A Non-partisan Political Commentary for Those Who Prefer To Think for Themselves
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Playing Political "Musical Chairs": Do We Understand What's Happening?
It seems that whenever some political issue makes the headlines, however briefly, there suddenly seems to be a proliferation of sites popping up with some outrageous claim about capitalist exploitation of the masses, or trying to equate socialism with communism. Invariably, there are the usual "harrumphs" from naive sheeple. Whenever some brave soul steps up to offer a point or two of clarification, these political zombies go into attack mode; which usually involves calling the hapless do-gooder all sorts of names (like the wannabe "intellectuals" they are) and making repeated attempts to ridicule the argument with warmed over tripe acquired from the pages of some populist partisan rag. When asked to explain their fanatic defenses, they tend to spew the same ole garbage, albeit slightly rephrased. In other words, these "walking dead" zealots seem to be simply latching on to anything which reaffirms their currently held beliefs, however wrong they may be.
So, with having gotten that off my chest, I am going to brave a walk through the minefield of political ignorance which seems to be so common these days (thank you public school systems for your spectacular achievement in dumbing down the quality of the American education). Of course, I speak of the general population which tends to get their news and from their opinions based on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts. Obviously I'm not talking about the readers of Another Opinion, who tend to be a questioning bunch when it comes to seeking out the facts, where ever that search may lead and who are unafraid to challenge authority (something I very much admire). With that, I am going to try and briefly explain the differences in political philosophy as concisely as possible. For some of you this may be remedial. For that I apologize. However, some---perhaps most---who just "assumed" the authors of those politically partisan sites were being honest, I hope this comes as a fresh breeze.
First, what is democracy? Quite simply, it's when the public come together and freely discuss topics of mutual concern, and once there is an agreement, decide what to do next such as appoint a committee, allocate money from the public treasury (which obviously also had to be previously discussed and agreed to). The notion of a democracy started with the Ancient Greeks (Athenians actually). In its original form, it didn't include certain groups such as women, slaves, criminals, non-citizens, or individuals under a certain age (in fact, the more authoritarian and militaristic Sparta afforded women in general more personal and political rights). Over time, a democracy became too complex and thus entered the republic, made famous by Rome.
The republic (from the Latin "res publica" meaning public matter) took the notion of a democracy and simplified it. Citizens would elect representatives to undertake the governance of society. In what some may have considered a mistake, they also gave them wide desecration over the treasury. The treasury would be maintained by mandatory taxes (again, the wisdom of this is still considered a bit "iffy"). Nevertheless, it allowed the People more time to tend to their personal business while their elected representatives ran the government. Overtime, this too became more complicated and it didn't take long for the servants to become the masters; usually humbled only during elections. A republic is possibly not the best form of government since often times the Will of the People is ignored in favor of a few wealthy and influential types, and costs are imposed on the citizenry without their consent (though nearly always with some concocted justification). However, when it does run smoothly, it's the best of the worst to represent the general interests of the People.
As for kingships and dictatorships, I'll just briefly touch on these since they don't really have much effect on us these days. Basically, the concept of kingships arose early after diverse populations of people came to live, work, and trade as a single group. To avoid attack or possible exploitation by other groups, an individual was chosen as the "protector" or king. His (or sometimes "her") role was to represent the people, including and especially, when it came to their defense and needs. Overtime, this role greatly expanded and in most cases, a religious element was introduced to make it appear that the king (or queen) was divinely chosen, and thus "rule by divine right" was born (during the same time, the priesthood also came about. It claimed that they alone understood the wishes of the gods. It wasn't long before the king and priesthood began to work in tandem to protect each other's interests). The upside was that kingships provided stability---politically and economically. The downside was little or no freedom. Nearly everything is scripted or controlled.
In a few cases, kingships became all powerful (ie: the Czar of Russia) while others were subject to the ruling nobles (thank you Magna Carta). Dictatorships aren't much different in principal. They usually come to power as a result of a real or manufactured crisis. Their rule tends to be more authoritarian and often without input from a legislative body (any input usually comes a small select group of "advisors" and/or "consultants" who owe their position---and life---to the thug-in-charge). In some cases, such as with less developed territories, tribal kings act as a dictator with absolute or near absolute control. As an aside, for most of our civilized existence, a kingship was the dominant form of government until the Enlightenment and Reformation periods which began to challenge absolute rule and the "divine right" of kings. So while it doesn't affect us much these days, it wasn't that long ago when it did (and both forms of governments still exist in some parts of the world).
Now, fast forward to the early 19th Century (when kingships were very much still in existence), and to a couple of Germans living in Westphalia. One was the descendant of a converted Jewish family (now Lutheran). The other was an agnostic Lutheran of middle class origin, whose family owned a successful cotton mill. Their names were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Together they challenged the entire social, political, and economic system of not just their time, but even down to ours with just two books, "Das Kapital" and "The Communist Manifesto".
Their philosophy would be called "Marxism". Their economic-political system was to be called "Communism". The name itself is derived from the concept of "community", came about as a result of Victor d'Hupay, a French Enlightenment philosopher of the 1790's, who drew on the notion of religious or "primitive" communism based on hunter-gatherer societies, the Essenes, and the early Christian movement. Additional ideas were drawn from several of the Utopian society which were popular in England and elsewhere (especially the Paris Commune of 1871).
The notion of "Communism" was the sharing of resources equally. The idea was that the State would control all means of production and distribution to contributing individuals on a "as needed" basis ("each according to their needs" as Marx wrote). In time, the State would simply dissolve from a lack of use or need. Once this occurred, people would exist in a "socialist" society (if this sounds a bit like the original Greek concept of "democracy", it's by no accident). The first so-called "communist state" was Russia. This came about in 1917, during the latter half of World War I. At the time, Russia was ruled by the last European absolute monarchy, Czar Nicholas II.
World War I, as many of you know, was started by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated the Hapsburg Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. As a result, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Serbia was a member, demand retribution. Serbia was unable (and unwilling) to comply. Thus, Austro-Hungary declared war on the tiny state. Serbia dusted off an old trade agreement it had with the Russian Empire, and requested Russia's assistance. As a result, the Habsburgs requested the assistance of the German/Prussian Empire based on its mutual assistance treaty. Although the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, didn't want a war and made several attempts to mediate a peace, posturing by Great Britain and France, which had a mutual assistance agreement with Russia, made war inevitable (plus there George V of England and Kaiser Wilhelm II had a macho thing going on between them, and Germany had militarily humiliated France in 1871. So, France was looking to get even. Additionally, this could also be called a family feud since Czar Nicholas, King George V, and Kaiser Wilhelm were all cousins; descended from Queen Victoria).
Many, especially among the ruling elites, felt that any war would be relatively brief--six weeks---and might actually be beneficial like "letting off steam of a boiling pot". What happened was more like Europe falling into Hell. Russia was far from prepared economically, militarily, or politically and was thoroughly devastated. In February 1917, the Czar was peacefully overthrown and a democratic republic was installed under Alexander Kerensky. His insistence in remaining in the war led to his undoing, and in October, he was overthrown by the Lenin's Bolsheviks, who installed what he called a "communist" government.
For Lenin, trying to achieve power proved to be easier than obtaining it. Lenin had intended to make government all but obsolete---"the size of a local post office". However, the economy collapsed and the country fractured. There followed a bloody two year civil war. Millions died. Lenin's measures were too draconian. In the end, he modified the political-economic situation with NEP--the New Economic Program--which allowed for moderate capitalism. Things improved. But then Lenin died. After a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin obtained power, and the political-social-economic form of government we think of as "Communism" was born.
Stalin reversed Lenin's NEP, implemented collectivization of farms, revoked land reforms, imposed a harsh authoritarian police state, enforced by mass executions, starvation, and a horrific system of prisons known as the "Gulag". Under Stalin, the state owned and controlled everything. Everyone worked for the state. Industry was owned by the state. Unions and worker committees (soviets), which Lenin believed were essential, were outlawed unless sanctioned by the state---namely Stalin. This then is what we think of when someone mentions "Communism"; not the Marx version, or Lenin's ideal, but Stalin's Hell on earth.
Socialism, or more properly, democratic socialism, is a admixture of socialism and a democratic republic. In theory, it means that the people own the means of production and distribution. How a factory or business is operated would be determined by its employees. Think of it in terms of ESOPs---employee stock ownership plan, or employee owned businesses, credit unions, worker run unions, etc. The government's function is solely to make life easier for its citizens. To do this, there is often high taxation. However, with it, nearly everything is either free to all or subsidized for all, so all benefit.
Democratic Socialism has been highly popular in Scandinavia for decades. Germany and the Lowlands have a version of it. Many in this country have called it a failure, which couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, it's been extremely successful. What may be deemed a "failure" has been the mass influx of migrants who don't share the same work ethic or values of their host. Rather than work and contribute in order that everyone benefits, they simply draw from the system, which has caused a great economic and political strain.
Lastly, let's talk about Oligarchy. While not a distinct economic form, its effect has a strong bearing on the economy. Oligarchies have existed periodically throughout history, but almost always under a democracy or a republic. An Oligarchy is where a small group or clique assume near absolute control over the political system of a nation and through it, control the economy to its advantage. Sometimes this is referred to as a plutocracy which means "rule by the rich". It is through an Oligarchy that Fascism occurs. Fascism is a "partnership" between rich powerful corporations (or individuals) and the government (its founder, Benito Mussolini, said that Fascism could more accurately be called "corporatism").
Under Fascism, it doesn't matter which is the dominant "partner". Fascism occurs when there is a loss of economic balance between the poor, the Middle Class, and the Upper Class; specifically in the ownership of wealth and the control of governmental power. With fascism, you tend to see a decline in the Middle Class, growth of the poor, more government control, an increase in surveillance/police state tendencies, manipulative control of the media/increase in propaganda and efforts to restrict alternative news sources, more wars/conflicts over assets and resources, attempts to divide the population for better control, increase in taxes, two-tier legal system, decline in unions and employee influence, more corporate influence over government or usurping government power. Any of that sound familiar?
Hopefully, this will help explain the differences between various types of government systems. I also hope too that it will keep you from being confused or misled by those who are operating from their own agendas. I seek simply to clarify. Of course, if you follow Another Opinion or my frequent posts on the various social media sites, you already know that America is a de facto Oligarchy. We are on the fast track toward fascism, whether you call it "Left Fascism" or "Right Fascism", the end result is the same. However, one thing is for certain---it's not democratic socialism. In truth, we have one political party---the Corporate/Fascist Party, which has two wings; pick either one you want. Red Kool-Aid or blue Kool-Aid, the results are the same unless you put the cup down and back away. Think for yourself. Always question.