A Climate For Crooks

February 2, 2011

There’s been a lot of squawking and hand-wringing in the media over the word “socialism”. Fortunes are being made as certain political self-caricatures jet from coast to coast spitting the word as if it were a soul-and-nation-destroying instrument conceived by Satan and wielded by liberals.

The word has bad press because it become associated with socialist states that corrupted it by talking common-good while practicing elite governance. In those so-called socialist states money flowed up-hill and wealth and power congealed at the top like sludge in a septic tank. In fact socialism was probably not as destructive to those states as age-old self-interest, greed, and lust for power —kind of how “democracy” has been corrupted in the USA by the Supreme Court-sanctioned purchase of elections by corporations. So blaming “socialism” for evils that flow from human nature is as misdirected as it would be to blame “democracy” for preemptive war and the situation in which we find ourselves. Socialism and democracy are ideas implemented by humans. There’s no protection implicit in either from those who are determined to circumvent the common good; i.e. crooks.

But even in the USA there’s is socialism most of us love; socialism which, over the life of the nation, has helped even the ruggedly-individualist, capitalist, wild-west to keep chugging.

Legislators and presidents of both left and right love their socialist, government-overseen health care plan, for instance. And, according to recent polls, Americans do not want anyone messing with government-administered Social Security and Medicare; travelers and car manufacturers adore our government-created-and-state-funded highway system; the U.S. has for decades benefitted hugely from our government-run public school system which has educated successful entrepreneurs who, forgetting their roots, later abandoned and excoriated it leaving it to rot; the internet which was conceived and created by employees of government bureaucracies is wildly popular; and advances in technology, science, and medicine that flowed from our government-operated space program have helped us and our businesses become the richest and most powerful nation in the world –at least for a while.

If socialism means pooling resources and creating enterprises for the common good all the examples just cited may be described as socialist. The problem is not socialism. What has corrupted failed socialist states is the same thing that is corrupting our democracy: greed for money and power. Socialism is no more a bad word or idea than democracy. In the wrong hands a democracy-in-name-only can be an ugly and treacherous thing. What’s more, calling a system democratic when it’s not is no more intellectually honest than calling a system socialist when it’s not. And using socialist-states-that-were-anything-but as examples of why socialism is bad is just a means of ignoring the possibility that what brought them down may just as well bring us down: growing disparities of wealth between plutocrats and “the rest”.

This thread of media incantations about socialism is motivated by capitalist elites who are concerned that the economic meltdown we’re experiencing might be blamed on Capitalism (my god, why would that be?). 

“…there is growing nervousness (among the political and media elite) over the implications of the capitalist crisis and the potential for mass social opposition to the policies of the ruling class. Thus far, political discussion in the US has been contained within an extremely narrow framework. The diversity of views in the media and on the talk shows encompasses various shades of opinion within the wealthiest one tenth of one percent of the population. 

“There is an objective logic to developments. At a certain point—sooner rather than later— discussion of policy will escape their tight grasp. The masses of people who are directly affected by the global depression will become involved.” –Joseph Kishore, wsws.org

In the Tao Te Ching a Chinese poet/philosopher named Lao Tzu wrote something that applies to political or social systems anywhere:

                                If you inflate some to greatness others necessarily diminish.
                                If you covet possessions you’ll create a climate for crooks

It may just be that such a climate for crooks is what brought down the Soviet Union, the poster-state certain of our politicians tack to the wall as an example of the evils of socialism. The fact that the USSR became a corrupt, non-humanitarian enclave of  tyrants and self-interested elites may be what weakened and ruined it more than its so-called socialism. In an essay from the Economic Department of the University of Massachusetts, the author argues:
                                 “…by the 1980s the party-state elite which ran the Soviet system no longer bore much ressemblance to the party of revolutionary socialists who had come to power in 1917. Over time they had evolved into a pragmatic elite, the majority of whom no longer took the official socialist ideology seriously and instead pursued individual power, prestige, and privilege.” –David M. Kotz, Lessons from the Soviet and Chinese Experience (Page 3)

This can happen to a so-called democracy as well. In fact it is happening. With the rapid economic slippage of our middle class into the ranks of the poor while the economy of the wealthy is apparently in recovery it’s no wonder the mouth-pieces of wealth demonize socialism. It’s an effective re-directional technique of free-market slight-of-hand artists. The motivation for conservative politicians in citing the bogey of socialism is to turn attention from corruption by the financially powerful. It may also be to keep the lid on. How long can a lid be kept on?

Ask Hosni Mubarak.

At least some economic big wigs, in Tourette Syndrome-like spurts of honesty, counter TV and radio bloviators and lecture circuit personalities who are paid to be dishonest. Former Fed head Alan Greenspan, for one, called growing income inequality in the U.S. a “very disturbing trend,” and remarked, “As I’ve often said, this is not the type of thing which a democratic society – a capitalist democratic society – can really accept without addressing.”

The truth is out there. It’s at least chest-high. Bob Dylan (tuned in as ever) alluded to it in a song on his unnervingly coincidental (and possibly prophetic) 2001 album Love & Theft:

High water risin’—risin’ night and day
All the gold and silver are bein’ stolen away
Big Joe Turner lookin’ east and west
From the dark room of his mind
He made it to Kansas City
Twelfth Street and Vine
Nothin’ standing there
High water everywhere


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