Predation and progress
Added under Culture
Warning about the "secular socialist machine" out to get Americans via universal health care, Newt Gingrich invoked the literature of socialist writers Albert Camus and George Orwell.
Tea Party celebrities Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck have performed weird parodies of Martin Niemöller's famous caution against moral passivity, apparently without consulting the original, in which two of the three groups of the Nazi's victims memorialized are Communists and trade-unionists.
A member of the Texas State Board of Education demanded labor activist Deloris Huerta be removed public school history texts but recommended Helen Keller"a socialist and industrial unionist" as a person better "exemplifying good citizenship."
Despite serious confusion about who was a red and what made them one, "socialist" remains the Right's default epithet for the President and his policies, even as he is disavowed by the relatively moderate Democratic Socialists of America and everyone to their left.
In the third edition of his The Case For Socialism (Haymarket Books, 2010), Alan Maass describes at length the many ways that Barack Obama has betrayed his progressive supporters and makes a good case that democracy and capitalism are incompatible.
Unfortunately, Maas includes very few source citations, makes sweeping generalizations (opinions about abortion, for example, are not simply divided between recognition of a woman's jurisdiction over body and the desire to "harass and intimidate women into staying in their 'natural place,'" as Maass claims), and diagnoses social problems without preempting easily anticipated Rightist retorts.
Perhaps most disastrously for an anti-capitalist primer, Maass invokes the Bolsheviks as the model of socialist activism, a notion guaranteed to repulse not only average US citizens conditioned with decades of anti-Communist propaganda, but also democratic Leftists with no desire to repeat a vanguardist program that, in the most generous analysis, might begin with democratic elements but once inevitably attacked, would again end in tyranny and atrocity.
In contrast, the recently late GA Cohen's succinct Why Not Socialism? (Princeton University Press, 2009), focuses specifically on economic relationships and their effect on social relationships by imagining the application of the egalitarian economics of a vacation camping trip to larger communities.
Cohen emphasizes the contrast between market principals and what he calls communal reciprocity. The "market posture," he writes, "is greedy and fearful in that one's opposite-number marketeers are predominantly seen as possible sources of enrichment, and as threats to one's success." In contrast, under communal reciprocity, "I give because you need, or want," and "I expect a comparable generosity from you."
Cohen doesn't look to Lenin or even Marx for a definition of socialism, but instead quotes the significantly less controversial Albert Einstein, who, in 1949, defined socialism as an attempt "to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development."
There are many reasons "socialism" has reappeared with such frequency. Red-baiting is still a reliable political bludgeon and anti-racist activist Tim Wise has made a good case that "socialism" is employed primarily as "racist code" for "white fear that black folks will steal from them…"
As Maass writes: "Capitalism isn't working. …(the claims)that if you work hard and sacrifice, you'll be rewarded, you'll get ahead, your children will have better opportunities than you"have been revealed as frauds for the majority of people in society."
The capitalist class"the more successful predators"know this, too, and are desperate to maintain the economic structure"this "phase of human development""that keeps them comfortable. Essential to this mission is the elimination of the intellectual tools to imagine alternatives to, or even think critically about, the present order. So, their proxies in the media abuse and misuse "socialism", "progress", "democracy", "liberty," and "responsibility," until these words have lost all utility, as in the linguicidal Newspeak program George Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four (a book which, according to Orwell and contrary to Newt Gingrich's claims, was "NOT intended as an attack on Socialism".).
Rightist media personalities"Beck, Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and the rest"saturate their broadcasts with gibberish that would produce crippling cognitive dissonance in any intellectually healthy audience, but not among their conditioned ruminant fans.
A proud autodidact, Beck (who claims divine direction) boasted to one applauding crowd that, "I educated myself. My education was free, and I'm proud of that." How? "I went to the library–books are free," presumably shelved by some Dewey Decimal System compliant intelligent designer, not by government employees paid with taxes.
This reeducation program has been a demonstrable success. Complaints about violent, misogynistic, over-sexualized, and intellectually shallow popular culture are rarely, if ever, framed in terms of the capitalist nature of the entertainment industry. Personal, financial, sexual, and familial responsibility"concerns of most people, and obsessions of the Right"are absolutely at odds with commercial values.
Rightist celebrity appeals to their audience's frustrations and humiliations, invocations of a metaphysical "real America", contempt for the weak, and violent fantasies of purifying "battle and civil war" (as imagined in Beck's recently published Turner Diaries-meets-Atlas Shrugged "thriller"), are all elements of what Umberto Eco calls "Eternal Fascism" or "Ur-Fascism".
"These features," he explains, "cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it."
Card-carrying Fascists agree:
Neo-Nazi's "have common ground with those citizens involved in the ongoing Tea Party activism," wrote the editor of one of the most prominent White Nationalist websites last year. "Tea Party activism is not racial activism, but all those participating are equally despised by the powerful ruling elite. Most White Nationalists can be described as Constitutionalist conservatives who are racially realistic."
"Where we share principled common interest with other good folk," he concludes, "it is imperative to join with them in pursuit of that interest."
George Orwell warned that, "A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud."
It is hard to believe that our Federal Government has any useful function, when the worst ecological disaster in US history appears to be the result of its near complete subservience to the needs of foreign corporations.
But the temptation to despair should be resisted. A belief in basic social decency still exists in the US"how else to explain the finding by the Columbia Law School that two-thirds of Americans believe that Marx's maxim "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," originated with the near-deified Founders? This doesn't reflect well on the teaching of history in the US, but does reveal an transcendent socially benevolent inclination within our citizenry.
"Our attempt to get past predation has thus far failed," Cohen writes. "I do not think the right conclusion is to give up."
Nick Holt's website is Grits and Roses.