As the COVID crisis rolls on, Donald Trump’s America is, by any measure, approaching the status of a failed state. As the virus rips through the land, millions remain out of work, basic institutions of governance are compromised perhaps beyond repair, and elites are gridlocked on whether the scraps they call “relief” are to be renewed — all while a burgeoning billionaire class gets richer by the day.
Trump did not cause this sorry state of affairs. It has taken forty years of uninterrupted neoliberal rule to bring it about. But he has accelerated it to a point that even the most jaded had not anticipated.
In this issue, Ramaa Vasudevan observes that the state’s abject failure on the domestic front should be contrasted with the far more effective and far-reaching interventions in international financial markets — in particular, the defense of the dollar. This reveals not only a greater commitment to preserving the United States’s hegemonic position, but also an elevated capacity to do so relative to the institutions for domestic governance. This only deepens the need to think about an alternative financial model designed to cater to the working population, rather than the bankers who control it today. Gerald Epstein and Esra Nur Uğurlu propose a radical reform of monetary institutions, embedded in an analysis of past achievements on which we can build.
Of course, any talk of alternative models has to attend to the political balance — how to build power and wield it for change. In two sweeping analyses of the Global South, René Rojas and Anand Gopal present a sobering audit of victories and defeats. Building on his analysis of the Pink Tide, Rojas now takes up the larger and more developed economies of three key countries in Latin America; Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, while Gopal examines the fate of the Arab Spring in the decade since its eruption.
The contrast is instructive. Taking Syria as an exemplar, Gopal locates the failure of the revolutions in the structural changes wrought by thirty years of neoliberalism, much as Rojas had done in his previous analysis of the Pink Tide [Catalyst Vol. 2, No. 2]. In the three American countries, on the other hand, Rojas shows that the retreat of the Left is not so much because of a structural weakness, as much as progressive governments squandering the political leverage that they had. Whereas the Arab Spring and the Pink Tide suffered from relying on a social base with little economic leverage, progressives in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico went about dissolving the leverage that they might have used. The result is a retreat of the Left throughout both regions, after a brief period of heightened expectations.
It is perhaps the contrast of rising hopes coupled with little class capacity that explains the rise of “hashtag activism” in the contemporary US left. In a biting review, Amber A’ Lee Frost pours cold water on the idea that social media can help energize and even build the Left. As she rightly notes, while one can point to some instances in which platforms like Twitter have played a positive role, their net impact has surely been negative — deepening social atomization, creating a toxic culture of hostility and intimidation, and substituting accusation for argument. There is no substitute, Frost counsels, for the mundane, back-breaking work of organizing working people.
After all, if the Left is ever going to become a social force again, immersing itself in the daily lives of the working class is its only lifeline.