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Obama vs. Marx
March 22, 2009 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Despite The Republican Talking Points, There's A Difference Between Obama And Marx: One Of Them's Not A Socialist. [Via]
posted by homunculus (155 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hitchens: The Revenge of Karl Marx
posted by homunculus at 9:14 PM on March 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am thirtyseven years old.

I have heard the word "socialism" invoked more times in American political discourse in the last three months than I have in the previous thirtyseven-odd years.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:25 PM on March 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


The political right, under whose stewardship we've been led into this current crisis, who have failed in an unprecedented way unknown to recent memory, whose leadership is in shambles, and who don't have a single good idea that hasn't been clearly refuted by history are resorting to name-calling and calumny. That's what this socialism thing is all about, a kind of neo-McCarthyism. That's their contribution to the great challenges that face us. It's shameful really.
posted by mert at 9:46 PM on March 22, 2009 [53 favorites]


The word "socialism" in American political discourse has come to mean "whatever the right hates."
posted by JHarris at 9:48 PM on March 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


Yea, I'm not exactly clear what the republicans are trying for. In the 40s and 50s and up until the collapse of the soviet union it made sense (I guess) to argue about communism. But why are people so afraid of socialism. I mean, the republicans big boogy man is that we might end up like Western Europe!!!!! What the fuck is wrong with Western Europe? The whole thing is so bizzare.

Anyway, the TNR article seems to be using an, well, misleading definition of "liberal", he's talking about classical liberalism, which was first in opposition to kings and whatnot. The world "liberal" has been used for so many different things, by people who used the label for themselves and their opponents. I can simply mean democracy and capitalism, which is why you saw those neo-cons talk about establishing "liberal democracy" in the middle east.

When you talk about "Liberalism" in the U.S. you're mainly talking about the Kennedy/Johnson "Great Society" and of course the FDR style New Deal policies. Which are actually somewhat more socialist then classical liberalism. Compare that to the "liberal" party in Australia, which is actually the right-wing party of John Howard.
posted by delmoi at 9:49 PM on March 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Amazing how conservatives equate government spending with socialism. By that logic, Reagan was a pinko in drag considering his orgiastic defence spending. If anything, state capitalism is a more apt descriptor of our times.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 9:50 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Socialism is any expense of taxes I don't approve of.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:51 PM on March 22, 2009 [9 favorites]


S.O.C.I.A.
L.I.S.M is here to stay
S.O.C.I.A.
L.I.S.M is the only way
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:58 PM on March 22, 2009


Yea, I'm not exactly clear what the republicans are trying for

Over the last decade or so the republicans, for all their faults and failings, have kicked all comers in the field of debate framing. That is what this is all about. Sure they'll look silly, and get ridiculed, and their arguments will be held up to the light and found wanting, but at the end of it all even their fiercest opponents will come to see the debate in a frame of reference the republicans have defined.

That's what it's all about. It'll probably work too.
posted by pompomtom at 10:00 PM on March 22, 2009 [23 favorites]


What a retarded article. "Obama is only moving the system significantly more socialist at the margins, while a true Scotsman Socialist would be making radical changes."
posted by FuManchu at 10:02 PM on March 22, 2009


pompomtom, I think the biggest danger for them is that they have a marked tendency to fuck up monumentally, to the point that their carefully framed debate ends up convincing a majority of people that maybe the demonized-thing-of-the-week would be a GOOD idea.
posted by verb at 10:02 PM on March 22, 2009


Socialism doesn't have to be radical or sudden. Socialism by slow, consensual reform is called Fabianism (or was, until that term was dragged into the mire by the British Labour party).
posted by WPW at 10:08 PM on March 22, 2009


Hey, give the man some credit; it's pretty tough to be a Socialist and an élitist.

(I keed, I keed.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 PM on March 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


C'mon, let me hear that dirty word.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:17 PM on March 22, 2009


convincing a majority of people that maybe the demonized-thing-of-the-week would be a GOOD idea.


Oh, quite possibly... but that majority have still followed the red herring and are not considering whatever other significant issues from whcih that framing has distracted everybody's attention.

With some handy context: If everyone's discussing whether or not bailouts are socialism, and end up deciding that the repubs are idiots, and it's about time for a bit of socialism, no-one's discussing the fact that it's the repubs favourite class of people who are, in an apparent downturn, lining their pockets with bajillions of future taxpayers dollars, and how nobody seems to be going to prison. Because, of course, no-one's talking about that, they're talking about the big issue of the day, which is whether or not to apply this particular (pointless, handily pre-demonised) label.
posted by pompomtom at 10:18 PM on March 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Socialism is any expense of taxes I don't approve of.

I know, you're joking, but that's more or less the exact opposite of what Socialism actually is. Like, let's take a ridiculously hypothetical situation, such as, oh, I don't know ... Let's say the government hands over a few hundred trillion dollars of taxpayer money to corporate banks and lets them do with that money whatever they please. That is absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent, unequivocally, without question, NOT Socialism.

It's supposed to be about the people, y'know?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:20 PM on March 22, 2009


Heh. I was also coming in here to post a "Bulworth" clip.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:20 PM on March 22, 2009


Oh, this is timely, I just got finished watching Mike Davis on Bill Moyers.
posted by birdie birdington at 10:23 PM on March 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I couldn't help it, Burhanistan. If I can't have nappy dugout, it's not my Revolution.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:23 PM on March 22, 2009


The election of Obama had me almost convinced that most of America wasn't largely composed of drooling kallikaks and hopeless dupes.

That this kind of stupidity actually gets traction, and that there's actually a perceived need to push back against it when the whole goddamn shooting match is burning down around our collective ears: well, that isn't helping my confidence level any.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:33 PM on March 22, 2009


I find the tactic hilarious, because actual Marxists tend to dislike hand-wringing American liberals and half-assed "Capitalism Lite" concessions more than they dislike people who are upfront about being capitalists. "At least it's an ethos" etc.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:41 PM on March 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


The republicans keep trying to use labels to demonize anything they disagree with. It may work in the short term, but in the long term, all it does is cause people to adopt those labels with pride. The correct response to this nonsense is always, "if that's socialism than I guess I'm a socialist.". End result being that people become more willing to consider more radical, genuinely socialist policies.
posted by empath at 10:55 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, the republicans big boogy man is that we might end up like Western Europe!!!!! What the fuck is wrong with Western Europe? The whole thing is so bizzare.

They have a somewhat retarded, if misguided, point. I don't know if I'll be able to explain it but here goes.

The whole thing about Western Europe is that they have a strong sense of consensus building within multiple smaller political parties (from multiple ethnic groups in some countries!). More proportional representation from preferential voting is par for the course over there and smaller, more focused parties usually hold the balance of power. "Throwing away your vote" is unheard of over here in Australia (along with Western Europe) because I can vote for who I want and if they don't win it goes to my next choice whereas many third party candidates have to hold their nose and vote for the "lesser of two evil" democrats.

The US on the other hand is based on first past the post plurality that ends up being a two party oligarchy that forms an adversarial relationship. As a result politicians appeal to populist wedge issues which don't matter shit in the long run but do well to garner votes on voter fears.

Now say the US government decides to spend $500 billion on welfare over the next year. Hell or high water they're going to do it and they're going to do it their way. A strong welfare state is distinctly Western European after all. Is it right? Well, the unemployed in the US get kind of screwed and it'd probably reduce the homeless problem. Would it be economically sound? Not really. Would the republicans be able to stop it? They could try to filibuster it but in the long run, probably not.

In Europe they'd have left wingers calling for it but they'd have other parties in their ruling coalition that say no. They'd have minor parties refusing to go along with the decision making it an uphill battle if at all. They'd compromise and water down specific parts of it not because they want to maintain some sense of "bipartisanship" but because they're forced to do it.

There's no way the US would be able to support the political atmosphere in the style of Western Europe until you have a much healthier multi-party political system and without that multi-party system you'll just have a well meaning government making a head-on dash towards oblivion without anyone holding them back.
posted by Talez at 11:17 PM on March 22, 2009 [9 favorites]


I kinda wish people would stop using retarded as a pejorative term. It doesn't really upset me per se, but it sure make the writer/speaker sound awfully damned stupid when I know they are not.
posted by edgeways at 11:41 PM on March 22, 2009 [11 favorites]


Gary Hart reviews Alan Wolfe's The Future of Liberalism and Jedediah Purdy's A Tolerable Anarchy, in the NYT.
posted by homunculus at 11:48 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


birdie birdington , that was a fantastic interview; thanks.
posted by Auden at 11:49 PM on March 22, 2009


I have yet to see a socialist government hand over a treasury to privately held companies. Usually, they tend to nationalize large firms whose [imminent] failure would be a detriment to society as a whole, not try and prop up their current leadership with financial injections.

Something tells me that Obama is doing everything he can out of neccesity, not out of political ideology. Bankrolling the lifestyles of a tiny minority in order to save the largest economy on Earth intimates that our entire financial system, based on faith, could be termially ill.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:05 AM on March 23, 2009


They'd compromise and water down specific parts of it not because they want to maintain some sense of "bipartisanship" but because they're forced to do it.

Better a messy, multilateral compromise where nobody gets exactly what they want but nearly everybody gets most of what they want than four year cycles of legislation and spending being steamrollered through by whichever major party happens to be in power. Some proportional representation would do the US the power of good.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:28 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is depressing in ways I can't even begin to articulate to see people use the word "socialism" to mean a form of capitalism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:08 AM on March 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


I'm wondering... is "socialism" actually an effective scare word any more? And even if it is... how much longer will it be?

I mean, it's already twenty years after the end of the Cold War. And even before that, everyone saw that when the evil Commies took over Vietnam, absolutely nothing happened. And none of the countries that do business with Cuba have had their first-born children eaten alive by Fidel Castro. (In fact, some have probably instead had their first-born children cared for in Cuban hospitals.)

I just wonder how much longer it's going to be before accusing someone of being a "communist" or a "socialist" is going to sound as quaint and immaterial as calling them a "papist" or a "teetotaler."

In this day and age I'm inclined to think that perhaps we'd have been better off had the Soviets won their war in Afghanistan. It certainly seems like the people who live there would have been better off.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 AM on March 23, 2009


The slinging about of -ism is about tapping into emotion - not definition. Plenty of Marx's observations about the nature of large businesses out to enrich the 'ownership class' at the expense of the 'exploited class'.

But really - isn't the government bailout of businesses closer to fascism than socialism?

Eric Blair on fascism

And as long as we're playing "define the -ism" here is a question -
Are you a practicing Communist
posted by rough ashlar at 1:53 AM on March 23, 2009


What an idiotic article, written with high school understanding and full of cliche. Why am I reading this?
posted by Arnolfini at 2:12 AM on March 23, 2009


"absolutely nothing happened".

Um, you don't get out there that much, do you? And when I say "there", I mean "there". Communism is nothing more than a well-organized, slowly forming Jonestown. Been to Cuba/Laos/Vietnam/China/Tibet/Burma/North Korea... recently?
posted by jsavimbi at 2:13 AM on March 23, 2009


In its most radical form, the one associated with Marx and Engels...

Did I miss the memo? Because... that is definitely not the most radical form of socialism I practice.
posted by cthuljew at 2:17 AM on March 23, 2009


I mean, seriously, MeFi loves video games, right? You know how when people talk about violent video games and they cite Doom and Columbine, and your teeth grind a little? You know how you'll overhear somebody talking about "that vidya game where you kill prostitutes for money" and you just stand there and wonder how they could have such a strong opinion about something they have not even a little bit of a clue about? That's what it's like.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:41 AM on March 23, 2009 [20 favorites]


Something tells me that Obama is doing everything he can out of neccesity, not out of political ideology.

And what is that thing, exactly?

Anyway, continuing the bailouts, as opposed to nationalization is certainly an ideological decision.
posted by delmoi at 2:47 AM on March 23, 2009


As an anarchist I find all this talk of Obama being a 'socialist' OH THE HORROR to be rather laughable. Obama's a centrist, it just happens that we've had rabid right-wingers hopped up on crazy pills running the country for the past... oh, 25 years.
I would love to see some real socialist policies put into place, maybe kids in my town wouldn't be having to have all their teeth pulled at 15 due to absolute lack of care.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:09 AM on March 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Been to Cuba/Laos/Vietnam/China/Tibet/Burma/North Korea... recently?

Are you saying things turned out so much better for developing countries who sided with the "free world"? Like... Afghanistan? Or, y'know, just about all of sub-Saharan Africa? Or our friendly dumped-half-the-citizens-in-mass-graves-but-didn't-side-with-the-commies, dictator-run Central and South American allies? We were just as much into shooting allies and neutrals in the back of the head as were the Soviets. It had nothing to do with communism or socialism or capitalism.

If you believe that communism and socialism are purest evil that must not be allowed to touch the shining light of freedom and capitalism you are buying into Cold War propaganda that was probably written by someone who has been dead for decades.
posted by XMLicious at 3:16 AM on March 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


Or, heh heh, speaking of other allies who sided with us instead of the Soviets... you might have heard of this guy named Saddam Hussein. Remember that photograph of a broadly-smiling Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with him in the eighties?
posted by XMLicious at 3:20 AM on March 23, 2009


You take a shot at it in your opening sentence; and the truth is outside Republican talking points there is no serious argument that we are becoming a socialist nation. The hopefully-flawed battle plan is that by baiting legitimate publications into responding to the hyperbole and fostering discussions (such as this one) at large, the illusion that this is a real concern or ongoing debate will emerge as common perception.
posted by Bokononist at 3:20 AM on March 23, 2009


(I totally agree with Bokonist et. al. there, Obama isn't remotely socialist and no one has proposed anything any more socialist than existed under the Bush administration - I just think the whole thing is complete and total meaningless hype in the first place in a post-Cold-War world.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:32 AM on March 23, 2009



If you believe that communism and socialism are purest evil that must not be allowed to touch the shining light of freedom and capitalism you are buying into Cold War propaganda that was probably written by someone who has been dead for decades.


I don't buy this whole "shining light" of capitalism, but having known actual people who have suffered from communist regimes makes me wonder if their anti-communist views are necessarily "Cold War propoganda".
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:10 AM on March 23, 2009


It's bizarre to think of any modern developed countries in terms like "Capitalist" and "Socialist". They are all relatively similar mixed economies, exhibiting diverse mixes of economic policy related to taxes, law, regulation, and nationalization. Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and Denmark, among other countries, are rated just as free market as the United States, and yet all of these countries pay more in taxes than the US; a lot more in Canada and the UK, and enormously more in Denmark. It's bizarre to pretend like the US has a laissez-faire economy when 28% of its dollars go to taxes, and even more bizarre to call a country like Germany "Socialist" because the same number is 36% for them (same as New Zealand). The only difference seems to be that we call a country "Capitalist" if they spend their money on fighter planes and call it "Socialist" if they spend the money on health care.

So really "Socialism" has become a common synonym for European economies.

Whether we really are turning into a Euro economy, and whether that would even be a bad thing are both doubtful.

Certainly the rich people Obama is taxing don't seem to mind, since 66% of those earning over $30 million voted for him. And economists don't seem to find him a threat since 66% of them voted for him as well.

The Mark Steyn article referenced in the FPP argues that European economies have made Europeans worse off than Americans, but all 14 of the countries with a higher standard of living than us have European economies.
posted by dgaicun at 4:17 AM on March 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


Calumny?! *shakes head in sorrow*
posted by DU at 4:25 AM on March 23, 2009


The word "socialism" in American political discourse has come to mean "whatever the right hates."

In by "come to" you mean it came to that circa 1948.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:53 AM on March 23, 2009


Before 1948. Old Agatha Christie novels (and likely other sources) show that in the UK in the 30s (and 20s?) "socialism" was already a byword of the right wing.
posted by DU at 5:07 AM on March 23, 2009


For some of the more rabid end of right wing thinking, the natural opposite to socialism is anti-socialism, the policy of screwing up government so much that they can claim that even if such clever people as themselves can't make government work, some jug eared media darling or intern-screwing sleazeball lawyer is hardly going to make it better.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:08 AM on March 23, 2009


If you believe that communism and socialism are purest evil that must not be allowed to touch the shining light of freedom and capitalism you are buying into Cold War propaganda that was probably written by someone who has been dead for decades.

You want real communism, join the Hutterites or join a Kibbutz, otherwise don't you dare fucking pretend that stealing from me, disenfranchising me, dehumanizing me, coercing my labor, policing my thoughts and deeds, and sacrificing my life under state terror isn't a cold-blooded and hate-filled ideology. You can certainly shove that "Cold War propaganda" bullshit right up your ass; Communism is murder and terror--the most destructive, blood-stained, and anti-human dogma in the history of man.
posted by dgaicun at 5:14 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


As I recall, people were concerned when it seemed possible that Obama would appoint Geitner as Treasury Secretary because Geitner was so cozy with Wall Street.

Obama went ahead and appointed Geitner. And Geitner proceeded to oversee the funneling of hundreds of billions of dollars of our money into Wall Street pockets.

He even made sure that they got their bonuses. And in the face of unprecedented public outrage over this, Obama made a point of saying that Geitner wasn't going anywhere.

This tells me a lot about the kind of President that Obama is going to be.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:28 AM on March 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


C'mon, let me hear that dirty word .

Nappy Dugout?
posted by mannequito at 5:28 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


dgaicun, I think you're talking about State Capitalism.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:40 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apropos of the quality of the discussion above, it's funny that we have an Internet where comparing a regime to the Nazis when it sends people to be imprisoned and tortured without trial is discouraged by Godwin-custom, but it's okay to call any instance of the state trying to be nice to people a quick roll down the road to Stalinmania. I mean, it's really fucked up.
posted by mobunited at 5:48 AM on March 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


This tells me a lot about the kind of President that Obama is going to be.

Consistent?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:10 AM on March 23, 2009


"buying into Cold War propaganda"

The Cold War is over, unfortunately. And yes, I've lived in Europe, Central America and currently living in SE Asia, areas affected by American imperialism, facism and communism, as well as western European socialism. So, I'm a little bit more geographically educated, and certainly more well read than your average gringo, and if trhere one animal that seeks to kill all that could opposes it and intellectually/economically enslave its own people, that would be communism.

Aside from the wholesale killing and enslavement (unrewarded workers who are forced to work are generally considered to be slaves, if not indentured servants), I won't even mention the use of family dispersion/dismemberment or the allocation of food to ensure loyalty to the government. Just ask Allende how his little milk program worked out.

Oh, and to be clear, we're not talking about a warring nation attacking another, no pride in that either, we're talking about a system of government governing its own people. Through assasination, starvation and imprisonment.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:11 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find it amazing the way the remnant Cold Warriors have managed to derail a thread about socialism in the modern world onto the topic of how horrible and destructive Communism is.

Yeah, we get it, and we agree, no one here is advocating Communism. Communism sucks. Stalinism sucks harder. Yes, there are probably a few loony toons remnant Communists out there, but much like NAMBLA they're universally regarded with disdain if not outright horror. So come down off your I Hate Me Some Commies high and let's try to have a real conversation.

Among other things, I'll ask "why are you talking about Communism when the topic is Socialism?" Yes, they're vaguely related, in much the same sense that you could argue rape and sex are related. They have certain broad similarities, but the actual acts are radically different.

I don't think anyone would like to live in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, that's a Communist/Stalinist hellhole. But Sweden, a Socialist state, seems like a very pleasant place to live.

Not, as others have pointed out, that anything Obama is proposing is even remotely Socialism. His health care plan doesn't even come close, his bank bailout is as far from Socialist as you can get, etc.
posted by sotonohito at 6:24 AM on March 23, 2009 [12 favorites]


I find it amazing that you could be so inept at following an exchange.
posted by dgaicun at 6:29 AM on March 23, 2009


Why are we even discussing Communism? If the right wing decided that "Anarcho-Syndicalist" would be their epithet of choice for Obama, would we have to have a protracted discussion about the Spanish Civil War? If they called him a Martian, would we have to discuss whether Phobos is visible in the night sky?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:42 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they called him a Martian

Wait a minute, I thought he was from Krypton...I'm sooo confused.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they called him a Martian, would we have to discuss whether Phobos is visible in the night sky?

You need to go (back?) to journalism school. If Republicans make a claim, it is up to the Democrat to disprove it. If Democrats make a claim, lolmoonbat.
posted by DU at 6:59 AM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


the problem with Anarcho-Syndicalists is that they don't believe in the state, an institution highly regarded by the majority of the public as an entity of fealty. It's an unfortunate position, because if they played along with the whole nation/state notion, they'd have access to the buget, and thus means to which further their cause. I, for one, sympathize with anarchism, but it's like listening to a twenty-eight year old child who threatens to run away from. Go right ahead, mofo.

"But Sweden, a Socialist state, seems like a very pleasant place to live."


The key word is "seems". Try replacing that with "is" some time. Sweden, much like her Scandinavian sisters, is not the socialist we think she is. Sweden is a capitalist country with a higher tax rate and a very social-services leaning form of public disbursement. Last time I checked, they even had a monarchy, hardly a socialist institution.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:36 AM on March 23, 2009


The key word is "seems". Try replacing that with "is" some time. Sweden, much like her Scandinavian sisters, is not the socialist we think she is. Sweden is a capitalist country with a higher tax rate and a very social-services leaning form of public disbursement. Last time I checked, they even had a monarchy, hardly a socialist institution.

So, in other words they are the "socialist" that the American left actually push for as opposed to the "socialist," aka Stalinism, that the right accuses the left of pushing for?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not, as others have pointed out, that anything Obama is proposing is even remotely Socialism. His health care plan doesn't even come close, his bank bailout is as far from Socialist as you can get, etc.
posted by sotonohito at 6:24 AM on March 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


The far right like to use words that sound scary to get the un-educated voters on their side. EG: Socialism sounds like communism. Every red blooded American knows that anything that sounds like communism is bad for you. So all right wingers need to do is say Obama is socialism and walla! Obama is bad for you. They do this to religious people all the time. You can't vote democratic.... Gay Rights.... WOOOOO Abortion... WOOOOOO! Not saying that left wing does not do this but no body does it better than the republicans. This is why I don't watch Fox new or read anything the TNR puts out. It is all mostly garbage posing as news.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:44 AM on March 23, 2009


Republicans hate "socialism" but love the military, with its free state-provided clothing, housing, and health care. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:48 AM on March 23, 2009


Last time I checked, they even had a monarchy, hardly a socialist institution.

Whatever the value of your other comments, this one is utterly without merit in this discussion. Constitutional, but monarchical democracies, the Netherlands, Japan, UK, Canada to name a few, are neither less free nor more notably socialist than constitutional, but republican democracies. Don't distract from the conversation with this red herring.
posted by bonehead at 7:54 AM on March 23, 2009


The key word is "seems". Try replacing that with "is" some time. Sweden, much like her Scandinavian sisters, is not the socialist we think she is. Sweden is a capitalist country with a higher tax rate and a very social-services leaning form of public disbursement. Last time I checked, they even had a monarchy, hardly a socialist institution.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:36 AM on March 23 [+] [!]


Sweden is a democratic socialist monarchy - similar to the UK, NZ, Australia or Canada, though all of those are less socialist than Sweden. And this is the type of socialism that some American policy makers - including Obama - have shifted ever so slightly towards, and it is the type of socialism that the Great Society programs of the 1960s were also aiming towards.

This is like saying Sweden is apple pie, and the US has decided to lighten their pound cake with some apples, and then denouncing it because Cuba is made of pears (or, in the case of the DPRK, bruised and rotting pears). Now, I hate pears, but I like apples, and I'm not going to stop eating apples just because they are both green on the outside - because the insides are completely different and have entirely different ideas about how history, human nature, economics work, and have completely different attitudes to human and individual rights.

But that doesn't make it not socialism - This is what socialism is.

Socialism is not and has never been Marxism or Communism. Wars have been fought between socialists and communists - just ask any Finn, or check out German history c1919. Of course, Marx wasn't a communist - he was a historian with a particular theory of history. But big-C Communists or Marxists are those who believe in that theory of history (and the theories of class relations and economics that go along with it). Soocialists pre-date and post-date Marx; it was influenced by Marxism, especially on the class relations side, but never adopted any of the historical theory - in fact, socialist movements undermined Communists by mitgating the market and class relations and thus defusing any revolutionary feelings. In the early 20th century, Socialists conflicted strongly with Communists and often (as in Germany c1918-19) sided with Liberal Conservatives against them.

Put simply, socialism is about mitigating the effects of markets to allow the working class to become more bourgeois - and, being a very diffuse movement barely deserving of the name, there are a variety of ways from establishing a social safety net to setting minimum wage laws and allowing unionism. Communism is about a belief that market relations will become so unbearable there will be a revolution of the working class against the bourgeois (Leninism is about the belief that a revolutionary vangard - ironically made up of bourgeois - can set a fire under the proletariate, and get them going). Communists hate when socialists succeed, because then - as in the US and all over Europe - the working class become like middle class property owners in their living and thinking, and seek to work within a (mitgated) market system rather overthrow it.
posted by jb at 8:11 AM on March 23, 2009 [18 favorites]


Wait, are these the same Republicans that are calling for a 90% tax on bonuses for a specific group of people?

I'm sorry, I'm need to find Bizarro Superman, since I have no idea what's going on anymore.
posted by Talanvor at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2009


Sorry - that should be "sided with Liberals and Conservative against Communists".
posted by jb at 8:13 AM on March 23, 2009


Would you fucking please read something, anything, by socialists/communists, even the Communist Goddamn Manifesto, before typing out a long discourse on what communism and socialism are? Fucking christ, you're like that dude who insisted that only a very specific straw man of atheism counted as atheism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 AM on March 23, 2009


I mean, I'm sorry, anyone who can type the following sentence:

Socialism is not and has never been Marxism or Communism.

doesn't know socialism from a goddamn hole in the ground.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:21 AM on March 23, 2009


The far right like to use words that sound scary to get the un-educated voters on their side.

That is because their entire culture is predicated on fear. If you listen to them talk about anything, it quickly becomes apparent that their view is coming from a place of being scared of something.

As such, I'd like to see a new approach when dealing with outrageous claims like this: rather than even remotely taking them seriously, or trying to spend any effort demonstrating that the claim is easily refutable, (because no matter how good the evidence is, there are people who will always refuse to believe), I think the best response would be to just call them cowards.

"Obama is a socialist!"

"Coward."

"I'm not a coward! I'm just afraid of what our country will beco..."

"Exactly, you are afraid. It's because you are a coward."


The right has spent the last eight years beating this country to death with fear and it's time to call them on it. It is mean spirited and probably unproductive, but I'm tired of trying to argue with people who have a completely one track mind.
posted by quin at 8:26 AM on March 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


"Throwing away your vote" is unheard of over here in Australia (along with Western Europe) because I can vote for who I want and if they don't win it goes to my next choice whereas many third party candidates have to hold their nose and vote for the "lesser of two evil" democrats.

In Australia, "donkey voting" is about 2% of the total.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:29 AM on March 23, 2009


"...we are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality...."
posted by cthuljew at 8:47 AM on March 23, 2009


Would you fucking please read something, anything, by socialists/communists, even the Communist Goddamn Manifesto, before typing out a long discourse on what communism and socialism are? Fucking christ, you're like that dude who insisted that only a very specific straw man of atheism counted as atheism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:20 AM on March 23 [+] [!]


What, like teach 20th century history at the university level? Study class relations, economic theory and economic history for a living? My specialty is the development of the modern economy and class structure c1500-1800, but I have read Das Capital, including the very difficult sections on the nature of history. (God, that was a bad translation). I've been corrected by my twentieth-century historian husband who says that Marx was definitely a communist, in that he called for a communist revolution, but I had been thinking he wasn't what most people call "Communist" (which would be Marxism-Leninism or Marixism-Leninism-Stalinism as the ideas were developed and changed in the context of the 20th century).

Yes, there is a mixup with words. Many 20th century communists - including those who got into power - believed that after the proletarian revolution there was a necessary period of state control and tutelage, like economic training wheels, before perfect communism could be obtained. They called this state "socialism" - thus all the countries with socialism in their title.

But we have to agree to use words more accurately than politicians, or there is no useful discussion. In academic history of the 19th and 20th centuries, "socialism" is used to refer to the amorphous, shifting left-wing political ideologies which were influenced by Marx in the later 19th and 20th centuries, but failed to follow some of the very essential ideas of the Communists regarding the nature of history and how the world works. And by the 20th century - and the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution - there were some very sharp lines drawn between them, leading even to violence between socialists and communists (and between communists and anarcho-syndicalists in Spain, and the a-s are their own kettle of fish).

In compaigning for - and achieving - the improved conditions for the working classes and the social safety net and government services which they did - and which finally allowed the progress of the industrial revolution to make its way down into the living standards of those working classes (just check out the working class diet of 1910's London - it was worse than the poor in 1700) - those socialist activists undermined the very revolutions which Marxists/Communists were waiting for. There were some intellectual members of the British Labour party who were Marxists - just as there were (and probably still are, somewhere) Marxist historians of the British Civil Wars who fruitlessly look for a bourgeois revolution in that complex religion/political conflict. But the party itself was decidely socialist in its policies. They advocated the nationalisation of major industries, but not community of property - and definitely not community of women. They remained economically and sociallly rather small-c conservative - for example, they were much less likely to upset gender roles (see China under Mao for radical changes for women). Churchill was a strident anti-Communist, but the Labour Party was equally if not more anti-Communist, not least because they competed for the same audience with the Marxists.

And this is the socialism which is the relevant socialism for the American context - the socialism of Old Age Pensions and minimum wages. Trying to argue otherwise is like trying to convince me to stop eating apples because pears are disgusting.

And, of course, the Liberalism of Keynes, who was not a socialist.

(Which, of course, they are. I really hate pears.)
posted by jb at 9:02 AM on March 23, 2009 [23 favorites]


Ooh, snap.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:05 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, you clearly know your shit. Why on earth did you post upthread as if you didn't?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:12 AM on March 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


kirkaracha, America isn't paying to give some deadbeats a warm meal, those are Goddamned War Heroes, so watch your blaspheming tongue, unless you want it cut out by terrorists when our borders are over-run with illegals.

American Pride is a lot more exciting than namby-pamby efforts like education and health care. Or you can read this as the military industrial complex has more lobbying force than education and health care. But I wonder if there would be less support for perpetual conflicts if we had better education more prevalent health care.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on March 23, 2009


This is like saying Sweden is apple pie, and the US has decided to lighten their pound cake with some apples, and then denouncing it because Cuba is made of pears (or, in the case of the DPRK, bruised and rotting pears). Now, I hate pears, but I like apples, and I'm not going to stop eating apples just because they are both green on the outside - because the insides are completely different and have entirely different ideas about how history, human nature, economics work, and have completely different attitudes to human and individual rights.

I feel like you missed the point of using an analogy.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:20 AM on March 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


But I wonder if there would be less support for perpetual conflicts if we had better education more prevalent health care.

One has to wonder, though, about the native intelligence of a population that needs the benefit of a public education to figure out that they might stand to gain more in terms of overall quality of life and their own immediate personal welfare by spending just a bit more public money on funding health care and just a bit less on churning out and often indiscriminately flooding world markets with technologies specifically designed for the purpose of killing people in large numbers.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:28 AM on March 23, 2009


Great article, I figured I'd throw in a few links of my own in response to some of the comments here.

Someone mentioned that the Republicans have been superior at debate framing. Yes, they have made a concerted effort to reframe American values as conservative values (or vice versa). Their propaganda has changed the standard American viewpoint to see the arguments from a conservative stand, making progressive and liberals wrong out of the gate. This has been a planned effort since Nixon fell from grace.

Sara Robinson has written a great series here illustrating how this has worked and how the other side should take lessons.

Part I: Messing With Their Minds
Part II: Taking Up the Worldview
Part III: Taking it to the Street

Also related is Bruce Wilson's article on Paul Weyrich, architect behind this transformation.

And if anyone has any doubts about what the Right is up to, read How to Destroy the Government in 3 Easy Steps, and then read about Weinmar Germany between the two world wars for lessons regarding those who hope Obama fails.
posted by daHIFI at 9:38 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


...he may be a Communist!
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:54 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, was that Rod Serling in that clip?

Rod, buddy, I had such faith in you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:13 AM on March 23, 2009


"Throwing away your vote" is unheard of over here in Australia

Some would beg to differ.
posted by rodgerd at 10:14 AM on March 23, 2009


In Australia, "donkey voting" is about 2% of the total.

Yes, but donkey [expletive deleted] is a whole other story...

Sorry, I just couldn't help myself. [NOT-OZZIEIST]
posted by Pollomacho at 10:17 AM on March 23, 2009


I didn't see Rod Serling, but I did see Jack Webb at the end.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:32 AM on March 23, 2009


So, in other words they are the "socialist" that the American left actually push for as opposed to the "socialist," aka Stalinism, that the right accuses the left of pushing for?

You don't get it. We're broke. Ideology doen't matter any more, nor does religion, technology, race, nationality, sexuality or whatever self-serving platform you're trying to push forward. We're fucking broke and we're sitting outside our single-wides wondering why the mailman hasn't delivered the checks yet.

We've traded in a fear-message clown for a hope-message clown. There aren't any ideologues any more, just ask the last ones. They realized how useless and futile their life was and traded it in for an epynonomous tv show or a co-authored book. Insert C-word here. We're beyond that now. We're broke as a nation, we're broke as a society and sadly enough, we're broke as a people. We are broke as a people.

By all means, please, keep debating semantics. I'm going to sit here drinking beer at the hotel pool until the money runs out. And then I'm coming after yours. And I'm going to take all of it.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2009


In fact, most of Obama's measures are designed to save, not destroy, the instruments of capitalism-- businesses and the markets in which they compete. Should Obama get everything he wants, liberals will have once again--as has happened so often in the United States--gone a long way toward rescuing capitalism from its worst excesses. Wolfe offers this in the interest of DEFENDING Obama as a healthy alternative to Socialism, which, as others have pointed out, Wolfe deems absolutely evil. But, the fact that capitlaism is constantly in need of being "rescued" from its own excesses, is, to my mind, proof that we find ourselves, now more than ever, in dire need of imagining a true alternative to it. I agree with Wolfe: Obama is trying to save capitalism. I guess I really wish that he would let it destroy itself. As someone once said: By the development of its own logic, capitalism contains the premisses of a revolutionary overturning.
posted by cnjnctvsynth at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2009


That socialism is now part of American domestic political discussion is in itself a victory for socialism.
posted by No Robots at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2009


We're broke as a nation, we're broke as a society and sadly enough, we're broke as a people. We are broke as a people.

You know in the great depression the GDP dropped by double digit percentages each year. The latest report by the BEA says that the GDP for 2008 actually went up by 1.1% (Based on pegged 2000 dollar values more based on a floating value). Now, I know times are rough. I know we're largely a morally bankrupt society with little of value to show for any more, but I'm just not sure it's time to abandon the farm to the dust and head to Californee quite yet.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:58 AM on March 23, 2009


When you put aside all the labels and just look at whether people are for increasing the size of, and services offered by or managed by government, or at decreasing same, it's really a referendum on a single question: is it a good deal?

Meaning, to the voter in question, does the proposed expansion of services represent a good deal for the amount they'd have to pay in taxes? People will typically support programs that they think are a good deal; they'll oppose ones that they think are wasteful or that they won't benefit from, or where they think they could do better by keeping the money in their pockets than being forced to pool it with everyone else.

The "small-government" position, traditionally and at least on paper, has been that government is fundamentally a bad deal once you get beyond a small slate of core services that can't be accomplished any other way. This position is pretty easy to support and resonates well with the public when you point to excessive government spending and waste, as well as to big numbers with lots of zeros behind them, causing people to compare the vast size of the budget to the perceived value that the government presents to them.

At least IMO, those on the other side of the debate have done a very poor job outlining why their ideas represent a good value to the taxpayer. The Democrats in particular seem prone to neglecting this value proposition in favor of either responding to the latest Republican accusation (which as others point out, effectively allows the Republicans to constantly reframe the debate however they'd like, and as nonsensically as they'd like), or offering anecdotal or emotional arguments that probably play well with some voters, but probably aren't convincing anyone who's not already on board. This is unfortunate, because at least with some government programs, the value proposition may in fact exist pretty clearly (especially compared to what the Republicans have been doing), and that's why I think the Democrats have gotten a lot of support recently from economists and financially sophisticated high-income people.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


quin: I think the best response would be to just call them cowards.

I prefer the term "fools."
posted by JHarris at 11:30 AM on March 23, 2009


"The right has spent the last eight years beating this country to death with fear and it's time to call them on it"

Bada Bing.
I keep getting in arguments with these types. Like you shouldn't help your neighbor out if they fall on hard times. I point out, generally, it's better to, because hey, last thing you want is someone desperate to feed their family living next door. If my kid is hungry and there's no other option, I'm going to steal, no two ways about it.
Generally the retort is for guns or police protection. I'm pretty pro-gun. But using a firearm isn't a plan. Typically you have to use a firearm when your plan has gone to shit.
And then the other part of that equation - more cops, so more jails. Well, you're still going to pay for your neighbor only now he's getting three hot meals and a roof over his head on your dime and he's going to be even more pissed when/if he gets out because his family is on the street. And where on the street? Just going to move them along? Going to need even more cops to physically do that.
And let's say it's wildly successful and they're gone. Now you've got more cops than you need. So, what, lay them off? Now their families are hungry. And their armed too. And probably better shots (well...some cops).
But REAL small government at work would be the most direct efficient route of the money to social stability. A local social program, jobs retraining, etc. Programs that ebb and flow with fortune, sort of like the water conservation and grain storage in the old Chinese dynasties.
Big government on the other hand tends to be self-perpetuating, you never get rid of law enforcement of the prison system, military programs, etc.

I dunno how people on the 'right' don't see that. Why send your money on this whole convoluted path for some self-righteous b.s.? Just walk down the street and give someone a sandwich and maybe tell your brother in law or someone a guy needs a job.

Seems to me what most folks are afraid of is stepping outside their dogma and stasis into a dynamic world. Unfortunately, reality intrudes on what one believes no matter how deeply.
All through Orwell's 1984 O'Brien is making his metaphysical points on the mind controlling reality and I'm thinking "Uh huh. Meteors."
If you don't bend to nature it breaks you. Funny how people who consider themselves bad-ass consider the ability to bend and change as a weakness.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:11 PM on March 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


Kadin2048: I agree with your argument generally, but I'd emphasize a couple of finer points. First, you're correct when you state:

The "small-government" position, traditionally and at least on paper, has been that government is fundamentally a bad deal once you get beyond a small slate of core services that can't be accomplished any other way.

But part of the problem is that today's small-government warriors (more accurately, "no-government warriors") don't believe that government has a role to play even in a "small slate of core services." Despite the New Right's enthusiasm for defense spending, I suspect they don't even truly believe there should be a publicly funded military, and that's why they've placed so much emphasis in recent years on privatizing defense department functions and streamlining operational forces (as in Rumsfeld's much ballyhooed plan to transform the US military).

Notice how under Movement Conservatives, public spending has increasingly benefited private defense contractors who build weapons systems or provide private operational and securities services: The hardcore right have gradually and systematically directed defense spending toward the companies that make up their investment portfolios, all the while underfunding and undermining our core military capabilities. Consider how it came to be that we've had both bigger defense budgets than all the countries in the world combined and bigger defense budgets than ever before in our own history for the last few decades, and yet, the military still routinely found itself confronting basic equipment shortages during counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq.

Having read books like David Brock's "Blinded by the Right" you really come to have a better grasp of the knowing, abject nihilism that motivates modern Conservatives: Like Grover Norquist, their professed aim is simply to weaken the government enough that they can "drown it in the bathtub." And they take that notion literally.

So I think a bigger part of the Democrats problem is that they still continue to operate as if they're dealing with good faith actors, who share certain foundational beliefs about public service and the public interest. Despite the role of historical conservatism in helping to define America's historical principles of public service and the public interest, the modern Movement Conservatives don't share--hell, they can't even grasp--these principles.

Making matters worse, the Democrats keep capitulating to the hard right, mistaking the hard right's cynical and absolute rejection of government for some kind of thoughtful, well-intentioned critique of the public sector. But the truth is, the Movement Conservative's contempt for government isn't informed by history or even any coherent ideology: it's just a form of derangement fueled by various irrational hatreds and paranoia.

You can't formulate sane public policies by compromising with lunatics. And seemingly oblivious to the extent to which the Republican party has been overrun by the fringe Movement Conservative elements (despite dozens of New York Times bestsellers by disillusioned former Republican party members attesting to the fact), the Democrats keep doggedly trying to do that. Worse still, they actually seem to have internalized some of the derangement. (Take Obama's plans to let private sector partnerships play a bigger role in public education--he's said he'll be using similar programs in Florida for his model, despite Florida's schools having seen academic performance declines by almost every measure in the years since these programs first began to appear--but that's another subject).
posted by saulgoodman at 12:21 PM on March 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Pollomacho wrote I know we're largely a morally bankrupt society with little of value to show for any more

I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic or not, but on the assumption that you aren't, I must disagree strongly. Contemporary America is morally superior to the America of the 1950's in almost all ways. We are seeing, with a few moments of backsliding such as Prop 8, a general improvement in America's moral values.

As for little of value, it is true (and disturbing) that America has outsourced so much of its manufacturing. Still, we do produce, and export, a great deal. Largely non-material, but the fact that Hollywood has replaced Detroit as the center for American exports is, in many ways, a good thing. The "soft power" our current crop of exports allows us to export is tremendously valuable from a geopolitical standpoint, probably much moreso than any material exports could be.

Kadin2048 I agree with your analysis, but suspect I'd disagree with your conclusions. I find a very low value for investment from our insane military overspending, but that in general social spending seems to provide an excellent return.

I am in favor of increased government size in some areas, and decreased in others. In general if it involves regulating and overseeing business I say the more and bigger the better, while if it involves regulating or overseeing individuals I say less is better.

I want the government out of our bedrooms and into our boardrooms.

If we stopped the War on (some) Drugs right this second and redirected all that money and police work to fighting corporate corruption I think we'd be vastly better off.

As far as spending goes, I'm willing to pay higher taxes if I must (though, if the military budget were cut to a reasonable level we wouldn't have to increase taxes) for certain social services. Health care is at the top of the list.

I think the US has demonstrated that the for profit model simply does not work well for healthcare. We spend more per capita on medicine than any other nation on Earth and we're less healthy. That sounds like a really lousy deal to me. I'll take universal single payer please.
posted by sotonohito at 12:22 PM on March 23, 2009


That socialism is now part of American domestic political discussion is in itself a victory for socialism.

It would be if people were actually talking about socialism and not liberalism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 PM on March 23, 2009


The distinction jb seems to want to make (it's a very important one!) is between Revolutionaries and Reformists. In Russian terms, that's Bolsheviks (Lenin) and Mensheviks (Martov). One is impatient and brutal and totalitarian. The other is careful and compassionate and democratic.

Socialism, according to Marx, is a transitional phase between Capitalism and Communism. The Bolsheviks did everything they could to minimize the duration of that transition and to keep from slipping back into it. They usually achieved this by killing and/or imprisoning lots and lots of people. They free slave from master but not from whip. That's your Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and so on. These are the Revolutionaries. The Communists.

The Mensheviks, on the other hand, favoured democracy, diplomacy, and compromise; they believed it was possible to level the playing field without leveling parliament; that in order for something to work, you must put some work into it. These are the Reformists. The Socialists. The Democratic Socialists. Most successfully, they're the Social Democrats. (Up here, they're called the NDP.)

(...and then there's these guys. *shrug*)

The other distinction that must be made is between Marx's theoretical Socialism as temporary, and the relative perpetuity of real-world Socialism. Which is to say that between the Capitalist pot of gold and the Communist pile of shit, there's a pretty fuckin' kick-ass rainbow. It ain't no slippery slope, folks.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:25 PM on March 23, 2009


"But Sweden, a Socialist state, seems like a very pleasant place to live."

except that it's filled with Europeans.
posted by jonmc at 4:27 PM on March 23, 2009


"Throwing away your vote" is unheard of over here in Australia

Some would beg to differ.


For starters, the voting system doesn't stop you from choosing between the 2PP just because you voted The Greens. That's the whole point behind "throwing away your vote" in an American sense. If someone in the US votes for the the Green party they don't get to choose Republican or Democrat as a safety. That's it. Their vote is done.

Now. In terms of the specific grievances raised in your link, Queensland is a special case because they abolished their house of review like the bunch of morons they are. In terms of Western Australia, the lower houses are for each district to send a member that will see to their interests. The upper house is for proportional representation that sees the will of the entire state projected into a house of review to make sure that legislation in a member's interests meets the will of the entire state. I don't think this is unique to Western Australia but just about every bicameral legislature in existence (bar the obvious exception of the US senate).

You can't tell people in suburb A that they get a different member representing their interests because of suburbs B, C and D. At the same time, you can't have people out in the rural areas being lumped in with city voters where their issues will most likely be ignored. To say that Queensland needs some form of proportional representation is correct. The rest of the country already has it in their house of review.
posted by Talez at 4:36 PM on March 23, 2009


Okay, you clearly know your shit. Why on earth did you post upthread as if you didn't?

Pope Guilty, maybe if you got around to talking about what particular nuggets amongs jb's pretty intelligent looking comments seemed at odds with a general command of said shit, it would look a lot less like you simply lost your own.

Bonus points if you offer up some kind of counterargument.
posted by namespan at 4:56 PM on March 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Bonus points if you offer up some kind of counterargument.

Or at the very least an apology to jb for being an unrepentant dick about it.
posted by tkchrist at 5:26 PM on March 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Some would beg to differ.

'Some' don't make much of a case though.
posted by pompomtom at 8:38 PM on March 23, 2009


dgaicun: You want real communism, join the Hutterites or join a Kibbutz, otherwise don't you dare fucking pretend that stealing from me, disenfranchising me, dehumanizing me, coercing my labor, policing my thoughts and deeds, and sacrificing my life under state terror isn't a cold-blooded and hate-filled ideology. You can certainly shove that "Cold War propaganda" bullshit right up your ass; Communism is murder and terror--the most destructive, blood-stained, and anti-human dogma in the history of man.

Funny how none of that happened during the widespread communist party activities in the United States in the 1920's and 1930's - we seemed to get things like trade unions instead of disenfranchising you and coercing your labor.

And oddly enough, the communist parties in places like Israel, France, and the U.K. to my knowledge don't call for any of the sort of things you talk about there.

There is a socialist politician who was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont several times in the eighties (and perhaps ruled with an iron fist to hear you talk?) and who followed up by standing for Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years, and who is now the U.S. Senator from Vermont. Yet living next door in New Hampshire I haven't heard of any reigns of murder and terror over there, nor have I ever been arrested at the border for being a member of the bourgeoisie, kulak small business owner that I am.

Stalin's purges and Mao's stupid, monstrous Lysenkoist agricultural experiments - or the other shitty stuff that happened in the USSR and China and many developing countries during the 20th century (Imperial Russia sent armies on horseback to fight against tanks and airplanes in WWI, remember) aren't representative of communism, much less socialism, any more than Saddam Hussein's Iraq should tell anyone what capitalism is. (Or any more than the United States cheerfully selling arms and anthrax to Saddam Hussein or regularly overthrowing democratically-elected foreign governments like Mossadegh's in Iran defines what capitalism is.)

So, yeah, your slavering anti-communist speech there (In which you aren't even talking about "real communism"? Little bit of rhetorical CYA?) is very certainly the product of propaganda by groups that simply considered communism to be their political opponent.

Read what jb is saying above. The political and economic beliefs that distinguish communism (as opposed to the desire for control and oppression, which is present in and abetted by the "free world" just as much as it was by the communist polities of the 20th century), even when taken to their most radical by wackos, are no more misanthropic than "The free market cured my cancer and spun straw into gold! Zero government!" brand of (anarcho-)capitalist beliefs.

jsavimbi: The Cold War is over, unfortunately.

what

"Unfortunately"? You... you wish we were at war with China and Russia? I don't even know how to respond to that.

(But, heh heh, I guess you can consider the global economic crisis as a great blow struck for the free world as it's in the process of crippling both of their economies, along with everyone else's economies. Rah rah, sis boom bah, economic Mutually Assured Destruction.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:46 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Cold War is over, unfortunately.

Well, the Cold War could be used to justify keynesian bottle-burrying activities like Star Wars and the F-22 (the programs survived, but their funding was slowed to a crawl). That's a lot of people losing essentially useless, gov't-subsidized jobs.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:10 PM on March 23, 2009


What the fuck is wrong with Western Europe?

Well, for one thing it is civilized to the point of tepid boredom, whereas America is all about frontiers and cowboys and, well, basically that whole uncivilization mystique that makes some of us dream about moving into a cabin in the woods where we'd live by our skills in hunting and shelter-building.

Becoming Westernised means giving up that dream of independence. On the other hand, if we go any further west we're gonna fall into the ocean. It just may be time for us to grow up.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:41 PM on March 23, 2009


The Cold War is over, unfortunately.

"Unfortunately"? You... you wish we were at war with China and Russia? I don't even know how to respond to that.

Goodness. F-22's and Reaganomics. Ike was right, you sonsabitches are sheep.

Please open your mind for a second, smoke a spliff if you will, and realize that every single American institution, be it financial, military, educational or governmental was built, since the 20's or 30's with the sole purpose of defeating communism and preserving the American way of life, poxy blankets and all. They serve no other purpose. None, and thus cannot adapt to any change in the staus quo.

Get it through your heads, we built a society, Great or not, based on the suspended animation of continous war, unable to confront any reality that doesn't have a prescribed good and evil. A bunch of beer-adled closet thinkers who rip off their wifebeaters out of pride and swing at the nearest symbold of authority in order to establish our delusional self-independence. Fuck the Big Lie, it's the Big Blame Game you need to worry about.

That is who we are. And that is who will be unless we can scrub out our preconceived notions of loyalty and realize that we need to be quicker to the punch than those trying to fuck us while the going is good, while at the same time reconfiguring the essentials that made us a great people in the first place.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:27 AM on March 24, 2009


Get it through your heads, we built a society, Great or not, based on the suspended animation of continous war...

Okay, so you're going from telling us all how horrible and unacceptably evil communism is because of the countries that accomplished things Through assasination, starvation and imprisonment, turning right around to praising the virtues of Orwellian continuous warfare and saying what a shame it is that the Cold War ever ended?

Sustaining the government and economy by perpetuation of violence and misery, why that's wonderful and peachy! Unless you go for violence and misery and you're a commie - gasp, what unforgiveable sin!

So, yeah, you would appear to be completely full of shit. No matter how many different parts of the world you've lived in.
posted by XMLicious at 2:58 AM on March 24, 2009


Stalin's purges... aren't representative of communism, much less socialism, any more than Saddam Hussein's Iraq should tell anyone what capitalism is.

What's representative is decided by what's represented. Indeed, the Soviet Union was the world's laboratory for Communism, and the experiment was repeated dozens of times across the world: slavery, genocide, police state, and terror famines. Communism is as Communism does. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" arose many times, and where it did it spread fear and death. It was no different than Fascism.

Meanwhile, whether they called themselves "socialist" or "capitalist," governments that protected both democracy and commerce among their population were relatively successful in maintaining human rights for their population.

Let's make something clear, I could give a shit what you believe "real" Communism is, or how benign you think Karl Marx's ideas are. The fact remains that all who successfully imposed Communism in the short-span of the 20th century inflicted an order of a magnitude more misery, suffering, and hate on this world than anyone else. And now the system is reviled because of that.

Now if you have a brain in your head, and you actually care about your beliefs, you'll have the good sense to fucking be embarrassed associating yourself with said ideology, or making equivalencies between your beliefs and those beliefs.

This will involve, for instance:
Not lumping two ideologies that are wildly different, e.g.: "If you believe that communism and socialism are purest evil that must not be allowed to touch the shining light of freedom and capitalism you are buying into Cold War propaganda"

Not using two different ideologies interchangeably. (e.g. Bernard Sanders = Democratic Socialist != Communist)

And not soft-peddling the horrors and culpability of Communism as "Cold War Propaganda".

If you can't be bothered to distinguish yourself or your beliefs from Communism or indeed express any understanding of why you should even need to distinguish yourself or your beliefs from Communism, then you have no room to complain if the right-wing does the same. You're both framing it in the same way. The only ones who have any reason to care are other liberals embarrassed by your company.
posted by dgaicun at 5:54 AM on March 24, 2009


Sustaining the government and economy by perpetuation of violence and misery, why that's wonderful and peachy!

So, yeah, you would appear to be completely full of shit. No matter how many different parts of the world you've lived in.

I apologize. My argument was out of your league. I wasn't praising the American way of life as we know it, I was simply pointing out that the majority of our institutions have a mindset that was conceived on a war/survival footing, and with that in place, it's very difficult for the powers-that-be to change their strategy, when confronted with anything other than war. A war of the total type, fully sponsored and supported, or at least paid in full, by the American taxpayer.

That being said, you, I and the rest of the American taxpayer base are equally complicit in everything we've ever done, to anyone, in the name of our way of life. That's an unpopular view, by the way.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2009


Please open your mind for a second, smoke a spliff if you will, and realize that every single American institution, be it financial, military, educational or governmental was built, since the 20's or 30's with the sole purpose of defeating communism and preserving the American way of life, poxy blankets and all. They serve no other purpose. None, and thus cannot adapt to any change in the staus quo.

No they weren't.
posted by juiceCake at 2:00 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


dgaicun: Let's make something clear, I could give a shit what you believe "real" Communism is, or how benign you think Karl Marx's ideas are...

If you can't be bothered to distinguish yourself or your beliefs from Communism...

The desire to label anyone whose ideas you don't like as a commie: another side effect of swallowing Cold War propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

As I pointed out above, I am a small business owner. I'm a capitalist through and through as far as I'm concerned and I haven't discussed my political or economic beliefs at all here. I just don't buy into what to me is obviously a bunch of bullshit concocted during the 20th century that people used to attack their political opponents.

And I think I've demonstrated that I'm quite familiar with the many horrors carried out by both communists and capitalists during the 20th century, whether I have a brain in my head or not (Because everyone who has a brain hates commies, right? Ya either hate commies or you're an idiot pot-smoking pinko commie-lover and there aren't any other options. Riiiight. Not the effects of propaganda at all.)

...the experiment was repeated dozens of times across the world: slavery, genocide, police state, and terror famines. Communism is as Communism does.

And those things were repeated dozens of times across the world under the auspices of capitalism. So tell us dgaicun, why don't you spew the same vitriol about capitalism? I can assure you that to the families of those disappeared by a police state it doesn't really matter whether it was communists or capitalists.

I'll tell you why you aren't talking about how capitalism inevitably leads to genocide and police states or claiming "capitalism is as capitalism does". Because the Cold War political propaganda you decided to buy into was the stuff written by Americans, the opponents of the communist states. If you were living in the Soviet Union you'd have received Soviet Cold War propaganda and you'd have an equally erroneous belief that Western political ways can invariably only lead to misery and evil, and in a discussion of the Cold War you'd stridently cite the crimes of Western powers and go much softer on the USSR and China or even portray their actions as justified, like jsavimbi's apologetics for the U.S. above do.

jsavimbi: I wasn't praising the American way of life as we know it, I was simply pointing out that the majority of our institutions have a mindset...

Slippery little weasel, aren't you? Stating it's "unfortunate" that the Cold War is over isn't some innocent little neutral statement about historical socioeconomics, it's very clearly a value judgment. You weren't "simply pointing out" anything.

You were very clearly asserting that when your team slaughters people or casts them into oppression to get its way, you think that's a good thing, and you laid out a variety of benefits deriving from it. But when the commies do it, it's a bad and evil thing that is by no means excusable with the same justifications you use.

You've quite deftly revealed that you're a moral relativist and you don't really care about capitalism or communism or socialism at all. If you were convinced that communism could be as good for you and yours as the Cold War was, you'd be in line to sign up, and you'd participate in all the same atrocities for the sake of the Motherland that ever happened in the Soviet Union.

That's another great advantage of demonizing one's political opponents. You get to pretend that you would never be prey to any of their faults or errors or evils. The only reason they do those bad things is because they're not like us at all - they're utterly alien, they're barely even human. We're the good guys in this conflict, so whatever we do is anointed and right and completely justified.

Bullshit, as I've been saying.
posted by XMLicious at 11:28 PM on March 24, 2009


The desire to label anyone whose ideas you don't like as a commie: another side effect of swallowing Cold War propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

Sorry, but I did not do this. You were the one who lumped Communism with socialism as if they were synonyms, as per the examples I cited. The intent was clearly to mitigate the murderousness and distinctiveness of the former ideology by conflating it with the successes of states with democratic socialism (e.g. Communism isn't a murderous ideology, just look at Sweden! And what about my Communist uncle, he never killed anyone HURF DURF).

Why you are doing this is for you to know, but much like holocaust denial it is not a politically neutral stance. It underlines your own thought processess and sympathies; and those thought processess and sympathies should be a source of embarrassment. Many do this for no good reason than thinking its hip to soft-peddle the crimes of the hard-left as a right wing myth. That doesn't make them edgy, it makes them cunts.

It certainly doesn't politically aid liberals, like most of those in this thread who try to laugh off such political conflations as right-wing caricature, whenever someone within their fold feeds the same dumb frames.


I just don't buy into what to me is obviously a bunch of bullshit concocted during the 20th century that people used to attack their political opponents.

Do you extend the same logic to Fascism? The US had its war propaganda there too, therefore Nazism must be a swell ideology, right! Perhaps you are just an unthinking conformist who read too many psy op pamphlets and official government-stamped history texts. Give me a break. I was a little kid during what lasted of the cold war you asshole. I haven't read any "propaganda," I read history books written by scholars from dozens of different countries and backgrounds, some written by victims. Your condescension is ignorant and pathetic.

I'll tell you why you aren't talking about how capitalism inevitably leads to genocide and police states or claiming "capitalism is as capitalism does". Because the Cold War political propaganda you decided to buy into was the stuff written by Americans, the opponents of the communist states.

Pray tell, who were these American authors I was reading? You seem completely unaware that Communism had/has a lot more critics than Americans or capitalists. You do realize that socialists and anarchists wrote about many of the same criticisms, right? Of course you don't. You can't escape the Cold War frame you are stuck in.

I know of no Capitalist states, only a bunch of mixed economies that were variously successful at increasing living standards for their poorest segments, while, e.g. not murdering or enslaving the populace. There were no laissez-faire revolutionaries, or laissez-faire states. But there were Communist revolutionaries, and there were Communist states. And Communism, at its heart, was about revolutionary violence. And murder people it did.

There is, of course, a benign kind of Communism... it's commune-ism.
posted by dgaicun at 8:05 AM on March 25, 2009


There aren't any laizzez-faire dictatorial states - because truly laizzez-faire types tend to become libertarians or anarchists.

But there are and were horrific dictatorships which have been propped up by Western powers in the name of defending the free market. As was mentioned above, Mossadegh's democratic socialist government in Iran was over-turned by a US and UK backed coup who feared his nationalisation of the oil industry (then largely - or entirely? - held by a British oil company). This action helped to found a terrible police state, and fuel the Islamic revolution which replaced the Shah's with another terrible police state. The protection of corporate power has been implicated in violence and human rights abuses in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. This does not mean that the free-market is evil, but that it does grant power to certain individuals, and that some people will seek to protect their sources of wealth and power even to the point of immorality.

As to the natural tendancies of 20th century Communism - it's an ideology which was constantly being shaped and changed in practice by those who were in power, sometimes for ideological reasons, sometimes because they were paranoid psychopaths who would have wreaked the same kind of horror in any system which granted them unchecked (or even somewhat checked) power (eg Stalin, who, if he had not become a murderous dictator, would have probably just stayed as a murderous Georgian gangster).

I do think that there are elements in Marxist-Leninism which are essentially anti-democratic and promote unchecked power, though the abuse of this unchecked power does vary with personality (and ruthlessness). Mao was no Stalin, and Deng Xiaoping was no Mao - their respective violence against and oppression of their own peoples reflects personal characteristics, not systemic.

But it is anti-democracy that we should fear, not the dislike of free markets. Saint Thomas More, for example, was no lover of free markets and wrote his own treatise advocating against a capitalist approach to the economy, but isn't known for his violence. Not that he was democractic, being a proper 16th century gentleman who knew that the masses just really aren't to be trusted - but he did seek to check the arbitrary power of the Crown. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, both elites and popular classes in Britain debated the wisdom of letting the market run free, or chaining it to some greater moral authority. It's a fascinating period, because this is the time in which the elites, though not the majority of the popular classes, began to think that the market should be allowed to develop as it would, even if there were immediate bad social effects, because eventually it would leave to the rising of the living standards of all (an early "rising tide floats all boats" theory). Adam Smith was no revolutionary thinker, but coalescing some two centuries of economic and social thought.

Personally, I like to leaven my Adam Smith with some more up todate economic and historical research for how economies really work (rarely as logically as we wish), and also some Thomas More, for the morality side.

But most of all, we should remember the old Political Compass distinction, and for all that its is a cliche, still take it seriously and distinguish between Stalin and Ghandi (both very socialist, differing ideas on democracy). There are democratic socialists and undemocratic socialists, and democratic capitalists and undemocratic capitalists. Bush's government was rather more undemocratic than I was comfortable with, while Obama's is both more socialist and more democratic. As someone who likes democracy and also thinks that the market, while very useful is also (like a good sharp tool) potentially very dangerous if you don't have safety equiptment (aka regulation and mitigation), I like this.

My only fear is that Obama (and his cabinet) will be too thoughtful, too careful, such that by judicial hestitation they won't take some risk which nonetheless could have great long-term returns (like high speed rail - EVERYWHERE :). Obama is actually much more confident that markets will regulate themselves in a way that serves society than I am; I believe the market is self-regulating, but I don't trust the end-results of that regulation as I believe that they serve the market and not sentient human beings and the betterment of all our lives.
posted by jb at 8:42 AM on March 25, 2009


> The desire to label anyone whose ideas you don't like as a commie: another side effect of swallowing Cold War propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

dgaicun: Sorry, but I did not do this. You were the one... [various waffling snipped]

Uh, yeah you did. You declared that I "can't be bothered to distinguish [my]self or [my] beliefs from Communism", i.e. that my beliefs are identical to communism (which, as I've stated above, is not remotely true, nor is there any difficulty at all in distinguishing my beliefs from communism) along with saying that because I don't think commies are bad or that "communist" should be a scare word in politics, I have no brain, that I'm ignorant and pathetic, that I have condescended towards you to have such opinions about communism, et cetera.

It's pretty amazing that you can tell me I have no brain and that I'm ignorant, not to mention declare that I'm a liberal and a commie-lover, then get yourself all uppity that I'm being condescending to you.

Do you extend the same logic to Fascism?

If someone was proposing the same economic or governmental structuring measures as were posed in Mussolini's Italy (which is where the term "Fascism" is from - it derives from fasces, a Roman symbol) - such as the formation of public corporations to take over sectors of government - I would listen. Certainly critically, but since I believe that those sorts of measures are in place in various nations around the world under names other than "fascist", hopefully there would be some data and precedents for examining whatever was proposed.

I definitely would not jump up and down and wave my arms and shout that the person doesn't have a brain.

I also think that people should pay no attention if politicians call one another "Fascist", even someone who proposes an economic or government structuring measure equivalent to something that occurred in any of the states that called themselves "Fascist" - it should not be an effective scare word. Exactly how I said above that the terms "communist" and "socialist" should be taken, I find labeling someone a "Fascist" to be quaint and meaningless. (As do many, if not most, other people according to what I've read. We don't even call oppressive dictatorships or other oppressive states like Myanmar "Fascist" - we just use it as a pejorative term now.)

...holocaust denial...

But look at that, you didn't even wait for my answer to call me a holocaust denier! You really have no shame, do you? But I guess you were just a little kid when Godwin's Law was formulated, so here's a link for future reference.

Since I've described communism and communists as shooting their allies in the back of the head, monstrous, embodying a desire for control and oppression, and sustaining their government and economy by perpetuation of violence and misery... what exactly is it I'm denying again? Acknowledging that non-communist states willingly and enthusiastically did all the same stuff isn't a denial of anything, of course.

Or is it not that I'm denying anything, it's just that I'm not showing sufficient outrage at the evil commies, I'm not jumping up and down and acting berserk like you are? In the original Soviet meaning of the term political correctness, I am not loudly and intolerantly decrying the mere mention of the incorrect political view.

No, you're not acting like someone won over by propaganda at all.

I was a little kid during what lasted of the cold war you asshole.

Yeah, join the club, me too - I wasn't even in high school when the Berlin wall fell.

You are still acting just like a foaming-at-the-mouth McCarthyist or a post-WWI Red Scare witchhunter. If you think you have to read a pamphlet or watch a 1960's filmstrip to be affected by the propaganda of that era, that's the problem. There are many people in Putin's Russia who are parroting Soviet propaganda without having read it, who were children back then or not even born before the fall of the USSR. Just as you are treating a suspected communist sympathizer in the manner that would be demanded by 1960's American society.

There is, of course, a benign kind of Communism... it's commune-ism.

Well if you ever meet any of them you should probably be a complete raving intolerant dick to them too, just in case. Some of those Israeli kibbutzim are members of Communist or Marxist political parties.

jb: ...it is anti-democracy that we should fear, not the dislike of free markets.

QFT. And as so many have pointed out recently, there aren't even any free markets anyways to be disliked in the first place, not when even a Republican White House administration will drop a trillion dollars to stabilize the economy.
posted by XMLicious at 11:58 AM on March 25, 2009


/g/kibbutzim/kibbutzniks
posted by XMLicious at 12:07 PM on March 25, 2009


If I were to be really pedantic, I would point out that I probably should have differentiated between a market oriented economy and a capitalist one. The first being one in which people produce for the market rather than subsistence, but generally own (or rent) the means of production (like late-medieval self-employed farmers, craftsmen, etc), and the second in which a large percentage of the population not only produce for the market but do not possess the means of production but trade their labour for wages. I don't agree with Marx's models of how classes work or history (for one, aristos are perfectly happy being capitalists), but I think he was spot on in seeing the significance of this difference between wage-labouring and being self-employed, though both within a market oriented economy. That is really what the transition to capitalism is about - not suddenly producing for the market, because in many places in the world market oriented production long predates capitalism. It's about the way that things are produced for the market.
posted by jb at 1:05 PM on March 25, 2009


Hmmm, good points about non-capitalist market-oriented economies.

Tying that in with your earlier point that communism is an ideology which was constantly being shaped and changed in practice by those who were in power, I've always wondered what might have become of Soviet communism had Lenin lived to continue with the New Economic Plan, which seemed to some degree to be an attempt to intentionally use markets within the communist system.

It seems to me that in many respects we ought to regard markets as simply one tool in a varied arsenal for achieving goals - sort of the way it's applied in pollution credits. It's obvious now that the general economy can't get along without an enormous amount of scaffolding and crutches and I would hope that we can steadily move from what currently looks like a patch-and-spackle approach to more holistic and comprehensive economic engineering. (And hopefully one that's less scary / less like an amusement park ride.)

As a software engineer I have in recent years seen people do some pretty amazing things with something that's sort of computing's equivalent to economics' markets as a self-optimizing tool-system, evolutionary algorithms, so I'm hopeful that we can achieve a much more sophisticated understanding of this kind of stuff. Or at least turn out extremely economically-realistic versions of SimCity.
posted by XMLicious at 2:15 PM on March 25, 2009


Uh, yeah you did. You declared that I "can't be bothered to distinguish [my]self or [my] beliefs from Communism", i.e. that my beliefs are identical to communism (which, as I've stated above, is not remotely true, nor is there any difficulty at all in distinguishing my beliefs from communism)

No, the 'i.e.' is fallacious. Your "real" beliefs are immaterial, as I said. Conflating Communism with socialism, much less liberalism, is itself a political statement. Just like sporting a toothbrush mustache and goosestepping down the street of Harlem is necessarily a political statement, whether or not it is paired with any explicit intellectual content.

But look at that, you didn't even wait for my answer to call me a holocaust denier! You really have no shame, do you? But I guess you were just a little kid when Godwin's Law was formulated

Like it or not, Nazism is the only analogy that can be communicated, since it is the only ideology with universal moral consensus. Why? Because people that down-play or soft-peddle Nazi enormity get shamed and face social penalties from people of all political persuasions. Just as people should be, but often aren't, shamed and face ostracism when they do the same for Communism. So I will treat people that do either one as the asshats I think they are.


Since I've described communism and communists as shooting their allies in the back of the head, monstrous, embodying a desire for control and oppression, and sustaining their government and economy by perpetuation of violence and misery... what exactly is it I'm denying again? Acknowledging that non-communist states willingly and enthusiastically did all the same stuff isn't a denial of anything, of course.


Ironic, since one of the key talking points of holocaust denial is that the Nazis weren't perfect, but did nothing differently than what the allied powers did with their own camps, etc.

All kinds of states with different economic systems did indeedy inflict violence on their populations, but their economic systems were incidental to that violence. Some mixed economies (i.e. economies with various degrees of socialist and open market systems) terrorized their citizens, others not so much. Communist takeovers, on the other hand, always did. Because it was fundamental to the ideology. The violence was not incidental to the economic system, it was a fundamental component of it.
posted by dgaicun at 3:39 PM on March 25, 2009


See? I'm not the only one here who goes shithouse on this topic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:00 PM on March 25, 2009


Please open your mind for a second, smoke a spliff if you will, and realize that every single American institution, be it financial, military, educational or governmental was built, since the 20's or 30's with the sole purpose of defeating communism and preserving the American way of life, poxy blankets and all

Only if I can roll from your tin.
posted by pompomtom at 9:22 PM on March 25, 2009


What an outstanding attempt to argue that night is day. No sir, no socialists here! Just higher taxes, increased social safety net, more central control of the economy etc... That's all.

Still it was worth reading for Jim's response to the article where he points out a few of the contradictions in progressive liberalism, and how fundamentally un-American it is. Quite a surprise to see such cogent criticism on the website of a rag like the New Republic. His comments are quoted below, all emphasis mine, paragraph breaks also placed by me.

->It is amazing that someone who supposedly deals with these topics for a living is so completely ignorant of the subjects he's writing about. "Liberalism" is a term that has been misused for some time in the US, but the author should know that. True liberalism is the philosophy espoused by someone like Thomas Jefferson - which advocates for as little government power and intervention as possible. Today, that has essentially become known as libertarianism. Conservative economic icons like Hayek and Milton Friedman espoused economic liberalism (again, in the correct usage of the term).

What is currently known as "liberalism" in the US is the result of several layers of ideology that have been laid on top of one another over time. The Democratic Party was a liberal party when it started, led by the philosophy of Jefferson. That philosophy was severely damaged by the Civil War, at the same time that socialism was gaining steam in Europe. Soon thereafter, something known as "progressivism" sprang up. Initially, it had adherents in both parties. Politicians like Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt competed with each other for the mantle of "progressive".

The progressive movement was the antithesis of liberalism. It held that modern society had become so complex that it could only be run by the "expert" social engineering of government. Eugenics was among the ideas that became popular at that time. Fascism, Nazism and Marxism/Socialism were all variations of progressivism. The former two were infused with intense nationalism, and in the case of Nazism (fueled by the emergence of Darwinism, Nietzsche and Eugenics), racism. Marxists and Socialists, on the other hand, believed in a world wide movement that would lead to world government and world socialism. In practice, however, the USSR became nationalistic due to their belief that it was easier to establish socialism in one country and then spread out than it was to work everywhere at once. Stalin thus became almost indistinguishable from Hitler, whose National Socialism was narrowly focused on the advancement of the "Aryan Race". Thanks to the depression and FDR, progressivism became firmly cemented into the Democratic Party, in a mildly socialist form.

The Republicans then began to absorb elements of the liberalism the Democrats had abandoned, particularly when it came to economics, but also in the wider sense of the role of government. The tension between the Republicans' traditionally conservative views on national security and social issues and their neo-liberal views on economics and the role of government continues to be seen in their on-again/off-again alliance with libertarians, who are the torch bearers for what remains of liberalism.

The Democratic Party retains only shreds of its old liberalism. It is liberal on issues of public morality, but that's about it. Its embrace of speech codes and political correctness is distinctly anti-liberal. The "identity groups" that have come to exert heavy influence over it are deeply Marxist in their philosophy. From child safety seats to smoking bans, "liberalism" in its modern US usage is a near-total oxymoron. If the modern American left has a cohesive philosophy (which I would argue it does not), it could be called something like "progressive democratic socialism". They basically offer light, toned down versions of ideas that were associated with the various 20th century totalitarian movements in Europe. The tension within the modern American left is between its supposed continued belief in democracy and the Constitution (the latter being particularly doubtful), and its belief in heavy-handed, elitist, top-down social engineering. If you want to know what the US will look like if the modern American left (well represented by Obama) triumphs, look at Venezuela. That is our future if "Obamaism" succeeds. The Administration's direct attacks on media figures who criticize their actions (Santelli, Cramer, Limbaugh) should not be taken lightly. The cult of personality surrounding Obama is also not new. The public stoking of class warfare for political gain is not new. That said, the modern American left is not so much marching towards socialism and totalitarianism as they are stumbling towards it. Their ideas all lead to inexorable anti-liberal conclusions, but they are firmly convinced that they are still liberals...that somehow, some way heavy-handed government can be reconciled with individual liberty. That's how the author comes up with his thoroughly Orwellian assertion that "more government makes people more free". But again, it's not so much propaganda as it as rationalization. They don't want to actually accept what they've become.

->"Capitalism is a set of social relations that will die out like all social arrangements..." "Capitalism" cannot die out, because "capitalism", as a pre-meditated economic philosophy, does not exist. Unlike Marxism, no one ever "invented" "capitalism". The term itself is a straw man, which merely describes the modern expressions of the kind of economic activity that has gone on since the beginning of human civilization -- it is a necessary concept for Marxists, because they prefer not to admit what it is they really oppose -- liberal democracy. If something fails, it will not be "capitalism", it will be liberal democracy and the rule of law. What it will be replaced by is the same thing that existed before liberal democracy -- tribalism and despotism. Dress it up in whatever names you like, it is what it is. The head of state is the king, and the elites around him are the nobles. The people have only those rights granted to them by the state. In the end, all of the "new" political ideas created since the advent of liberal democracy in the U.S. have been aimed at a single goal -- re-establishing the power of the elites that was lost. Put another way, what's the point of going to Harvard if you can't rule the world?

->Maybe the left is confused about the difference between freedom and security. More realistically, they rationalize their positions by calling their notion of security freedom. Benjamin Franklin had his opinion (paraphrasing): "those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither and will get neither". Bottom line: when asked the question "How much government should we have?", a liberal says "as little as possible". The modern left and Democratic Party say "as much as we need to accomplish our agenda". They are polar opposites in almost every way.
posted by BigSky at 11:57 PM on March 25, 2009


dgaicun: Your "real" beliefs are immaterial, as I said.

It seems exceedingly odd that you should say such a thing, considering how much time you've spent in this thread talking about my beliefs. And how they mean that I don't have a brain, that I'm ignorant, and that I'm condescending to you by having them. Even though I haven't discussed my political beliefs here at all. Yes, you've got quite alot to say about my beliefs despite the fact you purportedly don't care about them, and you certainly don't know anything about them.

Wow, that's like a magic trick. Not only did you pull a bunny out of a silk tophat - you pulled an invisible bunny out a silk tophat.

Conflating Communism with socialism, much less liberalism, is itself a political statement.

Now amongst your comments and mine the only one who has been throwing the word "liberal" around is you. I have only used it in quoting you. So who's making political statements here again? By attacking suspected communist sympathizers via tossing out Nazi analogies?

I guess what I'm saying could be a statement about political tactics, in which case of course it's not a conflation. And in that case the statement would go something like this: People who like to use scare words and rhetorical labels in politics and political discussions, such as "communist", "socialist", "Fascist", and "Nazi", as an attempt to paint their interlocutors as the bad guys or as evil with no regard to their actual political practices and beliefs, are complete and utter asshats and hence should be ignored.

OMG I just used "communist", "socialist", "Fascist", and "Nazi" together in the same sentence! You had better start talking about how I believe that Fascists and communists are the same thing and how that means I deny the Holocaust, all while going through extensive mental gymnastics to pretend that you can fault me for all these things while not talking about my political beliefs which you know nothing about.

This is really pretty mind blowing. You have literally said above that suspected communist sympathizers should be "shamed and face ostracism". All after so strenuously asserting in the most abusive manner you could manage that anyone noticing a connection between your behavior and American Cold War era propaganda is an evil thoughtless idiot. So QED as far as I'm concerned. But perhaps you're beginning to accept reality - I notice that you left behind the discussion of the effects of propaganda to focus on Nazis in this most recent comment.

(Oh, and you're clearly laying groundwork for some more name-calling: it's obvious from the use of the phrase "talking points" to describe me and the attempt to make it look as though I've been talking about "liberalism" that you're hefting another rhetorical label to throw at me. It's amazing how far you're getting with the various "-isms" without even having the slightest need or interest to inquire into my political beliefs. I really am impressed; not only are you a magician, you're a psychic too!)

Because people that down-play or soft-peddle Nazi enormity get shamed and face social penalties from people of all political persuasions.

Let me assure you, when you pull shit like saying "I don't know anything at all about your political beliefs but you are a Nazi and a Holocaust denier" to try to win arguments on unrelated topics you are accomplishing quite a lot for the cause of downplaying Nazism. You're probably getting much further than actual Neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers are. (Many of whom really want people to focus on the word "Nazi" instead of what 20th century Nazi Germany and its government - and its nationalist popular majority - actually did so they can get away with the same things under a different name. You're helping out there too, good job.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:12 AM on March 26, 2009


(Actually, I have to say that it's almost flattering that dgaicun, despite a seething earnest desire to fling as much rhetorical name-calling as possible, is clumsily and clownishly unable to determine my political position and is see-sawing back and forth between "pinko commie-lover liberal", "Fascist Nazi", and now edging into trying "Republican conservative wacko" even after reading thirty-odd paragraphs I've written about communism and socialism. It almost makes me feel like I must be fair-minded and balanced in my political opinions; but it's probably more realistic to put it down to desperate craven obtuseness... yeah, actually, on second thought I definitely am not fair-minded.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:28 AM on March 26, 2009


see-sawing back and forth between "pinko commie-lover liberal", "Fascist Nazi", and now edging into trying "Republican conservative wacko"


I haven't done any of this, except assume you see yourself as a liberal. The odds are certainly that you do, but perhaps you don't. You've spent all your reply-space flogging this, but I honestly could give a shit how you see yourself. Your identity and motivations are subordinated to your explicit statements, which are the issue.

This is an extremely common and tiresome, in fact, cliche tactic for racists, who will try to play interference with criticism with the whole "but my best friend/wife/god-son is X" and then expect this to disarm you from challenging their comment as racist.

You have made factually incorrect, revisionist statements in this thread intended to mitigate ideological-based atrocity. This makes you an apologist and an ass, regardless of your preferred identity.

It's sickening and sad, but I am encouraged that as scholarship surrounding Communism continues to grow, and genuinely Cold War-inspired anti-anti-Communism attitudes continue to subside, the youngest generations move closer to my attitude.

That's my last comment for this thread, unless someone manages to raise more substantive matters.
posted by dgaicun at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2009


The distinction jb seems to want to make (it's a very important one!) is between Revolutionaries and Reformists. In Russian terms, that's Bolsheviks (Lenin) and Mensheviks (Martov). One is impatient and brutal and totalitarian. The other is careful and compassionate and democratic.

Actually, the distinction I was drawing was between moderate democratic Socialists - such as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which had been called the "Socialist Workers' Party of Germany" before 1875, and actually Communist parties such as the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

There were, of course, people and parties which slipped between the two - politics never being simply categorical - such as the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which after the disasters of WWI and the general crisis of parliamentary democracy (since a bunch of parliamentary-style democracies had just worked very hard to destroy a generation of Europeans in what is still to me one of the most horrific wars I can imagine), the USPD became skeptical of parliamentary rule and supported rule by councils.

At the time, both SPD and USPD were very influenced by Marxism (the USPD wanted to join the Comintern, but split over whether this would end up ceeding independance to Moscow), but the SPD was committed to parliamentary democracy, even though this choice led to its losing members to the less democratic USPD. So that makes it very not Leninist or Stalinist - and, in fact, the SPD continues to be an active political party in that oh so oppressive Germany of today.

And to get back to the point of the thread - when Republicans say that Obama is a "Socialist" they want you to think that he is Castro or even Stalin. But this is complete Bull do-do. Any socialist tendancies he has is in the mode of the SPD - that is, a social democrat mode which advocates for a mixed economy between the laizzez faire and full-on Marxist-Socialism. Though really, I don't think he is a social democrat - I think Obama is a Keynesian with a healthy respect for the social safety net. (Keynes being a member of the British Liberal Party, of course, and a committed early 20th century Liberal - that philosophy having also changed and grown over time just as all do).

And, for what it matters, Bernie Sanders has only been described as a socialist by other people - his own webpage describes as a "progressive". But in any other country - where "social" was not a bad word (as if society were a dirty thing) - he would be described as a "social democrat".

As for growing the government and government debt, well, that has been a Republican speciality in the United States for the whole of my lifetime, though sadly the American people have little to nothing to show for it. I feel for my American friends when I think of all the advantages I had growing up in Canada that they never had - most of all, access to excellent health care and affordable tertiary education despite my own family's poverty. To steal from (and subvert) Obama, my story would not be possible in the United States.
posted by jb at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2009


Bernie Sanders has only been described as a socialist by other people

Here's what he said yesterday on Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders, you’re the independent senator from Vermont. For years, you called yourself a socialist. You hear the Republicans saying we’re not going to socialize this, for example, healthcare, etc. What is socialism? And where do you think it applies today?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I think if people take a good look at what has gone on in Scandinavia, in Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, some other European countries, what they will find is that the people in those countries have good quality healthcare which is virtually free. Workers have, in some cases, thirty, forty days paid vacation. A college education in many of these countries is either free or virtually free. At a time when our country has an 18 percent rate of childhood poverty, which leads to so many people ending up in jail, in many of these countries the poverty rate for kids, and poverty in general, is three, four, five percent. Workers are more likely to be members of unions and have more power on their jobs to protect their own interests. People’s interest in politics and the political process is greater. So I think what you have seen is governments which are more responsive to the needs of working people and the middle class than certainly is in this country, where, among other things, we have by far the highest rate of inequality, in terms of distribution of wealth and income, of any major country on earth.

So what democratic socialism means to me is having a government which represents the middle class and working people, which guarantees the basic necessities of life for all of our people. Healthcare, obviously, has got to be a right, not a privilege. We need to make sure that our kids get off to a good start in life, not seeing so many kids living in poverty, childcare being the disastrous disaster that it is right now with so many working families unable to find quality affordable childcare. In other words, a government which works to protect all of the people, rather than, as we have right now, governments for so many years which have protected the needs of the very wealthy and the powerful large corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider yourself a socialist today?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Democratic socialist, yes.
posted by homunculus at 9:22 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


humunculus - thank you for the correction. This does make it very interesting that his webpage's bio seems to carefully avoid the s-word (not even using the common European label "social democrat"), and instead repeats the FDR-esque use of "progressive".

I happily admire Mr Sanders's socialism.
posted by jb at 9:41 AM on March 26, 2009


Old and busted: Socialism.

New hotness: Dictatorship.
posted by homunculus at 3:31 PM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


The progressive movement was the antithesis of liberalism. It held that modern society had become so complex that it could only be run by the "expert" social engineering of government. Eugenics was among the ideas that became popular at that time. Fascism, Nazism and Marxism/Socialism were all variations of progressivism. The former two were infused with intense nationalism, and in the case of Nazism (fueled by the emergence of Darwinism, Nietzsche and Eugenics), racism. Marxists and Socialists, on the other hand, believed in a world wide movement that would lead to world government and world socialism.

Just so we're clear, there's absolutely no reason to associate the Progressive movement with any of these -isms. For one thing, and I think it's the most important point, Progressives were not in favor of 'rule by experts.' Indeed, they favored reforms to the US party system that would make 'experts' more accountable to ordinary folks, and educational reforms that would better enable citizens to participate in their own policy-production. Certainly, the 20th century as a whole has been the story of the growth of the administrative state in which medical, economic, and legal experts have made increasingly centralized decisions about the matters effecting individuals, but the Progressives were the party most troubled by "the Curse of Bigness" and most hopeful that an epistocracy could be avoided.

In other words, I call BULLSHIT.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:14 AM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Didn't you hear, anotherpanacea, that FDR was a big fascism fan? That's why he spent so much time and effort while he was dying to try to support the promotion of fascism in the world.
posted by jb at 7:03 AM on March 27, 2009


anotherpanacea,

While I enjoyed Jim's comments, I don't sign off on every last thought in those remarks. However, linking the Progressive movement to an increased reliance on experts, and the accompanying build up of bureaucracy is not only correct but also, in my opinion, one of the most important points he made.

Individual progressives may have made comments critical of the drift towards centralization, but that was the trend that the movement promoted. Progressivism drew most of its support from the educated middle and upper classes. Professional associations, which flourished during the Progressive era, were almost entirely populated by this same sector of society. As middle class professionals became more politically powerful by way of the professional societies rise in status, it was the Progressives who benefited. But the benefit wasn't one sided, the Progressives did champion the expert and his knowledge. The idea of Progress presupposes that there is some other, better way the world could be. And this better way is known by the disinterested expert whose sole concern is the good of his client. This was precisely the view of the professional (medical, legal, engineering, whatever) that professional associations began to promote. In addition to their posture of disinterest, the increased visibility of the professional associations magnified their authority. The combination of the two makes for a powerful rhetorical advantage and professional associations didn't limit themselves to just acting like a medieval guild. After all, if a professional association can present itself as an expert looking to help out society with no vested interest but the good of society, it makes a strong case for its own continued existence. And part of their increase in power consisted of their reports and pronouncements influencing the creation of policy. This is quite a cultural change from what came before, namely parties with easily identified interests lobbying for legislation that is of direct benefit to themselves. The agendas of the Progressives and the professional associations were closely aligned. The common thread, present both in identity and rhetorical stance, is "I have no direct interest in the outcome, but I do have some expertise in these matters...". In the progressive view there is less emphasis on the common good as a matter for the individual conscience, and rather more on it being determined and measured from "up above" - that is, in the findings of disinterested experts. A vision of government that wishes to organize society according to what a small number of experts determines to be the common good, is promoting centralization and necessarily the further growth of the state.

I am not denying that there has always been a strong current of populism in the Progressive movement. It's easy to find numerous examples of slogans conveying such sentiments as, "by and for the people". But there has also always been a call for a strong, expert bureaucracy and a high regard for disinterested knowledge, and in my opinion, that is the more vital issue. The reforms you refer to regarding party politics were not to toss out the experts, they were to eliminate corruption. The Progressives were concerned about the powerful having vested interests in the outcomes they were helping to shape, and they hoped that putting in disinterested experts would increase the efficiency and fairness of government.

The connection between the Progressive movement and the rest of the "-isms" listed is primarily the two beliefs that experts can determine what is "optimal", and that mankind is better off putting an ever increasing number of decisions in their hands. Taken together it follows that the individual flourishes as the authority of the state increases.

---

I also want to make it clear that I am not sneering at all pronouncements from professional associations and that I think government committees should certainly consult with disinterested experts. There is no question that I have benefited enormously from some of these decisions. In this discussion we're making a lot of generalities and since I believe that the federal government has grown far too large and powerful, I argue against the trend. But there is certainly room for nuance as well.
posted by BigSky at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


dgaicun: It's sickening and sad, but I am encouraged that as scholarship surrounding Communism continues to grow, and genuinely Cold War-inspired anti-anti-Communism attitudes continue to subside, the youngest generations move closer to my attitude.

The attitude where one analogizes the opinions of one's interlocutor to "sporting a toothbrush mustache and goosestepping down the street of Harlem" because "Nazism is the only analogy that can be communicated" when talking about such subjects as the beliefs of the residents of Israeli kibbutzim or how execrable and morally equivalent to Soviet despotism many acts of the United States were, such as supporting Saddam Hussein by selling him arms and anthrax? If that sort of, er, enlightenment spreads to the youngest generations, and they become more concerned with building a rhetorical arsenal of "-ism" scare words to throw at others rather than affirming that these kind of acts are unforgivable and inexcusable no matter who does it, we're pretty much all screwed; Heaven forfend.

Aaaaanyways, IMO the moral of this thread is that if in the 21st century someone is scornfully calling their political opponent "socialist", "communist", "Fascist", or "Nazi" (or indirectly trying to do so via some gambit such as equating any of those to Progressivism) you can be pretty certain they're full of shit and should be ignored, whether they're dgaicun or a politician on the right, on the left, or anywhere else in the political spectrum.

Re: labeling Obama a "dictator" - I've also run into people IRL who declare that Obama is "tearing up the Constitution", and I find it so ridiculous and laughable that someone would repeat such a thing to a stranger. My response is: dude, we just got rid of the guy who tortured people in secret prisons and you are seriously swallowing allegations like this?
posted by XMLicious at 11:09 AM on March 27, 2009


What's in a name? Liberals, er, progressives, hope victory
posted by homunculus at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2009


Heh heh, I think in the future I'll identify my political beliefs as "Pinko Conservative Commie Nazi Fascism / Centrist" just to get it all out of the way ahead of time.
posted by XMLicious at 11:31 AM on March 27, 2009


A major difference between conservatives and progressives: The right marched in uncritical, creepy devotion to Bush for the first six years of his presidency. The left has been leading the way in criticizing Obama when warranted
posted by homunculus at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aaaaanyways, IMO the moral of this thread is that if in the 21st century someone is scornfully calling their political opponent "socialist", "communist", "Fascist", or "Nazi" (or indirectly trying to do so via some gambit such as equating any of those to Progressivism) you can be pretty certain they're full of shit and should be ignored, whether they're dgaicun or a politician on the right, on the left, or anywhere else in the political spectrum.


The only one in this thread who has equated socialism with Communism is you. You did it shamelessly and repeatedly. (In fact, my entire interaction with you in this thread has been trying to get you to either acknowledge error or own your statements.)

Why you are doing this is for you to know. You'd like to think I've concluded it's because you're a Communist, but really I just think its entirely because you're pig ignorant, stubborn, and partisan. (Pretty much exactly akin to the BME guy who strenuously defended the Confederacy, because he didn't know any better. The difference is that he kind of realized it and acknowledged it by the end of the thread. He thought it was all a bunch of anti-South propaganda, just like you think anti-Communism is just a right-wing Cold War relic)

Given that you held up Democratic Socialist Bernard Sanders as an example of the good works of Communism, I think it's pretty clear that you stumbled into his thread almost completely ignorant about political systems and political history. You don't even know what Communism is (Communism, Socialism, it's all the same, right?), you just have a quaint Cold-War backlash hand-me-down notion that you dislike anti-Communists so they must be wrong. There's no such thing as dangerous, violent political systems. It's all a bunch of propaganda.

You didn't know that Communism has/had opponents that weren't Capitalists and Americans. In your mind such critics don't exist.

If you respond to this comment, please answer the following questions: Are Socialism and Communism the same thing? If not, what is the difference? Is Communism a harmless ideology? If not, could you please explain why? Are any political ideologies odious? Can you name a few, and explain what can make an ideology odious?

Thank you.
posted by dgaicun at 1:13 PM on March 27, 2009


Thanks for acknowledging that what I said above is a substantive matter ;^) Though I took away my favorite from the comment where you announced you weren't going to post any more, of course.

Remember, if you run into any Israeli kibbutzniks who are members of Maki or Hadash (like, for example, some of the members of the Israeli national legislature), don't forget to shout that they're brainless ignoramuses and analogize their beliefs to Nazism. You classy, classy, enlightened exposer of people who are shameless, who has read so much about communism, you.
posted by XMLicious at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2009


The progressive movement was the antithesis of liberalism. It held that modern society had become so complex that it could only be run by the "expert" social engineering of government.

Actually, my husband just reminded me that Keynes, an early 20th century Liberal, also thought that experts should rule the world - specifically Cambridge graduates, because everyone knows that Oxford is evil.
posted by jb at 7:10 AM on March 28, 2009


The progressive movement was the antithesis of liberalism. It held that modern society had become so complex that it could only be run by the "expert" social engineering of government.

And this aligns with the anti-liberal "big gubmint bad" dogma how?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2009


"The progressive movement was the antithesis of liberalism. It held that modern society had become so complex that it could only be run by the "expert" social engineering of government."

Actually, my husband just reminded me that Keynes, an early 20th century Liberal, also thought that experts should rule the world - specifically Cambridge graduates, because everyone knows that Oxford is evil.

and

And this aligns with the anti-liberal "big gubmint bad" dogma how?

As he makes clear, it's an earlier usage of 'liberal' that you're reading.

From his first comment - "Liberalism" is a term that has been misused for some time in the US, but the author should know that. True liberalism is the philosophy espoused by someone like Thomas Jefferson - which advocates for as little government power and intervention as possible.

and later - Bottom line: when asked the question "How much government should we have?", a liberal says "as little as possible". The modern left and Democratic Party say "as much as we need to accomplish our agenda". They are polar opposites in almost every way.

You can call Keynes a liberal if you like. I won't argue whether the term is appropriate. But in the context of Jim's comments, where 'liberal' refers to backers of a small-government ideal, it doesn't make sense to use the same word to refer to Keynes, a staunch advocate for centralized control of the economy. So the implication that because Keynes was in favor of a powerful administration controlled by experts, that then the liberals (again the earlier usage, as distinguished from progressives) were of mixed mind on the subject, does not hold.
posted by BigSky at 4:48 PM on March 28, 2009


Talking about "big government" and "small government" does not refer to any existing political party or affiliation that is not a tiny conglomerate of whackaloons and is therefore useless and stupid.

Talk about reality or shut up.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2009


Talking about "big government" and "small government" does not refer to any existing political party or affiliation that is not a tiny conglomerate of whackaloons and is therefore useless and stupid.

Talk about reality or shut up.


WTF? Are you telling me what language I should use to answer someone who responded to me?

Is there something more to your comment than you being a hostile twit?

Get over yourself, chief.
posted by BigSky at 6:27 PM on March 28, 2009


it doesn't make sense to use the same word to refer to Keynes, a staunch advocate for centralized control of the economy.

Keynes did not believe in or advocate for the centralized control of the economy. You are mistaking him for some more left-wing Bolsheviks (even centrist Bolsheviks didn't look for centralised control of the economy).

Keynes believed that markets would right themselves, but too slowly and with too much pain for the human beings affected by them, but that judicious government spending could dampen the pain of recessions. They could do this not by controlling the economy in any way, but simply through stimilus spending which would correct for the failure of demand and thus check the spiralling deflation and demand-crisis that the world saw in the depression. He did this because he theorised, against the then accepted economic wisdom, that demand drives an economy, not supply (and I think that history and development show he was right).

However, once the recession was over, he advocated that governments should stop spending as much and pay down their debts. It's basic economics, in the old-fashioned Greek "household" sense - spend on a rainy day, and save on a sunny day.

As for whether he was a "liberal" - well, he was no Thomas Jefferson, but his economic plan was the economic plan of the British Liberal Party in 1929, and he was himself no socialist - he was, after all, most worried about correcting the free market, not replacing or mitigating it. The British Labour Party, for example, sought to address the Depression (which had really started in Europe just after 1918) by increasing unemployment and other social welfare means, whereas Keynes really sought to jumpstart the economy. But in his general beliefs about politics and economics and social issues, he was definitely a late-19th, early 20th century liberal - that philosophy changed with the times as well.

FDR, who I would call a progressive, was following Keynes's ideas, but I wouldn't really call Keynes a progressive. I don't know that he cared whether his policies would help the lower classes. What he cared was that he realised that economy was ultimately driven by the consumption of the majority - and when the majority don't have steady incomes with with to consume things, the entire economy (including that which keeps Cambridge dons supplied with port, without which the entire university would grind to a halt) would come tumbling down. Or at least shrink very painfully.
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


To add - when it came to governments, Keynes was definitely a fiscal conservative. He would never advocate deficit spending in good times - that's when you have to pay down debts to prepare for the next bad times.

Obama is clearly following Keynsian principles - these are not socialist, and they are definitely not Marxist. Why would any Marxist want to stimulate demand in a capitalist economy? A decent Marxist would be storming the banks, not bailing them out; socialists would be looking to nationalise them and maybe the car manufacturers, and laying the ground work for a serious social safety net. The Obama adminstration so does not want to nationalise the banks, even if that would - according to some economists - really be the best idea. But it goes against their liberal Keynsian principles.
posted by jb at 7:45 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


jb,

I didn't intend to imply that either Keynes or Obama was a Marxist. I do concede that referring to Keynes as a "staunch advocate for centralized control of the economy" is far too strong, especially in a thread discussing the right wing's use of the label 'Socialist' to refer to Obama. Where I would pick a bone with you is this statement:

They could do this not by controlling the economy in any way, but simply through stimilus spending which would correct for the failure of demand and thus check the spiralling deflation and demand-crisis that the world saw in the depression.

I see stimulus spending as attempting to control the economy. Perhaps 'manipulate' would be a better word. Either way, it's government intervention and for that reason I can't consider him a proponent of economic liberalism. There isn't much dissension on this issue (the question of government intervention in the economy) between classic liberals. I'll certainly grant that Keynes was more fiscally conservative than most who followed him, but the passage you quoted is concerned with showing the link between the belief in the need for an administration of experts and the notion that economic intervention is prudent. The fact that Keynes would have advocated for intervention and shown more restraint is besides the point.
posted by BigSky at 8:59 PM on March 28, 2009


BigSky: Sorry I'm just coming back to this now. Basically, we need to distinguish the Progressive Party as it existed for a few decades between 1912 and 1946 as a spinoff of the Wisconsin Republican Party, and a larger obsession with progress and teleological accounts of history that has troubled us since the Enlightenment. The Progressive Party was adamantly anti-expert, pro-small-government, "for business and against the trusts," pro-participation, etc. Louis Brandeis was hardly a fan of 'expertocracy.' The ideology of progress encompasses all those teleological accounts of historical development from Kant, Hegel, and Marx to to the Communists, Nazis, and technocrats. That seems to be what you're describing in your little folk history, but you've got the time periods and causal ascriptions all wrong. As is often the case with 'isms' the usages have only a family resemblance to each other.

Anyway, if you're interested in the capital-P Progressives, take a look at Teddy Roosevelt and Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette. Otherwise, you're talking about small-p progressives. Since that word was in the air a lot at the start of the 20th century, you can find it used by pretty much every stripe of politician: it's like 'justice-talk' today. If you're interested in contemporary attempts to resurrect the Progressivism of La Follette, check out Peter Levine's great book: The New Progressive Era.

Hope that helps!
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:22 AM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am very skeptical of the notion that any political philosophies or groups can be categorized by a tendency to reference experts or cede authority to trusted experts on the basis of their expertise. Certainly maybe some people would prefer academic experts while others would do something like put a veteran industrialist in charge of things but I don't think I've ever met or read of anyone who universally discounts or fails to respect the value of expertise, particularly when they've got an expert at their disposal (academic or otherwise) to support or implement their own views.
posted by XMLicious at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2009


I see stimulus spending as attempting to control the economy. Perhaps 'manipulate' would be a better word. Either way, it's government intervention and for that reason I can't consider him a proponent of economic liberalism. There isn't much dissension on this issue (the question of government intervention in the economy) between classic liberals.

No, he was not a proponent of classic economic liberalism; he was the rewriter of where economics would go. He was working in a context in which classic economic liberalism had failed disasterously - just as free market fundamentalism has failed recently. His diagnosis of the economic woes of the 1920s and 30s was that there was a failure of demand - the world was producing enough stuff, even too much, but there was not enough demand for this material - meaning that supply did not naturally produce demand. His theory, however, was that economies are not driven primarily by supply, but by demand, that is "demand and supply" system, not a "supply and demand". So, faced with economic depression and deflation due to the failure in demand, he said that governments could help to fix this.

But "manipulate" would also be too strong a word for his proposals. He didn't seek to manipulate the economy, to drive it in one direction or another. He sought to stimulate it in bad times (though not in good times, when governments should pull back and pay down debts). The difference is like the difference between putting reins on a horse and driving it, or just poking it in the rear with a sharp stick to make it run.

Okay, now my twentieth-century historian husband is arguing with me - he sees Keynes as imagining the government able to drive an economy with the gas pedal and a brake pedel - I agree that he saw government spending like gas and a brake to stimulate demand, but I would argue that nothing in Keynes's proposals would have given the government a steering wheel. He just proposed works to employ people, so that they would have money in their pockets and go buy stuff (DEMAND), but the government would have no control or even suggestion over what they bought because it was a free market. It was just a free market that wasn't allowed to run over the cliff like a lemming.

But all this economic innovation doesn't make him not a political Liberal - supporting free speech, parliamentary democracies, individual rights and liberty - including the liberty of what to spend their new wages on. In the context of his times (1920s, 30s) this was not to be assumed from major thinkers - many were very tempted by Marxism and fascism, having lived through the horrific failures of parliamentary democracies in WW1.

In the context of discussing what a government will do to our rights and freedoms, political liberalism is what we are looking for, not economic liberalism. Indeed, there is a very good argument that pure economic liberalism allows for too much economic instability, bandit bankstas, the growth of inequality and the installation of a dangerous oligarchy, and thus is itself a threat to the rights and freedoms of the majority of the population.
posted by jb at 8:25 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, If We're Not Exactly Practicing Capitalism Right Now, What ARE We Practicing?
posted by homunculus at 7:14 PM on March 30, 2009


It's a good thing we're practicing, because quit clearly we don't have it perfected yet.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:44 PM on March 30, 2009


The Declining Unpopularity of Socialism
posted by homunculus at 12:04 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next? Whatever ideological logo we adopt, the shift from free market to public action needs to be bigger than politicians grasp
posted by homunculus at 6:09 PM on April 10, 2009


Socialism has failed? Um, what? Where?

The problem is with the Centrist "I'm Not a Socialist, I Swear!" types who, rather than making improvements themselves, give corporations incentives to make them. Instead of giving citizens health care directly, the government might give corporations tax breaks for offering insurance benefits to their employees; in order that more people should receive those benefits, maybe the government lets those corporations get bigger and bigger and gobble up the smaller competitors who are less generous to their employees. The government might do the same for media corporations who improve infrastructure by installing fiber-optic lines, launching satellites, and erecting cell phone towers on your front lawn. Then they might do the same for banks who make it easier for you to buy a house. And then maybe they do all that for the insurance companies who provide the benefits to those employees in the first example, or the banks in the last.

And after all that, let's say there are just a handful of corporations, and they're all massive. "Too big to fail," one might say: The State--the people--depends upon them utterly. But let's say there's no oversight and no regulation over the corporations--or if there is, maybe it's rarely enforced. All corporate decisions--which can mean life or death of the nation--are all made in private, and all for profit. It's a house of cards, and it's built on quicksand.

But let's say those few firms upon whose survival everyone depends were fully state-owned. There would be oversight and regulation. They'd be scrutinized like crazy. They wouldn't get away with nothin'. You'd have a say. How awesome would that be?

Oversight and regulation, incidentally, are what Capitalists mean when they use the word bureaucracy. They claim it would result in severe, crippling slow-downs. They're right, of course--Why, NASA languished through a full ten years of red tape before they could do something as simple as landing a man on the moon!
posted by Sys Rq at 2:37 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe the key is to limit the size of corporations. They could only get so big before they had to stop growing. Nothing in nature has limitless capacity for growth; why exempt businesses?

On the other hand, we could start using the Chinese method for dealing with corrupt big business owners. It provides a big incentive for those at the top to make sure that those at the bottom aren't being too badly harmed.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:45 AM on April 12, 2009


Or maybe the key is to organize a flavor-aid party, so that the batshitinsane can prove their point about how Obama really is, literally!, killing them.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 AM on April 12, 2009


Or maybe the key is to organize a flavor-aid party, so that the batshitinsane can prove their point about how Obama really is, literally!, killing them.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on April 12 [+] [!]


Or brainwashing Americans through the digital converter boxes for their TVs.
posted by jb at 10:36 AM on April 12, 2009


Maybe the key is to limit the size of corporations. They could only get so big before they had to stop growing.

Yeah, some updating of the anti-trust laws; this seems like a really good idea to me. I heard an idea proposed somewhere that involved developing ways that conglomerations of smaller banks might work in concert to compete with larger banks overseas, sort of financial keiretsu.
posted by XMLicious at 11:31 AM on April 12, 2009


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