The Rightward Shift In America & The Corporatism of American Politics

The Article: The 2006 Elections and the Rightward Shift by Robert Brenner in the New Left Review.

The Text: How should the Democrats’ 2006 recapture of Congress be interpreted in the context of the broader trends in American politics over the last decades? In what follows, I will examine the development of the two parties against the background of underlying shifts in the balance of class forces in America, to read the conjuncture of 2006 against the deeper structural movements of the American polity—from the labour struggles of the 1930s and construction of the New Deal Democrats, through the Great Society reforms of the postwar boom, to the political paradigms of the capitalist offensive with the onset of the long downturn. Within this framework, I will argue that the rise of the Republican right, building from bases in an expanding, non-unionized South, has introduced a new dynamic into us politics that aims to push the pro-corporate agenda beyond anything even Reagan had contemplated.


The results themselves have already received much scrutiny. Broadly speaking, the basis for the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 mid-terms lay in swings of 4–6 per cent in their favour among nearly every category of the electorate, plus a highly significant 14 per cent swing among Latinos. [1] This enabled the Democrats to increase their House delegation from 201 to 233 seats, with the Republicans dropping from 232 to 202. In the Senate, the dp won six new seats, to move from 45 to 51 (including two independents), while gop seats fell from 55 to 49.

Though some have hailed a new thrust toward social reform, [2] it is generally acknowledged that the vote represented a repudiation of the Bush Administration’s record rather than a surge of positive support for the Democrats. Throughout October 2006, American tv screens were dominated by images of increasing mayhem and communal strife in Mesopotamia, with sixteen intelligence agencies reporting that the war was fuelling terrorism, not reducing it. In addition, corruption exposés and sex scandals laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican-fundamentalist charade; Katrina remained a running sore; ‘homeland security’, like Iraq reconstruction, was sold to the highest bidder—against a background of poor jobs performance, real-wage stagnation, and dwindling pensions and health insurance. But it is of course America’s failure in Iraq that has made this such an exceptional electoral conjuncture. [3]

Since 9/11, Karl Rove’s strategy has been to portray first Afghanistan and then Iraq as the central arenas in the ‘war on terror’, in order to win the popular support the Bush Administration needed for the implementation of its pro-business agenda, which could not have prevailed electorally on its own. Rove was successful in 2002 and 2004, when worry about national security outweighed mounting opposition to the war. The swing votes of married women with children, the so-called ‘security moms’, had favoured the Republicans by, respectively, 53 and 56 per cent. But by 2006, the moms were supporting the Democrats by a 12-point margin, 50 per cent to 38 per cent. Fifty-seven per cent of Americans (against 35 per cent) now felt that the Iraq war had failed to make the country more secure. Herein lies the nub of the 2006 election. [4]

Nevertheless, the Republicans have held their own to a remarkable extent. Their base turned out in force, with white evangelicals increasing their share of the total vote from 23 to 24 per cent, while the figure for those attending church at least once a week rose from 41 to 45 per cent, albeit on a significantly smaller overall turnout. [5] In their southern heartland the Republicans retained all their House seats save for two in the Miami area—which in socio-political terms barely counts as the South—and one in North Carolina, where former pro-football star Heath Shuler ousted John Taylor. [6] More serious was the narrow defeat of Virginia Senator George Allen, a party leader and standard-bearer of the right, by a Reagan-era Navy Secretary, James Webb; but since the seat was lost by such a slender margin, following an unusually gaffe-prone campaign, the broader significance for the Republicans is moot. Overall, Rove must be comforted by the degree to which the Republicans retained their popular following, despite the debacle of Iraq and with the Administration having forced through a raft of blatantly pro-business legislation. [7] In 2000 Bush ran as a ‘compassionate conservative’, and the Republicans won 48 per cent of the House total popular vote. By 2006, compassion had been entirely abandoned, yet the Republicans still garnered 46 per cent. In 2000, 36 per cent of those voting had described themselves as Republicans; in 2006, 35 per cent still did. [8]

Passive beneficiaries of the fallout from Iraq, the Democrats had run a national campaign without a discernible programme—and this entirely by design. [9] Their strategy, under the direction of Rahm Emanuel, head of the party’s Congressional Campaign Committee, was to field hand-picked centrist and conservative candidates in the most marginal districts, focusing entirely on the Bush Administration’s failings. [10] As a result, their newly elected members of Congress will largely serve to strengthen the right wing of the party, which longs for nothing more than a return to the glory years of Bill Clinton, when balanced budgets and neoliberalism were the order of the day, Lincoln’s Bedroom was always occupied and triangulation was the highest principle.

As much as anyone, Emanuel exemplifies today’s Democratic Party and is likely to be among those setting its future direction. A top political operative under Clinton, he has played a leading role in the ‘modernizing’ Democratic Leadership Council, formed in 1984 to adapt the Party to the Reagan era. The dlc-New Democrats’ aim is to expand their access to business, to the white vote and to the South—the assumption being that traditional black and working-class Democrat constituencies will have nowhere else to go. This means support for stepped-up military spending and us imperial ventures, advocacy of tax breaks and other pro-business policies, and the termination of any remaining socially redistributive commitments to the labour movement and black organizations. The dlc now have sixty representatives in the House, over a quarter of the Democrats’ total roll. In addition, the Party’s ultra-conservative Blue Dog caucus now has 44 representatives, up by seven since 2004. Formed in 1994 by right-wing congressional Democrats, particularly—but not solely—from the South, to counter what they saw as a left-wing Party majority, the group lean to conservatism not just on ‘social issues’ like abortion and gun control, but also on economic policy. ‘Pro-growth’ and committed to ‘fiscal responsibility’, many Blue Dogs voted in favour of the Bush Administration’s most socially regressive measures. On the eight major pieces of legislation that divided the Democrat and Republican majorities in the 2004–5 session of Congress, 45 per cent of Blue Dog votes backed the Republicans. [11]

In the wake of the 2006 mid-terms, the victorious dp conservatives have been flexing their muscles. As Arkansas representative Mike Ross announced: ‘Republicans lost their seats not to liberals but to Blue Dog Democrats . . . We’ll have a lot to say about what passes and what doesn’t.’ Tennessee representative John Tanner has stated: ‘We increased our market share by going where the market was, to moderate, even Republican, districts . . . If we’re going to hold and consolidate that, we have to understand the reality that the face of the Democratic Caucus has changed from where it was in the late 80s and early 90s.’ Naturally this is welcome news to the House Republican leadership. [12]


The Democrats’ electoral-legislative strategy and likely future trajectory make manifest the transformation of the American polity over the past half-century. From the hegemony of liberalism, in which the Democrats made the running and to which the Republicans had to adapt, this has shifted to an ascendancy of the right, in which the Republicans have been the driving force, and with respect to which the Democrats have been obliged to remake themselves. This shift was itself the expression of an underlying evolution in the balance of class forces and the pattern of capital accumulation. This had been shaped, first, by an unprecedented explosion of working-class power in the 1930s, followed by a quarter-century of prosperity accompanied by the decline of labour. The onset of profitability problems from the 1960s then made for long-term economic stagnation, paralleled by an unending offensive of capital that led ultimately to Clintonomics, and then to the hard-right Bush Administration. To this progression I now turn.
Rise, persistence and collapse of liberalism, 1932–80

Against the background of the Great Depression and Hoover’s initial calamitous response, it was the great upsurge of industrial militancy across manufacturing in the mid-30s that created the transformations in working-class political consciousness and organization that were the basis for the rise and reproduction of American liberal reformism. [13] It was this explosion of mass direct action outside the electoral-legislative arena that constituted the indispensable precondition for the popular gains of the New Deal. Industrial unions were established in the face of determined employer resistance, and under conditions of increasing political radicalization. Thus the newly-established United Auto Workers initially refused to support the Democratic ticket and, at their founding convention in 1936, called for the formation of independent farmer–labour parties. During this period, such parties flourished at local and state level across the country. In 1934, the Democrats’ congressional landslide in the mid-term elections had already been understood as the expression of an ascending left. Working-class militancy now made for sufficient pressure to oblige the Roosevelt Administration, which had been dragging its feet, to pass its centrepiece reform legislation: the 1935 Social Security Act and Wagner Act, recognizing trade union rights.

But having ‘trusted in Roosevelt’, the cio unions experienced a devastating defeat at Little Steel in May 1937, and then a further demoralization during the ‘second great depression’ of 1937–38. A new layer of full-time cio leaders also played a significant part in the domestication of worker militancy, helping to repress the wave of wildcat and sit-down strikes that broke out across industry in the winter and spring of 1937, and failing to press home a potential victory against the Chrysler corporation. The Communist Party, which had played a decisive role in organizing the mid-30s cio upsurge, now followed Moscow’s line in committing itself to a Popular Front that included not only John Lewis’s cio and the Democratic Party, but also the Roosevelt Administration. Meanwhile, increasingly separated from the daily activity of the shop floor and dependent on the union itself for their livelihood, an emergent cio officialdom reacted to the fall-off in mass struggles by turning to the institutionalization of union–employer relations, through state-sanctioned collective bargaining and regulation. This entailed a full commitment to the electoral road and to the Democratic Party, as a vehicle through which to win further reforms via the legislative process. [14]

The support of organized labour brought not only a huge increase in the Democrats’ electoral base but a huge fillip to their electioneering efforts, as the cio unions provided funds and foot soldiers for elections, as well as lobbying pressure. But it also set in motion a longer-term process that undermined not only the power of the unions but also the potential of the Party as a vehicle for social redistribution. By failing to enhance their own strength, independent of the dp, through standing up to the corporations, the trade unions increasingly forfeited their leverage over the Party, yet were still left to rely upon it to produce the goods for their members. Consequently, Democrat leaders could count on the unions’ support while delivering ever less in return. With labour’s backing taken for granted, the dp leadership was free to manoeuvre with the forces on their right, notably the Party’s Southern wing; this would set inevitable limits on any reform programme. In doing so Democrat leaders, like trade union officials, served only to further the disintegration of organized labour—their most powerful social base. A comparable process would be repeated with the black, women’s and Latino movements, all of which originated in independent direct action in the streets and workplaces, throwing up militant new organizations; but whose emergent middle-class leaderships ultimately came to rest, alongside labour officialdom, inside the dp cocoon.

World War ii brought big gains in membership for the trade unions, at the price of further emasculation and bureaucratization. Government patronage, in return for a no-strike pledge, raised the prestige of labour’s ‘new men of power’ to hitherto inconceivable heights—but in the context of a triumphant politico-economic revival of the corporations, based on record-breaking profits, and the subordination of labour to government and business in the tripartite administration of the war effort. A powerful postwar strike wave in 1946 won minimal gains, dashing union hopes for a price-control system that would allow the labour movement to offer a form of social-democratic leadership to the working class as a whole. The resulting demoralization was expressed in a sharp drop in working-class turnout for the 1946 mid-term elections, which issued in a swing to the Republicans. The red-baiting assault on labour that followed would culminate in the 1947 Taft–Hartley Act, placing decisive curbs on union power. [15]

More damaging in the long term was the failure to unionize the South through Operation Dixie. For this campaign to have succeeded, the labour leadership would have had to unleash mass social struggles, comparable to those of the 1930s, against the entrenched southern elite; but they had no intention of risking this sort of confrontation. This failure would later permit this low-wage, low-tax region to become the setting for the first wave of us corporate globalization, undermining the strength of labour in the rest of the economy. The labour movement would see a brief revival during the Korean War and after. But by the end of the 1950s, feeling the first pangs of international competition from emerging European and Japanese industry, the corporations dealt the unions a series of devastating blows in autos, electrical-goods and steel. The rate of private-sector unionization peaked in 1953 at 36 per cent; but this fell to 31 per cent in 1963, 27 per cent in 1973 and would decline continuously thereafter. [16]

Paradoxically it was at this point, from the early 1960s, with the trade-union movement greatly weakened, that the extension of the postwar boom brought a new lease of life to projects for (mild, state-managed) social redistribution, and to the ‘political liberalism’ of the Democratic Party in general. The expanding us economy allowed corporate profits, take-home pay and social spending to rise together. Within this context, labour and other social-reform-minded forces within the Party moved to outline the ‘Great Society’ programme—which the Republicans, too, would find themselves obliged to support. Even during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, these forces had played an important role in making social-security benefits broadly available, albeit financed by an ultra-regressive payroll tax on workers. The Democrats’ reform aspirations were always limited by the priority they gave to capitalist profits, both in terms of ensuring the general process of capital accumulation, and in attracting business funding for themselves. This entailed a programme of encouraging foreign direct investment in Europe and elsewhere, pushing for free trade, and patronizing the newly emerging Euromarkets as a base for mobile capital—all of which would further weaken American labour’s leverage. It also meant retaining the Taft–Hartley Act, despite ever-larger Democratic congressional majorities won in 1958 and 1964, based on increasing urban and working-class populations.

It required the rise of the black civil rights movement, and especially its extension to the North, to induce the Democrats to turn once more towards serious social reform. The demand for jobs was central in the 1963 March on Washington. Black rebellions in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in 1964–65 extended the movement’s goals beyond political equality to economic well-being. Against the backdrop of Vietnam, and expanding Third World struggles, the Johnson Administration launched not only landmark civil-rights and voter legislation but also, very consciously, the greatest expansion of the welfare state since Roosevelt. The panoply of ‘Great Society’ reforms included Medicaid, Medicare, the Food Stamp programme, Supplemental Security Income, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Head Start. So hegemonic was this programme in the early 70s that for Nixon—in the context of Black Power and mass anti-war movements—it was electoral common sense to step it up. A substantial increase in social security benefits, expanding unionization for federal government workers, a proposed Guaranteed Annual Wage (rejected by the Democrats), creation of the Legal Services Corporation (Legal Aid), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and (under Gerald Ford) initiation of the Earned Income Tax Credit scheme, were the results. Apparently permanent prosperity, assured by federal deficits, made for what seemed to be an open-ended programme of social reform, whichever party was in power. As Nixon put it, ‘We’re all Keynesians now.’
Onset of the downturn

But this high tide of social reform was very brief. From the mid-60s the rate of return on capital began to fall, and continued to do so over the next decade and a half, reducing the pre-tax rate of return for non-financial corporations by 35 per cent between 1965 and 1979; and introducing, from 1973, an extended epoch of stagnation and crisis of even greater length than the postwar boom. In response, employers unleashed an intensifying assault on labour organization and working-class living standards that has not abated to this day. The ‘Great Society’ increases in social spending and business regulation had been premised upon a regime of high profits, economic expansion, and the taming of working-class and other social rebellions. The profitability crisis and employers’ offensive left dp liberals politically disarmed, obliged by their own principles to subordinate all else to the recovery of the rate of return. The collapse of the social reform project was the inevitable outcome.

In the early 1960s trade-union leaders had stood passively by as American industry, increasingly challenged by rivals in Germany and Japan, sought to revive competitiveness by pushing through what was then termed ‘a new hard line’. The growth of manufacturing wages for the period 1960–69 was half that of 1948–59, despite the continued economic expansion. Under rising pressure from their members, labour leaders did organize a series of strikes later in the 60s; but they made a more systematic—and successful—effort to crush the series of rank-and-file revolts that broke out in trucking, auto, telephones, mining and elsewhere. Union officials now had to face the wrath of corporations determined to intensify work rates and reduce wage growth, whatever the risk of strike action, so as to counter falling profits and increasing international competition. Between 1973 and 1979, days lost in strike action fell by about a quarter, and private-sector unionization rates dropped to 22 per cent. Real wages in the private sector had ceased to rise by 1972; they would now fall for the remainder of the 1970s and 80s, and much of the 90s.

In the wake of Watergate—and in the midst of a recession that would turn out to be the worst since the 1930s—the Democrats picked up 49 seats in the 1974 mid-term elections, to secure their biggest House majority since the New Deal. In 1976 Carter won the Presidency, by a narrow margin. But in the space of barely half a decade, the meaning of Democratic control of government had been completely transformed and the prospects for further ‘Great Society’ reform extinguished. In part, this was because the new congressional intake was of a different political stripe to its predecessors, who had first won office in the halcyon days of boom-era liberalism. The incoming 1970s ‘moderates’ had won their seats due to the revulsion against Nixon in relatively affluent suburbs, hitherto Republican; their highest priority was to hold down spending so as to reduce taxation. But the underlying reason for the Democrats’ precipitous retreat from a reform agenda was that, with the economy gone sour, the corporations on a rampage, and the unions wilting under fire, they found themselves operating in a transformed socio-political environment.
The American exception

The 1970s crisis of profitability was, of course, virtually universal across the advanced capitalist economies, as was the commitment of all mainstream political parties—from Social Democracy and left Liberals to Christian Democrats and Tories—to a revival of capital accumulation, premised on a recovery of capitalist profits. Over the course of the 1970s, wage and social-spending growth slowed almost everywhere. But adaptations to the downturn took place in the context of distinctive balances of class forces across the capitalist north, and this made for a significant variation in politico-economic outcomes. In contrast to the declining rate of unionization in the us private sector, most of the advanced capitalist economies of Western Europe witnessed the opposite trend—an increase in union density not just during the 1950s and 1960s, but throughout the 1970s and, in places, the 1980s. Even by the later 1990s, unionization rates in several European countries remained far above the us peak of the 1950s, and few had experienced substantial fall-offs. [17] West European labour was not sufficiently strong or united to prevent a negative shift in the balance of class power, resist the global trend to austerity, or prevent a decline in its own strength within industry and on the shop floor. But in many instances it was able to secure a certain political stasis. With the exception of the uk, nowhere in Western Europe was there the perpetual and accelerating slide to the right to be found in the us during the 1980s and 1990s.

This divergence in political trajectories between the Anglo-Saxon and continental capitalist economies was registered in the latter’s ability not only to maintain welfare states which, by 1980, were distinctly more generous than America’s, but to achieve a significant increase in social spending. This rose from 22.6 to 26 per cent of gdp in northern Europe between 1980 and 2000, but from 13.3 to 14.2 per cent in the us. By the end of the century, the population in poverty in the us, at 17 per cent, was at least twice as high as that of Western Europe. [18] In the us, it was the disintegration of the labour movement, and of working-class power more generally, that was the central factor in opening the way for the reconfiguration of politics under the onslaught of the corporations.

Even during their ‘golden age’ of reform, between 1948 and 1973, the Democrats’ efforts to extend the Rooseveltian settlement had a certain paradoxical and tentative character. This is because they were accompanied by the steady decline of what had been the major agent of reform, and the Democrats’ key electoral base—organized labour. It was, as we have seen, the postwar boom that allowed social spending to expand without cost to profits, significant redistribution of income, or undue pressure on working-class wages; and with relatively little pressure from social movements. The more or less continuous fall of profitability between 1965 and 1979, issuing into a long epoch of slowed growth, deprived the reform thrust of its fundamental enabling condition. [19]

Symptomatically, it was the Carter Administration—not that of Reagan—which launched the first assault on reform-era American liberalism, pushing for de-regulation so as to undercut union power in such major industries as trucking and airlines. As a precondition to bailing out the Chrysler corporation in 1980, Carter insisted on extracting major concessions from the United Auto Workers—prefiguring Reagan’s attack on patco. The Democratic Congress followed suit, rejecting progressive legislation on consumer protection, election-day registration and labour-law reform. In a telling sequence, the Carter Administration was obliged to approve a law cutting the tax rate on capital gains, after having initially forwarded to Congress a bill aiming at more progressive taxation. When Keynesian policies not only proved ineffective in restoring profitability but gave rise to runaway inflation, ‘growth liberalism’ was effectively dead.

Shift to the Right

With the onset of the long downturn, and the political vacuum left by liberalism’s collapse, American corporations became the driving force that would shift the polity to the right. But the growing success of the business agenda within the halls of government is inexplicable purely in terms of corporate mobilization. Its scope depended on the ability of the Republicans to develop a new hegemonic project that would replace ‘Great Society’ liberalism and offer an alternative model to significant sections of the working class. The process seems to have taken place in three overlapping phases: first, Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ in the 1960s; second, through the ‘tax revolt’ of the 1970s; and third, in response to a new Republican far right, rooted especially in the South.

Between 1932 and 1964, the Democrats had a vast preponderance among the white working-class electorate and, on this basis, dominated the political arena. In 1948 they took more than 75 per cent of white working-class votes; though dropping to 58 per cent in 1960, the figure rose again to 75 per cent in 1964, when Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater ran on a hard-right programme of smashing the unions, demolishing the welfare state and implementing an aggressive Cold War foreign policy—and met with resounding defeat. But when the Democrats took up the civil rights agenda, pushing through court-enforced integration of schools, housing and jobs, as well as social-spending programmes that primarily benefited poor blacks—at a time of black urban rebellion, as well as women’s liberation and the anti-war movement—the Democrats’ share of the white working-class vote plunged to 45 per cent in 1968, and to 38 per cent when McGovern ran in 1972. [20]

During these years, Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ was able to detach a significant section of the white working class from the Democrats by making a fairly explicit appeal to racism, blaming the government and congressional Democrats for the costs the state was imposing on white workers to fund ‘hand-outs’ for blacks. Yet a qualification must be entered: Nixon was able to succeed electorally in this period only by deepening his identification with ‘Great Society’ liberal reform. Indeed, had the postwar boom continued, the longer-run electoral implication of Nixon’s victories might have looked rather different. Even in 1970, the Democrats’ control over Congress was still as strong as it had been in 1962; in 1976 Carter secured over 50 per cent of the white working-class vote, and the Democrats won their greatest congressional majorities of the postwar epoch.

It took the deepening economic crisis of the 1970s to create the conditions for the second stage of the Republicans’ project: to win over white working-class voters on a straightforwardly right-wing basis. Between 1972 and 1980, real weekly wages fell by 7 per cent. At the same time, due to ‘bracket creep’, a rising proportion of the working class became liable to higher tax rates. By 1976, a median-income family was taxed at nearly 23 per cent, compared to under 12 per cent in 1953. The highly regressive social-security tax bore ever more heavily, with the maximum liability growing from $144 in 1960 to $825 in 1975—a sum equally payable by a family earning $14,100 a year and one earning $75,000. [21] Workers unable to defend their economic position through a much-weakened and demoralized labour movement were more open to doing so by ‘joining the tax revolt’—responding to an ideological appeal that was, in effect, a cross-class alliance with business. The success of Proposition 13 in California in 1978 constituted a turning point, finding a significant echo across the country. Its proponents appealed to an anti-statist individualism, given a racist twist by pointing to the Carter Administration and congressional Democrats’ ostensible favouritism to inner-city blacks and associated ‘softness’ on crime, welfare, prisoners and so forth. Reagan’s ability to consolidate support for this message across much of the white working-class electorate was his major domestic contribution to the rightward shift. His de facto prohibition on raising taxes constituted a crucial step forward for the Republicans in naturalizing the business agenda.
Rise of the new right

But by this time the South was beginning to provide both a template and an electoral base for the rise of a new Republican right. The Democratic Party’s 1960s turn to civil rights, while winning it overwhelming support among the black electorate, had freed the white conservative South, and especially its emerging business layer, to forge a new alliance with an already pro-business Republican Party, providing the latter with the potential for a historic increase in its national power. This was not because the South represented a backward, retrograde region; on the contrary. The ascent of the Republican far right in the South was tied to the rise of a dynamic industrial capitalism across this region over the second half of the twentieth century.

As the North declined industrially, the South rose. Between 1955 and 1975, the share of the thirteen southern states in the national manufacturing labour force leapt by 50 per cent, making the South the home of 30 per cent of manufacturing labour. By the 1990s, the South was as industrialized and urbanized as the North and matched it in virtually every indicator of capitalist advance—except, not accidentally, levels of real wages, taxation, social spending and trade unionization. In other words, it provided the template for the political economy that the Republican right wished to impose on the us as a whole, as well as the first port of call for an unending process of American globalization. The right was thus able to construct its new power base in an already favourable political environment. The South’s reactionary capitalists were among the main forces in the far-right mobilization that ultimately issued in the Goldwater campaign. Its so-called middle-class layers, meaning those from the relatively well-off suburbs, were already extremely conservative and implacably opposed to all aspects of the Great Society settlement, especially welfare ‘hand-outs’. Southern workers were politically atomized, individualized in the extreme, and therefore unusually open—not to say historically prepared—to embrace non-class forms of solidarity: race, the patriarchal family, nationalism-cum-militarism, and Protestant fundamentalism, now linked to Zionist expansionism.

The right’s electoral rise in the South—the third phase in the process that would ultimately make possible both the foreign and domestic policy departures of the post-2001 Bush Administrations—took place relatively slowly, especially below the presidential level. Thanks to the Goldwater campaign’s repudiation of the civil-rights movement, the Republicans gained an initial bridgehead in the five Deep South states in 1964. Republican success in presidential elections soon followed, especially as blacks did not constitute a large enough majority in any state to stand in the way. But after the Republicans had won an initial quotient of seats during the second half of the 1960s, the struggle for control of southern congressional delegations proved much more difficult. This was, in part, because blacks did make up large proportions of the electorate at district level; in part, because Democrats had plenty of room to adapt on a local basis to racial and political conservatism. Republican advance actually ceased following Watergate. But it gained a major political and ideological impetus during Reagan’s rhetorically, if not necessarily substantively, far-right administration, which, by appearing to enhance Republican hopes for national power, gave southerners a reason to break long-standing ties with Democrats. It was during the Reagan era that the new southern-based Republican congressional leadership—from Newt Gingrich to Tom DeLay—first gained office and began to organize.

The new Republican right had made its point of departure a dynamic, modernizing South that was already the most right-wing region of the country, possessed of the weakest trade unions and welfare infrastructures. To this core base, it sought to add an analogously right-wing Mountain region, shorn of its once radical miners; suburbs and ex-urbs across the country that had become the new redoubts of white working-class families, in flight from both black or Latino inner cities and increasingly expensive older suburbs. It aimed to appeal especially to white working-class men, suffering long-term economic decline compounded by new threats to patriarchal authority. With these forces, combined with its traditional backers in what remained of small-town America, the Republican right appeared to have the electoral potential to break beyond America’s anaemic version of welfare statism and to launch a new imperial project. In other words, it could hope to amass sufficient white working-class support to realize its straightforwardly anti-working class project—and thus to overcome the problem that had bedevilled the American right since Goldwater: how to win electoral support for a domestic programme that was transparently against the economic interests of the great mass of the population, and a foreign policy that appeared both reckless and redundant?

The answer, as we have seen, was to look to the South, both as model and as electoral base, to construct an anti-statist individualist ideology founded on white supremacy, defence of the patriarchal family and Protestant fundamentalism. It was the Republican right’s success in constructing this ideological formula, and in identifying the liberal state as a central threat to the racial status quo and ‘traditional family values’, that provided it with the wherewithal to contend for power on a brazenly pro-business programme. Its targets were the key aspects of the New Deal–Great Society settlement that no administration, Democrat or Republican, had so far dared to touch: Social Security, progressive taxation and (a good part of) the business regulatory regime, including the epa and osha. The Reagan Revolution had been pulled up short by the deep recession of 1981–82, which allowed the Democrats to recover lost ground in the House and limited the Republicans’ momentum. Reagan was obliged to rescind a good part of his tax relief to the rich and restore a significant share of social spending. To transcend this stalemate was the project of the Republican right.

The Democrats’ Response

Just as the corporations and the Republicans had been obliged to adapt to a context defined by the liberalism of the Democrats’ New Deal–Great Society project and the residual power of the labour movement during the postwar boom era, so from the mid-70s the Democrats, in a period defined by economic stagnation and the ever-increasing power of business, would accommodate to the Republican-driven push to the right. In Congress, the Democrats’ initial response to the rightward shift of the 1970s was defensive and conservative. Above all, they sought to milk their long-term House majority for all it was worth, blocking Republican initiatives while at the same time impressing upon corporate contributors the need to pay the elected pipers. If American business had always preferred the Republicans, during the postwar boom it saw little alternative but to provide material support to a Democratic Party that, throughout most of the period, maintained an overwhelming grip on Congress (and always put corporate profits first). By the late 70s, just as the Democrats had abandoned their social-reform project, the giant corporations undertook an accelerated process of political organization—amassing funds, systematizing their lobbying procedures, and nurturing new think-tanks to flesh out an ambitious pro-business agenda. The recently established Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce were central to this mobilization. In 1974 labour was still raising more in political funding than the corporate and trade association Political Action Committees. By 1984 the latter were raising two and half times as much as labour; probably three times as much, if hard-right pacs were taken into account. Over this period, total pac contributions increased from $45 million to $175 million.

The carrot-and-stick of corporate money was already playing an often decisive role in tipping legislative outcomes toward business under Carter, especially on labour law, taxation and business regulation. Its influence reached an initial peak in the first years of the Reagan presidency, rewarded by the administration’s massive pro-business tax cuts, and would grow continuously thereafter. By 1992, corporate and trade association pacs were contributing $150 million, compared to $44 million from labour. While corporate pacs allotted 60–65 per cent of their Senate campaign contributions to Republicans, the Democrats successfully exploited their incumbency in the House to secure 50 per cent of corporate monies there. (Non-incumbent Republicans received 10 per cent, compared to 5 per cent for non-incumbent Democrats.) The pattern of contributions from trade association pacs was even more favourable to the Democrats. [22] Meanwhile, the Democrats used their control of state legislatures to engage in widespread redistricting—i.e. gerrymandering—to allot themselves an estimated 25 extra seats beyond those merited by their vote.

Finally, few congressional Democrats hesitated to adapt, chameleon-like, to the ideological colouring of their districts, or to demonstrate their understanding of the corporate agenda; their attempt to outbid the Republicans by inserting further breaks for business into Reagan’s 1981 tax bill constituted only the most salient example. In this the Democrats were assured that any campaign monies they lost in bending to the right would be more than compensated by the corporations. These tactics were not without risk. Over the longer term, the ultimate preference of the business community for the Republicans, combined with the Democrats’ absence of a discernible political identity and their refusal to mobilize a base of working-class and poor voters, could leave the Democratic Party vulnerable, especially if the Republicans themselves found a better way forward. But as late as 1992 Democratic control of the House appeared unassailable; their majority in that year was just the same as in 1962, if below its peaks of 1964 and the mid-70s.

Of course, the agenda represented by this advantage had shifted far to the right. From 1992, the Clinton Administration attempted to construct a systematic programme for a longer-term Democratic majority under conditions of increasingly untrammelled capitalist preponderance. This involved a commitment to permanent austerity, consecrated in the ostentatious adoption of the balanced budget and pay-go spending rule. At stake was a decisive turn to neoliberal market opening, as the centrepiece of a pro-business agenda oriented increasingly towards the financial community, and steadfastly opposed to any concessions on free-trade protection or labour-law reform. The black and working-class base was counted on to support the Democrats, come what may.
1994 and after

The turning-point for the Republicans came in 1994 when, with the first Clinton Presidency floundering, they succeeded in capturing both houses of Congress. In a historic swing the Republicans gained 54 new seats, of which they retained 51 in 1996; 30 of these were from the South, representing a gain of over 50 per cent in the region. [23] In contrast to their Democratic predecessors of 1974 (and successors of 2006), the Republicans arrived with a radical programme for an assault on the New Deal–Great Society settlement. As well as the famous pledges to clean up congressional corruption, Newt Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’ called for cuts in welfare spending, ‘fiscal responsibility’ and tax limitations, capital gains cuts, repeal of tax hikes on Social Security benefits and increased defense funding, to ‘maintain our credibility around the world’—‘no us troops under un command’. Crucially, control of Congress opened the floodgates of corporate funding for the Republicans. Hitherto, the Democrats’ lock on Congress had allowed them to compete for business money on a fairly equal footing, as we have seen. But between 1994 and 2006, Republicans moved from virtual parity with the Democrats in corporate funding to overwhelming advantage: from a ratio of 1.14 : 1 to 1.6 : 1, or from 14 to 60 per cent. [24]

Republican control of Congress from 1994 shifted American politics significantly to the right. It enabled the gop’s militant cadre to push a reactionary domestic agenda and a hyper-imperialist international perspective in a way hitherto impossible, intensifying the rightward ‘triangulation’ of Clinton’s politics. His administration caved in to the Republicans on ‘workfare’ in 1996 and on the Taxpayers Relief Act of 1997. Defense spending was increased, and in 1998 Clinton signed on to regime change in Iraq and unleashed Operation Desert Fox.

At the same time, far-reaching changes were taking place in the real economy. There had always been a divergence between the aspirations of American capital, bent on internationalizing through foreign direct investment and overseas lending, and the needs of the industrial working class; as early as the 1950s, Democrats and Republicans alike had refused to protect a us steel industry under competitive assault from the Germans and Japanese. But during the boom era, the combination of American skill and wage levels enabled the us-based producers to defend the home market. Even as late as 1973, the manufacturing labour force was only slightly smaller than it had been in 1948—33.6 per cent compared to 35.7 per cent—as a proportion of the total private-sector labour force, measured in hours.

With the onset of chronic over-capacity in world manufacturing from the later 1960s, made worse by intensifying international competition, the domestic manufacturing labour force came under increasing pressure. Neither Republicans nor Democrats could contemplate with equanimity the collapse of the domestic manufacturing sector, however. During the subsequent two decades they sought to defend it through a combination of import limitation and, for most of the period, a low exchange rate. Between 1985 and 1995—thanks to the pressure exerted by Reagan, Bush and the first Clinton Administration on America’s leading trading partners and rivals—a super-low dollar raised us manufacturing competitiveness and export growth rates to levels not seen since the 1950s, offering industrial workers a brief Indian summer in which the loss of manufacturing jobs was staunched.

But by the mid-90s the postwar economic order had given rise to new opportunities. Advanced technologies were creating international production chains that could select the highest-skilled, lowest-paid workers for each link in the process; China and Eastern Europe were opening up to highly profitable foreign direct investment; financial markets were increasingly deregulated; the us labour movement was a spent force. In these conditions, American multinational corporations and finance capital were poised for a remarkable acceleration of globalized production and investment. In short order, the Clinton Administration approved the nafta, mfa for China and the WTO, while waving through the Telecommunications Act on behalf of its backers in Hollywood, the mass media and high tech.

Most decisive, however, for the shape of the American political economy was Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s shift to the high dollar in 1995, quickly followed at the Federal Reserve by Greenspan’s turn to asset-price Keynesianism to drive the economy. This was supplemented by the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act, to permit combined operations across investment banking, commercial banking and insurance by financial giants like Citicorp. These measures served to blow up a historic equity-price bubble, quickly followed by an explosion of corporate finance through debt and stock issue. Foreign money poured into us assets. But meanwhile an ascending wave of imports, rendered cheaper by the high dollar and more plentiful by the Asian financial crisis, put intolerable pressure on American manufacturing. Between 1995–2005, beneath the glitzy surface of the ‘new economy’ and the later distractions of the ‘war on terror’, the manufacturing labour force was reduced by a fifth, while the financial sector expanded from about 25 per cent to 40 per cent of total corporate profits. American workers were left to sink or swim, with neither party offering a political solution.

September breakthrough

Nevertheless, the shift to the right in the us remained limited in certain fundamental respects—a consequence of the electoral weight of the working class, however passive and disorganized it might be. Even as the corporations laid waste to workers’ living standards and job conditions, the overriding concern of every president, from Nixon through Clinton, was to attract the votes of the white working class—especially its better-off, more conservative fraction, the so-called Reagan Democrats. Both parties had always assumed that the precondition for winning this pivotal layer was to retain the core New Deal programmes—Social Security, progressive taxation, and so forth. The Republicans had long aimed to break beyond this consensus. The 1994 capture of Congress had marked an important political advance for them. Ultimately, however, the Republicans had been stymied between 1994 and 2000 in fully realizing either their domestic or their foreign-policy goals. Remarkably, as of 2000, neither the share of social expenditure in national income nor the effective rate of taxation on the top 5, 10 or 20 per cent of the population had been reduced, compared to 1980. [25]

As a consequence, these years constituted an era of growing frustration for the Republican right, even in the face of its undeniable political successes. It had not been able to break beyond the neoliberal consensus that had been consolidated under Bush Senior and Clinton. This was all the more galling in view of the deepening problems of profitability for large sections of the capitalist class, outside the financial sector—manifested in the continuation of corporate bankruptcy rates at near postwar highs, the steep decline of the non-financial corporate rate of profit after 1997, and the sharp recession of 2000–01. The underlying political problem was that the electorate remained so evenly divided. The popular vote for the House broke 49 to 49 per cent in 1996, 49 per cent Republican to 48 per cent Democrat in 1998, and 48 to 48 per cent in 2000. That year, Bush Junior was only able to squeeze into office with the help of the Supreme Court—and by concealing his agenda under the banner of ‘compassionate conservatism’. With the defection of Senator Jeffords in 2001, the Republicans lost control of the Senate. In late summer 2001, Bush was looking like a one-term president.

But 9/11 appeared to solve the Republican right’s domestic and foreign-policy problems at one blow. For five years, the ‘war on terror’ rallied Americans behind an aggressive militarist interventionism in the Middle East and distracted them from growing economic instability and inequality at home. In 2002, by focusing their campaign for Congress entirely on ‘terror’, the Republicans increased their plurality of the popular vote for the House to 51 per cent, compared to 46 per cent for the Democrats; it remained at 50 to 47 per cent in 2004. Again, the (white) Southern vote was crucial here. [26] With firm control of both the Presidency and both Houses of Congress for the first time since the days of Eisenhower, the Republicans could unleash the pro-business agenda discussed above—one which had, only a few years before, seemed a political impossibility. For the time being at least, the Bush Administration had broken beyond the establishment consensus that had made for the de facto retention of the welfare-state core, progressive taxation and business regulation following the collapse of liberalism at the end of the 1970s.

In this sense, today’s Republican right has also represented a break beyond postwar Republicanism, up to and including Reagan, in a double sense—its focus on directly attacking the New Deal–Great Society settlement, and its insistence on pushing for stepped-up military aggression, under conditions in which American geopolitical hegemony was already at a historic peak and the payoff for military interventionism on an extended scale appeared marginal. In terms of its programme and its central social base it has brought the agenda of Barry Goldwater, considered extremist in its time, into the us mainstream.
Towards 2008

What are the prospects for this programme in the light of the Democrats’ recapture of Congress in 2006, and improved prospects for the Presidency in 2008? As we have seen, the Republicans retain a large, stable—if not quite majoritarian—electoral base; a substantial advantage in corporate funding; and, whatever the tactical differences over immediate moves in Iraq, a relative unity around a clearly defined pro-business agenda. The swing to the Democrats has largely registered a protest vote, and perhaps an abstention by Republican loyalists unable to stomach the sex and sleaze scandals of 2006. In the run-up to 2008 the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, may find it harder to modify their programme in search of votes, especially in view of Bush’s intransigeance on Iraq; an inflexibility that may leave them particularly vulnerable. Yet the fact remains that in 2006 the Republicans survived what one gop pollster called ‘the worst political environment for Republican candidates since Watergate’, and have some reason to hope for a significant rebound. [27]

Seen against the background of the rise of the Republican right—and in view of the enhanced position of the dlc and Blue Dog caucuses within their new congressional majority—it seems likely that the Democrats will only accelerate their electoral strategy of moving right to secure uncommitted votes and further corporate funding, while banking on their black, labour and anti-war base to support them at any cost against the Republicans. This will mean further triangulation in domestic and foreign policy, but in a context significantly redefined to the right since the 1990s.

On Iraq, 29 of the Democrat candidates in the most fiercely contested congressional districts opposed setting a date for withdrawing us troops. [28] This was, of course, in line with the overall strategy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rahm Emanuel in particular. [29] Their aim is to attempt to capitalize on anti-war sentiment by doing the minimum necessary to differentiate themselves from the Republicans, while still appearing sufficiently hard-line on ‘national security’. In line with this scientific opportunism, Carl Levin, Democrat chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, put down a motion immediately after the election demanding that Bush begin redeploying troops at some unspecified date in the not too distant future, but neglecting to specify when, if ever, withdrawal should be completed. Leaving no doubt about their determination to tergiversate, House Democrats rejected Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s candidate for House majority leader, the pro-withdrawal John Murtha, in favour of the declaredly anti-withdrawal Steny Hoyer. [30] The rebuke to Murtha–Pelosi will set the tone for the dp’s approach to Iraq; this was underscored when Sylvestre Reyes, Pelosi’s supposedly anti-war chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on the morrow of his appointment, allowed that he could see the point in a ‘surge’ in troop levels in Iraq. Moreover, if the Cheney forces, and probably Israel, were to press for an assault on Iran before the end of Bush’s term, the Democrats—not only the ‘anti-war’ Pelosi but proto-candidate Hillary Clinton—could find themselves to the right of the more cautious among Republicans.

With their substantial House majority, the Democrats possess the potential to bring about a major improvement in domestic policy, simply by not being Republicans; but what is the actual likelihood of this? Many congressional Democrats are already familiar with the rewards that can accrue from corporations if they play along with Bush. Since 2004, Democrat representatives have chalked up 34 votes for the Republicans’ Energy Policy Act; 41 for their Estate Tax Relief Act; 50 for their Class Action Fairness Act; and 73 for their Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. Even before the 2004 election the Democrats had voted to renewa number of Bush’s tax cuts for big business, avowedly in exchange for the extension of ‘middle-class’ tax cuts. [31] There is no telling, therefore, what will happen when Bush pushes ahead with his plan to make the tax cuts permanent. While there has been much talk of a new populism in the wake of the Democrats’ victory—with reason, since the electorate registered 53 per cent dissatisfaction with the socio-economic status quo—the possibility of any major new programmes on healthcare, education, public infrastructure or the impoverished cities has already been ruled out by the Democrats’ commitment to the pay-go rule for government spending.

Meanwhile the Democrats have stepped up efforts to compete with the Republicans on corporate funding. In both 2004 and 2006, corporate money constituted more than half that raised by the dp, far surpassing any other source, and more than five times labour’s contribution. Though lagging behind in other sectors, the Democrats do outdraw the Republicans in telecommunications, and far exceed them in the entertainment industry and high tech. Perhaps most impressive, they are competitive with the Republicans in raising money from the fire sector, the biggest corporate source of campaign finance, netting only 20–25 per cent less from this source than the Republicans in 2006. New House Majority leader Steny Hoyer has initiated his own K Street Project, his spokesperson declaring: ‘We’re not ceding ground to Republicans in the business community.’ The new Senate Majority leader Harry Reid meets every two weeks with ‘Democratic leaning’ business lobbyists. The inevitable result is still greater pressure on the party to move towards the corporations and the right.

The new majority in Congress is likely to disown, at least in part, the free-trade agenda. But here the horse has already left the barn, thanks mainly to the efforts of the Clinton Administration, from nafta on. In July 2005, Bush succeeded in pushing through the Central America Free Trade Agreement, thanks to an indispensable 15 Democratic defections, which made it possible for the Administration to neutralize 27 Republican no votes and eke out a narrow 217–215 victory in the House. On the other hand, the Doha Round, the major outstanding neoliberal initiative, is already dead in the water. Otherwise, the Democrats can be expected to complain loudly about China’s undervalued exchange rate and its soaring trade surplus with the us. But once Congress has had a chance to think about the inevitable consequences of the yuan revaluation that they are calling for—namely, the reduction of Chinese purchases of us Treasury bonds and the entailed increase in us interest rates—they may temper their demands. The Democrats will no doubt evince a bit more sound, if not much fury in the run-up to the next election. But even if they go on to win in 2008, what we are surely in for, in the absence of a major revitalization of mass movements, is Clinton Redux—conceivably under Clinton ii. In other words, a continuation of the long-term slide to the right, at perhaps a slightly slower pace than under the Republicans.

A Political Opening?

The fact that the Democrats have remained contenders essentially by playing the Republicans’ game raises the ultimate political conundrum. Between 2001 and 2006, real wages have been flat. Between 2000 and 2004—the last available data—median family income actually fell by between 2 and 3 per cent. Employment growth has been the slowest since World War II. There has been a big drop-off in employers’ willingness to continue to pay for health-care insurance or to honour pensions, along with exacerbated inequalities in the distribution of wealth. In other words, the gap between the material aspirations of the population and what the bipartisan merry-go-round is prepared to provide has reached historic proportions for the post-World War II epoch. Why has the widely bruited new populism failed to become more pronounced?

Part of the answer is perhaps to be found in the bizarre operation of the economy that has emerged under Clinton and Bush, and the cushioning effects that this has offered, however temporary. For a long period, ever-increasing female participation in the labour force countered declining male median real wages. After 1995, rising stock prices enabled corporations both to borrow with unprecedented ease and to issue shares at hugely inflated prices, allowing them to accelerate investment and unemployment. This created a hyper-boom that, however temporary and ill-fated, raised real wages dramatically over the four years between 1997–2001. That expansion proved illusory, issuing in a sharp if brief recession and a severe shortfall of demand. The next round of stimulus, provided by an epoch-making run-up in housing prices, made possible the greatest orgy of household-debt creation in us history, and, on that basis, a remarkable expansion of large-scale spending by wide swathes of the American consumerate.

Will the deflation of the housing bubble now in process finally make for a different outcome? There is not yet much on the horizon indicative of the sort of popular mobilization that is, as always, the precondition for any real progressive shift in us politics. But were the widely expected recession actually to materialize, things might get more interesting. The growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, in combination with seriously worsening living conditions, would make for a combustible mix. Politics conducted without regard for the population would become a lot more difficult to sustain.

See Also: Independent Paralysis and Two-Party Pigeons, The Independent Paralysis, Things that haven’t been working, What Doesn’t Work in America, The 1990s Are Over. Has Anyone Noticed?, If You Don’t Agree With Obama, Find Another Party?, Stories We Prefer Not to Write–But Will, Obama Received $20 Million of Healthcare Industry Money in 2008, Marxian economics MIA?, Fannie, Freddie, and the New Red and Blue, Origins of an American Kleptocracy, and Looking To 2010.

[tags]robert brenner, new left review, the rightward shift in america, democrats, republican, conservatives, trends to conservatism, democrats shift to conservativism, republicanism, united states, politics, socio-economics, corportarism, big business, labor, balance of power, south, economics, collapse of liberals in america, united states of america, political spectrum, analysis, what happened to liberalism in america, Corporatism[/tags]



The Unwinnable War In Afghanistan

The Article: Can the West avoid Russia’s fate in Afghanistan? After the Soviets left defeated, a war hero from the SAS and one from the Red Army say the same mistakes are being made by Mark Franchetti in the Times (UK).

The Text: The white flashes of explosions and red traces of artillery fire filled the moonlit sky on the night of October 7, 2001, as Britain and the US launched the war in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

From the roof of a mud-caked house in Tobdara, a mountainside village high above the Shomali valley, 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, I watched as allied war planes and cruise missiles streaked beyond a high ridge separating us from the front line.

Loud explosions echoed into the night as I was joined by a group of hardened Northern Alliance fighters, the loose coalition of former mujaheddin rebels who had sided with the West. Armed with AK-47 machine guns and careful not to use even a torch to avoid attracting incoming fire from an enemy position above, the men had come to witness the twilight of the Taliban.

“It won’t take long,” predicted one, wrapped in an Afghan blanket and wearing a pakol, the woollen round-topped hat favoured by the mujaheddin. “The Taliban are finished. A few days of heavy bombardment and then we’ll go in with a ground assault. They’ll either flee or die.”

His confidence was engaging. But in the dusty plains below there were many reminders of another superpower’s bloody attempt to wage war in Afghanistan. Soviet tanks and armoured personnel carriers, burnt out and twisted, still littered the country, more than two decades after Moscow had withdrawn its troops, ending its disastrous nine-year war.

In the shadow of the Taliban front line, a few miles below Tobdara, the Bagram air base was overgrown and abandoned. The spot from where the Soviets launched their invasion in 1979, it is now the US army’s largest base in the country.

The mujaheddin’s predictions did not take long to come true. Five weeks later Kabul fell. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were on the run, dispersed in the high mountains along the border with Pakistan. His optimism, however, proved premature. More than eight years since the war began in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Taliban have made a comeback.

Over 240 British soldiers have been killed in the war (more than in Iraq), many in ferocious close combat that has been compared to the trench warfare of the first world war. By the end of this year, American and British forces will have been in Afghanistan as long as the Soviets. And yet Russia’s experience in the country has been largely overlooked by the allies. It was, say American and British generals, a different war fought in different times by a different army.

Many military experts would now beg to differ. There are compelling parallels between the obstacles faced first by the Soviets and now the allies. Often, the mistakes are the same. What lessons are there to be learnt from the Soviet war in Afghanistan? Just as the allies failed in 2001 to study the fateful Soviet invasion, the Russians before them dismissed Queen Victoria’s foray into a country some have dubbed “the graveyard of empires”. So when in early 1980 the Soviet deputy foreign minister pointed out to his boss, Andrei Gromyko, that three previous invasions by the British had failed, Gromyko asked sternly: “Are you comparing our internationalist forces to those of the British imperialists?”

“No, sir, of course not,” answered his deputy. “But the mountains are the same.”

One senior British military man to sense he could learn from the Soviet war is Brigadier Ed Butler. The former commander of 22 SAS and 16 Air Assault Brigade in Helmand, Butler, 47, was the original mastermind of Britain’s strategy to fight the Taliban in the southern Afghan province. A soldier for 24 years, mostly with the SAS, he served in Afghanistan in 2001, 2002 and 2006.

Butler was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for displaying exceptional bravery on daring top-secret operations behind Taliban lines. Tipped as a future head of Britain’s armed forces, he shocked many by resigning in 2008. He now heads an international company trying to attract investment into impoverished regions. “I wanted more time with my children,” he told me. “But I was also finding it hard to publicly state that we had enough resources at the same time as talking to parents about the loss of a son, when more resources may have made a difference.”

Butler began early on to read detailed accounts of the Soviet invasion. “I found it useful and fascinating, as their tactical experience turned out to be very similar to ours,” he said.

Then, as he planned the 2006 British operation in Helmand province, Butler invited a Soviet colonel who had commanded a helicopter regiment in Afghanistan over to his headquarters in Colchester. “He gave us a very good first-hand account of the ground and enemy which reinforced our assessment that in such a harsh environment it would be as tough to survive as it would be to fight,” recalled Butler. “He also told us that to reduce the number of helicopter crashes, each pilot’s one-litre weekly vodka ration should be cut down by a third. It was a wonderfully Russian way of looking at things.”

To gain a better sense of the parallels between the Soviet and allied campaigns, and consider what lessons can be drawn from the past, The Sunday Times Magazine flew Butler to Moscow to exchange views and compare notes with Lieutenant-General Ruslan Aushev. Awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the former communist state’s highest military award, for his service in Afghanistan, Aushev, 55, spent four years and eight months in the country. He was seriously wounded, rose to regiment commander and is one of the war’s most respected veterans.

During a long and animated exchange on a chilly Moscow morning, a few hundreds yards from Red Square, the two war heroes talked frankly about their time in Afghanistan.

Aushev, strong-willed and moustached, castigated the West for still being there and for what he sees as a doomed attempt to impose our institutions and way of life on a country deeply steeped in feudalism — but he also spoke candidly about the many Soviet mistakes.

Sharp and thoughtful, Butler, who retains the stiff and trimmed demeanour of a senior military man, challenged some of Aushev’s advice on how best to extricate the allies, and defended some decisions taken by Britain and the US.

Most striking, however, was how little the two disagreed, given the passing of three decades since the Soviet invasion and the fact that they were brought up believing rival ideologies. “Most tactics used by the Taliban against us are very similar to those the mujaheddin used against the Soviets,” said Butler. “Many of the mistakes are the same, as are the difficulties faced. Listening to the general’s advice was fascinating and frankly I found myself mostly agreeing with him.”

Contrary to the cold war picture painted by our propaganda, the Kremlin’s decision to send troops into Afghanistan in December 1979 was not conceived as an imperialist land-grab. Moscow went in to prop up the Afghan communist government, which had come to power in a coup the previous year. It did not plan to stay long. The politburo had resisted numerous calls by the Afghan government for troops to help quash armed rebellion to its socialist reforms — which had angered tribal and religious leaders. Moscow finally went in mainly because it feared that the Afghan communist president, Hafizullah Amin, was cosying up to America. Elite KGB special forces were flown into Bagram to help stage a coup. In a textbook raid, they took the presidential palace, killed Amin and installed the pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal as leader.

The regime change was supported by “a limited troop contingent”. Its task, so Soviet documents have since shown, was to stabilise the situation in the county and withdraw after about six months, leaving behind only political advisers and intelligence agents. “We thought it would be over quickly,” Aushev recalled. “We believed that when such a powerful army as ours goes in, things would calm down. The opposite happened. The civil war only intensified.

“We took sides. It’s the same mistake now being committed by the coalition. You’re supporting one element of Afghan society against the other. To them, you’re outsiders just as we were. History and past experience show the Afghan people don’t like it when outsiders come in, whatever their purpose.

“The longer the war, the more resistance will last. You need to understand that the Taliban are not terrorists. They may use terrorist tactics, but they are a part of the Afghan people. You must acknowledge that your forces are now fighting with a section of the population, just as ours did.”

The coalition’s view, Butler pointed out, is that most Afghans are opposed to the Taliban and want rid of them. Only partly true, said Aushev. If the Taliban are so unpopular, who is feeding and harbouring them if not the locals? But there is an element of terror, Butler countered. “Why then aren’t they taking up arms against the Taliban to defend their own villages?” said Aushev.

Most Soviet Afghan war veterans now view the 1979 invasion as ill-judged. The conflict killed around 15,000 Soviet soldiers and some 1.3m Afghans. A third of the country’s pre-war population went into exile. Many also believe it accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union, two years after Mikhail Gorbachev, the father of glasnost and perestroika, pulled out troops in February 1989.

At the height of the conflict, there were nearly 120,000 Soviet troops deployed in Afghanistan. The surge recently announced by Barack Obama will take today’s allied troops to more than that amount — over 130,000. Aushev said the Soviets lost 300 helicopters in the war — compared to the coalition’s 56. So far about 800 US soldiers have died along with the British total.

The mujaheddin could never defeat the Russians in military terms. “No Soviet garrison or major outpost was ever overrun,” said Lieutenant-General Boris Gromov, the last commander of the 40th Soviet Army in Afghanistan and its last soldier to leave the country.

But the Russians could never keep long-term control of areas they seized — a problem the coalition has become painfully familiar with. In a 1986 memo that could mostly have been written today, the Soviet army’s chief of staff stated gloomily: “After seven years in Afghanistan there is not one square kilometre left untouched by the boot of a Soviet soldier. But as soon as they leave the place, the enemy returns and restores it all the way it used to be. We have lost this war.”

Then as today, Afghanistan’s lack of a railway meant that supplies and ammunitions had to be transported mainly by land — across treacherous mountain passes and harsh deserts — making military supply columns exceptionally vulnerable to hit-and-run attacks.

“The terrain, especially in the mountains, is so impenetrable that you could lose sight of an entire battalion,” said Aushev, who spent months fighting there and recalls having to drink water from puddles to stay alive. “All the mujaheddin had to do is hit the first and last vehicle and the whole column would get bogged down.”

In October 1986, while protecting an artillery regiment on the move along the narrow mountain road to the Salang pass in the north of the country, Aushev was badly wounded in an ambush. Hit by fire from an AK-47, he returned to the war several weeks later.

The elusive nature of the enemy in Afghanistan has also changed little. Acting in small, highly mobile groups, the mujaheddin — as the Taliban today — were hard to spot, let alone distinguish from civilians. The Russians referred to the mujaheddin as dukhi, or ghosts.

“I’d be passing with my regiment,” Aushev says. “There’d be a man by the roadside with a shovel in his hand. He’d smile and wave, and I’d wave back, but I knew he’d just planted a mine.”

“It’s very similar,” said Butler. “We used to say that the Afghan farmer standing in his field could just as easily have an AK-47 hidden in the ditch. Moreover, he’s smiling at you.”

The zelonka, as the Russians called the narrow labyrinth of greenery and mud houses typical of Afghan villages, is as perilous a war theatre as the country’s steep mountain passes. There, say Aushev and Butler, a network of underground tunnels were used by the mujaheddin, and now by the Taliban, to vanish after an attack.

Close proximity and ample cover for the enemy make rocket-propelled grenade attacks exceptionally difficult to escape.

“The tactics have not changed,” said Butler. “The mujaheddin used mines against the Soviets, often with devastating effect, while the Taliban are now using improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs against us.”

While the Soviet army was mostly made up of conscripts, coalition forces are all professional. They are better trained, have far superior technology than the Russians in the 1980s, and crucially, are better fed and equipped. Some Soviet soldiers became so desperate they traded weapons and ammunition with the enemy in exchange for food and clothing.

Disease, especially infectious hepatitis, took a devastating toll on Russian troops. It is estimated that more than 400,000 soldiers fell sick during the conflict.

But state-of-the-art technology and kit aside, combat in Afghanistan has not become easier.

“Imagine fighting day in and day out for 20 hours a day,” said Butler, “in 50-degree heat, carrying 70lb of equipment, drinking hot water, with the knowledge that there is a good chance of being either killed or wounded every time you leave the base. That was a typical paratrooper’s day in Helmand in 2006. Just getting from A to B is logistically very tough.”

Unlike the coalition, which planned the war from scratch in a record 26 days, the Soviets had intimate knowledge of Afghanistan prior to their invasion as Moscow had KGB agents and political advisers on the ground assisting the country’s communists. “That’s a big advantage,” Butler told Aushev. “We went in cold and had very little information about what we’d face. For instance, we had hardly any understanding of the country’s very complex tribal tapestry.”

Nor were totalitarian Soviet leaders ever constrained by domestic public opinion or the body-bag count — arguably the most pressing worry for the coalition. True casualty figures were not released until after the collapse of communism. Relatives of those killed in the war were forbidden from engraving Afghanistan on the tombstone of the fallen. There were no anti-war demonstrations, and for much of the conflict most Soviets received only rosy propaganda reports from the front. Nonetheless, the Soviets had one particular disadvantage: unlike the current campaign their conflict was fought against the backdrop of the cold war. America, first secretly and then overtly, funnelled billions of dollars in ammunition and weapons to the mujaheddin in a proxy war against its rival superpower. The CIA helped train insurgents, and Britain, Pakistan, most Arab Gulf states and even China contributed to arming the rebels.

In what most Soviet veterans, including Aushev, consider a turning point, by 1986 the CIA began supplying the mujaheddin with hand-held Stinger surface-to-air missiles — which in part explains the high number of Soviet helicopters downed. Less trumpeted is the conviction that the covert operation inadvertently helped create Al-Qaeda, whose early leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, were mujaheddin armed by the West.

“We had much of the world against us,” said Aushev. “Today most countries are on your side. And the mujaheddin had very good weapons, the best mines and better medical equipment than us. Imagine if the Taliban had Stingers.”

The solution, however, Butler and Aushev agreed, is not military. The decorated British war veteran was noncommittal when I asked him about proposals to send in extra troops — the so-called surge which for a while at least helped reduce violence in Iraq.

First, in Butler’s view, the government must clearly state its objectives. “What do victory and defeat look like for us in Afghanistan?” as he put it. “What exactly are we trying to do there and how much can we afford to spend? Only then can one make a poised decision on the surge.”

Aushev by contrast had no doubts. Any troop increase is destined to fail. “What difference will another 40,000 men make? None. You’d need a million to control it but you’d still have terrorist attacks,” he says. “Militarily we could do pretty much what we wanted. We had no problem landing 2,000 troops somewhere, just like that. But that is not the way out.”

Nation-building alone is not enough either. The Soviets implemented a programme far more extensive than the coalition has so far. They built roads, factories, hospitals and schools and trained the Afghan elites, often by sending them to Moscow. “We got into nation-building long before we went in,” said Aushev. “Most Afghans loved us. That changed when we sent in the military because inevitably civilians get killed.”

The Soviets and the coalition made one fundamental mistake, according to the general. Both went in with a clear and limited objective but allowed themselves to get bogged down in pursuit of unattainable goals.

The Russians sent in troops to stage a coup and stabilise the situation, but then sought to Sovietise Afghan society. The coalition went in to remove Bin Laden and the Taliban, but is now trying to “democratise” the country. “In 2001 you told the world you were going in to remove a terrorist threat, not impose democracy, but now you are trying to stage western-style elections in a country where most people can’t read,” says Aushev. “You dispersed the Taliban and had some local support. That’s when you should have gone home leaving the Afghans in charge. We made the same mistake, seeking to impose our Soviet way of life, telling them they should have collective farms, pioneer camps and so on.”

The historical parallels go further. With Karmal, the Soviets backed a weak, unpopular president who rarely ventured outside Kabul for fear of assassination. A hostage in his own country, he was guarded round the clock by KGB special forces. The same, argued Aushev, is true of Hamid Karzai, the western-backed Afghan president who, shadowed by US special forces, is back in power for another five years following the country’s recent hotly-contested elections.

In 1987, the Kremlin replaced Karmal with Mohammad Najibullah who oversaw the Soviet withdrawal and ruled for over four years with substantial financial aid from Moscow. That quickly changed when Boris Yeltsin cut off all funds and cheap gas supplies. In 1996 the Taliban finally caught up with Najibullah, dubbed the “Ox of Kabul”. He was tortured, castrated and hung from a traffic-light post.

Gordon Brown hopes a UN-sponsored conference in London later this month will set a timetable for a transition to Afghan security forces of their own country, paving the way for troops to come home.

When Butler asked him what advice he would give the coalition, Aushev, who in August was invited to share his views on Afghanistan with the Pentagon, was resolute. Western-style elections should be scrapped. The country should be ruled by a jorga, or council, made up of respected tribal elders and ethnic leaders.

Karzai and his government should take responsibility for the country. The president should be given a strict ultimatum. He should state his aspirations for Afghanistan and plan for achieving them. The West should assist him, but remove him unless he has made progress within a certain time frame. Replacing his US bodyguards with Afghans would stir Karzai into action, added the Soviet general mischievously.

“The Afghans must tackle their own problems,” Aushev told Butler. “They have governors, ministers, a president. Let them talk to their own people. Why are you going in? Give government envoys trucks of medicines, potatoes and flour when they travel outside Kabul, but let them talk to each other.”

But that is exactly what Butler did in Musa Qala in 2006 when he personally sat down with local tribal leaders who wanted to take charge of their own security, reaching a compromise to put an end to the fighting. Butler recalled they said: “‘Give us money and we will rebuild but don’t come into our villages. We’ll keep control of the Taliban.’ It worked for only a few months until the Taliban came back in and started the fighting again.”

The answer, Aushev insists, would have been to put in a self- defence unit made up of locals. “Give them weapons but let the people of Musa Qala defend their Musa Qala.” Crucially, he went on, the coalition must help build up a strong and independent Afghan army, police and intelligence agency capable of tackling the country’s security problems. By the time the Russians left Najibullah in charge they had trained an Afghan army three times the current size. But that did not save him once the Kremlin cut supplies.

In the general’s eyes no viable political solution can fail to include the Taliban, even if they insist on imposing sharia law in regions where their influence is at its strongest. “What’s wrong with that? It’s the same law used in Saudi Arabia but you are not seeking to impose democratic elections there,” said Aushev.

When it comes to possibly the single most pressing factor in shaping Afghanistan’s future, Butler and Aushev could not have found more common ground. Combined, the two war heroes may have served over five decades in the army, but in their eyes the solution to the country’s complex problems is not military — despite the urgency of strengthening the Afghan armed forces.

It must focus on an ambitious long-term programme to help develop Afghanistan’s economy to improve the lives of millions of Afghans. How? Through aid but also direct investment, to build factories and businesses that generate revenues for local communities rather than the authorities. It is a concept Butler has embraced with enthusiasm since retiring and heading CforC (Corporates for Crisis), which provides political, business and cultural advice to investors interested in emerging and frontier markets. “It’s difficult because of the cycle of violence, but I’m a huge believer in the importance of attracting investment into post-conflict zones. We are facilitating business recovery, through foreign direct investment, in Africa and it could work in Afghanistan. Regrettably, development budgets there are only a fraction of what is spent on the military.”

“Turn to a tribal leader,” hypothesised Aushev. “Tell him you want to build a local leather factory which will bring jobs. Of course he’ll provide security. Get the locals involved on all fronts. Build milk, meat factories. Surely that’s not so difficult for a coalition of 40 countries. What’s cheaper, to keep a 100,000 strong army there or build 100 new factories? Today the Afghan leadership is hiding behind your shoulders and worrying only about private matters, just like they did with us.”

As the two veterans exchanged military souvenirs and posed side by side, they agreed that failure to develop Afghanistan and improve the life of the ordinary Afghan could lead to the chilling threat of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism spreading far beyond the region’s borders. To some it may seem an unlikely scenario. But then again, as I watched the firepower lighting the sky in Tobdara eight years ago, few ever imagined America and Britain would still be fighting here.

See Also: The Sins Of The Past, Face of the Day, How not to spy, by your friends in Al Qaeda, Terror in the Skies Requires Real Action on the Ground, and Hide the Decline! (Taliban Version)



The Ten Best Albums Of The Decade

To celebrate the end of the aught’s, the PBH editorial team convened to put together the definitive list of the ten best albums of the decade. While we may have missed a couple of albums, rest assured we put several minutes into this hastily constructed list.

Who could have predicted that the Francophonic world would be the greatest contributor to the decade in music? While white New York was stuck in second gear of derivative hipster mimicry and LA and London continued their descent into the blackhole of label corporatocracy, Montreal and Paris became the hubs for exceptional musical development in the 2000’s. Our list reflects this dominance: #1, #5, #7, and a handful of our honorable mentions hail from France and Montreal.

*Note: This list does not include any hip-hop albums as the last relevant hip-hop record was released in 1997

1. Daft Punk – Discovery [Album on Amazon]

In 2001, the French duo produced a masterpiece of French house, redefined dance music, and crossed over into the mainstream. There was hardly a dance party worth going to in this decade that didn’t at least once spin some Daft Punk. Out of Discovery sprung Interstella 5555, an incredible animated rock opera set to the soundtrack of Discovery.

Key Tracks: Face to Face, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, Digital Love

Daft Punk on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

2. Modest Mouse – Moon & Antarctica [Album on Amazon]

Moon and Antarctica took the raw promise of Modest Mouse’s earlier work and, with the help of Sony, they created a polished masterpiece of alt-rock. Isaac Brock’s abilities as a lyricist are on full display throughout the record and Modest Mouse’s influence on the indie rock scene is immeasurable.

Key Tracks: 3rd Planet, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Paper Thin Walls, I Came As A Rat

Modest Mouse on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

3. The Postal Service – Give Up [Album on Amazon]

The Postal Service, an ephemeral partnership of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and producer Jimmy Tamborello, released Give Up in February of 2003. If there was a defining song of the 2000’s, the dispirited anthem The District Sleeps Alone Tonight suits a decade of regression under growing social malaise, Bush II, and the deafening silence of opposition to the defilers of the American dream. It also produced the best music video of the decade for the same song:

Key Tracks: Such Great Heights, Clark Gable, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

The Postal Service on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

4. Cat Power – You Are Free [Album on Amazon]

One of the best start-to-finish albums of the decade, You Are Free sets the tone of the transition from the 1990’s to the 2000’s. I Don’t Blame You, Cat Power’s tribute to the legacy of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, provides the most heartbreaking reflection on the grunge era to date.

Key Tracks: You Are Free, I Don’t Blame You

Cat Power on PBH, Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

5. Kevin Drew – Spirit If / Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In The People [Spirit If On Amazon, You Forgot It In The People On Amazon]

The music coming out of Montreal beginning in the mid 2000’s was a sorely needed kick in the ass for the waffling independent rock scene. Leading the pack was the Kevin Drew-fronted Broken Social Scene, whose first release You Forgot It In The People earned one of the highest PitchFork ratings ever. Similarly, Kevin Drew’s BSS-inspired solo album Spirit If continued the indescribable kinetic energy that pervades their creative output. It simply is.

Key Tracks: TBTF, Safety Bricks, Gang Bang Suicide; Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl, Almost Crimes, Cause = Time

Broken Social Scene on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon; Kevin Drew on PBH, Wiki and Amazon

6. Radiohead – Kid A [Album on Amazon]

Radiohead proved with this album that they could not only continue to reinvent themselves as musicians, but reinvent rock music as a whole. Their transition from standard rock (Pablo Honey, The Bends) to art rock (Ok Computer) to rock art was completed with this album, which defined their 21st century sound.

Key Tracks: Idioteque, Everything in Its Right Place, The National Anthem, Morning Bell

Radiohead on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

7. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [Album on Amazon]

Phoenix’s latest album continues their upward trend in quality. Inspired by the life of classical bad boy Franz Liszt, it’s an magnificent combination of intelligent lyrics and dance rock bop.

Key Tracks: 1901, Lisztomania

Bonus — Lisztomania inspired the best fan video created:

Phoenix on PBH, Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

8. Of Montreal – Satanic Panic in the Attic [Album on Amazon]

Before this album Of Montreal, a member of the legendary Elephant 6 collective, had focused on more conceptual, 60s inspired pop. This album signaled a radical break from Kevin Barnes and co into a more electronic dance pop, while maintaining a focus on lyrical irreverence and humor.

Key Tracks: Disconnect the Dots, Rapture Rapes the Muses, Lysergic Bliss

Of Montreal on PBH, Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

9. Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue [Album on Amazon]

Simple sampled multifarious tracks. Bibio exudes what we love most about modern music: an aesthetic blend of contemporary genres while avoiding getting bogged down by esoteric frivolousness.

Key Tracks: Sugarette, Firefly, The Palm Of Your Wave

Bibio on PBH, Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

10. Interpol – Turn On the Bright Lights [Album on Amazon]

Interpol’s first album took the driving, post-punk sound of the Strokes and melded it with a vocal styling very reminiscent of 80s band, Joy Division, and were able to create a new sound altogether. Paul Banks’ stream-of-conscious lyrics and inspired bass playing of Carlos Dengler set it apart.

Key Tracks: Obstacle #1, PDA, NYC

Interpol on Wiki, MySpace, and Amazon

Honorable Mentions: Yacht – See Mystery Lights [On PBH, Wiki, Amazon]

St. Vincent – The Actor [St. Vincent on PBH, Wiki, Amazon]

The Stars – Set Yourself On Fire [The Stars on PBH, Wiki, Amazon]

The Strokes – Is This It? [The Strokes On Wiki, Amazon]

At The Drive In – Relationship of Command [At The Drive In On Wiki, Amazon]

Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise [Sufjan Stevens On Wiki, Amazon]

Devendra Banhart – Niño Rojo [Devendra Banhart On Wiki, Amazon]

Voxtrot – Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, and Wives [Voxtrot On Wiki, Amazon]

Lupe Fiasco – Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor [Lupe Fiasco On Wiki, Amazon]

Hot Chip – Made In The Dark [Hot Chip on PBH, Wiki, Amazon]

Beck – Sea Change [Beck On Wiki, Amazon]

See Also: Pitchfork – The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s, POPBYTES’ TOP TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2009!, Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2009, The Best Albums Of The Decade: Which Was The Greatest?, The Top 10 Albums of 2009 That Didn’t Make Pitchfork’s Top 50, A Few of My Top Albums for 2009, The Best-Written Top 10 Albums Of 2009 List On The Internet, Complex’s Best of 2009: The Top 25 Albums, Band of the Decade, The Rockologist’s End Of Year, End Of Decade Wrapup Part 1: Best Albums Of ’09, Rolling Stone’s 25 Best Albums, Songs Of 2009, and Best of the Decade in Music.

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An Impressive Panoply Of Blogs

Sorry for the hiatus folks! We were busy developing our own blog so we didn’t have time to check out other peoples blogs… until now. So let’s get things started.


The 80’s Synth Melody

One tank of ethanol contains enough grain to feed one African for a year

If Juno Was 10 Times Shorter and 100 Times More Honest (I’m sorry I’m 1 year late with this)

How to save 150 dollars on your Comcast cable and internet bill

How to Inoculate Your Children Against Advertising

New York Before & After Cars

Sun Tzu’s Wisdom, And It Does Not Look Good For America

Medical reasons to have Sex Everyday

What Life Was Like In Pakistan in 1948 in Pictures

• And since we are all hermetic nerds who have no comprehension of other humans, The Critical 7 Rules To Understand People

And remember, check out the other PBH Network blogs: there’s PBH2, PBH3, Die Guido Die and Die Hipster Die.



Bad News, Fatties

In the, “I think we need a new PR department”, the BBC reports that cut 5,000 people from its site for putting on weight during the holidays. Or, as the caustic spokesmen explained,

“Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which was founded.”

Apparently BeautifulPeople is the Sizzlers of the internet: susceptible to the unending appetite of the overweight.


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