Capitalism's Failures Have Ignited Protests Worldwide

Demonstrators in ChileWikimedia Commons

Conversation between journalist Ben Ehrenreich and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network.

Truthdig! - November 29, 2019

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News, folks. This is Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Bob Dylan wrote a song many moons ago, and one of the lines went something like this: “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you?” And I won’t say the rest, but that song was called Ballad of a Thin Man. And we used to sing that song to the establishment back in the 60s when the world was being rocked by liberation movements and worldwide demonstrations. Now, from Colombia, to Hong Kong, to Haiti, Bolivia, Egypt, and Iran, and a dozen more countries, are exploding with demonstrations.

They’re not all erupting for the same reason, at least not the same obvious reason, but the underlying causes may be connected; from the failure of the neoliberal policies, to international finance rules that benefit the elite and the wealthy but leave the masses behind struggling in their wake, to capitalism’s inability to answer the social and then the economic needs of the people themselves. But given that, and how the right may support Hong Kong, but the left may decry the coup in Bolivia–though I might add this whole radical kind of supports both of them. But seriously, how do we connect those dots, understand what is going on in this planet and how these revolts may be confronting and defining the future for the 21st century. 
Ben Ehrenreich wrestles with this in his latest article for The Nation called Welcome to the Global Rebellion Against Neoliberalism. And Ben, welcome. Good to have you with us.

BEN EHRENREICH: It’s good to be here, Marc.

MARC STEINER: And let me just add before we start that Ben’s most recent new book is The Way to the Spring, which is based on his reporting from the West Bank. And next July we’ll see his next book, Desert Notebooks: A Roadmap to the End of Time, which may be appropriate for this conversation. Maybe not.

Well Ben, good to have you here. But I think as you look first of all in a broader sense at these rebellions taking place across the globe–and we covered some of this when we covered Hong Kong. I had some people kind of writing on YouTube that they thought I was being too liberal in supporting and having these people–calling them socialists on the air, these people who were part of the Hong Kong demonstrations. And then other people getting upset because of the coup in Bolivia. And they seem really disparate in terms of their political underpinnings. But in some ways, all these things–from there, to Haiti, to the Sudan, to throughout the world–there’s a connection here that is really hard for most people to kind of put their hands around.

BEN EHRENREICH: Yeah. I think for a lot of them there is. And I’ve been grappling with this for a few weeks, as one after another country just sort of explodes into protest trying to figure out why this is happening now; what, if anything, they all have in common. Eventually, I just started making a list, and the list was long. I mean, as you said, it’s more than a dozen countries that are now in the last… since September have been thrown into turmoil by popular uprisings. Some of them started a lot earlier than that. Hong Kong did, and Haiti certainly did. And I started trying to make lists of what in each country set them off, and the commonalities quickly began to stand out. In most of them, whether it was a hike in a fuel tax or a hike in transit fare as in Chile that set them off, it was austerity policies of one kind or another that pushed people into the streets.

In other words, people are in all of these countries getting more and more squeezed, which means the daily life is harder. There is fewer and fewer social services available to them from the government and they see in pretty much all of these countries a corrupt, unaccountable elite, which is enriching itself while the lives of most people become more and more difficult.

And I think in most of these countries, this has been happening for some time. And there was some small spark like in Chile, the hike in transit fares that pushed a few people into the street and then many more people. And then of course governments tend to overreact to these things with considerable brutality. And that pushes even more people in the streets. And then within a few days you have a vast movement happening.

MARC STEINER: So I mean, when you look at these things… I mean, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about were these rebellions taking place, riots taking place, street demonstrations across the globe. To me, there’s a connection between that and the rise of the populist right. I’m not saying the populist right is behind the demonstrations at all. But the connection is, it seems to me–and I’d like to see what your thoughts on this–is the inability of this neoliberal capitalist world to answer the questions of people’s lives, so for people to survive. And I think that’s the connecting dots, but it’s being used politically across the spectrum and I think that’s what’s confusing people so much. How do you put your finger on it? ...
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