In 1957 Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav dissident called the victorious post war communist elite the “new ruling class” and predicted that Communism’s eventual demise would be caused by it and its excesses. For that he was muzzled, silenced and jailed. In 1989 while predicting the disintegration and destruction of Yugoslavia he declared that economic “centralization will not succeed because it will run up against the ethnic-political power bases in the republics. This is not classical nationalism but a more dangerous, bureaucratic nationalism built on economic self-interest.”
Change Milovan Djilas’ “centralization” to “globalization”, “ethnic power” to “racist xenophobia” and you have our current state of affairs and predicament. The collapse that he predicted for socialist Yugoslavia came to pass in a bloody mess. Today the United States and the European Union, once democratic republics, are besieged by a far left and ultra-right coalition and in danger of becoming dictatorships.
His prescient world view holds true. Yugoslavia in the 1940’s and 50’s experienced a transformation from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing one without regard to social and economic consequences and long term costs. The United States and the European Union have recently experienced a like change. The two have gone from labor intense manufacturing economies to a service and technology oriented ones with a major loss of jobs and job security. The result has been the elimination of the middle class with the control of power, political and economic, vested in corporate vested interests and the rich one percent.
Djilas’ second catch word was “nationalism”. Nationalism for Yugoslavia was a word that had many definitions: it spoke to ethnicity as in Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; it spoke to racism as in Slavs, Albanians and Gypsies; it spoke to religious intolerance as in Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim; it spoke to culture and politics – the West for the Croats, Russia for the Serbs and Medina for the Muslims. It was nationalism writ small, no better than base tribalism.
The United States, the land of immigrants, has nationalism geographically defined by a 2,000-mile wall on its southern border, Presidential Executive Orders declaring Muslims persona non-grata and Mexicans rapists and criminals. Racism was front and center in the 2016 United States Presidential election with David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan running for office and African-Americans hectored to vote lest “a racist is going to be president” responding with a “Really? Again?”
England has just voted itself out of the EU. In October François Villon won a primary calling for the lifting of Russian sanctions and “partnering with Moscow to curtail immigration and terrorism”. The French center right party has just rejected Manuel Valls the former Prime Minister who campaigned for more free market anti-labor policies. Marine Le Pen seems poised to Trump-like become President de la République. Even Poland, once home to Lech Walesa, has taken a turn to the right “tossing out the centrist party … for a socialist conservative and Eurosceptic party that wants to keep refugees out and spend more on Poland’s own poor”. Other European countries are on similar paths.
The third and perhaps most important point of Djilas’ three-legged economic stool theory is “self-interest” which today has united the far left and the ultra-right into a political force that seems destined to destroy the status quo ushering in a dictatorship of the few and privileged.
The left, the Socialists in Europe and the Democrats in the United States, once espoused the cause of the working man and protected labor from “the encroachment of an unbridled free market.” Universal health care, social security, minimum and living wage, workmen’s compensation, job security, maternal leave, free or affordable secondary and university education were the goals once embraced by these political parties and their allies.
The financial crisis of 2008 prompted the United States and European governments to first rescue banks and financial institutions notwithstanding their culpability in bringing about a financial Armageddon. The working middle class was abandoned by the left and the right and left spinning in the wind, to fend for itself. Rescue for the banks, foreclosure for the rest of us.
From the get-go, the Republicans never had labor or the middle classes’ backs, enough said. The Democratic Party fielded Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate, a woman who earned millions for speeches to the financial industry and who rose to financial fortune on her husband’s political coat tails, certainly not a populist in the Bernie Sanders mode. The Democratic Party stalwarts in Congress have been compromised and bought by the financial interests they were supposed to police and control.
“[M]ainstream political parties serve the interests of privileged global elites rather than working people”. The alt-right, contrary to its historical political position, now pays lip service to and embraces the concerns of the working and middle class. France’s National Front Party and parties of the right in other countries have abandoned free market theories and are now “protecting the working class” demanding the end of immigration because “native citizens are being supplanted [by] foreigners”.
By spurning mainstream political parties the two extremes have united and, supported by the racist fringe and the evangelical right, have elected Donald Trump President of the United States. Trump, a maverick not accountable to any constituency has been running amok since his inauguration on January 20 following what I fear is the road to totalitarianism.
Read Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 political novel It Can’t Happen Here with from a 2017 vantage point of view and think of the next four years.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com