This one—tack-witted, sharp of tongue—
thinks he’ll die soon, and so,
smokes on (although he loves his wife).
He has made peace at 62 (my age)
with demons, destiny, and even
the C.O.P.D. that will
kick him in.
This one—tack-witted, sharp of tongue—
thinks he’ll die soon, and so,
smokes on (although he loves his wife).
He has made peace at 62 (my age)
with demons, destiny, and even
the C.O.P.D. that will
kick him in.
Sad news. Sympathies and condolences to Joe’s family and friends.
March 27, 2011
After a vibrant life, Joe Bageant died yesterday following a four-month struggle with cancer. He was 64. Joe is survived by his wife, Barbara, his three children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth, and thousands of friends and admirers. He is also survived by his work and ideas.
RAINBOW PIE: A Redneck Memoir, by Joe Bageant
Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2010 (U.S. edition, 2011). 310 pp.
Reviewed by Gary Corseri
Lose all your troubles, kick up some sand
And follow me, buddy, to the Promised Land.
I’m here to tell you, and I wouldn’t lie,
You’ll wear ten-dollar shoes and eat rainbow pie. –“The Sugar Dumpling Line,” American hobo song.
“Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America’s large white underclass,” writes Joe Bageant on page 2 of his second book, RAINBOW PIE.
How did hemp go from being a popular industrial material to a banned substance in 1937? Author Joe Bageant describes how the non-psychoactive plant was once used in everything from paper to automobiles, until a targeted PR campaign forever tied hemp’s image to it’s cousin, marijuana.
Joe Bageant is a renowned commentator on the politics of class in the US. His previous novel, Deer Hunting with Jesus, has been been turned into a play and an upcoming tv series. His regular online columns have made him a cult hero among political progressives and gonzo-journalism junkies. Bageant’s latest book Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir is a coming-of-age story set in post-World War II America in the small white tribes of West Virginia, where a massive social and economic shift from agrarian to urbanization has meant the heavy loss of meaningful work and community. Representing the ‘hillbilly’ class as a minority, Bageant laments ‘the piece of the rainbow pie’ promised to the working class of his forefathers, which never materialized. He praises the ‘white trash’ trucker heroes, who stood up to the corporate oppressors by unionizing, helping to form a middle class, and finally affording an education for their children.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Updated: Sept. 24, 2010 added a video with an interview with Joe Bageant.
via Dandelion Salad
Updated: Sept. 24, 2010 added a video
Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir By Joe Bageant. Portobello Books, London, 2010
‘Cotton never saw much cash, and never got rich by any means. Not on the ten-cent and fifteen-cent purchases that farmers made there for over one hundred years. Yet he could pay Jackson Luttrell for the tomato hauling—in credit at the store. That enabled Jackson to buy seed, feed, hardware, fertiliser, tools, and gasoline, and farm until harvest time with very little cash, leaving him with enough to invest in a truck. Unger could run his tomato cannery and transform local produce into cash, because he could barter credit for farm products and services. This was a community economic ecology that blended labour, money, and goods to sustain a modest but satisfactory life for all. — Rainbow Pie
by Joe Bageant
August 20, 2009
A nation of children roots for the Mafia
Every day I get letters asking me to weigh in on the healthcare fracas. As if a redneck writer armed with a keyboard, a pack of smokes and all the misinformation and vitriol available on the Internet could contribute anything to the crap storm already in progress. Besides that, my unreasoned but noisy take on this issue is often about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. None of which has ever stopped me from making a fool of myself in the past. So here goes.
Unfortunately, the people have been mesmerized by our theater state’s purposefully distracting and dramatic media productions for so long they’ve been mutated toward helplessness. Consequently, they are incapable of asking themselves a simple question: If insurance corporation profits are one third of the cost of healthcare, and all insurance corporations do is deliver our money to healthcare providers for us (or actually, do everything in their power to keep the money for themselves), why do we need insurance companies at all? Answer: Because Wall Street gets a big piece of the action. And nobody messes with the Wall Street Mob (as the bailout extortion money proved). Better (and worse) presidents have tried. Some made a genuine effort to push it through Congress. Others expressed the desire publicly, but after getting privately muscled by the healthcare industry, decided to back off from the idea.[…]
by Joe Bageant
Deer Hunting with Jesus
August 10, 2009
This essay was originally published on AlterNet.
Cognitive capitalism — just when we thought there were no new ways to get screwed
A few years ago, compliments of the George W. Bush administration, I got an education in political reality. The kind of education that makes you get drunk at night and scream and bitch at every shred of national news:
“Do you see how these capitalist bastards have made so much money killing babies in Iraq? And how they are have brainwashed us and gouged us for every human need, from health care to drinking water?” I’d rage to my wife.
“It’s just the way things are,” she said. “It’s only a system.”
My good wife often thinks I have slipped my moorings. But she never says right out loud that I’m crazy because, let’s face it, honesty in marriage only goes so far. Furthermore, I’d be the first to proclaim that she’s right.
I have indeed slipped my moorings, and am downright ecstatic about it, given what the collective American consciousness is moored to these days. Anyway, I am, as I said, ecstatic. When I am not utterly depressed. Which is often. And always, always, always, it is because of the latest outrage pulled off by government/corporations — the terms have been interchangeable for at least 50 years in this country, maybe longer.
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.”
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.”
Certainly Debs reaction to injustice and inequality is the healthy human response, and certainly not one of a man who has been so jaded by luxury, popular consumerist culture, meaningless education, or crippled by apathy that he has cashed in his humanity for a false sense of security, and a feeling of Darwinian entitlement. Americans back in Debs’ day certainly did not beat around the bush when they had something to say. Today our political language, thanks chiefly to television, has become tamer, “polite,” and therefore sterile in conveying truth or passion. There is no real need for Nazi storm troopers (at least not yet) because most Americans do a pretty good job of policing themselves, right inside their brains.
As Dr. Christian Parenti notes, we live in the “soft cage” or the prison of the self, so it seems that just maybe those SS troopers live inside of our minds, hearts and central nervous systems more so than they do behind the walls.
The capitalist process of exploitation is actually quite simple, and very rational from the perspective of the owner whose primary goal is to maximize profits above all else for him/herself, or investors. Of course not all owners are bad people, but as the saying goes “sentiments play little part in economics”, and often as a result, very hardworking honest people, who can barely make ends meet are hung out to dry, when profit margins shrink for employers, economic stability falters, and financial consultants and wizards are called in to start working their magic markers, to eliminate potential risks, liabilities (translation: labor cuts) or anything that could hamper a “lean and mean” production, or become insurance liabilities due to the fact we are the only nation with employer based health care—great fun for us!
In capitalist society, at least for the so called “unskilled” workers (which is one of my least favorite terms) the more one ages in the work force, the less valuable a worker is to the owner due to the fact you are less productive, less quick on your feet, usually less malleable to change, often wise to their ways, or present other costs and “rigidities” recommending termination. To some the word termination or “fired” has come to sound too harsh, especially to those who felt the trauma of what being canned really feels like, so the elites have purposefully hand picked a new, and more congenial term for firing you, which is called being “let go” as if now, when one is thrown onto the streets, instead they are being carefully placed onto a bed of feathers. Many of these new euphemistic terms have been slowly introduced into our language, with the intent to downplay their actual impact on the individual, and those who rely on them.
Obviously, wisdom, foresight, and prudence aren’t valued characteristics to an owner that wants to be rich as soon as possible, so those old bags are thrown out on the streets to blow about, almost always perfectly invisible to the media, where hopefully none of their “hot air” will leak out onto our sweet children, who in any case would most likely wait until their video game session was completed before calling 911—assuming you were unlucky enough to have a heart attack in front of our little honor roll angels.
This inhumane fact, coupled with our peculiar “folkways,” could be one of the reasons the elderly are treated like a giant inconvenience in American capitalist society, because they no longer produce enough surplus value, and therefore our dominant institutions treat them as dead weight. Inevitably that very attitude, reinforced by the constant assault of advertising proclaiming that newer is better, seeps out of the factory, office, call center, service establishments, or retail store, all the workplaces, and into the homes, where it seamlessly invades the hearts and minds of the youth, who in this country treat the elderly with great disrespect. In Japanese culture the elderly were once treated with great respect, but movies like Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” demonstrate that even in a more subtle urban capitalist culture, the elderly are also seen as nameless burdens. Can we ever name something “good” that came about in a rush, or should I spare us the Tortoise and the Hare parable?
And it doesn’t stop there. Today, the capitalist system feeds off the disasters it creates. In the United States, the oil, energy, and computer technology industries are the most lucrative, but what’s quickly rising to prominence is the private prison system. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity, yet according to the Justice Policy Institute, which advocates a more lenient system of punishment, America has a higher rate of incarceration than any other country, followed by Britain, China, France, Japan and Nigeria.
In 2004, one in every 138 U.S. residents was in prison or jail; the previous year it was one in every 140. Further, 61% of prison and jail inmates were of racial or ethnic minorities. An estimated 12.6% of all black men in their late 20s were in jails or prisons, as were 3.6% of Hispanic men and 1.7% of white men. Could racism, deeply rooted despair, misguided and ultra puritanical laws about drug use, and pervasive poverty, have something to do with these appalling statistics? Does anyone doubt that if almost 13% of all white young men were behind bars there would an explosion in this nation? These are indeed troubling questions that point toward many uncomfortable traits in American culture, but shouldn’t a system that never quite manages to eliminate poverty in the midst of grotesque riches have to answer some hard questions, too?
Running on empty and in circles:
To the dismay of those who treasure Capitalist orthodoxy, it is truly the end of history for them, as a dominant class, when human ingenuity, and response to so called consumer demand, equals profiting off of all the misfortune the system itself creates. This is truly the viral circular process the capitalist system is engulfed in, until it swallows us all into the black hole it creates, and finally has nothing left to sell but gas masks, and coffins.
Some “green energy” capitalists, with some vision like Gore, know that to save capitalism they must adapt to the crises they themselves have created as a class, and hence the new grand delusion. The new ideology of capitalism will surely be that the need for a clean society will facilitate demand, and firms will react accordingly to the good old-fashioned laws of supply and demand and clean up the mess. If anyone just flinched at the plausibility of that thought please pinch yourself now and wake up before you even bother letting those capitalist gears do any more grinding.
Albert Einstein sums up eloquently the nature of exploitation in Capitalist society:
“The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production — that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods — may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.”
Indeed, Einstein saw this process very clearly, although the elites have worked tirelessly to keep all eyes off of them, in too many ways to mention here. The wheels of production in chaotic hands, and always serving selfish interests framed in extremely myopic historical spurts, will eventually be the demise of us all, including the businessmen who benefit materially in the short term. Is this the best humanity can do? I would hope not.
Enter a Truly New World
“The goal of a good society is to structure social relations and institutions so that cooperative and generous impulses are rewarded, while antisocial ones are discouraged. The problem with capitalism is that it best rewards the worst part of us: ruthless, competitive, conniving, opportunistic, acquisitive drives, giving little reward and often much punishment — or at least much handicap — to honesty, compassion, fair play, many forms of hard work, love of justice, and a concern for those in need.”
Most Americans become terrified when they hear the words “abolishing private property” because they fail to fully grasp what socialists or anarcho-libertarians mean when they say it. Obviously this paranoia has historical roots in the countless lies of anti-communism, especially in our nation where it is most fierce, or abroad where it is less of a dirty word, but it’s not necessary to explore those roots to understand the feeling of losing what one considers to be his or her own hard earned personal security or (in far too many cases) meager comforts. Not everyone needs a boat on top of three gas-guzzling cars per household – not at all something I would consider to be a necessity, although lack of affordable, convenient, and safe public transportation seems to make it one in our nation.
But mostly all of this is a gigantic misunderstanding, but not a “good faith” misunderstanding, but a gigantic, criminal, “bad faith” misunderstanding, one concocted, abetted, and delivered by plutocratic interests and their innumerable agents in the media, the academics, the professions, and of course the bought off and deeply corrupted political class. Now, let’s get something clear before we go on. Socialist nations, such as they existed, or struggle to exist, in the grip of longstanding grave and unremitting economic, military, and diplomatic hostility, have made mistakes, and miscalculations, and have even committed what many would call crimes, and this paper is not about denying that such mistakes were made, or that everything that ever happened under the label of “Socialism” was exempt from criticism. At this stage of moral and political human development, conflict between ideologies, errors are bound to exist, victims are bound to exist. But honesty requires us to look at the record (I can see already how all the foaming-at-the-mouth anticommunists will come crawling from all the habitual corners to sound off in this space about the huge crimes of “socialism” under Stalin, under Fidel Castro, under Mao, etc, etc. There’s no point in arguing with anti-communists, any more than you can argue with Christian fundamentalists, or Islamic fanatics, or any other form of non-rational dogma. Facts and proportion, let alone fairness, rarely penetrate such walls. So, let them say what they have to say, and let history decide the issue at some point.)
We said above that socialist states could indeed be accused of mistakes, of excesses, even of crimes. But the non-socialist nations—far more numerous, far richer, and far older, are guilty of countless more errors, and many, many more crimes, and yet no one (in our society) is clamoring from the highest propaganda pulpits to call them criminal, “unthinkable,” and beyond the pale. Why accept the charges of criminality at face value when it comes to socialism but refuse to hear the far richer indictment of capitalism?
So let’s go back to our clarification. When Socialists talk about abolishing “private property” they are referring to something entirely different than repossessing your home, apartment, clothing, furniture, and toothbrush, or, as so many capitalist propagandists have insinuated to alarm the public, “share your bed and wife.” Quite the contrary, socialists believe, at the core of their philosophy, that all people have a universal right to the factors of subsistence, dignified work, and unrestricted access to the best our collective human labor has to offer—first on the basis of useful labor contributed, and later, when abundance has been attained, on the basis of simple need. Why is that idea so alarming to so many?
Rather, when Socialists talk about abolishing “private property” what they are in fact referring to is “social private property”, which is really a technical term to define industries vital to our survival as a global community, not to mention everyday life. In a Socialist America, citizens would collectively produce goods and services in a rationally planned, democratic, and egalitarian fashion, in which everyone would enjoy equal access, such as we do now at the public library, public schools, social security, Medicare, the post office, the fire department, medical emergency rooms, and many other federal and municipal services, including the famous TVA (The Tennessee Valley Authority ( TVA) is a federally owned corporation in the United States created by congressional charter in May 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation , fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly hard hit by the Great Depression.—Eds.). All of these are in fact s socialist institutions and programs in our midst. Islands of socialism adrift in a vast ocean of capitalism, which continually threatens them with disappearance, or, as capitalist apologists prefer to put it, “privatization.”
(As Bush’s savage budgetary cuts have so clearly illustrated.) Do you tremble in fear when you approach a fireman? Or the local librarian? Would you like the emergency responders to ask about your insurance policy before rushing over to help you if stricken with a heart attack?
These aforementioned socialist services and institutions are operated for the safety and betterment of all humankind, and therefore are not run for the primary purpose of maximizing individual or shareholder profit, which is incorrectly argued by our treasured schools of thought as “the rational way to respond to human need (demand), and create a society of socially conscious citizens.”
It hasn’t worked so far. Our educational system doesn’t inspire a better world. Instead it sends us into a state of panic, and our parents into a state of mania so we can have attractive transcripts, so we may attend over priced prestigious schools, in the lust for stature logos in the form of high profile university window stickers, and therefore out do our graduating “peers ” and their parents, who we have already learned to distrust or dislike for any reason we can conjure up in our deconstructive minds, and who we have also learned to fear, and constantly compete with us since little league, and soccer practice.
Here’s Albert Einstein again, this time on our treasured capitalist learning/pruning centers:
“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow-men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.”
The American Socialist’s visions:
If a socialist revolution were to materialize in the United States, those who own vast portions of useful arid land, utility and energy companies, such as oil and gas, would have their companies nationalized, or confiscated, possibly indemnified depending on the historical context, and put under people’s democratic control. Its goods and services would thereby be distributed according to need and scarcity levels, which could be assessed by tons of newly employed peoples, who would be guaranteed a universal right to work—dignified work—and assured socio-economic existence, thereby making a better life for themselves, their families, their communities, country, and world. The logic is as simple as “you work for me”, and I “work for you”, or the age old maxim of “one hand washes the other, and both wash the face”, which translates into those dreaded words “communalism”, association, or teamwork, another equivalent for brotherhood and sisterhood in every neighborhood, and yes there is no “I” in team America.
As a result of unfettered and satisfying job creation we would probably see crime rates drop like never before, a tactic which would work much better than “zero tolerance” harassment tactics, tantamount to a creeping police state, one which imprisons in the “freest nation on earth” more citizens per capita than any other.
That may not sound like “efficiency” to some, but as I stated earlier, the private prison corporations are making a killing, and it’s an increasingly lucrative market. When was the last time we had acceptable employment and prosperity levels in America? When FDR made it happen, in the depths of the depression…and right after the Second World War, when the global ruination of manufacturing capacity in most former belligerent economic powers made America the sole seller of badly needed goods and services. For capitalism it took a war to do it. How fitting for capitalism to finally provide momentary full employment under the press of enormous human catastrophes precipitated by its own dynamic. Hence, yet again, the circular viral process reemerges, by feeding off it’s own disasters, the system inadvertently helped rescue itself from it’s own inherent contradictions, which eventually give rise to periodic clashes between nation states for new market ”opportunities”. If you don’t consider World War II a big enough disaster, then that choice is your own. Yet, keep in mind that the next world war will be fought with sticks stones, or so the saying goes.
In a rationally planned economy, the booms and busts of the Capitalist market (caused by wasteful, unplanned overproduction and its natural predecessor, under-consumption) would no longer dictate who would be hired or fired. In a Capitalist economy, when markets take downturns, waves of unemployment spread through every vein of society, particularly those most vulnerable to the erratic and unpredictable weather of the “free-market.” Therefore those without labor protections in place are hit the hardest, with no system in place to guarantee them work or safety from these periodic storms. In stark contrast, a robust Socialist constitution, unparalleled in its historical demands for true democracy, equality and liberty, would guarantee every citizen the right to dignified employment, thereby banishing this systemic insecurity intrinsic to Capitalist society.
Moreover, in a Socialist United States, where resources are beyond vast, and despite our numerous “functional illiterates,” more than sufficient people are literate, capable, and hard working, mass numbers of the otherwise unemployed, or sporadically employed, could always find truly productive work. In fact, with the astonishing destruction of the global environment new industries vital to our survival as a species (not to mention respect for the planet because it’s the right thing to do) need to be created, such as green energy jobs, related human services, myriad tasks in environmental conservation, sciences, the “new” medicine, the arts, and other positive fields of work, and, for reasons that should be plain by now to the reader, we would have to be delusional to think corporations are going to do the job. As George W. Bush stated in his greatest quote to date “fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me… [mind blank] you can’t get fooled again!”
As is widely known, in capitalist society many of our so-called needs are fabricated, hence the billions spent on advertising. Under socialism, there would no longer be a need to spend billions on advertising to sell people harmful products, and often useless or appallingly wasteful “things” like GM’s Hummer. The corporations are always mining the lowest common denominators of human sensibilities, including chauvinism, hyper egoism, competitiveness, and the commercial ethic, if we can call it that, as the main glue for the social fabric. Why do corporations appeal to such low level sensibilities? Because only people who posses such characteristics would be childish, and insecure enough, in light of the overwhelming evidence of how bad these vehicles are, to drive a Hummer (I’m not worried about alienating the Hummer crows from our cause, chances are, when push comes to shove, they will be playing for the other team, and already are). One day, hopefully sooner than later, all of this waste and nonsense will be a memory, and one that I would be happy to forget about very quickly, so we may actually enjoy life more than we are now.
Is socialism really something to fear so much then, as we have been taught to believe? Consider this: By abolishing private ownership of the means of production in society, by letting the actual producers, from engineers to shop floor workers, and the surrounding community, and the nation itself, become the new owners, you actually grant legal ownership to every person. There is a saying that when everyone is a bureaucrat then no one is a bureaucrat; well the same applies to socialism: when everyone is an owner then nobody is an owner, BUT, there’s a huge difference. The people now have gained control over their lives.
Meanwhile, as relates to personal property, the object of so much concern and malicious propaganda, individuals would own their homes, apartments, cars, clothing, and other private belongings as many of us do now, and these items would not and could not be shared, except as a free choice by each one of us, according to our own priorities and predilections.
In respect to our current “way of life”, has anyone ever asked himself or herself why they should have to work an entire lifetime to pay off a small house, student loan, artificially bloated health care bills and other miscellaneous debt? Why should our entire short existence on this planet be spent in a state of frequent fear of debt and insecurity, not to mention terribly unfulfilling jobs? How many times a day, week, or month does the thought cross your mind that if you were to somehow become disabled there might be no one to pay the mortgage or help take care of your loved ones?
America today, seems to put all of our faith in the private insurance industry that every last one of us knows is in the business of finding ways to deny our claims, while overcharging us. This is so well documented that that the industry accepts it as a fact and simply cynically concentrates on propping its two traditional pillars of support: an utterly bought off Congress and cynical public relations campaigns gladly disseminated by an equally evil media. Yet many of us go on accepting getting ripped off because we have been made afraid by the very same class of people to whom the alternative—socialism—is simply unthinkable.
For those wishing to learn the real facts about socialism and capitalism, I highly recommend reading Michael Parenti’s Black Shirts and Reds (among other titles he has authored) or listening to his lecture “Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism” (which can be found in the Cyrano’s audio archive). Most Leftists now turn to Noam Chomsky “by default” for theory and communist history. I don’t wish to close this essay by stirring up a brawl among progressives, or those who define themselves as on” the left,” but the sad truth is that Chomsky, his enormous contribution notwithstanding, is un unreliable guide to socialist theory, and writes little of value on the history of communist societies, other than invidious attacks against communists (”thugs who ride to power on the backs of the people”). Perhaps Noam is just yielding to an all too common liberal reflex to “balance” his criticism of capitalism, and bolster his image of impartiality with such inane attacks, but to date, he doesn’t dare lay a bad word on the door step of Cuba, or Fidel, or Che, although, as Michael Parenti has noted, Cuba is very much a Soviet styled economy.
America has the power, resources, and influence to usher in a new world and begin the arduous task of setting it on a new course by its sheer magnitude and plenty. If we pushed for a genuine disarmament and dismantlement of nuclear weapons, we might have a chance to get other nations to follow suit. If socialism should ever come to America—and I’m speaking here of real socialism, not social democracy—the rest of the world might follow its example like a set of dominos, with our nation this time, for once, on the side of the working masses. And, just as today the capitalists in power use American treasure and “shock and awe-ful” militarism to bolster and expand their corrupt sphere of influence, so would we use our national power, first of all through a new diplomacy and example to assist the birth of socialism and thereby accelerate the liberation of untold human beings, and nature itself, from an obsolete regime that serves the interests of neither.
Until that time, the United States plutocracy, these days spearheaded by the Neocon empire builders, will do everything in their power to smother socialism in the crib, which will, yes, inevitably lead to “socialism in one country”, a formation that has been incorrectly named “Stalinism”. Meantime, if a country of minor geo political importance should move toward socialism, I hope the American “left” (admittedly an almost impossible to define category) will refrain from leading the chorus of critics, as it often does. We should be ashamed of our arrogance and finger pointing at failed or flawed left experiments, being that we have achieved so little in the way of building socialism or even a tolerable bourgeois democracy here at home.
The primary problem of constructing true socialism doesn’t lie in Marxism, per se, or Marxist-Leninism, or pedagogy, or even on the state of the material forces of production, which are (to the delight of many Marxists), in today’s highly industrialized and technologically advanced world, as ripe as a soft avocado and therefore viable potential means to eradicate want. The problem lies in the American imperial capitalist nation destroying every revolution that dares to raise its head or assaulting any nation—of whatever political persuasion (Saddam was a rightwing nationalist and former ally)—that has the audacity to defy the great hegemon. These policies of course rest on the pervasive platform of anti-communism discussed earlier, a malicious ideology well watered for more than 100 years by innumerable instances of propaganda and history falsification issuing from thousands of assets in Western media, academia, the religious establishment, and the government.
These then are the expected obstacles rooted in logical upper class self interest. But there’s more to the problems we face and will continue to face. And those are more sordid as they are rooted in the treacherous, misguided or class collaborationist actions of those who should be our comrades in the struggle for a new society, but who much too often have done the bidding of the bourgeoisie and disgraced the ideals of socialism and the requisite unity of our ranks.
We are all familiar by now with the failure of the Social Democrats in most European nations during the run-up to World War I, critically so in Germany under the influence of Kautsky, a political tribe that could not tell the difference between patience and cowardice, and which ended up throwing its lot with the warmongering national chauvinist cliques, thereby serving the interests of the burgo-feudal establishment, and sending almost 40 million human beings to a premature grave.
That betrayal pretty much set the tone for the disgraceful role-played by many self-defined “progressives” ever since. In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and the hard period until the rise of Nazi Germany, Russia was left out to dry in the frozen tundra. A precious few helped, most liberals sat back and criticized, and when she finally confronted the Hitlerian juggernaut she was forced to fight a brutal war that cost more than 22 million casualties (more than the whole population of California).
At this historical juncture, humanity can’t tolerate another million lives lost in another senseless war for corporate profits; we simply no longer have the stomachs or patience for it– We are today above it as a world. From now on we keep track of every human life, so in the unfortunate (but highly possible) event we lose millions of more lives to senseless capitalist wars, those deaths won’t be in vain or evolve into another textbook statistic for kids to memorize for a silly test, but rather a cataclysmic tragedy of irreconcilable proportions, with impetus enough to ignite a world revolution which would put an end to this capitalist barbarism, once and for all.
If capitalism is truly the end of history, then as a species, we have truly failed. However, I don’t believe for a second that this is the case. Capitalism is not the end of history. Class society can be eradicated. As a result, we can pave the way for our greatest values fostered by moralist teachings, sponsored by our greatest philosophers and religious leaders, and practiced by good-hearted, hard working human beings, who can then finally live in a society free of exploitation, without the stain of class that has caused so many human calamities.
Paul Donovan is Cyrano’s Journal Online’s Assistant Editor.
by Joshua Frank
July 9th, 2007
Joe Bageant is author of Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War just published by Random House Crown. He recently spoke with DV co-editor Joshua Frank about his new book, religion, rednecks and what it’s like to serve beer to an underage horse.
Joshua Frank: So Joe, what the hell is going on with the redneck strain of the working class anyway? Why do they seem more apt to embrace evangelism rather than a labor union? Is it, as psychologists would say, learned helplessness, or worse, idiocy? Continue reading