Monday, August 27, 2007

Socialism in America Equals Hope for the World

Socialism in America Equals Hope for the World

By Paul A. Donovan

“While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”

–Eugene Debs, American Socialist

“The only thing most American know about socialism is they don’t like it. They have been led to believe that socialism is something to be either ridiculed as impractical, or feared as an instrument of the devil.”

–Leo Huberman

It is in fact difficult to shed light on what a socialist United States will look like, mostly because many think socialism, or other forms of publicly owned, and democratically controlled economies is an impossible goal to achieve in our country, mostly due to the hyper capitalist mentality of our nation, the strength of our ruling classes, and the overwhelmingly successful propaganda apparatus of the corporate system, which comprises the media, educational system, and many other venues, including the religious and political pulpit, and is reflected in the apathy, alarming confusion, and at times, indifference of our nation’s citizens, many of whom simply don’t know, don’t want to know, or don’t care where this country is headed (for a terrific insight into this puzzling and exasperating mindset I strongly recommend Deer Hunting with Jesus, by Joe Bageant, who also happens to be one of Cyrano’s senior contributing editors).

However, the capitalist systems own irrepressible dynamics and “make up”—which easily translate into a bill of indictment—are bringing about yet another wave of global repulsion and re-awakenings. In this framework, when I speak of this dynamic I am referring not so much to the more technical aspects of this phenomenon, but to its mass-perceived aspects, such as the following (in no particular order):

• the intense class stratification of the capitalist system itself, and the sharp and rising polarization in domestic and global wealth;

• the inherent exploitative nature of business with its constant siphoning off of surplus value from labor, and the system’s parasitic necessity to transform all living nature into commodities with near complete disregard of the environmental consequences;

• the unrelenting wars between capitalist nation states spawned by the age-old compulsion to grab new markets, and which issue from the constant need by the core ” industrialized nations” to meddle in nearly all political and economic affairs of the world’s sovereign “periphery nations” (there has never been a war between socialist states as such, other than those instigated by Western meddling, as in Indochina);

• the extensive commoditization of human culture;

• the implantation of usurious trade institutions, such as the WTO, IMF, and World Bank which serve as a supranational unelected government for the corporate elite , often nullifying local and national policies;

• the despair and ” atomization” felt in the souls of people as a result of pinning human against human in an eternal and inescapable predatory battle for basic subsistence, better jobs or to simply outdo or out perform our neighbors, something that inevitably leads to a sense of depression among many resulting from the loss of community and the working together for the common good;

• the outsourcing of jobs by our so called “American companies” at the first sign of a potential cheap labor market, the corporate crime, and political lobbying of invidious special interest groups, the purchasing of our so-called democratic elections; the alienation people have from the goods they create with their own hands, hearts, and minds, and the constant job insecurity in conjunction with often being over worked and underpaid;

• the outrageous health care costs in all of the medical system’s dimensions, from the extortionate cost of drugs, perhaps the biggest rip-off in the history of the American republic, to the corrosion in hospital care induced by the relentless pursuit of profit instead of the duty to serve the population;

• the booms, busts, and constant recessions of the market, along with the crime brought about by joblessness, a social blight that gives way to helplessness, addiction, domestic violence, ghettos and gang violence, and many other totally avoidable factors and expensive social costs whose burden is borne by the people;

• an educational system that trains and conditions young people to value material success above a humanistic education, something that, as Joe Bageant points out, makes untold numbers of people mere members of the economy, but not citizens of society or the nation in any real sense;

• the unrelenting nuclear proliferation to ensure imperial hegemony, a policy as criminal as it is transparently hypocritical, since we also pick and choose who is to become a new member of this “select club.” as our hysterical denunciations of Iran’s ambitions to go nuclear bear witness.

Incidentally, if you, as an American, or citizen of a developed nation, recognizes the truths in the above litany of ills oozing out of capitalism, imagine how these same features affect the rest of the world where their severity is at least a hundred times more vicious.

The constant state of fear, badly repressed disgust, and anxiety we live in as a global community as a result of these factors, have shaped the conditions in which the consciousness of people is changing in a new direction; people are waking up, starting to talk, vehemently criticizing (much too often in a completely misguided way) existing values and certain institutions. While all of that is extremely encouraging, for nothing can be cured or solved unless recognized, there are still formidable stumbling blocks, and perhaps one of the most serious is the fact that America has been sold on the counterfeit notion that there is no solution to capitalism. As Michael Parenti, Patrice Greanville, Robert McChesney and other media critics have observed, the object has been to sell the public the idea that we have reached the “end of history”, the “end of ideological struggles,” and therefore the “end” of class war. As a consequence, all that we can “reasonably” aspire to is “more and better capitalism”—forever. The fact that the Western media, and especially the American corporate media, are solidly behind this utterly fraudulent construct is evidence enough to discern whose interests are being served

Time to discuss socialism once again

As the saying goes “nothing sensible goes out of fashion”, as it so with the idea of socialism, which is nothing if not a broad rubric for the idea that human beings should live in national and regional communities built upon collaboration and generosity between their members and not one of constant personal warfare.

The idea of Socialism has natural appeal to many groups, essentially just about anyone except those who benefit directly from capitalism—the upper riches of the system, the corporate elite, the plutocracy itself, the so-called small business crowd, and other groups of wealthy professionals—and those millions still mesmerized by its siren song, who often think they are benefiting from capitalism or what the Republican (or Democratic) party is selling them.

Ironically (but logically, given the system’s upside-down hierarchies, which gives the most to those who do the least socially useful work) many of these people are the ones who get the least from the spoils of Capitalism, but who really keep the system afloat: they have little choice but to do as they are told, who shoulder the most egregious indignities in the name of honoring some concept their so called “betters” long ago betrayed, and, most important, traveling the world to shed blood on battlefields, in jungles, cities, and desserts, to fight wars built upon lies all to preserve and further the interests of the world’s minority of greedy elites, who are often only elite because of their enormous bank accounts, which many inherit, but not due to any Darwinian biologically determined superiority, as the people on the top often imply by sheer arrogance. The people of America, who have been manipulated, or forced, as in the case of Vietnam, time and time again, remain to this day, the “boots in the field” that keep capitalism and its organic outgrowth, imperialism, in business. The war in Iraq could not go on without them fighting, and hopefully they won’t have to pound the pavement of Iran anytime soon if we have something to say about.

Further, what about the rest of society, those who do have an instinctual affinity for social change being they are the ones that suffer the indignities of the system most often? These groups I refer to are the working poor, the unemployed and underemployed, idealistic students, many self- employed professionals, a large portion of what we call minorities, a plurality of women, same of intellectuals, and surprisingly many among the elderly and other grossly undervalued or ignored groups.

The idea of social ownership over the goods, services, and institutions we humans create with our own labor is very much alive, and over the course of the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries, has been a topic of great controversy, misconceptions, fraudulent propaganda, and at times legitimate criticism. As American socialist leader Eugene Debs once noted in respect to the capitalists’ mode of production “Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most - that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.”

Debs could not have possibly known about the miners who recently died at the Sago mines and now Crandall Canyon, in Utah, losing their lives for what is a joke in terms of pay when compared to the obscene rewards received by American CEOs and many other financial “wizards”, who are experts at manipulating the markets, but he certainly was speaking for all of them when he recorded those words for posterity. Debs could “see” into the future because he understood well the irrepressible dynamics of capitalism, which is to constantly exploit labor in the interests of the owner, or capital.

Capitalism is an intrinsically exploitative system, which supposedly relies on the impartial buying and selling of commodities as an indicator for what rational decisions are made in human society, even if many of these “rational” decisions are informed by manipulated facts and an unrelenting barrage of propaganda, or what has come to be known to all as advertising, or even more accurately stated by Robert McChesney & John Bellamy Foster, as the “Commercial Tidal Wave”, in their indispensable Monthly Review essay of the same title. Often when we criticize capitalism we tend to focus on high concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few, and say to ourselves, “well that’s not right that so few should posses so much, in fact it’s outright unjust” but rarely is an explanation provided as to how this process of accumulation is carried out in the production and sale of commodities.

To paint a clearer picture of how this process works in countries where class lines are not as blurry, or in other words, nations with very small middle classes, Charles Kernaghan of Columbia University describes capitalist exploitation at the micro level from a trip he and a group of students took to a Nike plant in the Caribbean:

“One day in the Dominican Republic we found a big pile of Nike’s internal pricing documents. Nike assigns a timeframe to each operation. They don’t talk about minutes. They break the timeframe into ten thousandths of a second. You get to the bottom of all 22 operations; they give the workers 6.6 minutes to make the shirt. It’s $0.70 an hour in the Dominican Republic. 6.6 minutes equals $0.08. These are Nike’s documents. That means the wages come to three tenths of one percent of the retail price. This is the reality. It’s the science of exploitation.”

Capitalism is truly the science and practice of massive exploitation—with impunity. In the period of time the worker’s pay is earned, the capitalist then works you for many more hours, and in this case, even days more to make himself more and more profit, which is correctly defined in technical terms by Marxists as “surplus value”. The Dominican example irrefutably demonstrates this point.

Currently, on the Internet, Nike is advertising one of it’s items called the “No Excuses” T-Shirt for $14.99, which is one of their most modestly priced shirts; maybe it’s time that Nike applied this shirt’s slogan to it’s own labor practices, and corporate entitlements? The retail cost of that one Nike t-shirt is roughly equal to 21.4 hours of work for a Dominican wage slave—but s/he got paid for only 6.6 minutes of that product’s market value. The huge difference, as already mentioned, is all profit that is shoveled upstairs.

Given such framework, Nike can really rake in the bucks using wage slave labor, and as a result, in 2006, Nike’s revenues grew 9% to 15 billion dollars. In that same year Nike former CEO “left the company” with 8 million in severance pay, two years salary totaling 1.4 million a year, plus a bonus of 1.76 million the fiscal year 2006. Furthermore Nike was purchasing Perez’s home for 3.6 million dollars.

I suppose, CEO sympathizers may say that the CEO is entitled to more than an assembly line worker—but do you really think this type of polarization of wealth is fair, and if so, why shouldn’t the worker even make a living wage? To me “wage slave”—as the above example illustrates, is the rule and not the exception around much of the world, hence hardly a hyperbolic term.

When I recently mentioned this labor situation in the Dominican Republic to a friend of mine he thought it was somewhat unfortunate, but sort of dismissed it as the natural order of things, and couldn’t figure out why I really cared so much? I was actually made to feel guilty, or to feel that I said something wrong by raising this point. Naturally, I was a bit perturbed by my friend’s indifference and automatic corporate allegiance, and replied in the words of Jack London, “well the blood is dripping from their (the corporations) rooftops,” which my friend viewed as a fanatical statement, even though I said it very coolly and matter of fact.

Due to indoctrination in pro-capitalist ways of looking at almost any reality, it appears the prison of the mind is a cell many people would rather live in. I just hope that cell is padded, and furnished luxuriously, because it may be a long time before someone or something breaks us free.

Speaking of and to fanatics

The true fanaticism in this country is not emblematic of those opposing the unjust status quo, as the media would have us believe, but rather of those who support it, or even just as guilty, remain complacent in light of it. Those who delude themselves into thinking that turning a blind eye, or making an excuse for exploitation, or iniquity of any kind, is a healthy human response to gross human injustice. I am sure we can assume that if the middle class rug were pulled out from my friend (as it slowly is) and their own ageing parents could not retire, hardly surviving on .70 cents an hour, that they just may at such time raise some timid objections, if not scream to high heaven, but the middle class buffer in America is still robust enough, although the cartilage between our bones is wearing away due to constant systemic weights, and as a result of this weathering, we are starting to hear some of the system’s rusting machinery making that metal on metal sound, with Charlie Chaplin still wedged in the gears of these “Modern Times”, which in reality, should have been history by now.

It still seems that many among the general public would rather take it easy and just see what happens, while relying heavily on doses of beta-blockers to suppress the anxiety of the “daily grind”, while letting the wealthy of the planet, who obviously seem to be lacking basic scruples, decide for us, which path of doom is the shortest to take.

Following this script, the collective weight of our plethora of sins may land on the shoulders of maybe our great grandchildren; by then we will be long gone, and they can’t curse at us directly. In response to those who share the attitudes of some of my cynical associates, Eugene Debs may have said,

“Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man.”

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