Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nicaragua and Venezuela

An interesting article in The Nation on Daniel Ortega’s victory in the Nicaraguan presidential elections. Although it tries to put a positive spin its hard work. The extreme negative view is represented by Marc Cooper who accuses Ortega of being an entirely corrupt, compromised figure who is the grave-digger of the revolution. Ortega’s inauguration was attended by the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia. Controversy has attached to the granting of powers to Venezuelan President Chavez to legislate by decree. At least some of the proposed uses for these new powers don't seem particularly useful. How would nationalisation of private sector companies assist in the redistribution of income, particularly as it will involve compensation to owners? The Cuban precedent is not encouraging.


From Santamaria to Hizb ut-Tahrir

More sentimentality about the disastrous B A Santamaria from Tony Abbott. In fact Santamaria and his acolytes represented an attempt to import into Australia an obscurationist and anti-democratic Catholicism in opposition to the pragmatic Christian democratic approach that had characterised the Australian church up until then. Fantasies about a Catholic social order (Gerard Henderson is good on how muddled this was), and the reversing of the Reformation were tangled up with a malign 'anti-capitalism'. In interwar Europe this style of Catholic politics with its constant trashing of liberalism, democracy and the Enlightenment, contributed to the collapse of European democracy. It’s all reminiscent of Islamic fundamentalist fantasies such as those of Hizb ut-Tahrir. This recent outburst of Santamaria nostalgia is however less silly (if that was possible) than the ludicrous 'left' faning over his alleged criticism of 'economic rationalism' in the 1990s. The socialism of fools indeed, like bin Laden's anti-imperialism. A poll of Australian Catholics in the 1930s would have been interesting would it have shown the same tendencies towards radicalisation among the young that appear in some Islamic communities today? As for Santamaria's personality, consider his distinctly creepy manipulations of older ill men from Mannix to Menzies.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Muslim party? 1920s lessons

NSW politics looks more like the 1920s everyday. Now we the unfortunate Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali flagging a Muslim party. Largely working-class, socially excluded and culturally marginalised many Australian Muslims have tended to Labor. Here their position resembles Catholics earlier this century that tended to Labor. But the Catholic-Labor nexus was always viewed with doubt by some Catholics, who complained that Labor did nothing for specifically Catholic concerns, in particular funding Catholic schools. These Catholics mobilised as the 'Catholic Federation', they hoped that if Catholics could prove themselves to be swinging voters than governments would respond to their demands. In 1913 the Catholic Federation endorsed the Liberal opponent of Labor Premier William Holman in his heavily Catholic Cootamundra electorate. Holman won easily, helped by his support for Irish Home Rule. Evatt describes the battle here. The conscription battle brought Labor and Catholic activists again together but in 1920 the catholic Federation organised a 'Democratic Party'. Although Michael Hogan describes it as a one issue party focused on aid for catholic schools, the federation president P. S. Cleary tried to develop a Catholic alternative to Labor's socialism based on the papal encyclicals. It polled 2.4% overall and won about a quarter of the catholic vote in the electorates it contested but won no seats. With fewer candidates it polled only 1.7% in 1922 but won one seat. These were probably from white-collar Catholics. The party encouraged a counter mobilisation by Protestants and Catholic leaders conceded defeat in their attempt to win Catholics from Labor (see Hogan's chapters on the 1920 and 1922 elections here). However the anti-Lang Federal Labor Party in 1930-35 had the support of some catholic intellectuals including Cleary. But italso failed to crack the hold of the majority Labor party on Catholic votes. I suspect a specifically Muslim party would be as unsuccessful as the Democratic Party.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

John Edwards

As the first Australian to mention Nancy Pelosi I consider John Edwards, current candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination, and 2004 vice-presidential candidate who has received zero media attention in Australia compared to the two unannounced candidates of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. What makes Edwards interesting is that he is trying to ride two waves: 1) the blogsphere outsider rebellion against the Democratic party establishment seen as too soft on Iraq and Bush and 2) the economic populist backlash that was significant at the last elections. Edwards has been appealing to former Howard dean supporters, an affluent and educated group. and relying heavily on the Internet, but he has also stacked out a position of opposition to trade liberalization in an appeal to blue-collar voters. The Washington Post has him at number 2 in the list of Democratic presidential contenders, but his performance will be a test of the 'new populism'.


Cuba: public opinion and economy

Via Marc Cooper an interesting Cuban public opinion poll summarized as:
About three-quarters are positive about their country's education and healthcare systems but only one quarter say they are happy with "their freedom to choose what to do with their life." Cubans are also divided about the communist state that has ruled the island nation for nearly five decades. A little less than half (47%) say they approve of their government and 40 percent say they disapprove. Approval is highest among those aged 55 to 59 (61%) and lowest among young adults aged 25 to 29 (38%).
A rebadged Communist party might have a chance under democratic elections on this basis, but I suspect the leading circles of the Party are so bemused by their foreign cheer squad that they cannot plan for the future, even although support for the regime will continue to decline. It also shows that the survival of Cuban Communism has rested on its social achievements, there is a tacit pact between the people and the government. At best one can characterise the motives of the Cuban leadership as, in the words of Chris Harman:
Castro’s regime over the last 47 years has amounted to a dictatorship by a group who think they understand what the mass of Cuban people really need—a variety of modern ‘enlightened despots’.
Yet as Harman notes the economic growth record of Cuban Communism is abysmal. He cites evidence from a 2005 article by Frank Thompson in the Review of Radical Political Economics. As the graph from this article shows Cuban per capita GDP is not much above its 1950(!) level , from a Marxist perspective the superiority of socialism did not lie in its ability to share misery more equally, Cuban socialism failed this test long ago. What if the limited but real achievements of the Castro regime in social policy had been combined with reasonable growth rates, then Cuba could have been a real model.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Holiday reading lessons

As usual I failed to estimate the number of books required for a Christmas with the family but was fortunately able to stock up in King St Newton at Gould’s and Elizabeth's. Some interesting points from two of my purchases. Dallek's John F. Kennedy discusses the Alliance for Progress. This was the expression of the belated American realisation that Castro’s revolution and the rise of communism in Latin America were a response to real grievances. Amidst much self-congratulation the Kennedy administration announced that US policy would now support social reforms and democracy. However fairly quickly it became clear that existing regimes were disinterested in this advice, and the threat of Communism continued to grow. Thus US policy, as distinct from rhetoric never really shifted from the agenda of supporting anyone against Communism, an agenda that made the superpower dependent on its regional clients. All rather like the fairly recent self-congratulation by the US cheer squad that past US support for undemocratic regimes in the Middle East was a mistake that was now in the past. Governments don't change policy that quickly. Dutt's India To-Day (1940 edition). Dutt was a Stalinist hack, the staunchest defender of Moscow in the British Communist Party. But this is his best book. Two observations he makes seem valuable. He describes how before 1914 British policy on India was emphatic that political reforms would not led to Indian self-government on Dominion lines. During the War however British policy verbally shifted to a position that India was to be prepared for self-government, but by 1940 very little progress had been made to this goal. Dutt highlights the contradictory rhetoric of British politicians. The Viceroy said in 1929 that 'the natural issue of India’s constitutional progress...is the achievement of Dominion status', but Lloyd George said in 1922 that Britain would under 'no circumstances relinquish her responsibility in India'. All rather like Iraq today, there is rhetoric that Iraq has self-government etc. Those troops will be withdrawn at any moment on the request of the Iraqi government, but this seems as distant as genuine Dominion status. It was only after 1945 that the British government fundamentally shifted its position. Dutt's Stalinist Marxism leads him to argue that British imperialism once played a progressive and modernising role, but with the rise of finance-capitalist imperialism ceased to do so and aligned itself with reactionary forces such as the princes. He describes how within Congress in the late 19th century those who opposed the leadership's accommodating position towards Britain however tended, in the absence of 'any scientific social or political theory', to accuse the Congress leadership of being 'denationalised' and thus exalted the most reactionary aspects of Indian society as truly national in a 'disastrous combination of political radicalism and social reaction'. Thus campaigns for cow protection and to keep the age of consent for marriage at 10 rather than 12. Lacking any social base the radicals could fall back only on individual terrorism. This combination of radicalism and reaction seems similar to Islamic fundamentalism today.

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