Marxism Within Capitalism

As explained in an article celebrating Karl Marx’s birthday, “Marx’s vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist. For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.”

This is why the Soviet Union and Maoist China were never Marxist or ever attempted to be Marxist, in spite of Marxist rhetoric getting caught up in Cold War debates. Then again, capitalist rhetoric of ‘free markets’ has for generations been used to defend plutocracy, fascism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. If we don’t differentiate rhetoric from reality, then any ‘debate’ is about declaring power rather than discerning truth.

To clarify an alternative perspective that was excluded from Cold War propaganda on both sides, Marx explained that, “No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”

He had no interest in starting a revolution to replace one system of centralized authoritarian power structure with another. He saw the only way forward was through the system already in place. This is probably why, in writing for the leading Republican newspaper in the United States, he supported a capitalist like Abraham Lincoln. The last of feudalism in the form of slavery had to be eliminated and capitalism fully established before the new system could demonstrate what it was.

Such a system can’t be destroyed from without, until it has already weakened itself from within, based on the assumption this is the life cycle of all socioeconomic orders. Only by pushing the dominant system to its furthest extreme form and its ultimate conclusion could the potentials and flaws be fully seen for what they are. There is no short cut to avoid this difficult transition.

The dominant system either would collapse under its own weight, as happened with the decline of the ancien regime, or it would not. From a Marxist perspective, shifting control of the ‘capital’ in modern economy from plutocrats to oligarchs is the same difference. It’s still capitalism in both cases, although slightly different varieties (difficult to tell them apart sometimes, such as with China’s mix of statist communism and statist capitalism, demonstrating that there is no inherent contradiction between the two).

As Chris Saunders simply stated, “Marx had said that Capitalism was a necessary stage along the road to socialism. Those attempts by the USSR and China to by-pass capitalism, have instead necessitated the resort to state capitalism.” Capitalist rhetoric obscures the real world functioning of capitalism. It never required free markets. If anything, it’s easy to make the argument that capitalism is by definition and intent the opposite of free markets. The concentration of capital within the capitalist class, whether plutocrats or oligarchs, inevitably means the concentration of all else: power, influence, opportunities, resources, education, rights, privileges, and of course freedom itself. It should go without saying that markets can’t be free when people involved in and impacted by markets aren’t free.

Marxism has never exactly been implemented and certainly never failed. That is because Marx never offered an alternative utopian scheme. He assumed that only after the breakdown or during the process of weakening and decline could some other system organically arise and take form. Then the lower classes, hopefully, might begin to assert their own power for self-control and authority for self-governance. As far as a Marxist perspective is concerned, everything so far has been happening as Marx predicted it would.

Full steam ahead! Let’s find out what comes next. And that means understanding what is happening right now within the present society and economy. New developments are already taking root in the cracks of the edifice.

* * *

Should we celebrate Karl Marx on his 200th birthday?
by Barbara Foley

In the wake of World War II, various economists heralded the narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest as evidence of the disappearance of class antagonisms.

But the long curve of capitalist development suggests that has widened, as illustrated in economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

The candle of the 2012 Occupy movement may have guttered, but its mantra of the 99 percent opposing the 1 percent is now a truiusm. Everyone knows that the super-rich are richer than ever, while for most of the working-class majority – many of them caught in the uncertainty of the “gig economy” – belt-tightening has become the new normal.

Those laboring in the formal and informal economies of much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, needless to say, face conditions that are far more dire.

Marx was correct, it would seem, when he wrote that capitalism keeps the working class poor.

He was also spot-on about capital’s inherent instability. There is some validity to the joke that “Marxists have predicted correctly 12 of the last three financial crises.”

Marx’s reputation has made a startling comeback, however, at times in unexpected circles.

In discussing the 2008 financial meltdown, one Wall Street Journal commentator wrote: “Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself. We thought markets worked. They’re not working.”

In 2017, the National Review reported that a poll found as many as 40 percent of people in the U.S. “now prefer socialism to capitalism.”

Notably, too, the C-word – Communism – has been making a reappearance, as is indicated by recent series of titles: The Idea of Communism,“ ”The Communist Hypothesis,“ ”The Actuality of Communism,“ and ”The Communist Horizon.“ Until recently, the word was largely avoided by neo- and post-Marxist academics.

Class analysis remains alive and well. This is because capitalism is no longer as seemingly natural as the air we breathe. It is a system that came into being and can also go out of being.

We’ve Been Here Before

There are many signs that if the lawfully constituted leadership does not soon substitute action for words, a new leadership, perhaps unlawfully constituted, will arise and act.

Those words were spoken at a Senate committee, early in 1933. It was the last months of Hoover’s presidency and the economic problems were getting worse. There was a real threat of fascism, communism, or plain populist revolt. Open resistance to authorities and even violence had already broken out.

Speaking of the year before, William Manchester wrote (from The Glory and the Dream):

“In the desperate summer of 1932, Washington, D.C., resembled the besieged capital of an obscure European state.”

That was when veterans marched on Washington, DC. They demanded the money they were owed. That is how they got their name, the Bonus Army. They camped out around the White House, until they were violently evicted. The later Business Plot, an alleged attempt at fascist takeover, sought the support of a popular leader in the military. The Bonus Army and the Business Plot were unrelated, but they were part of a looming threat. To the president and politicians in the country’s capitol, it would have felt like they were besieged.

This is forever the risk of failed governance, even more so when combined with the betrayal of democratic ideals. If the government can’t govern, the people will take it upon themselves to do what government won’t.

One in four American men were out of work back then. Unemployment data is a bit different today, but the comparable number of real unemployment is one in ten. That is about 30 million Americans right now without a job, about a quarter of the population that existed at the time of the Great Depression. As a total number, there are as many Americans unemployed now as then.

Also, consider this. Those unemployment numbers don’t include the massive prison population, one of the ways we now store our unemployed population (by the way, that equates to more blacks in prison today than were in slavery at its height before the Civil War). And that doesn’t include those who are underemployed or don’t make a living wage, many of which rely on welfare to make ends meet.

Stop and think about that. The Great Depression came close to tearing our country apart, with fears of authoritarianism and revolution. Yet here we are with the same number of unemployed that existed back then. The difference partly is that we have a welfare system that keeps large numbers of people just above the level of absolute desperation. If that welfare system gets overwhelmed or some politician is so stupid as to eliminate it, you will see those old fears return over night.

This is what Trump was tapping into. If you are among the few who have never personally experienced poverty or lived in a poor community, never known unemployment or homelessness, never been on the wrong side of a cruel legal system, consider yourself fortunate. But realize you are living in a bubble disconnected from the reality of so many of your fellow citizens.

So, how much worse does it have to get? What might be the tipping point?

Don’t just fear a demagogue like Trump and the swamp creatures he brings with him. Fear the economic conditions and the political system that made someone like him inevitable. We’ve been warned about this for a century now. Yet so many have acted as if it could never happen here. In fact, the slow creep of dysfunction and failure, of division and frustration has been happening for a long time, even if the public has been slow to respond or else the corporate media reluctant to report.

But it might be some small comfort to note, as did Jon Meacham, that “we have been here before.”

Cold War Ideology and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I learned of a new author, Andrew Alexander, the same year he died. I came across him because of a book he wrote on the Cold War, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance: How America Won the War and Lost the Peace – US Foreign Policy Since 1945. I’ll add that book to my reading list for all Americans, even if Oprah doesn’t include it in her book club list.

Alexander was highly critical of Cold War policies and propaganda (and its continuing influence), having seen it as some combination of ignorance and delusion. But he was no radical activist, academic revisionist, or dogmatic ideologue trying to defend left-wing politics. Besides being a respectable editor, journalist and columnist for The Daily Mail, he was a Tory conservative (and once a Conservative candidate), Thatcher neoliberal, right-wing British patriot, and hardline anti-communist. As Simon Jenkins at the Guardian puts it, “No one could possibly call him leftwing, let alone a pacifist appeaser. He has no illusions about the evil of Stalin or Mao, any more than he has about Saddam and al-Qaida.” David Duff, in an Al Aribaya News article, states it simply when he calls Alexander “a crusty Tory of the old school.”

Alexander’s social circle included many in the British political and economic elite. He wasn’t some nobody attacking his perceived superiors in hoping to make a name for himself. His career has been well established for a long time. His is not an angry commentary from an outsider, but a set of long considered concerns directed toward his own ideological peers and associates. He makes this clear in the dedication to his book: “To my numerous friends in the Conservative Party whose relentless belief remains to this day that the Cold war arose from the aggressive ambitions of the Kremlin, thwarted by the bold response of our American friends. Their refusal to contemplate any other explanation has spurred me on in this, my survey of US foreign policy over the last sixty-five years.” His book was an offering to friends, not an attack against enemies. It was his love of country that made him take this issue so seriously, as he worried about the costs wasted and damages done.

It is interesting to read the views of someone like him. It is hard to imagine a conservative of that variety in the mainstream media of the United States. From a Guardian article more than a decade old, he offered this gem (The Soviet threat was a myth):

“One can, of course, understand why few in the west want the orthodox view overturned. If that were to happen, the whole edifice of postwar politics would crumble. Could it be that the heavy burden of postwar rearmament was unnecessary, that the transatlantic alliance actually imperilled rather than saved us? Could it be that the world teetered on the verge of annihilation because post-war western leaders, particularly in Washington, lacked imagination, intelligence and understanding? The gloomy answer is yes.”

That is a damning conclusion, especially considering it comes from a conservative. To give some perspective, here is a passage from his book’s first chapter, The Flawed Cold War Orthodoxy (Kindle Locations 137-154):

“A wider look at history shows that a strongly interventionist US foreign policy is nothing new – though the current power to intervene globally is. A century ago, an American incomprehension of the outside world was exemplified by President Woodrow Wilson, so determined to remake countries in the American image after the First World War. His mixture of benevolence and ruthlessness may be summed up in a dispute with Mexico in 1913, when he announced ‘I will teach the Latin-Americans to elect good men’ followed by bombarding the town of Vera Cruz. His gunboat diplomacy intensified such feelings of nationalism and anti-Americanism that Germany hoped to make Mexico an ally in an attack on the USA in 1917 – famously exposed in the Zimmermann telegram, decoded by London.

“In 1945, the USA dedicated itself in Wilsonian language to bringing ‘democracy and freedom’ to the countries occupied by the Soviets at the end of the Second World War. The goal was high-minded. But there was a puzzling refusal to acknowledge the Soviet claim that two invasions by Germany in twenty-seven years made the firm control of Eastern Europe essential to Russian security. Truman insisted on seeing the Soviets as the determinedly expansionist enemy of the free world almost from the day he assumed office. They were, he said, ‘planning world conquest’.2

“The United States over which he presided had emerged from the Second World War with a military and economic supremacy unparalleled in history. Of the three powers which defeated the Axis alliance, the USA was unique in ending the war wealthier than when it began. By contrast, Britain’s income was down by a third with much of its overseas assets sold to buy armaments from the USA. In the case of Russia, which had been responsible for destroying the vast bulk of Hitler’s forces, the loss of income was immeasurable. Soviet statistics, always dubious, have never provided a wholly reliable picture of national income. But the scale of the devastation, involving at least twenty-two million and possibly twenty-seven million military and civilian deaths, speaks for itself.

“There was in fact no evidence in 1945 that the Soviet Union had a sinister plan to conquer the West. The threat perceived by Truman and others was imaginary – though no less powerful for that – stoked up by years of fearing the deadly spread of Communism.”

Alexander is able to write with such authority because he has gone to the direct words of Stalin and others. Mining records that weren’t available to earlier historians and journalists, his writings on the Cold War includes many telling quotes. What becomes clear is that Stalin was simply another nationalist despot with nationalist concerns. He worried about his own power and position, and of course he took seriously his role as leader of the country he ruled. He was a Russian nationalist, not an ideological communist and Trotsky internationalist (Stalin, by the way, assassinated Trotsky). Alexander states this in no uncertain terms (Kindle Locations 195-202):

“Given the German invasions, it would not have mattered whether the government in Moscow had been Communist, Tsarist or Social Democrat. It would still have insisted on firm control of these countries through which invasion had come; and bound to regard with deep suspicion any attempts to prevent it. In any case, Moscow could never forget that it was British and French policy in the interwar years to make Eastern Europe a barrier against the Soviet Union, even to consider – crucially – allowing Hitler a free hand against Russia. Colonel, later President, de Gaulle noted that even after the start of the Second World War:

“Certain circles saw the enemy in Stalin rather than Hitler. They busied themselves with finding means of striking Russia, either by aiding Finland or bombarding Baku or landing at Istanbul, much more than in coming to grips with Hitler.”

There is an intriguing insight about Stalin and non-Russian revolutions. Alexander explains that (Kindle Locations 161-165):

“Stalin’s attitude to the so-called world proletarian revolution is essential to understanding his personal and political motivation. He was, like the despot throughout the ages, principally concerned with his own survival rather than with ideological issues. He abandoned the grand global ambition of the world proletarian revolution in 1924 when he proclaimed that, henceforth, the aim was to be ‘socialism in one country’. To believe that he remained at all times a devout ideologue is to misread his character.”

One suspects those who saw Stalin as an ideologue were maybe projecting their own dogmatic tendencies. These Western ruling elites wanted an ideological war, whether or not Stalin wished to participate. “The determination of the West to see every Soviet move as explicable in terms of the pursuit of the world proletarian revolution provides one of history’s great ironies: the West took Communist doctrine more seriously than Stalin” (Kindle Locations 180-181). These ideologues were eventually able to force the hand of the Soviets to join this game of ideological battle, as they insisted on goading the Soviet government into aggression. In discussing the “European powers’ readiness to follow the American lead,” Alexander makes the point that “ironically…” (Kindle Locations 114-121),

“the launch of the Cold War by the USA did in due course bring into existence the very danger which had been imagined. It made frantic defence measures seem sensible. Threatened by President Truman, Russia responded by a vigorous programme of rearmament and an even tighter clampdown on Eastern Europe. With the refusal of the USA to respond to peace initiatives launched by the Soviet leadership on the death of Stalin in 1953, the Kremlin fought back under the new and more assertive leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. American and Western power in general was challenged wherever it could be found. It became rational to talk of a Communist threat and of the danger of a Soviet Union with a nuclear armoury. What was inaccurate was the assumption that a new military threat had come into being when the wartime allies finally came face to face in Germany.”

I sometimes find myself talking about the Cold War. I’m on the tail end of the Cold War generations, when that era was winding down. It’s just a childhood memory to me, mostly as portrayed in the fictionalized accounts of Hollywood movies and tv shows. I sense how different older Americans often respond to Cold War history. What to me just seems like propaganda to many who are older seems tangibly real. The ideological terms of capitalism versus communism so fully define and determine their sense of reality.

I found it interesting that even the Soviets talked about defending freedom and democracy from American greed, immorality, and destructiveness. Both sides were often making similar arguments. I’ve come to the conclusion that it never was about ideology. You can see evidence of that in how easily formerly communist Russia and Maoist China have come to embrace variants of capitalism.

It seems to me that the greatest threat to the United States has always been fascism, not communism. You can also see the evidence of that in how easily this country has taken on forms of crony capitalism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. But it isn’t an ideological issue, per se. It is partly just about power and in the US power has always been tied up with capitalism, not any opposing ideologies. Even the most left-wing progressivism in the US merely sought to reform capitalism and did so to protect against anything further left.

Plus, I see the cultural angle being so much more important. That is seen with Stalin. He was a Russian nationalist, first and foremost, through and through. The United States has never been an ethnically homogeneous country like any of the communist countries or, for that matter, any of the traditionally fascist countries. Diversity has been a great protection for the US against the worst forms of authoritarian takeover.

In terms of Russia and Eastern Europe, there was never much of an issue, since only a small part of America’s population comes from that part of the world. The main reason fascism was a threat in this country wasn’t even the dominance of plutocratic capitalism, but because so many Americans came from countries that became fascist. Many German-Americans, the single largest ancestry in the US, proudly marched in the streets carrying flags and banners with the swastika. The characteristics of the American people that resonated with fascism were cultural rather than ideological. Even ignoring ancestry and issues of national loyalty, this resonance included America’s populist folk religiosity, a defining feature of fascism and quite opposite of official communist ideology. The same social and political forces that brought fascism to Europe also brought the German Bund and Second Klan to America.

Yet we go on arguing about ideology. It never was about ideology. It still isn’t. So many ideological debates ring hollow. Like the Cold War, the culture wars were simply a spectacle of distraction. Most Americans agree about most things. There is no grand ideological conflict in America, although there is a class war between the economic elite and everyone else (Joe Bageant made the argument that 60-70% of Americans are actually working class, those with little economic freedom and self-determination), but a class war in raw form is still not directly an issue of ideology. There certainly isn’t any threat of communist takeover. Even Bernie Sanders is simply a moderate mainstream social democrat and not a radical dogmatic ideologue.

I doubt the ideological Cold War will end until the last person with living memory of that era has left this earth. It has been such a powerful force in ruling over our collective psyche, strangling our ability to imagine anything else. We can only hope that with historical distance its grip will loosen and its influence fade.

Early Cold War Liberalism

Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession [Brown v. Board of Education] would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters.
~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (from Corey Robin)

The following two passages are from quite different writings. But both describe the early Cold War atmosphere. It is strange to read about that long ago time. I only have a childhood’s glimpse of the ending of the Cold War. The generation following mine has no living memory at all of that era.

The first passage below is from Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream. She wrote the book in the late 1940s, but the foreword wasn’t written until later and published in the second edition in 1961. The Cuban Revolution had just happened and there now was a Communist government at America’s doorstep. That worried her.

This was a Cold War wake up call for Americans, from conservatives to liberals, Lillian being the latter. Communism was no longer a distant political system to be debated as abstract theory. Four years after she wrote in distress about Communist influence, the 1965 Civil Rights Act was passed. The Cold War forced the hand of the political elite, for fear of what would happen if the Civil Rights Movement became further radicalized.

The second passage is from John Hartley’s introductory essay (“Before Ongism”) to a work by Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (from the 30th Anniversary Edition). Hartley puts Ong’s academic work into perspective. Ong was beginning his academic career just as the Cold War started, following the Second World War. That was a new era for America, then a rising global power.

In the 1940s, the CIA was formed and the FBI took on a greater role in national security.The Cold War was seen as a potential total war and one of the emerging weapons was propaganda, media manipulation, and an oppressive variety of culture war. In the 1950s, Americans fell under influence of domestic covert operations like that of CIA’s Operation Mockingbird and FBI’s COINTELPRO. Also, America came to be dominated by McCarthyism. The Civil Rights Movement, even as it was having legal successes, was increasingly targeted. It was seen as a breeding ground for Communists and radicals.

American universities were a battleground. Long before the protests of the 1960s, the CIA and FBI were focusing intently upon academia, both in looking for threatening activists and for potential recruits. The CIA was also interested in shaping academia and its influence. The CIA used its funds to promote particular artists, writers, and thinkers. Some professors were even spymasters.

This was the world that Walter J. Ong entered. There is no evidence that he knew about any of it, but it certainly shaped everything around him. The US government understood that ideas had power. Lillian Smith wasn’t part of that Cold War academic world, but she did have a 134 page FBI file. She was considered dangerous because she wielded ideas to promote change and all change was deemed dangerous to those in power.

The mid-twentieth century was a time when liberalism, both as a liberal ideology and liberal arts, was simultaneously striving and constrained. It was being carried along by far greater historical and political forces.

* * * *

Killers of the Dream
by Lillian Smith
Foreword (1961)
pp. 15-17

And its relevance for this hour we are living in astonishes me. For what was based on intuition, on a kind of prophetic guess, is now boldly actin itself out on a world-size stage. I had felt the curve of approaching events but I could only warn, I could not prove. And now here it is: the new African nations, the hatred of colonialism, and the Communists’ shrewd exploitation of this word so fatefully tied to “the white man” and to Western democracy—and to everyone’s future.

When I wrote those chapters I was afraid—I am more afraid, today—that we may not break our bondage to past errors in time to win the confidence of young nations who need our help. And whom we desperately need. I watched with a sense of horror—I am still watching—the hands of the Southern clock (and the American clock) move with the death-slowness while the world clock speeds along as if stuffed with the energy of a rocket.

And now, there is Cuba. Ninety miles away, a Communist government. How could it have happened! Why are we so blind to each disaster as it begins slowly, slowly, and then rushes toward us! Is it complacency? But what causes this kind of complacency, so unreal, so without substance? Why are we suppressing anxiety, denying danger? Why apathy—when we desperately need moral energy? Why flabby spirits when we need iron strength?

Colonialism was once a harsh exploitation of peoples; today, it is a symbol stalking the earth. And men live and die by their symbols. To Asia and Africa—and Cuba, yes—the word means shame and degradation, it means dehumanization, poverty, pain. And here, in this great country whose people love freedom and respect men as human beings, colonialism’s twin brother, segregation, not only lives but wields power, and earth-shaking decisions are made by its followers. But the new nations of Asia and Africa are making earth-shaking decisions, too; they have it within their power to do so not only in the United Nations, not only in secret sessions with Russia and China, but in the secret rooms of the people’s memory.

Why can we not see the pattern laid out so plainly before our eyes? Ghana . . . Mali . . . Guinea . . . Tanganyika . . . Kenya . . . Liberia . . . Nigeria . . . Mauritania . . . Republic of Chad . . . Republic of Niger . . . Angola . . . Southwest Africa . . . Nyasaland . . . Southern Rhodesia . . . Northern Rhodesia . . . Mozambique . . . Sudan . . . Somalia . . . Central African Republic . . . the Congo . . . Bechuanaland . . . South Africa . . . Malgasy . . . Basutoland . . . Swaziland . . . Gabon . . . Republic of Ivory Coast . . . Senegal . . . Ethiopia . . . and others and others. Mixed together, as I have jumbled them here, the free and the not yet free, they are Africa below the Desert, Africa in struggle with itself, Africa smeared by old bleeding memories, reaching out for a future called “Africa for the Africans” which may turn into mirage because of a too urgent hunger to become. Too urgent? Yes. For starvation can be exploited by unscrupulous leaders; it is easier to arouse hatred of others than love for one’s own freedom and future; it is easy, to, for these leaders in their difficulties to appeal to color just as southern demagogues did when the South was in chaos after the Civil War. We should not be surprised if we hear in African accents words about Black Supremacy, just as we still hear in southern accents words about White Supremacy. The fine concept of the human being may get lost in the shuffle and we may face  a black racism just as white racism is disappearing. this is possible although it would be tragic error.

But whatever wisdom or irresponsible ambition their leaders may show, these new nations need us: our financial and technical aid, our moral support, our acceptance of their citizens as human beings.

But we cannot give them support or acceptance, no matter how eloquently we may offer it, until we rid our own country of racism and its primitive rites of segregation. The President may try, the State Department, the USIA and Peace Corps may try, but no matter what they do or say, the offer of help and friendship will be without psychic and moral substance as long as we practice segregation here at home. And at the critical moment, many of these nations, too, will turn to communism, rejecting what they call “white democracy.”

Our President and his executive office can achieve much; and the State Department is not without the means to persuade; and the Peace Corps, with its young members’ person-to-person contacts which transcend governmental activities, will be of service in overcoming misconceptions and resentments. But to change our foreign relations wsith asia and Africa our symbols must change. For neither we nor they are animals: we live by our symbols as do they: we cannot change their feelings about us as long as we are acting out, symbolically, the concept of White Supremacy in schools and parks and movies and churches and buses and restaurants.

Why don’t we see this? Is there a tendency to blindness in those who overvalue their whiteness? Sometimes, I think so; even in those who cannot be called racists there is blindness. If we were not blocked off by our racial feelings would we not realize that segregationists, South and North, are our country’s dangerous enemies, even when unwittingly so? Would we not realize the threat they are to our survival as a strong free nation? For the sake of a mythic belief in the superiority of their “whiteness”—a strange mad obsession—they are willing to drag us to the edge of destruction because they have actually lost touch with reality. Think of the irony, the terrible absurdity of those racist U.S. Congressmen investigating everybody’s subversive acts but their own—when it is what they are doing by their blunt, stubborn refusal to give up segregation that is pushing us closer and closer to disaster.

* * * *

Orality and Literacy: 30th Anniversary Edition
by Walter J. Ong
“Before Ongism” by John Hartley
XVII-XVIII

Without wanting to overstate it (as American supremacism, for instance), there is a vein of political philosophy running through the literary-historical scholarship of mid-century America. The mood extended well beyond Harvard. Across the country, literary scholarship seemed determined to give substance to Walt Whitman’s post-Civil War vision for America’s “democratic vistas”; 13 a vision newly urgent in a post-World War II world. Richard Altick at Ohio ( The English Common Reader, 1957) and R. F. Jones at Stanford ( The Triumph of the English Language, 1953) come to mind. 14 Most notable, perhaps, was Yale, where American Studies was established in the same period, not least for political reasons. American Studies was:

an enterprise that would be, among other things, an instrument for ideological struggle in what some among them termed the American crusade in the Cold War, and what others among them saw as virtually a second civil war. (Holzman 1999: 71)

A leading figure in this enterprise was Norman Holmes Pearson, who, like Perry Miller at Harvard, was a secret agent for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) – precursor of the CIA – during World War II. Where Perry’s protégés at Harvard included the Jesuit priest Walter Ong, Pearson’s at Yale included James Jesus Angleton, who learnt there the craft of practical criticism of decontextualised documents. Angleton went on to apply it as chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA, where he remained for a generation (Holzman 2008). While at Yale, as Terence Hawkes has pointed out, Angleton was much influenced by the New Criticism, especially as practised by William Empson (1930), whose theory of the irreducible ambiguity of expression served Angleton well in his search for double meanings as evidence of Soviet “double agents,” within the CIA itself. His obsessive search for spies turned to domestic suspects during the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, among them the liberal and countercultural elite of American society, including Martin Luther King and Edward Kennedy. Hawkes draws the parallel between literary criticism and counter-intelligence:

When agents may be recognized as “turned”… they themselves become “texts” which demand complex analysis. A sensitivity to ambiguity then becomes a crucial weapon. The improbable but undeniable impact of modern literary criticism on practical politics has no better model, and Angleton later described his work in counterintelligence as “the practical criticism of ambiguity.” (Hawkes 2009)

Strangely, it seems, the study of rhetoric, of literary theory, and the practical criticism of arcane texts at Ivy-league colleges, intersected both personally and institutionally with the career of high-stakes political Americanism during the crucial period of its global ascendancy. As a Jesuit, presumably Ong was not involved in the counter-espionage shenanigans of active spy-masters like Perry, Pearson and Angleton, but he was brought to prominence in an intellectual environment where literary history, linguistic analysis and an expanded doctrine of the USA’s “manifest destiny” were brought into alignment.

Orwell’s Homage to Socialism

George Orwell has been mostly a name to me. I’ve seen adaptations of his works, but I don’t recall ever having read anything by him. I found a cheap copy of Homage to Catalonia which more than intrigued me. I didn’t know anything about his life, but maybe that book is a good way to learn of one of the most important experiences of his life and how he sought to make sense of it.

Homage to Catalonia is about his time spent fighting fascists in Spain. Like many others, Orwell got caught up in the rhetoric of communism. He wanted to fight with the communists, but for various reasons he ended up fighting with the communist-allied anarchists and social trade unionists in Catalonia. The communists eventually took over and eventually wiped out their former allies (imprisoning, torturing and killing them) which, to say the least, was a self-defeating maneuver and cost them the war. For Orwell, this meant he was now perceived as an enemy by the communists and so he escaped across the border.

This disillusioned him about the communists which made his support of socialism all that more stronger, having remained a socialist for the rest of his life. Maybe he was taught a lesson by those he fought with, those who suffered at the hands of the communists. Most right-wingers and maybe most people in general think communism (in its form as authoritarian statism) is the same as socialism, but it would be hard to convince those anarchists and trade unionists who were perceived as a greater threat to communism than even their supposedly shared enemy of the fascists.

Orwell was no friend of any kind of absolutist ideology and he understood how it led to ruthless oppression. He realized this was as true for British imperialism as for communism. This put him in an odd position when, during the Cold War, he became an informant for the British government:

“In The New York Review of Books of September 25, 2003, Garton Ash published an article called ‘Orwell’s List’. In this article, Garton Ash gives an account of his research concerning an astonishing list of thirty-eight names of journalists, politicians, and others compiled by Orwell. In some cases, Orwell appended com-ments, some being anti-Semitic or homophobic, as well as vocational information. Those on the list were generally labeled as “crypto-communists” or “fellow travelers”. Others were said to be merely “appeasers” (of the U.S.S.R.), “reliably pro-Russian” or “sympathizers only”. Quite a few on the list are well known to those in Russell studies, for they include such figures as E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, Kingsley Martin and J.B. Priestley.”

It’s rather sad that he let himself be used that way. The very people who were critical of British oppression became potential targets of that oppression because of Orwell’s collusion:

“But what Garton Ash does not mention is that in case of need, this list was also to be used to ferret out suspicious intel-lectuals and others, perhaps in a political crisis, though there is no indication Orwell himself knew this. Accordingly, in a telephone interview conducted by Francis Stonor Saunders, Adam Watson, a senior IRD veteran and Celia Kirwan’s supervisor, would not cat-egorically deny that the list was to be used against those on it. He would only say in an artfully qualified way that “Its immediate usefulness was that these were not people who should write for us,” but went on to add that “[their] connection with Soviet-backed organizations might have to be exposed at some later date”.[1] It thus seems to have been intended that the list could be concomitantly used as a tool of ideological suppression or even political control under certain unspecified untoward circumstances.”

The only explanation I can think of is that he saw the British government as the lesser of two evils and, besides, his loyalty was to his native country. Orwell was no Thomas Paine who would fight a revolution against his own country, despite his criticisms of it. I’m sure he reasoned that the British government might be reformed from within whereas he saw communism as unamenable to any reform. Rationalizations aside, my respect for him is tarnished by his collusion with power.

This Cold War angle made a lot of sense of Lionel Trilling’s introduction to Homage to Catalonia. Trilling wrote it in 1952, two years after Orwell’s death. The book had been some combination of ignored and suppressed prior to that. When it first was published, not many copies were printed and they didn’t sell. His criticisms of communism at that time were unpopular. Then during WWII, his criticisms of “Uncle Joe” were politically inconvenient. Only when his work became useful for Cold War propaganda did it see the light of day.

Reading Trilling’s introduction, I kept getting this sense that Trilling was projecting his own beliefs and opinions onto Orwell. It is a very strange introduction that offers little in the way of in-depth analysis or evidence supporting it. Trilling just uses Orwell as a way to make claims that have little to do with Orwell. Discussing Trilling’s introduction, Noam Chomsky bluntly stated, “Orwell, who had died already, would have hated it.”

I’m not sure what Orwell would have thought of how his name would be used as a propaganda tool. I doubt it would have made him happy. If he had lived longer to have seen the Thatcher-Reagan Era, I’m sure his criticism of the Cold War would have matched his criticism of the communists. The Cold War was ultimately used by Western state governments to attack socialists like Orwell.

Obama: Secret Commie Seeking to Destroy America

What Happened to Obama? Absolutely Nothing.
He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president.
By Norman Podhoretz 

“Of course, unlike Mr. Westen, we villainous conservatives do not see Mr. Obama as conciliatory or as “a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election.” On the contrary, we see him as a president who knows all too well what he believes. Furthermore, what Mr. Westen regards as an opportunistic appeal to the center we interpret as a tactic calculated to obfuscate his unshakable strategic objective, which is to turn this country into a European-style social democracy while diminishing the leading role it has played in the world since the end of World War II. The Democrats have persistently denied that these are Mr. Obama’s goals, but they have only been able to do so by ignoring or dismissing what Mr. Obama himself, in a rare moment of candor, promised at the tail end of his run for the presidency: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”” 

[insert evil laugh]
 – – – 
A Republican doesn’t like a Democratic president… oh my. A right-winger projects his conspiracy-minded paranoia onto a perceived conspiratorial left-wing… you don’t say.  There is nothing unexpected from this opinion piece. I’ve heard it all before, and I have no doubt I’ll hear it many more times.
 – – – 
From my perspective, Obama is just another professional politician, probably no better or worse than Bush. I don’t know Obama’s real opinions any more than this writer knows. He is merely expressing the fears of the right, but his interpretation is based on massive amounts of speculation.
 – – –
I really don’t care about Obama. He doesn’t represent me or people like me. I have never changed my opinion about him. I didn’t support him when he was running and I don’t support him now. Obama is far to the right of actual left-wingers such as Nader and Chomsky, how far to the right I don’t know. Between left-wingers and right-wingers, Obama is somehwere in the middle, well within the mainstream of Washington. He is just a corporatist politician beholden to big money, just like most other politicians. All two party politics is a sham.

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about socialism and communism.

“Like their communist ancestors of the 1930s, the leftist radicals of the ’60s were convinced that the United States was so rotten that only a revolution could save it.”

There has been wide differing opinions among left-wingers. The socialists who did gain power (such as the sewer socialists) believed in democratic reform from within the system rather than revolution to overthrow the system.
 – – – 
The “S” Word
By John Nichols

pp. 108-109
While Lenin was dismissive of municipal socialism, he was not arguing for inaction. His was a tactical objection based at least in part on the distinct experiences of different countries, and the American Socialists tended to see it as such. Unperturbed, they read their Marx with an eye toward the sections that recognized the role of incremental progress while tending to reject suggestions that “the rigidity of the class structure prevented the achievement of meaningful reforms for the worker until the demise of capitalism.” Many of the most radical Americans, especially those associated with the Industrial Workers of the World’s “One Big Union,” objected to the whole idea of waiting for a right revolutionary moment, which they ridiculed as a “pie-in-the-sky” promise that had about as much meaning for hard-pressed working families as the preachers’ assurance that they would get their just deserts in the next life.
[ . . . ]
The “sewer socialists” were not averse to heavenly rewards, but felt that serving up some deserts in the here and now might be necessary to advance the cause. This incrementalism put them at odds with more radical players, including old allies in the IWW at home and leading Communists abroad, over the question of whether it was ever appropriate to employ violence. To this end, many of the “sewer socialists” took counsel from the pragmatic German socialist Eduard Bernstein, who asserted that, while theory, plotting and preparation for the glorious revolution had appeal, a practical plan for putting food on the table might inspire the masses to mobilize. Among those who most highly regarded Bernstein’s view that it was possible to “[dispense] with the need for violence” was Victor Berger, the great proponent of american socialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Berger, the man who drew Debs to the cause, declared that “we do not care a [wit] whether our socialism is Marxian or otherwise, as long as we change the present system and emancipate the people.”
Berger understood and respected America as a democracy, even if it was imperfect in his time and might remain so. “[It] is foolish,” he explained, “to expect results from riots and dynamite, from murderous attacks and conspiracies, in a country where we have the ballot, as long as the ballot has been given a full and fair trial.” Tthe point was to achieve “the revolutionizing of the mind” — something Berger sought to do as a newspaper editor, magazine writer and author of four decades’ worth of campaign pamphlets. “In the world’s history there are no sudden leaps, he preached [ . . . ]
 – – – 
They often stated their pride in being Americans. If it weren’t for socialists fighting for the right of free speech during the WWI, people like Podhoretz wouldn’t have the right and freedom to criticize the president. Many socialists made sacrifices in order to defend the rights we now accept as being normal. Some of those socialists spent time in prison for criticizng the president and the government during war time.
 – – – 
p. 60:
And when their popular leader was prosecuted for exercising his freedom of speech during a time of war — and condemned for identifying himself as an internationalist when nationalism was all the rage — Eugene Victor Debs rejected the notion that he was at odds with America.
Yes, Debs acknowledged, without apology or the caution of a man facing a long prison term; he was a critic of the military and economic policies that a ruling class had imposed upon America. Yes, he proposed to change these policies in order to transform America. Yes, he believed that he had much in common with radicals in other lands. But these were not imported ideas, not a “foreign disease” contracted from afar, as Glenn Beck might imagine. These were, Debs explained to his prosecutors, American ideals expressed long ago by the pamphleteer whose words George Washington ordered read at Valley Forge to the soldiers of a revolutionary army. Further,
“It is because I happen to be in this minority that I stand in your presence today, charged with crime. It is because I believe, as the revolutionary fathers believed in their day, that a change was due in the interests of the people, that the time had come for a better form of government, an improved system, a higher social order, a nobler humanity and a grander civilization.
[ . . . ]
My friend, the assistant prosecutor, doesn’t like what I had to say in my speech about internationalism. What is there objectionable to internationalism? If we had internationalism there would be no war. I believe in patriotism. I have never uttered a word against the flag. I love the flag as a symbol of freedom. I object only when the flag is prostituted to base purposes, to sordid ends, by those who, in the name of patriotism, would keep the people in subjection.
I believe, however, in a wider patriotism. Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. To do good is my religion.”
 – – – 
We are at war now and yet Podhoretz has the privilege of not going to prison for his speaking so freely.
 – – – 
“But whereas the communists had in their delusional vision of the Soviet Union a model of the kind of society that would replace the one they were bent on destroying, the new leftists only knew what they were against: America, or Amerika as they spelled it to suggest its kinship to Nazi Germany.”
 – – – 
Talk about hyperbole. Actually, many socialists and communists didn’t hold any allegiance to the Soviet Union (Do Republicans hold allegiance to China simply because China is a republic?). They considered themselves American and they didn’t see socialism as a contradiction to the American tradition. They based their views on great American thinkers of the past such as Thomas Paine. And there were many socialist-friendly social gospel Christians like MLK who modeled their radicalism on the radicalism of Jesus. If you ask many leftists, they’ll go into great detail explaining what they are for. Did you realize the Republican Party was started by radical left-wingers (socialists, abolitionists, agrarian reformers, suffragists, labor activists, etc)? Most American left-wingers see their values as inherently American.

Mr. Podhoretz is against the president of the United States. Does that mean Mr. Podhorettz is unAmerican? Does it mean that Mr. Podhoretz has a delusional vision of Nazi Germany? No, of course that would be a silly thing to say… but it’s what he is saying about the left. People like him can and do call people like me unAmerican commies. And, in return, people like me could call people like him unAmerican fascists. However, I don’t think that is helpful or beneficial on any level: political, moral, or societal.

While socialists were being imprisoned for defending free speech, some businessmen of the time were associating with fascist leaders from around the world. Did these privileged businessmen go to prison for supporting fascism? Nope. Which was the greater threat: the socialists without free speech or the fascist businessmen who had immense power?

“Thanks, however, to the unmasking of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian nightmare, they did not know what they were for.”

What about the unmasking of fascist Germany or Italy as a totalitarian nightmare? Trying to associate all socialists with the Soviet Union is like trying to associate all capitalists with Nazi Germany. It’s a silly and childish game to play.

“Yet once they had pulled off the incredible feat of taking over the Democratic Party behind the presidential candidacy of George McGovern in 1972, they dropped the vain hope of a revolution, and in the social-democratic system most fully developed in Sweden they found an alternative to American capitalism that had a realistic possibility of being achieved through gradual political reform.”

Sure, left-wingers did gain some influence over the Democratic Party, just as right-wingers took over the Republican Party. So what? The parties have shifted. But no one could honestly claim that the Democratic Party is a left-wing love-fest. The only socialist in Washington, Bernie Sanders, is an Independent. Socialists know that they have little representation within the Democratic Party. Left-wingers like me don’t even vote for the Democratic Party.

The vain hope of revolution? It’s right-wingers who are always going on about starting a new Civil War or a new American Revolution, about secession, and about watering the tree of liberty. Good Lord! Many socialists hate violence and are often outright pacifists. It’s the socialists who went to prison for speaking out against war. Most American socialists don’t want revolution. Most just want to not be oppressed. In this world of big money politics and corporate media, socialists don’t have much of a voice. Did you know that newspapers earlier last century often had labor sections as a balance to their business sections? Not anymore. MSM with a left-leaning bias? I wish.

Anyway, what is wrong about democratically seeking gradual political reform? That is what has been happening since the country began. When socialists and other left-wingers started the Republican Party as a new third party, they were doing so to challenge the two party system of their day. They didn’t try to start a revolution. They simply tried to start a political movement under the banner of a new party. Why is that such a horrible thing to someone like Mr. Podhoretz?

“Thus, not one of the six Democratic presidential candidates who followed Mr. McGovern came out of the party’s left wing, and when Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (the only two of the six who won) tried each in his own way to govern in its spirit, their policies were rejected by the American immune system.”

He admits that the left-wingers have never had much influence over the Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter was no great left-winger. Volcker’s policies under Reagan actually began under Carter.

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncarebu21.html

The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democratic party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of “human rights” abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad.

And Clinton was the model for the modern centrist/corporatist Democratic Party. Left-wingers had little power in the 1990s. That was the era of right-wing culture wars, right-wing militants, and the rise of right-wing media. Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall which was one of the major acts of deregulation in recent history.
 – – – 
http://www.laprogressive.com/economic-equality/progressives-predicted-clinton-welfare-reform-law-fails-families/
 – – – 
Now, a new report shows that the Clinton welfare law is performing exactly as opponents feared, as the nation’s deep recession allows states to force families off aid and into destitution. It is an American tragedy, largely ignored because the victims are primarily low-income women and their children.
 – – – 
Welfare reform was one of Clinton’s proudest achievements. Leftist? I think not.
 – – – 
“It was only with the advent of Barack Obama that the leftists at long last succeeded in nominating one of their own.”

You can speculate that Obama’s policies might eventually lead to left-wing policies, but that is a whole lot of speculation. The most major acts that Obama has taken have been the continuation of Bush policies: wars, Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, bank bailouts, etc. Obama refuses to talk about increasing tax rates and instead, with no Republican asking him to do so, throws Social Security and other programs on the chopping block. Obama hasn’t even supported gay marriage because it’s against his Christian beliefs. None of these acts make left-wingers happy. To be honest, many things Obama has supported/promoted has been to the right of the American public. With health care insurance reform, Obama put forth the Republican idea of a mandate which forces people to buy insurance which grows the customer base of insurance companies (while ignoring the majority supported single payer and public option). Even to the degree Obama may be moderately left-leaning, he is so far away from socialism as to make that comparison ridiculous.

At first, Mr. Podhoretz claimed leftists were wanting revolution; and then he argues that leftists should feel like they won by getting a corporatist politician elected. Huh? If there was a violent communist revolution, politicians like Obama would either be killed or put in prison. It’s a good thing that American socialists are so supportive of the democratic process. In fact, American leftists tend to believe in American democracy more than American right-wingers. If there is going to be a violent (i.e., anti-democratic) revolution, it probably won’t come from the left. The last time there was a serious internal threat against American democracy was the Business Plot which was an attempt at a fascist takeover that involved some major American business leaders.
.
“To be sure, no white candidate who had close associations with an outspoken hater of America like Jeremiah Wright and an unrepentant terrorist like Bill Ayers would have lasted a single day.”

This is what is called a double standard, an issue Frank Schaeffer has noted.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/obamas-minister-committed_b_91774.html

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

If you look at Obama’s voting record prior to becoming president, it is all mainstream Democratic positions. In his career, Obama has never been one to go out on a limb to push for radical reform. He is a professional politician just like George W. Bush. America won’t look much different after Obama than it looked after Bush. The same type of policies continue and the same problems continue as well.

As for socialists, too bad we don’t have a country run by socialists who would, like earlier socialists, defend our constitutional rights. The socialist-run cities were considered some of the most well run cities in the entire nation’s history.

The “S” Word
By John Nichols

pp. 110-11:
The immediate mission of the Socialists in Milwaukee—as it was in many of the other cities where they won control of local government, from Butte to Bridgeport—was to prove that government could operate honorably and as an extension of the people, rather than as a burden to them.
Berger, the great philosopher and tactician of the “sewer socialist” movement, understood that socialists could only make the case for government ownership of power and gas plants, waterworks, transit systems and other services if they established a reputation for absolute honesty and “good burgher” management. While Democrats and Republicans held out the hope of honest governance as an end in itself, Berger said: “With us, this is the first and smallest requirement.” His acolyte Frank Zeidler would write that the “sewer socialists” were distinguished by “a passion for orderly government; and by a contempt for graft and boodling.”
It was that contempt that opened the way for the first great Socialist Party victories in the United States.
“Before the Socialists took charge, Milwaukee was just as corrupt as Chicago at its worst. Our mayor at the turn of the twentieth century was David Rose, a political prince of darkness who allowed prostitution, gambling dens, all-night saloons and influence-peddling to flourish on his watch. Grand juries returned 276 indictments against public officials of the Rose era. ‘All the Time Rosy’ escaped prosecution himself, but district attorney (and future governor) Francis McGovern called him ‘the self-elected, self-appointed attorney general of crime in this community,’ ” recalls Gurda. “In 1910, fed-up voters handed Socialists the keys to the city. Emil Seidel, a patternmaker by trade, won the mayor’s race in a landslide, and Socialists took a majority of seats on the Common Council.”

pp. 125-127:
Amusingly, the socialists were also recognized for practicing what might today be referred to as “fiscal conservatism.” Because they feared “bondage to the banks,” Hoan and his fellow “sewer socialists” operated on a pay-as-you-go basis that eventually made Milwaukee the only major city in the United States that was debt free.
Urban affairs writer Melvin Holli and a group of experts on local government would in 199 hail Hoan as one of the finest mayors in the nation’s history, with Holli observing: “Perhaps Hoan’s most important legacy was cleaning up the free-and-easy corruption that prevailed before he took office. Hoan’s quarter century in office made the change stick, and it seems to have elevated Milwaukee’s politics above that of other cities in honesty, efficiency and delivery of public services.”

Google vs China, Capitalism vs Communism

Google is threatening to leave the Chinese market.  

Hackers attacked Google and one of the targets was the email accounts of chinese human rights activists.  Google has said they will no longer cooperate with Chinese censorship, but many have wondered why they ever agreed to do so in the first place.  They’ve lost all credibility in their supposed company policy of “do no evil”, but they’re apparently hoping to save their tarnished image.

In reality, Google cares little about human rights and censorship.  Google cares about profits and they’ve had losing profits in China because of all of the restrictions.  China may be the single largest market, but the costs of doing business there are very high.  Anyways, Google wasn’t directly concerned about the hacking of email accounts.  Google, instead, was concerned about the fact that hackers (probably working for China) were trying to steal information from Google including code.

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html

http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google%E2%80%99s-china-stance-more-about-business-than-thwarting-evil/

http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google-china-attacks/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/13/AR2010011300359.html?wpisrc=nl_tech

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/12/AR2010011202903.html?wpisrc=nl_tech

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/13/AR2010011301168.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/technology/companies/14baidu.html?ref=business

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/world/asia/14beijing.html?hp

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/business/global/14western.html?hp

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/opinion/13friedman.html?em

U.S. Democracy: Defined and Discussed

Democracy.  I’m not sure I understand what it is entirely, and I’m not sure anyone does.  I sometimes even doubt that the US government is a Democracy.  In the US, Democracy has become identified with the concept of the Free Market and in the last century the Federal Government has become indistinguishable from the Military-Industrial Complex.

When Fascism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US had a Socialist bent.  When Communism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US switched to a faith in Capitalism.  Democracy is always trying to find the balance between Fascism and Communism, big business and big government.  In modern US Democracy, the main choice isn’t between centralized power vs localized power.  Both Republicans and Democrats are for centralized power.  The choice is whether a Federal Government has power over Mega-Corporations or else that Mega-Corporations manipulate the Federal Government to their own ends.  In reality, it’s probably both at the same time because the same people are working in both sectors.

Originally, the main choice the Founding Fathers faced was between centralized government vs localized power.  The Republicans used to be Libertarians, but Libertarianism was also mired in an agrarian capitalism based on slavery.  Many of the Founding Fathers believed that slavery needed to end.  They chose not to end it themselves because they thought the inefficiency of the system would lead the Free Market to end it with no intervention.  They were partly true (with the help of other governments illegalizing the slave trade), but there refusal to stand up for civil rights in the face of what was big business of the times meant that a couple centuries of African-Americans suffered as second-class citizens.  Despite its failings in the past, Libertarianism does seem to be needed to offer balance in US Democracy.  With the increased ability of citizens to organize locally because of technology, maybe there will be an increase in Libertarianism… but it will take a major shift before the public can loosen the grip of the Federal Government and Mega-Corporations (to simplify, they can be referred to in their singular form as the Military-Industrial Complex).

Part of my point is that Democracy isn’t limited to any one thing.  Or rather Democracy is a little bit of everything.  I suppose it fits in with the Melting Pot ideal.  The original immigrants came from many different countries and cultures, and so they had very different views about government.  By voting, supposedly the best ideas and people would rise to the top.

The reason it doesn’t actually work this way in reality is because the Founding Fathers were ultimately creating a Plutocracy rather than a Meritocracy.  American Plutocracy is essentially a limited Meritocracy that serves the wealthy and powerful.  It relates to the ideal of the Disinterested Aristocracy.  These men were supposedly the best of the best and so deserved their power.  And the corresponding idea was that the poor and powerless were obviously less worthy.

How this works is that power remains in the hands of a specific elite class by being handed down the generations within the same set of families (list of United States political families).  This is why many presidents were either of royal lineage or married to someone of royal lineage (list of United States Presidents by genealogical relationship).  This is also why Obama (the proclaimed underdog representing Afrcan-Americans) has 6 US presidents as cousins including his seeming ideological opposite Bush jr.  I’ve even heard someone recently make an argument (a very old argument I should add) that Social Darwinism is based on Genetic Darwinism.  Basically, the rich and powerful theoretically have better genetics.  The argument is that centuries of a self-imposed breeding program of inter-family alliances has breed a class of superior humans.  I know this sounds silly or even scary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if many people (in power) believe in some variation of this.  It should be kept in mind that before the US became involved in WWII, many Americans were proponents of the Nazi ideal of eugenics.  Eugenics had even been practiced in the US on a small scale for a time (through forced sterilizations).

I want to shift the focus here.  Many argue that Democracy is a bad system that just so happens to be better than all of the other possibilities.  That is a cynical response that actually resonates with me.  Maybe Democracy is good enough despite its failings.  The problem with Democracy is that any form of government can appear like a Democracy and yet only be a facade.  A Democracy could even originally have been genuine and be taken over by un-Democratic forces and few people would likely notice.  Some would argue (myself included) that this might’ve already happened here in the US.

A major criticism of Democracy is that it’s inefficient and only shows positive results (if at all) over long periods of time.  It’s hard to know if a Democracy is actually working at any given moment because all of the disagreement makes it hard for anything to get implemented.  If and when things do get implemented, they no longer even look like the original proposal and nobody is happy with it.  Socialism and Fascism are much quicker methods of creating change.  Centralized power has the benefit of getting things done often with very positive results (in the short run at least).  The trains arrive on time and whole economies can be lifted out of slumps by a single decision.  Democracy forsakes quick fixes for a long-term vision of social improvement.  The theory is that it’s better to protect the Democratic principles than to sacrifice them every time a problem arises.  Unfortunately, politicians want results because their popularity depends on results (or appearance results).  Everyone wants results… especially when people feel under pressure or under threat.  There is nothing like collective fear to inspire people to throw Democracy out the window and to give politicians leeway to take actions they would never dare to do in other situations.

Many examples can be given.  Much of the US politics in the 20th century was a constant undermining and endangering of Democracy.  It was the century when the alphabet agencies gained immense power.  The issue with these agencies (and the same for the military) is that they’re non-Democratic entities (in that they’re not a part of the voting system).  Also, it’s hard for the Democratic parts of the government (such as Congress) to provide appropriate oversight of agencies that operate through secrecy.  Often the Federal Government has their own personal reasons to ensure the alphabet agencies’ secrecy.  For example, Obama didn’t want (and didn’t want his name involved with having) certain information shared with the public because it would create a negative mood (towards his popularity and towards his political agendas).  The question is whether the CIA, military, or private contractors broke the law (national or international), but this can only be answered if there is an investigation (which Obama doesn’t want).

The problem is that Democratic civil rights and state secrecy are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum… one functions to the degree that the other doesn’t. It’s true that state secrecy is a practical necessity, but I would add that it’s also a very dangerous slippery slope and for that reason should be used sparingly.  A Democracy in order to survive has to protect itself from non-Democratic influences and sadly this means it must at times use non-Democratic methods.  For example, to fight terrorists we have to be willing to fight dirty when there is no other alternative.  However, we should never forget what we’re fighting for.  If we sacrifice our ideals and standards, then the enemy has won by causing us to become like them.

Furthermore, we have to be patient because I pointed out Democracy works best when the longterm vision is kept in mind.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get pulled into just reacting to the momentary situation.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss the torture issue which is specifically what motivated me to write this post.  Yes, we face dangers from terrorists, but it’s important to keep in mind that torture hasn’t saved us from any imminent threats.  By torturing, we are sacrificing our ideals and standards, and also just plain going against national and international law (or at best walking on the knife edge of legality).  Plus, as the most powerful nation in the world, our example holds great weight.  What we do gives moral justification for others to do the same.  This of course includes what others will do to US soldiers when they’re captured.  By torturing foreigners, we endanger our own soldiers (and also citizens travelling or living abroad).  If we are making such massive sacrifices, we better be sure we’re gaining some massive benefits.  So, exactly what are the benefits?  Maybe we’ve gained some intel, but it isn’t clear that we’ve gained much that is usable in and of itself.  Without traditional intelligence gathering (such as spies and informants), information gained by torture is useless because it can’t be verified.  The problem is that the US has supposedly been reducing in recent decades traditional inelligence gathering techniques.  The advantage of these latter techniques is that they don’t require us to sacrifice our ideals and standards nor do they require us to break laws nor do they require us to endanger the lives of our soldiers.

Also, if we had emphasized traditional intellgence gathering techniques in recent decades, we’d have been more prepared and might’ve even prevented the 9/11 attack in the first place.  Torturing, at best, was our agencies trying to play quick catch-up which is a very bad way of going about things.  On top of that, there was the problem of information not being shared between agencies.  That is the problem of secrecy.  Even these secretive agencies end up keeping secrets from eachother because holding secrets means holding onto power.

There are very good reasons that we have these ideals, standards and laws… other than basic morality and civil rights.  The world learned the hard way why torture is a bad thing.  During WWII, there occurred some of the most gruesome fighting, terrorism and torture the world has ever seen.  Governments realized that there needed to be rules of war because when given free reign people do very horrible things to each other.  The history of WWII makes serial killers look like child’s play.  Trust me, we don’t want to see a repeat of WWII.  International laws against torture were created for very very very good reasons.  I can’t emphasize that too much.  Enough said.

Anyways, torture is as anti-Democratic as one can get.  Leave torture to the bad guys and let’s try to retain our moral highground (whatever is left of it).  Some might ask why we should care if our enemies are tortued.  I would respond that history shows us how easily and how quickly a citizen can become an enemy of the state.  If you think it can’t happen to you, you are sadly naive.  Go study some history.

There is always an uneasy truce between violence and Democracy.  Freedom when threatened has to be defended by force.  That is how the US became a Democracy.  But that very same force can easily be turned back against Democracy.  The Founding Fathers  and Americans in general were wary of having a standing army.  After victory, the Continental Army was quickly disbanded except for two remaining regiments to guard the Western frontier and West Point’s arsenal.  What protection was needed was given by state militias.

This would’ve been fine if the country had remained small instead of expanding, but conflicts with Native Americans required re-establishing a standing army.  The standing army served the purpose of Manifest Destiny.  Our country had a vision and everyone better get out of our way.  The standing army was mostly used to establish and defend the ever expanding frontier.  But it was only a few decades after defeating our external enemies that the standing army was turned against internal enemies.  The Civil War gave the Federal government power like never before.  The Libertarian country established by the Founding Fathers was officially ended.  In it’s place, the US government started toying with the idea of international power and in a few decades the US was becoming a player in the game of international war.  We were no longer just defending our freedom but were now extending our power.  Afterall, you can’t just let your standing army sit idle.  When you have power, there is strong allure to find justification for using it.  What good is power if you don’t use it?  The Founding Fathers offered some intelligent answers to that question (here are some of Jefferson’s opinions on the subject of democratic freedom and military power).

The Founding Fathers preferred not to have standing army at all during times of peace, but they were especially against a standing army being entirely under the control of the President.  Because of this, Congress was given the sole power to declare war.  However, you may have noticed that Presidents such as Bush jr have bypassed Congressional oversight by starting wars without having them declared.  Pretty sneaky.  The purpose of Congress is to enforce oversight so this doesn’t happen, and yet Congress willingly bowed down to this usurpation of power.  This is how collective fear combined with powermongering slowly erodes away Democracy.  It’s interesting that Bush jr superficially played the traditional role of the Disinterested Aristocrat who rules by serving the greater good (idealized by the Founding Fathers) all the while gathering power to the presidency and undermining Democratic values.  The ideal of Disinterested Aristocracy (which I wrote about previously) sounds lovely and maybe worked in early America when the Federal government had very little power, but in contemporary politics it has great potential for abuse.

Democracy.  So, what exactly is it?  That is still uncertain to me.  There is a more important question to ask.  What is our Democracy becoming?  What are we collectively becoming?

Godless Communists

Okay, some more thoughts on the Cold War era.  There was definitely a very weird sense of paranoia.  People were afraid of the paranormal at the same time they were afraid of atheism.  The greatest crime of communists was that they were Godless, but both USSR and US governments were doing paranormal research.  And everyone all around was afraid of what UFOs were up to.

In hope that God would save us from communism, religion became embraced by the government.  Our manifest destiny as a world power was also our manifest destiny as a Christian nation.  The two were always linked to an extent, but the founding fathers had been careful to keep them somewhat distinct.  In 1955, however, “under God” was officially added to our pledge and “in God we trust” was required by Congress to be on all currency.  Why all of a sudden in the 1950s did we have to become a Christian nation?  And how did Christians finally after a few centuries get the power to enforce their God on the nation?  The founding fathers fought tyranny and founded a nation without needing God’s overt approval.  What was different during the Cold War?

Why did politicians feel that they needed to clarify that God was on our side?  Maybe WWII had made us a bit wary about our standing in God’s eyes.  US had always saw itself as the enemy of imperial power but we were suddenly in the position of being an empire.  We had new power, but we gained it by dropping nuclear bombs.  Such unreserved annihalation of cities had always been the sole providence of God.  Now, we were meddling in dangerous territories, not only dangerous politically but dangerous spiritually.  By invoking God in our patriotic propaganda, we were trying to reassure ourselves that we were still on the side of good.  If we as a nation had felt truly certain about our alliance with God, we wouldn’t have had to declare it so loudly.  And then a couple of decades later the gold standard was ended.  So, our economy became a system of faith.  The line between faith in capitalism and faith in God became very thin indeed.

Oh, the irony of it.  To Jesus, money was the ultimate symbol of world power… render unto Caesar and all that.  Money represented to the early Christians all the false power and pleasures of the world that distracts the believer from the true path.  Our placing God’s name on money only demonstrated that we actually weren’t a Christian nation.  Or, rather, it demonstrated that we were a Christian nation in the historical sense all the while betraying the authentic Christian values that Jesus taught… but that is nothing new for the Christian tradition.  Actually, ever since the Roman empire took over Christianity, it had been a religion of political power.

Constantine’s Sword is a good documentary about Christianity and the military.  Evangelism rose to popularity along with the power of the military-industrial complex.  Manifest destiny was taking on new meaning.  Fighting communism became the modern equivalent of crusading against the heathens.  Spreading democracy to the world became equivalent to spreading the gospel.  This wasn’t entirely a bad thing.  Civil rights took on a truly religious moral tone which gave great power to leaders such as Martin Luther King jr.  But obviously there was a dark side to it as well.  Homosexuals and space aliens became the focus of fear in the way that Jews and witches once had.