Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Obama as Marxist-Socialist

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that two charges hurled at President Obama were driving me crazy - - class warfare and Marxist Socialist.  I dealt with class warfare so now I’d like to turn my attention to the charge that Obama is a Marxist Socialist. 

You’d think, to hear the corporate media, Republicans and conservatives tell it, that the Obama administration is beginning, as Lenin once said,  to construct the socialist order.  “We are all socialists now,” shouted Newsweek not long ago.  “ We are creating ‘socialist republics’ in the United States says Mike Huckabee, adding, on reflection, that ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.’”  “European socialism transplanted to Washington,” proclaimed Newt Gingrich.  SOCIALIST, said McCain and Palin. Of course all of the shouting is done with, as socialist Billy Wharton wrote in the Washington Post, “the hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism.”   “Conservatives have never bashed socialism because its specter was actually stalking America,” Harold Myerson wrote recently, rather, they’ve wielded the cudgel against such progressive reforms as free universal education, the minimum wage or tighter financial regulations.  Their signal success is to have kept the United States free from the taint of universal health care.” 

Take it from me, from a person who is a socialist, and said so, proudly, in this community for years, Barak Obama is many things but socialist is not among them.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the new found attention being paid to socialists and our ideas and the opportunity to have a seat at the table again after decades of inattention.  But socialists know that Obama is not one of us.  “Not only is he not a socialist,” writes Wharton, “he may in fact not even be a liberal.  Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat - - one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committee to free-market policies.  Like his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt, Obama is in the unenviable position of having to save capitalism from itself and to do so he is employing some, and I emphasize some, left of liberal solutions.  He has to.  The proponents of free-market capitalism have, perhaps, struck a mortal blow at themselves.  They have blown up capitalism and taken most of the known world along. 

What would a socialist propose for real revolutionary change?  Here are a few items proposed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto. 

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  5. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  6. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State
  7. Free education for all children in public schools
  8. In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. . . . They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.  Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.  The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win. 

Now perhaps I’ve missed something but I don’t recall Obama issuing a rallying cry for proletarian revolution.  His efforts so far have been tepid and half-hearted.  Perhaps more is in the offing.  Opportunity is there,” wrote Alexander Cockburn on Counterpunch.org, “to be seized from the jaws of capitalism’s shattering reverses. This is a chance richer than the opportunity offered and annulled in the mid-70s.  Circumstances will in all likelihood push Obama’s government to the left, just as they did FDR when orthodoxy failed.”  Almost certainly we will not end up with socialism but as Cockburn says, “the left should not be shy about pressing the challenge out of some misguided notion of preserving a polite progressive consensus.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Religion as News

A couple weeks ago, John Stewart pulled back the curtain on the wizards of the Ozians at the cable business channels revealing, to mix the metaphore, that the emperors had no clothes.     “They were part of the broken system,” commented Cank Uygur, “There was no journalism going on at CNBC.” 

Last Saturday, in our own little corner of the world here on the Olympic Peninsula, The Daily World,  our local newspaper, proved that “no journalism going on” is not unique to the big city folks.  On the back page of the main section of the paper, in a spot where one usually finds state-wide or national news, The Daily World ran a story with the headline, “It’s Lent - - So What?  So What, indeed!, under the byline Faces of Faith, Dale McQueen.  To the left of the McQueen piece the paper printed information from the stock market from Friday and to the right a story headlined, “Suspect had a knife at police station,” from Perugia, Italy

Now, the last time I checked, a story about how “we prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the sacred observances of Christ’s death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter,” did not qualify as news.  Since when does a celebration of belief in a deity, concocted in the Bronze age, that arose out of primitive ignorance and superstition, qualify as news?  The only thing crazier than the belief itself, is, as Dennis Rahkonen wrote recently, “to believe said deity created us, governs our affairs, and deserves our blind obedience.” 

A quick glance at the most recent studies about religious belief in the United States should give the editor at The Daily World pause the next time he wants to publish this religious opinion as news.  

According to the latest research, you are “certainly friends with at least one atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, skeptic, or unaffiliated humanist, whether you know it or not.  Your friend certainly endures prejudice and unequal treatment, whether you know it or not.  And your friend is roughly as decent, good, loyal, honest, courageous, and generous as your other friends, and you know it.”  In Grays Harbor County 30 percent of us are atheists, agnostics unbelievers, people who don’t care or want to know, undecided or just plain have no opinion.  That amounts to a significant number of people. 

To have our local newspaper print religious propaganda masquerading as news is insult added to injury.  “Those who get along without God are noy lynched or stoned in this country,” David Swanson wrote recently, “but neither do they have equal rights or acceptance.  They encounter prejudice and cruelty on a personal level often.”  We saw our taxes used to establish an office in the Bush White House pushing religious-based initiatives and now President Obama has not only continued that unconstitutional program, he has enlarged it.  All around the country we see “religious based, pseudo-science imposed” on children in schools.  While there are, according to Swanson, “probably 20 atheists in Congress,” only one member has the courage to admit his position.  I’m convinced that President Obama is an atheist but he made a pragmatic political calculation, years ago, recognizing that no open atheist could be elected to office, to find himself the most politically advantageous church and join it.  Unfortunately that decision later came back to bite him when the remarkable Reverend Wright became a political liability. 

Since, as Frank Rich pointed out in the New York Times, the almighty has fallen significantly - - organized religion being “in a dead heat with banks and financial institutions on the confidence scale,” I’d like to make a suggestion to The Daily World:  keep you religion page if you must but please, please don’t try to pass off any more religious stories as news.  It really turns off those of us who do not hold religious views and also read your paper. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Six Years of War

Three days from now, on the 19th of March, the United States invasion of Iraq will mark its sixth year.  A million dead Iraqis, more than 4,000 dead U.S. military persons, an eventual cost, according to the economist Joseph Stiglitz, of 3 trillion dollars.  For what?

Many people who voted for President Obama believed, quite irrationally as far as I’m concerned, that once elected, Obama would remove all U. S. troops from Iraq within sixteen months.  I said many times on my radio program that Obama was being too clever by half with his semantics about withdrawal.  He said then, and he confirmed my worst suspicions a couple weeks ago, that he would remove “combat” troops from Iraq, as if every service person there is not in combat.  His intension during the campaign, confirmed in a late February speech, was to leave thousands of U.S. military personnel in Iraq beyond the now 19 month period of his supposed withdrawal.  50,000 troops to be exact.  Non-combat troops to be sure.  I suspect that by the time August 2011 rolls around the 50,000 will have grown considerably, more in line with the 60 to 90,000 I predicted during the campaign. 

According to the withdrawal agreement drawn up by W. and his puppet in Iraq, the United States must have all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2012 - - just in time for the November 2012 election.  Don’t count on it.

The speech Obama gave at the end of February could very well have been delivered by W.  We found no mention in the speech of the on-going and worsening conflict between the Shia and the Kurds that will undermine any Iraqi government.  We heard no mention of what is now to happen to the Suni forces the United States has been paying not to kill U. S. soldiers for the last two years. 

According to the highly respected military correspondent Tom Ricks, author of The Gamble, Obama’s plan for exiting Iraq is the “sixth plan he has covered that attempts to get U. S. forces out of Iraq.”  Mr. Ricks warns in his book that tBush’s war is about to engulf Obama.  He writes that the United States will be in Iraq for many years to come, “and that in the end, we will be the losers.”  What will emerge, Ricks told MSNBC’s Keith Olberman, “is not a democracy, not an American ally, run by a strongman, probably tougher, smarter and more adept than Saddam Hussein and who is, ironically, an even worse guy.”  The winners, as far as I’m concerned, are the mullahs in Iran who will be quite content to have the war continue to bleed billions from the United States every month.

If you are concerned about the continued occupation of Iraq and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, join with your fellow citizens for an anti-war vigil on Thursday, 19 March, from 4:30 to 5:30 pm at Zelasko Park. 


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Class War

There are, right now, a couple of terms floating around in the corporate media and right-wing blogosphere that are driving me crazy:  “class warfare” and “Marxist Socialist.”  I’ll have to deal with “Marxist Socialist” in a later commentary but for now let’s turn to “class warfare.”

In the LA Times from late last month: “Obama’s budget: Taxing for fairness or class warfare?  The reactionary, David Horowitz, changed the question to an inflammatory accusation on his web site:  "The Budget as Class Warfare."

Funny how, whenever the oligarchic rule in this country is questioned, suddenly there are rumors of class war in the air and Bolshevism is only just around the corner. 

Now, I’d agree that there is class warfare going on, has been going on in the United States for more than a century, but it certainly is not the kind where the proletariat rises up to overthrow the bourgeoisie. 

In the late nineteenth century the wealthiest 1 percent of families owned 51 percent of the real and personal property in the United States.  The 44 percent of families at the bottom owned only 1.2 percent of the property.  Together, the ruling class, the top 10 percent of families owned 86 percent of the wealth.  The working class, the 90 percent of families, owned 10 percent of the wealth.  As you might suggest, this inequality of wealth sparked numerous uprisings among the working class and led to the rise of the Populist Party.  The ruling class, who understood their position and had achieved class consciousness, was able to use force of arms and the political system to repulse the class warfare undertaken by the less-conscious working people and farmers.

Throughout the 20th century the ruling class well understood their place in society and waged an unrelenting war on working people to maintain oligarchic supremacy: in other words, class war by the ruling class. 

By the 1980s, writes Felice Pace, “the chief concern of the ruling elite became making sure that when the reckoning finally came,” when the economic reality of their recklessness could no longer be hidden from working people,  “it would be working [people] - - not the rich - - who would bear the brunt of the adjustment.  That required transferring wealth from working people to the rich in advance of the reckoning.  This has been the main projects of the ruling class since the election of Ronald Reagan.”

The transfer of wealth to the ruling class in the late 20th century, the rich’s class war, “has been spectacularly successful.”  While worker’s wages have gone down every year since 1973, the rulinhg class consolidated their share of the national income.  “Since 1979 through 2005, the income of the top one percent skyrocketed by 228 percent.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the top one-tenth of one percent of the population, or 14,000 families, hold 22.2% of the nation’s wealth . . . ,” 10 percent of families own 96% of the wealth, “while the bottom 90% [of families], have just 4%.” 

Yes, there is class war going on in the United States.  The ruling class has been remarkably successful in maintaining their position for more than a century.  What really surprises me is how docile the working class is, how seemingly helpless the working class has been to bring about a redistribution of wealth.  If Obama really wants to redistribute wealth then I say bring on the class war.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Third Parties and Mass Movements

Whenever I see the by-line of Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist Dave Lindorff, I know that I’ll find something provocative and useful to read.  While I usually agree with Lindorff’s opinion, I picked up an article of his the other day that prompted my immediate disagreement.  So, using the tactics of many letter writers in The Daily World, I thought I’d make a public comment about Lindorff’s article.

That dirty, commie, pinko, faggot Lindorff!!!  That low life has no conscience and is an un-American slob who should be fired from his job, tarred and feathered, and run out of town on a rail!

On a more rational note . . .

While I did have that immediate disagreement with Lindorff, I later realized that his article did make a very pertinent point on which we both agreed.

Lindorff wrote about being bombarded with criticism from the radical left for “calling for pressure on Democratic politicians to do the right thing, whether that is impeaching the last president and vice president for war crimes or in the case of our new president, standing and fighting for a people’s bailout, instead of a Wall Street bailout.”  Lindorff dismisses, too easily I think, the radical’s claim that the Republicans and Democrats are the same.  That is an old argument from the radical left and correct as far as I’m concerned.  The great W. E. B. Du Bois called the Republicans and Democrats the right wing of the one party in the country. 

Nonetheless, Lindorff’s critics then castigated him, and other leftists who voted for Obama as being part of the problem.  Radicals claim that a principled leftist should have voted for third-party candidates like Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney. 

While claiming to have nothing against McKinney or Nader, “that ticket would make for a wonderful administration,” Lindorff wrote, “third parties have not played a significant role in American politics since the 1930s and earlier, when the Socialist Party . . . managed to make a significant dent in the political equation, though even it had no shot at winning.”

In fact, we do have, in our history, a stunning victory by a relatively new third party.  In 1860, after only six years on the scene, the Republican Party captured the presidency and solidified its place and the “other” in our two party system.  Obviously, in 1860 the country was in a state of catastrophic social, political and economic turmoil over the issue of slavery.  The Republican and Democratic parties really stood for something and, while most members of both parties were deeply racist, one did have a definite choice.  - - there was no mistaking the philosophical differences between the two directions the parties would take the country. 

Certainly Lindorff would not disagree that the parties today really are dominated and controlled by the same corporate sponsors.  They are pursuing the same end, capitalist, imperial hegemony, just by different means.  He sympathizes with third parties while noting that “the system of winner-take-all elections is structured against them . . . but calls to change that system so that third parties might have a chance bump up against the reality that the two parties that have a duopoly on power have no interest in changing the rules of the game to make it easier to bump them off.”  Says Lindorff, “it simply ain’t gonna happen.” 

Well, maybe or maybe not.

And here is where Lindorff and I agree.  Later in the article he recalls the great progressive triumphs in U.S. history, triumphs brought about by mass movements that have forced change that the major parties resisted almost to the death.  Universal man and woman suffrage, the end of slavery, the initiative process, progressive income taxes, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, Social Security, labor unions, the end of the Vietnam War - - the list goes on.  These victories did not come about because power decided to relinquish itself.  These changes came about because people took power and demanded change.

Where Lindorff at one point in his essay encourages working with Democrats, his most powerful point, at the end of the essay, rests in his call for a new mass movement demanding progressive change.  The movement has to confront the Republican and Democratic duopoly - - in the streets - - demanding “an end to this country’s pointless wars, a huge cut in the military budget,” single payer health care, “a jobs program, a break-up of the large banking and other corporate monopolies, an end to the national security state, reform of the labor laws, and a restoration of a real progressive tax system.”

Lindorff is right - - mass movements make history.  “We need one badly.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Letter to President Obama

I think the president should start to listen to the people who elected him if my friend David Cromwell is any indication.  Received this copy of a letter to Obama after the Tuesday night "state of the union."

I saw the whole thing, and I am a big supporter of you, your brains, your eloquence and your energies.   Could not agree with you more, in fact.  I don't want, though, to continue this American Empire ethic you seem to be promoting these days.  I thought you saw things differently.  Now I really wonder....
I am a Howard Zinn acolyte, I suppose.   I agree with him: you should stop saying that America will "lead the world again!".  We have a horrible track record at doing just that, which is why we are in this horrible state of foreign affairs these days. 
And so, I was saddened to see such 'imperialism' on display during your entry into our Congressional hall, last night.  That was way tacky, my friend.  You are totally loved in this beat-up land of ours, and we are 70% behind you.  But, any more of this imperialistic bullshit from you, and it'll be over before you can do any of the stuff you were so eloquent about last night. 
Trim your sails.  I am thrilled to the bones that you are our President.  But cut the trumpeting, okay?
David Cromwell