More On Left vs Right – “Leftists eat babies, don’t they?”- Parte trois (3)

by on May 15, 2010 · 15 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, History, Labor, Organizing, War and Peace

Greek riots 2010

Socialist Greek cops battle anarchists, Communists, and right-wingers.

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.

calif GOP gov candidates 2010

Who's more conservative and less liberal?

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?

glenn-beckAnd then of course, you have someone like Glenn Beck calling Obama a “fascist” and then you have many leftists calling  Glenn Beck a fascist. Who’s more correct?

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.

joker as alex jones

The Joker as Alex Jones, right-wing radio head.

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.

tiananmen-square-tank1-1808

Tiananmen Square, China, 1989.

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.

tinnemen square dead

Chinese workers and students shot down like dogs.

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.”

Jack London

Jack London - author of White Fang, his most popular, but also of The Iron Heel - about fascism coming to America.

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.

albert-einstein.

Albert Einstein.

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” ….

insurrection 1877

The extent of the 1877 insurrection. Have you ever heard of it?

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.

insurrection 1877

Insurrection in Baltimore during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

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.)

upton.sinclair

Upton Sinclair almost became California's first socialist governor.

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.

sitdown

A sit-down strike during the Thirties.

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.)

lucille ballOkay, we need to shift gears here, and get back to our main thread.  Oops! Out of time. That’s all for now. We’ll cover the “Old Left” next time.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar mr fresh May 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm

holy crap, history man! loocy a commie? next thing you’ll be telling us that Ronald Reagan was a B Movie actor before being elevated to sainthood.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 14, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Hey, she was a red.

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avatar Sunshine May 16, 2010 at 6:23 am

Loved the article, Frank. Much appreciated insight into the political arena. I’ve been taking a good, long look at the different political parties, who’s in em, and what they’re actually accomplishing lately. Your article shed some new light on the matter for me. Time to ponder some more . . .

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avatar Dave Sparling May 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Great read Frank—

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avatar Wireless Mike May 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Much of the US national debt is owed to communist China. Many of our manufactured goods are imported from communist China. Lots of American jobs have been outsourced to communist China. But there are few things Americans fear more than communism. Not judging, just pointing out the irony.

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avatar psd May 17, 2010 at 8:47 am

Nice read as always, Frank!

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avatar Ian Rammelkamp May 17, 2010 at 11:13 am

The blind leading the blind.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 17, 2010 at 11:18 am

Ian, sorry that your libertarian Tea Party blinders don’t allow you to view our American history more clearly and how we are influenced by others and how we influence them.

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avatar Ian Rammelkamp May 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I am afraid it would take months and hundreds of postings to unravel your misunderstandings, so I will try to explain your affliction with a two word phrase “Little Boxes”.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I like that song, Little Boxes. It is the theme song for Weed – the TV series on HBO. It’s a great show, although I think it’s lost some of its luster in the last couple of seasons.

The song itself is a put-down of conformity, single and small-mindedness, of our monotonous society and lifestyles, and “tickey-tackey” homes “all in a row” – homes build with the profit motive in mind and pretty much that’s it. Not free market enough for ya? The free market is not free, is not a market, and does not work. Neither does huge, bureaucratic and autocratic governments that throw money at problems without fixing them. We need greater democracy in our economic institutions. We need more cooperation, less competition, more working together, and less “each man for himself” attitudes.

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avatar Ian Rammelkamp May 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

This response is a good example of what I mean by “Little Boxes”, and the song, IMHO, is not just a critique on the homogenization of the American Consumerist lifestyle, it is also a critique on the homogenization of western thought that has lead to this lifestyle. These little boxes are why our news outlets have become so polarized (Fox vs. MSNBC), and why most Americans are unable to analyze information, and critique it’s validity.

You misunderstand what a “Free Market” means, and use that misunderstanding to try and argue against it. You also misunderstand competition and cooperation, and imply that they are mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed. These are examples of your “Little Boxes”. Your articles are littered with them.

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avatar Wireless Mike May 18, 2010 at 12:00 am

Frank, this is an excellent series of articles. It clarifies some issues that have become clouded by deceptive political rhetoric. We are so used to hearing conservative talking points being parroted without analysis, it is refreshing to read a more rational point of view. I’m looking forward to the next part.

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avatar lane tobias May 18, 2010 at 9:47 am

Frank, I tend to fall into that category of political apathy. Even though I consider myself one of the more civically, politically, and socially active and responsible people amongst my group of friends and peers, it is easy to say “none of this appeals to my personal tastes” and tune it out.

A good example is a book I recently tried to read. Its called “the audacity of hope”, and I’m sure plenty of people have heard of it. I thought it would be worthwhile to read Obama’s thoughts from just before his political momentum started to really swing him towards the presidency and compare them to now. Well, after reading the introduction and the first few chapters, I was turned off. Why? Because the rhetoric in the book was something I had heard before….and has since disapeared into a black hole of political schisms in Washington. It is truly indicative of the forces in play that a politicians true passions can be lost in the vortex of political dealmaking. And this is why people like me get turned off.

Nonetheless, I have not lost hope in progressive policymaking, but much like our Libertarian and Small Government friends, I think it has to be done on a more local level. If you look at the practical drug policy reform that has taken place across the country, it is not happening at the Federal level – rather, it is occurring in the halls of state legislatures, from New Mexico to New Jersey. On the plus side, it is not just progressives or liberals making waves – it is local politicians who see the influence of impractical policies on their friends and family and act accordingly. Much like your points above, I have learned over the last two years that labels mean nothing and action is truer than all else. For me, that is the most encouraging thing going on in politics right now…..labels are nothing but smokescreens. And movements like the Tea Party, who claim to be about just that, are just as guilty of marketing a brand over action. You can’t go anywhere without a political party trying

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avatar lane tobias May 18, 2010 at 9:49 am

to market themselves to a base. and thats something I cant tolerate until I see more action in lawmaking.

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avatar tj May 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

“We need a new party, a third party, a wild party.” Alice Cooper

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