by Parson Young
WE ARE NOW three months away from the end of year 2015, but we should be very confident in concluding that this year was an even more volatile, surprising, and at times, hopeful year than the last. We have witnessed the rise and fall of the first ostensibly radical left government in Greece, the sudden ascension of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders from the fringes to a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s nomination in the US, the victory of the British working class in the form of the new Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party, and labor movements in the most unlikely of places and sizes.
Many phenomena that would have been considered unimaginable in 2014 have unfolded in the past year, and the blossoming of Taiwan’s ’Third Political Force’ is no exception. While there are many analyses that insist on highlighting the difference, and therefore the disconnection between Taiwan’s unusual political tremors and those of the world’s, an important comparison must be made with a Marxist perspective in order to underline the plight that chains all of us—global capitalism—and the necessity for the international solidarity of the working class to overcome it together.
The United States Feeling “The Bern”
IN MANY RESPECTS, Bernie Sander’s candidacy for president of the United States represents the definition of “unelectable” in American Politics. Sanders is an elderly, unkempt Vermontian who spares no effort criticizing capitalist ruling class (or as he calls it, the “billionaire class”), pushes for massive public investment in education and healthcare on the basis of stronger taxation of the rich, and, at least for the most part, publicly refers to himself as a “democratic socialist.” Nevertheless, this obscure senator, elected on an Independent ticket, is now winning in polls in Iowa, a historically vital swing state—against anointed bourgeois candidate Hillary Clinton, in a Democratic Party primary no less!
This is in a political culture where “socialism” is often equated to totalitarian Stalinism, and where candidates of both major bourgeois parties often overtly celebrate capitalism as an economic system. Many have attempted to draw comparison between the current Sanders campaign with Obama’s presidential bid of 2008, forgetting that Obama’s campaign largely rode on the back of cutting edge marketing techniques, co-opting Howard Dean’s forward-thinking internet-based campaign strategies, creating a fresh image as the first mixed-race presidential hopeful, and the backdrop of the 2008 economic collapse and the colossal failure of the Bush administration. 
The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, defies many of these preconditions, and yet managed to become a truly threatening force to the establishment, to the astonishment of many. In contrast with Clinton’s campaign, which are largely funded by corporate donors, Sanders enjoys strong support from union rank-and-file and small donations, even raising $26 million since July, primarily from small donations. One crucial aspect that the Obama and Sanders campaigns share is the explosion of grassroots organization in support of these candidates, and their ability to energize an American electorate. In Sanders’ case, we see a reinvigorated American public eager to participate in politics, contrasting with the pitiful 36.4% of turnout rate during the 2014 congressional midterm election, which resulted in the overwhelming control of the Republicans.
We must not neglect to critique Sander’s policies and candidacy and his claims of “socialist” policies, which will be discussed later in this article. Yet, the fact that a self-proclaiming socialist is posing an increasingly larger threat against a major establishment political figure in the United States is something that used to be unthinkable only a year ago, when even Obama explicitly denied that he is a socialist. The speed at which the American people are turning towards the Left is certainly a trend that cannot be neglected in the year 2015.
But an important and perhaps unsurprising set of tendencies that coincide with Sanders’ rise, namely, the widening wealth gap, lackluster economic recovery, increasingly suffocating student debt, accelerating gentrification in major cities, an unabating wave of police brutality against minorities, and much more under a much celebrated, supposedly liberal president. The American working class is beginning to see through the betrayal of liberal lies, and is looking further and further to the left for solutions out of their misery.
And yet, we must also be mindful of an equally incredible rise of another extra-establishment figure, Donald Trump, as a far right-wing politician. This bourgeois comedian and former reality show host is now leading the polls against all other Republican candidates purely based on xenophobia, populism, and antics. From a Marxist perspective, it is no surprise that a general reaction to the impending collapse of capitalism will lead to a turn to both the Left and the Right, hence why Trump’s rise occurs at the same time we see the rise of Bernie Sanders. But it is especially significant that the Sanders-Trump polarization is happening in the U.S., the very citadel of global capitalism.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Counter-Attack of British Labor
UNLIKE SANDERS, who needs to carefully brand himself as a “democratic socialist,” Jeremy Corbyn has no problem calling himself as a simple “socialist.” Like Sanders, Corbyn has a career-long record of defense of the working class, as well as an indomitable spirit against the bourgeois takeover of the Labour Party, especially since the reactionary leadership of Tony Blair. Thus far, Corbyn has been running on the introduction of £10 living wage, abolition of tuition for higher education, re-nationalization of rail and energy companies, stronger tax enforcement and higher income tax on the rich, the end of the British Trident nuclear weapons project, and the end of any British involvement in military actions in the Middle East. Corbyn’s spontaneous rise and young support base just goes to show that the youth and the working class are no longer merely attracted to focus group-produced candidates, but to the ideas that they believe will save them from a disastrous future.
It is also notable that since the start Corbyn’s bid for party leadership, over 50,000 people joined the Labour Party. Corbyn eventually scored a stunning victory, with more than 251,000 of 422,000 votes in the party leadership election. Once again, the unsurprising result was an unprecedented right-wing smear campaign against Corbyn, from accusations of being pro-pedophilia to anti-semitism, to the recent report by the Daily Mail of a “high ranking” military official planning to instigate a coup in case of Corbyn’s election as the Prime Minister, Corbyn’s election on the basis of radical left policies already tangled the nerves of the reactionaries painfully. Once again, an overview of Corbyn’s actual policies will be critically reviewed in the following portion of the article, but we as Marxists again would emphasize on the importance of mass movement: Why are these political platforms suddenly gaining so much support? What is changing around the world? How is class struggle going to influence all of these happenings? Conveniently for us, the role of class struggle in contributing to global changes is clearer than it was before.
Greek Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of Syriza
WHILE THE SANDERS and Corbyn tendencies are gaining momentum, we do well to remember have already seen the full rise and fall of an ostensibly radical Left party, Syriza, in its struggle against the European Troika (Germany, UK, and France). To be fair, Greece is a relatively small country with only 11 million people, but the question of Greek debt and its possible departure from the Eurozone posed a serious problem for the ruling class of the Eurozone.
Greece was one of the prime victims of the austerity program, which has been prescribed and victimizing imperialized countries since the advent of the Bretton Woods economic system, where previously colonized countries are held accountable for their misfortunes and forced to embark on a slew of neoliberal austerity policies in order to secure foreign aid. Austerity bailouts are certainly not new, as it was employed against newly independent countries primarily in Africa in the 1980s, which directly contributed to the stunting of many African countries’ growth as austerity and neoliberalism transformed many of these countries into monopolized resource extraction zones for multinational corporations. What is striking now is that austerity is no longer employed against former colonized countries outside of Europe, but used against the periphery of Europe itself, such as in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. This tendency once again shows an impending collapse of the global capitalist system, and that the European Union is feeling the brunt of this instability, with the bourgeois hell bent on making the working class pay for the crisis via austerity all around the continent.
The swift ascension of Syriza as a fringe party from gaining only 4.6% of votes in 2009, to taking office with decisive victory of 36% of votes in 2015, was an encouraging sign of the awakening of the Greek proletarian consciousness, who selected Syriza as their representative to combat the onslaught of the Troika against them through demands of accelerating privatization of economy and cutting of public investments, which only helped to raise Greece’s public debt to an even more unthinkable level, debt which the Greek people is made to pay for.
Alexis Tspiras, while running on clear promises of completely rejecting the debt, quickly capitulated upon getting in office. This began by stalling debt negotiations through a referendum when the Greek people had given an unequivocal voice in rejecting the debt payments, arguably holding a referendum to deliberate on the very thing he had been elected into office to do. Tsipras later caved in and accepted the bailout deals, resigning afterwards, but returned to office as a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks with extremely low turnout. Within a year, we saw a rising party with the decisive backing of its constituents which seemed like it had a real possibility to combat the European bourgeoisies, to caving in and the final result of a split and loss of original leadership.
The Greek people’s will, all the while, has been betrayed. Yet the economic stagnation in Greece shares notable similarity with those of the US Europe, Taiwan, as well as the vast majority of the world faces the same issues: mounting public debt, labor rights under siege, widening inequality, and youth disenfranchisement through student debts and unemployment. In spite of these conditions, the bourgeoisies of these countries demanding austerity at the expense of the working class.
Unfortunately, Greece’s case is more severe compared to the others, causing Greece to have the longest work time in Europe while the Greeks endure endless accusations of being lazy from around the world. The Greek working class admirably staged more than 30 nation-wide general strikes since 2010 in protest. The working class’s backing of Syriza into the political realm demonstrated an even stronger desire for a government that defends them, and could have been a great opportunity for socialist policies that would truly take the country out of the shackles of austerity. Alas, Tsipras’ strong language did not serve to cover the inherent weaknesses of reformism, and SYRIZA ultimately could not withstand the pressure from capitalism without nationalization of industries and formation of a worker’s government. It is yet to be seen how the Greek working class will fare in its struggle against the European troika.
Demonstrators for the “Oxi” vote against austerity measures in Syntagma Squarte in Athens. Photo credit: WikiCommons
But we have to once again highlight the fact that what’s happening in Greece is surely happening to all parts of the world, with the same set of economic problems surfacing with the backdrop of increasingly volatile class struggle. Other than the valiant efforts of the Greek working class, we should also highlight two pivotal proletarian movements that happened this year which were less discussed in international media: the titanic Indian general strike, and the advent of the workers’ movement in Finland.
India and Finland’s General Strikes and Their Significance
TRY TO IMAGINE a successfully coordinated general strike that involved half of the entire population of the United States, or nearly half of workers in the supposed social democratic paradise of northern European staging a general strike. These explosive, momentous events both happened in 2015, and are criminally underreported by international media. The Indian general strike involved over 150 million participants, from a range of industries including banking, mining, construction, and manufacturing. This colossal uprising of the Indian working class is a reaction to an equally large-scale assault against them from the reactionary Modi government, which plans on swift and massive privatization of public sectors as well as labor reforms that drastically increase ease of mass layoff without repercussions and repression of trade union’s power in the political realm. The strike also, unsurprisingly, demanded solutions to the slew of problems inherent in capitalism that surfaces in India and elsewhere in the world: rising living costs, unemployment, and inequality.
Once again, we see the same assault of the bourgeois against the working class through the mantra of austerity, while the working class is at the brunt of all the economic problems brought by capitalism. The amazing ability of the Indian working class to coordinate, however, sets an inspiring example in the struggle against capitalism. It is also unsurprising that most international media downplays this movement.
Police attempting to arrest demonstrators from the Socialist Unity Centre of India in Kolkata. Photo credit: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
If the Indian strike is significant in its size, then the Finnish strike action is significant in its location. Finland, while technically not a part of Scandinavia, is still often considered a success story of the “Scandinavian model,” a social democratic “paradise” where a benevolent state provides high quality healthcare, education, infrastructure, while the population still enjoys above average income and enjoy high quality of life. To be sure, compared to overtly capitalistic countries such as the United States and the UK, the Scandinavian countries and Finland certainly hold these beneficial traits.
Yet, the people of these countries were able enjoy these benefits due to the tireless struggles of labor movements, as well as the material conditions of their small population, their access to Marshall Plan after WWII, and their proximity to the former Soviet Union, which pressured the bourgeois over there to give concessions to the working class more successfully than other places. These countries are still very much capitalist countries, and are now facing crisis of capitalism just like every other countries of the world. In Finland’s case, we see yet another case of a government aiming for austerity at the expense of the working class, with Prime Minister Juha Sipila attempting to access the bailout deal from the Euro troika similar to that of Greece.
The reaction was again, the mass mobilization of the working class, with three unions representing 2.2 million workers in Finland calling the general strike that paralyzed the country. It is important to note as to why Finland—a country praised for having the best public education in the world on the back of public investment, as well as ranking the 4th in the world in quality of life, safety, and purchasing power index—is now facing the same economic downturn that is being faced everywhere else. Didn’t social democracy solve the problems of capitalism once and for all for Finland?
Clearly, this is not the case, and a Marxist perspective would point out that Finland is very much integrated in the global capitalist system, and therefore no more immune to crises of capitalism than any other countries. The unprecedented mass strike action in Finland should be a wake up call for all who have illusions of reforming capitalism, and this certainly adds to the list of political events going out of the norm around the world.
Is Taiwan Any Different?
IN MANY INSTANCES, including in interviews conducted by New Bloom, third party candidates candidates appear to be reluctant to compare Taiwan’s problems to those of the world’s, and attribute the public desire for a better, fairer political process to the tides of social movements and their own rise. Some would also cite Taiwan’s lack of international standing as a reason as to why a Left movement as we see elsewhere in the world would be unsustainable in Taiwan. However, it must be pointed out that these perspectives only partially identify the points in which public discontent rallies behind in Taiwan. Rather, they fail to dialectically recognize that Taiwan’s economic stagnation is very much in sync with that of the world’s, from being an integral part of global capitalism, especially in East Asia.
To begin with, we see a decisive rise of Left perspective in the pro-independence camp, and therefore a dramatically increased suspicion of the Democratic Progressive Party for their complacent, bourgeois nature. Leftism crystallized in the Sunflower movement, when the students overtly rejected the DPP’s involvement, and we see visible demands of solutions to issues of economic and social injustice. This is decidedly different from the populism of President Chen Shui-bian, under whom right-wing chauvinism came to dominate the pro-independence narrative put forth under his administration. To be sure, the historic oppression of Taiwanese, first by the KMT internally and now by the People’s Republic of China in the international realm through the power of capital and overt military threats, qualifies Taiwanese nationalism as a sentiment of the oppressed people, but class consciousness and economic equality never existed in the vocabulary of pro-independence movements until the proto-Sunflower movements beginning in 2012, which had its origins in the Wild Strawberry Movement of 2008.
Miao Poya’s article “Provincial Rivalries are Non-Issues, the Real Problem is Class,” is an embodiment of this new inclusive, anti-capital spirit of pro-independence narrative. The rise of the ’Third Political Force’ against the two main parties, not on the basis of political personalities, but on the basis of new ideological calls, is therefore the product of the mass’s desire for a Left alternative in the pro-independence camp. At the same time, the growth of Taiwanese Leftism, unsurprisingly, coincided with the surfacing of economic trends symptomatic of a capitalist crisis which we see as a broader global tendency across the world: rising cost of living, inequality, and youth unemployment.
What is Still Needed?
WHILE THE GROWTH of anti-capital forces around the world is a welcoming and energizing sight, there are still significant theoretical insights that are needed for these largely left forces to truly succeed in defeating reactionary establishments and taking their societies out of the crisis of capitalism forever. In the case of Sanders and Corbyn, we see the encouraging mobilization of grassroots participation. Both men are drawing attention to the correct set of issues and agreeable solutions to those problems, but neither of them advocate a program on the basis of the replacement of bourgeois leadership with a worker’s government, and the nationalization of key industries in their own countries to be placed under democratic workers’ control.
Both men rest their solutions on a stronger enforcement and increase of taxation of the rich as the foundation of funding for all the programs they propose. This is a quintessentially reformist approach championed by various left opinion leaders since the early 1900s, and now most popularly represented by works of Thomas Piketty. The problem with an outlook which believes that capitalism can simply be fixed through public programs and enforcement of taxation is unfortunately utopian, as it presupposes that an economic system that is founded upon the class antagonism of the exploiters and the exploited can be reconciled somehow.
At best, as we have seen in the case of Scandinavia, the success of these approaches would result in the capitalists giving temporary concessions to the working class, and these concessions would be taken them should the system enter into the inevitable cycle of crisis. In most cases, as we’ve seen in the case of Greece, we see the reformist leadership being pressured further and further into conceding to the bourgeois class and ultimately betray their constituencies. This is simply due to the fact that no reform is possible when the bourgeois class still takes control over the economy as they are now, a true proletarian takeover of all key sectors of industry must take place on the back of a worker’s democracy in order to fundamentally prevent the eventual counter-attacks from the bourgeois.
Even an incomplete scale of the expropriation process, as we’ve seen in Venezuela since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, would provide much more resilience to the bourgeois pressure than mere reformism. This is why the Venezuelan revolution, though waning, is still withstanding the pressures of imperialism, while the Syriza government’s original platform imploded just within months of taking power. Sanders and Corbyn’s failure to advocate for workers’ expropriation of the economic system are glaring flaws in their platforms, and we can already see concessions that these two politicians are making to the establishment.
We should also point out that while Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party, a party built by the trade union movement, Sanders is not calling for the building of such a party in the USA and is instead running in the Democratic Party, which like the Republicans is controlled by the American ruling class. In Sanders’ case, the fact that he is attempting to work from within the bourgeois Democratic Party means that he is under more direct pressure from the party’s leadership, and we’ve already seen visible shifts in how he represents his policies, from insisting on being referred to as a “democratic socialist,” a redundant qualifier of socialism, to now preferring to be called a “progressive” on his most recent appearances on national television. Simultaneously, as a senator, Sanders is still very much on board with imperialist policies, such as continuing deployment of drones abroad, and air striking Syria. It is doubtful that Sanders would be able to be in the position of power as a Democratic candidate, or put forth any of his policies should he achieved the unlikely and gets elected as President, because the Democratic Party is from its foundation firmly in control of bourgeois party leadership and the media, rather than a party based on mass labor.
In this respect, Corbyn is more advantaged than Sanders, because the British Labor party, despite being highjacked by bourgeois elements for years, is still fundamentally based on a mass party formed by labor movements and unions. On this basis, the workers could mobilize, through the party apparatus, to retake the party they created themselves and actually have a say in where the party will go. Corbyn’s landslide victory in the face of mainstream smear campaigns and the tireless fear mongering of the Blairite wing of the party just goes to show the strength of a mobilized proletarian force.
Yet, while the party still belongs to the workers, the state apparatus of the United Kingdoms is still very much in the hands of the bourgeois. We can anticipate even more vicious attacks and pressures against Corbyn to try to wrestle him into submission. In fact, Corbyn’s selection of shadow cabinet members already shows worrying signs of wavering, as he included former vehement rival Andy Burnham and his cohorts in the roster. He also very recently compromised on his nuclear disarmament position. Without calling for even higher mobilization of the British working class, we can only expect Corbyn to go on the eventual path of concession like Sanders, and face defeat like Tsipras.
From this perspective looking back into Taiwan, the energy of Sunflower materialized into the blossoming of new political parties as a form of people’s will to change the system, now known as the “Third Political Force.” After a period of consolidation, it is the New Power Party (NPP), the Green/Social Democrat Alliance (GSDA), and the Free Taiwan Party who primarily represent the Third Political Force. To be sure, all these parties stand decisively to the Left of the bourgeois DPP, and both the NPP and the GSDA are very outspoken about economic injustice and call for more taxation on corporations. The Free Taiwan Party, though participated in various labor-rights demonstrations, are outspoken about their singular focus of Taiwanese de jure independence over all other issues, leaving only the NPP and the GSDA to be the true Left parties in the Third Party Force.
We nevertheless have to realize that none of these parties are founded upon mass labor and lack a Marxist program, which make them vulnerable to the pressure from the bourgeois. This is already manifesting in varied approaches to engaging the DPP, which is often cited as the primary difference between the NPP and the GSDA. The NPP’s willingness to actively cooperate with the DPP, has thus far won it much favor from the DPP leadership in the form of retracting candidates and supporting NPP candidates against the KMT in key districts. This “simultaneously cooperative and competitive” relationship, as Huang Kuo-Chang calls it, is often understood as a sign of the DPP admitting its persistent ineffectuality as a party, and thus allows the NPP to take on the KMT in service of a greater cause: the ousting of the KMT.
However, we should never forget that as a bourgeois party, the DPP has the resources provided by the capitalists, as well as a large degree of control over state, media and local political networks, all of which the NPP lacks. In this way, the NPP actually does not have much to offer to the DPP, but can serve as useful pawns for the DPP to take power. It is a simple game of math: at best, if all six NPP candidates got elected, they would still be a small minority within the Legislative Yuan, and would only have leverage as a swing vote bloc if the KMT and the DPP remain on parity. A complete ousting of the KMT would actually work to the detriment of NPP candidates, as the DPP would steamroll over any of their proposals should its archenemy of the KMT be defeated.
On a slightly more cynical note, everything comes with a price, especially in politics. It is difficult to believe that the DPP would hand over any support to the NPP for free. In that regard, the GSDA’s outward suspicion of the DPP is a far better way of justifying itself as a Left party, and they do have distinctively more working class candidates, such as unionist Chang Li-Fen and farmer Lu Dong-Jie as compared to the candidates of NPP drawn from activism. It should not be ruled out the GSDA’s closer proximity to the working class could serve as a germ of future mobilization of labor, but at present its political outlook is still a characteristically reformist approach, with SDP chairperson Fan Yun citing the “Scandinavian model” as a superior developmental model.
We do not need to reiterate the utopianism of reformism here, but would have to conclude, from a Marxist perspective, that none of the Third Party Forces has the support base or the platform to stand up against the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, the point is not to criticize, but to remind Left-minded Taiwanese students that the very rise of this tide of new political landscape is entirely from their hands, and it is out of the youth movements where the Third Political Force emerged.
Similarly, the explosion of the Sanders campaign and the victory of Corbyn also were sparked by vitality of youth. The task then, is to use vitality to inspire the involvement and leadership of an even stronger force, the working class, in order to turn our calls into lasting reality. More importantly, we must fully recognize that the root of all of our problems is not unique to us, but shared by the people who live under global capitalism. The youths and workers of Taiwan, of the UK, of the US, of India, of China, and beyond, must stand in solidarity together to fight the tide of crises that is coming for all of us. However, with a democratically planned economy, we can also turn crisis into opportunity with the resources and wondrous technology of the world, and make things change for the better, for everyone.
 Trippi, Joe. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything. New York: Regan, 2004. Print.