Lest We Forget: A Look Back at the 2016 Primaries

The World Today: False Choices – US Primaries 2016

Telesur (2016)

Film Review

This 2016 program was first broadcast the day after Super Tuesday, in which Bernie Sanders was the clear winner in three states. The documentary provides important perspective for the upcoming 2020 primares. In it, British historian and activist Tariq Ali interviews Liza Featherstone, author of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton. The latter is a collection of essays by left-leaning feminists.

Featherstone brands Clinton as an “elite” feminist – in contrast to “true” feminists, who are antiwar, anti-imperialist and and anti-racist. Featherstone also brands Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright as elite feminists, for publicly belittling young women for supporting Bernie Sanders. A massive backlash would force both women to apologize.

Both and Ali and Featherstone agree on Sanders and Trump being protest candidates against a corrupt political establishment. Neither can see much difference between Clinton and the Bushes, given they all support the same neoconservative wars of empire. Ali highlights Clinton’s deliberate vote seeking among moderate Republicans, abandoning working class voters (eventually labeling them “deplorables”) comprising the traditional Democratic Party base prior to 1980.

Ali also reminds us that Sanders is the first socialist US presidential candidate in over 100 years. He attributes the allure of socialism for US youth to post-Cold War childhood free of constant anti-communist propagandizing. He gives the example of the election of socialist Kshama Savant to the Seattle City Council in 2013 and 2015 (she was just re-elected in November 2019).

Both Ali and Featherstone correctly predict that Trump will win the Republican nomination. They erroneously predict Clinton winning the presidency.

 

Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism – Michael Parenti

Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism

Michael Parenti (2009)

Michael Parenti maintains that the Soviet Union didn’t collapse of its own accord in 1991 – that it was overthrown by the US and their allies.  He details the US-backed coup undertaken by Boris Yeltsin’s in 1993 when the Russian parliament refused to approve his extreme market-based reforms. Parenti also discusses the extreme misery Wall Street elites and the State Department inflicted on the Russian people in the effort (prior to Putin’s rise to power) to transform their country into a third world sweatshop. He highlights the massive increase in gang inequality and crime, and the increase in gender inequality (as the right to maternity leave, day care, divorce and abortion were stripped from the Russian constitution), sexual harassment, domestic violence and murder of women by their husbands.

The US Left’s Virulent Anticommunism

Parenti freely acknowledges that Soviet citizens sacrificed civil liberties for economic democracy, ie a society in which all citizens are  lifted out of poverty and enjoy free health care and education, subsidized housing and public transport and an absolute guarantee against brutal exploitation. He contrasts this with life in the US, where working people enjoy neither economic democracy nor civil liberties. He’s also scathingly critical of the American left (he mentions Noam Chomsky by name), which is much more virulently anti-communist than their right wing counterparts.

He goes on to detail serious weaknesses of the Soviet system, which he believes contributed to its demise. Overall he feels the Soviet economic system suffered from an absence of independent analysis. While Karl Marx offers a thorough critique of capitalism, he has no counterpart to critique the socialist/communist model.

The Human Nature Debate

Where Parenti and I part company is is contention that “pure socialism” (ie total abolition of the state) is impossible. He makes the argument that if workers run everything, it’s impossible to accumulate enough surplus value to finance an army to 1) to break the stranglehold of the capitalist class and 2) to defend against counter-revolution. He also maintains a state is necessary to protect against the greedy, acquisitive nature of human beings.

These views are also contradicted by decades of sociological research that human beings (like all primates) are hard wired to be social animals and naturally inclined towards cooperation and interdependence (see Human Nature: Cultural or Genetic). There is also strong evidence that much of the greed and antisocial behavior that characterizes the capitalist system stems from traumatic child rearing styles.

The US Taboo Against Socialism

America’s Unofficial Religion: the War on an Idea

Abby Martin (Empire Files) 2015

Film Review

America’s Unofficial Religion is a documentary about the origin of the American taboo against socialism.

At present, the US is the only western democracy without a prominent socialist party. This hasn’t always been the case. A powerful socialist movement arose alongside the progressive, populist and union movements of the late 19th century. All were a reaction to the brutal industrial oppression that characterized this period.

In 1912, the US had 13 socialist newspapers, 12 socialist monthlies and 57 socialist mayors 23 cities. Socialist Eugene Debs campaigned for president that year and won 6% of the popular vote (at a time when women and blacks were barred from voting).

Concerned about the detrimental effect of strong mass organizing on profits, the corporate elite leaned on president Woodrow Wilson to pass two laws – the Espionage Act, which criminalized dissent, and the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to oppose US involvement in World War I. Following passage of the Sedition Act, Eugene Debs was arrested for making an anti-war speech and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Wilson administration also imprisoned more than 90 International Workers of the World (IWW)* leaders, in addition to sanctioning the murder of IWW members by Pinkerton’s guards and organized lynch mobs.

US Organizing and Strikes in Response to Bolshevik Revolution

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would inspire a wave of organizing and strike activity in the US, leading one in five American workers to go out on strike in 1919.

Wilson responded by authorizing Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J Edgar Hoover to launch the Palmer Raids, arresting more than 10,000 suspected socialist and communists and deporting thousands more.

In the 1930s, the cruel economic conditions of the Great Depression led to an enormous upsurge in mass organizing. Many historians argue that Roosevelt had no choice but to bring in sweeping New Deal legislation to prevent a socialist revolution.

Taft Hartley, HUAC and Cointelpro

Following World War II, during which US unions won major concessions, a Republican Congress passed the Taft Hartley Act, which made it illegal for union members to be socialists or communists (in 1945, roughly half the union leadership was socialist) and the Smith Act, which made Communist Party membership Illegal.

The enactment of these laws was accompanied by aggressive activity in the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). During the fifties many HUAC subpoenaed Hollywood actors, directors and producers – as well as teachers and college professors. Many were permanently blacklisted from working on the mere suspicion of socialist/communist sympathies.

In 1956 Hoover, a rabid anti-communist, would launch Cointelpro, a program conducting massive illegal surveillance, infiltration and sabotage of civil rights groups and other social change organization. Cointelpro also carried out clandestine assassinations and false imprisonment of numerous black liberation leaders, many of whom are still in prison.


*The International Workers of the World (IWW) is international labor union started in 1905 that has strong ties both to socialism and to anarchism.

The Truth Behind Crapitalism*

The Truth Behind Capitalism

Truth Behind Politics UK (2015)

Film Review

The Truth Behind Capitalism examines the current demonization of “socialism” in the mainstream media and the corporate interests who drive it. It begins by exploring growing interest in Marxism stemming from the obvious failure of capitalism to cope with the 2008 economic collapse. It also attempts to correct the popular misconception that Karl Marx was responsible for the totalitarian dictatorship that developed in the former Soviet Union. About half the film is devoted to three century battle against central banks and the privilege governments grant them to create debt-based money out of thin air. It incorporates lengthy segments from Inside Job, an excellent 2010 documentary narrated by Matt Damon.

The filmmakers, who describe Marx as a sociologist, philosopher and student of capitalism, maintain his central concern was capitalism’s use of exploitation and oppression to keep poor people poor. Oversimplifying considerably, they summarize his ideal society as one run by workers themselves through a combination of worker cooperatives and state owned enterprises.

The film ends with examples from all over the world – including the 2008 Iceland revolution, the Occupy movement and the rise of Syriza in Greece – of working people organizing to strip private banks of the control they exert over our lives.


*Crapitalism (def): an economic system that treats ordinary people like crap. See A Mini-Dictionary of Neoliberalism

A Film About Economic Democracy

Can We Do It Ourselves? A Film About Economic Democracy

Patrick Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, Andre Nystrom and Nils Safstrom (2015)

Swedish with English subtitles

Film Review

“Economy democracy” describes a system in which workers control the workplace and determine the policies under which it runs. The workers cooperative is the best known model of economic democracy.

The filmmakers begin by differentiating capitalism from a free market economy and economic democracy from socialism – as many people confuse these terms. Under capitalism private capitalists own the capital to run a business and enter into a rental contract with workers to perform the labor. Under this system the capitalists own and control the business and keep all the profits.

With a worker cooperative, workers own and control the business and enter into a rental contract with labor to provide capital. They pay the capitalists for using their money but maintain ownership of the business and control of production. They also decide how profits will be distributed.

Under socialism, the capital is “socialized.” Theoretically this means workers own an equal share of the entire economy. In practice, this has generally translated into state control of the workplace, as opposed to worker control.

This film focuses on the day-to-day operation of two 30-year-old American cooperatives. The first is Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange, founded in 1986. The second is New York-based Cooperative Home Care Associates. The latter was founded in 1985 and has 2,300 member-employees.

The filmmakers also interview various academics, activists, business leaders and trade unions officials regarding their research and experience with cooperatives.

The part of the film I found most interesting was an analysis of how monopoly capitalism distorts the free market. Our present economic system actually consists of three markets: the consumer (goods and services) market, the labor market and the capital market. Only the consumer market operates democratically, in being driven by consumer choice. The goal of economy democracy is to democratize the labor and capital markets, which are controlled at present controlled by a tiny capitalist elite.

Because workers have virtually no say into their work and receive minimal direct benefit from it, capitalists must use the fear of being fired to force them to work. This is only possible in economies with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Historically the corporate elites have deliberately manipulated monetary and fiscal policy to keep unemployment rates high.

Once workers own and run their own companies, unemployment and poverty are no longer necessary to motivate them. Thus full employment is one of the most important benefits of economic democracy.