The Year That Was and The Year To Come

What do they want this horde of slaves
Of traitors and conspiratorial kings?
For whom these vile chains
These long-prepared irons?
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What methods must be taken?
It is us they dare plan
To return to the old slavery!

2015 In Review
by Ian Welsh
2016 January 1

On the political side of the equation 2015 was filled with frustration born changes. The election of Syriza fizzled into capitulation, in Canada the Liberals (who, despite great photo ops, look likely to govern largely from the center right) came into power based on an appetite for change. Trump took the lead in America’s Republican primaries, with Cruz and Carson coming on strong. Bernie Sanders is challenging Clinton strongly from the left. In France LePen had her best showing ever, though it was frustrated by an “anyone but LePen” vote. Portugal had a strong showing of the left, and so did Spain.

And, very promising, Jeremy Corbyn stormed to the Labour leadership in England on a very left-wing platform.

These are, however, pre-revolutionary, pre-war developments. The old regime is failing, neo-liberalism’s double-down on austerity means that ordinary people are doing badly. The media has lost its stranglehold on the narrative and people are willing to take a run at anyone who looks like they can make the economy better. They do not, particularly, care if that person is left or right wing, they will try anyone who does not parse as part of the current regime. (Yes, Trump has money, but he doesn’t parse as a normal politician, at all.)

They will take the left, or they will take the right. In the 30s the US got FDR, but France and Italy and Spain were not so lucky. Whoever looks likely to “fix things” will get in eventually.

The European project took some hits in 2015 which may prove fatal. It is clear that the current regime in Brussls is anti-democratic and, more importantly, that they will not and perhaps cannot fix Europe’s economy. More importantly, it is becoming clear that most countries cannot have a good economy within the EU and certainly not within the Euro, because the policy flexibility, including monetary flexibility, they need is simply not available.

2015 was also the year that the West’s foreign policy failures came home to roost, with a huge influx of refugees into Europe causing political chaos. This influx is minor in comparison to what Lebanon, Turkey and other countries in the region have experienced, but a Europe in austerity does not want to absorb large numbers of refugees.

I have written before and I will say again. We are in a pre-war, pre-revolutionary period. Such periods can last a long time, decades, this doesn’t mean “War and Revolution tomorrow’, it does mean that the conditions are now there. Ideological control in general and media control in specific is failing, repression is on the rise, the majority of economic gains are going to a very few people, the majority of the population feels like they are losing economic ground and are willing to run to try new types of politics, including what amounts to fascism. The international regime is breaking country after country, destroying them physically, destroying their economies and so on. Failed states are proliferating.

2015 confirmed this in spades. Every attempt to pull back from the brink (such as Syriza in Greece) was rebuffed.

So, repeated disasters having failed to change neo-liberal economic policy, and neo-conservative foreign policy; repeated warnings about climate change having led to an inadequate response, 2015 confirms that we will continue to stumble towards multiple catastrophes.

The best hope resides in sensible parties of the left, by which I mean something quite different from what the media does. Corbyn is not a radical. He is a 1960s liberal, a post-war liberal, with a side of environmental understanding and an appreciation for the harms inflicted by racism and sexism.

There are some more radical experiments, like basic income and changing how money is created being performed in small batches. Those may lead to a more significant change of the political economy going forward and are what I would truly fear if I were an oligarch (money creation more than basic income, an improved dole doesn’t really threaten them.)

The real dangers in the world are increasing. For the first world this doesn’t mean “Islamic Terrorism”, which has never been an existential threat, but political and economic instability at home. The people one should fear most are almost always one’s own leaders, both political and economic, rather than foreigners, and this remains true.

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