A Trade Policy for the Workers Begins from Within

By Yong Kwon

After decades of pushing back against free trade agreements that advanced corporate interests, labor advocates in the United States have developed a reflexive disdain for treaties that expand commercial ties with other countries. As a consequence, the left has shied away from criticizing the Trump administration’s imposition of trade barriers.

This is a mistake. Privileged classes throughout history have employed protectionism and trade liberalization interchangeably to safeguard their economic dominance. Labor must be similarly flexible to counter the malign influence of capital.

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The United States Must Support a Non-American World Bank President

By Daniel Remler

After seven years at the helm of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim announced in January that he would be resigning as president. Since the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were first established after World War II, the United States and Europe have had an informal agreement whereby an American would run the World Bank and a European would run the IMF. True to this pact, President Donald Trump announced the nomination of Treasury official David Malpass as the US nominee. As happened when President Obama nominated Kim in 2012, there were calls for the US to abandon its stranglehold on the World Bank’s top job.

Though Malpass managed to gain enough support from other stakeholders to become president, progressive policymakers can take the opportunity of this transition to make clear that ending the US monopoly on World Bank leadership and supporting leadership for the organization from the developing world must be a priority for the next progressive US president. This policy shift would not only recognize fundamental shifts in the global economy toward developing countries, but also begin to address the institution’s significant shortcomings and help advance progressive economic policy.

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No Universal Prescription for the Universal Condition

By Caleb Weaver

For many viewers, a photograph of Venezuelan protesters preparing to hand out flowers during the February confrontation on the Tienditas Bridge likely evoked the iconic photographs taken during the 1967 March on the Pentagon. For students of social movements, it also provided unmistakable confirmation of the scholarly literature and political playbook from which the Venezuelan opposition is drawing. The eternal return of the flower gesture speaks to the influence that Gene Sharp, Erica Chenoweth, and other political scientists studying civil resistance have gained in the human rights, democracy-promotion, and foreign policy fields. Drawing upon a seemingly bottomless reserve of case studies on Serbia’s Otpor movement, civil resistance literature emphasizes activist strategies and civil society organizations rather than armed struggle or class dynamics as the driver of political change.

Backed by an impressive dataset, Chenoweth and Maria Stephan find that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent ones to achieve independence, regime change, or an end to occupation. The core argument of their 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works is that nonviolent resistance efforts present lower barriers to entry than do armed struggles and can therefore generate much higher levels of mass participation. This mass mobilization offers protestors a variety of levers with which to force capitulation. Civil resistance scholars argue that whatever benefits movements derive from violence tend to be outweighed by the repression and public disapproval that it invites. They push back, therefore, against studies such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed and We Will Shoot Back which argue the presence of an armed wing or violent flank can increase a movement’s chance of success

While leftists energized by the examples of the Russian Revolution, the Black Panther Party, or the Zapatista uprising may bristle at its rejection of ‘violent flanks,’ civil resistance scholarship often overlaps with leftist analysis. To give one example, Sharp, Chenoweth, and others correct the hagiographies that credit mass movements with appealing to their opponents’ conscience or forging moral consensus. Participation is valuable, they argue, for the coercive power that it lends protestors. This conclusion should resonate with leftist observers of the labor movement, who know from the tradition of dockworker militancy that a small group exercising control over a chokepoint in production has a clearer path to success than a universalist effort to convert class antagonists into friends.

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A Dream of Spring

Yanis Varoufakis and the DiEM25 movement are making headlines with their call for a more democratic and just European Union. Varoufakis brings his experience dealing with the EU as the former finance minister of Greece to the table for the European Spring, a European Parliament electoral slate that includes an ambitious and audacious vision for Europe. Their recently-released manifesto can be found here. I spoke with DiEM25’s policy director, David Adler, over email.

Emma Steiner: Tell us a little more about the European Spring.

David Adler: The premise of European Spring is that Europe is ripe for a grassroots transnational movement. The financial crisis of 2008 not only revealed the interconnections between European economies — bound together by a Single Market and, in the case of the Eurozone, a single currency — but also between European democracies. These political dynamics were not pretty, pitting core against periphery, and most memorably, Germans against Greeks. But in the process, they illustrated the extent to which every European country is, for better or worse, bound to every other. In other words, this crisis had the effect of giving birth to a European demos: a single public that — despite differences in class or country — is beginning to understand the role that institutions at the European level play in shaping life at the local level.

All of this to say: our movement has grown out of Europe not because of some sense of European exceptionalism, but because the conditions for transnational politics were most favorable, and most urgent.

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Can the Next President Dismantle an Inherited Drone War?

By David Sterman

Since he took office, President Donald Trump has overseen unprecedented escalations in America’s counterterrorism and drone wars in Yemen and Somalia while simultaneously ramping up secrecy around the drone strike program. In some ways the escalations are no surprise, as Trump campaigned in part on extreme violence as a counterterrorism strategy, including arguing for killing terrorists’ families – an act which would be a war crime. Some reports have suggested this attitude found expression within the policy process.

Yet careful tracking of the America’s counterterrorism wars by New America shows that the violent rhetoric is hardly a prerequisite for widespread use of drone strikes by presidents of either party. The Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategy has substantial commonalities with the Obama administration’s approach, and the Obama strategy took many of its cues from the Bush administration. Different administrations have talked about drones and airstrikes in different ways, but such strikes have become a key part of a bipartisan counterterrorism consensus. As a new crop of presidential candidates pledge progressive approaches to foreign policy problems, voters are owed answers about whether and how candidates will meaningfully change American counterterrorism policy.   

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“Interior” by Design

The US Department of the Interior is one of the federal government’s neatest rhetorical tricks. Built largely to manage land in the American West that had become “interior” to the United States only recently, through the colonial logic of Manifest Destiny, the department’s name serves to legitimize US territorial expansion. Interior’s role in expanding, managing, and obscuring American empire, however, does not stop at the California coast. Megan Black, an assistant professor of history at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has a new history of the Interior Department out that traces the department’s leading role in America’s pursuit of mineral resources around the world. Her book, The Global Interior, is a crucial contribution to our understanding of the the hidden ways American power functions around the world. I spoke with Dr. Black over email about her book and the role Interior has played in the construction of American foreign policy.

Sam Ratner: What brought you to the international history of the Interior Department as a topic for close study? Is there something about Interior in particular that speaks to your broader project as an historian?

Megan Black: I came to study the Interior Department’s global mineral pursuits in a circuitous way. In graduate school at George Washington University, I was interested in connections between US policies toward indigenous peoples and US policies toward Third World nations. Minerals became one prism through which those connections were visible. For example, I encountered the dynamic and controversial activism of an organization that claimed histories of mineral exploitation linked American Indian nations and Third World nations: the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, which self-labeled as the “Indian OPEC.” I filed this history in the back of my mind while searching for evidence of interwoven mineral histories.

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Beyond Good and Evil

Scholars Daniel Bessner and Udi Greenberg have recently published a piece in The Nation regarding the need for nuance in left foreign policy, and in particular how an over-reliance on moral frameworks may create weaknesses in Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s foreign policy proposals. They argue that it is important to avoid falling back on harmful Cold War logics and that policymakers must instead focus on areas of cooperation. I asked them some questions about their piece and related topics over Facebook.

Emma Steiner: I’ve noticed a real trend of pieces about progressive foreign policy lately. What do you think precipitated the recent demands for a progressive and left foreign policy? It seems there has always been a real hunger on the left for an alternative to endless militarism, but that this is finally starting to be taken seriously.

Udi Greenberg: As we wrote in our piece, I think that the main instigation behind this is the election of Donald Trump. Trump is probably the first president to speak about foreign relations in terms that truly move beyond the Cold War – no platitudes about moral benevolence, no pretense to care about democracy promotion. Trump is also the first president in decades to run on a platform that was not committed to unmitigated free trade. So I think that the left has recognized breaking with orthodox American rhetoric on foreign relations may not be as electorally problematic as has long been assumed.

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