News, comment and analysis

In this edition, we look at the geopolitics of the Gaza flotillas – an index of
the increasingly multipolar world we live in the wake of the last superpower, the United States. In the vacuum left by the US, Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia and China are jockeying for position, using Islamist paramilitary/parapolitical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as their proxies. Then we turn back to capitalism’s heartlands, the US and Europe, with three reports on the deepening crisis, including the on-going social unrest in Greece. We also feature another report on social unrest, from China, whose wave of wildcat strikes we have examined in previous issues. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico remains one of the major issues of our day. What does it say about corporations’ attitudes to the planet and to people? Finally, are there alternatives to the present system, and can the G20 do anything about it?

The geopolitics of the Gaza flotillas

[Gaza flotilla and global power struggles] Behind the rush to send further flotillas to the Gaza Strip, a power game between Islamists of various stripes is emerging. While Turkish, Palestinian, Iranian and Hezbollah flags have all been spotted at rallies and port side gatherings in support of the flotillistas, these scenes of apparent unity belie a more conflicted reality beneath.

Turkey’s government, having cast itself as a kind of neo-Ottoman guardian of the Palestinians, is the object of much goodwill among Gazans. That has irked the Iranians, the principal sponsor of the Hamas regime, into a display of one-upmanship: Last week, Tehran announced that it was sending its own flotilla under the protection of the Iranian Navy — a pledge it subsequently backed away from.

Not to be outdone, the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, seized on the recent flotilla clash to start beating the drums of war. In an interview with the BBC, Assad said that the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara had ruled out any prospects for peace in the near future. Such bellicosity suggests that Assad wants to claim the mantle of his late father, Hafez, as the “lion” of the region. As Syria both hosts the exiled Hamas leadership and has been the object of recent American overtures, Assad has at least two reasons to believe he can do so.

Amidst all this jockeying, there is another player, under-analyzed since the initial flotilla furor, but nonetheless critical to its outcome: the Lebanese terrorist movement, Hezbollah. [READ THE REST]

Bring In The Paper, Bring On The Torches

[A report on the crisis in the US economy] Encouraged by the headline in the March 12 edition of the Wall Street Journal that read “Massive Defaults Produce Rare Annual Dip In Obligations, Clear Ground for Growth,” the US bourgeoisie paused from their daily feedings at the public trough, took their lips from the government‘s breast, checked the status of the batteries on their defibrillators [green=good;gold=gooder], removed their hands from each other’s and everybody else’s pockets [temporarily], bundled themselves in their TARPS and parachutes, and all together and all at once, in a display of unity not seen since the funeral for their idiot-hero Ronald Reagan, selected the exact same tune from their individual IPods [purchased on] and started to lip-synch to their favorite song, to which they knew the words by heart.

Texting, tweeting, facebooking, bluetoothing the lyrics from IPod to IPhone to Blackberry to Droid to Pixie to Touch to Samsung to HTC to Nokia, from hand to handset in a daisy chain of 1s and 0s, living their collective Life of Brian, they lipped and synched… “Look On the Bright Side of Life…”

But… but when it came to that part of the song, those lyrics–that part about giving a little whistle, they tried and tried. And they couldn’t. The bourgeoisie didn’t have spit. [READ THE REST]

Greece: overaccumulation and social unrest

[A report on the crisis in Greece] In periods of crisis, such as the current period of overaccumulation crisis, capitalists use the politics of “public debt” in order to devise new ways to intensify exploitation. In contrast with capitalist upturns when the private debt is increased, downturns are characterized by the increase of the “public debt”. Private investment in state bonds ensures profits which are extracted from the direct and indirect taxation of the workers, aiming towards interest repayments, and leading, ultimately, to the reinforcement of the banking sector capital. Therefore, the “public debt”, contrary to what is usually said, provides help to private capital and, in this respect, should be counted in its profits.

Moreover, in the last 20 years, the “public debt” tripled in 20 out of 27 countries of EU because of massive expenditures for bailing out the financial sector. This is money that was not given through loans to (non-banking) private capital for productive investments. Furthermore, public borrowing was done and continues to be done on terms that exceed by far the average profit rate, making investments in state bonds far more profitable than investments for the creation of production units, and, all the more so, since this kind of investment is exempted from the risks of class struggle in the sites of production. [READ THE REST]

Public debt makes the state go round

[A report on the crisis in Europe] As usual when public debt is discussed, a parallel is drawn with private debt. The state would have to pay off debt just like a working class family has to pay back a loan. Also, references to how poorer countries are suffocated by their debt are made. However, taking a quick look at one of the many tables comparing total national debt across the globe we find that successful nations such as the USA, the UK and Germany accumulated national debt year by year for decades and hold much more debt in total than any of the poorer countries. Of course, this fact does not escape economists and they reply that one has to look at the ratio of national debt to GDP. While this allows new exciting ways to plot numbers over time and to compare charts, it still does not explain how the ‘strength’ of a national economy relates to national debt and why and when a certain ratio is considered harmful. Why is 68.6% too much?

The implications of the budget deficit and the public debt reach far beyond the state’s ability to pay for its undertakings such as killing people in Afghanistan and maintaining the miserable existence of workers in the UK. The public debt weakens the national currency. Since many groceries etc. are imported from the eurozone, this drives up prices for many people. Even prices for goods produced in the UK rise; a development well known as inflation. [READ THE REST]

Foxconn suicides and Honda strike in China

While the Chinese government has invested as much as $58 billions to stage the Shanghai Expo, Chinese workers at Foxconn Technology, a Taiwanese-owned electronic manufacturer which assembles products for corporates such as Apple, Dell, HP, Motorola, and Nokia are jumping out of their sweatshop factories. Foxconn employees nearly 600,000 workers all over China, and its total network is worth 54 million dollars. The boss, Terry Guo, is the richest man in Taiwan, but the workers are only paid $132 a month, which is the legal minimum wage in China, and work over time to boost the salary. There have been 12 suicides in the Shenzhen factory this year alone and most of them were 18 -24 year old second generation farmers who migrated to the urban factories from the South because there were simply no work opportunities back at home. They sign off their rights to the labor laws and work as much as 36 hour over time to compensate for the high living cost in the city. The Foxconn workplace is extremely oppressive—military like security control (also because companies such as Apple demanded so), crowded dormitories and long work hours. To prevent workers from the same hometowns to mobilize, they are separated into different sectors of the factory as well different dormitories. While the Foxconn workers clearly face severe workplace alienation, the Shenzhen government expressed that they haven’t found any direct relationships between the suicides and the workplace issues, but purely personal “psychological stress.” [READ THE REST]

BP’s oil spill on the backs of the working class and planet earth

Capital’s global crisis, thought to be slowing down, is not hovering; it’s dropping like a hammer on both the working class and planet earth.  The profit demands of the current energy infrastructure based overwhelmingly on coal and oil have proved to be an obstacle to transition towards an ecologically sustainable energy production.  Obama’s expansion of offshore drilling, the maintenance of a coal-centered energy production via Copenhagen, and the expansion of nuclear energy production in the US in over 30 years are just the most recent examples.

But as the spill in the Gulf demonstrates, this energy economy is inextricably bound up with the ability of capital to attack and exploit the working class and ecological systems.  Complex life requires more complex ecosystems to survive, but capital has long demanded that we forfeit the very conditions of life for it to grow.  The future of free life on this planet will depend on the working class’s ability organize itself against these attacks. [READ THE REST]

Global Solidarity at the G20?

[Alternatives and global economic governance] Conservative governments in France and Germany backed a proposal for a tax on financial transactions that carried the day at a recent EU summit. The proposal, in preparation for the June 26-27 G20 meeting in Toronto, states that, “The introduction of a global financial transaction tax should be explored and developed further in [the G20] context.” Although the language was scathingly criticized as damnation by faint praise by the European Greens, it strikes me as remarkable that a proposal for global solidarity of this sort should have made it so far. [READ THE REST]

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