Sunday, February 26, 2006

Socialism Will Smash the Capitalist World-Economy

While it is necessary for a socialist economy to be run for the benefit of the vast majority of the people rather than for a small aristocratic, plutocratic, or capitalist class in order for it to be considered “socialist”, its use of markets is not “unsocialistic”. In fact, socialist economies must adhere to the laws of the market as much as any other economy without being capitalistic. Therefore, a socialist economy can operate without contradiction or the risk of undermining its principles within the global market economy. It should therefore be understood that Venezuela’s exploitation of its only comparative economic advantage—oil—in the global capitalist markets is not a contradiction of principles. It would, however, lack socialist principles if the wealth generated from its oil failed to benefit the majority of its people. Most importantly, socialist countries such as Venezuela—unavoidably intertwined in the modern world-economy which is capitalist—must look to export its ideas above all else and help lead the systemic destruction of global capitalism. Backed by the momentum of Venezuela, global access to information and destabilizing societies across the world, socialism has reached an historical turning point and it must lead the way in shaping a more socially just and democratic world.

Capitalism and the World-Economy

One possible way to better understand socialism is to distinguish it from the capitalist system that dominates the world-economy. A capitalist economy gives priority to the endless accumulation of capital. However, if we say that a system “gives priority” to such endless accumulation, it means that there exist structural mechanisms by which those who act with “other motivations” are penalized in some way, and are eventually eliminated from the social scene, whereas those who act with the “appropriate motivations” are rewarded and, if successful, enriched.

According to economist and historian, Immanuel Wallerstein:

World-economy and a capitalist system go together. Since world-economies lack the unifying cement of an overall political structure or a homogenous culture, what holds them together is the efficacy of the division of labor. Historically, the only world-economy to have survived for a long time has been the modern world-system, and that is because the capitalist system took root and became consolidated as its defining feature.

Fortunately, the biggest weakness of the capitalist system is that it cannot exist within any framework except that of a world-economy. A world-economy with so many strikingly conflictive interests is too tumultuous for capitalism’s long-term survival, especially considering the explosion of readily-available and accessible information that is reaching more people in more manifold ways. Capitalism demands a very special relationship between its capitalists and the holders of political power. If the latter are too strong, their interests will override those of the economic producers, and the endless accumulation of capital will cease to be a priority. So what would this mean for capitalism if political power were held by an increasing number of people, the working class, or a “rogue” nation such as Venezuela? Another weakness of capitalists it that they require not only a large market but they also need a multiplicity of states that are willing to work in favor of “their interests”. This means that capitalists must work incessantly and exert massive efforts to maintain “their interests”. So how do capitalists ensure their future?


Even in the modern world of mass information, households still serve as the primary socializing agencies. They seek to teach us knowledge of and respect for the social rules by which we are “supposed” to abide. They are of course seconded by state agencies such as schools and armies as well as by religious institutions and the media. But none of these come close to the family in actual impact. What however determines how the households will socialize in their members? Largely the way in which the secondary institutions frame the issues for the households demonstrates exactly how to socialize one’s family members. It also cannot be understated the how defenseless overworked and fractured families are to the effects of oppressive secondary institutions.

Of course, the powers that be in a social system always hope that socialization results in the acceptance of the very real hierarchies that are the product of the system. They also hope that socialization results in the internalization of the myths, the rhetoric, and the theorizing of the system. Although this does happen rather comprehensively in highly nationalistic countries such as the U.S., it never fully takes root (thanks to dialectical dissonance). On the other hand, there are some families that socialize their members to be rebellious, critical-thinking and self-reliant. To be sure, up to a point even such antisystemic socialization can be useful to the system by offering an outlet for restless spirits as long as the overall system is in relative harmony. In such cases, it is predictable that such anti-establishment socializations will have only a limited impact on the overall system. However, when the historical system comes into structural crisis (viz. 1960s) suddenly such antisystemic socializations can play a profoundly unsettling role for the system.

There is little question that across the globe today, people are more fully aware of the political issues that affect their personal lives then at any time in the past. They are more aware, more willing to struggle for their rights, more skeptical of the rhetoric of the powerful. More importantly, one not need look any further than Venezuela to see the effects of political power that is shifting into the hands of the masses. Venezuela’s example is a serious threat to the global capitalist system and this can best be observed in the extent to which corporate forces and secondary institutions are going to prevent there being genuine political democracy. As a socialist revolution, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution could be the source of a paradigmatic shift away from a world-economy that “gives priority” to the endless accumulation of wealth.

One must remember that history is not at its end, and that every time elites have claimed some “golden era” which was reflected in their satisfaction with the status quo, events followed shortly after that highlighted the ridiculousness of those claims. Remember the decades that followed the “Roaring 20s” or the 1950s? Perhaps more salient to this discussion, can we all recall the victory dances of 1990s when grand pronouncements were made that socialism was forever dead, and capitalism has proven its superiority? So as we get closer to a point when the majority of the world is vastly more aware of the oppressive power structures and the capitalist system that is rushing us towards destruction, perhaps we will be able to think in terms of building a political economy based on systems of cooperation, equality, self-government, and individual freedom.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Voting Against Yourself

Fellow blogger, Aprilloper, recently posed some important questions concerning American politics and its electorate. She asked why Americans vote against their self-interest. I wanted to try an attempt at answering this question. (Consequently, I ran headlong into deeper, more troubling issues I face everyday as an educator). An answer to this question would deepen an understanding of American politics and would provide directions in which one might begin deeper inquiries that would lead to positive solutions.

Here is a quote from an interesting book called Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. Lakoff is a linguist and cognitive scientist. This book tries to answer just such puzzling questions about the American public which seems, all too often, schizophrenic when it comes time to picking who their oppressor will be (i.e. election time). Here is one of his suggestions:

It is assumed that voters will vote their self-interest. Democrats are shocked or puzzled when voters do not vote their self-interest. “How,” Democrats keep asking me, “can any poor person vote for Bush when he hurts them so badly?” Their response is to try to explain once more to the poor why voting Democratic would serve their self-interest. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Democrats keep banging their heads against the wall. In the 2000 election Gore kept saying that Bush’s tax cuts would go only to the top 1 percent, and he thought that everyone else would follow their self-interest and support him. But poor conservatives still opposed him, because as conservatives they believed that those who had the most money—the “good” people—deserved to keep it as their reward for being disciplined. [In other words, they “earned” it]. The bottom 99 percent of conservatives voted their conservative values, against their self-interest.

It is claimed that 35 percent of the populace thinks that they are, or someday will be, in the top 1 percent, and that this explains the finding on the basis of a hoped-for future self-interest. But what about the other 65 percent, who have no dream that they will ever get that tax cut but still support it? They are clearly not voting in their self-interest, or even their hoped-for future self-interest.

[…] People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they identify with. They may identify with their self-interest. That can happen. It is not that people never care about their self-interest. But they vote their identity. And if their identity fits their self-interest, they will vote for that. It is important to understand this point. It is a serious mistake to assume that people are simply always voting in their self-interest.

Since the same people that market beer and SUVs to us are the same people that run a candidate’s campaign, it is easier to understand how people can be made to identify with candidates despite themselves. But, as Naomi Klein pointed out in No Logo, we are no longer buying products but instead image and identity. What this means to the question at hand is that it is irrelevant what the product can actually do as long as the consumer/voter is convinced that by purchasing (“voting”) a certain product, they are guaranteed a better, happier, sexier, more convenient life. Bearing in mind the frame that encompasses the lives of the majority of voting populace—an imposed “frame” that depicts for the hard-working, underpaid American patriot what it is that one needs and wants, such as “good ol’ American values”—the political elite can say what people want to hear and then get these people to vote from them despite their self-interest.

The American public is an easy thing to control thanks to indoctrinating practices such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, public education, patriotic rhetoric around every corner, and monolithic notions about American Democracy. As a teacher, I combat the notions of “American Exceptionality” everyday when kids bring to the classroom their inherited prejudices, biases, jingoism and ethnocentrism. The sources of these perpetuated notions are obvious, but how does one subvert them? Especially when one considers the power of the media—especially the ones that pretend to be “liberal” or “objective” (e.g. PBS, NPR, CNN, etc.)—who gives the American public the impression that we are being protected by their scrutinizing work. After all, we see people from both sides of the “spectrum” on their shows, don’t we? Forget the fact that the “spectrum” being presented by these networks as representative of human reality is so narrow that anyone who falls outside of the accepted spectrum is dismissed as “radical” or “irrelevant”. Thus, the media controlled by the corporate world (including PBS and NPR heavily funded by nefarious corporations) become an invaluable resource to the ruling class in the maintenance of the status quo. If the media does its job properly, people will believe America is full of meaningful choices as it pertains to their daily lives and that the true beauty of America lies in its ability to give everyone an opportunity to assert themselves in ways that will serve to better their individual lives. Again, this is understood by most Americans despite reality.

Along those same lines, one can almost hear those American centrists that never lose their hope that politics, “like life” they say so assuredly, is like a pendulum and so it has a way of balancing itself out. They say, like wise elders, that America swings to the left, then to the right, the back again. They too believe the spectrum of that swing has a broad back upon which the burden of “truth” is carried. Unfortunately, they fail to see that they only difference between a Democrat and a Republican (the spectrum of choice in this country) is the color of the tie they wear. More importantly, the notion that “truth” is sorted out through the inevitable swing of the pendulum assumes that the resulting center is somehow desirable for the masses forgetting that in all this time we’ve been a country, we’ve continued to ignore the millions of Americans that live in abysmal poverty; the perpetual violence our country has leveled against “enemies of our interests”; structural racism, sexism and homophobia; the irreversible damage we’ve done to our environment; the daily appearance of new and more profound disorders due to sped up lives and stress; and the inequality, shrinking freedom and diminishing democracy. But how long can we wait for the pendulum to be freed to swing to include the broadest spectrum of thought possible. I see this as the biggest problem with American notions of democracy. For that matter, I see our ruling class as opposed to democracy since it would be too free if it were to be embraced in the literal sense.

People believe in some ridiculous parallel between democracy and capitalism. Correlations are made between the balancing effect that the Legislative, the Judiciary and the Executive that democracy is supposed to have but does not, and the even more farcical notion that capitalism is free-market economics when it is anything but “free-market”. There are too many things that the majority of Americans do not understand about the authority that rules their lives. Perhaps through gaining an appreciation of the convoluted reality of American politics better helps explain why Americans vote against their own self-interest.

For anyone interested, I would highly recommend the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written by Paulo Freire, for thoughts and ideas on how one might go about the task of helping the oppressed see their oppressor. In other words, helping Americans see that their vote is simply a decision of who will be their oppressor, and end the cycle of Americans seeing their leaders as someone with whom they share anything meaningful.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What's So Bad About Democracy?

Could we all be naive to think the U.S. is letting matters in Iraq distract them from the bigger picture of Pax Americana? How much do we know about our country’s abilities to spy, invade, control, manipulate, deceive, and distract? If the war in Iraq is “unwinnable”, which the U.S. government has surely assessed by now, why not assume they are already planning for how they will regain control of Venezuela and the rest of Latin America? (Note the recent call by President Bush to increase the troop deployment to the border of Paraguay from 500 to 1400). For that matter, is it possible that the U.S. has downplayed coverage and attention towards Hugo Chavez in order to make silent preparations? Whatever the current plan is, the U.S. government’s immutable trend of opposing democracy continues undeterred.

The U.S. is clearly opposed to Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and the “populist/socialist” movement in Latin America. Donald Rumsfeld stated his disdain for Chavez saying that he [Chavez] “was elected democratically, the same way Adolph Hitler was.” Couldn’t this notion apply to any democratically-elected leader? Say, George W. Bush? Again, possibly referring to his own country’s government, Rumsfeld continued to describe how “corruption is something corrosive for democracy.” Another recycled Reaganite—the much-reassigned and failed transitional ambassador to Iraq—John Negroponte, described how Evo Morales’ “administration is continuing to send confusing signals as to its intentions.” Overall, the U.S. is sending the message that it opposes the direction of Latin America, that Venezuela is the “biggest threat to the United States.” If that threat resides in its level of democracy, I would have to concur.

Over the last couple of years, the U.S. has aided in a failed coup d’etat in Venezuela (2002) through its financing of opposition groups through the National Endowment for Democracy and tactical support from our Navy in the Caribbean; ramped up “transition” plans for a post-Fidel Cuba (again with money from various groups including NED and USAID); overthrown the popularly-elected president of Haiti (Jean-Bertrand Aristide); supported and trained (through—surprise!—NED and USAID money) ruthless militias from Haiti to prevent the Lavalas political party from returning to power; continued its multi-billion dollar military funding of the Colombia army and paramilitary; undermined democracy by imposing its “free-trade” agreements in Central America; and now seems poised to oppose the newly-elected president of Bolivia if he allies himself with Chavez. It should be interesting to watch the presidential elections in Peru, where the candidate currently leading the some polls, Ollanta Humala, is another “left-leaning nationalist” and “friendly with Chavez.” Is it too wild to speculate the U.S. is already trying to influence these elections?

According to Noam Chomsky, the U.S. government has opposed democracy in Iraq since the invasion. In fact, he contends that the U.S. did everything in its power to “prevent” the elections that they were supposedly so intensely hurrying to implement. It’s the threat of democracy that most frightens the U.S. government. A true democratic society is likely to ask for more than the ruling class is willing to sacrifice. In fact, the most democratic thing the current U.S. government could do would be to create universal health care, since it is the one political issue most Americans agree upon at 70%. However, in the case of the U.S., it appears that democracy has its limits.

The title of a public talk given by Noam Chomsky that I attended was "Imminent Crises." He described the three crises he feels threatens our survival: global nuclear war, environmental destruction and the disappearance of democracy. It is therefore imperative that the "threat of democracy" be realized in popular movements such as those in Latin America. Likewise, a more vigilant, active and involved American public must come forward. Only by educating each other that the biggest threat to democracy in this world is our own country, can we end the tyranny our government poses to democracy around the world. Finally, it is utterly imperative that we not allow our own government to repeal more of our own freedoms at home as we descend towards fascism.