Who’s Afraid of Communism?

The story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy has been repressed for generations, but this grip on our collective memory is slipping fast.

Source: New Republic

Author: Malcom Harris

Emphasis Mine

With the Berlin Wall barely a memory and Airbnb in Havana, American anti-communism is probably at its historical nadir. Bernie Sanders has proven the word “socialism” doesn’t scare the next generation; a lot of us even seem to like the idea. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, remembers a different time, when griping about the Reds was an American hobby. She writes fondly about it in her memoir Living History: “We sometimes ice-skated on the Des Plaines River while our fathers warmed themselves over a fire and talked about how the spread of communism was threatening our way of life.”

During the April Democratic primary debate, the candidates were asked about NATO, and a curious thing happened. Donald Trump had called for European nations to contribute more to the organization’s budget; Bernie Sanders more or less agreed. But when it came her turn, Hillary Clinton praised NATO, calling it “the most successful military alliance in probably human history.” Neither the moderators or Sanders pressed her on this point, but it’s a bizarre assertion, on par with some of Trump’s goofier statements. In its 67-year history, NATO has conducted a handful of major military operations, all centered on the breakup of Yugoslavia or the (disastrous) American-led War on Terror. The most powerful? Maybe. The most successful? Not a chance. 

The only way anyone could possibly think of NATO as among the most successful military alliances in human history is if they thought NATO won World War II. But NATO was formed in 1949, and World War II ended in 1945. Still, weren’t the Allies a sort of proto-NATO? For millennials in particular, that makes a lot of sense: Forged in the victory over Nazi Germany, the story goes, a group of Western democracies (led by the U.S., U.K., and France) formed a mutual-defense pact to prevent the same thing from happening again. World War I gave us the UN, and its sequel gave us NATO. But anyone over 35 should know this story’s wrong; there’s a character missing.

The Soviet Union didn’t just help win World War II; they were, by most metrics, the most important player. They lost the most people, 50 times as many as America did. But even in formerly occupied territory, the memory of the USSR’s role seems to be fading along with its monuments. In a post about this particular lapse in historical recollection at Vox—tellingly titled “The successful 70-year campaign to convince people the USA and not the USSR beat Hitler”—Dylan Matthews cites the French blogger Olivier Berruyer’s analysis of poll data. Asked to choose from the U.S., the U.K., and the USSR, 58 percent of French citizens credited America with doing the most to defeat Germany, while 20 percent picked the Soviets. In 1945, with the liberation just complete, those numbers were reversed. 

I imagine that if you asked the average young American what army liberated Auschwitz, they would say ours. Which is wrong, but it’s hard to blame them: Capitalism won, and we’ve moved on to new bogeymen. If you don’t need to warn innocent children away from Soviet seduction, there isn’t much need to tell them about communism at all. We can fill the gaps in the history books with patriotism. 

Ignoring history, however, won’t make it go away. Without the Soviet threat, the anti-communist barricades are a little understaffed. And with faulty censors, who will stop the culture industry from making communism seem cool? The two most famous Soviets right now are probably Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the KGB spy stars of the critically acclaimed F/X show The Americans. Despite having been created by a former CIA agent and set in the 1980s, Elizabeth and Philip aren’t the bad guys. They’re the good ones. In Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in Afghanistan, the American government’s policies are portrayed as worth fighting against by any means necessary. It’s a more honest description of the history than Clinton’s, in her memoir. “In the past,” she writes of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere, “American policy in the region led to the funneling of foreign aid to military juntas that opposed communism and socialism but sometimes repressed their own citizens.”

Anti-communism has been a powerful force within American politics and culture for over 150 years. In their book The American Slave Coast, Ned and Constance Sublette date its inauguration to the 1850 Nashville convention on Southern secession, when Langdon Cheves, former Speaker of the House and South Carolina congressman, denounced abolitionists as communists:

What we call the rights of man, or the admission of great masses to the power of self-government, has brought into action the minds of persons utterly unqualified to judge of the subject practically, who have generated the wildest theories…. This agitation has recently reached the United States…, and has brought under its delusions the subject of African slavery in the Southern States. It is of the family of communism, it is the doctrine of Proudhon, that property is a crime.

Cheves’s speech, the Sublettes write, was no fluke: “Proslavery writers formulated the first generation of American anticommunist rhetoric.” Cheves and co. weren’t wrong: Communists (including Karl Marx) really did want to destroy slavery, but patriotic American history books don’t have room for left-wing internationalism. Anyone involved in creating one of those textbooks grew up in a time when Marxists were the Bad Guys and people who questioned that got in trouble.  

You might not know it from the history books, but American communism has always been racialized. When Jim Crow laws banned interracial organization, the Communist Party was the only group that dared to flout the rule. In 1932, when the Birmingham, Alabama police went to shut down a Party meeting, a present national guardsman wrote his superior: “The police played their only trump by enforcing a city ordinance for segregation which, of course, is contrary to Communist principles.” Now we tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement within liberal parameters, but everyone who fought for black liberation was called a communist at one time or another, and not always inaccurately. 

This legacy might be largely forgotten in the United States, but it isn’t gone. President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told The Atlantic that the rapprochement with Cuba began at the funeral for Nelson Mandela, where Obama shared the stage with Raul Castro:

We had used the black-and-white version of history to justify Cuba policy that didn’t make much sense; that was far past its expiration date. I think that he had enough of an understanding of history to know that whatever we think about the Cuban government’s political system and human-rights practices that, in fact, when it came to the anti-apartheid movement, they had a place on that dais at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, and he was not going to, essentially, disrespect the legacy of Nelson Mandela by carrying forward that history and snubbing the Cuban president because of our bilateral relationship.

Mandela, in addition to being a hero to American liberals, was most likely a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party. And while America was denying that NATO’s attention to the shipping lanes around the South Atlantic had anything to do with supporting apartheid, tiny Cuba was sending tens of thousands of soldiers to fight against white nationalism in Angola on principle. Many historians credit Cuban intervention with delivering the deathblow to apartheid; at the time, The New York Times Magazine called the Cuban mission “strange.” If Obama wanted to share the stage with Castro, he had to drop decades of American bullshit.  

The story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy has been repressed for generations, but this grip on our collective memory is slipping fast. David Simon is planning a series about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade—American leftists who fought against fascism in Spain. Steve McQueen is doing a Paul Robeson biopic, whose 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee is already the most cinematic thing I’ve ever heard. When asked about his membership in the Party, he invoked the Fifth Amendment (“Loudly”), at great personal cost. “Wherever I’ve been in the world,” he told them, “the first to die in the struggle against fascism were the communists.” 

A new poll of adults under 30 found that 51 percent “do not support capitalism.” Zach Lustbader, a college senior involved in conducting the poll, told The Washington Post: “The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to.” And if capitalism isn’t the Good Guy, young people might go looking for a more nuanced version of the Cold War narrative. Hollywood might even bring it to us first. Without the anti-communist lid, it’s hard to tell what we’ll find, and how the political landscape will change.

Hillary Clinton’s shoddy but common recollection can’t withstand a tablespoon of earnest scrutiny. As a new generation of Americans starts digging through the records, we’re going to hear a lot more questions.

See:https://newrepublic.com/article/133132/whos-afraid-communism?utm_source=New+Republic&utm_campaign=b08e8b5665-The_Spain_Orwell_Never_Saw4_28_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c4ad0aba7e-b08e8b5665-59481477

Robert Reich: The Wealthy Have Pulled America Back to the 19th Century

Wall Street and enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that leave most Americans behind.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Robert Reich

N.B.: Marx: correct in the 19th century, and still correct today.

Emphasis Mine

My recent column about the growth of on-demand jobs like Uber making life less predictable and secure for workers unleashed a small barrage of criticism from some who contend that workers get what they’re worth in the market.

A Forbes Magazine contributor, for example, writes that jobs exist only  “when both employer and employee are happy with the deal being made.” So if the new jobs are low-paying and irregular, too bad.

Much the same argument was voiced in the late nineteenth century over alleged “freedom of contract.” Any deal between employees and workers was assumed to be fine if both sides voluntarily agreed to it.

It was an era when many workers were “happy” to toil twelve-hour days in sweat shops for lack of any better alternative.

It was also a time of great wealth for a few and squalor for many. And of corruption, as the lackeys of robber barons deposited sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

Finally, after decades of labor strife and political tumult, the twentieth century brought an understanding that capitalism requires minimum standards of decency and fairness – workplace safety, a minimum wage, maximum hours (and time-and-a-half for overtime), and a ban on child labor.

We also learned that capitalism needs a fair balance of power between big corporations and workers.

We achieved that through antitrust laws that reduced the capacity of giant corporations to impose their will, and labor laws that allowed workers to organize and bargain collectively.

By the 1950s, when 35 percent of private-sector workers belonged to a labor union, they were able to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions than employers would otherwise have been “happy” to provide.

But now we seem to be heading back to nineteenth century.

Corporations are shifting full-time work onto temps, free-lancers, and contract workers who fall outside the labor protections established decades ago.

The nation’s biggest corporations and Wall Street banks are larger and more potent than ever.

And labor union membership has shrunk to fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers.

So it’s not surprising we’re once again hearing that workers are worth no more than what they can get in the market.

But as we should have learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit.

In the late nineteenth century they were organized for the benefit of a few at the top.

But by the middle of the twentieth century they were organized for the vast majority.

During the thirty years after the end of World War II, as the economy doubled in size, so did the wages of most Americans — along with improved hours and working conditions.

Yet since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.

This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever.

It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind.

That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages.

Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments.

Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts.

Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart).

But less tolerance toward labor unions — as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.

We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century.

So what will be the galvanizing force for change this time?

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His homepage is www.robertreich.org.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/robert-reich-wealthy-have-pulled-america-back-19th-century

Give Karl Marx a Chance to Save the World Economy: George Magnus

s he wrote in “Das Kapital,” companies’ pursuit of profits and productivity would naturally lead them to need fewer and fewer workers, creating an “industrial reserve army” of the poor and unemployed: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery.”

Karl Marx and the World Economy

By George Magnus

Policy makers struggling to understand the barrage of financial panics, protests and other ills afflicting the world would do well to study the works of a long-dead economist: Karl Marx. The sooner they recognize we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime crisis of capitalism, the better equipped they will be to manage a way out of it.

The spirit of Marx, who is buried in a cemetery close to where I live in north London, has risen from the grave amid the financial crisis and subsequent economic slump. The wily philosopher’s analysis of capitalism had a lot of flaws, but today’s global economy bears some uncanny resemblances to the conditions he foresaw.

Consider, for example, Marx’s prediction of how the inherent conflict between capital and labor would manifest itself. As he wrote in “Das Kapital,” companies’ pursuit of profits and productivity would naturally lead them to need fewer and fewer workers, creating an “industrial reserve army” of the poor and unemployed: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery.”

The process he describes is visible throughout the developed world, particularly in the U.S. Companies’ efforts to cut costs and avoid hiring have boosted U.S. corporate profits as a share of total economic output to the highest level in more than six decades, while the unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent and real wages are stagnant.

U.S. income inequality, meanwhile, is by some measures close to its highest level since the 1920s. Before 2008, the income disparity was obscured by factors such as easy credit, which allowed poor households to enjoy a more affluent lifestyle. Now the problem is coming home to roost.

Over-Production Paradox

Marx also pointed out the paradox of over-production and under-consumption: The more people are relegated to poverty, the less they will be able to consume all the goods and services companies produce. When one company cuts costs to boost earnings, it’s smart, but when they all do, they undermine the income formation and effective demand on which they rely for revenues and profits.

This problem, too, is evident in today’s developed world. We have a substantial capacity to produce, but in the middle- and lower-income cohorts, we find widespread financial insecurity and low consumption rates. The result is visible in the U.S., where new housing construction and automobile sales remain about 75% and 30% below their 2006 peaks, respectively.

As Marx put it in Kapital: “The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses.”

Addressing the Crisis

So how do we address this crisis? To put Marx’s spirit back in the box, policy makers have to place jobs at the top of the economic agenda, and consider other unorthodox measures. The crisis isn’t temporary, and it certainly won’t be cured by the ideological passion for government austerity.

Here are five major planks of a strategy whose time, sadly, has not yet come.

First, we have to sustain aggregate demand and income growth, or else we could fall into a debt trap along with serious social consequences. Governments that don’t face an imminent debt crisis — including the U.S., Germany and the U.K. — must make employment creation the litmus test of policy. In the U.S., the employment-to-population ratio is now as low as in the 1980s. Measures of underemployment almost everywhere are at record highs. Cutting employer payroll taxes and creating fiscal incentives to encourage companies to hire people and invest would do for a start.

Lighten the Burden

Second, to lighten the household debt burden, new steps should allow eligible households to restructure mortgage debt, or swap some debt forgiveness for future payments to lenders out of any home price appreciation.

Third, to improve the functionality of the credit system, well-capitalized and well-structured banks should be allowed some temporary capital adequacy relief to try to get new credit flowing to small companies, especially. Governments and central banks could engage in direct spending on or indirect financing of national investment or infrastructure programs.

Fourth, to ease the sovereign debt burden in the euro zone, European creditors have to extend the lower interest rates and longer payment terms recently proposed for Greece. If jointly guaranteed euro bonds are a bridge too far, Germany has to champion an urgent recapitalization of banks to help absorb inevitable losses through a vastly enlarged European Financial Stability Facility — a sine qua non to solve the bond market crisis at least.

Build Defenses

Fifth, to build defenses against the risk of falling into deflation and stagnation, central banks should look beyond bond- buying programs, and instead target a growth rate of nominal economic output. This would allow a temporary period of moderately higher inflation that could push inflation-adjusted interest rates well below zero and facilitate a lowering of debt burdens.

We can’t know how these proposals might work out, or what their unintended consequences might be. But the policy status quo isn’t acceptable, either. It could turn the U.S. into a more unstable version of Japan, and fracture the euro zone with unknowable political consequences. By 2013, the crisis of Western capitalism could easily spill over to China, but that’s another subject.”

(George Magnus is senior economic adviser at UBS and author of “Uprising: Will Emerging Markets Shape or Shake the World Economy?” The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the Bloomberg View editorial board: view@bloomberg.net.

emphasis mine

see:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-29/give-marx-a-chance-to-save-the-world-economy-commentary-by-george-magnus.html