The racist politics of Hungary’s Orban, Tony Abbott and the shadow of Enoch Powell

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently attended a conference in Budapest, where he praised the race-based immigration policies of the ultranationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Abbott recycled claims that ‘military-age’ migrants were ‘swarming’ into Europe, seeking to overturn the European character of the continent. Orban had opened the conference with a reference to the conspiratorial ‘Great Replacement‘ theory, which holds that liberal cosmopolitan elites are allowing an influx of non-white migrants to overwhelm the white population of Europe.

What is this ‘Great Replacement’ theory, and why is a former Australian Prime Minister supporting such an outlandish characterisation? To answer this question, we need to examine the racist politics of Hungary’s leader – Orban – and also elaborate how a white supremacist vision is gathering adherents in Europe and around the world.

The notion that immigration constitutes an ‘invasion’ threatening to drive the white nations to ‘extinction’ is nothing new in European politics. Orban, however, is the mainstream European leader who has done his best to advocate and normalise this anti-immigration sentiment. The ‘Great Replacement‘ theory dates back to the early part of the twentieth century, when French racist intellectuals, introduced the term ‘Great Replacement’. For instance, French fascist writer Maurice Barres, worried that ‘Western’ and French national identity was under siege from a huge influx of non-white immigration, particularly from France’s African colonies.

In the 1970s, French intellectual Jean Raspail repopularised the notion of a ‘white extinction’ in his racist dystopian novel, The Camp of the Saints. The novel is a paranoid racist fantasy, depicting the destruction of French/Western civilisation by a mass influx of non-white immigration. Raspail’s work was approvingly cited by former Trump campaign manager, Steve Bannon.

In 2012, French racist writer Renaud Camus recycled the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory, claiming that the Jews – the traditional ethnic scapegoat – are organising the importation of non-white migrants for the purpose of colonising Europe and ousting the white race. Camus approved the actions of the white nationalist rioters at Charlottesville in 2017, and justified white supremacist terrorism as an understandable response to the influx of immigration.

Orban has, on numerous occasions, resorted to the ‘Great Replacement’ theory to underscore his government’s anti-immigration policies. Perhaps Tony Abbott does not know about the origins of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy. That is likely, because Abbott does not know anything. Nick O’Malley, senior writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that if Abbott is unaware of the provenance of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, then he should be.

The white nationalist killers, such as the Australian-born racist murderer in Christchurch, have cited the ‘Great Replacement’ theory as a direct motivation for their actions. If Abbott had done his homework, he would have discovered that white supremacist killers, such as the El Paso shooter, have portrayed their actions in defensive terms, simply responding to an alleged influx of black and brown people. Not only in the ‘Great Replacement’ theory a rationalisation of white nationalist terrorism, it is also an incitement to racial civil war.

The racially paranoid fear of ‘white genocide’ is not uniquely European. Other colonial powers have constructed their own versions of an immigration-driven path to extinction. Writing in Jacobin magazine, Rosa Schwartzburg examines the racist dystopian novel The Turner Diaries. Authored by American white supremacist William Luther Pierce, the novel depicts a violent racist uprising by white guerrillas against the Jewish-inspired and black-enforced ‘new world order’ in the United States.

The United States has a long and deeply-embedded history of white nationalism. It was The Turner Diaries, with its portrayal of a white ‘Aryan revolution’ and apocalyptic genocide of the non-white races, that updated white supremacy and modernised it. No longer were white supremacists hankering for the days of the slave-owning Confederacy; now there was a vision of a racially-motivated uprising. The Turner Diaries has inspired acts of violence by American extremists, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

There is one ideological influence on Abbott’s thinking which has been omitted from the discussions in the media about his speech at the Budapest conference. The Liberal Party, of which Abbott is a member, takes direct ideological inspiration from the British Conservative party. If there is one politician who casts a long shadow until today, it is the late Enoch Powell. A diehard Tory conservative, he gave a speech in 1968 that has become a seminal work in the ideology of the racist ultraright.

Powell, a backbencher in 1968, lamented the decline of the old colonial British empire. Bemoaning the loss of British power and status, he envisioned a racist fantasy that the streets of Britain would run red with ‘rivers of blood’ should immigration from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and other nonwhite nations continue. His speech, though denounced by mainstream conservative figures and commentators, still received respectful coverage in the British media.

Powell, in line with other Tory figures, derived his support from upper and middle class voters. However, after his speech, there were demonstrations by working class people in his support. While a member of the elite – he was a Cambridge-educated professor of ancient Greek – he portrayed himself as a ‘tribune of the people’. A far right politician, Powell denounced the liberal elites for pushing multiculturalism and immigration on a reluctant (white) working class – a tactic that is familiar today.

Interestingly, Powell not only used ‘whiteness’ as the uniform around which to unite against the immigrant ‘tidal wave’, he was also one of the first political figures to advocate what we would nowadays call neoliberalism. Attacking big government bodies, such as the National Health Service, Powell proposed the privatisation of public assets, a crackdown on trade unions, and a repudiation of the post-World War Two social welfare state.

These ideas were taken up with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher upon becoming prime minister in 1979. Thatcher adopted the racial ideas of Powell, warning of ‘cultural groups’ who refuse to assimilate. This goes to show that neoliberal capitalism is not only an economic project, important as that is, but a racial one as well. It is possible and necessary to talk about race and class at the same time. Race and class require specific discussions, but they also operate together to sustain the capitalist system.

It is time to repudiate the politicised hysteria about a mythical ‘immigrant swarm’ and examine the economic power structures Abbott and Orban are doing their utmost to preserve. Concerns about a ‘white working class’ being overwhelmed by an influx of foreigners are being used to disguise the economic and social policies of neoliberal capitalism – measures which immiserate all of us. Ethnic communities have been part of the working class for generations.

Until the Last Man Comes Home – reviewing the Vietnam POW/MIA issue

There have been a wealth of books and articles published about the Vietnam war, and the concurrent issue of prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIAs) from American involvement in that conflict. Not many authors have examined the cultural and political impact of the Vietnam POW/MIA lobby on American society. The outsize role of the POW/MIA campaign on American politics, and how that came to pass, is the subject of a remarkable volume by Northwestern University history professor, Michael J. Allen.

The book Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War is a scholarly and wonderful account of the fascinating, disturbing and largely unrecognised story of how the POW/MIA issue became such a durable and impactful feature of post-Vietnam war American society. Based on Professor Allen’s doctoral thesis, the book is a welcome addition to a subject that still stirs passions today.

From the middle of the 1960s, as the US government escalated its war on Vietnam, American military aviators were shot down over enemy territory. Some were captured, and became prisoners of war. Their cause was at first treated with extreme secrecy by the Johnson administration. He did not a reduction in morale, with the news of American POWs.

The families of the downed pilots, concerned about the POWs and those aviators whose fate was unknown, formed a lobby group which subsequently became the National League of POW/MIA Families. This group, formed in the late 1960s, was taken under the wing of the Nixon presidency and turned into a conservative political and cultural force. There are various reasons why Nixon and his team adopted this approach.

By the late 1960s, domestic opposition to the war was mounting. Vietnam veterans were protesting the war – joining peace groups to pressure the government. Anti-war activists had traveled to North Vietnam to secure the release of American POWs. Allen details how, in 1965, two American servicemen released from North Vietnamese captivity, went on to denounce the American war in press conferences after their release.

Nixon and his colleagues found the perfect counter to the antiwar and anti-establishment sentiment sweeping the nation – the families of the captive and missing American aviators. The possibility of outright military victory in Vietnam was particularly remote – especially after the Tet offensive. The concern for POWs, while legitimate, was exploited by the Nixon administration to the fullest extent. The National League of Families became his conservative political allies on the domestic scene.

The US administration constructed a new way to think about loss in Vietnam. Why the aviators? Because, as Allen explains, the aircrews were mostly white, from affluent and middle class families, well-connected with the military hierarchy. The loss of the thousands of conscripts – poor white, black and Hispanic Americans – was quickly sidelined. The Americans were now the victims, and the North Vietnamese cast as hostage-takers.

The National League of Families became the establishment’s answer to the anti-establishment protesters; clean-cut, well-dressed, dutiful wives and girlfriends waiting for their menfolk to return from the war. Here was the perfect way to depoliticise the Vietnam war – surely all Americans are hoping and praying for the safe return of their loved ones?

Ronald Reagan, a longterm MIA activist, elevated the recovery of ‘every last man’ as a national priority of his presidency. The 1980s represent the high point of the National League’s influence – any politician who dared to suggest that all the captives had been returned in the 1970s at the war’s conclusion – risked being denounced as a ‘traitor’ and ‘Communist sympathiser’ by the MIA lobby.

Hollywood churned out numerous films, novels were published, hewing to the common theme of heroic Vietnam veterans returning to Indochina to rescue the mythical POWs and MIAs. The POW/MIA flag fluttered atop government buildings to keep the flame of hope going – the belief that the Hanoi authorities were secretly holding Americans captive was all-pervasive.

In fact, as Allen demonstrates, this category of POW/MIA is a deliberately confusing concoction unique to the Vietnam war. After every conflict, there are POWs, who are returned, and unaccounted for personnel, now lumped into the one category called MIA. There are still at least 78 000 American personnel still unaccounted for from World War Two. The recovery of remains, if at all possible, does not always result in a positive identification. There are American personnel classified as KIA/BNR – killed in action/body not recovered.

There are at least 8 000 American personnel still unaccounted for from the Korean war. The usual practice of the military with regard to those classified as ‘missing in action’ was to allow a seven year window – if in those seven years, no credible or verifiable information could be gained to indicate that the person is alive, the presumption of death was upheld. As for the Vietnam conflict, all American POWs were returned at the conclusion of that conflict as part of the Paris Peace Accords.

Never before has there been a stubborn, influential campaign to demand a ‘fullest possible accounting’ of every single American soldier after the conclusion of hostilities as there has been with the Vietnam war. Successive US administrations have maintained the possibility that MIAs might still be alive and held captive in Vietnam; and in this way, the war with Vietnam could continue indefinitely.

The POW/MIA campaign became, as Allen explains, the way the Vietnam war is memorialised in the United States. By associating that war with noble sacrifice, stoic heroism in the face of enemy cruelty, the American military’s crimes in Vietnam become lost amidst a constructed narrative of American loss. The accusation that the US government was engaged in a ‘coverup’ of POWs/MIAs was a staple of rightwing conspiracy theories for decades.

In 1994, former US President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam, and he normalised relations with that nation the following year. Over the vociferous objections of the MIA lobby, Clinton did not use the POW/MIA issue as a barrier to normal economic and political relations with Vietnam. The National League of Families, while still a force, has declined in recent years, especially since 2000.

Professor Allen’s book is a necessary and informative contribution to a debate that is sorely needed in American society. Long after the hostilities in Vietnam ended, the POW/MIA lobby exerted a powerful political and cultural grip on the American public. Allen’s book is a timely and well-researched examination of the long shadows cast by US involvement in Vietnam.

The far right’s eco-fascism – the greenwashing of hate

Both of the white supremacist killers responsible for the mass murders in El Paso and Christchurch have more than their racism in common. They are both self-described ecofascists. What this means, and how the far right is coopting environmental concerns to spread its racist message is the subject of the current article.

In the previous article, we examined the underlying philosophies that motivate white nationalist shooters. Anti-immigrant sentiment, the need to fight a racial war, the sense of ‘loss’ that underlies white racial resentment as minorities campaign for equality – these are all common features of Alternative Right extremism. But one motive that has experienced a resurgence in ultra-rightist circles is the need to protect the environment – hence the term ecofascism.

Concern for the environment and a willingness to do something to stop ecological destruction is normally associated with the left. Green activism is the usual provenance of left-wing groups. However, the ultraright and white supremacy are no strangers to environmental causes. Rather than deny the reality of climate change, rightist organisations are now accepting the science of anthropogenic global warming. Their proposed solution? Reduce the human population, in particular the nonwhite nationalities of the world.

Environmentalism has a long history on the racist Right

The issue of environmental destruction wrought by industrialisation and the depletion of natural resources has been a concern of the white supremacist Right. Lamenting the despoliation of nature, the Right has traditionally blamed immigration, and what they see as the movement of nonwhite ‘races’ into the white colonial-settler societies. Decrying multiculturalism as a plot by global elites to dilute white society, eco-fascist writers have blamed the problems of pollution, overcrowded cities and the excessive consumption of scare resources on migrant communities.

Blaming immigration for environmental problems has a sordid pedigree, and this line of thinking traces its origins to the advocates of white supremacy. Professor Madison Grant, author of the racist book The Passing of the Great Race and eugenics proponent, was an ardent environmentalist. A passionate conservationist, he combined his love of nature with a racially-charged misanthropy, advocating the reduction of immigration as a way to relieve pressure on the environment.

While Grant wanted to reduce the numbers of poor people within American society, his co-thinkers in Europe proposed genocidal solutions. In an article for Trtworld, Amar Diwakar details how German commentators developed a racial volkisch concept of ‘race and soil’. A mythologising of the past, volkisch nationalism romanticised the notions of white ‘folk’ tied to the land, cultivating it and connected by racial bonds.

This atavistic throwback to an imagined pre-modern racially harmonious community has surprisingly modern adaptations. The notion of ‘living in tune with nature’ sounds like a benign preoccupation, but was actually updated in the 20th century by Nazi ideologues such as Walter Darre. An early example of a ‘green Nazi’, Darre articulated the ‘blood and soil’ ideas of the Nazi party, advocating a racially-homogeneous homeland (whites-only) sustaining an ecologically harmonious community.

One of the interesting outgrowths of the Alt-Right’s ‘green’ underpinning is advocacy of vegetarianism and veganism. While the stereotypical long-haired hippie type has become the poster-child for veganism and a vegetarian lifestyle, increasing numbers of today’s white supremacists are going for veganism. Resentful of the connection between loonie-lefties and vegetarian concerns, the Alt-Right is emphasising the historic strains of vegetarianism present among the political ancestors of the ultraright. Organic farming and reforestation programmes were promoted by the Nazi party as an extension of their ‘getting back to nature’ ideas.

Counterposing trees and refugees

The El Paso shooter, Crusius, lamented the destruction of the environment in his manifesto. He blamed immigration and refugees for the increased pressure on the environment and natural resources. In this, he is not alone. The notion of overpopulation has a long racial lineage, and has been deployed to rationalise bigotry against the nonwhite populations of the world. Ecofascists and ultrarightists have acknowledged the ecological crisis in order to advocate homicidal measures against their favoured targets.

Overpopulation – or the fear of such an outcome – requires an extensive article of its own. However, let’s make a number of relevant observations here.

The fact of ecological despoliation has long been used as a reason to adopt coercive and authoritarian methods against racial and ethnic minorities – and the poor. Overpopulation advocates have built a case based on xenophobic arguments and fear. Deriving their ideas from the English pastor Thomas Malthus, today’s neo-Malthusians routinely point to nonwhite communities and cities – Kinshasa, or Mexico City – to buttress their arguments.

Overcrowding in urban areas is a symptom – not a cause. Overcrowded cities is the result of bad planning, or rather, prioritising profits over people’s needs. Not every overpopulationist is a vicious, stone-cold racist. Talking about numbers of people is axiomatic. However, every ecofascist is an overpopulation advocate; targeting the numbers of nonwhite people, in order to sustain the rapacious consumerism of capitalist societies.

Environment journalist David Roberts, has written how it is the wealthy that consume the most resources, and have the greatest adverse environmental impact. It is the profit-driven corporations that exploit and overconsume natural and mineral resources. The oil and gas energy companies are notorious for exploiting resources, leaving behind them a trail of toxic pollution and environmental destruction.

Even if we are concerned about reducing numbers, the solution resides not in a genocidal reordering of the nonwhite populations, but in female empowerment. Education of girls, greater reproductive rights and increased opportunities outside the home reduce birth rates and make for a more gender-equitable society.

There are solutions to the environmental crisis that do not involve a genocidal racial reordering of the world. Bold climate justice policies, such as the Green New Deal, provide initial steps in challenging the capitalist production system which places profits over people’s lives. Those who campaign for environmental justice must not allow the white supremacist Right to pervert that struggle for their own racist ends.

El Paso and the ongoing eruption of white nationalist terrorism

In the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting, the New York Times editorial board published an article that confirms what political commentators having been saying for decades: the United States has a white nationalist terrorism problem. The El Paso attacks are only the latest outburst in a long-term pattern of ultra-rightist, fascistic violence.

Right wing terrorism is not confined to the United States – white nationalism is a supranational ideology that motivated multiple ultranationalist killers, from Breivik in Norway, to the Australian racist murderer in Christchurch.

Let’s unpack this subject.

The El Paso racist killings have prompted the corporate media – finally – to critically examine an undercurrent of American society which they had previously denied or downplayed – white racism. The latter, rebranded with the euphemistic label white nationalism, has motivated far right terrorism, and is the ideological glue that holds together white supremacist groups of all stripes.

White nationalist killers are an international contagion, according to the FBI. If that assessment of white nationalist gunmen sounds similar to the evaluation of IS militants, then this must prompt us to rethink definitions of ‘national security.’

White nationalism wants a whites-only ethnostate

The term ‘white nationalism’ sounds harmless – just another variety of ethnic diversity. Its egalitarian-sounding undertone makes it appear to be just an overeager patriotism indulged by its partisans on a jolly jamboree. Make no mistake – white nationalism is a xenophobic and exclusionary philosophy, intending on creating a whites-only ethnostate. Harking back to the days of Rhodesia – and apartheid South Africa – white nationalism sees a racially hierarchical society as a fundamental objective of its endeavour to reshape capitalist society.

Trump is not the only one

There is no question that the US President, through his words and actions, is an enabler of fascistic violence. His constant demonisation of migrants and refugees, his portrayal of immigration from non-white countries as an ‘invasion’, his defence of white supremacist rallies such as Charlottesville 2017 – all these mark out the Trump presidency as an ally of white nationalism.

However, to reduce the problem of white nationalist terrorism to the workings of Trump’s brain misses the wider picture. Trump is hideous in his racism, but he is not an aberration. White nationalist killings have a long and sordid history in the United States. White supremacist killers have rationalised their actions, from Breivik in Norway to the racist Christchurch murderer in 2019, by way of issuing a manifesto.

As repulsive as it is, it is instructive to examine the El Paso shooter’s manifesto. Patrick Crusius, prior to going on his violent rampage in El Paso, published a document elaborating his worldview and explaining his actions. This manifesto demonstrates a person committed to a fascistic perspective, and who made clear that his reasoning predates the actions and words of Trump.

The Great Replacement theory – white racial paranoia

Crusius, like all racist killers, frames his actions in purely self-defensive terms. The white race, according to Crusius, is under attack by multicultural and liberal elites bringing nonwhite migrants into the United States. Through this programme of integration and assimilation, the white race will be outnumbered and replaced by the superior numbers – and faster breeding – of the nonwhite ethnicities. This is the great replacement theory, and this notion has been developed over the years not only by white supremacists, but also by mainstream conservative commentators.

First elaborated by French political commentator and writer Renaud Camus, the great replacement theory is an umbrella term that includes various permutations of white racial paranoia. In its most basic form, it states that global elites are engaged in a vast transnational conspiracy to replace the white race by bringing in nonwhite populations. In Europe, far right parties have advocated this conspiracy theory to scapegoat migrants for economic and social problems.

It is instructive to note that it is not only the ultra-right that has blamed a mythical ‘mass immigration’ wave for the socioeconomic problems of Europe. Charles De Gaulle, hero of the French Republic, is on record as stating that the French population faces the threat of being overwhelmed by Arab, Muslim and Berber immigrants from Algeria and North Africa. These sentiments, recycled by British politicians such as Enoch Powell, are a perverse inversion of reality – the ‘white race’ changes from an oppressor to a victim.

The United States has its own tradition of fear-mongering when it comes to the issue of immigration. The late Professor Madison Grant authored the book The Passing of the Great Race in 1916. In this book, Grant lamented the dilution of the white race, through race-mixing, with the ‘inferior’ breeds of migrants from Eastern Europe (particularly Jewish emigrants) and nonwhite nations. This manufactured racial anxiety predates the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory being regurgitated in far right circles today.

Ultra-rightist terrorists recycle a version of this racial paranoid dystopian fantasy in their writings. The El Paso shooter complained of a ‘Hispanic invasion of Texas’. The Australian killer in Christchurch also portrayed his actions as those of a white man ‘defending his race’ against invading hordes of migrants. In fact, the revamped white nationalist movement – under the new brand name of Alternative Right – posits itself as ‘anti-globalist’ or ‘anti-elite’ and thus attempts to deflect accusations of racism.

The El Paso gunman, like his fellow white supremacists, updated and operationalised fascistic violence by targeting the mythical ‘upsurge’ in migrant numbers. Fighting a war to stop the supposed marginalisation of the white race, far-rightist killers have adapted their whites-only perspective for a modern society. Nostalgia for the white, ante-bellum Confederate past is no longer a preeminent feature of the ultra-right.

What the far right has also discovered as a tactic to propose its solutions – as evidenced by El Paso shooter’s manifesto – is environmentalism. Instead of denying or downplaying environmentally destructive threats to the planet, the anti-immigrant Right is using these concerns to demand their solution – decimate the nonwhite populations and thus rescue the Earth’s ecology. In fact, Crusius described himself as an eco-fascist.

The resurgence of eco-fascism is a large subject. That will be the topic of the next article.

Trump’s boorish racist slur – ‘go back to where you come from’ – sounds familiar

Over the last few weeks of July 2019, US President Donald Trump launched a series of white nationalist diatribes directed against four US Congresswomen of non-white background. Informally known as ‘the Squad’, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) were told by Trump to ‘go back’ to their countries of origin.

The latest Twitter outbursts, in this post-literate age of the Twitter presidency, are part of a broader attack on migrants and refugees by the Trump administration. Most commentators have pointed out that Trump is factually incorrect – of the four, only Rep. Ilhan Omar was born overseas – she came to the United States at age 10, a Somali refugee.

The ‘Squad’ responded to Trump, and have demonstrated their customary intelligence and self-respect. Trump continued his racist attacks after his Twitter ranting, standing by his supporters in North Carolina who chanted ‘send her back’ – a reference to Representative Ilhan Omar.

Trademark of Australian racism

There are many variations of the ‘go back to where you come from’ sneer. Migrants to Australia – and their children – find this contemptuous insult all too familiar. Antoun Issa, political commentator and journalist for the Guardian, wrote in 2017 that the ‘go back to where you come from’ slur is a trademark characteristic of white racism in Australia.

While racial taunts are nothing new, nor confined to the United States, they do indicate that racism has become normalised, or at least more socially acceptable. As Issa wrote, this vulgar racial rebuke is directed at immigrants, refugees, and people of non-Anglo background who participate actively in Australian political life on an equal footing. Tolerance is all well and good, as long as the immigrant remains in a position of obsequious supplication.

America’s white nationalism

Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar wrote about the latest upsurge of white nationalism. After relating a racial-taunt incident from her own life, she wrote:

It was certainly not my last time being told to leave the U.S. It is an age-old American insult, a perfect encapsulation of xenophobic ideals about who belongs in this country and who doesn’t. It matters little if the targets of such attacks are natural born citizens, naturalized citizens, legal residents, undocumented immigrants or visitors to the U.S. All that matters is that they represent an “impurity” in the perceived whiteness of America. They need only be nonwhite, have an accent, speak a different language, have a foreign-sounding name or simply issue a criticism about the way things are.

There is no doubt that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, speak truth to power, and challenge Trump’s racist worldview. The obsessive focus on Omar in particular, speaks volumes about the racial hypocrisy at the heart of the United States. A Somali refugee, she has dedicated her life to exposing the corruption and oppression of the US system.

It is interesting to note the vitriol directed at Omar, considering the fact that another Somali female refugee has found success and acclaim in the United States. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has made a career of denouncing Islamic extremism, and indeed providing rationales for US foreign policies in the Middle East. Her claims of fleeing war and violence in Somalia have been disproved – she actually grew up in Kenya, and received a comfortable education at a UN-funded school.

Hirsi Ali has used her personal story as a representation of a brave, rational-thinking person emerging from the dark, intolerant swamp of Islam. This narrative feeds into the white supremacist complex, and reduces the Arab and Islamic nations into a backward cesspit. The tribalist mentality of the US is reinforced by the books and stories of a favoured and acceptable extremist like Hirsi Ali.

Ilhan Omar is also a rational-thinking and courageous refugee, who is working within the parameters of the US constitution and congress. She is attempting to improve the lives and conditions of all Americans – even the white working class person who attack her. She has continued to fight the good fight in the face of death threats, hatred and racial attacks.

It is the political platform of Omar – and the Squad – against which Trump and his white nationalist supporters are opposed. This is not the first instance of Trump deploying racism to gain political points. However, this is the first time that the president, and his inner circle of fascistic advisers, have portrayed criticism of his administration as disloyalty to the United States and his opponents as ‘socialist provocateurs.’

When Omar denounces the inequalities of the American capitalist system, she is doing more than making an economic critique – important as that is. She is also exposing the racial inequities that maintain a stark divide between white and black America. She is definitely not denying the existence of poverty among white communities to be sure. She is acknowledging that when it comes to neighbourhood and residential patterns of settlement, educational and financial institutions, policing and law enforcement – the United States is still a racially divided society.

The election of Obama, the declaration of MLK Day, the renaming of streets after Dr. King and Malcolm X are all great achievements – but they have served to implement a false finish line under the issue of race and racism. Trump is coarse and bigoted, but he is not an aberration. He stands in a long line of white supremacy. His ideology of white nationalism is more than skin deep.

American racism has always been the product of bipartisan consensus. Elite power in the United States has been built on a racially stratified society. This resurgence of overt racism would not be possible without the decades of quietly xenophobic policies that have been enacted by both the major parties. White racism does not emanate exclusively from the president’s brain, but from the capitalist system that enabled his rise to power.

The billionaires, the cult of the entrepreneur and wealth creation

Let’s stop putting our hopes in the billionaire class to save humanity – they do not have the public welfare in mind.

In the previous article, we looked at the widespread and misplaced belief that the billionaires will create new technologies to rescue humanity from our current socioeconomic problems. In the current article, let’s elaborate further on this subject.

Two events highlight the importance of understanding why the billionaire class are not our saviours. Indeed, the current crop of billionaires have benefited from the inequities of the capitalist system, and so are incapable and unwilling to change it. Firstly, in early July, Amazon marked its 25th anniversary of operations. Why is this significant?

Amazon, and its billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos, are upheld as typical examples of the successful tech startup and model of entrepreneurship. Amazon, along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is a corporate behemoth, which has extended its operations around the world. IT is the area in which capital accumulation has resulted in the emergence of transnational corporations that are are similar to the steel and railway industrial giants of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bezos has become a household name, and his elevation to billionaire-celebrity status is indicative of the esteem in which he is regarded by the corporate media. His achievement in making one of the largest corporations in the world is portrayed as the result of his unique motivation to succeed and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Bezos left the hedge-fund world, and began an early e-commerce business selling books. As of 2018, Amazon’s market capitalisation reached one trillion dollars.

The second event which is important for us occurred only in recent weeks – Amazon workers went on strike. Thousands of Amazon workers in the company’s factories – euphemistically named wish fulfillment centres – stopped work on Prime Day, a shopping holiday created by the company for its Prime member customers. While Bezos is one of the richest men in the world, his workers toil for long hours in exploitative conditions in poorly-paid jobs.

The Amazon workers strike is important because it punctures the aura of ‘human progress’ that has surrounded Amazon’s meteoric rise. The wealth that the billionaires like Bezos enjoy today, is not the result of the amazing intellect, drive to succeed or personal qualities of the entrepreneur. Amazon, and similar tech giants, became rich through the hard work and toil of thousands of workers.

Over the years, several undercover journalists have secured work at Amazon’s warehouse facilities, and have detailed the brutal, exploitive and humiliating working conditions endured by workers. Expected to perform tasks at lightning, split-second speeds, workers (called pickers) have to complete physically demanding schedules, and any slip-up, illness or injury results in accumulated penalties. Dismissal of workers is frequent, because Amazon can recruit from a large pool of unemployed.

In fact, Amazon and similar tech corporations are great at innovation – the innovation being in the area of exploitation. Amazon has updated the field of labour management – the new Taylorism. Named after the founder of worker-management techniques, Frederick Taylor, the supposedly scientific study and control of workers, the new Taylorism employs the latest technology to surveil and monitor worker performance.

Workers are monitored constantly, their walking speed measured, the seconds it takes for them to move from shelf to shelf, packing the ordered items, registering them and sending them on their way – and data metrics such as these are used to penalise those workers who are deemed too slow or inadequate.

Decades ago, Charlie Chaplin depicted assembly-line work in his comedy movie Modern Times. While Chaplin performed for comedic effect, there is an element of truth about the robotic nature of factory work – a depiction that is still relevant today. When Amazon workers demand that they be treated as persons, not robots, it speaks volumes about the continuity of ‘scientific’ Taylorism, then and now.

The cult of the entrepreneur has elevated a number of obfuscatory myths about the current process of capitalist production. Entrepreneurs are portrayed as courageous, innovative geniuses, who strive for the latest technologies and business efficiencies. This is usually contrasted with government-run industries and assets, which are routinely depicted as sclerotic, bureaucratic and resistant to innovation. The public versus private dichotomy is ubiquitous, but is false.

The technologies that tech companies use, such as Apple and Google, were developed by publicly-funded – government subsidised – agencies and departments. Marianna Mazzucato, economics professor at the University College London, wrote that government funded departments have put in the research and technological innovations underlying much of our current systems today.

It is not just the algorithms and gadgets used by Google and Apple that were initially developed by government agencies, only to be privatised later. The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States funds medical research and innovations in the life sciences to the tune of billions of dollars. The Human Genome Project would not have been completed were it not for the support of the NIH.

Even in the prime example of government-run industries, the prior Eastern Bloc, government institutions innovated – not just in space research, but also in health care, education, and heavy industry. The Soviets were not the first to land on the moon, but they were the first – and the last – to successfully land a spacecraft in the inhospitable and hostile environment on the planet Venus. Innovation is not the exclusive preserve of the private sector – but the latter is efficient at innovating new ways to spread rapacious individual consumerism.

Before we place our hopes in another round of billionaires promising to save us, as evidenced by the new political candidates in the upcoming American elections, it is time to dispense with the myth of the super-smart billionaire saviour. While personal qualities of ingenuity and motivation are important, they are not the determining factors in wealth creation. It is the work of thousands that made Amazon – or Uber for that matter – the ultra-wealthy companies that they are today.

The billionaires are not going to rescue us

When billionaires advocate for social change, or adopt green issues, they are not doing so for the public good, but to reinforce an unequal status quo. The billionaire class, rather than providing solutions for societal problems, are themselves part of the plutocratic system that is generating civilisational dislocation.

Let’s dig deeper into this issue.

It is a telling sign of the capitalist culture of our system where we look to billionaires as inspirations for meaningful social change. The inequities of our times seem so intransigent, that billionaires are presented in the media – the corporate media – as agents of public good who will put up their money to solve today’s problems.

Let us consider two typical examples that illustrate this type of naive expectation of billionaire-saviours. CNN reported in 2014 that billionaire hedge-fund tycoon Tom Steyer was funding candidates that were pro-science and in favour of environmental issues to confront the heavily bankrolled and strong Republican candidates who were anti-science, global warming denialists and generally hostile to green causes. We can see the results of that effort – in 2016, the United States elected a global warming denier as President.

The other more recent example comes from the pages of Truthdig magazine. The latter is a wonderful magazine – but we have to be honest, and state that sometimes they get things wrong. In an article earlier in July 2019, writer Ilana Novick published a story commending the efforts of George Soros – a supposedly liberal billionaire – and Charles Koch, a conservative billionaire, in founding a new think tank to oppose the endlessly militaristic policies of successive American administrations.

Both billionaires have expressed opposition to American foreign interventions, and so what could be wrong about two politically-opposed billionaires teaming up to fight against these destructive predatory wars? It is the height of political naivety to believe that the billionaires will change, in any meaningful way, the very system which enabled them to achieve plutocratic status in the first place.

For a start, the ultra-wealthy are hoarding their riches in a vast network of tax havens, out of reach of public regulations, taxation authorities and governmental scrutiny. The billionaire class does its utmost to avoid paying taxes – the latter theoretically intended to subsidise public infrastructure, health care and education for the public. In fact, it is the ultra-rich who are most likely to use offshore tax havens and accounts, not the average citizen.

Taxation, and in particular progressive taxation, is one of the ways that a democratically elected government has – in principle – of raising revenue to fund the basic infrastructure of a society. Whether that process is effective is a matter that is up for constant debate. The political efforts of the conservative Right, and their billionaire supporters, is to wage a campaign demonising taxes as an undue burden, and push for tax cuts for the already-wealthy.

Of course taxation should be a matter for debate; that is part and parcel of a democratic process. The corporate billionaires conduct a politically-expedient anti-tax offensive to reduce the tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, and shift the discourse of supporting society onto philanthropy. Deploying their money to influence the political process, and buy political allegiances in the halls of government, remains out of the public eye – though this corrupting influence of the financial oligarchy is gaining attention.

Capitalist philanthropy is nothing new

Ben Brooker, writing in Overland magazine, makes the point that today, billionaires have become household name and have achieved a certain celebrity status. (Hat tip to Brooker – the title of the current article comes from his). Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg, Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates – these billionaires have attained a kind of heroic, liberal-celebrity status – talented, intelligent, driven to succeed, and creators of philanthrocapitalism.

The idea of capitalist philanthropy is nothing new – indeed, it is as old as the rise of the robber barons themselves. Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and one of the first ultra-wealthy industrialists of the 19th century, had the foresight to admit that he was hoarding wealth, and thus contributing to the creation of a social order that produced teeming masses of working and unemployed poor.

His proposed solution was philanthropy; donating a small portion of his riches to found university libraries, endowed chairs at educational institutions, and establish pensions and annuities for friends and acquaintances. He never left the corporate world, and his philanthropic measures were but a drop in the ocean as compared to the astronomical fortune he acquired through industrial production.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and previously Secretary of State under US President Donald Trump, supports the development of geoengineering solutions to climate change. What could be wrong about adopting new and innovative technologies to solve today’s problems? Injecting sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere will scatter sunlight and thus reduce the impact on Earth.

This solution, while deceptively appealing, does nothing to challenge the destructive impact of the extractive industrial practices and polluting output of the oil and energy corporations. Drawing or deflecting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere allows the energy companies – of which Tillerson is part – to continue using fossil fuels, and cause harm to the Earth’s atmosphere. Rapacious and predatory consumerism can continue unhindered – and the oil multinationals can continue to promote climate change denialism.

Ben Brooker, in his Overland article, quotes Naomi Klein as follows:

Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than an uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years: that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can solve climate change.

The Gates foundation, Howard Buffett and others can contribute money to privatised projects in Africa as much as they like, but until the systemic inequalities that keep African nations in a state of poverty are addressed, no amount of philanthrocapitalism will seriously address these stark inequities. Ghana is an independent nation in sub-Saharan Africa, but 98 percent of its gold is controlled by multinational corporations.

We can blame corruption and greedy politicians, but focusing on these factors serves only to distract our attention from the rapacious corporations – and their billionaire owners – who are extracting natural resources to generate super-profits. In fact, in this age of tech giants, such as Apple or Amazon, wealth creation and the hoarding of profits is not all that different from the practices of the steel, iron and industrial concerns of the 19th and 20th centuries.

We will explore those subjects, and the Amazonisation of the economy, in the next article. Stay tuned.