Question: What is the difference between Free Trade and Fair Trade?
On 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. Two years earlier, the Berlin Wall had been physically torn down by jubilant Berliners. (The symbolism of the Berlin Wall as divisive and an affront to the human spirit seems not to have be well understood by the current demagogue-President of the United States, who is maniacally pursuing his own version of a Dividing Wall between neighbouring nations.)
The reasons for the collapse of the Soviet system have been well traversed. But in the end, it boiled down to a simple reality: people simply no longer believed in, or cared about, the Soviet brand of authoritarian “socialism” and apathy reigned (as related to me by Hungarians in the late ’70s and early ’80s).
As the former Soviet Union broke apart and it’s bulwark of Eastern European nations looked westward for their future, the fallout from the demise of one of the three great super-powers created ripples that would last for decades. Some of the unintended consequences are still not fully widely appreciated.
This event led to euphoria and a “winner’s complex” among the American political elite. The United States could not resist the temptation to announce its “victory” in the cold war. The “sole remaining superpower” staked a claim to monopoly leadership in world affairs. That, and the equating of the breakup of the Soviet Union with the end of the cold war, which in reality had ended two years before, has had far-reaching consequences. Therein are the roots of many mistakes that have brought the world to its current troubled state.
Declarations of an “American victory” were somewhat premature. In reality, with the rise of the Chinese economy and a resurgent Russia, the 21st Century would be anything but American.
The break-up of the former Soviet Union was also hailed as a “signal” to humanity that the experiment of collectivisation and state ownership of all means of production was a failure. As Indian Marxist, E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote in 1991;
Today, however, talks are going on that not only have the socialist experiments in the USSR and Eastern Europe failed, but world socialism has collapsed. Adversaries of the socialist movement argue chat, far from the Soviet Union being the starting point of humanity’s transition from capitalism to socialism, the socialist countries in Eastern Europe including the Soviet Union have begun their march from socialism to capitalism. From this they go on to add that the theory of Marxism-Leninism itself has failed.
We Marxist-Leninists are above all realists and, as realists, we concede that the recent events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are a major setback to world socialism. We are therefore engaging ourselves in the process of a deep examination of the reasons why these developments took place and whether the trend that manifested itself in these developments can be reversed.
But there were other strands of fallout. The term “socialism” became – as the word “fascism” was after 1945 – a disparaging epithet to throw at one’s political rival. Post-Soviet Union, “socialist” and “socialism” was equated with failure.
Socialism could no longer be seen as a credible alternative to the fad of neo-liberal, free-market, globalisation sweeping the world. Championed by Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the US, it reached New Zealand’s shores in the mid-1980s.
The NZ Labour Party – supposedly a social democrat/socialist party for the working class – implemented radical liberalisation of trade, banking, commerce, labour laws. Economic “reforms” went hand-in-hand with social reforms such as the 1986 Homosexual Law reform in 1986, de-criminalisation of prostitution/solicitation in 2003, and the marriage equality act in 2013.
The Labour Party had been well and truly captured by apostles to Thatcher and Reagan. It could no longer conceivably be called a social democratic or socialist party.
Aside from the short-lived Alliance Party (which imploded in 2002 over New Zealand coalition government’s decision to participate in the invasion of Afghanistan), the only other Parliamentary parties that feasibly represented left-wing voters were the Mana Movement, led by MP Hone Harawira, and the Green Party. The Mana Movement itself was destroyed after an unholy alliance in 2014 between Labour, National, NZ First, and the Maori Party to support the Labour Party candidate, Kelvin Davis.
Which currently leaves the Green Party to represent the Left of Aotearoa New Zealand’s political spectrum.
The Green Party itself is currently under attack from both ends of the Body Politic in this country.
Some media pundits and the Right are calling for the Greens to return to their “environmental base” whilst the Left are decrying the Greens as not left-wing enough.
Meanwhile, the rise of populism and the far right paralled the spread of neo-liberal “reforms” around the world.
In 1998, only two nations in Europe – Switzerland and Slovakia – had governments made up in part by populist parties.
By February of this year, the number of European nations with populist parties in coalition governments had increased to more than eleven. (More, if countries like Russia and Ukraine are included.)
Europe’s populism has been matched with Trump in the United States; Erdogan in Turkey; Duterte in the Philippines; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, etc. Throughout the world, populist parties – mostly (though not always) of a right-wing persuasion – have been on the rise.
The most obvious causes for the rise in right-wing populism has also been well-canvassed;
Most have tapped into a backlash against immigration and a globalized economy that many people feel has left them behind..
The common thread dates back to the 2008 financial crisis, which opened the door for many populists. Rising inequality and the perception of an unjust — if not corrupt — response to the crash eroded trust in the ability of established leaders to address shifts in the global economy, including technological change and the rise of China.
In Hungary, right-wing populism has taken on a distinct air of neo-fascism;
The biggest advances have been made in central and eastern Europe. All four so-called Visegrád countries are governed by populist parties including Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary – where populist parties secured 63% of the vote in this year’s elections – and Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice in Poland.
Both parties only started showing their true colours – populist, culturally conservative, authoritarian – after they were first elected. They are now attacking core liberal institutions such as the independent judiciary and free press, increasingly defining national identities in terms of ethnicity and religion and demonising opponents, such as the Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros, in language reminiscent of the 1930s.
The public backlash against immigration, globalisation, with a concomitant loss of well-paying jobs, and the flow of wealth to the top 1 Percent is well known, understood, and documented;
What is not well understood is why voters have generally turned away from traditional left-wing parties and policies, and increasingly voted for right-wing (and often far right-wing) populist parties.
In Europe, the backlash against orthodox neo-liberalism/globalisation resulted not in the election of a left-wing government – but in Brexit. In choosing to shun the European Union, British voters by a small majority literally walked away from the continental bloc.
Whether consciously or sub-consciously, this blogger contends the public view the Left as having failed the ultimate test. The former Soviet Union – a super-power in the 20th century rising from a feudalistic monarchy to becoming a nuclear-armed, space-faring nation with global influence and aspirations – failed. And it failed dramatically with the whole world watching.
Since 1989/91, the televised spectacle of the collapse of the former Soviet Bloc has imprinted itself in the psyche of most of the world’s population. The message was made abundantly clear as the Berlin Wall came down; the Red Army retreated from Eastern Europe; and President Gorbachev passed laws making his Soviet Presidency redundant: the Left were unable (or unwilling) to staunch the neo-liberal/globalist orthodoxy.
Indeed, in almost every country, neo-liberalism/globalisation had ‘captured’ supposedly social democratic or centre-left parties such as the Labour Party in UK; the Democrats in US; Labour in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, etc.
Thus the parliamentary wing of social democratic/centre-left offered no solutions. They were seen by the voting public as part of the problem.
If Nature abhors a vacuum, the same applies to the Political Environment. The fall of the former-Soviet Union created a political vacuum on the established Right-Left continuum.
That political vacuum would soon be filled as people sought solutions to what many perceived as an attack on their national identities; falling standard of living; unfulfilled aspirations; unresponsive traditional political parties, and the rise and rise of a tiny wealthy elite.
So it came to pass. The vacuum was filled, as it was in the 1920s and ’30s, by populist parties and demagogic leaders who offered quick-fix, simplistic solutions. Cue: the trumpets of nationalism, racism, intolerance of minorities, and the emboldening of even worse extremism on the far-right and alt-right.
To compound the worsening political climate, the Left continued to make itself largely irrelevant to the everyday struggles of working and middle class New Zealanders.
A cursory look at blogposts on The Daily Blog, for example will quickly reveal that up until recently (17 April, to be precise) most blogposts were fixated on the issue of “free speech” and the Green Party. Green Party MP, Golriz Ghahraman, to be concise.
Meanwhile, out in the Real World…
… the environment continued to be polluted out of existence.
… our security apparatus failed us spectacularly by spying on the wrong people.
… the coalition government buckled to property speculators.
For many on the Left, though, the priority was “free speech”.
If ever there was an instance of a public “Meh!” moment, this was it.
Just as the GCSB, NZSIS, NZ Police, and Uncle Tom Cobbly were all distracted by Greenpeace, environmental activists, journalists, bloggers, Maori activists, Christchurch Earthquake survivors, et al, instead of keeping an eye on white supremacists/neo-fascists – the left-wing blogosphere was seemingly distracted by it’s own Shiny Thingy.
The recent furore on the issue of “free speech” and the Green Party’s call to address hate speech appeared to suggest that Aotearoa New Zealand was about to become a quasi-Stalinist state with bloggers and journalists rounded up and despatched to re-education camps on Stewart Island. The unhealthy obsession with the Green Party – Green MP, Golriz Ghahraman, to be precise – drew anger usually reserved for the likes of Don Brash, Mike Hosking, Duncan Garner, et al..
Although, with considerable grim irony, some on the Left were quite happy to protect the “free speech” for the likes of Southern, Molyneux, Brash, et al, whilst launching tirades against Ms Ghahraman.
There remains an ongoing systematic vilification of Ms Ghahraman instead of addressing the issues surrounding “free speech/hate speech”. Some of the vitriol heaped on Ms Ghahraman took on sinister under-tones of misogyny and racism.
That some of the personal abuse has appeared on left-wing forums is especially troubling.
Yet, despite hysterical screams of outrage that the Green Party was advocating stifling “free speech”, a closer examination of their proposal was anything but.
In a recent post on social media, Ms Ghahraman posed a valid question;
“You’re not allowed to harass, or to make up lies that harm an individual. It’s against the law.
However you are allowed to spread hate and lies about a group of people based on their religion or gender, without consequence.
So why are individuals protected from defamation, or harassment, but whole groups of people aren’t?”
The capitalist system is built on the primacy of individualism, property ownership, and reputational interests (which has a direct bearing on an individual’s commercial activities).
To protect that fundamental underpinning of capitalism, the rights of the capitalist individual was elevated above all else. Including above the needs of society itself.
In October 1987, British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – architect of Britain’s neo-liberal, free-market “reforms” – was famously quoted in an interview saying;
“And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first…”
Western law reflects the capitalist precept that the rights of individuals are recognised – but groups of people are not. (Class-action lawsuits are a rare exception, usually reserved for physical loss, such as mechanical failures, financial malfeasance, medical botch-ups, etc.)
Under the capitalist system, social groups are a nullity under the law.
Recent high-profile public defamation lawsuits have centered on Matthew Blomfield, Earl Hagaman, and Colin Craig.
All three cases involved lawsuits claiming defamation; suffering because of harmful untrue public statements, and sought awards for damages.
The case of Mr Blomfield successfully suing far-right blogger, Cameron Slater, was recently commented on The Daily Blog. Comments posted after the main article generally approved of businessman, Matthew Blomfield’s victory.
Yet, the right to sue does not extend to groups based on religion, ethnicity, gender/sex, etc.
That privilege is reserved solely for individuals. Those individuals are usually wealthy, white, and not women.
That was the point Green MP, Golriz Ghahraman was making. Or trying to make, as the issue was drowned out amidst a hysteria that veered well into moral panic.
It is salient to note that “free speech” advocates remain mostly silent on this issue.
Free speech is not absolute. A person can be hauled before a court and sued for considerable sums of money if found guilty of defamation.
The legal system protects the rights of individuals. Groups – not so fortunate. Because as pointed out above, capitalism is about the Individual. Groups – not so much.
At the beginning of this blogpost, I posed the question: What is the difference between Free Trade and Fair Trade?
Free trade is unfettered. It protects and serves the interests of corporations. The goal is to maximise profits for individuals (shareholders) at the expense of all else.
Fair trade serves the interests of communities, as well as individuals in those communities. The goal is to better the lives of people, but not at the expense of all else (eg, the environment, workers’ rights, etc).
The Left prides itself on the point of difference from the Right in that we act for the collective good. The primacy of the Individual, at the expense of the greater good, is not something we generally look favourably upon.
We want our trade to be fair. Should we expect less for our public discourse?
It is a contradiction to our much vaunted progressive values that we extend the right to Individuals to legally defend themselves in a Court of Law against defamation and harm – yet deny that same right to groups who might also suffer defamation and harm.
We talk the talk when it comes to collective action for the greater good. We demand the right for workers to act collectively and join unions. We demand adequate taxation to pay for public education, healthcare, housing for the poor, environmental protection, support services for the disabled, etc, etc.
Yet, when it comes to walking the walk to extend the right to legal protections for groups – some (many?) on the Left balk at extending the same legal rights extended to Individuals – usually wealthy businessmen or politicians in positions of power.
The irony is inescapable; that some on the Left seem wholly comfortable with wealthy businessmen being privileged with a legal right to defence against harmful speech that entire groups of people are not.
If we, as a society, are willing to have defamation laws available, they must be available to everyone, groups as sell as wealthy individuals. The law must be for all. Or not at all.
Those days of privilege can no longer be tolerated.
Norwich University: Exploring 5 Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union
Noam Chomsky: Barack Obama and the ‘Unipolar Moment’
Huffington Post: Trump Knocks Socialism And Bernie Sanders Does Not Look Pleased
Fairfax media: Winston Peters backs Labour’s Kelvin Davis
Mediaworks/Newshub: Lloyd Burr – The Greens have lost their way
The Guardian: How populism emerged as an electoral force in Europe
Bloomberg: The Rise of Populism
Wikipedia: Right-wing populism
The Irish Times: Conor O’Clery – Remembering the last day of the Soviet Union
Radio NZ: ‘No mandate’ for capital gains tax – PM
Radio NZ: Midwives to strike next week
Fairfax/Stuff media: Resident doctors call back planned pre-Easter strike
Mediaworks/Newshub: New Zealand’s ‘dirtiest industry’ blasted over environment report
Climate News Network: Human carbon emissions to rise in 2019
Noted/The Listener: Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
Margaret Thatcher Foundation: Woman’s Own – interview – 31 October 1987
Justrade: Prof Jane Kelsey & Jim Stanford
Green Party Aotearoa: Golriz Ghahraman speech in response to the Christchurch mosque terror attacks
Fairfax/Stuff media: MP lacks credibility in urging hate speech law
The Standard: Reflections on Free Speech and Public Discourse
The Standard: The Green Party on the Mosque murders
Previous related blogposts
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