14 December, 2017

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The left Is In Uncharted Waters: Wake Up stupid! It’s Neo-Populism

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Till recently I was the only person in this serendipitous Isle plugging away at the significance of the neo-populist surge. Even for a laid back country this was odd. Familiar populism of yesteryear, an old hat, is a poor departure point for interpreting a new phenomenon. Internationally too I was early in picking up its global portent. We need to deal with its rise, variants, unfolding manifestations and note when it peaks. It’s new game so sometimes one misjudges; mea culpa. Last week I said Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche was unlikely to win big in the June 11 (preliminary) and 18 (final) French legislative elections. My reading now is that it will win 240 to 290 places in the 577 seat assembly. Allow me the flexibility to think on my feet and retune from time to time. 

In previous pieces in this column I have talked, maybe too much, about Trump, Brexit, the Philippine’s Duterte, France’s Macron and Le Pen, and India’ Modi; so no more today. Most of you I think glance at my column occasionally and will miss the continuity, sorry.  If I had resources and time I would put it all together in a booklet, right now I have neither. My scope today is:

  1. A crumbling left-populist regime in Venezuela, visibly mutating into a dictatorship.
  2. Victory of President Hassan Rouhani with 57% in Iran’s 19 May election while pro-poor populist and Islamic hardliner Ebrahim Raisi polled 38%.
  3. Opinion poll indications that Labour will suffer a setback on June 8 in the UK.
  4. My updated view that the opportunities opening up before a unified left in Lanka are better than I had previously judged.

Venezuela

This once oil rich nation which struck out on a revolutionary-populist path is now crumbling. The Nicolas Maduro government controls nothing, not the economy, not parliament, not the streets, not the masses and control of the army is eroding. What do you expect! The annual rate of inflation has risen to750% (no, I have not added a zero), food riots, an exodus of a million to Columbia and Brazil, hospitals sans medicine and anaesthetics (thousands cross the border to Brazil and Columbia seeking treatment). Now Maduro is attempting to rewrite Chavez’s 1999 Constitution and grab absolute power.  He used the puppet supreme court to strip the legislature of power but this was reversed by intervention of the Organisation of American States.

How did a successful country of the early 2000s, the country of the Bolivarian Revolution which brought welfare, education, opportunity, upliftment and liberation to millions living in poverty, suffer a debacle? Combining the reserves in Lake Maracaibo, the Gulf of Venezuela and the Orinoco Basin, it is not Saudi Arabia that has the world’s largest oil reserves, it is Venezuela! During the early and middle Chavez years when oil prices approached $150 a barrel, the country was awash. Chavez bathed the nation in welfare, education, housing, mass vaccination, food distribution in slums, public health and dental care and sports training for the poor. He formed neighbourhood committees and organs of grass-roots democracy. He poured money to sustain socialist friends such as ailing Cuba.

This was the great Bolivarian Revolution that socialists of the world hailed, but only a few like yours faithfully pointed out that its foundations were on shifting sands. Chavez spent like there was no tomorrow; he did not invest any of this great wealth in the long-term economy. Investment in agriculture, fisheries and industry was ignored. When oil prices plunged below $50 the edifice crumbled and debts ballooned; there was nothing to eat and nothing to buy anything with.

The moral is simple and important and not well learned by superficial Sri Lankan ‘Chavists’. Not only populist regimes steeped in conventional capitalism, but socialist-populist regimes too can be bloody stupid.  States crumble for systemic reasons (the 1930s, stagflation in 1970s and 2008-now) but they may also go belly-up if governance is in the hands of bloody-fool regimes – e.g. Marcos, Berlusconi, Mbeki-Zuma, Mugabe. Economic calamity is not only ordained in capitalist genes, it can be man-made. Capitalism is prone to periodic catastrophic crisis, but not every cock-up is systemic.

The same is true of some left-populist and ‘socialist’ regimes; they may be astonishingly stupid and no conclusions of methodological significance can be drawn therefrom.  I am flabbergasted by the stupidity of the Chavez and Maduro regimes, especially the latter. Imagine a breadwinner who showers abundance for a few years, soon to leave his family destitute because extravagance leaves it penniless!  The Venezuelan disaster is not a case from which generic conclusions can be drawn.

Iran

Rouhani won by a comfortable 19% but Raisi polled a remarkable 38%; both very significant numbers. Iran may be a continent away from France but exhibited parallelism; a liberal candidate put together a class coalition which bested a radical neo-populist challenge by about 60:40. The class mix of both winning coalitions included the elite, urban middle classes, internationalists and much of the new-working-class like tech worker.  (Mistakenly dubbed middle-class though the surplus value it generates is appropriated by capital as is the lot of blue-collar workers).

The parallelism in the opposition is more striking. The underprivileged know that the system in France or Iran (or America or Brexit Britain) is rigged in favour of the privileged and realises that the political establishment is incapable of responding to the grievances of ordinary people. The web is awash with statistics; the 1%, the 99%, Wall Street bankers, trillions in off-shore sinecures, kick-backs and tax avoidance. This in the eyes of ordinary citizen is ‘The System’. In France the traditional working class backed Le Penn, in Iran unemployed young people, the poor and those bypassed by the benefits of partial sanctions lifting, swelled Raisi’s 38%. This is a new angle on the class struggle.

Often but not always (Duterte is one such exception) neo-populists are xenophobic or ultra-nationalist – say Le Pan’s anti Muslim/immigrant refrain or the red-necked racism of Trump’s support base. Raisi is identified with hard-line Islamism and the Revolutionary Guard but how closely he empathises with jihadism I don’t know. Interestingly ethnic/religious extremism is one of the first things neo-populists jettison under pressure. The French National Front is licking its wounds and pondering its programme; if you buy his utterances in Riyadh, Trump has been smitten by the sons of the Prophet; Raisi has seen the light and declares the Iran nuclear deal acceptable; Modi is vetting Hindutva inclinations to morph into a reform and reconstruction oriented popular-populist.

The intellectual minus for those unwilling to put aside old-hat populism and understand neo-populism as a new phenomenon is that their discourse becomes sterile; historical not original.

Britain’s Labour Party

God forbid! But apart from uncharacteristically exhorting the almighty we are staring into the abys of a Labour defeat on June 8. (Recent polls show the Tory lead declining and it is too early to say whether the Manchester bomb will influence voting). The main reason for the swing to the Tory’s is that Brexit seems cast in stone and the electorate buys Theresa May’s plea for a strong negotiating position. The other reason is that Corbyn and Labour have not adequately grasped neo-populism and failed to develop a flexible and savvy campaign. Labour may be wiped out in Scotland, decimated in Wales (the land of Kier Hardy and Aneurin Bevan) and may lose in some of its strongholds in the Midlands and Northern England.

I do not have sufficient words left to foist gratuitous advice on Labour about how it should do its business but a tactical voting pact with the Lib-Dems, Greens and in Scotland with the SNP would be a good starting point.  Now I have to shift with my favourite stomping ground, Lanka.

It’s a favourable wicket you stupids!

I will not repeat for the hundredth time that unification is the only way forward for the left. Sectarianism is a congenital disorder; Lanka’s small-sect left leaders repel each other like monopolar magnets. But my target today is the JVP. The principal culprits for the absence of left unity are not the minuscule sects but the JVP which has the size and clout to make things happen. If the JVP wished to it could boldly set about working on unification and it could achieve much in a few months. But from its origin the JVP has been isolationist, sunk in never-never land, shunning left collaboration. It is paying the price; perennial dwarf status compared to the big bourgeois parties. Well how then are left and right populists doing so well all over the world?

Personality is another minus. Whatever their faults Trump, Modi and Duarte are larger than life, fired by boundless ambition. Anura Kumara is not; he is laidback, easy going, an unlikely bidder for power. Wijeweeera, conversely, was ambitious to a fault and eschewed unity because he thought the JVP could go it alone; AK is apathetic because he shuns the limelight, a pity. The next general election will be a break-out opportunity for a unified left. This government may get the constitution through but the UNP is unlikely to achieve much on the economy. Sirisena’s ramshackle contraption will remain in the doldrums; the JO is shunned by Sinhala progressives, minorities and global powers. The West and China want none of it – did you read about the tongue lashing Modi gave Mahinda Rajapaksa? There are spaces opening up, it is time to grab opportunity by the forelock, but the left needs imagination, boldness, leadership and unity.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Where , pray, may one read about “the tongue lashing Modi gave Mahinda Rajapaksa?”

    A link to a source will help this eager, if obviously ignorant, reader…

    • 2
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      Dayan : “Where may………… read about “the tongue lashing Modi gave Mahinda Rajapaksa?”……….”. Till and until Mahinda personally confirms the “Modi tongue lashing” one must not believe it!

    • 1
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      (Lanka-e-News – 14.May.2017

      KD

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        Prof David, Lanka-e-news is well known for resorting to exaggerations – but they serve a purpose though.

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      Where , pray, may one read about—–Is this a denial of what happened ? Is there a “Lies agreed upon” version Bell Pottinger has produced in Modi’s meeting too? ———————————————–

      Another Zero casualty 2009 May UNHRC. I think some people think the diplomats’ job is lying and hiding. —————

      May I pray , somebody come forward and release the video of what they talked with Mr.Modi’s on that occasion. Then the confusion is over. ————————————-

      If Thero do know what exactly happened, he would have been the first to trumpet out it. He was , probably kept in dark of what happened in that late night. So, he may be trying to collect some information this way. ———————-

      A link to a source will help this eager, if obviously ignorant, reader…—Some readers never had clarified to them of by reading books or news pieces. They always live in their dark world for ever. —————–There are talks to media by Indian Ambassador and New King too, about that meeting. They too giving the picture of what happened, if not a transcribe, on that night. Indian Ambassador had told somebody was warned of something and New King said he was willingly issued the permission, as per Ambassador request, hinting expected what to come out in that meeting, probably Ambassador might have have conveyed to New King Mr. Modi’ temperature, while informing the meeting request.
      The expected Delhi meeting will not be easy to hide as unlike Colombo media, Delhi media will right away release all talks.

  • 0
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    Modi may have given Mahinda the tongue …… But it was lashing or otherwise, I am not sure…..The professor must be referring to that JVP dude who told the Colombo Media the other day, that the “ex Prez should be hung”,. when he says the Sinhala Progressives are not with the JO……..West and the Tamils of course have no alternative but to lick Dr Ranil. if they are still dreaming of Eelaam…….But the Muslims I don’t think will be licking Dr Ranil unless they are also dreaming of an Eelaam in the East………AK sold the soul of the JVP for 25 Lakhs ……To add insult to the injury , he sold it to Dr Ranil …… But Dr Ranil helped his Singapore Mahendran to collect LKR 11 Billion as a thank you for the Diaspora support. to get elected……….This same Dr Ranil was in the Cabinet which which sanctioned its UNP Police pushing sharpened HB pencils through the Sinhala Buddhist Years of the rural poor youth, before burning them in Tyre Pyres or dumping them in the Indian Ocean….. The new UNP Minister whom Dr Ranil appointed as the one and only Field Marshal of the 2500 year old Srilankan Nation, openly boasted that JVP Tamil Kumar prostrated in front of him. kissed the feet and begged for mercy.. That is why he was allowed to live….Now AK , Dr Ranil and the Field Marshall are in one bed……..And the Professor reckons JVP has a chance ….Surely the Professor can’t be serious…..

    • 0
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      Professor’s socialism is one affiliated with Tribalism. Professor likes if Ranil establishes a new govt with the help of JVP. Because JVP is changing their stand by placing them more towards minorities. We need to remember JVP is also aligned with UNP. I think, that is all because of Mahinda chintanya that was active in UPFA. there Namal rajapakse and establishing new political dynasty were the focus. Maithripala Sirisena has the ability to streamline everything. It looks they both, including Ranil, will not do itPlundering the country will continue at the expense of the Sinhala and sinhala buddhists while all the minorities are maling best out of it.

  • 0
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    Professor brought some other garbage from Venezuela to Philippines just to make the article long. His wish list is some how make the Unpatriotic Party, Ravi, Ranil etc., make the next govt. Some say it is the Mahinda Rajapakse who wanted Progressive JVP to sabotage the universities and SAITM. Another theory is Wimal Weerawansha is in Ranil’s pocket and that is why he is not in the jail now. Even though the Prof likes socialists they are just bottom feeders and they should not be allowed anywear near any powerful positions. It is better if they lose their seats too. It is good news if Jackal opposition is no where in the govt. If they get positions it is because Maithripala Sirisena’s weak leadership, simply inability find good people in Sri lanka and president is scared to wild animals living inthe parliament. Ranil takes his best shots this time too to win the govt, but he should noot be allowed any where near his goal.

    Another thing, that no one addresses is over representation of Tamils by TNA in the parliament, while JVP is under represented. If you compare the percentagesof voters in each cmap, TNA is over represented in the parliament.

  • 2
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    No way that MaRa will confirm that he was told off by Modi!

  • 2
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    Sir, thank you for correct name of our president this time.

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      Who would care about his name ? His has been no different to that of our former President who practised anything and everything he thought was right, but the country is taken to a fall as nobody expected.
      Today the successive govt has been struggling ot find the way how they will have to gap up and iron out the high profile blunders they made then.
      Each and every step of the previous regime has created moutains bigger than to Meethota mulla garbage dump.
      Today, the current duo make efforts not to talk about it, since that could then be criticised by the public as they are no capable of doing anything.
      Just for that, the size of the economic crisis, the country is taken to by the mismangement of Rajapakshe, is being hidden. That is why the message is not sent to masses.
      I think it is wrong to keep th epeople in dark.
      Let alone today, they have to keep them updated.

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    Dear Professor, as you say, Anura Kumara is a mediocre guy. Sri Lankans like good orators who can sway the masses, as their rulers. Anura Kumara may fancy himself as a great orator, nut he is not. I particularly do not lke the way he emphasizes points by doubling the size of his eyeballs. On the other hand Wijeweera was a great orator and knew how to sway the Sinhala mases.

    In any case, I will not vote for the JVP as long as I live because of the trashy way they treated the helpless and power less common people of this country by grabbing their ID cards, asking them to switch off lights and murdered some for going to their jobs dis regarding their orders. I remember the way they brutally murdered two of my relatives just because they were UNP’ers. In short they will never get my vote. I would rather vote for Prabhakaran had he been alive.

    However, my question is, why don’t you come forward and be the left leader, Professor, instead of talking about other would be leaders?

  • 1
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    Professor, why don’t you get Dayan to contest for Presidency and yourself as PM? A sure victorious combination. Also a world’s first where we have two PhD ‘s at the top.

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      Argon – you seem to have not the slightest knowledge the way lanken grasseaters tick.

      Do you think the edcuated would have been elected by lanken majorities ?

      Argon – you need to improve your thinking patterns. Just start distributing some rice packets, that can help you getting an idea about lanken folks in general.

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        Hey, LittleisimonfromBerlin, thanks for that comment. I had completely forgotten you because I thought you were a sinna podiyen in the Lellawathie, sama, sam group. But now I find you are one of the rump hairs very close to those 3. As I said, you guys are just walking in to my trap like sheep for slaughter. You happen to be the fourth within one hour. Sorry, that is all for now. I have to fill up a form for you and send it to the intelligence chief.

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          Get a life stupid Edwin.

          Why you think I am tamil ? Just because we see it different us to be branded as tamil rump. What an idiot you should be to eventhink of us that way. I am not embarraced, not all, but why you guys permanently attack the other, just becasue they would not join you to attack tamils and muslims ?
          That is not the teachings of buddha I was taught in Daham School.
          It is becoming very difficult to change the mind set of average lankens.
          Our sinhalayas are like baluwalige unapuruke dhammath wenasa noweyi – you cant straighten dog s tail even if you put it in a bamboo sheath.
          I thought 60 year old Edwin would learn it from his girl friend, to stay peace after meeting her last weekend in Dubai. But now it seems he has become an another DJ after attaining Nirwana last.

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            “Why you think I am tamil ? “ because the rump is tamil. the anus in the middle of the rump is tamil. the hair around it is tamil. to name a few other rump hairs, S for Sinhala: Take the names. sam fernandopulle, Samuel Jayaweeran, Seelawathie, sama and now Samson Gnanalingam. cut a little you are simonfromBerlin. that is why I think so you must be also not just tamil but rump tamil.

            • 0
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              This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

              • 1
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                Why we comment

                samuel Jayaweeran, you were laughing at me when my comments were being censored by CT. But now yours too? The one who spreads metta, karuna, muditha all over and pontificates to me that I am uncontrolled? I am happy that CT appears to be applying their comment policy without bias and prejudice. That is what we want. The putujjana commentators like me, who are not part of any big groups with big agendas are doing so because they feel that they are making a contribution, however small it may be, to put things right in our society. CT, like all else, is not perfect. But their intentions are good.

                • 0
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                  That proves CT is not biased that is it.
                  You yourself accused not once many a times CT to have been biased.

                  Got it ?
                  Samuel

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      Yours further confirmed, you are none other than that racist -EDWIN..

      Dayan is no fit even to be the mayor to COLOMBO. What have been bubbling Mr Rodrigo ?
      I dont know about Prof. KD, he should be well at his subject but not inlanken politics. I really dont want the octagenarian to end up with all health problems.

      As we all know, we have got several PhDers in some positions, even profs are in the parliament, none of them seem to have done the least. Glp s qualifications have not helped him to be an exemplary politician.

      Profs. Rajiiva W and GLP are provable examples the way some profs have turned out to be CLOWNs after joining to srilanken style politics.
      Prof. GLP has been abused by former Maifa King and co. on and on. He may also have been servant to get MR ready with his 40 or more talishments, he is reported to have to wear on his body parts, before blindly superstitous man leaving for anywhere
      Even the articles of Former Mafia King written in English have been completed by GLP today.
      Had he been in academia, he could help over hundreds of PhD students to complete their dissertations.
      So was the case with Prof. Rajeewa Wijensinghe, .. had he been one incharge of the local Unis, his knowledge would have been given further to the youth who are really in need getting the knolwedge.

      Prof s in LANKEN politics are almost like SQUARE pegs in round holes.

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    you are entitled to your tamil rumpy opinion and me to my patriotic Sinhala Buddhist opinion. I strongly feel that Dayan should be our next PM with AKD as President. Ranil is our PM and Any change is an improvement.

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      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

      • 0
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        This is fine, my previous posts were longer than 300 words.

        I will summarize it in the afternoon.

        • 0
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          Good for you.

  • 1
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    Little man from Berlin and Argon knew each other. So notice it.

    • 0
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      Argon was former Edwin: Nobody else.

      • 0
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        Run Little Simon, run. Your Big simon is getting bashed up by the Tamils form the North. He needs help. Just try to forget the infatuation bordering on obsession you have for Argon and Edwin.

        • 0
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          Widening yours unncessarily can have its consequences.
          Again on tamils. Are they not srilankens ?
          You need to study lot more before joining with CT commentators.

          Argon, Buran Appu, Edwin are all from one man who is rotten with devious and malicious thoughts. Nobody can help him but divine forces. This must not be limited ot him, but to all that make every efforts to create new form of ethinic clashes.
          What these evil packets would ever want to achieve is beyond my comphrehension.

          • 0
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            “What these evil packets would ever want to achieve is beyond my comphrehension”. Many things, a great many things are beyond your comprehension. Little simon. Just curious, you are called little simon because you are a little but important part of Simon, are you?

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