Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Category: Fascism

Crisis of Capitalism 3: They Can’t Give Enough Of Us Good Jobs

I’m not an economist. I’m a social worker, which means I interact with a lot of systems. I know a little about a lot of systems, and a lot about a few. Economics is one of the ones I don’t know much about.

But it doesn’t take a specialist to know that we just had a recession more painful to so many more than at any time since the Great Depression. You don’t have to be an economics professor to know that, despite statistics citing employment growth since the depths of the recession, the jobs a lot of our fellow and sister workers now have are more unstable and pay less than what they had before the Great Recession.

This is another circumstance that points to the growing crisis of capitalism.  One of the mainstays of the growth of multinational (imperialist) capital in the 20th century was its ability to reward the working class in advanced industrial countries well enough to keep them as placid collaborators in their own gilded prisons.

They no longer can. Those jobs didn’t just go overseas. Those jobs are gone. People making cars in China aren’t getting what UAW members made during the 50’s and 60’s.

The charade that the Trump sector of the bourgeoisie is playing pretends that those jobs could come back. Trump and his coterie will fail at restoring that kind of prosperity to American workers. This is not just because they will make more money if they keep the jobs overseas, but because they can’t. Conditions have changed. It’s not the America, or the world, that made auto plants in Detroit, or steel mills in Pittsburgh, the cornucopia they once were.

This is one direction the crisis of capitalism is headed to. They are increasingly unable to buy us off.  It’s the inherent nature of capitalism to concentrate money and power among fewer hands. It doesn’t matter if some of the rich might be nice people who want to do kind things. The system will operate the way it’s designed to.

They used to be able to rely on the military to keep the profits rolling in. All those bombs and tanks, the food and fuel and other logistical necessities that keep them going, all of that is expendable. You don’t even have to do the hard work of developing markets. Wars burn up vast quantities of goods by their very nature. Re-building after a war used to be pretty good business, too. The Marshall Plan was as much a boon for the American economy as it was for war-torn Europe.

But a war here and there isn’t getting it any more. America has been at war in the Middle East since 2001. We’ve spent $5 trillion on war since 9/11. That doesn’t count the indirect costs, such as providing medical care and other benefits for veterans. If you add that in, the cost of war since 2001 is much higher. If this money were spent on infrastructure and education, it would provide a permanent benefit rather than going up in smoke. Endless war is still not enough to prop up the economy to be like it was in the post-World War II years.

We are not more secure as a result, either. The Middle East is more destabilized than it was prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The rise of ISIS is only one evidence of this. Our drone wars and other activities are creating new enemies all the time.

What will the oligarchs do to keep their profits and powerful positions? They will have to come up with new military expenses. They will have to develop new markets (gets harder all the time, with the globalization of the economy having progressed as far as it has.) They will have to tap natural resources in ways that costs less money (which means risk to the ecology; environmental safeguards cost money.) They will have to invest in financial “products”, like the sup-prime mortgage bubble that had such an effect on the 2008 crash, or relax regulations on old ones.

These things work, until they don’t. Bubbles burst. Wars wind down (even the endless war in the Middle East saw Obama withdraw troops from Iraq.) Markets are saturated. And then another crash occurs, and it takes us all down with it, not just the people who have gained the most from it.

These boom-and-bust cycles will always exist so long as our dominant economic paradigm is capitalism. It’s inherent in the system. The crisis of capitalism is a structural feature. I’m just saying I see the current crisis building up in these examples I’m sharing.

When they can keep us happy with good jobs and plentiful, affordable goods, it makes their job a lot easier. If we’re making enough that we can put some by for a rainy day, then it makes the boom-and-bust cycle easier for most of us. (Not for the more vulnerable among us, such as black youth and rural whites, and women in general.)

But we’re not getting that kind of money this time around. The recovery from the last recession has not been the tide that floats all boats, as the old saying goes. Even a minor recession will hit the working class very hard this time because the margin is so slim already between making it and not making it. This is why we need an economic system that puts people ahead of profits. There is enough wealth in this system to keep everyone out of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and sickness, if it weren’t all going to the 1%.

 

How to Fight Fascism Intelligently

I follow Benjamin Studebaker’s blog because he is intelligent, well-informed, well-spoken, and beholden to nobody. He’s not trying to push some sectarian agenda, he’s mostly interested in telling the truth as best he can. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but his facts are always interesting, pertinent, and useful. He brings a sense of history and clarity to what he writes.

In this blog, he discusses how errors by progressives can actually feed into making the fascists stronger, which is important to know as we go into this fight with fascism.

Here’s where I disagree with him in this blog: I think he’s being somewhat provocative, maybe on purpose, in the way he chooses to state his conclusions.

Early on, he makes it clear that he is opposed to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., and having been a reader of his for some while, I can attest to this. Where he makes his mistake IMO is in saying that, in order to not drive white males into the arms of the fascists (and let’s be clear, white males are the principal breeding ground for fascism and that needs to be acknowledged openly), that when dealing with issues of race, sexism etc. we should show white males conspicuous respect, we should support policies that will benefit white males, and so forth.

Here’s my problem: in his usual effort to be non-sectarian, bravo for that, he has avoided stating the obvious: It’s not about white males. It’s about the working class, of which white males certainly are one component. If you read through his 3 conclusions, and substitute “working people” for white males, then it would be pretty much right on the bull’s eye. So, for instance, the first sentence in the first conclusion might look like this: “Always treat poor and working people with respect.” The reality of intersectionality is that what binds us all together, regardless of particular circumstance such as sexual orientation or ethnic origin, is that we are all part of the 99%. The bourgeoisie uses all of those differences in identity to divide us from each other in a very effective divide and conquer strategy. Look how the Trump campaign has used this technique to set one part of the working class against others, in order to gain power.

Neither Studebaker nor I are saying that these identity issues are not important. Honestly, they are all very important, and not just to those whose identity they are. For any of us to be free, we must all be free. And for us all to be free, exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie has to come to an end.

If we do what’s right for the working class as a whole, no one will be left out, white males included. And those who experience particular persecution because of who they are, who they love, the color of their skin or what their faith may be will stand to gain the most if we all stand together for each other.

Benjamin Studebaker

President Trump was inaugurated Friday, and a lot of people are understandably upset. Many want to do something about this. This is a good and noble impulse, but I fear in our efforts to fight right nationalism we will instead end up its handmaidens. Let me show you what I mean.

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Women’s March January 21, 2017

Bonnie and I went to the local march today. Several hundred people had gathered in Union Point Park; not bad for a small Southern town of 25,000 people. Black, white and Hispanic, old and young (very young), female and male. Had some speeches, some of them pretty stirring, and then marched off to the federal courthouse for some more speeches. Originally the plan was to march to the county courthouse, but it wasn’t enough space for the numbers that showed up so they had to change. Now, that’s cool.

It was good to see so many folks I know among the crowd. The mood was not somber! People looked determined, but there were also a lot of smiles and high fives going around.

This is why we went. Going into the Trump era knowing we are not alone, knowing that there are others right here in our home community who are ready to stand up, to resist, to fight for each other.

And then we got home and started looking at all the news reports from around the country and the world. Photos that friends in many cities put up on Facebook. Videos of people marching. One friend took a photo in Greensboro, NC, as the march went past the Woolworth’s where a famous lunch counter sit-in took place back in 1960 (now home of the International Civil Rights Museum.) Now that ties things together, doesn’t it?

And the numbers kept rolling in. Half a million in DC. 150,00 in Chicago — no, wait, it’s up to 250,000. 100,00 in LA. 200,000 in New York City. 100,000 in Denver. 75-100,000 in Madison, Wisconsin. 50,00 in Philly. 35,000 in Austin, Texas. London. Berlin. Paris. Sydney. Cape Town. Vienna. 30 people in Antarctica. Antarctica!

I’ve been to a lot of demonstrations, from my first small local Moratorium on the War in Vietnam in October, 1968, to Solidarity Day in 1982, and the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington (“I Have a Dream.”) Some of them were huge, hundreds of thousands of people. But I’ve never seen anything like this.

There’s been a lot of despair floating around since the Trump Gang won the election in November. I’m glad to say, although I have moments of thinking I’ll wake up and it will be over, I have not given into hopelessness. From election night on, I’ve been saying, paraphrasing IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, “Don’t Despair, Organize!”

But I get it. I know why people have felt scared and hopeless and alone.

Not today. No one had to be scared, there were too many of us. No one had to feel hopeless; the determination was palpable. And we were not alone. Not with millions around the world turning out on the streets in solidarity.

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Crisis of Capitalism Accelerating  

​ABC News has a story they just posted about US troops moving in force into Polsnd. 

Why is Obama provoking Russia? Moving US troops into a former Warsaw Pact country can only be seen as an incitement of some kind.

This isn’t war games or maneuvers. Whatever the military reason may be, it’s yet another sign of the deepening crisis of capitalism, which is accelerating. If something isn’t structurally out of whack in a big way yet, events are pushing in that direction.

Could be an outbreak in the Middle East, and they’re moving to secure Europe before it happens. Could be the next stock market crash, and military action is always good for shoring up a faltering economy.

I don’t tend to be alarmist, but I see a lot of events piling up. Electing a fascist as US president. Both major US parties having serious internal problems at the same time. Power grab in the NC legislature. Anti-worker laws being passed in the Kentucky legislature. Right wing movements gaining strength in Europe. And so on.

The people united will never be defeated  – el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. If the working class doesn’t sort this out, there will be hell to pay.

I would like to be wrong. I’m not 100% sure I’m right. This is the way it’s looking today. 

Fascism and the New American Caesar

There’s a lot of loose talk during an election year, especially one as heated as 2016. Not that we haven’t seen heat before. The Bush years were full of a blind invective from the Left. Bush Derangement Syndrome, I heard it called. If he had gone back to drinking, many would have criticized his choice of hooch.

Then there are the slurs that the booboisie has flung at Obama. Just as deranged, and made more despicable by the racism they just have to add.

This kind of thing goes back to the beginning of the Republic. In 1800, old friends Jefferson and Adams squared off for the Presidency.

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson’s camp accused President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” — Kerwin Swint, Mental Floss

This is far from pristine, principled discussions of issues!

It’s the issues that count the most, when the campaign’s over and someone has to govern. As much as possible, I try to keep things on that level. I avoid the simplistic characterization, the ad hominem attack, and the dumbing-down of important policy distinctions.

Most of all, I dislike hyperbole. I’m a staunch supporter of the frame of mind implicit in Godwin’s Law (1990): “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1.” French author François de Smet refers to this as the “Reductio ad Hitlerum.”

There’s a corollary to the law, that says that whoever mentions Hitler or the Nazis first, loses the argument.

So far this year I’ve been avoiding using the term “fascism” to describe Donald Trump, for all the above reasons. But I’ve been studying fascism, too, because the parallels are too strong to ignore.

There is a time and place for everything. We can’t take this comparison off the table. Mike Godwin himself has said, “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.”

There are Nazis, and they are dead serious about it. And then there are those who are not Nazis, but who have fascist tendencies. They can be more dangerous than the out-and-out Nazis. First, they’re more numerous. Second, they’re not as obvious. I believe Trump falls into the latter category.

Let’s take a moment to describe fascism, so we’re all on the same page.

Robert O. Paxton defines fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a massed-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” [quoted in Fascism: The Ultimate Definition]

All of these elements can be seen in play in the Trump campaign.

“Obsessive preoccupation with community decline”: The very slogan “Make America Great Again” presumes that America, once great, currently is not.

“Humiliation or victimhood”: “When Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and initially refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, he offered voters a toxic mixture of victimhood and pugilistic rhetoric tinged with nostalgia for a violent, unapologetically racist past.”— Gunter Peck, Salon

“Compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity”: Jesse Graham, associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, remarked “More than any other Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump has been appealing to a particular combination of in-group loyalty and moral purity concerns. On the purity side, he often expresses disgust, often toward women and women’s bodies (e.g., Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate). But his purity appeals are most commonly in the context of group boundaries, like building walls on our national borders to prevent contamination by outsiders, who are cast as murderers and rapists, both morally and physically dirty.” – (quoted by Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times)

“Mass-based party of committed nationalist militants”: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” [Donald Trump, quoted in The Guardian] Sadly, this seems to be pretty much true. If that’s not committed, what is? And as to the militant part, I give you this. And this. It’s not Kristallnacht by any stretch of the imagination, and no one suggested that Trump is organizing Brown Shirts, but there’s no question that the raw material is there.

“Uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites”: Did you hear Paul Ryan’s speech? Uneasy collaboration is a pretty good description. We’ll see about the effective part.

“Abandons democratic liberties”: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” (Donald Trump, quoted by Hadas Gold on Politico.)

“Pursues with redemptive violence”: There’s no way for Trump to carry out his plans to build walls, deport millions, ban Muslims, etc. without violence ensuing. And clearly he sees these plans as redemptive, making America great again.

“Without ethical or legal restraints”: Trump talks about doing many things without reference to how the Congress or judiciary would be involved. It’s as though he thinks that, with the stroke of a pen, he’ll be able to put all these ideas into action.

“Goals of internal cleansing”: the well-known wall, deportations, of course. He has also said he would consider tracking Muslims, perhaps with a form of religious identification. New moons sewn on their clothing? I know: Godwin’s Law. But the specific form of religious identification doesn’t matter; it’s despicable just that it would even be considered.

“External expansion”: no specific plans that I’ve seen. The age of colonialism is over, so there’s that. Economic expansion is another thing though. Trump is a businessman, and had made a major part of his appeal that he will create jobs. This suggests that some kind of corporate imperialism is on the agenda.

Brian Anesi notes some other characteristics of countries in which fascism has taken hold. Among them:

1. Polarization and deadlock: “In all cases where fascism was successful, its rise was preceded by a period of political polarization and parliamentary deadlock.” Case in point: Merrick Garland.

2. The political stance is poorly defined: “Fascist ideology was vague and protean. This is a source of endless frustration to those who expect to find a coherent definition of fascism in the writings of party ‘philosophers’. But it reflects nothing more than fascism’s pragmatic approach to attaining its goals and its unwillingness to be bound (like its predecessors) to failed dogmas. Like all popular movements, fascism tried to encapsulate ideology in terse slogans – ‘Believe, Obey, Fight’, ‘Strength through joy’, ‘Work makes you free.’  Or, as we’ve heard so often, Make America Great Again.

3. Emotionally appealing: “It is commonly observed that fascism was more a matter of the gut than of the head. Clearly those who joined fascist parties often did so from shrewd self-interest, but the same could be said of those who join any party. It was the emotional appeal of fascism – the notion that through sheer hope and force of will difficult and long-standing problems could easily be resolved – that set it apart. Triumph of the Will. This idea of course was not new and is still popular.” Trump is making a patently emotional appeal. Now, we know he has lots of good words, but primarily he is connecting to people through gut instincts. Fear, self preservation, anger.

4. Intolerance for dissent: “It would be trivial to observe that since the fascist model required individuals to serve the nation-state as the embodiment of the popular will, and subordinate their interests to it, dissent would be unthinkable for any true believer. A stronger reason for suppressing dissent can be found in the emotional characteristics of fascism. Accepting that ideas firmly held become reality, a dissenter imperiled the collective spell, and dissent was seen as a species of malefic witchcraft.” Even the stodgiest of media outlets – U.S. News – raises concerns about Trump on this issue.

In researching this essay, I found that all of a sudden, over the last week to 10 days, the number of respected journals that have identified Trump with fascism has exploded. When I first started writing it, it was hard to come up with enough varied resources that I wasn’t just repeating the same authors over and over. Now, there are so many, it became a major investment of time to read them all thoroughly in order to pick the sources I wanted to use.

We are at a crossroads. This is not exaggeration. Every country that has been taken over by an autocratic leader, be it Franco or Putin or Pinochet or Stalin, has found that once its democratic tradition has been destroyed, it is very hard to go back again. We must not let that disaster befall the USA.

It’s not enough for people to the left of Hillary Clinton, such as the millions who Bernie Sanders inspired with a vision for 21st century socialism, to stand up against the threat posed by the rise of this new American Caesar. As a lifelong socialist, I’d like to end with a high-falutin call to progressive ideals. Right now, that has to wait. What is most important now is for independent voters, who are the great majority, and for moderates in the shards of the Republican Party after it sold out to Trump, to set aside their differences and defeat him and all the people in Senate, Congressional, and statehouse races who are aligned with him. Having saved our nation, then we can go back to the usual arguments over policy.

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