphs…
What Piketty does not say is that we need to learn from the history of socialism, which is an alternative model that has been in practice for over a century but which neoliberalism violently opposes.
Western fake-leftists know what waits for them if they say that history openly: blacklisting, de facto censorship, no more invites to speak, no more fawning reviews – it’s the same glass ceiling/first-to-be-fired which vocal union members face in their jobs. This is partially why Piketty wants to invent a “new” socialist model and thus erase a century of global history – he doesn’t want to risk his position.
Another component is that for Westerners socialism in any form is not an “alternative model” but a dead model, even though – gasp! – it clearly is a victorious model. This historical revisionism/ignorance goes back to the millions-murdering formative years of industrial capitalism (the last third of the 19th century), as I wrote about last week in The Western 1% colluded to start WWI – is the Great Lockdown also a conspiracy?
Crucially, Piketty’s generation – and the one before it and the one after it – was taught that US-led “freedom” defeated fascism. Please note neither has an economic component – it is good versus evil, liberty versus repression – whereas socialism always has a loaded economic component; the pity is that its political component (democracy both direct and indirect, like in Western democracies) was caricatured into a totalitarian dictatorship by a capitalist-imperialist 1% waging perpetual war.
Thus, 75 years later the West still does not realise that WWII saw corporate fascism defeat other corporate fascists – the US, full of Jim Crow and a military-industry complex, was indeed a corporate fascist state which defeated the German and Japanese corporate fascists.
However, even that view is false propaganda! It is the Soviet and Chinese socialists who bore the brunt of the effort to topple corporate fascism in Europe and East Asia. Western ideology rejects the obviously exponentially-larger WWII sacrifices of socialist- inspired nations, and thus for them socialism is a tragic experiment instead of a victorious concept. US corporate fascism continued unabated – it began regrowing corporate fascism (now rebranded as “neoliberalism”) in Japan, Germany and the Eurozone.
This socialist analyst crucially shows how “Corporate fascism with American characteristics” was thus never discredited, until 2008.
This illogical historical analysis is why the West is so at a loss to deal with their problems caused by modern corporate fascism (neoliberalism), and why they scratch their head say “Gee, maybe politics can influence economic outcomes?” “Of course!” is what I would have said if I only was given two words, but Piketty says, almost lamenting, “It’s true.”
We can pick up directly with the interview, continuing with the journalist’s intellectual ignorance/faux-shock with Piketty’s academic detachment/indifference. They were discussing the failure of neoliberalism’s leading lights and the possibility of “thinking” about – not discussing nor implementing – alternative models.
Piketty is not about to stand up for human, suffering Yellow Vests, but he will for Mother Nature
The Intelligencer: But of course it’s also true that those people can help design the system and how it evolves, especially in the case of something like the Great Recession. How much did that recovery worsen inequality, in your view? A layman might look at the history and say, “It’s those who have access to capital who can buy distressed assets, and, as a result, unless there is really dramatic intervention, it will always be the forces of capital that benefit from the crisis.” Is that a fair read of how we emerged from the recession?
The journalist suggested the truth – capitalism is always collusion – but Piketty does not rise to the occasion.
Piketty: You’re right that the people at the top have done better once again than average. How do you explain this? I think it’s because if you take the whole compact of fiscal, social, legal, competition policy, there has been insufficient change. In the end, probably the only lesson from the 1929 crisis both from the right and the left, if you look at economist Milton Friedman, monetary economists, everybody agreed that the Federal Reserve and the central banks in Europe made a huge mistake in the 1930s by letting banks fall one after the other. The only lesson from history in a way was “We are going to do whatever it takes, we are going to print whatever money needs to be printed, in order to save the financial sector.” Indeed, it allowed us to avoid the worst, which is a complete fall in economic activity of the kind we had in the 1930s. It’s good news in a way. We have learned something from history.
The problem, of course, is that we are not going to solve everything with central banks. There was nothing else, really, in store. What I’m a bit concerned with today is that even though there’s a lot of motivation to address structural problems, in particular the climate crisis or today’s pandemic crisis, I think there’s insufficient thinking about how to change the economic rules, the organization of property relations in particular, how much private property we want. We need to take seriously the fact that the distribution of the burden has to be discussed from a democratic viewpoint, has to be distributed across income groups. Sometimes, the climate activists, environmental activists, are so convinced that the No. 1 problem is the climate that they don’t want to hear about anything that sounds like income or wages.
Piketty does, however, agree with the thesis of my 10-part series last winter: that Western bankers are the West’s vanguard, enlightened party which is tasked to “solve everything”. But Infinity QE proves that the Western “bankocracy” model cannot promote anything new – there is “nothing else, really, in store”. We should not expect any vanguard party to admit otherwise either, including the Chinese Communist Party or the Iranian Basij, because all three groups view themselves as their system’s champions and saviors. The latter two, of course, have the advantages of being grassroots in composition, thus embodying political power redistribution, who are then tasked with enforcing economic redistribution, which goes a very long way in explaining their enduring popular support. Bankocrats… not so much.
Right after “central banks” was when Piketty could have proposed a “Western, secular Basij” or a “Party for Socialism with European Characteristics”, but not only does he totally ignore these examples – he thinks he has to reinvent the wheel, which is far worse: Piketty dismissed as insufficient the century of theory and practice socialists have already given “about how to change the economic rules, the organization of property relations in particular, how much private property we want.”
If this is what this academic is teaching his 18-year old students he is letting them believe that something called “socialism” never even existed. But, for Piketty, socialism is both a dead idea and one that may make his own career dead. The interview continues:
The Intelligencer: Some climate activists think the solution is to shrink our economies. They call it “degrowth.”
And now we see clearly the reason for this article – the danger of letting greens run the corona recovery. Piketty just hinted at this when he discussed the “climate crisis or today’s pandemic crisis” (clearly, in terms of urgency the latter is the bigger crisis, yet it is secondary for Piketty) – the open Malthusianism of the Greens, which can never satisfy the 99%.
What is posited by The Intelligencer is that humans are the problems – not the tools they use nor choice of systems. It’s a fake-leftist tack which says the problem is not unfair distribution of economic and political power, but the mere act of production. Rather then perfecting socialism – let’s choose de-progress? Piketty knows he is treading on revolutionary ground with such a (dumb) idea:
Piketty: Which has to be discussed very precisely because then you need to be very careful about what exactly you are proposing to the bottom 50 percent in societies. I think it’s possible to design a plan, but we have to be very careful. In France, we had the yellow-vest movement. The government said that it was going to raise the energy tax and carbon tax for the good of the climate….
Piketty then reaches back to a Sarkozy-era initiative of carbon pricing – he has only brought up the Yellow Vests as a cautionary tale, not to relate their socioeconomic views. That is even though – despite the constant propaganda campaigns which glorified the weekly repression of them – (the rarely commissioned) polls showed the Yellow Vests have always been supported by at least 50% of the country. Piketty believes the Yellow Vests exist not as equals, peers and co-leaders but as a wild force who exist to menace the status quo as a sort of way to keep the Western elite honest.
Piketty knows, though would never say it, that if he regularly marched among the Yellow Vests he’d no longer be invited for interviews by New York Media, The Economist, the World Bank, etc. Piketty gets these calls because even as he calls for change he supports the status quo – he is as much an “EU patriot” as Emmanuel Macron and so many of their elite peers. Piketty admits later that EU patriotism is a fundamentally-elitist waste of time:
Piketty: What this shows is that we should all be concerned about how we rewrite the system. Many people find this very boring, and I can tell you when you try to talk about the transformation and the democratization of European institutions, most people stop listening after five minutes.
We can now elucidate the main problem of the Western left: they cannot galvanise anybody. They have no ideas and no language to excite people to support this status quo that arrived via unbloody “velvet revolutions” and which have continued via an apathy and anti-democratic disconnect built into the US-written pan-European project.
In Iran, for example, they created a new language: people like Ali Shariati combined the revolutionary language of socialism with the revolutionary language, symbols and heroes of Islam (with an emphasis on Shia heroes) to inspire the masses. Forty years later the staunchest Zionist must concede that the ability of “Revolutionary Shi’ism” to galvanise is succeeding in a broad enough manner so as to thwart any neoliberal “velvet (counter) revolution” in Iran. Contrarily, if they’d actually honor democratic votes the EU might be dissolved this very day.
Semi-pantheistic, human-hating Western greens are not about to die for change, nor are they about to inspire anyone in the lower classes (or the Yellow Vests, who expertly dissect French and EU politics).
Therefore what is interesting is not the upcoming multiyear battle between green parties and far-right parties as the new “two mainstream parties” in the West, but what comes after this: What does Europe do when their fake-leftists prove to be the same old neoliberals who sell out the masses, but this time give you more flowers?
Do they finally turn to socialism, or return to corporate fascism & neo-imperialism? Even with corona, we may need another five years to find that out.
The times make the man – who is left and who is not will be crystal clear post-corona
Piketty is not a fake-leftist on the level of the New York Media group, but he is certainly not a socialist: he supports MMT (modern monetary theory) and its notion that QE can actually be given without banker middlemen directly to the people, but not nationalising banks; he supports a basic universal income which hardly sounds like the massive redistributions enacted in the USSR, China, Iran, etc.; he laments that to pay for that “you have to have progressive taxation” instead calling for taxing only capital and the rich (in Iran, because of this fundamental socialist principle, half the country pays no taxes and no farmer does).
Piketty should be lauded for documenting inequality and some of his ideas go left of the mainstream, but he doesn’t go much further than that. The upcoming months of chaos will tell if he is an “objective” intellectual, just as journalists are supposed to be in the West – stuck in an ivory tower, where they have no social responsibility; despite their greater awareness of a problem, they are told not to feel any personal responsibility as well. The same goes for Western pop culture stars – any political involvement contrary to the 1%’s stances means no fawning airtime.
Yes, Piketty cares about inequality and changing economic structures – “Over the past ten years, we’ve been saving banks, but have we solved our problem with rising inequality, with global warming?” – but he also cares about saving the planet a tremendous, tremendous amount. He cares about it so much that he has apparently not had time to actually examine socialism and become persuaded that class warfare is continuously waged by the capitalist-imperialist 1% against the 99%.
Bottom line: In the 21st century there is no major issue which is so class-neutered as ecology.
Thus, I refuse to play along: a global ecological solution obviously requires global cooperation, which is something only socialism can offer and which is impossible under a capitalist system, as it is based instead on competition.
Talk about the environment is thus just empty talk until capitalism-imperialism is eradicated – this is why a Green party takeover will be welcomed by the Western 1% as a brand change as effective as Barack Obama was in 2008.
It’s not hard for a neo-pantheist to grasp: The West could profit from Iranian oil for decades, but once we get it – oh, the time for oil is over? Either fork over many, MANY scores of billions or: Pump away, Iran!
The reality is that if Piketty ever consistently marched with the Yellow Vests he’d realise they also care deeply about the environment. But Earth will not be destroyed before “la fin du mois” (“the end of the month” – the primary slogan of the Vesters, which illustrates how they struggle to pay their most basic bills at the end of each month) whereas the lives of millions of Frenchmen will be destroyed amid this corona hysteria. Mother Nature is not the problem – Western politics are.
It should be clear: green parties are a useless distraction – they should not be accepted as a substitute for true leftism. Maybe the Double Bubble + Great Lockdown will set off a revolution, but for now neoliberal, Malthusian, pantheistic, fake-leftist green parties remain the West’s political trajectory.
Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020
If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020
Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism – April 14, 2020
Coronavirus – Macron’s savior. A ‘united Europe’ – France’s murderer – April 22, 2020
The same 12-year itch: Will banks loan down QE money this time? – April 26, 2020
The end of globalisation won’t be televised, despite the hopes of the Western 99% (2/2) – April 27, 2020
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.