Arts & Opinion.com
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 19, No. 6, 2020
 
     
 
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
  About  
 
 
  Submissions  
  Subscribe  
  Comments  
  Letters  
  Contact  
  Jobs  
  Ads  
  Links  
 
 
  Editor
Robert J. Lewis
 
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
 
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
 
  Music Editor
Serge Gamache
 
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
 
  Graphics
Mady Bourdage
 
  Photographer
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
 
  Webmaster
Emanuel Pordes
 
 
 
  Past Contributors
 
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Charles Tayler
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
 
     

curse or cure
SOCIALISM


by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

____________________________________________________

 

Deep pockets and empty hearts rule the world.
We unleash them at our peril.
Stephen Molyneux,

I saw America's economy last night,
people raiding dumpsters at a higher rate than normal in my home town.
Digging through garbage shouldn't be a career.
Thanks Democrats. Thanks Republicans
Carroll Bryant

If there is anything that will finally dismantle
the modern democracies of the West,
it will be the . . . angry reduction of politics
to the hyper camps of left and right.
Rex Murphy

Our danger is that, invaded by the external,
we may be driven out of ourselves, left with our inner selves empty,
and thus become transformed into gateways on the highway
through which a throng of objects come and go.
Ortega y Gasset

 

The word socialism comes from the Latin socius, meaning companion, partner, ally or association, and from sociale, to combine or share. The dictionary defines a society as “an aggregate of people living together in an ordered community,” sharing the same public spaces and subscribing to a common culture. As a political-economical theory, the term socialism became current in the middle of the 19th century in England as a reaction to both conservatism and liberalism for having lost sight of, degraded the notion of partnering and sharing -- the centerpieces of any meaningful social contract. Socialism argued that free market capitalism did not adequately provide for the equitable distribution of the nation’s goods and services.

From the Industrial Revolution onward, free market capitalism has presided over the emergence of two distinct economic classes: the haves and have-nots. Today, the richest 1% of Americans own more than 35% of the wealth.

Unlike free market capitalism where the means of production are in the hands of private enterprise, socialism advocates state ownership as the most effective means of addressing the public interest (roads, sanitation, education, medical research, policing), since, as Kenneth Galbraith noted in The Affluent Society, the individual regards his personal wants as inherently superior to public wants and shouldn’t be expected to esteem his public library’s acquisition budget more than his Rolls Royce collection. Implicit in socialist doctrine is a critique of human nature: the hoarding instinct and the Bob Marley “no care for me no care for you” reflex. In countries that produce more than they consume, socialism operates under the conviction that no one should be made to suffer from want in the midst of plenty. As both a political and economic theory, socialism attempts to restore the original meaning of partner and ally in the term socius.

The spirit that animates socialism must not be confused with the deformations imposed by Marxism (Stalinism) that calls for the abolition of private property, ‘total’ state ownership of the means of production and banning religion. We note that it took less than a century and a death toll that confounds the mind for Communism to collapse on foundational principles that failed to take into account human nature.

In today’s debased political climate that forfeits all pretence to civility, no one in the Democratic party is advocating for the elimination of private property, the proscribing of religion or turning in toto the means of production over to the state. To imply otherwise is as disingenuous as it is mean spirited, the ploy of the demagogue and last retort of the tolerant-challenged for whom the perfect world is the one made in his image or op-ed piece. To even suggest that Bernie Sanders, for example, wants America to be refashioned in the image of a Marxist command economy and single-party rule is a misrepresentation that borders on calumny, and yet this is the great lie the radical right is bruiting, defaulting to demonization and prevarication for lack of fact and sound argument.

Some definitions are in order.

A red herring is an oft used rhetorical device. It functions through the deliberate diversion of attention from the original argument. Conflating American socialism with Marxism is a red herring gone viral.

A tariff is a government tax imposed on foreign goods. The gesture acknowledges that under free market capitalism the home made product cannot compete with the foreign product. The first effect of a tariff is to artificially raise (inflate) the price of the foreign product so the home made product is more competitive. What Tariffman (Trump) doesn’t like in socialism is what he doesn’t like in himself, which makes him a self-hating socialist.

A subsidy is when a government grants a business (corporation) or industry financial support in the form of a cash payment or tax relief. A subsidy functions like a tariff. When Trump announced he was going to subsidize the farming industry to the tune of 28 billion dollars (2018-19), he was in effect guaranteeing the market price for products, which under free market conditions would be overpriced. Without the subsidy, home grown corn, wheat and canola wouldn’t sell and would have to be either dumped or donated to famine relief – and, we note parenthetically, the farmer would go broke. Thanks to an anti-free market, socialist intervention, the protected farmer lives to see another harvest. And that has been the way of the western world for the past 150 years.

Since the radical right has already decided on what socialism is, it excuses itself from participating in a empirical investigation and/or meaningful dialogue about socialism’s behaviour (the telling gestures that define it) and the manner in which its distributive mechanisms directly implicate people’s lives; from farmers to textile workers to manufacturers, most of whom, under free market capitalism, would be on the dole fomenting insurrection.

Under the auspices of the radical right, the term socialism has been twisted into a bully pulpit for no other purpose than for the faithful to advertise their loyalty to party and principle, or to vaunt their rhetorical dexterity, or, in the spirit of the groupie, to cozy up to the party heavyweights with whom they share common cause, all the while refusing to do due diligence with the essential question: How does America stand with socialism?

What constitutes a socialist intervention as opposed to a free market one?

How do we understand Trump who swears by free-market capitalism, but routinely levies tariffs, provides for massive subsidies and refuses to eliminate welfare. Trump refers to himself as “the tariff man,” apparently unwitting to the fact that a tariff is a true-blue socialist gesture designed to protect local manufacturing.

One need not submit the concept of tariff to an economic forum to know that it is an affront to free market capitalism. To argue otherwise or repurpose the gesture as an example of capitalism’s exemplary pliability is as fatuous as a man with a sperm-ejecting penis insisting he is a woman or of indeterminate gender.

And yet the rank and file of the radical right, observing America’s decline nationally and globally, continue to submit that socialism is the cause. It does not occur to them that their conviction and certainty would be all the richer if combined with even a nano-allowance of doubt (humility), and, in the spirit of thinking outside the box, to at least consider the possiblity that one's most precious beliefs as well as the maps of the world change with the passage of time.

There was a time when most of the world’s scientists and researchers immigrated to America not only for its unmatched freedoms but because America understood that its ascendency depended on its researchers having access to the best facilities and latest technology which it was willing to finance. Today, as a percentage of discretionary spending, Research & Development (R & D) is less than half of what it was in 1962.

Small wonder there is a looming crisis in the production of new antibiotics. The labs are going bankrupt due to lack of funding. And where you would expect America’s conservative billionaires to step up to the plate, they instead enlist cadres of right wing journalists to cause-and-effect the sum of the nation’s ills to its fatal embrace of socialism.

The shrinking of the middle class and decline of family values have been singled out as major causes of America’s decline. Since the 1980s, for low income earners, real wages have not kept pace with inflation, forcing both parents to work to make ends meet, and devolving the responsibility of raising children to iPhone-care and daycare moms – “motherhood as paid employment.” Who stands to gain by keeping the minimum wage low? The fat cats at Wal-Mart or the men and women who work the aisles and 'person' the checkout counters?

Irrespective of party, politics and spin, any economic gesture that tampers with the free market is socialist. Trump can advertise himself as a free-market capitalist until he turns Republican red in the face, but if we measure Trump by his gestures, he’s a socialist. Eighteen percent -- and counting -- of all imports have been hit with protective tariffs since Tariffman took office.

To understand America’s position on socialism requires of its critics and scholars that they examine and report on the country’s economic gestures as a whole, bearing in mind that a charitable person is not someone who represents himself as such, but who is demonstratively charitable. It is one thing for the US to represent itself as a capitalist country, and for China to market itself as Communist, but do their gestures correspond to the representations? And if there is a divergence between the said and done, is it fair or reasonable that we look to our journalists to report on the truth, especially since “journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing and presenting news and information?” The first truth of 'advocacy' journalism is that it trumps the disinterested pursuit of truth.

The problem with today’s partisanship is that it mistakes the bubble that it is for the larger world, and a much better one as its impassioned advocates see it and insist we see it, or be set out to sea. At its extremes, advocacy journalism is a cult that confuses confirmation bias for epistemological certainty, and posits as fact that which properly belongs to speculation. Until the party faithful decide to make their presuppositions about the world that which, a posteriori, most deserve to be called into question, their faith will never be tested -- or bested, which begs the question: in whose best interest? Both the extreme right and left are so entrenched in their postions they are incapable of distinguishing the whole from hole they're in.

The first economic truth about America, and one which economists from both sides of the aisle would agree, is that the country would not survive in a free market economy where all the world’s goods are up for sale. Most of today’s socialist legislation is implemented to offset wage disparities between countries in order to protect local industry and manufacturing – that is to save jobs.

Under the constant threat of globalization (the global market place), almost every aspect of American life has been tempered by socialism. Socialism (protectionism) is a necessity, without which the US would be on life-support. With India leading the way, the US is one of the most protected, socialist states in the world. America’s dependence on socialism is like an asthmatic’s to an oxygen tank. America exudes, is marinated in socialism, and yet the radical right insist it's an existential threat. They have managed to conflate the socialism that every mixed economy features with Marxism. And regardless of whether or not they have been acting in bad faith or have been seduced by their own sleight-of-mind and the giddy heights that derive from empowerment (changing minds), in today’s degraded political environment socialism is a loaded term that no politician can afford to ignore.

But there can be no redacting the meaning and purpose of the nation’s unacknowledged favourite terms of endearment: tariff, subsidy, tax relief, bail out and anti-trust are all dyed-and-tried socialist gestures designed to protect the home and native land, which makes the election in November a choice between two competing visions of protectionist-socialist platforms.

As it concerns radical right journalists who have wilfully misrepresented (slandered) the term socialism, they deserve nothing less than our indignation as well as our pity, for the words and years squandered out of both a misguided sense of party loyalty and overriding need to compensate for a poorly understood obfuscated inner deficiency. That they are the second victims of their life’s vital labours offers no consolation. The first victim is truth, and all the men and women for whom the pursuit of truth is the guarantor of their authenticity, without which the promise of a better America remains stillborn.

 

 

YOUR COMMENTS
Email (optional)
Author or Title

COMMENTS

user-submission@feedback.com
How does lowering taxes for the rich make Trump a socialist?

user-submission@feedback.com
"Both the extreme rightand left are so entrenched in their postions they are incapableof distinguishing the whole from hole they're in." Yes yes yes.

ivannonveiller@gmail.com
Now, as far as 'socialism' is concerned, that term has been so evacuated of content over the last century that it is hard even to use.
I mean, the Soviet Union, for example, was called a 'socialist society.' And it was called that by the two major propaganda operations in the world.
The US, the Western one, and the Soviet one. They both called it 'socialism,' for opposite reasons.
The West called it 'socialism' in order to defame socialism by associating it with this miserable tyranny.
The Soviet Union called it 'socialism' in order to gain whatever . . . to benefit from the moral appeal that true socialism had among large parts of the general world population.
But this was about as remote from socialism as you can imagine.
I mean, the core notion of at least traditional socialism is that . . . what you mentioned,that working people have to be in control of production and communities have to be in control of their own lives and so on.
The Soviet Union was the exact opposite of that. Working people had no control over anything. They were virtual slaves.
And the collapse of the Soviet Union is in fact a small victory for socialism, in my opinion. It eliminated one of the major barriers to it, and should have been recognized as such.
If we use it in the traditional sense, which you brought up, that goes -- you know -- that goes straight back in American history.
You read about the working class press in the mid-19th century; the press published by artisans and what were called 'factory girls,' young women from the farms working in the textile mills and Eastern Massachusetts which was center of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Their press was calling for (that their theme) was that 'those who work in the mills ought to own them.'
Wage labor, which was called 'wage slavery,' was regarded by most Americans as not very different from slavery.
Even the Republican Party regarded wage labuor as just at best a preliminary to free labour, but intolerable because it's kind of servitude.
Large part of the Northern population fighting Civil War was fighting under that banner.
This goes straight through the 20th century, the idea that people should be in control of their own destinies and lives,including the institutions in which they work, the communities in which they live.
Call it what name you want, but that's traditional socialism, and there are today attempts to describe a kind of detailed vision of the future, based on these notions,the most extensive and detailed one I know is by Michael Albert at ZNet, which you mentioned, that's participatory economics.

MisterBobsonDugnutt
You don't even have your definitions straight, nor do you stick to your own established definitions. This reads like a book report written by a person who is unfamiliar with the topic and spent more time paraphrasing various Wikipedia entries than actually reading source material. Protectionism isn't socialism. For the vast majority of the existence of capitalism, in the vast majority of instances of it, it has quite clearly not been free market capitalism.

user-submission@feedback.com
The problem really is whose definition do you go with: you call it socialism, for someone on the right it's free market capitalism. But maybe it doesn't matter what it is if what it is is best for people in their everyday lives for paying rent and buying groceries and sending their kids to school.. I agree that both sides aren't listening to each other and we have to do better than that.

burlapii
So Trump is now a socialist? And Stalin and Hitler were humanists.

ievenlifted
"The spirit that animates socialism must not be confused with the deformations imposed by Marxism (Stalinism) that calls for the abolition of private property, ‘total’ state ownership of the means of production and banning religion. We note that it took less than a century and a death toll that confounds the mind for Communism to collapse on foundational principles that failed to take into account human nature." 4th paragraph in, and that's where I stopped.


 

also by Robert J. Lewis:

ORIGINAL ALT-CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR GUITAR

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax
Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
Becoming Our Opposites
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
1-800-Philosophy
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034

 

T
Comedy Podcast with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini
Bahamas Relief Fund
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal(514) 844-2172
Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Photo by David Lieber: davidliebersblog.blogspot.com
SPECIAL PROMOTION: ads@artsandopinion.com
SUPPORT THE ARTS
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis