This modern world is so confusing! Right now, the countries of the European Union – most of them capitalist nations, are putting together a one-trillion dollar bail out for Greece – which is run by a Socialist government!
Meanwhile, you’ve had both the Greek Communist Party and anarchists staging demonstrations and riots in the streets of major Greek cities! I thought socialists, communists, and anarchists were all leftists and basically got along. What’s up with that?
And aren’t there other Socialist-led governments in Europe, in the capitalist European Union? Yes, both Spain and Portugal have Socialist prime ministers – and France used to have one.
By the way, isn’t the People’s Republic of China one of the our largest trading partners – the US – the biggest capitalist country in the world – and Communist China! Doesn’t China have a lot of our capitalist money? And it’s not because Red China initially wanted to give George Bush and his Red states a boost.
Meanwhile, back home in California, we’ve got the two top-runners in the Republican campaign for governor slamming each other for being “too-liberal”!
Plus, now we have leftists decrying President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, for being “not liberal enough”! (Did you know that while Kagan was earning her history degree from Princeton University, she wrote a senior thesis based on studying the socialist movement in New York City in the early 20th century?)
Not to mention that now we have OB leftists working with Councilman Faulconer and Mayor Sanders – both Republicans – to save San Diego’s fire pits! What’s up with that?
Politics – and political labels – are confusing. Maybe that’s why some people become turned off to politics. Ya think!?
Yet, being turned off to politics so much that you tune it out is a dangerous game and a virtual dead end, unless you’re a long-haired hermit in an East County treehouse or sailing solo around the world. So, it’s good to know what people mean when they use labels and terms that seem to be contradictory or misleading.
That’s what I’ve been attempting to do with this series – establish some common understandings of politics and its terms. For it turns out that any comprehension of today’s modern world, its politics and its terminology must be grounded in an understanding of both the origins of our modern political landscape (Part 1) and in how the Change Decade of the Sixties influenced where we now find ourselves as a society (Part 2).
I’ve tried to lay out a view that I think has a handle on why the Sixties are so important to us today, and an understanding why a major political tenet of those times – the New Left -was so influential. We really must comprehend in all of this what it was that the New Left rejected – just what was the “old left”, and why did the actors of the Sixties throw it in the circular file?
Americans No Longer Afraid of Saying the Word “Socialism”
Before we move to the “old left”, I want to bring up something else. The use of terms like “socialist”, “communist”, “capitalist”, “fascist”, – I won’t be providing definitions for them – but their usage can be fraught with danger, fear, misunderstandings, and a virtual political minefield for the user, especially in this country. This country has been “anti-” for so long that the collective memory of our own legacy of these “isms” has been pushed into the dusty stacks of an old library sitting around waiting to be replaced.
I almost felt nervous using those terms, as I didn’t want my readers to be turned off to the content of my message by me bantering them around carelessly. But come to think of it, these terms have become mixed in with our current lexicon with such movies as Warren Beatty’s “Reds” and Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” – which I just saw.
This leads me to Rule Number Two in understanding politics …(What’s Rule No. One? I thought you would ask that – Rule No. One is: politics is the game of power, the struggle for power between classes, nations, genders, ethnic groups, and within each of those groupings).
Rule No. Two: You are never what you say you are; you are what you do.
This is so true – you are what you do and not just what you say you are. So, for example, if you call yourself a Socialist Prime Minister but cut the pensions and wages of government workers in order to meet the demands of foreign capitalist banks – you’re not. You can call your country a “democracy” but if corporations and banks have more rights and power than citizens, you’re not.
You can call yourself a “capitalist”, but spend your entire life working in a factory assembling automobiles, you’re probably not. You can call yourself a “liberal” or even “socialist”, but if you don’t believe women should have control over their bodies, you’re neither.
There are so many examples. Say you call yourself a Communist Party or Communist nation, yet shoot your people in the streets like dogs – you’re not. What if you call yourself a National Socialist and then incinerate millions, you are not a any kind of “socialist.” What if you are a Ku Klux Klan leader who likes puppies, … no, you’re still a fascist.
Okay, you get my point. No matter what a politician, a pundit, a movement, a party, or even a country calls itself, what it really is, is defined by what it ends up doing and how it treats people. It doesn’t matter what label they place upon themselves, if they don’t act the part, it doesn’t count and the term doesn’t fit.
Recently, a survey came out on just this – how Americans react to different terms like “capitalism” and “socialism”. There were some surprising results. A national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press tested reactions to words and phrases frequently used in current political discourse. The words included “socialism”, “capitalism”, “progressive”, and even “militia”. Here are some results:
A large majority of Republicans (77%) react negatively to “socialism,” while 62% have a positive reaction to “capitalism.” Democrats’ impressions are more divided: In fact, about as many Democrats react positively to “socialism” (44%) as to “capitalism” (47%).
Reaction to “capitalism” is lukewarm among many demographic groups. Fewer than half of young people, women, people with lower incomes and those with less education react positively to “capitalism.” …
There is a substantial partisan divide in views of the word “progressive.” However, majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (64%) and Republicans (56%) have a positive reaction to “progressive.”
And in fact, young people are way ahead, according to this survey:
Young people are more positive about “socialism” – and more negative about “capitalism” – than are older Americans. Among those younger than 30, identical percentages react positively to “socialism” and“capitalism” (43% each), while about half react negatively to each.
This survey exhibits some positive trends. Democrats are fairly evenly split in their responses to “socialism” and “capitalism”, less than half of young people, women, folks with lower incomes and lesser education are favorable towards “capitalism.” And young people under 30 apparently are no longer afraid to think good thoughts about “socialism” and are no longer fearful of coming out and criticizing capitalism.
Americans are no longer afraid to say the word “socialism.”
When I was in college about forty years ago, one never heard or spoke the words “capitalism” or “socialism” in polite company or in the mainstream media – well, at least “socialism” was never used in a positive or neutral sense; … it always was “the socialist government of North Vietnam” – you know our “enemy” during much of the Sixties and half of the Seventies. Now, of course, capitalist America trades with Socialist Vietnam.
Americans really should not be afraid of these terms, and we should try to understand the different “ism’s”. There has been such a staunch right-wing ideology prevalent in our culture for so long, that we’re taught to think that leftists – especially “communists” – eat babies and are worse than the devil. It’s drilled into us from day one that socialists have a sinister plan to round people up and place them in work camps or at least want to install more and more government control over the lives of ordinary citizens.
Contrast this with Europe. Many countries across the Atlantic have had rich histories of socialist movements and to this day, their major political parties are “Socialists” and “Communist”. Of course, once again, just because you call yourself a “socialist” ….
In this country, schools don’t teach parts of our true history. Entire chapters are left out. It’s not like teachers are being sinister – far from it. It’s just no one has had the power to make our history whole. For instance, kids are not taught that in 1877 there was a wide-spread violent worker insurrection across much of the East and mid-West that almost brought the whole country to a halt.
We’re not taught about the origins of the eight-hour work day – another example. Back when it was common for people to work ten, twelve or more hours a day, there was a movement that forced fewer work hours on American industries. Anarchists and socialists were in the forefront of that movement and led it. People lost their lives so we could have a more or less universal 8 hour work day. (Which is, by the way, even now evaporating.)
No one wants us to remember that here in California in the Thirties we almost had a socialist governor with Upton Sinclair – the famous journalist and writer. The vote was close and Sinclair only lost because industry owners up and down the state threatened their workers that if he was elected, they would all lose their jobs.
No one wants us to remember that American socialists and communists were deep within the rank and file of factory workers who conducted sit-down strikes throughout the nation’s industries during the Depression. Or that despite their love for Russia, American commies in the Thirties were greatly responsible for the growth of the union movement – which directly led to the creation of America’s great Middle Class.
Plenty of famous Americans have been socialists: Jack London the writer, John Reed the historian (the guy Warren Beatty portrayed in Reds), Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, Lucille Ball. (Lucille Ball? what?)
And during World War II, everyone was a “commie lover” because our Russian allies were beating the crap out of the Nazis. We really have to say that because of the sacrifices of Russians in the Eastern Front, there were less Germans to resist the Allies at Normandy. Russian commies saved American boys by the thousands. Plain as that. (It’s sometimes fun to watch World War Two movies and listen to famous actors say the word “comrade” or describe the Soviet Union and its people in glowing terms. There was a similar but lesser thing going on with the Chinese – Chinese Communists were our allies too, in fighting Japanese armies in Asia. – But I fear a lingering and prevalent anti-Chinese racism was at work within American culture. I mean, at least most of the Ruskies were white.)