The rise of the anti-austerity Left

MOHAMMED RAWWAS, Opinion Columnist

In Chile, an increase in public transportation fares sparked nationwide protests against the Piñera Administration due to growing unrest about poverty and income inequality in the country. There has already been limited progress, with the president dismissing his entire Cabinet, although abuses against protestors by police have been reported, including sexual abuses and torture. In Ecuador, nationwide protests have been even more successful, with Moreno agreeing to reverse his decision to cancel fuel subsidies, after being forced to flee the capital. In Lebanon, we see the same pattern repeat, with national protests being sparked by a new proposal to tax online phone calls through WhatsApp. Iraq has seen similar protests over economic conditions since 2018.

As all these individual events continue to unfold simultaneously, it is clear that although each is a separate incident, they are all connected: a working-class mobilization against austerity measures and regressive taxation imposed by a ruling elite. Another piece of evidence testifying to the grassroots, leftist character of these movements: the protests have often been coupled with nationwide strikes. When analyzing the demands of these movements, and the policies that they are fighting against, it is clear that these protests are a reaction to the neoliberal Bretton Woods consensus that has characterized the post-World War II era.

Immediately, this analysis is further complicated by the fact that these protests are occurring in the global South: it is not simply that these isolated governments are unilaterally deciding to pass these austerity measures, but that they are part of a system of global Capital that incentivizes the passage of such measures. Haiti is the perfect exemplification of this: still under predation by the imperialism of both France and the United States, protests against the Moïse Administration’s mishandling of funds provided by Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program were inevitably also a reaction to both the constant political and military interference of the U.S. in Haiti for over a century, including a 2-decade military occupation, the installation of military dictatorships, and coups, which paved the way for the current administration’s rise to power and the economic predation of France, which demands Haiti pay reparations for freeing itself from slavery, the financial burden of which inevitably stresses the Haitian government into imposing such austerity measures upon its people. Furthermore, the IMF and World Bank play a central role in imposing the neoliberal order on the global South. It is clear that the anti-colonialist struggle must also be an anti-capitalist one, as forms of exploitation are inextricably tied to the functioning of global Capital.

There is another dimension to these protests, particularly in Lebanon: their cross-sectarian appeal and support. Lebanon is a country that has been rife with strife over its sectarian divides, descending into civil war between its Christian and Muslim populations, as well as over its Sunni-Shiite divide, as well as smaller denominational groups such as the Druze. A tenuous power-sharing agreement has maintained a negative peace ever since. However, the interests of the proletariat are universal, and the recent protests have brought together a cross-sectarian allegiance fighting for their shared material interests. In Ecuador as well, the protests have been largely led by indigenous communities. But beyond divisions within nations, there is also an international solidarity to be posited among all of these protests. There is something to be said about how a class analysis can transcend all other differences and build multi-racial solidarity, which vampire castle liberal politics have clearly failed to accomplish.

The recent events that have transpired bring about a few obvious questions: why have they failed to gain the mainstream media attention gifted to the Hong Kong protests? The obvious answer is that Hong Kong is clearly a different case: partially composed of reactionary elements, with instances of protestors valorizing the imperial West and Donald Trump, and even nostalgic longing for the era of racist, repressive British colonization. The recent uprisings in Algeria and Sudan have similarly received less attention than the “Arab Spring” of 2011-2012, as calls for Western-style “democracy” have been replaced with a much more thorough analysis of how the situation in most of the global South is itself caused by the military and economic imperialism of the West and West-aligned financial institutions, and how a revolution against a repressive regime in the Third World, far from being a turn towards the West and its conception of democracy, is actually a rejection of Western imperialism and capitalism itself.

Finally, some implications for us. Why is it that, given the effectiveness of nationwide protests and more importantly strikes, as demonstrated by the case of Ecuador, these methods are almost never utilized in the U.S? Throughout most of the rest of the world, there is a tradition of striking whenever people are discontent with their government. In the U.S., however, “politics” has been constrained to the ballot box. As capitalist realism continues to dominate our ideological landscape, striking does not even register as an option for change. Our task here is to free politics beyond the electoral domain and to posit new methods of change.