Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time to Get Fascism Out of the Closet

It's strange that the right in America is permitted to bash socialism while the left never utters a word about fascism.

For those who are too young to be familiar with the background to the second world war, a few facts: Germany and Italy had instituted nazi or fascist regimes, both of which became subsequently known as fascism.  Fascism is a form of capitalism in which the state is an all powerful overseer of private enterprises.The war was billed in America as a fight for freedom, but in Europe, it was a fight against communism, twenty some years after the Russian Revolution, and attempts at revolution in several European countries, most notably in Hungary.

After the war, America remained on the alert for fifty more years against the danger of communism.  Meanwhile, the Scandinavian countries, which had been largely underdeveloped until then, instituted social democratic regimes and progressed to become the most broadly affluent countries in the world.

The permanent campaign against communism was also a campaign against socialism, because communist regimes actually considered themselves to be socialist regimes striving for the higher status of communism.

Communists, meanwhile, were virulently opposed to social democrats, whom they saw as weak-kneed, not daring to take on the capitalist monster.  Yet the evidence today strongly suggests that countries which on the surface may look very different, such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran are tending toward a recognition that while capital is required for investment, the fruits of labor must be equitably distributed. In America, which would like to be seen as the best country in the world, the difference between "socialism" and social democracy has been conveniently ignored.

The right has managed to convince constituents who have little in-depth schooling, that redistribution is about taking money from them, to give to those too lazy to work.  In reality, redistribution is still, as in the days of Robin Hood, about forcing the wealthy to give a leg up to those less healthy, educated or talented than they. And the kind of family you are born into, whether working class or upper class, has a lot to do with your future health and education.

Another way in which the wealthy skew the political discourse is to pretend that those who are actually poor are "middle class". They would have us believe that class warfare is something to be ashamed of, thus leading many to in fact vote against their own interest.

In my next blog I will address the curious absence of the words "lower class" or "poor" in the political discourse.  in America, that has become the first step toward fascism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Streets, Same Solution

The left should be saying yes to socialism for Wall Street. Why?  Because the global market needs global regulation.

Nothing has come so close since the 1917 Russian Revolution to demonstrating the need for control on a global scale.  But only if finances and resources are held or regulated by national governments, can there be effective international regulation.

The financial structure that keeps the world turning is crumbling. Not because many countries fund solid social support systems, but because of the way humans will instinctively take advantage of a market free for all.

This should give us pause: for the first time ever, progressives have an opportunity to make a case for a social democratic organization of the global polis: it is naive to believe that the financial sector can remain stable without regulation, and it is cynical to dismiss crises whose real victims are the poor.  Wall Street fears the nationalization of oil and health care, but both of these would improve things for Main Street.

We've know for a long time that individual countries cannot meet global challenges such as bird flu, climate change, dwindling resources, water shortages, nuclear weapons, energy. What prevented this evidence from leading to the conclusion that we need world government has been the belief that an unregulated global-financial structure is the indispensable guarantor of all activity.

In the United States, uniquely, this myth has been compounded by the remnants of McCarthyism, whose strength is renewed with each Republican administration. Currently, after a period in which socialism as bogeyman was replaced by Islamo-fascism, we are hearing vociferous accusations that Barack Obama is a socialist because he wants to tax the rich to give to the poor - as did Robin Hood.

Pundits proclaim the need for change, but their unique points of reference are the founding principles of this country. It is time for public voices to point out that these principles, when carried into the twenty-first century, on a planet with more than six billion (as compared to less than a billion in 1776), must be enlarged to include the social democratic principle that no human should go hungry.

A powerful campaign has been waged for decades in the United States to convince people that if they value freedom, they must be totally self-reliant. But as John Donne, the seventeenth century poet and preacher famously said: "No man is an island."  And we now know that humans survived and prospered through cooperation, not competition.

In a world of six billion, effective cooperation runs through government, and the form of government that has best implemented cooperation is social democracy. The myth of government ineptitude must be debunked: where government as safety net is respected, government workers are just as effective as those in the private sector. I experienced that living in strictly socialist countries behind the Iron Curtain, as well as in France, which can be described as a wavering social democracy.

Although the next "Jeopardy" will feature questions about the U.N. (perhaps not coincidentally), precious little is given for us to know about life in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark or Holland, which are arguably the most successful countries in terms of freedom, equity and standard of living.

More on that in another blog.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

From Freedom Fries to French Crow

A few years ago, miffed by France’s opposition to the war in Iraq, Americans re-christened French fries, and John Kerry derogatorily portrayed as ”French”, was hammered for suggesting that we should pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks.

If you saw the arrival at Camp David of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso yesterday, you saw the crows coming home to roost: in a fitting final act to his lexicographic handicap, President Bush felt compelled to coin a new code word: Democratic Capitalism, as opposed to the Democratic Socialism that prevails in one form or another in most European countries.

Unlike Jacques Chirac, the current French president, besides being a centrist convinced of the merits of capitalism, admires the United States for its energy and creativity.   But he is the product of a highly centralized state, where banking has been regulated since the time of Louis XIV’s minister Colbert,  who brought the economy back from the brink of bankruptcy, regulated the guilds and saw to it that the rich paid their taxes.

President Barroso, before being elected to head Europe’s most powerful governing body, was a social democratic professor of political science.

The two most powerful Europeans came to Camp David to read the riot act to the president of the country that for almost a century has dominated world economic affairs.  Moreover, and strange as it must seem to most Americans, they are joined in their resolve to change the way finance is structured worldwide by President Putin of Russia.  In fact, I am not aware of any significant disagreement in this respect, with the exception, perhaps, of some members of the former Soviet Bloc who harbor resentment at Western Europe’s failure to side with Washington against Moscow at the time, and often show it by siding with America.

Although the American media has sought to portray finance reforms as having started in the U.S., only to be taken up by Europe, things actually happened the other way around: the reforms were started by Britain’s (Labor) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and were quickly adopted by the other countries of Europe.  Sarkozy’s and Barroso’s visit was intended to spell out the agenda for a larger meeting between the European Union and the U.S.

The Europeans pressed for rapid action, but President Bush, acting on impulse rather than common sense, said nothing will happen until after the election. Delay can only make matters worse: the rest of the world was compelled to go along by the realities of international finance; but it has always had deep doubts about the justice and long-term viability of “the American model”.  Now that events have vindicated its concerns, it will impose changes. And international and national regulations will reflect the widely held belief that the State owes its citizens protection against the misfortunes of birth or life, in line with basic social democratic values.

Senator McCain seems to have succeeded in convincing millions of Americans who stand to gain by it, that it is a bad thing to redistribute wealth.  If McCain were to become president, those supporters, far from benefitting, would suffer what in soccer is called an “own goal”, when you mistakenly shoot the ball into your own net, raising your adversary’s score.

Beyond the hype about Wall Street versus Main Street, an Obama presidency will have to gradually undo America’s hypnotic fear of socialism, which now goes under the code-name of “redistribution”: self-reliance is a good thing, but we cannot program our lives for success, and when we falter, we must be able to count on the solidarity of the larger community, formalized in the state, which democracy allows us to control.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who Would Have Thought....

....that the supremacy of the United States would be shaken by the very characteristics that built that supremacy?  Never mind whether Marx is dancing in his grave, for all we know, explanations for the financial crisis that rocks the world could include manipulation by Bin Laden sympathizers.

Although the Russian stock market closed yesterday, Russia responded affirmatively to Iceland's distress call.  That NATO ally got the cold shoulder from its pairs in the European Union, and Russia rode to the rescue.

Obama, brilliant, compelling, passionate about doing what is right, is becoming a barn door - elected after the damage has reached irreparable proportions.  His strongest advantage over all his competitors had been his understanding of the world of tomorrow, as opposed to the world of yesterday. But tomorrow has turned into a another era.

We know he would have had to be extraordinarily deft to scrape a modicum of reform from the power brokers: now he will be expected to fix a broken system while being denied the necessary tools: he would need to be able to nationalize the financial institutions that have caused the mess and institute currency controls.  Can you imagine any president being allowed to do that?

It would be funny, if it weren't tragic, that a century of anti-socialist propaganda has made both financiers and the man in the street so afraid of regulation that it has led to the collapse of the most powerful country the world has ever known.  While we - and those who imitated us - flounder, Venezuela has plenty of money with which to ride out the crisis, even with oil prices falling, because the government has controlled the wealth.

As a recent press report stated: "Venezuela has suffered little direct effect from the market chaos because Chavez nationalized the most important companies that once traded on the minuscule Caracas stock exchange and because, like a number of other countries, he has implemented exchange controls."

American workers have been tamed to the point where the likelihood of a classical revolution is nil.  But the factors that, under other circumstances, could lead to revolutions, have instead lead to economic collapse.  Nothing ever happens in ways that can be foreseen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Palin's Roman Circus

Hearing the enthusiastic roars of the crowd, like Spartacus soundtrack, I wondered if unlike previous rallies, this was a big one. The camera never showed the entire scene, but when it panned over those directly behind the speaker I realized that the spectators had been arranged in rows of red, white and blue. (I"d previously noticed that those directly behind the speaker were all wearing red.) This was a carefully designed backdrop for the star that Sarah Palin has become, and I would wager my week's food money that she has been let loose to do her thing, without any prepping by the professionals. Because she's way ahead of them. Where Roman Emperors delivered soaring rhetoric to old men in togas, Sarah Palin has mastered the soundbite for a People's Senate, from the tribute to victory, to the claim that there's nothing patriotic about paying taxes.
We knew the campaign would get really nasty as McCain's numbers plummet with the stock market, so it was no surprise to hear his running mate, whose husband belongs to an Alaskan separatist party, indict Obama for being friendly with a man who, when Obama was eight years old, indulged in terrorist activities. We've been told that Obama is not going to allow himself be swift-boated, but the spokesperson brought on afterwards by CNN, did nothing to defend him.

The problem is not that McCain must be tickled pink to have gone with his instincts and picked a barracuda/gladiator for veep. The problem is that, dressed for the occasion or not, there are perhaps too many Americans who love a Roman Circus.

Friday, October 3, 2008


There has been much talk of the Great Depression, and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal that rescued us from its disasters.  But little has been said about Republican characterization of the bail-out as corporate socialism.

In particular, no one seems to have noticed the implications of that opposition: the fear that indeed, the only viable solution to the financial crisis ringing the world would be government control of the financial system.

The last time around, 1932, was the prelude to the Second World War, which was partly a war between fascism and communism.  And so far, it doesn't look like we're going to get it right this time around.  Fascism was a partnership between big business and government.  Communists wanted the workers employed by big business to run things. Now we're seeing a partnership between big finance and government, and Republicans fear the logical implications of repeated government bail-outs: that workers might say "What's good for General Motors is good for us."

Meaning yes, we do want single-payer universal health care, such as they have in Canada, Europe, Japan and Singapore, where people get to choose their doctor in return for an equitable tax that enables the government to foot the bill without for- profit insurance companies adding to the cost.

If you pay attention to what our allies around the world are doing about the financial crisis, you'll notice that it involves significant government intervention in a sector that was already heavily controlled.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Republicans, brought up on blind faith in the free market,  to come to the realization that the country does need corporate socialism if its economy is to survive.

The question is, will the next President be able to steer this country to an overall more socialist form of democracy, or will fascism avenge its Second World War defeat?