Say Yes to Socialism

Klein in Conversation
Authors Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left to right) in conversation at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, on May 9, 2017. Photo from Haymarket Books.

One of the lessons that has become increasingly clear for those of us on the left since Donald Trump’s election is that it is not enough to simply be against Trump. We must also stand for something. We must put forward a radical yet convincing alternative for how society could be organized—an alternative rooted in Marxism that speaks to working-class Americans’ economic grievances as well as their aspirations for equality and social justice.

In other words, we should not merely settle for impeaching Trump (though I am completely down with that goal). We must dismantle the entire racist, sexist, xenophobic capitalist system that gave rise to Trump and his swamp monster administration of billionaires and bigots.

Liberals and leftists have largely neglected this second part of the equation—articulating what we are for—in recent decades.  And, in many respects, the Democrats’ 2016 election loss was a reflection of that neglect. Bernie Sanders received some 13 million votes in the Democratic primary not only because his democratic-socialist ideas are extremely popular among voters. But his success is also due to the fact that he actively campaigned for something—a vision of a better, more equitable and sustainable future for working-class people.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, campaigned on the vapid, decidedly uninspiring idea that America is “already great.” Her electoral platform was essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s neoliberal, warmongering agenda. And as dire as things are now with the Predator-in-Chief in the White House, we cannot delude ourselves about the shortcomings and missed opportunities of the last eight years under Obama.

“The alternative is socialism,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism. “Shorn of the baggage that socialism never asked to carry, it is an attractive idea. It is not a dream concocted in the head of a utopian thinker: It was born in the collective action of workers themselves…”

This is the central argument of Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

The book is, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s blurb on the back states, “an urgent intervention” by one of the most prominent and intellectually sophisticated voices on the left. And it is an argument that is clearly resonating with readers: No Is Not Enough is a New York Times bestseller, and the first book by Chicago-based publisher, Haymarket Books, to achieve such status.

Klein’s latest book—which she admits to urgently banging out in a few months as opposed to the five years she typically spends researching and writing—is in many ways a synthesis of her previous material—No Logo (1999), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

Klein views Trump as the inevitable outcome of all the late-stage capitalist trends she documents in those previous works. In fact, Trump is, Klein argues, a monstrous amalgamation of those capitalist developments, “sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends.”

“… Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century,” she writes.

Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability—and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the trans-atlantic slave trade. … Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project … that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

Klein’s central premise, however, draws heavily from The Shock Doctrine. In that book, Klein traces the history of the right’s frequent exploitation of national “shocks,” whether they come in the form of a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a terrorist attack.

While citizens are still reeling from the shock or tragedy, right-wing elites seize the opportunity to ram through extreme, free-market policies—measures they never would be able to pass under normal conditions. Under the cover of darkness, when the “normal rules of democracy” do not apply, the right can remake the world per their Chicago School-style, free-market utopian dreams. Schools become privatized, public services are decimated or abolished, entirely, and democracy is traded for a police state.

Klein points to the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the neoliberal gentrifying of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as prime examples of this “shock doctrine.”

Trump’s election, Klein argues, was the ultimate shock—one which we are still recovering from. His whirlwind barrage of executive statements signed within the first few weeks of his presidency, was the ultimate “shock tactic.” It was designed to keep progressives so overwhelmed as to leave them disoriented and demobilized—if not, indeed, demoralized.

And, Klein warns, the worst shocks are likely yet to come.

Indeed, the first half of the book–in which Klein soberly assesses the rapidly narrowing time-frame remaining to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change–is quite dire. Klein recalls a recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which has been besieged by a record-breaking global bleaching event, due to rising ocean temperatures. Large sections of the Reef are now dead, according to scientists.

“It’s worth underlining how little warming it took to bring about such a radical change,” writes Klein. “Ocean temperatures went up just one degree Celsius higher than the levels to which these incredible species are adapted, and that was enough for a massive die-off. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn’t some dramatic storm or wildfire–just silent, watery death.”

But, as Klein’s own reporting in disaster-affected areas attests, the shock doctrine “can be resisted.” (Emphasis hers.)

Indeed, we have already seen an incredible initial surge of resistance to Trump’s presidency. There was the Women’s March on Washington–the largest single day of protest in U.S. history; the airport strikes against Trump’s Muslim travel ban; and the marches to address climate change and in defense of science, respectively.

And hundreds of activists have been arrested picketing outside their senators’ offices in opposition to the GOP’s barbaric health care replacement bill. (As of this writing, that bill seems to be D.O.A.)

But resistance alone is not enough. As Klein argues, this resistance must be combined with the left’s ability to tell “a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.”

“This values-based vision must offer a different path,” she writes, “away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution.”

Klein later writes:

“No—to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationalist parties on the rise the world over—may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it is yes that will keep us in that fight.” (Emphasis hers.)

Throughout the book, Klein stresses the “intersectionality” of both class and identity-based forms of oppression–a point I, too, have tried to highlight on this blog. She chastises Clinton’s reliance on empty, “trickle-down feminism,” which, in the words of Sanders, amounted to little more than a rallying cry of, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!”

No Is Not Enough is an excellent addition to the growing cannon of “anti-Trump resistance” literature. At a time when much of the initial opposition to Trump has subsided, and many progressives have seemingly resigned themselves to voting for Democrats in 2018 (or, perhaps worse, pinning their hopes on the overblown, unverified allegations of “Russiagate” leading to Trump’s impeachment), Klein offers us a road-map for how to resist both Trump and the capitalist system that spawned him.

This will require, she argues, the left reclaiming its tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public–explosions of utopian imagination.”

Klein writes:

With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Don’t Be Fooled: Donald Trump is Still a Bourgeois Scumbag

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If Donald Trump has succeeded at anything, it is in considerably lowering the bar for what is considered “presidential.” That is the establishment media’s takeaway, at least, from Trump’s first address to Congress last week.

The prepared speech—which the president dutifully read from a teleprompter, despite his vocal criticism of Barack Obama’s use of the same practice—did not deviate from the president’s major policy proposals.

Trump still intends to pursue mass deportation of immigrants. He is still pledging to build a wall on the Mexican border. He is still demonizing Muslims and so-called “Radical Islam”–though he has precious little to say about the far more pervasive threat posed by Radical Christianity.

He wants to nearly quadruple the already bloated military-spending budget, vowing to “strengthen our military,” which has never ceased being the most powerful and belligerent force of violence on the planet.

And Trump is still targeting society’s most vulnerable, marginalized populations including people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, and women.

Trump’s speech, in other words, was a veritable “greatest hits” package of the same themes and promises he has been harping on since he first launched his presidential campaign in June of 2015. (That was the now infamous campaign kickoff speech in which Trump referred to Mexicans as criminals, drug-dealers and “rapists.”)

And it was just as devoid of substance, specific policy proposals, and factual information grounded in reality as anything else that has come out of the president’s mouth.

Yet, the “liberal” media nearly unanimously praised Trump’s toned-down demeanor and noticeably more restrained performance.

The New York Times—which Trump has repeatedly singled-out as the worst of the supposed perpetuators of “fake news”—called the address the “most presidential speech” Trump has “ever given.” CNN regular correspondent, Van Jones agreed, claiming with this speech Donald Trump “became president of the United States.”

Like I said, the bar is really low. What is that expression about putting lipstick on a pig, again…?

During one particularly nauseating point of the speech, Trump trotted out the newly-widowed wife of Navy SEAL, William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a botched raid in Yemen on Jan. 29. Owens is the first U.S. soldier to die under Trump’s presidency, and his administration continues to callously insist the failed raid was a “success.” At least 20 Yemeni women and children were also killed in the attack.

Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens, received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats, thus proving the two warmongering parties’ alleged “irreconcilable differences” run only so deep.

But Politico’s John Bresnahan lauded this cynical exploitation of Owens’ death—which Trump caused. “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump,” Bresnahan wrote. He is correct. Only a cold-hearted shill like Ronald Reagan would have stooped to Trump’s vile level of pandering to Americans’ blind military worship and mandatory troop exaltation to score political points.

Not only is the media’s praise of Trump unwarranted, it also threatens to distract Americans from the Predator in Chief’s actual policies.

As Adam Johnson writes in a blog post for the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), “The praise from the media for his speech was so overwhelming, Trump is reportedly delaying the roll out of his new ‘travel ban’ (his new attempt to legalize a Muslim ban) so he can soak in all the goodwill.”

Some “opposition party.”

All of this is to point out what is perhaps obvious to many readers, but nonetheless bears repeating: Leftists cannot rely on either the media, or the Democratic Party to oppose Donald Trump in any meaningful way. We must, through mass protests, demonstrations, mobilizations, and even strikes, oppose him ourselves.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in the Socialist Worker:

For all the threats it made during the election about why we had to stop Trump by any means necessary, the Democratic Party establishment’s idea of “opposition” is so far from what’s necessary to push back the Republicans’ agenda, it’s laughable–especially when you consider the opposition that ordinary people are showing at town hall meetings and at protests that skewer their elected officials for failing to represent them.

But there is an additional element to Trump’s “presidential” speech the corporate media are overlooking. As Schulte points out, Trump’s alleged change in tone may have had more to do with assuaging the fears of congressional Republicans, who still have a rather tenuous relationship with this president.

Not only have the various scandals that have plagued Trump’s administration a mere six weeks into his presidency detracted from the Republican Congress’ actual work (note, for instance, Republicans’ failure to make good on their signature pledge to repeal Obamacare–a vow which has now turned into “repeal and replace,” though replace with what, precisely, remains unclear), but the capitalist elite maintain deep ideological disagreements with key aspects of Trump’s agenda, particularly his isolationist, “America First” and anti-free-trade positions.

Likewise, the president’s nearly singular focus on implementing draconian immigration laws is at odds with capital’s need for cheap, super-exploitable labor from abroad. And Trump’s plan to create “millions” of manufacturing jobs is exactly the sort of “Big Government” program the GOP is adamantly opposed to.

Indeed, Trump’s blatant opposition to the major pillars of so-called “late-stage” capitalism (free-trade, globalization, and access to cheap labor from abroad) is precisely why neoliberal stalwart Hillary Clinton–not Trump–was the capitalist bourgeoisie’s preferred choice for president. How deep and protracted capital’s fight with Trump becomes–and the lengths the so-called “deep state” goes to keep President Trump in line–remains to be seen.

But for now, Trump is merely trying to assure the Establishment everything will be alright. That is, alright for them, anyway. For the working class, not so much…

“Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,” says Killer Mike, on the rap duo, Run the Jewels’ excellent new self-titled album, Run the Jewels 3, in an overt reference to Trump. “He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” (“Shaytan” is Arabic for “Satan.”)

Nearly two months after his swearing-in, Trump may finally be getting the hang of acting the part of president–at least in the same way that Richard Nixon eventually learned how to appear “presidential” for the TV cameras. But he has not altered his xenophobic, racist, anti-worker views one bit.

Trump and his advisers live in their own warped reality, devoid of facts, science, and historical accuracy. They cite phony terrorist attacks that never occurred as justification for their discriminatory policies. Trump by his own admission, does not read. And his equally anti-intellectual supporters have a perverse contempt for those who do.

The media should not be so easily fooled, and neither should we.

Trump is a con artist–and a highly transparent one, at that. The great–if not, indeed, the tragic–irony of Trump’s election is how he managed to convince enough struggling, working-class Americans that he actually cares one iota about them and their plight. And that if they just work hard enough, or sufficiently desire strongly enough, they too can be rich and famous like him.

“If politics is like show business,” Neil Postman warned in 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, “then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether. And what the other matter is can be expressed in one word: advertising.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Thanks for reading!

Manufacturing Consent

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The Trump White House ratcheted up its escalating war on journalists on Wednesday, when the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, in a rare moment of actually speaking to the press, repeatedly called the news media the “opposition party.”

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Bannon, the former owner of the white supremacist trash news-site, Breitbart News, told the New York Times.

Bannon added,

“I want you to quote this: The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

“You’re the opposition party,” Bannon repeated to the Times’ reporter. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Well, he is correct on one count, at least: The Democratic Party is not the opposition party. Not at all.

Trump’s self-declared “running war” with the U.S. news media was a hallmark of his presidential campaign. In the recent squabble over the size of his pitifully under-attended inauguration ceremony, Trump called journalists, “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

During a Jan. 11 press conference at Trump Tower in New York, Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, flippantly telling him, “Not you. Your organization is terrible.”

The then-president-elect proceeded to blast CNN as “fake news,” and called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.”

Now, as president, Trump and his administration are continuing to push an authoritarian, anti-fact agenda by not only remaining openly hostile toward the media and reporters, but by constantly insisting the news they disseminate is not factual, but is rather, “fake news.”

The irony of a millionaire celebrity like Trump (who received hundreds of hours of free media coverage on the campaign trail, which arguably contributed to his winning the election) biting the veritable hand that feeds him aside, distrust of the “elite” news media is a major common trait among Trump’s supporters.

And, frankly, I can’t say that I blame them for distrusting the media.

While the notion that the corporate media maintain an overwhelmingly “liberal” bias is patently absurd (and has been widely debunked by numerous analyses), there is, nonetheless, good reason to be skeptical of the major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

These are the same institutions that uncritically accepted the Bush administration’s lies justifying the Iraq war. They failed to foresee the 2008 housing crisis and the subsequent Great Recession, despite warnings from prominent economists. They unanimously championed the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks that gambled with customers’ money and sent the global economy into a tailspin.

And now they are passively echoing the CIA’s completely unverified claims that Russia covertly influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, thus raising the specter of a new Cold War between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

With a track record like this, who wouldn’t distrust the media?

“What is typically presented as news analysis,” Amy Goodman writes in the introduction to her 2009 essay compilation, Breaking the Sound Barrier, “is, for the most part, a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. While they may appear to differ, they are quibbling over how quickly the bombs should be dropped, not asking whether they should be dropped at all.”

And the problem is not limited to Fox News —though they are a big part of it. “Liberal” outlets like MSNBC, the New York Times, and NPR do just as much lying, spinning, and obfuscating as the unapologetically corporate networks. (Right-wing billionaire, David Koch, even sits on the board of NPR.)

In an actual democracy, the media act as a vital check on corporate and governmental abuses of power. The press serves as a vigilant “watchdog,” entrusted to alert readers to government malfeasance, and to speak truth to power. The role of the press, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

But we do not live in a true democracy. We live under capitalism. Though widely viewed as synonymous, the two systems are, in fact, highly incompatible.

News under capitalism is little more than a commodity. Nike sells sneakers. Starbucks sells coffee. The Wall Street Journal sells “news.”

Six corporations own and control 90 percent of the print and television media Americans get their news from. As such, the major media outlets do more to obsequiously kowtow to the ruling power elites and parrot their lies, than to challenge them. They are more lap-dogs than watchdogs.

(Still think the media are “liberal”? Try comparing the size of the “Business” section in your local daily newspaper, to the size of the “Labor” section. Oh wait … There is no “Labor” section!)

And the rise of celebrity journalists like Anderson Cooper (average earnings: $11 million), Rachel Maddow ($7 million), Bill O’ Reilly ($17 million), Megyn Kelly ($6 million), and Katie Couric ($10 million) has only further removed the news-reporting profession from the concerns of working class people.

These pseudo-journalists place a premium on maintaining their access to officials in power. But that access only comes to reporters who are obedient, non-confrontational, and generally tow the corporate-party line.

“US establishment journalism is anything but an outsider force,” writes Glenn Greenwald in his book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.

It is wholly integrated into the nation’s dominant political power. Culturally, emotionally, and socioeconomically, they are one and the same. Rich, famous, insider journalists do not want to subvert the status quo that so lavishly rewards them. Like all courtiers, they are eager to defend the system that vests them with their privileges and contemptuous of anyone who challenges that system.

This cozy relationship between the press and the state was perfectly encapsulated during the 2007 Radio-Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner, when then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove launched into a seemingly impromptu rap (dubbing himself, “MC Rove”), while Meet the Press host, David Gregory, danced awkwardly behind him.

It is a painful, eye-rolling sight, to be certain. But it is one that proves it is not merely Hollywood–the right’s second-favorite political punching-bag–that is “out of touch” with working class Americans.

Indeed, it is for good reason that investigative reporters like Goodman and Seymour Hersh are not invited to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. True journalists are hated and despised by the bourgeois power elite.

While Bannon likely intended his “opposition party” label as an insult, it is actually an accurate description of what, ideally, journalism should be.

All of this is to acknowledge that just as the working class in this country has no real political party, it also has no media that accurately speaks to working people’s daily lived experience. The corporate owned and controlled media serve to reinforce society’s ruling ideas–which, as Marx and Engels understood, are the “ideas of the ruling class.”

For this reason, socialists have a long tradition of writing, printing, and circulating their own newspapers, produced by and for the working class. These papers–like the International Socialist Organization’s monthly publication, Socialist Worker–aim to both spread socialist ideas, and empower readers with local and national news of the latest strikes, protests, walk-outs, and anti-war rallies.

These explicitly left-wing newspapers are in keeping with Jello Biafra’s mantra, “Don’t hate the media. Become the media.”

Finally, it is important to note that Trump’s “running war” with the media is, in fact, nothing new. It started under Barack Obama.

While Obama never explicitly targeted the entire media industry as Trump has, he did wage a vicious war on investigative journalists and whistleblowers. Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act (the same law socialist leader, Eugene Debs, was imprisoned under, in 1918) than all previous administrations combined.

I realize liberals do not like to hear these inconvenient truths about their Nobel Peace Prize-winning president’s legacy. But it is crucial we understand that the policies Trump is already pursuing have not materialized in a vacuum. The neoliberal policies presented by the “lesser evil” Democrats inevitably pave the way for the “greater evil” of President Trump and the radical right.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed,” George Orwell wrote. “Everything else is public relations.”

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.