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Bernie Sanders’ new task is to convince his supporters to back Hillary Clinton

sandersindependent

Check out my latest piece on Bernie Sanders and the US presidential race, published today in The Independent.

Here is an extract:

“Many who voted for the Vermont senator will not vote for Clinton, and some might even switch to Trump. According to a recent poll, if Sanders runs as a third candidate in November, he would get 18 per cent of the votes, and Trump would defeat Clinton.

These trends hint at a seismic change in American politics. The race for the White House is no longer a fight between Democrats and Republicans. It is turning into a clash between the establishment, represented by Clinton, and rising popular dissent, converging on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.”

Attenzione, un governo a 5 Stelle non è l’alternativa alla sinistra

Pubblicato sul settimanale Left in edicola dal 5 Dicembre.

Fa un certo effetto ascoltare Paolo Flores D’Arcais in un lungo intervento sui tre valori della Rivoluzione francese – libertà, uguaglianza, fratellanza – che si conclude con un endorsement verso il M5s. Il partito fondato da Beppe Grillo viene indicato come l’unica forza in Italia su cui scommettere per lottare contro il regime dei grandi capitali e della tecnocrazia. Il direttore di MicroMega ha trovato il consenso del costituzionalista Stefano Rodotà, relatore, insieme a lui e al deputato M5s Alessandro Di Battista, in un recente evento organizzato dalla stessa rivista.

Quanto gli argomenti dei 5 Stelle hanno di democratico e solidale? Qual è la visione oltre la crisi dell’euro? Le posizioni di Grillo sulla crisi economica e la questione dei rifugiati fanno emergere più di un dubbio. Non è solo una faccenda di ammiccamenti a una grossa fetta del suo elettorato che ha fondamentalmente valori di destra. C’è qualcosa di più profondo e accuratamente orchestrato nella propaganda anti-rifugiati degli ultimi mesi.

La narrazione del leader utilizza argomenti tradizionalmente di “sinistra” con un’analisi ispirata dall’economia politica anti-capitalista, mostrando i pericoli dello sfruttamento, dello strapotere della Germania nell’euro, e dell’impoverimento dei Paesi del Sud Europa. Ma li intreccia verso una percezione in cui i “poveri italiani” sono le principali vittime, mentre rifugiati e migranti, descritti con falsa compassione, diventano un intralcio. La propaganda contribuisce a formare una generale consapevolezza che individua, appunto, i “nostri” problemi quali prioritari, paragonabili, addirittura, alla devastazione delle guerre e della povertà di posti come la Siria o il Sudan.

Seguendo, purtroppo, intellettuali di “sinistra” ormai votati ad argomenti anti-rifugiati mascherati – vedi Slavoj Zizek e Diego Fusaro – Grillo gioca col fuoco. Egli fa alleanze con partiti xenofobi e razzisti come lo Ukip di Farage, dice che uno come Orban, fautore del filo spinato che evoca i campi di concentramento nazisti, sia stato mal compreso, per poi fingere di prendere le distanze da Le Pen e Salvini. Questa differenza, però, è ormai soltanto nella forma, non certo nella sostanza delle proposte.

Fosse soltanto un fenomeno nostrano, ci sarebbe forse meno da preoccuparsi. Ci troviamo invece in un momento storico cruciale per tutta l’Europa che ricorda molto le divisioni e la frustrazione di popolazioni impoverite e umiliate che appoggiarono il fascismo e il nazismo come risposta ai loro problemi economici e sociali. Allora come oggi, notiamo un’allarmante serie di scambi tra le ali più radicali della sinistra e della destra. C’è, infatti, un disegno più allargato di alcune componenti della sinistra che vedono un’alleanza con il “diavolo delle destre nazionaliste” come unica alternativa all’impero, ormai molto fragile, delle tecnocrazie europee.

Un eventuale governo a guida 5 Stelle rischia – è accaduto con Orban in Ungheria – di diventare ostaggio della deriva delle folle, che vedono la lotta al privilegio come parte di una rivolta generale per ristabilire, non si sa bene come, l’orgoglio del popolo-nazione. Il M5s sta abilmente manipolando queste pulsioni per porsi come una alternativa anti-regime “credibile” a una sinistra in crisi e a una destra “impresentabile”.

Rodotà e D’Arcais, che scellerati non sono, ci hanno probabilmente già pensato. E, come molti avanguardisti, sperano forse domani di essere loro gli anticorpi del regime delle folle, che tende a nutrirsi di odio, piuttosto che di democrazia. In questa crisi globale occorre sottolineare i valori della solidarietà e dell’uguaglianza della nostra Costituzione. Grillo e i 5 Stelle, invece, remano nella direzione opposta.

Vito Laterza è ricercatore in antropologia sociale all’Università di Città del Capo, Sudafrica.

Greek elections: winners and losers in numbers

There is no doubt that Tsipras won his bet last night, with the rebels of Popular Unity failing to make it to parliament, and by maintaining a striking 145 seats in the parliament – Syriza won 149 MPs in the January 2015 elections. The fact that, despite a major drop since January, his junior coalition partners – the xenophobic nationalists of Anel – were able to gain 10 seats was also a big plus. He can now keep the same coalition and avoid the “pact with the devil” with old parties like Pasok, or the unashamedly pro-troika pro-oligarchs new formation of To Potami.

But speaking of Tsipras’ “triumph”, as many have done, is rather short-sighted and does not really capture the essence of the significant changes in the political arena that this election has marked, only 8 months after the previous one.

One thing is clear: the only indisputable winner is abstention. 4,274,000 people stayed home, 43.4% of eligible voters. This makes it the lowest turnout in the history of Greek parliamentary elections, with 7% less than the January elections. The ranks of those who stayed home swelled with an additional 764,000 people.

Many have been saying that the pro-bailout parties have overwhelmingly won the elections. The pro-bailout parties obtained an unprecedented 267 MPs out of 300. Yet, they have done so with only 44.7% of all registered voters. This is slightly less than the aggregate of abstention, invalid and blank votes, which makes up 44.8%. When you add this to the anti-bailout parties’ performance (9%), you get a clear majority of Greeks who have not supported pro-bailout parties: 53.8%.*

This of course doesn’t detract from the negative performance of anti-bailout left parties like Popular Unity, that did not even make it to parliament, and KKE, which maintained the same number of seats as in January (15), but lost many votes on the way.

The truth is that most parties lost voters, but some more than others. And here is the key to read this election: it’s not so much Tsipras’ victory, but a bigger defeat of his opponents.

Table1
Syriza lost 320,000 voters in just 8 months. That’s a decline of 14.2%, which is significant. Comparing the percentage of cast votes, Syriza appears to have lost less than 1% (from 36.4% in January to 35.5% on Sunday). But a much more accurate portrayal is the percentage over the total registered voters: in January, it was 22.6%; on Sunday it came down to 19.6%. That’s a considerable drop of 3% in just 8 months.

Their main opponents, the conservatives of New Democracy (ND), lost 192,000 voters, a decline of 11.2%, thus not posing a real threat to Tsipras, despite most opinion polls giving the two parties neck-to-neck before Sunday – it’s quite likely, as it happened in the past, that the media oligarchs preferred to boost ND numbers and underplay Tsipras’ strength.

These numbers also show that anti-bailout left parties did not pose a serious threat either. The Greek communists of the KKE, who had disengaged from the bailout referendum in July and kept a critical distance from the debate around negotiations with the troika, lost 36,000 voters. This is a significant number for a small party, equivalent to a decline of 10.8% of total votes since January.

Popular Unity, which benefited from the visibility of being in government in the previous months and at the centre of the bailout drama, also failed to capitalise on the ‘no’ overwhelming victory in July. Assuming that they intercepted discontented Syriza voters, they captured slightly less than half of the voters who abandoned Syriza, and missed the 3% bar to enter parliament by 8,000 votes or so.

It is easy to interpret the poor performance of the two major left alternatives to Syriza as a further proof that Greeks might have issues with the bailout, but prefer to stay in the euro. In fact, one could argue the opposite. KKE made it clear that they were not contemplating Grexit. So while their principled opposition to the bailout in parliament was not in doubt, many might have wondered what kind of alternative they could really provide within the eurozone.

Popular Unity, which started its campaign with very strong messages about Grexit, gradually diluted their position as the campaign unfolded. I think another factor that played against them was having been in government just until few weeks before. Those who have not forgotten the betrayals of two mandates (the January election and the July referendum), would have struggled to trust Popular Unity’s promises. Tactically, their dangerous engagement with nationalist rhetoric (including a rather cold and ambivalent position on refugees) might have failed to achieve much in electoral consensus, with Tsipras ‘moderate’ patriotism being a better rehearsed script for left-oriented audiences, and the xenophobic nationalism of Golden Dawn sending clear, if disturbing, messages about the need to cater to “Greeks only”.

On the far right front, Anel’s xenophobic rhetoric did little to stop its decline – they paid a much higher price than Tsipras for their entry into troika mainstream politics. They lost 93,000 votes since January, a 31.8% decline. Golden Dawn on the other hand maintained a strong performance, and remains the third party in Greece. They lost only 9,000 votes (-2.3%). Given their judicial troubles and the admissions of political responsibility over hate murders by their leaders, their result remains a major worry. Perhaps the only positive factor is that they don’t seem to have gained from the general decline of the two major parties – thankfully, people decided to stay at home, rather than supporting the neo-nazis.

The only two parties in parliament that gained votes in this round are Pasok and the Union of Centrists. Pasok allied itself with Dimar. Together they gained 22,000 voters over their aggregate performance in January (+6.9%). Only a comprehensive analysis of the micro-data at district level can tell us something more conclusive about this trend. It is possible that some former Pasok voters who supported Syriza in January, have now come back to Pasok.

Leventis’ Union of Centrists is probably the only party that is fully entitled to celebrate Sunday’s results. Its party gained 75,000 voters, a staggering 68.1% increase from January. It is telling that a party broken by judicial scandals (Pasok) and another one that has always been seen as a kind of ‘joke’ for running too many elections without ever making into parliament, are the only ones gaining votes. It is certainly another symptom of systemic crisis in the Greek political arena.

Finally, another sign that the narrative of an “overwhelming” victory of pro-bailout parties doesn’t hold is the collapse of pro-troika pro-media To Potami. They lost 152,000 votes since January (-40.6%). If there was any overt support on the ground for the way things unfolded since Tsipras’ capitulation to the creditors’ demands, then To Potami should have been the first to benefit.

Despite Syriza’s considerable decline, Tsipras remains firmly in control over the levies of power. The number of votes he lost was perhaps less than expected, given that he faced a relentless campaign from those who felt betrayed by the new bailout, but also the experienced politicians of New Democracy, which were waiting for the first opportunity to get back into power.

Let’s not forget the main reason for calling the elections so quickly: the impact of the new bailout measures approved so far has not yet been felt by the wider populace, and there are many more harsh measures still to be approved as part of the troika agreement. Pressure from Brussels and Germany has far from eased. The creditors want to see more cuts and liberalisations in the next few weeks. Will Tsipras and his party survive the full weight of the bailout? Certainly the electoral results favour both Tsipras and the creditors. Tsipras can push parliamentary support for the bailout without having to enter into a formal alliance with the old “corrupt” parties he has been attacking over and over again in the last campaign. He thus maintains face, while toeing the troika’s line. He was also able to get rid of the most vocal rebels, something that both he and the creditors must be very relieved about.

But a majority of 155 seats between Syriza and Anel, means a margin of only 4 votes, and there will be many controversial measures that will be difficult to pass with these numbers. This is far from a stable arrangement in a country that has gone through five elections in six years.

It took less than three years for the old main parties Pasok and New Democracy to see their voters nearly halved or more. In October 2009, Pasok won the elections with 3,012,000 votes (43.9% of valid votes); New Democracy came second with 2,296,000 votes (33.5%). In May 2012, Pasok’s consensus had collapsed to 833,000 votes (13.2%); New Democracy came first, but with slightly more than half of 2009 votes, a meagre 18.9% of valid votes. The new bailout signed by Tsipras ends in less than three years time. Could it be the deadline of his demise?

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*Please note that there are other smaller parties which ran in the elections that make up 1.5% of the total registered voters. I don’t have information to evaluate their stance on the bailout, they are likely to be a mix of both pro- and anti-bailout. Of the parties that did not make it to parliament, I have counted Popular Unity and Antarsya as anti-bailout.

**Pasok and Dimar ran separately in January, the figure refers to the aggregate of the two parties.

Greeks say no to austerity – it is just the beginning

“No” wins by a landslide in the Greek referendum on the EU bailout proposals. This can be a real game changer, for Greece, for Europe and for anti-austerity movements worldwide.

Greeks have gone through huge suffering because of austerity, African and Latin American societies had already been broken by the same policies through the 1980s and 1990s. In lesser degrees and not to the same extremes, most of us have suffered the effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the irresponsible policies of technocrats and pro-austerity governments – I can just think of close friends and family in UK, Spain, Italy, Swaziland, Zambia, South Africa, and US, for instance. From the hospitality industry to academia, from manufacturing to journalism, it’s been a true disaster, across most classes and age groups.

For young people who are trying to fulfil their aspirations and do something meaningful and dignified with their lives, it’s been harsh – I talk about this specifically because I am one of them. The hope springing from this victory is priceless – it’s a new lease of life in our daily struggles for individual and collective fulfilment and happiness.

It is primarily Greeks’ victory, but it is also in a smaller way “our” victory. All of us – except those whose interests are so entrenched with the status quo that all they can do is come up with justifications and explanations for what cannot be justified and cannot be accepted.

There will be turbulent days ahead, and Greeks are the most likely to bear the brunt once again of any degenerate response from technocrats and bankers. Yet, this is one of the most important victories in the fight against austerity since the rise of Thatcher and Reagan. Optimism and excitement can go a long way in the tough times ahead. Tomorrow we wake up with a different consciousness. We now know that our concerns, our criticisms, our demands, are not only just: they also have legs ‘out there’, they can become  the majority consensus.

No to austerity and inequality; yes to a new deal for Greece, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.

Starting a fellowship at the University of Cape Town

Next week I will start a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town. It will be a great opportunity to continue my comparative work on labour, sustainable development and social and political mobilisation in southern and central Africa, I very much look forward to engage with colleagues there.

I am grateful to past and current members of the Human Economy Programme in Pretoria for making the last two years one of the most productive and stimulating periods of my career. A special thanks goes to Professor Keith Hart, a great mentor and teacher, and a constant source of inspiration.

Brief thoughts on race and class in contemporary South Africa

On Facebook, Emmanuel Nuesiri asked me what I thought about an article recently appeared on the BBC documenting white Afrikaans poverty in South Africa (click here to read the article). This is what I replied:

There is a real risk in South Africa today that racial issues might be used to cover up for what the real “war” is, that is a class war with the vast majority of the population still largely disenfranchised from the formal economy and far from acceptable standards of living, while inequalities are on the rise.

South Africa became liberated at the height of the global capitalist dream, after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is clear now to most that the “free market” on its own was not going to empower most people anywhere on earth. The hope is that the tide will turn in the global mainstream (especially after 2008 global financial crisis and current Euro and American crisis), so that perhaps talking again about serious redistributive policies and diminishing inequalities through state intervention and regulation of the economy won’t be anathema.

If we don’t start talking about class and income inequalities seriously again, the racialisation of everyday discourse will tend to focus the attention on scapegoating one racial group or the other. This diverts the attention from the real threat: the highly unequal economic system which runs on very cheap labour and the resulting appalling living conditions of the majority of the populace, ever more so a vast reserve of cheap labour, disposable and reusable at the whim of flexible capital.

This is the legacy of settler colonialism that we need to tackle and radically change throughout southern Africa. Mixing and surpassing of racial difference in South Africa can only happen on a large scale if the entrenched inequalities are tackled head on, primarily as economic inequalities.