Saturday, September 16, 2006

Scary News

Since I'm based in Berlin, I like to pay special attention to news about Germany. In this case, I was alarmed, but not completely surprised, to read the latest political news out of Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania, which is the German province north of Berlin (formerly part of East Germany). The scary news is the continuing resurgence of the neo-Nazi party, officially called the "National Party of Germany" (abbreviated NPD in German). This is one of several German regions experiencing massive out-migration and lack of employment in the wake of deindustrialization (the region called Saxony-Anhalt, southwest of Berlin, is another, and in my own observation looked even bleaker on a trip through...As another scary point to add, these were the same regions labelled by some on both sides as containing "no-go zones" for people-of-color coming to the World Cup.) Of course, there are many complex reasons behind why people join these neo-fascist, xenophobic, and ultra-nationalist movements. But my own general theory--shared by many others, including some historians and social scientists--is that economically depressed areas tend to lose faith and confidence in moderate political parties. In such times, they turn to further Right or Left politics that more vigorously critique the existing system. (This happened on a large scale across the industrialized world during the 1930s.) I fervently hope that the Leftist parties in Germany can grow strong enough to provide a visible way of critiquing the system that depends on the quite valid (in my view, as a Leftist, of course) basis of the concentration of power in the hands of wealthy people and corporations, instead of ceding the ground of theorizing economic disaffection to the intellectually and morally toxic far-right fascists who stir up hatred of whole groups of people. Unfortunately, the German Left is divided at the moment. The center-left party (SDP, the traditional party of labor), who enacted a moderately pro-business, Clinton-style regime under Gerhard Schroeder, now have joined with the leading center-right party in a "grand coalition" government under Angela Merkel. The new "Left" party (PDS), formed from an alliance of dissident SDP members disgruntled with its pro-business turn and the former East German socialist party, espouses many worthwhile ideas but is distrusted by much of mainstream Germany because of its unsavory associations with the East German regime. (In any event, SDP and Left party leaders seem to hate each other's guts.) The Greens are perhaps the best alternative, but their commendable positions on working-class issues were often subordinated to environmental priorities when they negotiated their part in the previous coalition government with the SDP. Now it would be folly to think that support for neo-Nazis would suddenly evaporate if a viable left-wing alternative came to the fore, but I do think it is essential to offer a credible and vigorous critique that focuses on the injustices of the system itself and not particular groups of people, such as non-whites, immigrants, Jews, or Muslims. Extreme nationalism and fascism are scary things, and in the world today they are experiencing a very worrisome revitalization.

One final comment on a completely different scary subject: spinach contaminated with E. coli in the USA. Here's the latest: "Federal health officials last night linked a deadly E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach products to a California farm company that sells organic produce in 74 percent of the country's grocery stores." If this is true, I wonder if this means that the industrialization of organic agriculture is finally coming home to roost. Observers of the organic-food scene (and I'm a strong supporter) have been noticing the trend of the increasingly popularity of organic food leading to much larger scale operations. As Julie Guthman points out in her sharp sociological study of California organic agriculture, Agrarian Dreams, organic agriculture is coming more and more to resemble conventional agriculture in its bigness, capital intensivity, labor exploitation, etc. The big agribusiness producers and supermarket chains have gotten in on the game. The organic ideal of the small family farmer using sustainable practices that are good for both people and the land seems to be fading, unfortunately. Maybe this is a wake-up call for the organic sector and those of us who support it?

1 comment:

Rob said...

In the Left/Right politics of extemism class conciousness becomes conflated with nationalism and xenophobia. We've seen this before in Germany. To some extent we're seeing this in France today. And to some extent we're seeing this in America with the Minutemen. These demogogs have a pretty simple task in crafting their message. We progressives who want to establish a society based on economic fairness, social justice and tolerance continue to fight an uphill battle. But we must keep fighting because the alternative ...