It occurred to me as I was looking at the list of articles I have published on Daily Kos over the last few years, that nowhere among them was any real indication of where my own political beliefs lay. Sure I have made occasional statements suggesting a left viewpoint, but I have always been mindful that this is a place that supports the Democratic Party, and is mired in the politics of America, the country I live in but whose political landscape is as foreign to me as the surface of Mars.
I think, by now, most of the regular readers will have gained a decent understanding of my personal beliefs, family situation and all the things that make up the User known as twigg; and your forbearance of my presence here, and your acceptance of the things I write and comment upon has become the source of a good deal of personal pleasure and pride.
But I am not twigg, I am Steve Bracken, and I am a Socialist.
So with this, my 300th Diary, please allow me to introduce myself properly.
This is long! Sorry, there was something I have been wanting to say, and there is no quick way to do it. In the quest for more and better Democrats, I am fully on-board, yet I have to temper that with the knowledge that, if I am right, then I am still just working towards some imperfect halfway house. That can be frustrating. I think it's worth it.
This is also a personal statement of belief. There are no quotes from other worthy persons, no claims nor links to underlying material. There are some ideas, some thoughts and feelings each of which has a wealth of further reading that is but a Google away
The entire world, in one form or another, has embraced Capitalism as the economic and industrial model for our economies. America probably represents the epitomy of that model. So successful has it been, so prosperous and wealthy is America, that it is quite understandable that few have looked beyond, to what comes next. Indeed, does anything come next or do we simply continue to try to perfect the model that has served at least some Americans quite well?
It is tempting to think that it was ever thus, and that state should continue. If that statement were true then it would, short of developing an entirely new philosophy, then selling it, be faintly ridiculous to propose or believe any different.
However, it was not ever thus. Capitalism did not appear as a model economy at the time of the Big Bang, or the Garden of Eden, whichever floats your boat. Capitalism is quite young in terms of an economic model, and quite old in the sense that the cracks have appeared, and daily grow wider.
Europe and America share an economic and social past. We may have departed recently with Europe slowly embracing more of a Social Democracy while still retaining capitalism as the underlying theory, while America has veered much more towards a purer form of the theory, and has paid rather less attention to the social side of the equation. Thus Europe has developed more in the way of social welfare, and healthcare, America has not. Not in any comparable way, Medicare and Social Security notwithstanding.
Before Capitalism, which dates only from the Industrial Revolution in the way we understand it, we had a monarchy in most countries. Constitutional Monarchy had already supplanted most Absolute Monarchs, who ruled over a system we knew as Feudalism. That is, the territory was carved into Feudal strongholds with the Lords pretty much ruling as they saw fit. All within the gift of the Monarch. There was some trade, even trade between nations, but the power and control of the entire economy was in just a few hands, and representation of the people was absent.
Indeed, in the early days of the territory that became the United States, that system existed too. Although the absolute had been replaced with some democracy, little of that was apparent to the settlers who were pretty much tied to the larger traders, the early capitalists.
Social societies evolve (sorry Southern Baptists) in much the way that biological forms go through a similar process. When we were all amoeba we didn't need to specialize in any meaningful way, we just went about our business, then divided. The human body, by contrast, is a vastly more complex structure with cells and organs each performing their specialist task, all to the betterment of the whole.
Communities behave like this too. Hunter gatherers lived in small family groups. They hunted, they gathered and they survived. Now our society depends upon doctors, engineers, teachers, car wash attendants all with their own function, and each completely unable to maintain their lifestyles independent of the others. There may be a few Preppers who believe they can manage on their own, but I have news for them, they can't.
So Feudalism turned, albeit slowly, into Capitalism. Later, and arguably, morphing into Monopoly Capitalism at some point. It's an important distinction because capitalism is at least based upon production, where in the latter model, production is subservient to finance ... Hello Bain Capital!
And make no mistake, capitalism was indeed an advance. It broke the power of the landed gentry, at least to an extent, and bolstered the living standards of everyone. For the first time there was the opportunity to do more than simply graft until you died. There was time for education, leisure and the opportunity to organise to improve conditions. Health services could ultimately be created and the material comfort of everyone advanced. At it's ultimate, and even though the cracks were already showing, capitalism built the American Middle Class.
Or did it?
Tricky one this, because those who see themselves as Middle Class are occupying a social strata that doesn't have a great deal of meaning. It's a label that was applied to indicate that you were achieving the Dream. That you had risen above the herd and become successful ... Hey, look where you are now. Look what Capitalism has done for you. Isn't life grand!
It is, of course, utter bollocks. You either own the means of production, or you serve it.
To put it into common parlance, and I include the vast majority of small businesses in this, and yes I give you much credit for building that, you are either part of the 1%, or you are of the 99%.
Those definitions we use ... Working Poor, Working Class, Middle Class, Professional Class, Upper Class ... They are all horseshit. They are a simple trick to con you that somehow you made progress in terms of class. Don't we all want to do that? Climb the greasy pole instead of sliding down it? Prefer a middle class lifestyle rather than be working poor? Of course we do.
Yet that is the lie they use to prevent you actually, you know, changing classes. There are only two classes that have any meaning. The first is the Capitalist Class, the other is everyone else. Those of the Capitalist Class will allow, nay encourage you to climb that pole, step on your neighbor, act like a racist asshole or religious freak, or gun nut (insert your own pejorative term here) all day, every day. The only thing they will not let you do is ascend to the Capitalist Class, unless you are one of the tiny number that manages something extraordinary. They will, and did, use the Tea Party idiocy to further their own aims, because the naivety of that movement is breathtaking. The moment that Occupy Wall Street looked like it might actually ... accomplish something, they did not hesitate to use the carefully constructed Police State to squish it. The irony is that every member of the police forces, their officers and senior leadership are part of the 99%. If you listen carefully you can still hear the Capitalists laughing.
There is more than one way of looking at solutions to this problem, if indeed you consider it to be such. I may question your input if you don't. You could embrace the public ownership of the means of production, and accept that as the Socialist answer. It is one Socialist answer, but not the only one. You could, were you unutterably stupid, accept the Libertarian view. To be fair, I might be tempted to go there if any of them could actually tell me what it means. It seems to me that Libertarians, whatever Techicoloured Dreamcoat they are wearing, are simply folk who don't want government telling them what to do. Pah! Government doesn't tell you what to do, it simply limits what you are legally able to do. So understand how government works, then we'll talk. I digress.
To truly understand what your government can do we first have to dispel a few myths about Capitalism. As a model, Capitalism is not, and does not pretend to be either Libertarian or a Free Market, another misnomer. There is no such thing as a free market, there never has been and the is not a single capitalist who wants one. They want a regulated market, a strong government. They need those things in order to function. Without tight regulation and a strong government I, we or anyone could simply take what they wanted. Their biggest fear is that they are not top dog on whichever block they play, and government ensures that they are not simply squashed by their competitors. Without a regulated market, there would be no competitors, and no customers.
So next time you hear a capitalist screeching plaintively for "small government", call bullshit, they are lying. What they really mean is that they want a big government, very big, all-encompassing, powerful monolithic structure that does their bidding. Oh, and if we can possibly have that with as few voters as possible ... please.
In part they need this not simply because a regulated market is stable, which it is, but that they need it to create a market. The oft-mentioned Military Industrial Complex is the best example of that. Ordinary people buy guns, and ammunition plus accessories for any number of reasons, some legitimate, others less so. However, we do not, and never will buy Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, Patriot Missiles, Nuclear submarines, tanks and ... well you get the drift.
Some of those things are a necessary part of our national defense. Government should buy them, it is reasonable. But the US has a military vastly in excess that needed to protect our borders and maybe help out the United Nations when they ask. The reason we have such a powerful, and expensive military is that those industries have crafted a government in their own image. The people will not buy our products (the stingy bastards), so we will take their tax dollars and have them buy our shit anyway, whether they need it or not. Capitalism at work ... and not just in the military.
Take healthcare, if you can get it. Those poor Pharmaceuticals. Not content with being one of the wealthiest industries on the planet, they sought, and succeeded, in creating their own market, at prices they decided we should pay. How? Easy, have the government buy their stuff but first carefully ensure that Medicare is barred from price negotiating. That will be $100 dollars please ... pssst! Canada ... you can have it for twenty five bucks.
"Oh but we have to protect them. They are the job creators" .. See how they did that?
Traditionally, Socialism has demanded that the public owns the means of production, and that production is geared to supply need, rather than simply supply demand, at a profit.
The best argument against that, and still the one that holds most water, is that such a system stifles innovation. penalizes entrepreneurship and is extremely inefficient. I'm going to leave aside the inefficiency bit, because it's hard to design a system owned by the public that would be quite so inefficient as our for-profit health care.
Rather than attempt to tackle the other two, it is perfectly reasonable that we should simply control the activity of the Capitalists, rather than take their empires away from them. They clearly want a market, and a labor force that is controlled and regulated by government, because they spend billions ensuring that is the case. So how about we just tinker with the regulations? Make them work for us, rather than the current unhappy arrangement. After all, without our labor and purchasing power, they will cease to exist.
I'm all for incentives. Quite frankly, if I worked for a company and earned $100 000 a year, and the CEO earned a million bucks a year, I would want his job, and if I got it I'd work hard to keep it. If, however, the company decided to pay the guy 10 million a year, and we said fine, but nine million will be taxed at 90%, would he quit? Would he give up his job and ask me for my $100k job because I only paid 25% tax? Well he might. Next question ... Do we have anyone who could step in and do a great job? ... twigg raises his hand. Now we can quibble about the numbers, but it's the principle I believe in.
Equally with military spending. From a Keynesian point of view, it would be quite stimulative to pay 100 guys to dig a big hole in a field, then pay another hundred to fill it in again. Indeed, you could have them on double shifts. So spending money on the military works, but we have to return to that efficiency thang. Way too much of the military spending is not Keynesian, because a goodly portion is siphoned off by the Capitalists, and they are not helping.
So I might be tempted, from my Socialist lair, to suggest that instead of spending that money on things that kill people, we could embark on a program of transitioning much of the cash into a system that mends broken people instead. Double benefit because we just broke the Military Industrial Complex, and a few Capitalists bit the dust.
I could go on in this manner way past the point where you lost interest, if indeed you are still with me. I will not. I mentioned those two purely as examples of the Socialist thinking that I bring, when considering matters like this. We have made progress in some areas, but without that progress being accompanied by the rolling back of the power of capitalists, it's not really progress at all, but window dressing.
So I go back, to finish, with a few words from those other famous Socialists, the Founding Fathers.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Slave-owning capitalists. Well they were men of their time, but men with a vision. They wrote a whole lot of things that are now the supreme law of the land. However bastardized that document becomes with the varying flavours of Supreme Court, the contents of the document are not the most important part, well not to me anyway.
What they wrote, and the reason I called them socialist is:
We The People.
Right there, upfront and in bold. We The People. They built the entire edifice on the simple presumption that people counted the most, that the people were the point. Not the corporations or capitalists or any other kind of 'ist. Government was tasked with governing in the best interests of the people, and not just a few of them.
Of the people, by the people, for the people. Marx could not have put it better.
Which brings me nicely to some practical considerations. For Capitalism to work there has to be a capitalist class that owns the means of production. The advantages that accrue to that tiny subset of the people are clear and obvious. They have been joined by the financiers ... clueless and greedy, the lot of them.
In this country, capitalism is broadly the purview of the Republican Party. It's what they do. I know they mess about with social issues, but that is just the dessert. Their reason for being is to ensure the smooth running of capitalism. The Democratic Party has a conscience. They feel obliged, and many genuinely acknowledge, that their role is to remember that the Founders started with We The People. So they try to curtail the worst excesses of capitalism, and bring some social benefits.
The problem is that they do not challenge the fundamental structure that is capitalism. They try to be decent, honest and caring, but they fail because fundamentally what they do is attempt to run capitalism better than the capitalists.
Credit where credit is due. They actually do a better job of it than the Republicans. When we have GOP government we get ballooning deficits, reducing living standards, out of control speculation resulting in recession or depression. When Democrats are in office they steady the ship, because they do actually understand that rolling back the controls is harmful to the model, a model that requires strong regulation to have a chance of working.
Where they fail is that all they are trying to do, at least in the view of this writer, is make a broken, fatally flawed system work. It doesn't work and because Democrats cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear the electorate ends up handing back control to the very people who broke it .... and so we go.
From the point of view of the struggle between Democrats and the Republicans, they both suck. However, one is, by a large margin, the worse option, and so I support the Democrats in their efforts. All the time realising that they will not fix it. Unless and until they decide to offer a real, visible and substantive alternative, to the people, they will keep trading places.
If I appear sometimes to be ambivalent, supporting the President one day, and criticizing the next then that is because the real difference between me and many of the current Democratic leadership is that I am a Socialist, and they are not. Yet I will not sacrifice progress on the alter of purity.
People get hurt that way.