Archive | December 8th, 2019

The Nazi occupation arrests a Palestinian child near the Ibrahimi Mosque

By: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

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Illegally Occupied Hebron: This morning, the occupation army arrested a Palestinian girl, for allegedly trying to stab an Nazi soldier near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

Al-Hebrew 0404 claimed that a Palestinian woman showed a knife to a soldier near the Ibrahimi Mosque, where she was arrested, without any injuries.

Nazi Security sources indicated that the arrested child is Afnan Abu Sneineh, who is 14 years old.

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Trump Was Right: NATO Should Be Obsolete

by MEDEA BENJAMIN

The three smartest words that Donald Trump uttered during his presidential campaign are “NATO is obsolete.” His adversary, Hillary Clinton, retorted that NATO was “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.” Now that Trump has been in power, the White House parrots the same worn line that NATO is “the most successful Alliance in history, guaranteeing the security, prosperity, and freedom of its members.” But Trump was right the first time around: Rather than being a strong alliance with a clear purpose, this 70-year-old organization that is meeting in London on December 4 is a stale military holdover from the Cold War days that should have gracefully retired many years ago.

NATO was originally founded by the United States and 11 other Western nations as an attempt to curb the rise of communism in 1949. Six years later, Communist nations founded the Warsaw Pact and through these two multilateral institutions, the entire globe became a Cold War battleground. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Warsaw Pact disbanded but NATO expanded, growing from its original 12 members to 29 member countries. North Macedonia, set to join next year, will bring the number to 30. NATO has also expanded well beyond the North Atlantic, adding a partnership with Colombia in 2017. Donald Trump recently suggested that Brazil could one day become a full member.

NATO’s post-Cold War expansion toward Russia’s borders, despite earlier promises not to move eastward, has led to rising tensions between Western powers and Russia, including multiple close calls between military forces. It has also contributed to a new arms race, including upgrades in nuclear arsenals, and the largest NATO “war games” since the Cold War.

While claiming to “preserve peace,” NATO has a history of bombing civilians and committing war crimes. In 1999, NATO engaged in military operations without UN approval in Yugoslavia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War left hundreds of civilians dead. And far from the “North Atlantic,” NATO joined the United States in invading Afghanistan in 2001, where it is still bogged down two decades later. In 2011, NATO forces illegally invaded Libya, creating a failed state that caused masses of people to flee. Rather than take responsibility for these refugees, NATO countries have turned back desperate migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, letting thousands die.

In London, NATO wants to show it is ready to fight new wars. It will showcase its readiness initiative – the ability to deploy 30 battalions by land, 30 air squadrons and 30 naval vessels in just 30 days, and to confront future threats from China and Russia, including with hypersonic missiles and cyberwarfare. But far from being a lean, mean war machine, NATO is actually riddled with divisions and contradictions. Here are some of them:

* French President Emmanuel Macron questions the U.S. commitment to fight for Europe, has called NATO “brain dead” and has proposed a European Army under the nuclear umbrella of France.

* Turkey has enraged NATO members with its incursion into Syria to attack the Kurds, who have been Western allies in the fight against ISIS. And Turkey has threatened to veto a Baltic defense plan until allies support its controversial incursion into Syria. Turkey has also infuriated NATO members, especially Trump, by purchasing Russia’s S-400 missile system.

* Trump wants NATO to push back against China’s growing influence, including the use of Chinese companies for the construction of 5G mobile networks–something many NATO countries are unwilling to do.

* Is Russia really NATO’s adversary? France’s Macron has reached out to Russia, inviting Putin to discuss ways in which the European Union can put the Crimean invasion behind it. Donald Trump has publicly attacked Germany over its Nord Stream 2 project to pipe in Russian gas, but a recent German poll saw 66 percent wanting closer ties with Russia.

* The UK has bigger problems. Britain has been convulsed over the Brexit conflict and is holding contentious national election on December 12. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, knowing that Trump is wildly unpopular, is reluctant to be seen as close to him. Also, Johnson’s major contender, Jeremy Corbyn, is a reluctant supporter of NATO. While his Labour Party is committed to NATO, over his career as an anti-war champion, Corbyn has called NATO “a danger to world peace and a danger to world security.” The last time Britain hosted NATO leaders in 2014, Corbyn told an anti-NATO rally that the end of the Cold War “should have been the time for NATO to shut up shop, give up, go home and go away.”

* A further complication is Scotland, which is home to a very unpopular Trident nuclear submarine base as part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent. A new Labour government would need the support of the Scottish National Party. But its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, insists that a precondition for her party’s support is a commitment to close the base.

* Europeans can’t stand Trump (a recent poll found he is trusted by only 4 percent of Europeans!) and their leaders can’t rely on him. Allied leaders learn of presidential decisions that affect their interests via Twitter. The lack of coordination was clear in October, when Trump ignored NATO allies when he ordered U.S. special forces out of northern Syria, where they had been operating alongside French and British commandos against Islamic State militants.

* The US unreliability has led the European Commission to draw up plans for a European “defense union” that will coordinate military spending and procurement. The next step may be to coordinate military actions separate from NATO. The Pentagon has complained about EU countries purchasing military equipment from each other instead of from the United States, and has called this defense union “a dramatic reversal of the last three decades of increased integration of the transatlantic defence sector.”

* Do Americans really want to go to war for Estonia? Article 5 of the Treaty states that an attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all,” meaning that the treaty obligates the US to go to war on behalf of 28 nations–something most likely opposed by war-weary Americans who want a less aggressive foreign policy that focuses on peace, diplomacy, and economic engagement instead of military force.

An additional major bone of contention is who will pay for NATO. The last time NATO leaders met, President Trump derailed the agenda by berating NATO countries for not paying their fair share and at the London meeting, Trump is expected to announce symbolic US cuts to NATO’s operations budget.

Trump’s main concern is that member states step up to the NATO target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense by 2024, a goal that is unpopular among Europeans, who prefer that their taxdollars to go for nonmilitary items. Nevertheless, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will brag that Europe and Canada have added $100 billion to their military budgets since 2016–something Donald Trump will take credit for–and that more NATO officials are meeting the 2 percent goal, even though a 2019 NATO report shows only seven members have done so: the U.S., Greece, Estonia, the UK, Romania, Poland and Latvia.

In an age where people around the world want to avoid war and to focus instead on the climate chaos that threatens future life on earth, NATO is an anachronism. It now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing around the globe. Instead of preventing war, it promotes militarism, exacerbates global tensions and makes war more likely. This Cold War relic shouldn’t be reconfigured to maintain U.S. domination in Europe, or to mobilize against Russia or China, or to launch new wars in space. It should not be expanded, but disbanded. Seventy years of militarism is more than enough.

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Can the US Get Out of Its Endless Wars?

by RICHARD LACHMANN

Photograph Source: The U.S. Army – CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump in 2016 ran in opposition to the Iraq war and more generally to massive US commitments around the world. His denunciations of “endless wars” resonated enough that many voters ignored his documented early support for the Afghan and Iraq wars. Indeed, areas where casualties in those wars were highest voted more heavily for Trump than other demographic and economic factors would have predicted. Voters, with plenty of justification from her record as Secretary of State, thus pegged Hillary Clinton as a warmonger.

Trump, at least so far, is a militarist too. He has yet to withdraw the remaining troops from Afghanistan or Iraq. In Syria, he ended up merely redeploying soldiers from the border with Turkey to further within the country, if anything deepening American involvement. In the rest of the world, Trump has yet to close a single base or return home any troops stationed abroad.

Democrats, except for a few principled anti-interventionists like Bernie Sanders, are not clearly committed to reducing, let alone eliminating, the more than 800 bases the US maintains around the world and that cost over $100 billion a year to staff and maintain. For the past year, Democrats, when they bother to mention foreign policy, have largely focused on Russia. In hopes of using Trump’s Russian ties to push impeachment or weaken his reelection prospects, Democrats have ended up painting Russia as a strategic threat to the US on par with the former Soviet Union or present-day China. This dubious electoral strategy has the effect of bolstering military spending and justifying US intervention in countries around the world to counter supposed Russian subversion.

It seems clear that unless and until the Democratic Party is fundamentally transformed we will not find our way out of endless wars through the electoral process. Just as both political parties supported the Vietnam War half a century ago, so today there is mainstream consensus behind the belief that the US is the indispensable nation, and therefore from a mix of self-interest and idealism should spend whatever is needed to maintain full spectrum dominance and command of the commons. However, just as the Vietnam War finally was ended through a combination of non-electoral mobilization in the US and defeat on battlefields in Vietnam, so too can America’s twenty-first century wars be ended through our efforts within the US and by America’s ever more obvious economic and geopolitical weakness. To understand what can make our opposition most effective we need to understand the forces that support the US’s massive presence around the world and the deepening divisions among US elites.

Who Benefits From US Military Power

American capitalists, like those of previous great powers such as nineteenth century Britain and France and the Netherlands of the seventeenth century, rely on their government to control foreign territories and peoples that those capitalists can exploit. Of course, how capitalists make money abroad has changed. Today formal colonies no longer exist. Instead, American capitalists look to their government to negotiate and enforce so-called free trade agreements that give American companies access to foreign markets. At the same time, the U.S. has used military and non-military means to remove governments that tried to restrict capitalists’ ability to exploit resources and workers in other countries or to create social protections for their citizens. Obviously, the U.S. is less able to intervene in other wealthy countries, like those of Western Europe, even as America’s ability to mold other nations to its will increased after the end of the Soviet Union.

U.S. goals in trade treaties have changed over time. Up to the 1960s, the government pushed to open foreign markets to American manufactured goods. But as America’s industrial edge disappeared, the U.S. instead has sought to win access above all for financial firms and also to protect American pharmaceutical, software and entertainment firms’ patents and copyrights. In essence, American trade negotiators since the 1970s have sacrificed industrial workers to protect the profits of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

What the Military Elite Wants and Gets

US global power is enormously expensive to build and maintain and requires a vast, permanent military establishment. Any organization, like the Pentagon, which commands millions of soldiers and other employees and controls a budget approaching $1 trillion a year, amasses great political power and autonomy as well.

The U.S. is unusual among nations in that from its beginning it relied upon private companies to develop and build weaponry. Weapons contracts generate greater profit margins than most other businesses, creating a unity of interest between military officers and capitalists, who otherwise oppose expensive government programs that ultimately must be funded through taxes.

Generals’ views of how to fight wars and what weaponry they need are shaped, indeed determined, by the ways in which their careers, and those of lesser officers, are structured. Officers spend their careers assigned to units that man and deploy specific weapons systems. They advance by commanding expensive and technically complex weapons. Success in winning appropriations for those weapons systems ensures long careers for the ever-expanding corps of generals. Budget cuts or more drastically a decision to cancel a weapons system would stymie or end the careers of officers in that division of the military. Weapons systems also reward officers in their retirement. Defense firms often hire military officers after their retirement, and the promise of high corporate salaries to supplement their pensions gives officers a powerful incentive not to question the worth of expensive weapons systems, or to dispute contractors’ bills and pricing decisions.

These career and organizational imperatives mesh perfectly with defense firms’ interests in selling advanced weapons systems, which consistently yield the largest profits. Thus, advanced weapons continue to absorb the lion’s share of the Pentagon budget even though those weapons are fundamentally ill suited for the actual wars the U.S. fights in the twenty-first century.

The U.S.’s overwhelming military power is complemented by a system of alliances spanning much of the globe. However, relations with other countries increasingly are managed by the military rather than the State Department, a process that has drastically accelerated under Trump as he and his Secretaries of State have reduced and undermined civilian diplomats. The Defense Department since World War II has cultivated direct ties with their military counterparts elsewhere in the world, as has the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition, the military and CIA sustain independent relations with civilian officials of many foreign governments. The Pentagon has created “commands” for each region of the world, headed by senior generals or admirals, who negotiate directly with both military and civilian officials in the countries of those regions about policy matters that extend far beyond military cooperation. These commands endure across presidential administrations and thus provide more continuity in US strategic policies and in relations with foreign governments than do the civilian side of the U.S. government.

Ties between the U.S. and foreign militaries are further cemented through arms sales since purchasers remain dependent on the U.S. for training and intelligence. Arms sales abroad also bolster manufacturers’ profits, providing a powerful incentive for American capitalists to support their government’s ties to even the most brutal regimes in the world, as we see now with Saudi Arabia. In addition, a third of America’s measly foreign aid budget, which comes to less than 1% of the total Federal budget, is devoted to subsidizing weapons purchases by other countries.

Elite Conflicts and Autarky

The Pentagon’s common interests with capitalists and their increasingly independent links to other governments makes it difficult for civilian officials, including presidents, to challenge the military’s war plans. The Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars continued for years after it became clear the commanding generals were delusional about the prospects for victory, and as the death toll of both U.S. soldiers and civilians in the countries the U.S. had invaded mounted. The ongoing Afghan and Iraq wars have been limited, and most US troops withdrawn, only because insurgents in those countries have inflicted US casualties that the American public finds too high.

The military and civilian elites disagree with each other, and among themselves, on how to deal with the growing intensity of insurgent resistance to American domination and invasions. Following the historical example of the British empire, US military officers and civilian officials offer support to indigenous militaries, hoping they can take on the dirty work of suppressing insurgencies and enforcing acquiesce in countries dominated by the US. However, as we have seen in Iraq, local allies make increasing demands on the US. The Status of Forces agreement, signed by the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government right after Obama’s election as president in November 2008, was in substance a document of unconditional surrender by the U.S. to Iraqi nationalist demands. It set a hard date of December 31, 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. More significantly, it stated that the bases the U.S. had built in Iraq at a cost of many billions of dollars, and which the Bush Administration planned to use to station planes and troops at the center of the Middle East and thereby intimidate neighboring countries, could not be used to attack any other country without permission of the Iraqi parliament, permission that in light of domestic Iraqi and regional political realities would never be granted.

Elsewhere in the world, once supine governments are able to play off the US against China and Russia. As the US becomes ever less willing to risk its soldiers’ lives or to spend the money needed to sustain extended occupations, and as anti-immigrant fervor stocked by Trump blocks the lure of eventual exile in America to foreign collaborators, it will become ever harder for the US to find foreign allies to fight for it.

We see in the disagreements between Trump and the military high command backed by career diplomats lines of conflict that will continue even after Trump and his particular and extreme sort of corruption and self-dealing have left Washington. At the same time, conflicts among capitalists and with the 99% that have been harmed by neoliberal trade agreements and financialization will further paralyze the American government’s ability to pursue a coherent economic and military policy.

U.S. choices in trade treaties and decisions to overthrow or isolate governments elsewhere in the world reflect the power of American capitalists as a class, and how a shifting set of the most privileged corporations exert that power over the U.S. government. However, financial firms’ interests are increasingly at odds with those of other American corporations that actually need to sell real goods and services if they want to make profits and if their employees hope to keep their jobs. While finance capital has set policy for the last thirty years, opposition led both Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 to denounce the Trans Pacific Partnership. Intra- capitalist conflicts, combined with mass opposition, mean that it is unlikely that the main method the US has used to dominate other countries— new trade deals—will be enacted in the future.

Some elites, through campaign contributions, lobbying, and corrupt ties to elected officials, still are able to win special protections for their foreign investments. Similarly, even if the US has to abandon intervention in the most resistant and contested parts of the globe, Pentagon generals and admirals still can establish alliances and station troops and weapons in much of the world, locking the US into commitments that could (as they have in the past) lead to war. Elite privilege and command over the resources and lives of the rest of us continues even as its scope narrows when elites challenge one another and where other nations and their elites are able to pursue their own interests against the US.

A Way Forward

What can we in the US do? Do we need to wait passively as the US weakens in relation to other countries and as elites battle one another over a shrinking pie? We need to look at past successes and be strategic in identifying the points at which opposition can be most successful. Support for trade agreements has already disappeared as more and more Americans find their incomes declining, and as their jobs disappear or become ever more precarious. Americans’ ability to see trade agreements and expanding freedoms for banks and financial firms as destructive to their interests can become a template for talking about domestic economic policies.

While the Afghan and Iraq wars have been going on for eighteen and sixteen years respectively, opposition in those countries and within the US made them less bloody than the Vietnam War. A majority in the US turned against the Vietnam War only after 20,000 Americans died. In Iraq the turning point came after 2000 deaths. Unfortunately, in none of those wars have civilian casualties in the countries the US invaded been decisive in building American antiwar sentiment.

While drawing attention to American deaths is chauvinistic and morally compromised, it remains the best way to undermine support for continuing and new wars, and ultimately will save the lives of non-Americans the US would otherwise bomb or invade. Military and economic defeats, and the ever more brazen self-dealing by increasingly small elites, is undermining support for endless and new wars, and for the economic war capitalists are waging against workers in the US and the rest of the world. We need to combine repeated efforts to show the 99% how these elite projects cost them, and also to be alert to divisions among elites so that we can target the most brazen and vulnerable elites for denunciations, boycotts, demonstrations, and strikes.

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Nazi regime Unfinished ‘Coup’

Israel’s Unfinished ‘Coup’

by RAMZY BAROUD

Photograph Source: zeevveez – CC BY 2.0

This time, nothing seems to work. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has tried every trick in the book to save his political career and to avoid possible prison time. But for Israel’s longest-serving leader, the honeymoon is certainly almost over.

It is an “attempted coup”, is how Netanyahu described his indictment on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust by Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, on November 21. Netanyahu’s loyalists agree. On November 26, a few thousand Likud party supporters gathered in Tel Aviv, under the title “Stop the coup”, to express their anger at what they see as a massive conspiracy involving Mandelblit, the media, various state institutions, and “disloyal” Likud party members.

Netanyahu’s main Likud party rival, Gideon Sa’ar, received much of the verbal abuse. Sa’ar, who almost faded into oblivion after leaving the Knesset in 2014, emerged once more on Israel’s political scene following the April 2019 elections. Netanyahu’s failure to form a government then was compounded by a similar failure to cobble up a government coalition after the second general elections, held within a few months in September.

Since 2014, no one dared challenge Netanyahu’s reign over the Likud. “There was no need to do so,” wrote Yossi Verter in Haaretz on November 29. Netanyahu “brought them to power, time after time. But few things happened since then.”

It is because of these “few things” that Sa’ar dared to challenge Netanyahu once more. What is significant about Sa’ar’s leadership challenge is not the possibility of him unseating Netanyahu, but the fact that the “king of Israel” no longer commands the type of fear and respect that he has painstakingly espoused over a decade of nearly uncontested rule.

As soon as Sa’ar called for new Likud primaries, Netanyahu’s political minions, such as Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz, and other heavyweight politicians – Nir Barkat, Miri Regev, among others – pounced on Sa’ar, describing him as “disloyal”. The Tel Aviv protesters had far more demeaning words for the rebel Likud member. However, despite the deafening screams and the name-calling, Netanyahu conceded, promising on November 23, that he would set up and face a party leadership challenge within weeks.

Embattled Netanyahu has no other options. Although he may still come out in the lead should the primaries be held on time, he cannot afford deepening existing doubts within his party. If he fails to ensure his legitimacy within his own Likud party, he could hardly make the case of being able to lead all of Israel following a possible third general election in March.

However, Sa’ar is not Netanyahu’s biggest problem.

The picture for Netanyahu – in fact, for all of Israel – is getting more complicated by the day. The Israeli leader has successfully managed to coalesce his own political and family interests within the collective interests of all Israelis. “I’m doing everything required to ensure the government’s and cabinet’s work is getting done in all the ways required to ensure the safety of Israel’s citizens,” he told a reporter on November 23, insisting that he is still carrying out his duties as a Prime Minister “in the best possible way, out of supreme devotion to Israel’s security.”

Desperate to hang on to power for as long as possible, Netanyahu still employs the same political discourse that helped him unify many sectors of Israeli society for over ten years. But that ploy is no longer reaping the intended result. For one, Netanyahu’s main rival in the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) Party, Benny Gantz, has neutralized the Prime Minister’s success in manipulating the term “security”, for he, too, is an advocate of war, whenever and wherever war is possible.

Netanyahu’s last war on Gaza on November 12, where the Israeli army killed 34 Palestinians, including women and children, is a case in point. During the short-lived destructive war, Gantz was busy trying to form a government, as Netanyahu had already failed that task. Resorting to war, Netanyahu tried to send three messages, all intended for Israeli audiences: one to Mandelblit, to postpone the indictment; the second to Gantz, to reconsider his decision to block him from taking part in a future government, and the final one to the Israeli public, to remind them of his own supposed ability to reign in “terror”.

But all has failed: Gantz announced his inability to form a government on November 20, preferring failure overextending a lifeline to Netanyahu, whose indictment was imminent. Indeed, the Attorney General’s decision arrived on November 21, making it the first time in the history of the country that a Prime Minister is indicted while in office. Worse, Blue and White widened its lead significantly over the Likud, according to a public opinion poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel 12 television, which was published on November 26.

But what other languages, aside from that of war – in the name of security – and haphazard accusations of political conspiracies, can Netanyahu possibly employ during this period? Such tactics often worked in the past. In fact, they worked so well that the entire Netanyahu political doctrine was designed around them. Now, the Israeli leader has run out of ideas, and is quickly running out of allies as well, not only from without, such as his former ally and the head of Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, but from within his own party as well.

The reason that Netanyahu is still in power after all the setbacks and outright failures is the fact that his rivals are yet to mobilize the necessary votes and public support to oust him for good. It will certainly take more than Gantz alone to dislodge stubborn Netanyahu from office, for the latter has consolidated and entrenched his rule through an intricate system of political patronage that runs deep through many facets of Israeli society.

With this in mind, it seems that the end of the Netanyahu era is finally upon us, but it is likely to be longer and uglier than expected. While it remains true that a fundamental change in Israel’s political system will neither deliver peace and justice to Palestinians – or stability to the region – it could potentially constitute the equivalent of a political earthquake within Israel itself, the consequences of which are yet to be seen.

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What is Happening in Spain?

by VICENTE NAVARRO

The transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain (1978) was carried out under conditions very favorable to the profoundly conservative forces that controlled the Spanish state and the majority of the media. The democratic forces (lead by the clandestine left wing parties) were institutionally weak. It is true that popular resistance against the dictatorship had been strong primarily among the working class, the base of these parties. Spain had the largest number of political strikes in Europe during the transition period (1975-1979), which played an important role in forcing the end of the extremely repressive regime (for every political assassination undertaken by the Mussolini dictatorship, Franco’s regime killed 10,000 people). Institutionally, however, the left wing forces were at a disadvantage. Their leaders were in jail, or exiled abroad, and there was an enormous imbalance of forces at the negotiating table. On one side, the inheritors of the fascist state controlled the state apparatus and had the support of the Army, of the Church, and of the major economic and financial interests in the country. On the other side were the democratic forces that had come out of hiding only a few months before the transition started. The popular mobilization was critical in forcing the end of the dictatorship, but the political branch of those mobilizations was not strong enough to break with the previous dictatorial regime. As an example, the King, appointed by the dictator Franco as the head of state, continued to be the head of the new democratic regime and the head of the armed forces, holding enormous power in guiding the process of transition.

The three major problems left unresolved by the transition: the democratic deficit

This unequal context was responsible for the three major deficits in the political regime that was established during the transition, which have exploded in the last years. One was the democratic deficit, based on an electoral law that deliberately discriminated against the progressive and urban areas, i.e. where the working class lived. This law was designed by the fascist party assembly (La Asamblea Nacional) as a condition for their dissolution: its main objective was to stop the left from achieving electoral success. As a consequence, large sectors of the Spanish population with left wing positions have been underrepresented in the parliament during the majority of the democratic period (1978-present). The most recent example of this was the last general election for the Spanish parliament of the 28th April. While the number of votes for the left was much larger than the votes for the right (by a majority of 1.2 million), the number of parliamentary seats of the left and right were not very different. Had the electoral system been proportional, the number of left-wing parliamentarians would have been much larger. This is with the exception of the Socialist Party (the PSOE), the largest left wing party in Spain, who already benefits – as the major conservative party, the Partido Popular (PP) does – from another characteristic of the electoral law: that it favors a bipartisan system. The leading parties receive a plus of seats, which enables two majority parties (the conservative-liberal PP and the left PSOE) to be the only two governing parties that Spain has had until now. In fact, the PSOE obtained the same percentage of the vote this year as back in 2011, when it was considered to be a very negative result (with the PP winning a majority government), while this year it was considered to be a great success, which was primarily due to the decline of the PP and the division of the right wing vote into three parties (the PP, Ciudadanos, and Vox). Another important event was the increase of participation in the elections of the 28th April, coming from the previously abstaining left. The point that needs to be stressed is that in Spain, the changes in the parliament do not necessarily reflect the changes in the political leanings of the population. This has been missed by the majority of the international press.

The consequences of a limited democracy: a very unequal society

This democratic deficit explains another major deficit: the social deficit. The enormous influence that the financial interests (i.e. banking) have in the Spanish economy and representative institutions explains the intensity of the neoliberal policies that have been applied during the great recession period (2007-2018). Under the influence of what is known in Spain as the Troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund), the policies of austerity have a devastating effect on the poorly funded Spanish welfare state. Spain spends much less on public social expenditures that what it should spend according to its level of economic development. It is one of the countries of the European Union 15 (the more advanced economies of the European Union) that spends the least on public services such as health care, education, public housing and child care, and on transfers, such as pensions. The tax laws, while nominally progressive, are highly regressive. And public revenues are low. As a consequence, Spain is one of the countries with highest inequalities in the EU15. This polarization increased during the mandate of the Rajoy government (the president of the PP during 2011-2018) as a consequence of labor market reforms aimed at weakening labor (involving an enormous growth of precariousness and decline in wages); reforms that had already been initiated by the previous PSOE government under the presidency of Zapatero (2004-2011). Spain is, after Greece, the country in the EU15 with highest unemployment and work precariousness.

The appearance of new political forces as a consequence of the crisis

This instigated an enormous protest, known as the ‘indignados’ movement or 15M, that denounced the political establishment, referred to as the political class (la clase politica). It accused the politicians of not representing the interests of the population. It was a social-political movement that had an enormous impact, as it became very popular. Its slogan “no nos representan” (“they do not represent us”) became a popular cry. The party Podemos was established, rooted in this 15M movement. In three years it became the third largest political force in the country. Many things happened during these years, including the resignation of King Juan Carlos and the rebellion of the PSOE’s party base against the party’s apparatus (too close to financial institutions). A similar pressure also appeared among the militants of the Communist Party and allied forces (IU – Izquierda Unida) to change its leadership, who then allied IU with Podemos, establishing Unidos Podemos (UP).

The demand for democracy and social protest gave rise to many popular protest movements, including the current feminist movement, led by socialist women, which originated the 8th March demonstrations, demanding the abolition of patriarchal capitalism; the pensioners’ march, which protested the reforms imposed by the PP that cut pensions significantly; and the neighborhood movements protesting housing evictions. Such protests culminated with the expulsion of the PP from government, caused by a majority vote which forced their resignation. The movement to throw the PP out of government was initiated by UP and followed by the Catalan and Basque nationalists, as well as the PSOE.

The third unresolved question: the national question

The third deficit was the reproduction of the vision of Spain as a uni-national state, typical of the monarchist forces, against the pluri-national vision of Spain, historically characteristic of the republican left wing parties. During the anti-fascist underground struggle, all of the clandestine left wing republican parties called for a federal pluri-national state, with the right to self-determination for all of the different nations. The PSOE abandoned that vision, however, during the transition, becoming a major pillar of the monarchy. Although repressed, that vision continued to exist in Catalonia and the Basque country. And it was a left wing coalition in Catalonia, led by the very popular President of the Catalonian government, the socialist Pasqual Maragall, who made a proposal (among other reforms) to call for the recognition of Catalonia as a nation inside Spain. This proposal, after being approved by the Catalan government and the Spanish parliament (with substantial changes), and approved in a referendum by the Catalan people, was rejected in some key elements by the Constitutional Court controlled by the PP. This was the origin of the strength of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia: the pro-independence parties who used to receive only 10% of the Catalonian vote now receive 46%. Actually, the rigidity and repressive measures of the PP government were the primary reason for the growth of electoral support for the pro-independence parties in Catalonia. These pro-independence parties benefit electorally from the very unpopular (in Catalonia) provocative behavior of the central Spanish right wing nationalism, which supports a unified Spanish nation-state, who imprison or force to exile the leaders of those parties. On the other hand, the right-wing Spanish parties also benefit electorally, from the radicalization of the pro-independence parties (which unilaterally declared Catalonian independence in parliament, without having the support and approval of the majority of the Catalan population). This undemocratic behavior mobilized support from large sectors of the Spanish population in favor of the Spanish right-wing parties, known as the most anti-independence parties.

How the national question has been hiding the social question

Two nationalisms (the inheritors of the dictatorship on one side and the pro-independent groups on the other) have polarized the country into two blocks, and both benefit from this polarization. Both blocks have been led by right wing neoliberal parties: the PP and a new neoliberal party called Ciudadanos on the Spanish side, and Convergencia on the Catalan side, have implemented very neoliberal policies (claiming they did not have any other alternative) that have caused enormous pain among the population in general, and the working class in particular. In public, they all fight over the flags (the monarchic Spanish flag and the Catalan independence flag) with a very “patriotic” discourse, while in private signing (in the Spanish parliament) the same labor market reforms and cuts in social expenditures. The right wing orientation of most of the media explains why the whole electoral debate has been over the national question and has hidden the social question, i.e. the enormous social crisis caused by the parties who lead the nationalist forces on both sides.

In this scenario, Unidos Podemos and its allies, such as En Comú Podem in Catalonia and En Marea in Galicia, have defended the pluri-national nature of the Spanish state within a highly polarized situation, where the extremes on either side benefit from those tensions. From the Spanish right wing side, the PP, funded by ministers of the fascist regime; Ciudadanos, a party created by the financial institutions and the major employers’ association to stop Unidos Podemos (It is part of the Liberal International, of which the Democratic Party of the United States is an observer); and Vox, which is a new fascist party, grown from scission of the PP, are strong opponents of the pluri-national state and major proponents of neoliberalism. Vox is the most ultra-neoliberal party, asking for full privatization of pensions, such as Pinochet did in Chile. It is the party closest to the Trump and Bolsonaro lines. And on the Catalan side, there is the pro-independence block asking for secession from Spain, lead by another neoliberal party, Convergencia, with the support of ERC, also promoting neoliberal policies.

The leading parties of both blocks are clearly using the flags to hide their responsibility for the enormous crisis that the popular classes are suffering. Unidos Podemos and their allies are the only forces who are anti-neoliberal and call at the same time for a pluri-national, federal Spanish state. They try to put the social question at the center of the political debate, and at the same time they also denounce the use of flags to hide the responsibility of the right wing on both sides in establishing this crisis. The policies of national identity are clearly used to hide the social question. Unidos Podemos redefines the meaning of patriotism, emphasizing that importance should be placed on the wellbeing of the population instead of the symbols that represent them.

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