Since the fall of the Soviet Union, liberals have had it tough. Anyone who dares says a phrase including the words “universal”, “state-run”, “government-run”, or “social(ized)” have been demonized by some conservatives as communists. For these people, it seems that it gives them no greater joy than to label somebody in favor of, oh say, universal health care, as a “pinko commie.” In fact, these things have gone back further than 1992. Anybody who knows their history remembers Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Likewise, but perhaps to less of an extent, conservatives have had it tough in the last eight years. With an increasingly unpopular war – even with a successful surge strategy (though this isn’t the whole story) -, scandals up and down the party, the Valerie Wilson leak, among other things, conservatives have had to contend with liberals calling them fascists.
Now, I’m a proponent of using capitalism wherever it works. For instance, I’ve given my support to a more or less free market healthcare system, albeit with some reforms, but making sure to help those who really cannot afford it. I’m more or less a free market guy all around, except where a completely free market system hurts the public. So, it pains me to see liberals or conservatives calling the other side communists or fascists when that’s probably not the truth. Lets take the two major party nominees in this general election: John McCain and Barack Obama.
Barack Obama – Communist?
I’m a regular reader of the blogosphere and Internet forums, and quite often – usually on a conservative-leaning site, I see somebody describe his policies as communistic in nature. Let us take a look at a description of communism:
Communism is a socioeconomic structure that promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production. It is usually considered to be a branch of socialism, a broad group of social and political ideologies, which draws on the various political and intellectual movements with origins in the work of theorists of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, although socialist historians say they are older. Communism attempts to offer an alternative to the problems believed to be inherent with capitalist economies and the legacy of imperialism and nationalism. Communism states that the only way to solve these problems would be for the working class, or proletariat, to replace the wealthy bourgeoisie, which is currently the ruling class, in order to establish a peaceful, free society, without classes, or government. The dominant forms of communism, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism and Luxemburgism, are based on Marxism, but non-Marxist versions of communism (such as Christian communism and anarchist communism) also exist and are growing in importance since the fall of the Soviet Union.
That’s a bit simplistic, I think. According to Marx, the proletariat (workers) would rise up against the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production), and when they won, would end private ownership of the means of production and communalize it. Eventually, the state of consciousness of the people would be that the need for a state would be eliminated. This is called communism.
Now, I know what you’re going to say, “Sounds like anarchy.” In some ways, it may be like that, but not the anarchy you’re thinking of. These days, anarchy popularly means disaster, war, and lawlessness. Society gone mad. I think the word’s been twisted by its opponents. Traditionally, anarchy simply means no government at all. All of this sounds bad, but it really isn’t, at least on paper. To survive, everybody has to pitch in. The metalsmith has to make metal to build structures, the plumber has to keep the plumbing running, and society collectively has to teach the next generation all they need to now. Everybody has to do their part, or the society falls apart.
You might be thinking, “Ah, that’d never happen. A society without a government where everybody pitches in?” In this industrialized age and region, you might be right. However, it does currently exist. I present to you the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert in sub-Saharan Africa. In !Kung society, everybody pitches in. True be it that there are some gender roles involved – women primarily gather plants, berries, nuts, and the like, while men hunt – but everybody does what is needed to be done to survive. Eventually, all the hunted and collected food is brought back to the village and distributed among everybody. While it is unfortunately true that the !Kung are gradually being forced out of their way of life by the “more modern” national governments around them, the !Kung and other bands like them have survived in the way described about for 30,000 years.
30,000 years ago, modern humans were just emerging. Yet, despite the prevalence of gender roles, anthropologists consider peoples like the !Kung to be among the most egalitarian societies in the world. Now, I’m not suggesting we abandon our computers, TVs, and cell phones, and go out hunting and gathering, but right there is proof that a communist-like society does work.
I would consider communism to be the modernized form of the society of the !Kung. A hunting and gathering system for the industrialized age. The question with communism is whether it can actually work in an industrialized society. The hunting and gathering system works, I think, because of the simpler life. Yes, the hunters and gatherers spend several days a month doing their job for the community, but after that, they do other things. Care for their young, socialize with the community, visit relatives, whatever. However, they don’t traditionally do what we might call “work” (e.g. have an actual employer), although this has been changing in the last 30 years or so. They also don’t have our electrical appliances or permanent homes – hunters and gatherers are necessarily nomadic. So, would communism work in a society that mass produces its products? In my personal opinion, that is one of the hugest pitfalls of Marxism, in that it doesn’t properly explain how we go from capitalism to communism. It just kind of skims over the process.
So where am I going with this? It’s simple. Marxism was further developed by Lenin, who said that the only way communism could be achieved was by implementing a dictatorship of the proletariat, consisting of a party that would be democratic within, but must support the decisions outside. The proletariat would be released from the brainwashing tendencies the bourgeoisie had supposedly done to them. Stalin eventually took Lenin’s ideas, and formed them into the Communism that we are often warned against today.
So, Marxism did not start out as the authoritarian system that we know. So, to call Barack Obama a communist, just because he sees a need for universal healthcare, is wrong. Is universal healthcare socialist? Yes. But, keep in mind that communism is a form of socialism, not the other way around. Obama simply thinks that for some essential services, such as healthcare, the government has a responsibility to make sure everybody gets it. He and those like him see healthcare as a human right. As I said in my introduction, I agree, to the extent of those who can’t afford it. If people can afford it, they shouldn’t be on a universal healthcare plan. And those who are on it should be encouraged to try and get off it as quickly as possible. In some way, I’d prefer an extended version of Medicaid.
Does he have some socialist tendencies in areas that he thinks needs government intervention? Yes. But I believe elsewhere, the man is a capitalist.
John McCain – Fascist?
I’ve seen it plenty and often. President George W. Bush has been called a fascist. Whether it’s warrantless wiretapping, NSA surveillance, or the PATRIOT Act, these people say our country is heading toward a dictatorship. According to the administration, all these things are needed in order to prevent a terrorist attack from occurring on our soil ever again. A case of “all for the best.”
Do I think George Bush is a fascist? No. Does he believe in expanded executive power? Yes. I think his signing statements prove that. Yet, a belief in expanded executive power doesn’t mean you want to be a dictator. Just look at his attempts to spread the Western brand of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The history of expansive executive power is a long one, and it has occurred in both Republican and Democratic governments. The Civil War showed one thing was clear, don’t secede from the union! Then, during the Great Depression, FDR brought in the New Deal. In the 1960s, the government told us who we couldn’t discriminate against, and LBJ brought us The Great Society. And lately, expended executive power has brought us greater control over security measures.
Now, whether or not these measures are legal are beyond the scope of this entry. Although I disagree with expanded executive power, to the extent that civil liberties are maintained, and people can get the necessary services, just because a president overreaches doesn’t mean he’s going to become a dictator. Lets look at the description of fascism:
Fascism is a government, faction, movement, or political philosophy that raises nationalism, and frequently race, above the individual and is characterized by a centralized autocratic state governed by a dictatorial head, stringent organization of the economy and society, and aggressive repression of opposition. In addition to placing the interests of the individual as subordinate to that of the nation or race, fascism seeks to achieve a national rebirth by promoting cults of unity, energy and purity.
Does the U.S. have national pride? More often than not, I think people are proud of this country. Are some overly nationalistic? Yes, especially those suggesting we don’t have any immigration (illegal immigration is not the same thing). Next, we’re not very a very centralized country, nor does the government have any actual great amount of organization over the economy or society. Finally, repression of opposition is virtually non-existent.
Our freedom is the key point of the argument against a march toward fascism. From what I’ve seen, in the run-up to the 21st century, we’ve actually become more free. Just look at the success the gay rights movement recently had in California. It’s becoming more accepted that they will have the same rights as men and women partnerships. There are some exceptions to the rule, but I think they’ll come around.
So, are there some overreaches in executive power? I think so, and they need to be reeled in. Yet, are we creeping ever closer to a fascist society? No. So, this is why I think John McCain is not a fascist. He is playing to the inner conservatives in the Republican party a bit too much, but I chalk that up to naivety. McCain has a record for being against torture, and I know he’s against the Guantanamo Bay facility (“McCain said in March 2007 that he would ‘immediately close Guantanamo Bay, move all the prisoners to Fort Leavenworth and truly expedite the judicial proceedings in their cases'”. He’s also more socially moderate than George Bush, with support for civil unions, among other things.
So, any attempt to frame John McCain as a fascist is only a ploy to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
In fact, any attempt to portray anyone as a fascist without any actual evidence of support for implementing a dictatorship is just plan lunacy. As is anybody attempting to portray a liberal as a communist without evidence. Wanting universal healthcare is not communism. It is, in fact, just about an antithetical to communism as you can get. Remember, in true communism, there would be no government to provide universal healthcare. In conclusion, the very idea of labeling somebody as a communist or fascist when they are not is just plain stupidity. Are there communists and fascist in this country? Sure there is. Yet, that’s what’s great about the U.S.A. We accept unpopular ideas; we are tolerant of them. Are we ever going to elect a communist or fascist? Not a chance. This country is, on average, too moderate for that.