Bulletin — Tuesday, July 10

Today in Bulletin: Could globalization end with a whimper? … Christian Democracy in the USA … China’s Marxist millennials … and more.

Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, speaks at a Diem25 event at The UCL, Institute of Education on May 28, 2016 in London, England. Jack Taylor / Getty

Bulletin is a chronicle of socialist comment and analysis from Jacobin’s Seth Ackerman.


Christian Democracy in the USA

Will Trump’s election end the hegemony of anti-government conservatism in the Republican Party?

Hard as it is to recall now, that was a question pundits were asking in 2016 and 2017. Trump’s promises to protect Social Security and Medicare, his flirtation with single-payer health care, and his opposition to trade agreements all prompted repeated, failed predictions of a Republican turn to some nationalistic form of Christian Democracy.

Well, two years have passed and Trump still hasn’t dislodged anti-government ideology from its pride of place in the GOP. But you know who has forced it to budge? Striking teachers:

An anti-incumbent wave also hit Oklahoma on Tuesday. There, the issue was problems with the state budget and a fight over school funding that led to a statewide teachers’ walkout in April.

“This is entirely a mobilization against anti-tax, anti-education lawmakers in the GOP primary,” says Keith Gaddie, a political scientist at the University of Oklahoma. “Of the 10 incumbent GOP House members who opposed education funding across the board and sought reelection, two lost outright and seven have runoffs, while the other one prevailed by just three votes.”

Four other Republican incumbents in the Oklahoma House also lost their seats Tuesday, including one who lost to a middle school English teacher. According to the Oklahoma Education Association, there were 112 candidates who were teachers, school administrators, retired educators or individuals related to teachers. Of those, 70 won nomination or proceeded to runoffs on Aug. 28.

“Tuesday was evidence that the walkout did have a major impact on the election and that voters supported our schools and the education system,” says Alicia Priest, the union’s president.

Oklahoma Democrats recognize that they have no chance of erasing the Republican majorities in the legislature, but they hope that GOP incumbent losses in the primaries and any gains they make in the fall will shift the nature of working majorities next year.

“We could pick up enough seats to break the supermajority, and a lot of these Republicans are going to be replaced in their primaries by candidates who are less ideologically staunch,” says Anna Langthorn, who chairs the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

— Alan Greenblatt in Governing magazine: “Not Just Joe Crowley: Many State Lawmakers Lost Primaries This Week”

Again, these were losses in Republican primaries.

On a related note, if you want to see what much of the US right would probably look like if the US allowed opposition parties to freely compete, take a look at the campaign website of R. Travis Brenda, an evangelical public school teacher in a poor, 98 percent white county, who recently ousted Kentucky’s Republican house majority leader in the GOP primaries.

“Travis Brenda is a life-long conservative, an advocate of the 2nd Amendment, pro-life and believes in common sense solutions,” the site reads, followed by a three-point platform: “Protect Public Education. Enhance Our Communities through Economic Development. Address the Opioid Epidemic and Strengthen Families.”

The New York Times profiled Brenda last May: “It was clear Mr. Shell [Brenda’s opponent, a high-ranking Republican who was pushing for public employee pension cuts] had miscalculated, Mr. Brenda said on Wednesday. About one-fifth of workers in District 71 are public employees, according to census figures, and Mr. Brenda said many of them are educators. ‘It’s hard to find someone in Garrard, Rockcastle and western Madison Counties that do not have some connection to a state employee,’ he said. ‘That made the difference.’”

Could Globalization End With a Whimper?

For years, the sages of global capitalism have been warning left nostalgics that globalization is irreversible except at the cost of catastrophic economic disruption. Now we might get to find out if they were right — thanks to an experiment conducted not by the Left, but the Trumpian right.

One of the main components in the intricate machinery of global capitalism is the network of cross-border value chains in which multinational manufacturers shuttle materials and parts from factory to factory and nation to nation. Entrenched globalized manufacturing, premised as it is on tariff-free trade, is said to preclude a return to national capitalism.

Well, we’ll see:

Long accustomed to shipping vehicles around the world, carmakers are looking at reshuffling manufacturing to avoid tariffs.

“Let me be clear,” said Oliver Blume, chief executive of Porsche and head of production at the Volkswagen Group. “Wherever it is reasonable to localise, we will do that — without hesitation.”

His remarks came as the EU threatened to retaliate against up to $300bn of US products; they follow similar warnings from General Motors over potential switches of production because of tariffs.

“The sad truth is that if you impose tariffs, production will move around,” said Arndt Ellinghorst, lead automotive analyst at Evercore ISI. “If nationalist trends continue, the inevitable outcome will be more production where you sell the car because that’s the only way to avoid larger tariffs.”

VW Group, with 122 factories around the world, has the “maximum of flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing needs and requirements,” Mr Blume added.

— Peter Campbell in the Financial Times: “Carmakers warn of production shift to avoid tariffs”

Implicit in the globalizers’ warnings was the suggestion that imposing twentieth-century style tariffs under twenty-first-century conditions would result in some awful economic smash-up. By that standard, the quotes above — “reshuffling manufacturing,” “production will move around” — make the expected economic reactions sound rather benign. If anything, multinationals owning “122 factories around the world,” as Volkswagen apparently does, would seem to obviate the costly and time-consuming need to build new plants from scratch during a transition to more localized production.

Is the economic smash-up near? So far, over the last month global stocks are down about 2 percent. Either way, it’s something to watch.

Meet China’s Marxist Millennials

… In recent years, Marxism has also inspired some young activists in China, who have seen in it the motivation to boldly press ahead on issues of feminism, workers rights and income equality.

In sharp contrast to the official Marxist line, this new generation of Marxists has emphasised individual freedoms, with some even expressing some interest in a constitutional democracy – a stand that the country’s mainstream Marxists and Maoists usually dismiss as hypocritical.

For their part, despite Beijing’s official narrative that the party upholds Marxism, some young leftists, appalled by China’s poor protection of workers, rampant corruption and wealth gap, are not convinced.

As true believers of Marx’s theories of class, exploitation, his critique of capitalism and even his ideas on individual freedom, they tend to be indifferent towards Beijing’s interpretation of Marxism, and the economic policies built on it…

… [T]hey have already unnerved the party, which has used harassment and detention to effectively silence a number of Chinese advocates of the Western notion of constitutional democracy….

“Marxist theory is a mandatory course in China … but if you want to learn original Marxism, you need to read on your own,” [one activist] wrote on her social media account.

— Jun Mai in the South China Morning Post

Is Yanis Varoufakis’s Parallel-Currency Idea Coming to Italy?

Lost in the commentary around the formation of Italy’s new populist government was this tidbit: It seems the governing Five Star-Lega coalition wants to implement a version of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s ultimately stillborn plan for a parallel currency, which would have done an end-run around Greece’s monetary overlords at the European Central Bank.

Except that Italy’s version seems to lend itself more to tax evasion than to Keynesian stimulus. Here’s a report that ran several weeks ago in the Financial Times:

The menace of Italian treasury bills known as “mini-BoTs” has made European monetary policy interesting again. … In coming weeks we will see if the populist parties can stitch together a coalition and avoid a new vote. They do, though, agree that their tax cuts and aggressive spending can be paid for in part by issuing mini-BoTs. These would be small (euro) denomination, non-interest-bearing Treasury bills in the form of bearer securities that would be secured by tax revenues….

… Since the mini-BoTs would not be currency, transfers from account to account or hand to hand would not be subject to the €3,000 legal limit on cash payments within Italy. That would be convenient for anyone whose business could be more easily carried out with large cash, sorry, mini-BoT transactions. Mini-BoTs, then, would stimulate the vibrant informal sector of Italy’s economy.

… When Syriza came to power in Greece in 2015, Yanis Varoufakis, its first finance minister, proposed a form of “public digital payments”, that would, it was expected, feature “future tax-backed transactions.”

The Italian populists took advice on how to structure mini-BoTs from the Syriza socialists and Greek civil servants. None of those instruments, though, were printed bearer transactions. Even Greeks who empathise with the Italian resentment of Eurocrats were put off by that feature.

— John Dizard in the Financial Times: “March of Italy’s mini-BoTs may split the euro”

Is this plan still in the works?

Friedrich Engels to the Anglo Left: Why Can’t You Just Be Normal?

It is very characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race in their peculiar mode development that both here and in America the people who, more or less, have the correct theory as to the dogmatic side of it, become a mere sect because they cannot conceive that living theory of action, of working with the working class at every possible stage of its development, otherwise than as a collection of dogmas to be learned by heart and recited like a conjurer’s formula or a Catholic prayer. Thus the real movement is going on outside the sect, and leaving it more and more.

— Friedrich Engels to Laura Lafargue, May 4, 1891