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Friday, October 30, 2020

Setting the Record Straight

 Since the end of the Cold War-- almost thirty years ago-- the neo-Cold Warriors have ruled the ideological battlefield, reconstructing, twisting, and distorting twentieth-century history. This has had an especially deleterious effect upon the non-Communist left, especially in the US and Europe. History that was once vigorously contested, has become the property of liberal historians bent on retelling events solely through the lens of bourgeois values and triumphant revisionism. To unfortunately great effect, far too much of today’s left has readily accepted this deceptive, often totally false picture. 

Therefore, it is refreshing, even exciting, to read two recent, related articles by philosopher Gabriel Rockhill appearing in Counterpunch. Both Liberalism and Fascism: Partners in Crime  (reposted on the sister site, Marxism-Leninism Today) and The U.S. Did Not Defeat Fascism in WWII, It Discretely Internationalized It, dismantle much of the edifice constructed by capitalist apologists, both left and right. The two articles appear sandwiched between two other related Rockhill articles posted a few days apart, in Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report

Rockhill’s contribution is important because it undercuts the many myths that fuel popular (mis-)understanding of fascism, a charged epithet that has been slung back and forth in the US electoral wars. In addition, he refutes the many influential canards about real-existing-socialism and the Communist parties that have become barriers to constructing a real-existing-socialism in the US, a socialism beyond polite reformism and utopian schemes.

On the question of fascism, Rockhill exposes two big lies:

●Lie #1 “...liberalism defeated fascism in World War II…”  

●Lie #2 “Fascism is the complete opposite of liberalism and liberalism is the essence of anti-fascism.” Any serious, honest student of history recognizes that the brunt of the war against European fascism was borne by the Soviet Union and the Communist-led resistance movements in the occupied countries, with their allies significantly joining the fight only after the Soviets alone were growing closer to defeating Nazism and liberating Europe in 1944.

Rockhill restores the historical record with the following facts:

●Truth #1  “...what fascism and liberalism share is their undying devotion to the capitalist world order...”

●Truth #2 Liberalism has waged a “long psychological campaign under the deceptive banner of ‘totalitarianism’” to equate fascism with Communism.

●Truth #3 “Nazi racial police state and colonial rampage… were modeled on the United States.”

●Truth #4 “...Western European fascism emerged within parliamentary democracies…” and not by overthrowing institutions. While it is important to affirm that Italian fascism and Nazism came through the front door, fascism has also been imposed violently (Franco, Pinochet). Moreover, European fascism also attempted to impose its will outside of parliament (March on Rome, Beer Hall putsch).

●Truth #5 “The capitalist state turned itself over [to the fascists and Nazis] without a fight.”

●Truth #6 The Social Democrats ”refused to form an eleventh-hour coalition with the communists against Nazism.”

●Truth #7 Communist Party leader Ernst Thaelmann “had argued that a vote for the conservative Field Marshal von Hindenburg amounted to a vote for Hitler and for war.” Contrary to wide-spread fantasies, both right and left, neither Communist reluctance to coalesce, nor treachery opened the door to Hitler (or to Mussolini). German Communists offered united action on many fronts and in different Länders. They were never able to overcome Social Democratic refusals, except from appeals to those below the leadership. The presidential choice between Thaelmann and von Hindenburg was the last opportunity to forestall Hitler, who von Hindenburg appointed Chancellor despite the NSDAP losing electoral support.

●Truth #8 “Capitalist states refused to form an antifascist coalition with the USSR.” I recount this sordid record of refusing to join the Soviet Union against fascism in some detail here.

●Truth #9 “Indeed, it was the fear of being left to confront Hitler alone which eventually drove Stalin… into the Stalin[sic]-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.” No diplomatic event has been so willfully misunderstood as has the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. To see a last-ditch survival maneuver as a betrayal of principle or of the working class is a mark of political opportunism or left-wing immaturity. The pact’s purpose was sensible and defensible. 

●Truth #10 It was not only the bourgeoisie and the large landowners who decisively backed Italian and German fascism, but also “the major corporations and banks whose headquarters were in Western bourgeois democracies…” like Ford, GM, Standard Oil of NJ, DuPont, etc.

●Truth #11 “...if liberalism allowed for the growth of European fascism, it is capitalism that drove this growth.” Lost in superficial, impressionistic accounts of fascism is the truth that fascism functions and is implemented when capitalism is under existential threat. In every instance, the threat to capitalism or the perceived threat to capitalism has generated the material support for fascism. When sufficient numbers of the ruling class are convinced that bourgeois democracy cannot contain the threat to capitalism, they unleash fascism.

●Truth #12 “It was above all the Red Army that defeated fascism in World War II, and it is communism-- not liberalism-- that constitutes the last bulwark against fascism… one cannot be truly antifascist without being anti-capitalist.” To be fair, many antifascists who were not anti-capitalist died fighting fascism. But there is no effectively antifascist ideology that is not anti-capitalist. Any such ideology supportive of capitalism fails to understand the roots of fascism and its function. 

●Truth #13 “In the reactionary political culture of the U.S., which has attempted to redefine the left as liberal, it is of the utmost importance to recognize that the primary opposition that has structured, and continues to organize, the modern world is the one between capitalism… and socialism.” This is, perhaps, Rockhill’s most important point, one that has been lost on many of those who have read and recommended Rockhill’s thoughtful essays. The lingering legacy of anti-Communist fundamentalism in the US blinds many to this truth, leaving US leftists bound to liberalism of one kind or another at the core of their “radical” visions.

From the sixties New Left to the Occupy advocates and the “democratic” socialists of today, radicals defer the socialism question, with the hope that liberal values will automatically generate a substitute socialism-of-the-heart.

Rockhill’s essays well retell the post-war collaboration of fascists and Nazis with the US intelligence services, the secret police that are today portrayed as warriors for democracy by the corporate media. The use of war criminals in the anti-Communist crusades, the corruption of many, if not most, of the Cold War intelligentsia by CIA funding, and the preparation of a vast, secret anti-Communist network-- right-wing “militias,” to use today’s language-- among US allies are exposed effectively and accurately by Rockhill. While these vile actions are documented by many academics, they must be retold again and again to counter liberal opinion-makers who conveniently ignore them.

Many of us familiar with the treachery of leading liberals in the McCarthy era draw a special glee from Rockhill’s scorching, incendiary attack on the hypocrisy of liberals and their collaboration with the forces of reaction. The sad state of US politics-- two-party perfidy, complacent, self-serving labor leadership, blindness to the criminality of US foreign policy-- flows directly from the cowardice or complicity of Cold War liberals. 

Yet it is also important to remember that many popular front liberals fought, resisted, and were repressed by McCarthyism, defied Cold War conformity, and paid with their careers. Many others were cowed into submission. It was, in black-listed writer, Dalton Trumbo’s words: the time of the toad. Of course, today, toadyism is again fashionable with the liberal petty-bourgeoisie.

We must remember that fascism is an historical phenomenon, bound by time, place, and circumstance. Just as many mistakenly saw the rise of Mussolini and Hitler as merely another instance of a nineteenth-century European conservative reaction (as did PCdI’s Bordiga and Gramsci in the early years of Italian fascism) and not a unique movement, some today simplistically see European and US right-wing populist reaction as an instance of twentieth-century fascism. Focusing on similarities often obscures critical differences. If nineteenth-century reaction was a response to the rise and threat of liberalism, twentieth-century reaction (fascism) was a response to the rise of the workers’ movement and the threat of Communism. The existential threat to capitalism explains its social and political extremism.

Today’s reactionary movements are responding to the impotency of social democracy and the demise of revolutionary socialism (Communism). Right-wing, demagogic populism rushes to fill the void. Trump, Orban, Johnson, Salvini, and others are opportunistically attempting to occupy the political space abdicated by liberal, social democratic, or Eurocommunist parties and trade on a deepening mass dissatisfaction with the liberal order. They hitch their dubious populism to traditional right-wing programs.

It is useful to distinguish between liberal ideology and individual liberals, liberal movements, and their parties. Sometimes when Rockhill relates liberalism to fascism he is not always clear on which he means. Liberal ideology may well be spent. It does not have the energy or relevance that it had in driving reform in the nineteenth century. But it is not “partners in crime” with fascism. It is a distinctly different ideology from fascism.

Liberals and their parties have assisted, even collaborated with fascism, especially in legitimizing it politically within a parliamentary setting. As Rockhill acknowledges, it is because they both share a commitment to preserving capitalism. Hence, they collaborate especially when capitalism is perceived as under siege by the revolutionary left.

As much as we may enjoy Rockhill impaling the increasingly smug and self-righteous liberal ideologues, we must acknowledge that most of the political left and center identify with liberalism in the US two-party system. But they do so because they believe they see few alternatives. That support is, therefore, thin.

We must battle the ideology, but win over the followers. Rockhill’s essays are a helpful tool in that effort.

Greg Godels

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Winter in America...


From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims

And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains

Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds

Looking for the rain

Looking for the rain

Just like the cities staggered on the coastline

Living in a nation that just can't stand much more

Like the forest buried beneath the highway

Never had a chance to grow

Never had a chance to grow

And now it's winter

Winter in America

Yes and all of the healers have been killed

Or sent away, yeah

But the people know, the people know

It's winter

Winter in America

And ain't nobody fighting

'Cause nobody knows what to save

Gil Scott-Heron (1974) Winter in America

When Gil Scott-Heron wrote these words, the US seemed to be in swift decline. Watergate had cast a shadow over government legitimacy; the US had lost/was losing the imperialist war in Vietnam; economic inflation, unemployment, and stagnation were crushing US living standards. For many in the post-war generation, the early 1970s were a low point in the prestige and influence of the US. 

Scott-Heron was masterful at blending politics with his art, without compromising either. It enabled him to force issues like apartheid, drugs, police violence, racism, and poverty into the listeners’ consciousness, while still entertaining. Many of his songs became anthems for progressive movements.

For many of us, Winter in America affirmed the terminal decline of the US: "It’s Winter in America, and ain’t nobody fighting, ‘cause nobody knows what to save." Hope was frozen, promise was frozen, and ideas were frozen with the onset of a metaphorical winter: a political, environmental, racial, and foreign policy crisis. 

Scott-Heron’s lyrics touched all the ills of 1974, noting that “all the heroes have been killed or sent away.” The “Constitution was a noble piece of paper…” that “...died in vain.” And “Democracy is ragtime on the corner.” He warns of “last ditch racists” and laments the “peace sign that vanished in our dreams.”

But we were wrong if we thought that the US had hit rock bottom.

Nineteen seventy-four was only the beginning of the long, painful decline. Average hourly wages today are barely higher than in 1974. The minimum wage continues to shrink in constant dollars. The obscene growth of inequality in income and wealth seems unstoppable. 

Constant and persistent aggressions-- proxy wars, invasions, occupations, and remote, video game-like massacres-- have become almost routine to the point that they tragically muster little domestic resistance. 

Racism remains a scourge on the US, though more and more along a class dimension. African American workers have taken an even bigger hit than their white counterparts; the growing poverty that afflicts the population, afflicts the Black population even more; and, consequently, the neglect, contempt, and official violence that always accompany impoverishment batter African Americans severely.

The competition for jobs in the US has shaped both a narrow, xenophobic response and a wage race to the bottom. The decline of unions, the legacy of anti-Communist purges in the labor movement, has further sharpened the competition for low-wage jobs.

The raging religion of market-fundamentalism has privatized or debased public wealth, commodified social services, and devastated public education. 

Where we thought Nixon shamefully broke the public trust, corruption, political dirty tricks, and lying are political commonplaces in the twenty-first century. 

What was winter in America in 1974 is now a veritable ice age.

And what is most tragic about the continuous decline in the US empire in influence, domestic peace, and mass well-being is the hollowness and ineffectiveness of the available political options.

US politics has devolved since the purges of the left in the 1950s and the failed liberalism in its wake, becoming a paper tiger incapable of confronting the multi-faced crises spawned by capitalism.

Twenty years into the twenty-first century, political partisans, devoid of new ideas, can only reflect back on earlier times, searching for a lost “golden era.” Today’s politics is largely politics in the rear-view mirror-- a politics of nostalgia. 

For the petty-bourgeoisie and the want-to-be petty bourgeoisie-- engorging on the table scraps of the ultra-rich-- the Obama presidency brought life at its fullest and greatest. Hipsters call a sector of this strata the PMC (the professional managerial class). The Obama trickle-up rescue of the economy in the 2007-2009 crisis cemented their loyalty to globalism and elite rule. They are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Witness their Black Lives Matter signs in their nearly all-white, segregated neighborhoods. They are for symbols and gestures, but not at the cost of redistribution of their incomes or sacrifices in their lifestyles. For them, Trump is the scourge blocking the return to Obama-like civil management of national affairs. They are the dominant force in Democratic Party politics.

The forthcoming destruction of thousands of small businesses will prove a hard lesson for many in the petty-bourgeoisie, sending them scurrying for solutions. Far too many will find succor in the bitter victimhood that has traditionally fed an ugly, twisted populism with roots going back as far as the Know Nothing Party of the nineteenth century.

A similar economic devastation drives many workers toward the bogus radicalism of right-wing populism, especially in the Midwestern states racked by capital’s abandonment of industry for investments in other sectors or other countries. Without a viable, substantial movement to direct their justified anger at capital, they find scapegoats elsewhere. 

Other sectors of the working class long for the celebrated era of “middle class” prosperity after the Second World War, what the French call “Les Trente Glorieuses.” This highly romanticized era saw wages and benefits marching in lockstep with strong productivity gains for US workers, allowing many working class families to buy homes and automobiles, to take vacations, and to envision college education and upward mobility for their children. Forgotten in this idyllic memory is the ugly oppression of Blacks and other minorities and women in this period. Forgotten is the suppression of the left, the vulgarity of culture, and the uniformity of thought. Forgotten is the bloody footprint of US foreign policy around the world.

The social contract of the postwar period came at an often-overlooked cost. Working class leaders agreed to purge left resistance to capitalism and uncritically support US imperialist foreign policy, becoming complicit in the crimes of global anti-Communism. When the moment proved opportune, the US ruling class betrayed its part of the bargain and slammed the door on working class gains.

Though memories of this lost era grow dimmer and dimmer, nostalgia for this interlude holds much of the trade union leadership wedded to the Democratic Party along with a core of organized labor’s increasingly skeptical members.

For most voters, constrained by the two-party system, a desire for an earlier, often fictionalized period inspires their politics. The Biden and Trump messaging underscores this insipid nostalgia: “Build Back Better” (Biden) and “Make America Great Again” (Trump). We can only build back or restore that which is lost. And people are confused over what and why they have lost.

This should be a moment for the left. 

But sadly, most of the left is adrift in a sea of old and failed ideas. Some imagine the noble selflessness of the local food or art coop as a cooperative model for competing with multinational corporations and bringing capitalism to its knees. Do we recall the other “anti-capitalist” fads foisted on us by academic leftists? ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans)? Micro-financing? 

All of these strategies share a profound pessimism that capital cannot be directly confronted and defeated. Instead, they propose to outfox capital by nipping away at its margins. Despite the fact that similar utopian measures have failed over centuries, influential leftists continually resurrect them.  

The notion that the perfection of capitalist-style democracy can effectively challenge the inequalities and injustices of capital pervades the US left. Since the suppression of the Communist left in the Cold War, the self-described “New Left” has invested heavily in “democratizing” the structures and institutions currently serving capitalism. Whether or not this project makes any sense, it certainly hasn’t succeeded, despite the fact that the New New Left has embraced it. Every ineffective response to the growing crises of capitalism seems to confirm that the socio-economic-political system accompanying capital is its handmaiden and is not and cannot serve as an effective tool against its inequities.

There was a reason that US capital suppressed and continues to suppress Communist and socialist-oriented workers’ movements. It is not nostalgia to recognize that the ideology and strategies devised by Marx, Engels, and Lenin have in the past rocked the very foundations of the capitalist system, sending capitalists and their lackeys into a frenzy of violent resistance. Surely there is a lesson in that fact.

The cold wave of uncertainty, fear, and despair that is now sweeping the US will not abate unless we fight for a new future. The tools are there.

Greg Godels

Monday, October 5, 2020

And They Call this Democracy?

The idea of the US as a citadel of democracy is based on an enduring myth. The frequent references, even on the left, to “saving our democracy” or “protecting our democracy” from Trump, the Russians, the Chinese, Islam, or any other forces lurking in the cabinet of popular demonology, is sheer nonsense. There is little to save or protect, and the threat resides elsewhere.

The idea of invading, occupying, or undermining the governments of other countries to promote “our” democracy is, therefore, equally nonsense.

Certainly there are many ready to vigorously contest these claims. How can a country that has the longest unbroken history of regular elections not be democratic? What could be more democratic?

But consider the following nationally relevant policies that opinion polls consistently show represent the wishes of over 60%-- at least 6 out of ten-- of US citizens:

  • A public national health care program modelled after Medicare (single payer)

  • A $15/hour minimum wage

  • An answer to racism, especially police violence (police violence is a problem 89%/racism is a serious problem 72%)

  • Free college education

  • An answer to income inequality

  • Some measure of gun control 

  • Corporations and the rich should pay more in taxes

  • Not privatizing the Postal Service;  establishing postal banking

  • Stronger antitrust laws that could break up the largest companies

  • Support for labor unions and organizing

  • Environmental action

  • Covid safety over economic activity

Yet, they are all unrealized and out-of-reach.

Beyond these specific policy positions and public stances, opinion polls show a strong general preference for the public good over the interests of corporations and other private interests. In essence, the majority of US citizens are wedded to policies that coincide, whether consciously or not, with the policies associated most closely with the Scandinavian social democracies. 

This profile of majority “progressivism” is even more striking in light of the rare and thin support, the often hostile reaction to these ideas in the mainstream media. The major news and entertainment corporations paint and support a different, more conservative set of policies. Nonetheless, a robust progressive agenda remains popular.

At the same time, barely 1 in 5 US citizens express trust in government most or all of the time. Not surprisingly, in light of the apparent broad support for egalitarianism, the high point in trust over the last sixty years coincided with President Johnson’s Great Society reforms that purported to eliminate poverty and lessen the social and racial inequalities of US society. At that time, nearly 8 out of 10 US citizens said they “trust the government in Washington most or all of the time” (Pew Research Center).

These same polls show that most people want the US government to play an active role in ameliorating social problems and guaranteeing a better life, while, paradoxically, showing little confidence in their elected representatives.

Despite the fact that urgent, central policies advocated by a solid majority of the people are never realized or even seriously debated, despite the fact that the channels of information so vitally important for democratic decision-making are corrupted and in ill-repute, despite the fact that the institutions established to deliver democracy are mistrusted, our rulers and their trusted servants expect us to believe that the US is a thriving democracy.

At the same time, they throw up every roadblock to dampen voter participation and effectiveness: workweek elections, registration hurdles, qualification challenges, gerrymandering, etc.

 If democracy is a political system or political process that serves the will of the people, then the US system is demonstrably undemocratic. It may appear to be a shiny instrument, but it produces extremely poor results for the people.

Apart from the ineffectiveness of the electoral system, the US Constitution and its subsequent amendments are said to guarantee certain democratic rights. In effect since 1789, the original constitution established the rules of the political game in a way unprecedented by any other historical document to that time. It advanced popular democratic procedures unlike any enacted before it. The Bill of Rights, ratified two years later, strengthened US democracy even further (with the fatal caveat that millions of US citizens-- women, slaves, indigenous people were denied these rights). 

 As a result of a bloody civil war, a tenacious women’s movement, and a bitter, violent civil rights struggle, the original democratic achievements have been strengthened further. Yet the enemies of democracy-- the economic royalists, as FDR so aptly called them, and the bigots-- have unrelentingly chipped away at those rights, employing a larger and more damaging hammer until the present. Today, little is left to celebrate.

The rights to be free of religious tyranny and to speak freely without fear have been undermined by religious zealotry and police-state vigilance. The right to a free press has been trivialized by the corporate domination and monopolization of the media.

The right to privacy and discretion is erased by a totalizing security state that hears and reads every out-of-step opinion of its citizens. The technical means and resources of the US security agencies put every previous charge of “totalitarianism” to shame. 

The formal judicial guarantees of the Bill of Rights are stripped of force by the commercialization and marketization of justice. The rich buy the best lawyers, while the rest of us secure representation commensurate with our wallets. Moreover, the laws are written, enforcement geared, and the punishments devised to crush the poor and shield the rich. With only 24% of those polled showing “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of confidence in the criminal justice system (Gallup), it hardly stands as a pillar of democracy.

In the midst of an election that vets its candidates through a costly primary process only available to the rich and famous, an election that ultimately rides on candidates collecting billions of dollars, an election that allows only two narrow paths (two parties) to snatching the golden ring, talk of democracy seems cynically misplaced.

It may well be true that what remains of “our” democracy may be at stake, but it bears reminding that what remains is far removed from what people deserve. The battle for democracy is really only in its infancy in the United States and it must be launched against a long tradition of anti-democracy waged against popular forces. 

The erosion of democracy emanates from the power of wealth. Democratic procedures have been hijacked by wealth. 

And the power of wealth emanates from inequality. 

Further, inequality emanates from an exploitative system. 

Therefore, democracy only grows where the exploitative system is corralled or eliminated. 

This simple, but logical truth escapes the many celebrants of our tissue of democracy, long on procedures, but short on results.

In the end, the will of the people is the ultimate measuring stick of democracy. The US falls far short.

Greg Godels