This essay is intended to examine society through the prism of history and the social sciences. It is a meditation on the many facets of social injustice and social exclusion.
My motive is to better understand my own perspective and world view. It is not my goal or desire to provoke change. I don’t believe social change is possible through human intervention. Americans have been made robots by propaganda to be interested only in eternal war and the cycles of production and consumption.
Rather, it is economics, weather, wars, pandemics and religious mystics that make change. Mere men are irrelevant to the process of history – cannon fodder, at best. Therefore, I have no reason or motive to confluence you, as we are all irrelevant and powerless to make social change.
Mine is a quest to better understand the world I lived in. My understanding of the world comes out of a distinctly urban working class experience. In the “Other America” Professor Emeritus Michael Harrington (CUNY) wrote the poor are unseen because they don’t see themselves. The poor and working class are simply not seen in American media. All talking heads are bourgeois, as are all the young hollow heads portrayed as sharing apartments in so called sitcoms. This is also the case with the new reality TV shows. All are bourgeois.
While professors of sociology worldwide teach society is comprised of classes, President George Herbert Walker Bush asserted there is no such thing as class. Perhaps the patrician president didn’t study sociology at Yale. The American solution to poverty is to deny its existence.
Plutocratic owners of media retain the services of middle class producers, executives and talking heads. All are the victim of many American myths: Meritocracy, Social Darwinism, White Superiority, The Left Disparaged, etc. These totems and taboos drive our culture. None are capable of seeing and understanding poverty and the poor.
As a result, all American media, and the Democratic and Republican political parties serve the extremely wealthy at the expense of the middle class and working class. Unfortunately, the middle class do not work in harmony and solidarity with working class folks. Why?
Middle class folks view themselves as the superior winners I a Social Darwinist meritocracy. This sense of genetic superiority is reinforced by racism, as some of the poor are people of color.
Rather than a meritocracy, America is social exclusion based on class. The poor and working class are both unseen and unrepresented in the political process. The poor and working class well understand they are unseen, ignored and unrepresented.
This is seen in American voting patterns. Fifty percent of eligible voters do not register, while 50% of registered voters do not vote. Therefore, presidential candidates receive about 50% of those who vote – or 12 – 13% of eligible voters. This is hardly democracy. Why are 75% of potential voters walking away from their birthright?
About 15 years ago, a German newspaper reporter was asked this question on American television. She said the poor and working class in America are not represented politically by successful socialist parties – as they are in all countries of Europe. Why not?
The extremely wealthy owners of Big Media (members of the Power Elite) use their power to disparage The Left, while government witch hunts imprisoned socialist during World War I and after World War II. These well known witch hunts served to discourage folks from learning about socialism. How so?
A communist sect called Bolsheviks were mass murderers who killed all opponents: other communists (Mensheviks), socialist, liberal democrats, the aristocracy and anarchists. The leading Bolshevik, Nicolai Lenin, was a Marxist. This is, Lenin was influenced by Marx’s writings.
American mass media simplifies socialism and equated it with Bolshevism, Lenin and Marx. While this is imaginative propaganda, there is more to the two century tradition of socialism than as single sect or philosopher. Socialism predates both Marx and Bolshevism.
The word “socialism” first began to be current in France and England about 1835. In 1835 Karl Marx was a high school student in the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium at Trier. What did socialism mean in 1835?
According to one of Americas premiere social critics and historians, Edmund Wilson, writing in “to the Finland Station” (p. 119): “None of the political idealists understood the real mechanics of social change nor could they foresee the inevitable development of the system they so much detested. They could only devise imaginary systems as antithetical to the real one as possible and attempt to construct models of these, assuming that the example would be contagious.” There were, according to Wilson, 178 so-called Utopian Socialist communities in America in the 19th century. There may have been 200,000 to 300,000 such socialist in America then. Josiah Warren and John Humphrey Noyes were two of the better known American socialists of the time. Both predate Marx and neither became a Marxist. In fact, Noyes wrote a valuable book entitled: “ A History of American Socialisms”.
There were many other forms of non-Marxist socialism. The Fabian Socialist in England attempted to organize the bourgeoisie. These folks were not Marxists.
In the end, it is hard to understand how the name Karl Marx became synonymous with socialism. Marx was a domineering self promoting egoist who allowed his family to live starving in poverty while using his education and intellect to bully others.
In any case, a successful non-Marxist American Socialist Party could do what Democrats and Republicans refuse to do:
- Smaller Government
- No Property Theft by Government
- Restore the Progressive Income Tax
- Increase the Inheritance Tax (with a $5 or $10 Million exemption while eliminating tax loopholes that allow Kennedys and Rockefellers to avoid inheritance tax).
- Restore Corporate Taxes to Higher Levels
- End the Costs and Culture of Imperial War
- Affordable Low Rent Housing for All to end Homelessness
- Affordable Public Transportation Everywhere for All – An Environmental Win
- Universal Free Health Care for All
- Universal Free Higher Education (Voucher)
- Works Projects Administration (WPA) to Provide Work for All Who Need Work
- A Negative Income Tax Proposed by Nobel Prize Winner Professor Milton Freedman to Eliminate Poverty
The modest proposals seen above do not require Marxist theories or a revolution. All can be accomplished by better socialist salesmanship. All proposals benefit the middle class, as well as, the poor. However, it is doubtful the bourgeoisie could see their self interest; so great is their need for the psyche benefit of superiority.
In the end, interest in socialism will derive from an economic depression as it did in the Depression of the 1930’s. The Socialist Party candidate of the time, Norman Thomas, received millions of votes when he ran for president during the Great Depression. As a result of such Socialist political activism, the Democrats and Republicans were motivated to pass the Social Security law and the Progressive Income Tax. Therefore, Socialists don’t need to win to achieve goals for social justice and social inclusion.
Why is an American Socialist Party needed? The Democratic and Republican Party policies have caused the Real Income of workers to decline steadily for well over 25 years – since the late 1970’s. This includes middle class folks, as well as, blue collar workers. Each year we live on less.
Although Americans spend twice as much per person on health care as other industrialized countries while leaving 50 million Americans uninsured, we have lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Canada, Japan, China and most of Europe. A very recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the richest third of Americans are in worse health than the poorest third of the English. The study goes on to show the American health care available tot the insured is distinctly third rate.
According to Paul Krugman of Princeton writing his column on the editorial page of the New York Times, September 19, 2005....
“.....race is the biggest reason the United States, uniquely among advanced countries, is ruled by a political movement that is hostile to the idea of helping citizens in need.
Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.
And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"
Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.
By all accounts Ronald Reagan, who declared in his Inaugural Address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," wasn't personally racist. But he repeatedly used a bogus tale about a Cadillac-driving Chicago "welfare queen" to bash big government. And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states'-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.
Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists - the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power.”
Those who remember the 1988 presidential campaign will well remember the infamous Willy Horton TV ad featuring a black male actor in a turnstile. The ad was meant to suggest the Democratic Party candidate was soft on crime. This ad, on behalf of the first President Bush, was the most virulently racist ad I ever saw anywhere.
This social exclusion of people of color directly affects health care. The worse effect of America’s third world health care system falls on the poor and black, who have third world levels of infant mortality and life expectancy. American classism and racism allows the middle class and wealthy to turn their backs on the 50 million Americans without access to health care.
The middle class and wealthy take refuge in their superiority. Bourgeois man believes the poor and people of color are without health care because they are lazy and fail to work hard. Stern American Puritanism teaches the poor and people of color without health care get what they deserve – shorter lives and dead infants. Many seem to enjoy the plight of the poor and people of color. This is a testament to the corruption and degradation of the American human spirit. Americans have voluntarily and eagerly allowed their humanity to be destroyed by the racist propaganda press of the Power Elite.
According to the New York Times, poverty has increased in each of the last five years in the richest country in the world, America. Instead of attacking poverty, Democrats and Republicans have attacked the social safety net. President Clinton was eager to do so. He earned his popularity by stepping on the backs of the poor and working class.
This past spring both the N.Y. Times and the Wall Street Journal did a series of reports on class in America. The gap between rich and poor in America has been widening since 1973. While Americans share a faith in their meritocracy, the two newspapers showed how little that faith squares with reality. In The Times’ excellent phrase, we have achieved a kind of “inherited meritocracy,” with the children of the super rich dominating college campuses for more than 20 years.
What does it mean that we live in a society of increasing inequality? Most wills say: “So what?”; the poor, working class and lower middle class deserve what they get. While this is Calvinism and Puritanism expressing predestination, it ignores the very real question of economics.
Most, if not all, economists believe that the growing concentration income and wealth in the hands of the few will leave the poor, working class and lower middle class without the income to spur the robust national demand needed to provide equilibrium at full employment.
If total demand is not destroyed by the growing chasm between the super rich and the merely middle class, eternal Imperial war will bankrupt the country as surely as Roman generals bankrupted Rome. Meanwhile, American presidents fiddle with Imperial foreign adventures as America’s society at home continues to implode with social injustice and social exclusion.
Whether the growing class divide destroys total Demand and the economy or the costs of eternal Imperial War bankrupt the economy; either will lead to recession or depression.
It has been over 30 years since this country has seen a two year long Recession (1974-75) and 24 years since President Reagan provided the nation 11% unemployment (1982). Try to imagine a two year recession with 11% unemployment sometime in the near future. Better yet, try to imagine a Depression with 30% unemployment, as in the 1930’s. Such scenarios provide hope. How so you say?
When I asked my father, Ned Hogan, what the Great Depression was like; he told me it was time of great trust and communication. Up until the 1960’s New Yorkers left their apartment doors open. The unemployed of the 1930’s gathered in their apartments to entertain one another with the art of conversation. Those who lived through the Great Depression were without the disposable income needed for entertainment: restaurants, movies, travel, etc. Conversation in homes had the advantage of being free. Such conversation can be seen in the Clifford Odett’s play “Paradise Lost”.
When the next 2 year Recession or Depression visits America we will need to meet in each others homes to wonder why Paradise was Lost. Then we will have the time to wonder how things could be.
We will also have time to think about the costs of eternal American Imperial War. The real costs of the war in Iraq are $1 Trillion or about $20 Billion per month. We will have time to think about how $1 Trillion could have been used in America.